April 2013

Dan Marino’s Pinstriped Jersey on Display in New York

April 14, 2013 – The pinstriped Yankees jersey that NFL great Dan Marino wore when he threw a ceremonial first pitch in spring training was recently put on display in a Long Island restaurant.

In mid-April, Marino was in Commack, New York for the opening of Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza, a growing chain of Italian restaurants that he a partner in. While he was there, the former Miami Dolphins legend autographed the jersey, which was later framed and displayed in the eatery.

After spending a day with Marino when he was in Tampa for spring training (see blog entry below for more details on that) I met up with him at the restaurant’s grand opening celebration a month later.

During the party, Marino spoke to me about donning a Yankees jersey.

“If I had played professional baseball, I would have wanted to pitch for the New York Yankees,” said Marino, who was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the fourth round of the 1979 draft. “It was a thrill to put the pinstripes on for one pitch, and I’m proud that the jersey will be in New York for fans to see.”

Marino also reflected on the some of the other experiences he had at the Yankees spring training ballpark.

“I miss being in the locker room and being around the guys as they prepare for a game,” said the Hall of Famer, who retired from football in 2000. “It was a lot of fun to be in that atmosphere again. Also, getting to meet some of the great Yankees of all-time like Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera was great.”

Finally, Marino, who threw a strike to Hall of Fame pitcher Goose Gossage on March 9, joked about a possible strategy for his next first pitch.

“Next time, I will throw the pitch left handed,” Marino said.

A feature story about Marino’s first pitch was published in the April Issue of Yankees Magazine, and an article about the jersey being displayed in New York will appear in the May Issue.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Mr. October Tosses First Pitch at RailRiders Renovated Ballpark

April 14, 2013 – On April 4, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders played the first game in their home ballpark since September 2011. The Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate played their entire 2012 slate on the road while PNC Field underwent major renovations.

I was at the RailRiders first game in their newly renovated ballpark, which, in my opinion, is now as comfortable as any minor league facility. It has more amenities than I could have imagined, and it’s truly a family-friendly place.

For more on PNC Field, check out the May Issue of Yankees Magazine, which will include a feature on the park by Scott Walsh of the Times-Tribune of Scranton.

Prior to the game, I caught up with Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, who was there to throw the ceremonial first pitch. Enjoy the interview below, which is exclusive to this blog.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Alfred Santasiere III: What are your thoughts on the renovated ballpark in Scranton?

Reggie Jackson: They did a great job with it. It’s exciting for the fans and for the players. It’s always nice playing in a new ballpark, and this really is state-of-the-art now. It will be an unbelievable setting in the summer, when the trees are in full bloom. There are nice places for the fans to gather and to have good time, and the players will benefit from the improved facilities that are in place. I never played in a minor league park like this, but I’m really excited for everyone involved.

AS: What does being asked to throw the ceremonial first pitch mean to you?

RJ: The Steinbrenners asked me to throw out the first pitch, and I was happy to do it. I have had a close relationship with the Steinbrenner family, and, of course, George Steinbrenner, since I was in my late-20s. They’ve always been respectful, and anything that I can ever do for them I am happy to do. I consider it an honor to be in a position to represent the Yankees and the Steinbrenner family. I wouldn’t get to do things like this if the Steinbrenners didn’t respect me, and the fact that they asked me means a lot.

AS: You’re from Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, which is about 100 miles from here. Does this first pitch have added significance because it’s in your home state?

RJ: Yes. I like being back in Pennsylvania. Scranton reminds me a lot of Cheltenham, and it always feels good to be back in this part of the country. I’m proud to be from the Keystone state.

AS: Any predictions for the pitch? Are you going to throw a strike?

RJ: I’m not that young anymore, but if I can get my arm loose, I will get it over the plate.

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Yankees Return to West Point

April 14, 2013 – Last year, I wrote a feature about the Yankees history at West Point, and that story was published in the June 2012 Issue of Yankees Magazine. It detailed the 21 exhibition games that the Yankees played against the Army Black Knights at the United States Military Academy between 1927 and 1976.

Besides chronicling the game action, I also wrote about everything from the tours of the campus that various Yankees teams went on to the reactions of the cadets who got to take the field against some of baseball’s all-time great clubs.

As I conducted research for that story, I quickly realized that quite a few special moments took place on the days the Yankees were in West Point between 1927 and 1976.

Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig played against the cadets. Mickey Mantle laced up his spikes at West Point. Yogi Berra took the field on the grounds of the most prestigious military institution in the world and Whitey Ford pitched there.

When I completed that feature, I didn’t think I would ever be writing another story about the Yankees playing a game in West Point because the organization hadn’t played there since 1976 and there was no word of them returning any time soon.

But that all changed earlier this year when Army officials approached the Yankees about renewing the tradition.

Those discussions led to the Yankees’ return to West Point. On March 30, the team traveled by bus from Yankee Stadium to West Point — which is about 50 miles north of New York City — for the 22nd all-time match-up against the cadets.

I can’t speak to what it was like to tour the campus with Ruth, Gehrig or Mantle and I wasn’t around to see them play at West Point’s tiny ballpark. But, a few weeks ago, I visited the United States Military Academy with a group of future Hall of Famers and Yankees icons that included Mariano Rivera, Robinson Cano, Ichiro Suzuki, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte (pictured below with Kevin Youkilis).

Upon our arrival at West Point, we were given a tour that brought us onto the football field at Michie Stadium, and to Cadet Chapel and Trophy Point. After the tour, the team ate lunch with hundreds of cadets in the Mess Hall. Following that special meal, the Yankees were driven to tiny Johnson Stadium at Doubleday Field, where they prepared for the game.

In front of a few thousand fans — many of whom were sitting in bleachers that were put in place just for the day — Rivera tossed a ceremonial first pitch. After the pre-game ceremony, the Yankees defeated Army, improving their record against the cadets to 22-0.

My latest feature story on the Yankees tradition of playing at West Point is all about the 2013 visit. It will appear in the May Issue of Yankees Magazine.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Unlikely Reunion

April 14, 2013 – On the evening of the Yankees game at West Point (see blog entry above for more details on that), I attended an Army baseball alumni dinner. Former Yankees first baseman Joe Pepitone, who played in several exhibition games at West Point in the 1960s, accompanied me to the event, which was held at the Thayer Hotel — on the United States Military Academy campus.

Pepitone was mentioned prominently in the first story I wrote about the Yankees tradition of playing at West Point (published in the June 2012 Issue of Yankees Magazine), and the opening spread photo featured Pepitone and two cadets in 1969.

In early March, I was informed that the two Army ballplayers in the photo with Pepitone were scheduled to be at the dinner.

Although Pepitone admittedly didn’t remember meeting the cadets when the photo was taken in 1969, he welcomed the opportunity to see them again. And so, at a quiet gathering, Pepitone, 73, was reunited with Pete McCall, 64, and Bill Lord, 63.

The three men, who were originally photographed together almost 44 years ago because they were all born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, immediately began reminiscing about the 1969 game.

“Joe hit one of the longest home runs in West Point history that day,” said Lord, now 63, who was a partner in a recruiting firm before his retirement. “We didn’t have a home run fence up here at that time, so Joe had to slide into home.”

“I wasn’t that fast, but I don’t remember being that slow,” Pepitone responded. “But I’ll take Billy’s word for it. We played hard against the cadets. They were a good team, and they always got after it when they played us.”

Before the end of the night, the former ballplayers re-enacted the original photo. This time, they posed for current-day Yankees team photographer James Petrozzello in a suite that was dedicated to Army’s baseball program that evening.

“When we found out that Joe was going to be at our dinner, we really wanted to re-enact the photo,” Lord said. “Seeing Joe tonight was as much fun as it was meeting him the first time.”

The then and now photos, which are posted below, will be published in a sidebar to my feature story on the March 30 game in the May issue of Yankees Magazine.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Opening Day – 2013

April 1, 2013 — Regardless of how good or bad the weather is, Opening Day at Yankee Stadium is always a special time to be at the ballpark.

The weather in the Bronx for today’s opener is nearly perfect. The sun is out, and there’s more blue in the sky than there are clouds. Most importantly, and unlike so many other openers, it’s not freezing outside. The temperature at game time was 62 degrees.

Before the game began, the Yankees and the their opponents, the Boston Red Sox, dedicated the game to the victims of the unspeakable tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. Both teams are wearing patches, honoring the small town, and that same logo is painted on the first baseline and on the third baseline.

As part of the pre-game ceremony, the names of the children, teachers and administrators who lost their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School were listed on the scoreboard during a moment of silence. As the names continued to scroll across the centerfield video board, an overwhelming sense of sadness swept through the press box and rest of the Stadium. For me, the length of the silence — which lasted longer than other remembrances because of the number of people whose names were displayed — reaffirmed the heartbreak. The fact that most of those names were those of young children certainly added an unbearable layer of grief to the moment.

Earlier today in a press conference, Mariano Rivera was asked what the game’s dedication meant to him. The classy closer not only discussed the gravity of the tragedy, but he also shared his thoughts on the importance of today’s respectful tribute.

“We can not change what happened,” Rivera said. “I wish we could. But at the same time, we’re trying to bring them a lot of good moments and just trying to take the tragedies off their minds for a little bit. We want to honor them the right way, and we believe that we are doing that.”

The May Issue of Yankees Magazine will feature a story on today’s tribute to the people of Newtown, which several first responders and other members of the Western Connecticut community were on the field for.

Additionally, the 2013 New York Yankees Official Yearbook includes feature stories on great Yankees players of today and yesterday, biographies on every member of the team, a special section on the final out of every World Series the club won and much more. In my opinion, the most important paragraph — which will have the most long-lasting impact — in the entire Yearbook, has nothing to do with baseball. Instead, it’s a dedication that reads as follows…

As we prepared for the 2013 season, the inexplicable tragedy that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012, was never far from our minds. The 2013 New York Yankees Official Yearbook is dedicated to the memory of the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims, their families and their resilient community.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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