June 26, 2013 – My favorite day of the regular season is Old-Timers’ Day.
There’s no greater celebration of a team’s heritage than Old-Timers’ Day at Yankee Stadium. And, for me, the opportunity to spend time with former greats who I’ve written stories about and gotten to know has made the experience even more special each season.
This year’s festivities took place on Sunday, June 23. On a hot afternoon in the Bronx, I interviewed Yogi Berra, Don Larsen, David Cone, David Wells, Bernie Williams, Bucky Dent, Joe Pepitone and Rickey Henderson for a special section on Mariano Rivera, which will be published in the 2014 New York Yankees Official Yearbook.
While I was busy talking to those players, the rest of our editorial team was conducting interviews with other members of the Yankees family about Rivera and for our next alumni section, which will be published in the October Issue of Yankees Magazine.
Among the great quotes I gathered on Rivera, one stood out. Williams, who was teammates with the legendary closer for 12 seasons, put Rivera’s career in perspective better than anyone I’ve talked to this season.
“Being the best closer in baseball for all of these years, Mariano has been able to shut down two generations of Major League baseball players,” Williams said. “He’s been that good for nearly 20 years. That in and of itself is remarkable. The fact that he’s been able to be so consistent with basically one pitch is equally as impressive. He’s the greatest closer in the history of the game.”
Our editors weren’t the only people working hard on Old-Timers’ Day. Yankees photographers Ariele Goldman Hecht, James Petrozzello, Matt Ziegler and Lou Rocco captured an impressive array of images, many of which will be published in our annual Old-Timers’ Day photo essay. In my opinion, this year’s collection of photos, which will be published in the July Issue of Yankees Magazine, is the best one we’ve ever put together.
Below are a few of my favorite photos from the feature. Starting at the top, the images are of Paul O’Neill, Rivera, Goose Gossage, Henderson and Andy Pettitte (in the first photo); Ron Guidry (in the second photos) and David Cone and Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez (in the third photo).
–Alfred Santasiere III
June 21, 2013 – On June 14, I spent the afternoon with Hideki Matsui in New York City.
During my time with the Japanese slugger, I interviewed him for a feature story that will appear in the July Issue of Yankees Magazine.
That edition will be on sale throughout the month of July, which includes a very special day. On July 28, the Yankees will be honoring Matsui, who played for the team from 2003 through 2009, in a pre-game ceremony. The team will also be distributing Hideki Matsui bobbleheads to the first 18,000 fans in attendance, and there will be a commemorative cover on every copy of Yankees Magazine sold at the Stadium on the 28th.
My afternoon with Matsui began at Restaurant Nippon, which is New York’s City’s first Japanese restaurant to serve raw sushi.
Matsui, his long-time translator Roger Kahlon, Yankees team photographer James Petrozzello, Joe Flannino of the team’s security detail and I were seated in a private room in the restaurant. Minutes after we arrived, Matsui ordered an enormous platter of raw sushi that included eel, shrimp and tuna.
“If you went to a restaurant in Japan, this is what it would be like,” Matsui said through Kahlon during the first course of our meal. “This is as authentic of a Japanese restaurant as there can be.”
Then, Matsui paid me a compliment that I don’t think I deserved.
“You’re pretty good at eating with chopsticks,” Matsui said. “I remember taking Joe Torre to a Japanese restaurant. He couldn’t get any food into his mouth with chopsticks. I thought he was going to ask the waiter for a fork.”
Our second course included soba noodle bowls. Restaurant Nippon grows it’s own soba noodles — which are buckwheat noodles — on a farm in Canada. The noodle bowl that Matsui ordered included salmon and salmon roe, and the one I feasted on included shrimp. Without question, it was one of the best meals I’ve had.
During the interview, which took place over lunch, Matsui discussed how his life has changed since his recent retirement from the game.
Matsui is still one of the most famous people in Japan, but he is no longer under the media spotlight, which for several years shined brighter on him than it did on just about any other athlete in the world.
When Matsui signed with the Yankees in 2003, 400 Japanese journalists were at the press conference and about 100 members of Japan’s press corps followed his every move in pinstripes. clubhouse
“I’ve been able to live a more normal life these days,” Matsui said. “It’s quite a welcome change. That was a great time in my life, but I’m able to spend quality time with my family now, whether it’s at home or in public. Things are a lot more relaxed.”
Matsui also talked to me about some of his finest moments in pinstripes including the 2009 World Series. Matsui took home MVP honors in that Fall Classic after batting .615 with three home runs and eight RBI. Of course, his performance in Game 6 was one for the ages. In that deciding game, Matsui drove in six runs, two of which came on a longball off Pedro Martinez.
“I was behind in the count right away,” Matsui said about that second inning at-bat. “Then, I fouled off about eight pitches, and that helped me with my timing. After that, [Pedro] threw me a fastball in the middle of the plate, and I was able to hit it hard.”
At the end of the interview, I asked Matsui about his upcoming day of honor, during which he will sign a one-day minor league contract with the Yankees to allow for a proper send-off.
“When I made the decision to come to the United States, it wasn’t so I could play in the majors,” Matsui said. “It was so that I could play for the Yankees. To have the opportunity to retire as a Yankee, there’s no greater honor than that.”
After the meal, we headed to Yankee Stadium. When we got to the upper deck of the empty ballpark, Petrozzello took the photo that will grace the commemorative cover as well as the image that will appear in the opening spread of the career retrospective story on the former outfielder.
You’ll have to wait a few more days to see the cover photo. But, for now, enjoy the beautiful portrait below, which will be part of my exclusive story on Matsui.
–Alfred Santasiere III
June 2, 2013 — For the first time, we will be publishing a commemorative Old-Timers’Day cover — as part of the June Issue of Yankees Magazine.
Old-Timers’ Day will take place this season on June 23. The game program that will be sold at Yankee Stadium that afternoon will be identical to the June Issue of Yankees Magazine with the exception of the cover. The special Old-Timers’ Day cover (see below) features a candid image that Yankees chief photographer Ariele Goldman Hecht snapped of Yogi Berra and Mariano during last year’s Old-Timers’ Day festivities.
Could there be anyone more fitting than the two guys who grace this commemorative cover? Berra and Rivera are two of the greatest baseball players of all-time. One of them has been a staple at Old-Timers’ Day for decades and the other is writing the final chapter in a one-in-a-million career.
–Alfred Santasiere III
June 2, 2013 – The June Issue of Yankees Magazine will be on sale Monday, June 3 at Yankee Stadium.
Of course, you can purchase a subscription to the print version of Yankees Magazine by visiting http://www.yankees.com/publications or by calling (800) GO-YANKS. The digital version of the magazine is available through http://www.yankees.com/publications.
The cover of the June Issue features an exclusive photograph of Ichiro Suzuki, which Yankees team photographer James Petrozzello took in spring training. The cover image is a rare portrait of Ichiro, in which the superstar outfielder is not wearing sunglasses. Instead, Ichiro’s signature sunglasses are placed on this hat. As you can see from the image below, this cover embodies the quiet class that Ichiro exudes every time he takes the field.
The cover story, which was written by executive editor Ken Derry, is just as exclusive as the cover image. Derry sat down with Ichiro for about a half hour and truly captured the essence of who Ichiro is — on and off the field.
The June Issue also features stories on Vernon Wells and Austin Romine, which were scribed by contributing writer Mark Feinsand and managing editor Nathan Maciborski, respectively.
I wrote two stories, which appear in this edition. The first is on former Yankees skipper Joe Torre. For that feature, I spent a day with Torre in his hometown of Brooklyn, New York (see blog entry below). It was one of the most memorable days of my career, and the story is one of the favorites I’ve ever written.
I also wrote a feature about a remarkable recognition that one of my Yankees colleagues received. On May 22, Yankees senior VP of Marketing, Deborah A. Tymon was one of five individuals presented with the Outstanding Civilian Service Award by the United States Army (see photo below). The award is the third-highest public service honor the Army can bestow on a civilian.
Since beginning her Yankees career in 1985, Tymon has consistently gone out of her way to support and raise awareness for members of the military and for their families.
Tymon, whose father was severely injured in World War II, was involved in the creation of Military Appreciation Day, which is now a Yankee Stadium tradition. Tymon has also worked closely with the Wounded Warrior Foundation since the non-for-profit organization was founded in 2003. She has spearheaded the donation of thousands of Yankees tickets to injured soldiers each season, and she has created several pre-game ceremonies each year to honor wounded warriors.
Additionally, Tymon has sent out thousands of care packages each year to soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Her efforts certainly don’t end there, but you’ll have to read my story in the June Issue of Yankees Magazine to learn about all the other ways Tymon has made a difference.
I was privileged enough to be Tymon’s guest on the day the Yankees executive was recognized in Washington, D.C. The day included a tour of the Pentagon; a meeting with the 38th chief of staff of the United States Army, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, in his Pentagon office (see photo below); lunch with a group of soldiers; a private tour of the Tomb of the Unknowns and a private dinner at Odierno’s quarters.
Tymon was presented with the award at an hour-long ceremony known as Twilight Tattoo, held at Fort Myer Army base. Twilight Tattoo included music from several Army bands and the re-enactment of military battles dating back to the Civil War (see photos below).
Tymon’s work is inspiring, and I hope every Yankees fan that picks up a copy of the June Issue of Yankees Magazine reads about her life-long commitment to supporting the military.
–Alfred Santasiere III
June 2, 2013 – On May 20, I conducted an exclusive interview Mariano Rivera and Cal Ripken Jr. in Baltimore, and the Q&A feature will be published in the September Issue of Yankees Magazine and in the 2013 edition of Yankees Magazine en Español.
The 40-minute conversation between the two baseball legends and I took place in the visiting dugout at Oriole Park at Camden Yards (see photo below).
The interview had special meaning to me, because I’ve had the honor of working with both Ripken and Rivera during my career, and they are two of the very best people I’ve ever been around.
I was a member of the Baltimore Orioles media relations department in 2001, which was Ripken’s final season in the game. I had the privilege of being around the Hall of Fame shortstop/third baseman before and after every game he played in Baltimore — from the moment he announced that 2001would be his last season through the final time he wore the Orioles uniform.
As a member of the Yankees front office, I have worked with Rivera since 2003, and it’s been especially meaningful to cover the closer in 2013, which is his final season in the game.
In the interview, which focused the final chapters of Rivera and Ripken’s respective careers, I asked the icons to describe the emotions they felt as they prepared to announce their retirements. I was compelled to ask the question because I walked with Ripken (in 2001) and Rivera (in spring training earlier this year) to the press conferences in which they announced that there was an end date for their careers. Both of those experiences were memorable, and in both cases, it was clear to me that the players had mixed emotions.
“My emotions were fine as I walked in to the room,” Rivera began. “I knew what I wanted to say. But when I turned around and saw the whole team, the owner and members of the front office, that shook me. That almost got me but I was able to stay composed and do what I needed to do. I’m at peace with my decision, and when you’re at peace with what you’re going to do, everything runs smoothly.”
“I felt all kinds of emotions at that moment,” Ripken said. “Mariano did a nice job of explaining the meaning of being around a group of guys, and that’s ultimately what you’re saying goodbye to. It’s not necessarily about stopping your playing career as much as it is about leaving an atmosphere that you love being in. I was at peace with my decision, as well, because I had a full career. But it was letting go of being part of a team that was pulling at me. You could cry, you could laugh, or you could jump up and pump your fist in the air. All of those things were right on the edge for me.”
After a brief pause, Ripken addressed Rivera.
“There were certain moments that pulled at me during my last season,” Ripken said. “I’m sure you’re going to have them as the days wind down, if you haven’t felt it already. But, you can always change your mind and keep playing.”
I also asked the legendary ballplayers what it means to have played for one team during their entire careers.
“Well, it becomes your identity,” Ripken said. “I can take that one step further, I’m from Maryland, so I grew up watching the Orioles and loving the Orioles. Then the Orioles drafted me, and I worked hard to make it to the majors. Then I decided to stay here for my entire career. Every player wants what Mariano and I have — stability with one team, identity with one team and happiness with one team. I have a special bond with the people of Baltimore, and that’s the ultimate. Other players get criticized for moving around, but management makes many of those decisions. If you ask every player if they would prefer to play for one team, they would all say yes.”
“It’s special,” Rivera added. “It’s a privilege. As Cal said, you have to work hard enough to make it. Then you have to be consistent, and the team has to want you to stay. I’m thankful that I’ve been able to do my job all these years and that the Yankees have always wanted me to be here. I’m honored to wear the Yankees uniform.”
At the end of the interview, Ripken and Rivera shared their thoughts about each other.
“Cal is the ultimate,” Rivera said. “I’ve always had the highest respect for the way he represented the Baltimore Orioles. I’ve always tried to emulate players like Cal, who never showed anyone up. That’s class and pride personified. Cal did that for the Baltimore Orioles. I couldn’t be more proud to know him.”
“You can see that Mariano has respect for the game and that he loves the game,” Ripken added. “Through his actions, he shows it every day. There are a lot of kids who want to be big league players but don’t have enough talent to make it. In a way, guys like Mariano and I are representing all of them with our behaviors, and you want to act accordingly and respect and honor the game. Mariano respects the game, and the way he acts makes people gravitate toward him. He leads more so by example than with his words. I couldn’t have more respect than I do for Mariano. He’s the perfect role model for kids who want to be closers, because he doesn’t jump around and pump his fist when he records the final out of a game. Every young player should aspire to be like Mariano.”
Again, this entire interview — with the last two players whose careers were celebrated throughout the country during their final seasons — will be published in the September Issue of Yankees Magazine and in the 2013 edition of Yankees Magazine en Español.
–Alfred Santasiere III