July 21, 2014 – Among the features in the August Issue of Yankees Magazine will be a very special story on former Yankees centerfielder Bernie Williams.
Earlier this month, I traveled to Puerto Rico with Williams to spend a few days with him in his homeland.
During our trip to the beautiful island, we visited the field in which Williams was playing centerfield on when he was first approached by a Yankees scout. We also visited his favorite place in the world, a beach that his late father used to take him to when he was a young child.
We didn’t stop there. We also visited Williams’ high school and the track that he established himself as one of the fastest young sprinters in the world on when he was a teenager.
In addition to conducting several lengthy interviews with Williams for the feature, I sat down with the ballplayer’s mother and brother during two separate meals to discuss the great Yankee before he was a major league star.
Of all the stops we made in San Juan and in Williams’ hometown of Vega Alta, the most memorable one was at the field where he fist played baseball (see photo below).
When we arrived at Parque de Pelota del Barrio Maricao in Vega Alta, Williams hopped out of the SUV we were in and walked to a metal fence that surrounded to the field.
To his amazement, the gates on the fence were locked, and we had no way of getting onto the field.
Just then, a man in a red SUV approached the field and came to a complete stop.
“Welcome back, Bernie,” the man shouted in Spanish. “I will get someone to open the gate and get you on the field.”
Although Williams didn’t know the man, he was confident that he would come through.
That’s exactly what happened.
Within minutes, a second man pulled up to the field.
“Bernie Williams,” the man shouted.
With a huge smile on his face, Williams walked over to the man and embraced him.
The man was Angel Crespo Jimenez, and he coached Williams during his early teenage years.
Jimenez unlocked one of the gates, and Williams stepped on the field for the first time in more than a decade.
“The first position I ever played was second base,” Williams said as he crouched down and began to draw in the sand with his index finger. “I wasn’t very good at second base because I never paid attention to the game, and I was more interested in playing with the infield dirt like this. My coach moved me to shortstop and then to first base, but I wasn’t much better at those positions. Then, he moved me to center field and I fell in love with the game.”
Just as Williams finished his thought, Jorge Lopez Adorno, the coach who first put him in center field, arrived.
Williams greeted Adorno — who has been involved with the local youth league program for more than 50 years — at the pitcher’s mound.
“If it wasn’t for these guys, I would have never developed the love for the game that I have,” Williams said. “Their love and obsession for the game was contagious. I had to do a lot of work on my own, but it was because of them that all of the teams I played on were assembled and all of the tournaments took place.”
“When Bernie was 8 years old, his mother, who was the principal at the school I taught at, wanted him to play baseball,” Adorno added. “We didn’t have a team for 8 year-olds, but as a favor to her, I put together a team.”
To read about this entire scene — which was one of the most surreal occurrences I’ve ever witnessed — along with the rest of the story about Bernie Williams’ upbringing, grab your copy of the August Issue of Yankees Magazine.
–Alfred Santasiere III
July 21, 2014 – An “Art of Sport” Q&A feature with former Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy will also be published in the August Issue of Yankees Magazine. Like Jim Boeheim (see blog entry below), Levy etched his name into sports lore during his time in Western New York. Among his accomplishments on the sidelines, Levy led the Bills to an unprecedented four consecutive AFC championships.
I spoke with the Hall of Fame coach over lunch at Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse in Chicago — which is Levy’s hometown.
After discussing his childhood in the Windy City, I asked Levy what his favorite memory of Wrigley Field was.
“I was at the last World Series game played there,” Levy said. “World War II had ended about two months before, and I was still in the service. The Cubs won Game 6 to even the Series up against the Tigers on the day I got back to Chicago. My friend and I went to Wrigley to get tickets, and the line was practically from here to Milwaukee, but we got the tickets and went to Game 7.”
Once the top of conversation turned to football, Levy discussed what it was like coaching in Buffalo, one of the NFL’s smallest cities.
“We had great fans,” Levy said. “Even when we lost that first Super Bowl game, there were 30,000 people waiting to greet us. Buffalo is thought of as being in the Rust Belt with awful weather, but it’s a very quaint town. It was a wonderful place to live. When the Bills drafted Jim [Kelly], he didn’t want to live in Buffalo, so he went to the USFL. But he still lives there now, and he once said, ‘No one ever wants to come to Buffalo, but once they get here, they don’t want to leave.’”
Levy also shared the backstory about when he began saying, “Where else would you rather be than right here, right now,” to his teams at the start of each game.
“The first time I ever said that was before my first game as a head coach at the University of New Mexico,” Levy said. “As we were getting ready for the kickoff, I felt all of that excitement welling up inside of me, and it just came out. I said it before the kickoff of every game I ever coached.
“On one occasion, before a freezing cold Sunday night game in Buffalo, we were walking up the tunnel and I turned to one of my assistant coaches, Elijah Pitts, and said, “Where else would you rather be than right here, right now,’” Levy continued. “He said, ‘I’d rather be at home and in bed after we win this game.’”
Before Levy and I left the iconic restaurant in Chicago, we participated in the time-honored tradition of posing for a photo with the bust of the late Harry Caray (below).
To read the rest of the interview with Levy, be sure to turn to “The Art of Sport” in the August Issue of Yankees Magazine.
–Alfred Santasiere III
July 21, 2014 – For the first “Art of Sport” feature (see blog entry below), I traveled to Syracuse, New York to interview legendary basketball coach Jim Boeheim. I sat down with the Hall of Fame coach in his office on the campus of Syracuse University, where he has led teams onto the court for 38 years.
In the interview, I asked Boeheim several questions about the heyday of the Big East Conference, which for years dominated college basketball.
“Before the Big East, we were one of 30 good programs in the Northeast and we never could get enough recognition,” Boeheim said. “Once the Big East was formed, all the recognition channeled into the four or five best programs in the conference. Right away, we went from being a good regional program to having a chance to be in the top 20 programs in the country every year. We were lucky that when it started, we had really good players. We were able to capitalize right away on all of the extra attention. We were able to recruit kids from California who didn’t even know where Syracuse was prior to the Big East and the inception of ESPN, which also took place in 1979. [Big East founder] Dave Gavitt was able to put together one of the best — if not the best — conferences in the country in about five years”
Boeheim also spoke about the atmosphere in the Madison Square Garden during the Big East Tournaments.
“It was electric,” he said. “The final game always took place on a Saturday night. It was a packed house, and the teams were playing in front of a national audience. There’s really no place like Madison Square Garden for college basketball.”
My last question for Boeheim, who is a longtime Yankees fan, was about the Captain. I asked the coach to share his opinion of how Derek Jeter has represented his team and his sport during his 20-career in pinstripes.
“I don’t think there’s anyone in sports who epitomizes what you should do on the field and how you should behave off the field better than Derek Jeter,” Boeheim said. “I understand that ability is important, but as a coach, I often talk about the importance of coming to practice with a positive attitude, being a leader, wanting to play every day, playing hurt and doing the little things that don’t show up in the box score. I’m in awe of the way Derek has done those things. There really hasn’t been an athlete who you can put at the same level as Derek in terms of consistency, effort and character over such a long period of time.”
The Q&A feature with Boeheim will be published in the August Issue of Yankees Magazine.
–Alfred Santasiere III
July 21, 2014 – Beginning with the August Issue of Yankees Magazine, there will be a new department titled “The Art of Sport.”
This feature will mirror the “5 Minutes With…” Q&A pieces that have been part of the publication for several years, but will delve deeper into the lives and crafts of the subjects.
As is the case was with the “5 Minutes with…” pieces, “The Art of Sport” will feature subjects from all walks of life, with the title changing to reflect the arena in which the subject has had his or her greatest success.
The “5 Minutes With…” pieces will continue to be included in the First Pitch section, while the longer “Art of Sport” interviews will be run throughout the magazine.
–Alfred Santasiere III
July 21, 2014 — For the third consecutive season, the Trenton Thunder (Yankees Double-A affiliate) held Yankees Magazine Night.
During the pregame festivities on June 30, the team gave a free copy of the June Issue of Yankees Magazine to the first 1,000 fans through the gates. As they have done in previous seasons, the Thunder invited me and my son, Alfred, to throw ceremonial first pitches.
My ceremonial toss reached the catcher but Alfred fired a pitch right to the mitt for a strike. The crowd was clearly impressed by the 6 year old’s form on the mound, as they gave him a loud ovation.
As I’ve written before, it was a thrill to take the mound at a professional stadium, but having the opportunity to watch my boy throw a ceremonial first pitch was unforgettable. The pride I felt as I watched him calmly walk out to the mound with an ear-to-ear smile on his face, throw the pitch and shake the catcher’s hand, will stay with me for a long time.
For the complete story about Yankees Magazine Night in Trenton, turn to the Bomber Bites section of the August Issue.
–Alfred Santasiere III