The Story of Bernie Williams — From the Very Beginning
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