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Q&A Feature with Darryl Strawberry – in the July Issue of Yankees Magazine

June 15, 2016 – Earlier this month, I met up with Big Apple icon Darryl Strawberry for lunch and to interview him for a Q&A piece on the Yankees 1996 championship season.

The Q&A feature with Strawberry will be published in the July Issue of Yankees Magazine, along with an interview with Hall of Famer Wade Boggs (see blog entry below) also focusing on 1996.

Strawberry, whose life unraveled in the early ’90s due to substance abuse issues, played for the Yankees in 1995, but the team declined an option to bring him back the next year. With no other offers in Major League Baseball, Strawberry played for the St. Paul Saints of the independent Northern League, until George Steinbrenner gave him another chance to put the pinstripes on.

“I wanted it to come back to the Yankees in 1996, but things broke apart for me,” Strawberry said from a back table at New York City’s Southern Hospitality restaurant. “I think a couple people felt I wasn’t ready for the next season. I went to play in independent baseball in St. Paul, Minnesota, and during that time, I wondered if I would ever play in the majors again. When I got to St. Paul, I started enjoying baseball again, and I was having a lot of fun. It was cool to be able to play baseball without having that much pressure, and it just brought a desire back and a greater passion for the game. I didn’t have any idea if I would return to the majors or not, but that’s where I started to love the game again.”

From the time Steinbrenner brought Strawberry back to New York, he contributed to the team. After hitting 11 home runs in the regular season, Strawberry made his most significant contributions in October.

In the ALCS against Baltimore, with the Yankees first trip to the Fall Classic in 18 years at stake, Strawberry batted .417 with three home runs. Two of those blasts secured a huge win for the Yankees in Game 4 of the series.

“Game 4 is always big,” Strawberry said. “In those series, you have to be able to beat good pitchers, and Baltimore had quality pitching. My approach against [then-Orioles reliever] Armando Benitez in the eighth inning was that he was afraid to throw the ball on the inside part of the plate against me, so I was looking for a hard fastball away. If he was going to pitch out and away, I was going to go the other way with it.”

After getting back to the World Series with a Game 5 win in Baltimore, the Yankees soon found themselves down two games to none in the World Series. And they had to travel to Atlanta to take on the Braves in three road games.

“Our backs were up against the wall,” said Strawberry, who won the 1986 World Series with the New York Mets and who was selected to play in eight All-Star Games during his career in Queens. “But we had the attitude that we were going to take back the Series down there. They’ve got the tomahawk chop in Atlanta, and we’re like, ‘No. We’re going to chop you up.’ All you had to look at was the man who was running the team: Joe Torre. Joe never panicked. He realized that there were some other players he had to get out there, because he had guys who were struggling and other guys on the bench who he knew he could rely on. It was Joe’s first World Series, and he made the boldest move by benching a few of his star players and playing some of the reserves in Atlanta. We got some great pitching down there, especially from Andy Pettitte in Game 5, and we left there with a 3-2 lead in the World Series. Joe took some big chances, and they all paid off for him. I don’t think Joe ever gets enough credit for the way he managed those games. That was a sign that he was going to be a Hall of Fame manager.”

Strawberry and the Yankees finished off the Braves in Game 6 at Yankee Stadium, and to this day, the former ballplayer remains proud of what he was able to do that season.

“To not only win the World Series in New York but to win it with a franchise that has such a storied tradition and great history is something that is special,” Strawberry said. “I’m part of the history of the New York Yankees, and I will be forever. That’s what I always think about when look back on it.”

The entire Q&A with Strawberry will appear in the July Issue of Yankees Magazine.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Q&A Feature with Wade Boggs – in the July Issue of Yankees Magazine

June 15, 2016— On May 18, I spent a day with Hall of Famer Wade Boggs at Leewood Golf Club in Eastchester, New York, where Babe Ruth was once a member. During the memorable day with Boggs, which included a round of golf, I interviewed the Hall of Famer for a feature on the 1996 Yankees team that won the World Series. As part of our 20th anniversary celebration of 1996, the interview with Boggs will be one of two Q&A’s that will appear in the July Issue of Yankees Magazine.

Before I asked Boggs a single question about the championship he won in pinstripes, the third baseman spoke about what it was like not only following The Babe from the Boston Red Sox to the Yankees and to the Hall of Fame, but also to the same golf course.

“It brings me back to the very first time I stepped into the batter’s box at Yankee Stadium,” Boggs said. “I was stepping into the same batter’s box that Babe Ruth stood in. I had the same feelings today. I’m standing on the same tee box that Babe Ruth once stood at. The Babe played golf here, and I feel lucky to be a part of that. I’m very thankful that God blessed me with the chance to be a Yankee, because without that, I wouldn’t be here today.”

As our lunch at the club rolled along, Boggs shared one great story after another about his time with the Yankees and specifically about the 1996 season. One of those stories detailed the meeting Boggs and his agent had with a former Yankees official, which led to the third baseman coming to the Big Apple.

“My agent, Alan Nero, told me that Joe Malloy was handling the meeting because Mr. Steinbrenner was suspended at the time and he wasn’t allowed to have any interaction with free agents or any other players until his suspension was over,” Boggs said. “We were at the table, and at the table next to us, there was a gentleman in a suit reading a newspaper. I couldn’t see his face because the newspaper was blocking it. Once the contract was agreed upon, the man put the newspaper down and winked at me. Of course, that man was George Steinbrenner. That was his way of welcoming me to the Yankees and saying, ‘I got you now.’ When I think back on it, that gesture was so touching.”

Boggs also talked at length about 1996 World Series and specifically what happened on the team plane after the Yankees lost the first two games at Yankee Stadium.

“The first thing I thought about when we got on the plane was my experience in the 1986 World Series,” said Boggs, a five-time American League batting champion, who was one of the star players on the Red Sox squad that lost to the New York Mets in the 1986 World Series. “I stood up in the back of the plane and said, ‘I’ve been in the situation that the Braves are in now. I know exactly how the Braves feel. In 1986, we were up by two games going back to Boston, and we wanted to close it out there and not have to go back to New York. The Braves do not want to go back to New York. They think it’s over. Well, guess what? We’ve got different plans for them. Now let’s go down there, take names, win all three games and win this thing in New York.’ We went in there like Grant took Richmond.”

Of course, without Boggs, the Yankees very well may not have won all three games in Atlanta during that Fall Classic. In Game 4, Boggs walked in the go-ahead run in the 10th inning, leading to a crucial win.

“I was the last position player on the bench that night, but Joe Torre initially asked David Cone to grab a helmet to pinch-hit,” Boggs said. “Then Don Zimmer looked at Joe and said, ‘You still have Boggs.’ So Joe said, ‘Hold on, Coney. Boggsy, get a bat.’

I wasn’t going to swing until [Braves pitcher] Steve Avery started throwing strikes. He threw ball one, then he threw two strikes. Then he missed with the next three pitches, and I did the old bat flip and ran to first.”

As we sat on a deck overlooking the picturesque golf course, an emotional Boggs shared what winning the World Series meant to him.

“You’ve reached the pinnacle,” he said through tears. “You don’t have anymore games or innings or at-bats. We’re world champions, and no one can ever take that away from you. I thought about my mom when the last out was made. She was killed in a car accident in June 1986, and even if I had won the World Series that year with the Red Sox, it wouldn’t have meant anything because of her not being there. But 10 years later, having my dad at the World Series and being able to reflect on her life with him, that night was very special.”

In an attempt to lighten the mood, I asked Boggs what compelled him to jump on a New York City police horse during the post-game celebration after Game 6 at Yankee Stadium.

“I have no idea,” he said. “Once we decided to do the victory lap, I was going to run with all the guys, and the next thing I know, I’m in left center field on a horse. But I was deathly afraid of horses because when I was 5 years old, I got bit in the back by a horse, so there was no forethought that possessed me to get on that horse.

All I know is that without even thinking about it, I was on the back of a huge horse and it was the greatest thing I’ve ever done.”

To read the rest of this compelling interview, be sure to pick up a copy of the July Issue of Yankees Magazine.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Quote of the Month – July Issue of Yankees Magazine

June 15, 2016 – The Yankees celebrated their 70th Annual Old-Timers’ Day over the past weekend, and with so many great players from the past at Yankee Stadium, the afternoon proved to be very special.

We will be featuring a photo essay with all of the best images from Old-Timers’ Day in the July Issue of Yankees Magazine. Whether it’s Hideki Matsui’s home run off of David Cone or Brian Doyle’s inspirational hit at the end of the game, our photographers got it all.

Moments before that contest, I interviewed one of the greatest players in the history of the sport, Rickey Henderson (see photo below). I asked the Hall of Famer for his take on the tradition of Old-Timers’ Day, and Henderson’s words will make up the quote of the month in the July Issue of Yankees Magazine. Here’s a sneak preview of what he said.

“It’s a wonderful day, and I wish more teams in baseball did this. There is so much joy in getting to visit with the guys I played alongside. As a baseball player, my teammates are my family. They’re my brothers. This is a family reunion for me and a chance get a sense of what is going on in my teammates’ lives.”

–Alfred Santasiere III

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June Issue of Yankees Magazine – ON SALE, JUNE 6

May 23, 2016 — The June Issue of Yankees Magazine will be on sale on June 6 at Yankee Stadium and on newsstands throughout New York City and the surrounding areas.

You can purchase a subscription to the print version of Yankees Magazine by visiting www.yankees.com/publications or by calling (800) GO-YANKS. Additionally, we recently put our long-form content online at www.yankees.com/magazine.

For the cover story, managing editor Jon Schwartz sat down with Carlos Beltran for lunch in New York City a few days before the slugger hit the 400th home run of his career. In the feature, Schwartz details how Beltran’s example has made him one of the most respected players in the clubhouse and the game, and it’s a great read.

Deputy editor Nathan Maciborski took a closer look at Beltran’s approach at the plate, in a separate story, and he looped in fellow switch-hitter, Mark Teixeira who — at press time — was three homers shy of the 400 mark.

For this issue, I put together a Q&A feature on Didi Gregorius, who I interviewed over dinner during spring training (see blog entry below). I also penned a feature on former Yankees catcher John Flaherty, who I spent a day with in Rockland County, New York, where he was raised and where he resides today.

This edition also includes two very special Art of Sport Q&A pieces. Vince Papale and Devon Harris were both immortalized in movies, and their stories are both in the June Issue of Yankees Magazine (see blog entry below).

Enjoy the June Issue.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Q&A Feature with Didi Gregorius – in the June Issue of Yankees Magazine

May 23, 2016 – During spring training, I was fortunate enough to sit down for dinner at Charley’s Steak House in Tampa with Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius. During our meal, I interviewed both players for the cover story of the April Issue of Yankees Magazine on Castro (see blog entry below). Near the end of our dinner, I asked Gregorius several questions for a separate feature.

That Q&A with the Yankees shortstop will be published in the June Issue of Yankees Magazine. During my one-on-one with Gregorius, I asked him a few questions about the challenges associated with replacing a legend in Derek Jeter.

“My mindset was to just go out there and play the game,” he said about the 2015 season. “I really wasn’t worried about anything else. I’m all about controlling what I can control, playing the game the right way and always trying to get better. To be completely honest with you, those were the only things I was focused on.

I also asked Gregorius what advice he would give to whoever replaces Peyton Manning or any other sports legend.

“I would tell that person to always be mindful that they are in that position for a reason,” Gregorius said. “If the team believes you are good enough to be the next guy, then just be yourself and work hard to constantly improve. Do things the way you’ve always done them, and most importantly, don’t try to be like the other guy.”

While just about everything about Gregorius’ approach to taking over at shortstop was impressive, what really resonated from our conversation was his outward respect for Jeter, who he said he speaks with occasionally.

“I use everything that Derek says,” Gregorius explained. “But the thing that sticks out the most is when he told me to just be myself and not try to do too much.”

There’s a lot more in this feature about Gregorius. Check it out in the June Issue of Yankees Magazine.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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The Art of Sport with Devon Harris

May 23, 2016 – There will be a Q&A with Devon Harris in the June Issue of Yankees Magazine. Harris was part of the famed 1988 Jamaica national bobsled team that was immortalized in the 1993 Disney movie, Cool Runnings. I recently met up with Harris for lunch and a memorable interview nearby his home in Rockland County, New York.

Like my other Art of Sport subject for the June Issue (see blog entry below on Vince Papale), Harris’ story is as inspirational as it gets. After falling short of reaching his dream of competing in the Olympics as a member of Jamaica’s track team, Harris was presented with a true once-in-a-lifetime chance to try out for the barely-formed bobsled squad.

“The idea came from George Fitch, who was an American businessman and ambassador living in Jamaica,” Harris said. “He and his friends were in a bar, drinking, and they started talking about this belief in Jamaica that Jamaicans were the best athletes in the world. According to George, to prove how good an athlete is, you have to see how quickly they could adapt to a new sport. They watched a pushcart derby, which was similar to bobsledding except it wasn’t on ice. They discovered that you needed sprinters at the start, and Jamaica had a lot of sprinters, so that’s how they settled on bobsledding.”

When Harris was approached by his colonel with the Jamaican Defense Force, he put little faith in the prospect of anything good coming out of a Jamaican bobsled team.

“I thought it was ridiculous,” he said. “It sounded dangerous, and thinking about it practically, how were they going to train for a bobsled competition in Jamaica? Also, it was already August, and this team would have to be ready to compete in the Olympics by February. That didn’t seem possible.”

But it was possible. Harris made the team, and along with a few other young men, they were off to Lake Placid, New York, for the start of their Olympic preparation.

A few months later — during which time the team also trained in sunny Jamaica — they converged on Calgary for the Winter Olympics.

After a competitive showing in the two-man bobsled competition, the Jamaicans crashed in their four-man run. The bobsledders escaped the crash unhurt, and as they crawled out of the sled, Harris led his teammates on an inspiring and brave march to the finish line.

“I was thinking that the fans didn’t think we belonged in the Olympics, and had we just proved them right,” Harris said. “But people started to cheer, and they were shouting, ‘We love you,’ to us. One guy reached over the wall and shook my hand, and then it seemed like everyone else reached out. I tried to shake every person’s hand that I could.”

As our lunch at Il Fresco restaurant in Orangeburg, New York, neared its conclusion, I asked Harris what he thought that Olympic moment symbolized.

It proves that for every piece of adversity, there is an equal seed of positivity,” he said. “I was feeling bad, but it looked like I was doing a hero walk. I often talk about how failure is part of success and it’s not fatal. It didn’t feel great at the time, but it’s serving a greater purpose today.”

There’s so much more on Harris’ experiences in the Art of Sport feature, set for publication in June.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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The Art of Sport with Vince Papale

May 23, 2016 – On a rainy day last autumn, I watched the movie, Invincible, a 2006 Disney production based on the life of Vince Papale, with my family. I was so intrigued by the story that I reached out to Papale in hopes that he would sit down with me for an interview.

In late April, I met Papale for lunch at Ralph’s in Philadelphia. As I spoke with Papale at the oldest Italian restaurant in the United States, I quickly realized that my Art of Sport Q&A with him would be very special.

Papale grew up just outside of the City of Brotherly Love, and from the time he was a child, he passionately rooted for the Philadelphia Eagles. Papale only played one season of high school football, and went on to compete in track at the collegiate level.

But after graduating from college, he played football in a bar league — while also purchasing season tickets for the Eagles — then for a semipro team and then for the Philadelphia Bell of the World Football League.

After only two seasons, the World Football League folded, but Papale was able to get a tryout with his beloved Philadelphia Eagles a few months later.

“The general manager for the Bell told me that he wanted to become my agent and that he could get me a chance with the Eagles,” Papale said. “He went to the Eagles general manager and got him to put my name on a list of players who would be invited to a free agent tryout.

Papale also described what it was like to walk into the Eagles locker room and to take the field for the tryout.

“I felt like I was in a museum,” he said. “I got caught up in looking at the lockers of all my favorite players, and I actually got out to the field after all of the other players.

When I got out there, [then-Eagles coach] Dick Vermeil said, ‘What’s your problem, 83?’ I said, ‘Sorry sir, I had some equipment issues to deal with.’ When the tryout began, there were a few hundred players on the field, but they were cutting guys right on the spot during the agility drills.”

Papale, who was 30 years old at the time, was not one of the guys who got cut during the tryout. In fact, he was offered an opportunity to go to training camp with the team. The wide receiver made the most out of that opportunity, and a few days after a pre-season game against the Miami Dolphins, he was given once unimaginable news.

“No one said anything to me until we got onto the field,” Papale explained. “Then Coach Vermeil came over and said, ‘Welcome to the Philadelphia Eagles. Congratulations, old man. You made the team.’ I started crying, and so did he.”

A few weeks later, in the Eagles 1976 home opener, Papale made the play of the game, forcing a fumble and recovering it deep in New York Giants territory.

When Papale described that play, I asked him how improbable he thought his journey from season ticket holder to player was.

“I don’t know if improbable is even the right word,” he said. “It might be impossible. I don’t think a guy who never played college football will ever get that opportunity again. Coach Vermeil once said that opportunity is worth exactly what a person’s preparation enables them to make it. If you get the opportunity, you’ve got to be ready. I was ready.”

The entire Q&A will be published in the June Issue of Yankees Magazine, and it is a must read.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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May Issue of Yankees Magazine – ON SALE NOW

May 6, 2016 – The May Issue of Yankees Magazine is on sale now at Yankee Stadium and on newsstands throughout New York City and the surrounding areas.

You can purchase a subscription to the print version of Yankees Magazine by visiting www.yankees.com/publications or by calling (800) GO-YANKS. Additionally, we recently put our long-form content online at www.yankees.com/magazine.

The cover of the May Issue features a portrait of relief pitcher Dellin Betances that team photographer James Petrozzello snapped during spring training. On the same day that he captured the cover shot, Petrozzello took several photos of Yankees pitchers showing off the way they grip their signature pitches. Deputy editor Nathan Maciborski penned the cover story, which analyzes several of the Yankees pitchers’ most effective pitches. Whether you interested in learning more about Michael Pineda’s four-seam fastball or Betances’ knuckle-curve — or just about any other pitch you’ll see in the Bronx this season — check out this fascinating read.

Over the last few months, I sat down with two pitchers for stories in this issue. My feature on Luis Severino details the young righthander’s rise through the minors last year as well as what he’s doing to make his second act as good as the first (see blog entry below).

Long before Severino was perfecting his craft, Dwight Gooden made history with the Yankees. Twenty years ago this month, Doc tossed a no-hitter against the powerful Seattle Mariners at the old Yankee Stadium. For the first of many Q&A features with key members of the 1996 Yankees championship team that will appear in Yankees magazine this season, I met up with Gooden for a memorable lunch and a candid interview about the night he stunned the world (see blog entry below).

There are plenty of other compelling stories in the May Issue, including managing editor Jon Schwartz’ feature on Billy Bean. In late March, Schwartz spent some time with Bean, Major League Baseball’s vice president of social responsibility and inclusion. Bean, who is one of two former major leaguers who have publicly come out as gay, spoke at the Yankees’ minor league facility in Tampa, Florida, about the importance of maintaining a safe and welcoming environment. You don’t want to skip over this well-written feature.

Enjoy the May Issue.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Q&A Feature with Dwight Gooden – in the May Issue of Yankees Magazine

April 19, 2016 – Earlier this month, I met up with former Yankees pitcher Dwight Gooden and interviewed him over lunch in Jersey City, New Jersey, for a Q&A that will be published in the May Issue of Yankees Magazine.

The feature on Gooden is one of several Q&A pieces that we will publish this year with key members of the Yankees 1996 championship team. The celebration of the 20th anniversary of that special season will most notably include a ceremony at the Stadium prior to the Yankees’ Aug. 13 game.

That season, Gooden tossed a no-hitter against the Seattle Mariners at the old Yankee Stadium, and that was the focal point of my conversation with him. But before we began to talk about the May 14 no-hitter, Gooden spoke candidly about his return to baseball in 1996, which followed an almost two-year suspension for repeated violations of Major League Baseball’s drug policy.

“When I got the letter from [acting commissioner] Bud Selig saying I was suspended for the entire 1995 season, I pretty much gave up on my career,” Gooden said. “I went into a heavy addiction. At that point, I was so sick with my disease that I really thought I was going to die before I ever took the mound again. Fortunately, I was able to get clean, and once I started straightening up, I began going to Eckerd College to work out. But I didn’t have the same motivation as I had in the past, and even after the suspension was over, the phone wasn’t really ringing from teams. I hadn’t totally given up, but I felt there was a very small chance that I could make it back.”

After Gooden signed with the Yankees, he had to deal with other obstacles.

“I was pitching so badly in the beginning of the season that I didn’t just get demoted to the bullpen,” Gooden said. “I actually got benched. During a series in Minnesota, [then-Yankees pitching coach] Mel Stottlemyre came out while I was throwing, and he said, ‘Forget about your days with the Mets. Nobody can pitch the same way for 11 years. We have to go with what you have now until whatever magic you had comes back.’ I had to make the transition to becoming a complete pitcher who could pitch to specific locations, study hitters and throw more off-speed pitches. Once I did those things, I became more confident, and that changed everything for me.”

Gooden was re-inserted into the team’s rotation, and he made the most of what he considered his last chance. After retiring the final 22 batters he faced in a game against Detroit, Gooden picked up where he left off when the high-powered Mariners came to the Bronx.

Gooden brushed off a long fly-ball that then-Mariners star Alex Rodriguez hit in the first and began to dominate one hitter after another.

“The more zeroes I put up, the more confidence I was gaining,” said the former New York Mets star, who won the 1985 National League Cy Young Award. “I was walking out to the mound with more of a swagger. Even though I wasn’t the Doc Gooden of ’85, I felt like I was back that night.”

Besides battling A-Rod on several occasions that night, Gooden also had to contend with Ken Griffey Jr. He struck out the superstar centerfielder in the sixth, and then faced him again in the ninth.

“It was mentally challenging because the no-hitter was right there, but before I knew it, I was behind in the count,” Gooden said. “I knew I couldn’t make a mistake. I wanted to make a quality pitch, but I didn’t have much left. I was like a boxer in the last round just trying to hang on. Tino Martinez made an incredible play at first base on a ground ball that Griffey hit. That saved the no-hitter.”

A few minutes later, Gooden completed a most unlikely feat. To read Gooden’s words about the rest of that night — including the final out — grab a copy of the May Issue of Yankees Magazine.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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2016 New York Yankees Official Yearbook – ON SALE, APRIL 4

March 31, 2016 – The 2016 New York Yankees Official Yearbook will be on sale on April 4 at Yankee Stadium when the Yankees take on the Houston Astros on Opening Day.

The 2016 Yearbook is also available for purchase on www.yankees.com/publications, by calling (800) GO-YANKS and on newsstands throughout New York City and the surrounding areas.

The cover of the 2016 Yearbook features a beautiful photo of the late great Yogi Berra, who passed away last year. In my opinion, the photo that we chose for the cover illustrates so much about one of the greatest Yankees of all time. In the photo, Berra, a three-time MVP, has one shin guard on, and he is holding a bat. In other words, the photo captured him in between the two aspects of the game that made him a legend — hitting and catching. Another special aspect of this photo is that Berra’s No. 8 stands out prominently.

Our tribute to Berra doesn’t end with the cover. The 2016 Yearbook also includes a 33-page commemorative section on the Hall of Fame catcher. In that section, you will find contributing writer Jack O’Connell’s comprehensive retrospective on Berra’s career and life. That feature is followed by a personal account of Yogi Berra, the family man and specifically, the grandfather. Not only did Berra’s granddaughter (and MLB.com journalist) Lindsay Berra share her touching words in “The World According to Grampa” but she also shared a collection of wonderful and never-before-seen photos of her grandfather with his family.

Yankees great Ron Guidry also contributed a first-person story chronicling his close friendship with Berra over the years. During the time Berra coached and managed the Yankees, he also had a huge impact on former captain Don Mattingly. I sat down with Mattingly for a Q&A feature about his love and admiration for his former skipper and long-time friend (see blog entry below).

In addition to the commemorative section on Berra, there is a ton of content on the 2016 team, including managing editor Jon Schwartz’ feature on the newest Yankees, associate editor Hilary Giorgi’s story on the organization’s top prospects and deputy editor Nathan Maciborski’s season preview.

From cover to cover, this is a special publication. Be sure to grab your copy this season.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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