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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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April Issue of Yankees Magazine – ON SALE, APRIL 4

March 31, 2016 – The April Issue of Yankees Magazine will be on sale on April 4 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, for the first time, we’re putting our long-form content online at www.yankees.com/magazine. We hope that you’ll enjoy this development.

The timing of this expansion couldn’t be better, because the upcoming April Issue includes as many behind-the-scenes features and diverse topics as any issue we’ve published in a long time.

I wrote the cover story for this issue on Starlin Castro (see blog entry below), and chief photographer Ariele Goldman Hecht snapped an incredible portrait of the Yankees’ new second baseman with shortstop Didi Gregorius in Tampa this spring.

Besides manning the shortstop position, Gregorius also contributed to our magazine during spring training. For an exclusive Yankees Magazine photo essay, Gregorius —a talented photographer himself — took a wide array of photographs.

A few months before heading to spring training, I traveled to Miami to interview Alex Rodriguez and his childhood idol, Dan Marino, for a very special Q&A that will be published in the April Issue and that was also published in the New York Yankees Official 2016 Spring Training Program (see blog entry below).

Around the time I was in Miami, deputy editor Nathan Maciborski was in Ontario, Canada — where the temperature was a lot colder — spending time with Yankees bench coach Rob Thomson. Maciborski’s feature on Thomson’s Canadian roots provides an interesting look into the life of a man who has been on a baseball diamond since his childhood in the small town of Corunna, Ontario, in the 1960s.

There are two features in the April edition that focus on more serious topics, as well. Managing editor Jon Schwartz visited CC Sabathia in Tampa, Florida, during spring training and spoke with him about his struggle with alcohol use disorder and the positive steps that have him feeling better — and more confident — than ever. Schwartz’ well-written and revealing story on Sabathia is a must read.

When I got back from spring training, I accompanied former Yankees shortstop Bucky Dent to two hospitals in Rockland County, New York, where he visited cancer patients and gave them blankets as part of a mission started by his late wife. In my story on Dent, he speaks candidly about his wife, Marianne, who lost her battle to cancer last October.

There are even more compelling stories in the April Issue. Whether you will be at Yankee Stadium for the team’s first game on April 4 — at which time a special commemorative Opening Day cover will be available — or for any other game, be sure to pick up a copy of the magazine.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Special Story on Bucky Dent – in the April Issue of Yankees Magazine

March 31, 2016 – Earlier this month, I spent a day with former Yankees shortstop Bucky Dent, to document a very moving story for the April Issue of Yankees Magazine.

Last October, Dent’s wife of more than three decades — and the mother of his twin children, Cody and Caitlin, who were born in 1991 — passed away. Marianne Dent had been diagnosed with brain cancer 19 months prior to her death, and she fought the illness in a most courageous way.

Soon after Marianne was diagnosed, she began undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments. During one of the first chemotherapy sessions that she went to, nearby her home in South Florida, Marianne came to the realization that most of the patients she shared the room with —including herself — were uncomfortably cold during the treatment.

With that in mind, Marianne purchased blankets for everyone who was receiving treatment at the same time she was. Marianne would soon find out that the selfless gesture meant much more to the patients than she could have ever imagined.

Inspired by the reaction from the patients, the Dents began to raise money through their already-established Legends on the Links not-for-profit to purchase larger quantities of blankets. They continued to distribute them at the cancer center Marianne was getting treated at, and they began to expand their reach to other facilities in South Florida.

Within a few months, the Dents teamed up with a manufacturer who designed a logo for blankets and also made clear bags for them to be easily transported in.

Since Marianne passed away, Bucky Dent has honored her legacy by continuing to raise money to purchase blankets and by personally distributing the blankets to cancer patients in Florida.

In early March, Dent brought his good will efforts north for the first time. A day after he participated in a charity event, which raised $14,000 for the purchase of blankets, the iconic Yankee delivered blankets to two hospitals in Rockland County, New York.

I had the privilege of shadowing Dent for the entire day, beginning at Nyack Hospital that morning. At the first stop of the day, Dent spent time with several people, who were being treated for cancer. Besides giving them each a blanket, Dent also gave them encouragement through his words.

After Dent’s visit to Nyack Hospital and before making his way to Good Samaritan Hospital a few towns away, we sat down for lunch at Il Fresco restaurant in nearby Orangeburg (see photo below). There, he spoke candidly with me about Marianne for the feature story.

“Marianne wanted each cancer patient to feel more comfortable during their treatments,” Dent said. “She wanted them to feel as if they were wrapped in love, comfort and support. Instead of saying, ‘Why me,’ she said, ‘Thank God it’s me, because this is what I’m supposed to do.’ This is what she believed was her legacy.”

In addition to the discussion that focused on the last few years of Marianne’s life, Dent also shared some fonder memories, including one about the day they met each other (which did not make it into the Yankees Magazine story because of space considerations).

“I met Marianne on a flight during the 1981 season,” Dent said. “I tore a ligament in my hand that August, and it was in a cast. I was flying back down to Fort Lauderdale, and they had me in the middle seat. I was afraid that someone was going to bump into my arm, so I asked the flight attendant if I could move. She said, ‘Just go to the back of plane and grab a seat there.’ I sat down and put my head down. When I looked up, Marianne, who was also a flight attendant, was pointing at me. After the flight took off, she came over to me and said, ‘I’m sorry I pointed at you, but someone told me that you were Bucky Dent. I don’t know who Bucky Dent is, but I know you’re famous. When they told me where you were sitting, I pointed at you.’”

Before he got off the plane, Dent initiated a second conversation with his future wife.

“As I was getting off the plane, I stopped to talk to her,” he said. “She told me that her parents lived in Ringwood, New Jersey, and that was right near where I was living. I asked her for her phone number but she told me that she didn’t like giving it out. Eventually, I got her to give me her number. When I got off the plane, my friend who was picking me up at the airport, asked me what took so long for me to get to him, and I remember telling him, ‘I had to get this girl’s number.’”

To read the entire feature, grab your copy of the April Issue of Yankees Magazine. This edition will be on sale on April 4.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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The Art of Sport with Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis

March 31, 2016 – Last September, I spent some time with Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis at the Joe Namath March of Dimes Celebrity Golf Classic. My interview with The Bus, which is set to run in the April Issue of Yankees Magazine – in addition to another Art of Sport piece with longtime Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher — took place on a beautiful morning on one of the golf courses at the famous Bethpage State Park (see photo below).

During our conversation, Bettis spoke extensively about his time with the Steelers, and the storybook ending to his career. After nearly retiring following the 2004 NFL season, Bettis decided to give it one more shot. That decision paid off, as he accomplished his ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl in his final season. Making the story even more special, Bettis played his last game — Super Bowl XL in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan.

“After we lost the 2004 AFC Championship Game, I was ready to retire,” Bettis said. “I was done. I figured that I had a really good career, but winning a championship was just not in the cards for me. I was starting to come to terms with that when I got an opportunity to go to the Pro Bowl. There were a lot of other Steelers players there, and our coaching staff was coaching the AFC team. Even our owners, the Rooney family, came to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. They hosted a big dinner for all of the Steelers who where there. I will never forget that dinner because as we were sitting there, [former Steelers linebacker] Clark Haggans reminded me that the next Super Bowl was going to be in Detroit. That really got me thinking about coming back. I thought to myself, ‘If the Steelers go to the Super Bowl and I’m not there, that would be awful.’ So I decided to give it one more shot with the thought that we had a team that was close to winning a championship.”

I also asked Bettis to discuss how he was able to stifle the emotions related to playing his last game when that game was also the most important one of his career.

“It wasn’t hard at all because this was the dream that I always had,” Bettis said. “This was the one opportunity that I always wanted, so the fact that my career was ending was irrelevant at that time. I didn’t even think about it because this was really my one opportunity, and I always said to myself, ‘Hey, if you win this championship, you can celebrate it forever. Let’s not get caught up in being here. It’s not about me; it’s about winning a championship.’”

At the end of the interview, Bettis spoke with me about the four things that got him to greatness. In my opinion, that is the most poignant part of The Art of Sport feature.

“You have to make sacrifices to reach your goals,” Bettis said. “While you know that those sacrifices are for the betterment of yourself, your family doesn’t always understand that. You don’t get an opportunity to spend the time that you’d like with your family because of the dream you’re chasing. Then, there’s the pain. There is a lot of physical pain that comes with training and having to work out all year round. You’re hurt, you’re beat-up, but you’ve got to keep doing it. You have to deal with mental pain and mental fatigue, as well. The next thing is failure. You have to understand that you are going to fail sometimes. There are some things you are not going to be able to accomplish. But you can’t let that deter you from the ultimate goal. Failure has to become another opportunity for you to do it again and do it better. Dealing with failure the right way teaches you how to become a positive person internally. The last part is love. Love is so important because if you love what you’re doing, then you’ll be willing to make those sacrifices and accept the fact that there will be pain along the way. I think that all four of those things play a part in becoming great at anything in life, not just football.”

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Q&A Feature with Don Mattingly – in the 2016 New York Yankees Official Yearbook

March 11, 2016 – During the time I was in Florida for spring training, I traveled to Miami Marlins camp in Jupiter for an interview with Don Mattingly.

The interview with the newly-named Marlins manager and former Yankees captain was about the late Yogi Berra. My Q&A feature with Mattingly will be published in the special Yogi Berra section of the 2016 New York Yankees Official Yearbook.

During the conversation, I asked Mattingly about the impact that Berra had on him during the 1984 season. That year, Berra managed the Yankees, and under his tutelage, Mattingly won the American League batting title.

“The biggest impact Yogi had on me as a young player was how relaxed he allowed me to be,” Mattingly said from his office. “Yogi was always the same, and that was really good for me when I was coming up. If you saw Yogi after a game, he treated you the same way if you had gone 0-for-4 and made two errors or if you had gotten four hits. I was never afraid to approach Yogi after a bad game. If he had to talk to me about something I was doing wrong, he made sure to do that at the ballpark. But when we were away from the field, there was no carryover. He understood that we needed that time to get away from the game. Players need that separation between their personal lives and their baseball lives, and I’ve never been around anyone who recognized that as well as Yogi.”

A few minutes later, Mattingly shared a story about a trip Berra made to Indiana to attend a charitable function in the former first baseman’s hometown.

“Well, he was incredible,” Mattingly said. “Typical Yogi; he made everyone he met out there laugh. The first thing he told me when he got off the plane was that he could only have one vodka each day because having any more than that would be bad for his heart. I still laugh about that. Also, we had a little guest house, and that’s where he stayed. From that point on, he always talked about that little house. I mean, he talked about it for years afterward. I thought he would be impressed with some of the scenery out there and how expansive the view from our house was. But all I ever heard him say about Indiana was, ‘I love that pool house.’”

As the interview wound down, I asked Mattingly to describe Berra’s legacy.

“His greatest legacy is the way he treated people,” Mattingly said. “I think that’s what drew people to Yogi and why he was so beloved. Anyone could talk to him, and he treated everyone with respect. Whether he met the President of the United States or a guy on the grounds crew, he would treat them the exact same way. When I think about his legacy, I believe that his treatment of people will carry forward. For the people whose lives he touched and for those he met one time, that’s something that you take with you forever. It never leaves you.”

To read about the rest of this interview, grab a copy of the 2016 New York Yankees Official Yearbook. This year’s yearbook will be on sale beginning on April 4, and it will be available at Yankee Stadium, at www.yankees.com/publications or by calling (800) GO-YANKS.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Dinner with Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius

March 11, 2016 – A few days after Yankees second baseman Starlin Castro reported to spring training, I had the pleasure of sitting down with him and shortstop Didi Gregorius for dinner.

During the meal at Tampa landmark, Charley’s Steak House, I interviewed both players for the cover story of the April Issue of Yankees Magazine.

Before I could start the interview, a surprise visitor came to our table with a gift. Carlos Beltran, who was dining at the restaurant with former New York Mets GM Omar Minaya, stopped by with a bottle of 2013 cabernet sauvignon from California’s Caymus Vineyards.

Even before the waiter opened the wine bottle, I was impressed with the camaraderie between the two middle infielders, who had only been teammates for a few days at that time.

“Didi doesn’t drink wine,” Castro said. “But that’s OK. There will be more for the rest of us.”

“I will definitely try the alligator bites,” Gregorius responded, pointing to the popular appetizer on the menu. “But I will tell you right now, there’s no way Starlin will eat alligator.”

“You’re right,” Castro said. “No way.”

Besides having already gotten to know each other off the field, the two are looking forward to spending a lot of time together on the field.

“We’re already friends,” said the second baseman, who was traded to the Yankees from the Chicago Cubs in December. “But we’re going to be like family before you know it. We’re going to be the best middle infield in the game. I really believe that.”

If things continue to go the way they did for Castro and Gregorius during the second half of the last season, the second baseman’s prediction will probably come true.

After suffering through the worst slump of his career, Castro was benched for a few games last August and then moved from shortstop — where he had played for the first five and half years of his career — to second base. In his last 47 games of the season, beginning with his first appearance at second base on Aug. 11, Castro batted .353.

Castro’s late season surge was far from his first taste of success. In 2011, his second big-league season, he led the National League with 207 hits and earned his first of three All-Star Game selections.

Castro earned his third All-Star Game selection in 2014. That year, he tied his career high with 14 home runs while posting a .292 batting average, his highest since 2011.

“I was thankful that I was able to come back to being the player I had been,” Castro said as he dug into a 20-once rib eye steak. “I tried to make the most of the opportunity the Cubs gave me to be an everyday player again, and I’m proud of how I was able to rebound.”

Although Gregorius has only one full major league season under his belt, it was an impressive campaign. After getting off to slow start of his own, the 25-year-old got comfortable at the plate and became the shortstop the Yankees had hoped he would be. In 28 games last August, he collected 31 hits and 14 RBI, while batting .310, and when the 2015 season was all said and done, Gregorius’ batting average stood at .265.

“He’s a great player,” Castro said of his new teammate. “He’s a hard worker, and he constantly wants to improve.”

With only nine hits separating the 25-year-old Castro from the 1,000 hit plateau, I was sure to ask how much that individual goal means to him.

“I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t excited about it,” Castro said. “I want to get off to a good start in the regular season. I want to get it out of the way quickly, in the beginning of April, so that everyone can get completely focused on winning games, not milestones.”

To read about the rest of my interview and dinner with the middle infielders, grab a copy of the April Issue of Yankees Magazine, which will on sale beginning on April 4.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Portrait of Starlin Castro

March 11, 2016 – At the beginning of spring training each year, the Yankees hold Photo Day, and our photographers are among a few others who get the opportunity to shoot portraits of every Yankees player and coach. On this early morning at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida, we try to capture as many Yankees Magazine cover and opening spread photos as possible, and this year was a huge success.

From his station on the third base side of the field, Yankees team photographer James Petrozzello shot the portrait below of Starlin Castro for the opening spread of my April Issue feature on the Yankees new second baseman.

You’ll see plenty more beautifully-lit portraits from this late February morning in upcoming issues of Yankees Magazine this season.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Feature on Luis Severino – in the May Issue of Yankees Magazine

March 11, 2016—Not long after I arrived in Tampa for spring training, I interviewed up-and-coming pitcher Luis Severino for a feature story that is scheduled for publication in the May Issue of Yankees Magazine.

My conversation with Severino took place a few minutes after the pitcher faced live batters for the first time in 2016. Of course, he earned rave reviews for his performance in 2015, climbing from Double-A to the majors and putting together a 5-3 record with a 2.89 ERA in 11 starts with the Yankees.

On this unseasonably cool day in Tampa, it was clear that the 22-year-old Severino was not surprised by what he was able to do last season.

“If I was asked last year at this time where I was going to end up in 2015, I would have said the big leagues,” Severino said. “I really had the confidence I needed when I got to spring training last year, and I was determined to get there before the end of the season.”

Severino also spoke about the way he has prepared for the upcoming season.

“I wanted to get stronger,” said Severino, who maintained the same three-day a week throwing regimen he used in the past. “My workouts were a lot more intense. I feel like that will help me, especially as we get into the later part of the season. Because of what I did in the offseason, I have a lot more confidence than I had at the end of last season.”

Not only is the soft-spoken pitcher more confident than ever, he’s also excited to experience what he felt last season.

“When you get a taste of what it’s like pitching in front of thousands of fans in the major leagues, you can’t wait to experience that again,” Severino said. “I enjoyed the time in the minors, but there’s nothing that rivals the excitement that you feel from the number of fans rooting for you at Yankee Stadium.”

Don’t miss this entire story, which is scheduled for publication in the May Issue of Yankees Magazine.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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New York Yankees Official 2016 Spring Training Program – ON SALE, March 2

February 23, 2016 – The New York Yankees 2016 Official Spring Training Program will be on sale at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida, beginning on March 2.

On that afternoon, the Yankees will be kicking off their spring season, taking on the Detroit Tigers. If you are at that game, or any other matchup in Tampa this spring, be sure to grab a copy of the program.

This year’s program features two exclusive Q&A’s. For the first piece, executive editor Ken Derry sat down with Joe Girardi and spoke with the manager about this year’s team and his expectations for the season. A few weeks before Derry met with Girardi, I interviewed Alex Rodriguez and his childhood idol, Dan Marino in Miami (see blog entry below) for a compelling feature.

Also in this season’s spring training program, you’ll find contributing writer Mark Feinsand’s feature about Yogi Berra’s time with the Yankees in spring training. For this story, Feinsand spoke to several great Yankees players about their memories of the late catcher in Tampa over the last two decades.

Lastly, senior editor Jon Schwartz penned a feature about the team’s offseason acquisitions, including new second baseman Starlin Castro.

Enjoy the New York Yankees 2016 Official Spring Training Program. Opening Day will be here before you know it.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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