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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

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The Art of Sport with Marv Levy

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

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The Art of Sport with Jim Boeheim

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

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New to Yankees Magazine: The Art of Sport

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

Special Trip to the Mound in Trenton

July 21, 2014 — For the fourth 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

Trenton Blog Entry - 2014

July Issue of Yankees Magazine – ON SALE, JUNE 30

June 29, 2014 – The July Issue of Yankees Magazine will be on sale this Monday, June 30 at Yankee Stadium. You can purchase a subscription to the print version of Yankees Magazine by calling (800) GO-YANKS, and you can purchase a print or digital subscription by visiting http://www.yankees.com/publications.

Dellin Betances, who has a 1.39 ERA in 45 innings of work (as of June 29), graces the cover. Executive editor Ken Derry’s story will take you inside the life of the shy New York native, and it’s a great read.

This July marks the 100th anniversary of Babe Ruth’s major league debut, and this issue includes my feature on The Babe’s favorite hideouts in and around New York (see blog entry below) and the accompanying Q&A with one of the Bambino’s greatest fans, David Wells (see blog entry below).

July also marks the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s farewell address. In recognition of that anniversary, managing editor Nathan Maciborski wrote a wonderful feature on the “Luckiest Man” speech at Yankee Stadium for this issue.

Ruth and Gehrig are not the only Yankees legends on the pages of the July Issue. The Yankees recently held their 68th annual Old-Timers’ Day at the Stadium, and our photographers put together a magical collection of images for a photo essay.

This was an especially meaningful Old-Timers’ Day because the Yankees dedicated a plaque to Hall of Famer Goose Gossage during the festivities. I spent some with Gossage prior to his big day and in the moments after the plaque was unveiled for a Q&A piece that follows the Old-Timers’ Day photo essay (see blog entry below).

Lastly, if you’re a football fan, don’t miss my “5 Minutes with…” interviews with New York Giants legends Bill Parcells and Phil Simms (see blog entries below).

Enjoy this edition of Yankees Magazine.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Gov. Christie’s Visit to Yankee Stadium

June 29, 2014 – Earlier this week, I watched a few innings of the fourth annual Bombers Boomer Broadway Softball Classic at Yankee Stadium. Several former Yankees, including Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, Charlie Hayes, Graeme Lloyd and Jeff Nelson participated in the event.

As the case was in previous years, the event included two seven-inning games. In the first game of the afternoon, several Broadway stars squared off against each other, and in the second game, a team led by former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason took on a squad made up of the former Yankees along with members of the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team.

Proceeds from the event will benefit the Boomer Esiason Foundation — which fights Cystic Fibrosis — the Actors Fund and the Wounded Warrior Project.

Toward the end of the second game, I caught up with Esiason’s third baseman, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, in the dugout.

“First of all, we’re out here for a great cause,” said the Garden State’s 55th governor, who was sporting jersey number 55. “I’m happy to be here because of that. As a guy who grew up in this area and played baseball in high school, getting to play on the field at Yankee Stadium is amazing.”

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Recollections of Derek Jeter — by David Cone

June 29, 2014 — A few weeks ago, I had dinner at NYY Steak in Manhattan with a group of friends that included perfect game pitchers Don Larsen, David Wells and David Cone (see photo below with the perfect game pitchers, Matthew Shauger of the New York Giants and me).

After our group finished dinner, the perfect game pitchers were interviewed for a special episode of Yankees Magazine TV show, which is on the YES Network.

Listening to Larsen, Wells and Cone discuss their respective perfect games was just as interesting as our candid dinner conversation — and trust me, it was interesting.

The half-hour show about the perfect games is scheduled to air next month.

I also had the opportunity to ask Cone a few questions about Derek Jeter for one of the many vignettes on the captain, which are scheduled to appear in the September Issue of Yankees Magazine. Below are Cone’s words about Jeter.

Alfred Santasiere III

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I was Derek’s teammate during the first few years of his career, and he was remarkably mature from Day One. He was levelheaded and very grounded. As veterans, we would challenge the rookies. We would look for things that they would do wrong, and Derek never gave us any material. He was way ahead of his years and he knew how to handle himself.

I’ve been around a lot of great teammates, guys who had ups and downs and guys who showed emotion. With Derek, you couldn’t tell from one day to the next whether he got four hits or struck out four times. He was always mentally prepared to play well. He knew how to turn the page better than anybody I’ve ever seen.

Derek made other players better simply by the way he showed up for work. He took the game seriously, and he was prepared to play every day. In those ways, he reminded me of Don Mattingly. Derek’s work ethic and energy were infectious.

Derek’s greatest accomplishment has been his consistently. To be able to put up big numbers for as long as he has is extremely difficult. He’s been consistently great because of his relentless drive. No one goes about their business with more of an unwavering desire to be the best than Derek.

PERFECT GAME PITCHERS WITH AL:MATT - JUNE 2014

Q&A with David Wells — about The Babe

June 29, 2014 — Earlier this month, I spent a day at the Leewood Golf Club with former Yankees pitcher and Babe Ruth admirer David Wells. While we were at the club, I interviewed Wells about his fondness of the Bambino for a sidebar to my feature story on Ruth’s favorite hideouts (which will be published in the July Issue).

In addition to the places I detailed in the blog entry below, the Leewood golf course is also featured in my story. Ruth was a member at the Eastchester, New York club from 1938 through 1944, and his presence is still very much alive on the grounds today.

There is a lounge named after The Babe, and its walls are decked with photos of him — several of which were taken on the course. Additionally, stories about Ruth are often mentioned on the 17th hole. Legend has it that Ruth’s drives from the tee often sailed more than 300 yards and reached the green. On many of those occasions, he scored an eagle, sinking the ball on two strokes.

Ruth’s greatest legacy at the course is a tunnel that connects the Bronx River Parkway to Leewood Drive — a small road that the club is located off of. Prior to when Ruth joined the club, the tunnel was too narrow for automobiles to pass through. It was instead used as a cattle crossing. But in order to make the commute from New York City quicker for Ruth, city officials widened the tunnel so that one vehicle at a time could fit through it.
After our group sank their putts on the 18th hole, I brought Wells to the tunnel for a photo op. Yankees photographer Matt Ziegler snapped a few shots of Wells on sidewalk, and then the pitcher made the next photo even better. In the few seconds during which there were no cars coming through the tunnel, Wells ran into the street and posed for the photo below.

After the photo shoot, Wells spoke to me about the Babe.

“He’s the most recognized athlete of all time because he dominated his sport like no one ever has, and he still burned the candle at both ends,” Wells said. “He was the first rock star in sports.

“Anywhere The Babe spent time is a historical place,” Wells continued. “I have a great appreciation for places like this. I was looking at all the trees and wondering if they were here when he played on this course. I hit a few trees, and I wondered if he might have hit the same ones. It was nice to play on a course that he played on.”

To read the entire interview, pick up your copy of the July Issue of Yankees Magazine, which will be on sale on Monday June 30.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Reflections of Derek Jeter – by Paul O’Neill

June 20, 2014 – A few days after I spoke with Eli Manning about Derek Jeter, I interviewed former Yankees rightfielder Paul O’Neill about the captain for another first-person vignette that will appear in the September Issue (see blog entry below).

O’Neill’s recollections about Jeter are below. Enjoy this unique perspective on the captain’s great career, and be sure to grab the September Issue to read what so many others had to say about Jeter.

–Alfred Santasiere III

By the middle of 1996, I knew Derek was going to be a great player. His winning attitude and his competitiveness were evident very early in his career.

Derek came up at the perfect time. The Yankees had turned things around and made the playoffs the year before. Sometimes, it seems as if things just happen for a reason. Derek was at the right point of his career at the right time with the right team. And, our team needed him at that time. Derek gave us a shot of youthful emotion. It was a great fit.

Derek was never intimidated by any situation on the field — even during his first postseason. In his mind, he always thought he would succeed in big at-bats. That confidence comes from who he is inside, but he also had a lot to draw from because he had succeeded in clutch spots from the time he got to the majors.

When I think back on being on the same field with Derek, the first moment that comes to my mind is his flip play in Oakland during the 2001 American League Division Series. That’s not a play you practice. People were going in different directions, and it was very hectic out there. He was in the exact right place at the right time. It wasn’t a coincidence that he happened to be there on an overthrow, so that he could field the ball and flip it perfectly to the plate. Some of the great things people do in the game are just instinctual, and he has great instincts.

More than anything else, Derek will be remembered as a winner. He’s a great baseball player who enjoys the game. That’s easy to say about a lot of people but I truly mean it about Derek.

–Paul O’Neill

PAUL O'NEILL 2 - 2014 (EDITED)

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