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The Art of Sport with Mike Ditka

October 14, 2014 – On a balmy day during Spring Training, I traveled to Naples, Florida, to meet former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka for an exclusive interview.

During the afternoon I spent with Ditka, I interviewed the Pro Football Hall of Famer for an Art of Sport Q&A feature that will appear in the October Issue of Yankees Magazine.

Ditka and I spoke about several topics including his famed 1985 Chicago Bears squad, a team that captured the imagination of the Windy City and the rest of the country with it’s dominance of the rest of the league.

“We had a lot of characters that had a lot of character,” said Ditka who led that team to a 15-1 record en route to a Super Bowl championship. “We had great leadership on our football team. On the defensive side of the ball we had Mike Singletary and Gary Fencik. On offense, Jim McMahon was a renegade, and he liked to defy authority a little bit, but he was a great leader and a great competitor. I knew my players had a lot of parties and liked to have a good time on and off the field, but everything was done in moderation.”

Of course, no conversation about the ’85 Bears would be complete without the inclusion of the famed Super Bowl Shuffle video.

“[The players] came to me in the middle of the season and told me that they had a chance to make a music video,” Ditka said. “I asked them when they would be shooting it, and they told me that it was going to be on an off-day. As long as it didn’t’ interfere with our schedule, I was OK with it. I never thought about it again until I saw the video. By that time, a lot of people were saying how arrogant and egotistical the video was. Maybe it was. But if you don’t think you’re going to win, you will never win. If you don’t think you’re the best, you will never be the best. It’s too bad I wasn’t in the video because I would have stolen the show.”

Before we wrapped up our lunch meeting, I asked Ditka to share his thoughts on Derek Jeter.

“He’s a credit to the game,” Ditka said. “He’s the epitome of what you want an athlete to be. I’ve never seen him do anything but go out and try to win baseball games. There are guys who are more talented, but I don’t think anyone has played the game harder than Derek. Derek reminds me of Walter Payton and Michael Jordan. They had the same drive, and they never became satisfied.”

My complete interview with Ditka, along with an Art of Sport Q&A with the aforementioned Jim McMahon, will be in the October Issue of Yankees Magazine.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Lasting Tribute to Derek Jeter at Fenway Park

October 14, 2014 – On the day after Derek Jeter’s final game, my wife, Tiana, our son, Alfred, and a few of my Yankees colleagues returned to Fenway Park for a tour.

On the sunny Fall day, we visited several areas of the ballpark, including the seats on top of the famed Green Monster. While we were admiring the view of the field from atop the Monster, I noticed that someone had paid tribute to the Yankees captain during his final game.

On the sign for Section 2, the words “Jeter Last Game, 28th Sept. 2014, Green Monster” were written. Like the other hand-written notes on the Monster, I can only imagine that these words will be there for a long time.

Before we left the Green Monster seats, Yankees team photographer James Petrozzello snapped a photo of the sign, and that image will be published in the On Deck Circle section of the October Issue of Yankees Magazine.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Memories for a Lifetime

October 14, 2014 – Two days after Derek Jeter’s emotional send-off at Yankee Stadium, I traveled with my family to Boston for the final game of the captain’s career.

In my “From the Press Box” column in the October Issue of Yankees Magazine, I share my experiences from that special weekend with my wife, Tiana, and our son, Alfred.

Below is an excerpt from that column about what was a most unforgettable and enjoyable time.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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On the eve of Jeter’s last game, [my family and I] strolled into a popular family-style Italian restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for dinner. When we arrived at East Side Bar & Grille, Harold Medeiros, a middle-aged host with a strong Boston accent, greeted us. Upon asking us where we were from, Medeiros promptly revealed his baseball allegiance.

“I’ve lived here my whole life,” Medeiros said. “But from the first time I saw Mickey Mantle play, I was a Yankee fan. The Yankees have had great players since Mantle’s days, but no one could ever match his grace or power.”

After we got to our table, Medeiros stopped by to tell us that he would be at Fenway Park the next day to see Jeter wrap up his storied career.

“I wouldn’t miss that for the world,” Medeiros said. “He’s a hero, one of the greatest players who will ever live, and certainly one of the best Yankees of all time. But, in my heart, no-one will ever be as special as The Mick.”

As I sat next to my 6-year-old son, Alfred, on a picture-perfect afternoon at Fenway Park and watched with him as Jeter walked to the plate for the final time and collected his 3,465th and final hit, I thought about Medeiros’ words about Mantle.

More than ever, I realized how powerful and long lasting an impression an athlete can have on a young fan. On a day that was filled with mixed emotions, I left the ballpark filled with happiness. That joy came from knowing that my son’s favorite player had left the same indelible mark on his heart that Mantle left with the millions of youngsters who watched him play a half-century ago. I also left Fenway Park with pride, knowing that Alfred’s baseball hero is not only a legend on the field, but a perfect role model off the field and someone who made my young boy feel as if he was the most important person in the world each time he met him.

Thank you, Derek Jeter, for 20 years of great play and for inspiring your fans forever.

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Perfect Goodbye

October 14, 2014 – All of the excitement that Derek Jeter created in the first inning of his final game at Yankee Stadium (see blog entry below) was just the beginning.

The events that took place on the field in the latter part of the game made it a night for the ages.

For Jeter to be the hero in his own swansong was even more improbable than the rainy weather clearing up moments before game time and giving way to a beautiful rainbow over the Bronx skies. But, then again, this was Jeter’s night, so maybe it was more appropriate than improbable.

Regardless of how the captain’s game-winning, ninth inning hit — which was made possible by a comeback by the Baltimore Orioles in the top of the frame — is described, one thing is for sure: It will be written about and talked about forever.

From my seat in the press box, I recorded all the details I possible could for the cover story of the October Issue of Yankees Magazine. Following the game, Jeter spoke about the emotional night in a press conference, and I also caught up with his former manager, Joe Torre, moments after that. In my exclusive conversation with Torre, the skipper shared his thoughts on meeting up with Jeter in the home dugout seconds before the captain left the field for the final time. In my opinion, that was the perfect ending to a perfectly unscripted goodbye.

“Just like a lot of other things tonight, that certainly wasn’t planned,” Torre said. “All the other guys were leaving, and I noticed that Derek was going back onto the field, and I wanted to take that all in. I didn’t realize he was going to be back in the dugout so quickly, and I didn’t expect to be there when he came off the field. I was glad I was there because it was a special time for me.

“What he represents, we don’t have enough of in sports,” Torre continued. “I’m not just talking about his ability to play baseball, but also what he represents as a man. Sports will cry out for more people as respectful as Derek Jeter.”

A few days later, I spoke with Jeter about his Yankee Stadium finale, and those quotes are also in my story.

This story does not only include exclusive words from Jeter and Torre, but it also features a unique collection of photographs. Our team of photographers had unparalleled access to the field on Sept. 25, and they made the most of it.

One of my favorite images from the night is below. The photo, taken by Yankees chief photographer Ariele Goldman Hecht, captures Jeter’s final stop at the shortstop position.

“I say a little prayer before every game, and when I got out to short, I just said thank you because this is all I’ve ever wanted to do and not too many get an opportunity to do it,” Jeter said. “It was above and beyond anything I’ve ever dreamed of. I’ve lived a dream, and that dream is over now.”

Enjoy “A Dream Gone By” on the pages of the October Issue of Yankees Magazine.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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The Last Time in Pinstripes

September 25, 2014 – There are millions of people who have undoubtedly echoed these sentiments, but I can’t believe tonight is Derek Jeter’s final game in pinstripes. It feels like yesterday when DJ caught our attention for the first time time. That was 20 years ago.

I have had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with the Yankees captain for the final twelve seasons of his career, and it’s been one of the great honors of my life.

When I found a minute in which Jeter was alone at his locker yesterday, I shared those thoughts with him. I told him how lucky I felt to have been one of the people — in what is a small group — to have gotten to know him. The fact that Jeter took the time to offer a thoughtful response and reminisce with me for a few minutes added to what is a lifetime of fond memories I have. It also underscores his class and patience, which is unwavering — even at a time when the whole world is trying to talk to him.

After a day full of rain — during which it seemed as if tonight’s game might never get played — the storm clouds made way to an orange and blue sky over Yankee Stadium, and a rainbow covered parts of the Bronx.

The capacity crowd at Yankee Stadium filled every seat before Jeter was introduced for the final time in pinstripes. And, with a large contingent of press photographers assembled in front of the outside part of the home dugout, Jeter led his team onto the field. Out of respect for their captain, Jeter’s teammates waited until he got to his familiar position at shortstop before running out of the dugout.

When Jeter emerged, the crowd roared, and began to chant “Der-ek Jee-ter” until the shortstop tipped his cap several times.

Nothing could dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd. Not the weather. Not the two home runs that Baltimore Orioles batters Nick Markakis and Alejendro De Aza hit before Yankees starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda recorded the first out of the game.

When the voice of the late Bob Sheppard echoed through the Stadium in the bottom of the first inning, the crowd was already standing and cheering.

Jeter took the first four pitches of the at-bat from lefthander Kevin Gausman.

Then, the captain did what I believe he has done better than anyone in the history of the game. He delivered in a big moment. Jeter showed his flair for the dramatic by smacking a line drive to left-center field, missing a home run by a few feet and putting the Yankees on the board.

As Jeter stood on second base, the volume in the Stadium remained on high. For the Yankees faithful, it was one of many moments to remember. He’s authored a lifetime worth of those moments in his career.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Derek Jeter’s Final Team Photo

September 23, 2014 — On August 8, Yankees staff photographer Matthew Ziegler snapped the last New York Yankees team photo that Derek Jeter will appear in. The photo (below) will serve as the poster for the October Issue of Yankees Magazine.

You can purchase a print of the 2014 New York Yankees team photo by calling (800) GO-YANKS or by visiting http://www.yankees.com/publications.

When I asked Jeter about his memories of the 20 Yankees team photos he has posed for, the captain began to laugh.

“I should be pretty good at it by now,” Jeter said. “I have certainly done it enough times. I know exactly where I’m supposed to stand before you tell me. But it’s fun to see the younger guys try to figure out where they need to be.”

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Reflections of Derek Jeter — by Jerry Rice

September 19, 2014 – A little more than a week after I interviewed the greatest basketball player of all-time, I sat down with arguably the greatest football player in history.

On September 17, I interviewed Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice at NYY Steak in Manhattan for an Art of Sport Q&A feature that will appear in an in issue of Yankees Magazine next season. I will preview that piece before the start of the 2015 campaign. But for now, take a gander at what Rice said about Derek Jeter. Unlike my interview with Michael Jordan ten days earlier, my conversation with Rice took place after we printed the DJ Commemorative — meaning that you can only read the gridiron great’s words about Jeter below.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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What a great career Derek has had. The way he has conducted himself on and off the field is an inspiration to all of us. He has been a great role model to kids throughout the world. Derek has always played the game the right way, and he stands for everything that’s good in sports. There are not enough athletes like Derek, and he is someone that you don’t take for granted. He’s a class act.

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Images of Derek Jeter Day — in the DJ Commemorative

September 19, 2014 — As I wrote in a blog entry below, the Derek Jeter Commemorative Edition of Yankees Magazine includes a photo essay from Derek Jeter Day.

Below are a few of my favorite photos from the September 7 festivities at Yankee Stadium. If you like these images, be sure to pick up a copy of the DJ Commemorative, because there are several more incredible photos of Jeter throughout the pages of the special publication.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Reflections of Derek Jeter – by Michael Jordan

September 19, 2014 — Two days after I sat down with the greatest hockey player in history, I had the privilege of asking the all-time greatest basketball player a few questions about Derek Jeter.

During the Derek Jeter Day festivities at Yankee Stadium, Michael Jordan spoke to me about the captain — at Yankee Stadium. Jordan’s words (below) are included in the Derek Jeter Commemorative Edition of Yankees Magazine — along with those of Wayne Gretzky.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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One of the things that every professional athlete strives for is perfection. We work hard every day to try to improve our craft. If you do things the right way and you are as dedicated as Derek, you tend to respond under pressure. Pressure situations determine who has put forth the most effort, and it’s very obvious that Derek has. He has prepared the right way. When he gets into the workout area, he really works. That type of dedication is a gift that the best athletes have. Derek has been put into situations that he can succeed in because of the way he has worked. I was able to succeed in the big situations I’ve been in, and we all take pride in the dedication that made it possible to have that success. Great athletes thrive under pressure because they prepare themselves for pressure. Derek has always responded the right way under pressure. You have to give credit to him and to his parents, who instilled a strong work ethic in him.

I played alongside Derek in the Arizona Fall League. That was the first time I actually met him, and even back then, he was a great leader, just by the way he carried himself.

Winning happens because of great leadership, and it doesn’t surprise me that Derek has won five championships and been successful from the time he got to the big leagues. Derek is well-respected not just by his teammates, but by everyone in sports. He’s a champion and an idol.

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Reflections of Derek Jeter — by Wayne Gretzky

September 19, 2014 – A few days before Derek Jeter Day, I traveled to Toronto, Canada to interview Wayne Gretzky for a first-person vignette on Derek Jeter that is part of the DJ Commemorative and for an Art of Sport feature that will appear in the April 2015 Issue of Yankees Magazine. I will preview my Q&A feature on the life and career of the greatest hockey player in the history of the sport before the start of next season. But for now, enjoy Gretzky’s words about Jeter.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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There are professional athletes who understand that there is more to being a professional athlete than just playing the sport. Obviously, if you’re a professional athlete, there’s a lot that goes along with it. You play the game. You cooperate with the media. You treat your teammates well, and you understand that the fans are the most important part of it all. If you understand that those components are part of your everyday workload, things are a lot easier. Mark Messier used to say that there isn’t one thing about hockey that he didn’t love, and that included playing the game, the travel, signing autographs and answering the media’s questions. Derek is the exact same way. He understands the importance of what he brings to the Yankees and to the game of baseball.

I applaud Derek for announcing that this would be his last year. It gave baseball fans, Derek’s teammates and the players on other teams the chance to say goodbye to him. We can never get enough positive things in sports, and when you have someone who has done as much as Derek has and has meant as much to sports as Derek has, it gets no better than that. Derek deserves all the recognition he has received.

As a professional athlete, you want your last year to be parallel to your first year, but you can’t expect to have the same type of year you had when you were in your prime. Derek’s having a respectable season, and he’s leaving the game at the right time. If you give your heart and soul to the game the way Derek has, fans —especially those in New York — will support you to the end. They love Derek for what he has accomplished for the city and the team.

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