February 17, 2014 – On a frigid day in late January, I spent several hours with former Yankees first baseman Joe Pepitone in the Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood he grew up in. My feature on the loveable Pepitone, whose life story can be described as a roller-coaster ride, will be published in the Spring Issue of Yankees Magazine.
For Pepitone, who was called up to the big leagues in 1962 and was selected to three All-Star games during his eight-year tenure in pinstripes, the trip back to the Prospect Heights was his first in 50 years.
“I have no idea why I haven’t been back,” Pepitone said. “I remember all of the sights and smells like I had been here yesterday.”
I met Pepitone at a Brooklyn bakery for breakfast, and we then walked across Vanderbilt Avenue to the 74-year-old’s elementary school — which is now an apartment building.
From there, we walked along Vanderbilt Avenue for about five blocks until we got to St. Marks Avenue. We turned right onto St. Marks and walked to the old brick building that Pepitone grew up in (see photo with me below).
When we got to his old apartment building, Pepitone walked out to a manhole cover in the middle of the street.
“I started playing stickball out here when I was 4-years-old,” Pepitone said. “We played every day in the summer from morning until it got dark. We actually had teams. We practiced during the week and played games on the weekends. People would be out on their fire escapes watching us play, and they would send down money in baskets to bet on the game.”
As Yankees team photographer James Petrozzello snapped photos of Pepitone in the street, the former Yankee shared one of his favorite childhood memories.
“My grandfather, who lived next door to me, always had three or four brooms down in his basement,” Pepitone said. “I’d go down there and take the broomstick off the bottom of the broom, and that was our bat.”
Moments later, Pepitone returned to his mischievous ways.
“I’ll find the perfect broomstick,” Pepitone said as we walked up the front stairs of a nearby residence and grabbed an old and weathered broom.”
Then, without hesitation, Pepitone put his right foot on the area where the broomstick met the bristles, and he snapped off the stick.
Just like that, the old stickball legend had a bat, and I had the best anecdote of the day (see photo below).
There’s a lot more on Pepitone’s life — on and off the diamond — in my feature. After we left the street he grew up on, we ventured to an Italian restaurant a few miles away. There, Pepitone shared his experiences in the minor leagues and with the Yankees, including some great stories about his close friend Mickey Mantle.
Enjoy this exclusive feature on a very interesting Yankee.
–Alfred Santasiere III
February 17, 2015 – A few weeks before I interviewed Buffalo Bills legend Thurman Thomas in Orchard Park, New York, I spent some time with his longtime teammate, Andre Reed, in Long Island.
I interviewed Reed at the Joe Namath March of Dimes Celebrity Golf Classic in September for one of three Art of Sport features that will be published in the Spring Issue of Yankees Magazine. The other Q&A pieces that will run in that issue are with Thomas and former quarterback Jim Kelly.
In my conversation with Reed, the newly inducted Pro Football Hall of Famer spoke about the thrill of finally getting into Canton — after nearly a decade-long wait.
“There’s no doubt that the wait made it sweeter,” Reed said. “Getting into the Hall of Fame was on my mind for a long time, and there was time when I wondered if it would ever happen. If it happened six or seven years ago, it wouldn’t have been as great because I wouldn’t have appreciated how difficult it is to get in. But most importantly, when you’re a Hall of Famer, you’re a Hall of Famer forever, so it doesn’t matter how long it took for it to happen.”
Reed also shared his thoughts with me on Kelly.
“He was the leader of our team,” Reed said. “He was as tough as nails and the greatest competitor I’ve ever been around. We didn’t always agree on everything, but we knew that we could always be honest with each other and that made us better. Without Jim, I would not be in the Hall of Fame. Off the field, I feel like I’m part of his family, and he’s part of mine.”
Don’t miss the rest of this piece, on the pages of the Spring Edition of Yankees Magazine.
–Alfred Santasiere III
December 24, 2014 – The 2014 New Era Pinstripe Bowl will be played on December 28 at Yankees Stadium, and in my opinion, this year’s game program is the best one yet.
If you’re going to be at the game, you can pick up your copy at the Stadium. The official game program is also be available on www.yankees.com/publications and by calling (800) GO-YANKS.
Thanks to the tremendous efforts of managing editor Nathan Maciborski and the rest of the Yankees editorial staff, this publication if filled with all of the information fans could ever want about Penn State University’s football program and Boston College’s team. The official game program also includes features about the title sponsor of the bowl, college football at the old Yankee Stadium and the current Yankee Stadium and a few guys who played in the New York City’s bowl game in recent years.
My favorite feature in the publication details some of the greatest games in college football history, which took place between teams that are now in the ACC and the Big 10 — the two conferences that are represented in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. As senior editor Jon Schwartz noted in the feature, many of the teams that participated in these games were not in their current-day conferences when these epic battles took place, but they are now.
In addition to scribing that story, Schwartz also put together a Q&A piece with the 2013 New Era Pinstripe Bowl MVP, Zack Martin. The offensive tackle from Notre Dame was picked in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys, and he has been a standout from the first day of training camp.
A little closer to home, I traveled to the New York Giants practice facility in East Rutherford, New Jersey, for a conversation with Justin Pugh. The former Syracuse University left tackle played a big role in his team’s victories in the Inaugural New Era Pinstripe Bowl in 2010 and in SU’s win in the 2012 game.
In the interview, I asked Pugh, who has been the Giants’ starting right tackle since he was selected in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft, about the thrill of playing in what was the first college bowl game in New York City in several decades.
“There definitely was pressure on us because we’re New York’s college team,” Pugh said. “Also, [then Syracuse head coach] Coach Marrone is from the Bronx, and we really wanted to win it for him. When you’re playing a team from Kansas in New York, you feel like you really have to represent New York. We felt like it was our duty to defend our home turf.”
Pugh also discussed his team’s 369-yard rushing performance in the 2012 game against West Virginia University.
“We had a running back who ran more than 200 yards and another one who ran for more than 150,” Pugh said. “Playing that game in the snow and watching our fans throwing the snow into the air was a lot of fun. That will always be one of my favorite memories of playing football.”
At the end of the interview, I asked Pugh a few questions about his first two seasons with Big Blue, and he spoke about the Giants’ first win last season. As I wrote about in the 2014 New York Yankees Official Yearbook, Mariano Rivera took the field and served as the Giants’ honorary captain for that game. (see previous blog entry below).
“Having the greatest closer of any era there to support us was a great motivation,” Pugh said. “He’s a calm, quiet guy who always went to the mound and got it done, and that was the kind of mentality that we needed that night.”
I also wrote a long feature on the fascinating history and culture of New Era, a fourth-generation family-owned company that began in Western, New York, in 1920, has remained there ever since.
During the day I spent at New Era’s headquarters in downtown Buffalo, New York, I interviewed owner and CEO Chris Koch, whose great grandfather founded the company nearly 100 years ago.
New Era has grown exponentially over the last few decades, and it’s one of the largest sports apparel companies in the world today, producing more than 50 million hats a year.
What impressed me most during the time I spent with Koch and other executives, including president Peter Augustine, wasn’t the magnitude of New Era’s hat production or the creative designs, but instead, it was the way the atmosphere within the building.
Koch knows everyone who works in the four-story Buffalo office, and he is just about as concerned with maintaining New Era’s family culture as he is with the growth of the company.
“As you grow bigger, you try to figure out how you can continue to have the culture of family and caring,” Koch said from his third-floor office that overlooks the city on the banks of Lake Erie. “We’re always striving to make sure that people here understand the history behind where we came from. Out of our 95 years, we’ve only been an international corporation for about the last 15. Our foundation is the family atmosphere, and it’s vital to our success that we maintain that.”
As far as moving New Era’s hub to bigger city, the Buffalo native, who has worked for New Era since he was a teenager, wouldn’t even dream of it.
“It’s important to the city of Buffalo to have a global company headquartered in Buffalo,” Koch said. “Our 15 satellite offices throughout the world help us understand the market in those regions, but we still have a sense of Western New York in everything we do. That’s very important to me.”
In New Era, the Yankees certainly have a classy partner.
–Alfred Santasiere III
November 14, 2014 – Earlier this month, I spoke with Yankees great Don Mattingly about Derek Jeter for a first-person vignette that will be published in the updated DJ Commemorative Edition (see blog entry below).
The interview took place at the New York Chapter of the ALS Association’s Lou Gehrig Sports Awards Benefit in New York City. At the dinner, Mattingly spoke with me about a conversation that Jeter considers to be one of the most influential of his career. Mattingly also discussed the pride he feels in having his name on the list of former Yankees captains along with the likes of Jeter and Gehrig. Enjoy this special interview below.
–Alfred Santasiere III
I first met Derek when he was in the minors. He had a long way to go at that point, but I liked the way he went about his business. One morning during spring training, we were both coming off a back field together. I was running off the field, and I noticed that he wasn’t. I quietly told him to always run onto and off the field because you never know who’s watching you. At first, Derek thought I was referring to fans watching him, but I knew that Mr. Steinbrenner had his eyes on us.
Derek picked up his pace that day, and I never saw him walk onto or off the field again. He ran on and off the field before and after every practice and every inning of every game for the rest of his career. Over the years, I’ve also heard Derek talk about that conversation and explain that he took something out of it.
Derek was going to be a great player regardless of whether that conversation took place. But guys like Derek, who become great players, take the right things and make them their own. They take what they like so that it becomes part of who they are, and they get rid of the advice they’re not comfortable with. Derek has done that so well over the years. He’s had his own mindset, always knowing exactly who he wanted to be.
Derek was a great captain of the New York Yankees. Speaking from experience, I can say that when you’re named captain, you never really understand how much it means. Derek really grew into that role over time, and he gained an understanding of the meaning and the honor of that position. To share that distinction with Derek is special to me. He represented the captaincy of the New York Yankees as well as anyone could have.
November 14, 2014 – While I’m extremely proud of the Derek Jeter Commemorative Edition of Yankees Magazine, I feel that it can be an even more comprehensive publication.
The original version of the DJ Commemorative came out on the first day of Derek Jeter’s final homestand, and in my opinion, it was a masterpiece. However, based on the timing of its publication date, it did not include my feature on Jeter’s final home game or executive editor Ken Derry’s story on the last game of Jeter’s career.
In an effort to include everything we missed from last season, along with a few first-person vignettes that we have collected since the season ended and which we will gather over the next few months, we will be releasing an updated Derek Jeter Commemorative Edition of Yankees Magazine on Opening Day of the 2015 season. All of the content that was in the original version will be in the updated version.
The first interview that I conducted for one of the new vignettes was with Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino. In my conversation with the Hall of Fame quarterback, which took place at Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza in Livingston, New Jersey, the Hall of Fame quarterback spoke about his friendship with Jeter, and he also shared his thoughts on the shortstop’s final game at Yankee Stadium.
Although we’re several months away from printing the updated DJ Commemorative, you can read Marino’s words below.
–Alfred Santasiere III
Great players relish the opportunity to have the game in their hands. Continually succeeding in those situations makes you better because you’ve proven to yourself that you can come through when it matters most. Derek has come through in those spots more than anyone I can remember. No one can come through in the clutch all the time, but the great ones do it consistently, and that was what Derek did.
Of all of Derek’s late-game heroics, the one that stands out the most to me was his game-winning hit in his last game at Yankee Stadium. It’s hard to describe the range of emotions he must have been feeling that night. Baseball was his love. It was what he grew up playing, and it’s what he did until he was 40 years old. For someone who is such an important part of a team to know that you’re not going to be there any longer is difficult to deal with. But with all of those feelings, Derek still came through at the end, and that was amazing. We all wished for an ending like that because it was perfect.
November 4, 2014 – A few weeks ago, I traveled to Buffalo, New York to spend a day at the New Era corporate headquarters for a feature story on the company in the 2014 New Era Pinstripe Bowl Official Game Program (which I will detail on this blog in a few weeks).
While I was in Buffalo, I also met up with Hall of Fame running back Thurman Thomas at Ralph Wilson Stadium for an Art of Sport interview. The Q&A piece with the former Bills great will be published in the Spring Issue of Yankees Magazine, along with interviews with fellow Bills heroes Jim Kelly (see previous blog entry) and Andre Reed.
After interviewing Kelly on the 50-yard line of the Bills home stadium a year ago, I asked Thomas to sit down with me in the end-zone. Since the former running back scored 88 touchdowns in his 13-year NFL career, I was thrilled that he was on board with such an appropriate location.
Thomas arrived at the stadium in the late afternoon, wearing a Yankees sweatshirt and a Bills hat. Upon meeting him, he was quick to point out his allegiance to the Yankees.
Before the interview began, Thomas asked me to guess who his all-time favorite Yankees player is. Based on his first name, I guessed the late great Thurman Munson, and I was correct.
“When I was 11 years old, I heard his name for the first time,” Thomas said. “Other than me and my father, I had never heard that name before. That got me interested in watching him play, and I followed him for years. I remember when he was named captain of the Yankees, and I really admired the way he led those guys and kept those teams together.
“Of course, I still remember the day he died in the plane crash, and I still relive that in my head. Derek Jeter has been my favorite Yankee over the last few decades but no-one will ever be as special as Thurman to me.”
In the interview, I asked Thomas several questions about his career with the Bills including one about leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage a record four years in a row.
“I will always remember that record because it was a record that Jim Brown held,” Thomas said. “That’s special. Not only are you talking about a guy who played the running back position, but when you mention his name, you’re talking about one of the all-time greats at any position.”
I also asked Thomas what his favorite memory of playing at Ralph Wilson Stadium [formally named Rich Stadium] is, and he spoke about the Bills’ 1990 AFC Championship Game victory. In that game, the Bills defeated the Los Angeles Raiders and earned their first of four consecutive Super Bowl berths.
“The atmosphere in this place was amazing that day,” Thomas said. “It was joyful. I’ve never seen a group of fans as happy as our fans were that day. I remember looking into the stands in the fourth quarter and seeing people crying and hugging each other. Until that day, Buffalo was known for two things: snow and O.J. Simpson. When we won that game, this city became known for having a team that was going to the Super Bowl, and all of the excitement that you could imagine was rolled into this stadium.”
At the end of the interview, I asked Thomas to discuss his friendship with Kelly and the time he spent with him during the former quarterback’s most recent battle with cancer.
“I’ve known for a long time how tough Jim is,” Thomas said. “I’ve seen him get knocked out, go into the locker room and come back onto this field. He battled cancer the same freaking way. He took it one day at a time and kept battling. I’m so proud of him, and seeing how close he and his family are, made me closer to my family.”
–Alfred Santasiere III
October 14, 2014 – The October Issue of Yankees Magazine will be on sale on Monday, October 20.
Even though the Yankees’ 2014 season is over, the latest edition of Yankees Magazine will be available at Yankee Stadium throughout the autumn and winter.
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.
Derek Jeter graces the cover of the October Issue. The cover photo, taken by Yankees chief photographer Ariele Goldman Hecht, features the captain saying good-bye to the home crowd for the final time, and it is truly an inimitable shot.
This edition includes three stories on Jeter. I wrote the cover story on Jeter’s final home game (see blog entry below), and we’ve also published a photo essay on Derek Jeter Day in this issue (see blog entry below).
Additionally, executive editor Ken Derry penned a beautifully-written feature on Jeter’s final game. Derry’s description of the sunny afternoon in Fenway Park is one of the greatest stories you will ever read on the captain.
Also in this issue are Art of Sport pieces with Chicago Bears legends Mike Ditka and Jim McMahon (see blog entry below).
Lastly, I wrote a feature on The Clemente Museum, which was previously published in the 2014 Edition of Yankees Magazine en Español.
Enjoy the final issue of Yankees Magazine in 2014.
–Alfred Santasiere III
October 14, 2014 – Last September, I traveled to Pittsburgh to visit a hidden gem and to write about it.
My feature on The Clemente Museum in the October Issue of Yankees Magazine will take you behind the scenes of a 118-year-old firehouse turned shrine.
The museum, dedicated to the life and career of Roberto Clemente, was founded by Duane Rieder (below).
Rieder, a Pittsburgh photographer who grew up about 120 miles outside of the Steel City, has been an admirer of Clemente since he was a young child.
Long before the great Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder died in a 1972 plane crash while attempting to deliver relief supplies from his native Puerto Rico to Nicaragua in the wake of a devastating earthquake, he was revered throughout Latin American and in the United States.
In the city where the baseball pioneer made his most profound contributions to the game — collecting 3,000 hits and helping the Pirates win two championships — stands a temple that he would be proud of.
Among the hundreds of unique photos of Clemente in the museum is a portrait taken in 1960. In that photo (below), Clemente is jumping up to catch a baseball. A cloud formation that resembles angel’s wings sits perfectly on the outfielder’s shoulders.
“I think it’s the best sports photograph ever taken,” Rieder said during my day-long tour last year. “The angel’s wings symbolize who Clemente was. He did so much charitable work. He spent every free moment helping the poor and doing other good deeds. He really was an angel.”
Several other rare items including letters written by Clemente to Pirates’ brass, benches that once sat in the home dugout of Forbes Field and 17 of Clemente’s official military documents are also in the museum.
Clemente’s world Series rings — from the 1960 and 1971 seasons — along with two of his Gold Glove Awards and several of his bats and jerseys, are as eye catching as the beautiful photographs on the walls.
There are hundreds of other authentic pieces of memorabilia in the museum, and having visited this unique place, I encourage my fellow baseball fans to do the same.
–Alfred Santasiere III
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
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