February 26, 2014 — Each year, at the start of spring training, Derek Jeter meets the media, and spends about a half hour answering questions about the state of his career and of the team.
That “gathering” took place last week in a pavilion at George M. Steinbrenner Field. But this time around, the media availability with Jeter was actually a historic press conference.
In front of a packed room that included journalists from around the country, several members of the Steinbrenner family and the entire Yankees team and coaching staff, Jeter spoke about the announcement he had made a few days earlier on Facebook. Although he wouldn’t refer to the gathering as a formal press conference, this was the time in which Jeter formally announced that the 2014 season will be his last as a player.
As a member of the Baltimore Orioles media relations department in 2001, I was at Cal Ripken Jr.’s retirement announcement, and last spring I was at the press conference in which Mariano Rivera revealed that 2013 would be his final season. In both of those situations, the retiring legends were emotional. Ripken and Rivera nearly broke down when they spoke about the finality of their playing days – even though they still had several months of baseball left.
Jeter was different. He was unemotional. He was stoic. More than anything else, he was focused.
As I sat a few rows in front of the one of the most storied Yankees of all-time and listened to him discuss his career, I realized that what has made Jeter so great year-in-and-year-out, is his unwavering focus. And, just because he’s made a decision to move on after this year, that unflappable focus hasn’t gone away.
When asked about his future after baseball or about his past accomplishments, Jeter said little. When asked about the upcoming season, Jeter spoke at length. While much of the baseball world is focused on the fact that in few short months, Derek Jeter’s career will be over, he is focused on the now. That’s how he’s always been, and that is what has made him stand out among all the great players in the modern era.
“I’m looking forward to doing other things, but not yet,” Jeter said. “For now, I guess I like the idea of doing other things, but until the season is over, I really don’t plan on thinking about those things at all.”
–Alfred Santasiere III
February 26, 2014 – On the morning after Bucky Dent’s golf tournament, I traveled north to Juno Beach, Florida for an interview and photo shoot with Hall of Fame football coach Bill Parcells.
I met Parcells at the Hurricane Cafe, which is located one block from the Atlantic Ocean, and I spoke with him over breakfast for an upcoming “5 Minutes with…” feature in Yankees Magazine.
One of the most interesting topics we discussed was Parcells’ first season as the New York Giants head coach. Parcells and the Giants struggled in 1983, and they got off to a rocky start in 1984. Looking back on that time, Parcells acknowledged that he needed to make significant changes to his approach.
“My first year as a head coach was a disaster,” Parcells said. “I was lucky to survive it. If someone had tried to screw it up on purpose, they couldn’t have done a worse job than I did. But the main thing I learned was that you can’t try to portray yourself as something that you’re not. I tried to be someone different from who I really was. The most important change I made was that I just went back to being myself. I needed to be forthright and candid like I had been before I took over as head coach. I’m pretty confrontational, and that had always served me well. Once I got back to being that way, the players knew where they stood with me, and we began to win.”
Parcells also discussed legendary Giants quarterback Phil Simms, who will be featured in a “5 Minutes with…” piece in the same issue as the coach.
“Phil is the type of guy who you always want on your side because he’s as tough as nails,” Parcells said. “He’s got that soft blond fluffy hair, but you wouldn’t want to mess with him. I may have bruised his ego a few times, but he wasn’t overly sensitive, and I really liked that about him. I always knew that he was with me, and that he was trying to do the same thing I was trying to do. What I tried to do with Phil, was get him to a point in which he wasn’t afraid to fail. I wanted him to be smart, but I didn’t want him to hold back. If you asked him about me, I think he would tell you that I allowed him to be aggressive mentally.”
Parcells also shared an interesting story with me about his long-time friend, Gene “Stick” Michael, who served as the Yankees general manager from 1979 to 1980 and from 1990 to 1995.
“Stick and I used to go out for lunch at a place called Hagler’s in Oradell, New Jersey,” Parcells said of the current-day special advisor. “Stick helped me with free agency, because it had been a part of baseball for several years before it was in the NFL. He explained to me that you have to face the fact that you’re going to lose some of your players. He explained that I needed to quit thinking so much about who we were going to lose and that I needed to start thinking about how we were going to replace those players. That was a big help.”
After we finished breakfast, we drove to a nearby beach, where Yankees staff photographer Matthew Ziegler snapped several beautiful portraits of the coach, including the one below.
The rest of the interview with Parcells will be published in Yankees Magazine this summer, along with a Q&A feature with Simms.
–Alfred Santasiere III
February 26, 2014 – A few minutes after my interview with Ron Guidry, Goose Gossage and Bucky Dent concluded (see blog entry below), I spent the rest of the day on the golf course with Gossage.
The Hall of Fame closer, along with my wife, Tiana, and my colleagues, Mike Hicks and John Mendez, made up a foursome that competed in Bucky Dent’s 30th annual charity golf outing.
Armed with Gossage’s awe-inspiring drives, and impressive short game of all four golfers, the team birdied six of the final seven holes to finish 10 under par.
Much to everyone’s surprise, that score, coupled with the group’s combined handicap, was good for first place in the tournament. When it was announced that the team had won the tournament, each of the golfers (including Gossage) were beaming with happiness (as you can see in the photo below).
“It was a great day,” Gossage said. “Everyone on our team played great. We really had four ringers out there, and we had a heck of a lot of fun. To win the whole thing, that was awesome.”
–Alfred Santasiere III
February 26, 2014 – While attending Bucky Dent’s annual golf outing in Lake Worth, Florida, in January, I sat down with Dent, Ron Guidry and Hall of Famer Goose Gossage for special Q&A feature that was published in the 2014 New York Yankees Official Spring Training Program.
In the interview, which took place on a deck that overlooks The Falls golf course, I asked the greats several questions about the Yankees 1978 championship season.
That year, the Yankees trailed the Boston Red Sox in the standings by 14 games in late July, before staging an epic comeback. Thanks in part to the contributions of Gossage, Dent and Guidry (who won 25 games), the Yankees caught the Red Sox at the end of the regular season, forcing a one-game playoff.
That epic contest, which took place in front of a hostile crowd in Fenway Park, is regarded as one of the most thrilling games in major league history, and the three men I spoke with played the most significant roles that afternoon. Guidry pitched the first 6 1/3 innings, giving up only two runs. Gossage staved off the Red Sox in the final 2 2/3 innings, and Dent hit the home run that put the Yankees on top in the seventh inning — and etched his name into baseball lore.
In the first few minutes of the half-hour conversation, I asked the former Yankees to discuss the season-long chase of the Red Sox.
“I was happy we were chasing the Red Sox, rather than being chased by them,” Gossage said. “We knew that they were looking over their shoulders because we were playing great and they were faltering. We knew there was more pressure on them, and we felt comfortable chasing them.”
A few minutes later, the former ballplayers discussed their archrivals.
“They were by far the best team I ever pitched against in my career,” Guidry said of the 1978 Red Sox squad. “From the first guy to the ninth guy, they were dangerous.”
When the conversation turned to the one-game playoff, the former players discussed the atmosphere in Fenway Park as if the storied game had just taken place.
“It was a beautiful fall day, and the crowd was into every pitch,” Dent said. “I felt a lot of pressure from the minute I got into the ballpark, but thankfully, I was able to stay focused and help us win the game.”
“There was a different feel to that day, beginning with batting practice,” Gossage added. “You could feel the tension in the ballpark. The crowd was actually subdued because they were so nervous. I never pitched in a game like that before or after that day.”
This feature includes several other great anecdotes about the 1978 season, and if you are a fan of Yankees history, I believe you will enjoy it.
–Alfred Santasiere III
February 26, 2014 – Last spring, I spent a day with Yankees pitching guru Billy Connors, at his home in Safety Harbor, Florida, for a feature story that was published in the Spring Issue of Yankees Magazine.
Connors, who was a major league pitcher for two seasons in the ’60s and who has served as an executive in the Yankees’ baseball operations department since 1995, has played a unique and significant role in the team’s success over the last twenty years.
For nearly two decades, the Yankees sent pitchers, who came upon hard times on the mound, to work with Connors in Florida. In many cases, the pitching guru found ways to revive their careers.
Connors, who does much of his work during spring training these days, helped David Cone, Dwight Gooden and Roger Clemens become major contributors after the trio struggled during the first half of the 2000 season.
More recently, Connors worked with relief pitcher Damaso Marte mid-way through the 2009 season. Marte was ineffective in the first part of 2009, and after several intense sessions, Marte was lights out, especially in the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Over the years, Connors has also worked with several young pitchers and helped them to complete their repertoire of pitchers.
Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte are two of those pitchers.
“When Andy was young, he had a tough time getting the ball inside to left-handers,” Connors said. “When I saw that, I told him that he needed a pitch that would get left-handers to pull the ball foul, and I taught him how to throw the cutter.”
Connors also worked with Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez during the first three months of the pitcher’s time with the Yankees. After defecting from Cuba and signing with the Yankees, Hernandez quickly put his trust in Connors.
“I knew he had great stuff,” Connors said. “But he needed to get a feel for how to pitch to live hitters again.”
The interview with Connors took place in his backyard. While we talked, a few of Connors’ favorite pets visited us frequently, including two donkeys (see photo below).
“Say hello to El Duque and Mariano,” Connors said to me. “I named them after two of my favorite people in the game.”
–Alfred Santasiere III
February 26, 2014 – Last September, I conducted an interview with basketball legend Julius Erving for a “5 Minutes with…” feature, which was published in the Spring Issue of Yankees Magazine.
In the 20-minute conversation, which took place at the Joe Namath – March of Dimes Celebrity Golf Tournament, Dr. J spoke about several topics including the inspiration behind his acrobatic style of play.
“Elgin Baylor was my single greatest inspiration from the previous generation,” Erving said. “I admired him because he was one of the most acrobatic players in the game. He also had great scoring and rebounding abilities. Connie Hawkins also influenced my style. Those guys created an image in people’s minds, which influenced them to try to do the same things in the driveway or on the playground. I believe that I fit into that category.
At the end of the interview I asked Dr. J to share his thoughts about Derek Jeter.
“Derek Jeter is a special player,” Erving said. “Being from New York, I’ve always had a special appreciation for players who make it there. Derek has always measured up to the challenges put before him, and he’s been the leader of the Yankees for a long time. He has always stood front and center and represented his team, his family, his community and the game the right way.”
–Alfred Santasiere III
January 29, 2014 — Earlier tonight, two great New York franchises took the ice at Yankee Stadium.
The New York Rangers and the New York Islanders played in the second of two games at Yankee Stadium as part of the NHL’s Stadium Series. It was 22 degrees outside at game time, but that did not have an effect on the number of hockey fans in the ballpark. From my vantage point in the press box (located behind the Islanders bench), I couldn’t find an empty seat in the upper deck, in the bleachers or anywhere else in the Stadium.
From the second the puck dropped, the crowd was buzzing. The dull roar from the fans did not stop from the moment the game began, and chants of “Let’s Go Rangers” and “Let’s Go Islanders” were consistently ringing out in the seats. Every shot on goal was followed by loud and collective exhales from the crowd, and when the Islanders and Rangers traded goals in the closing minutes of the second period, the place erupted.
That’s what it sounded like in Yankee Stadium tonight. The scenery was just as spectacular. The rink, which stretched from shallow right field to shallow left field, was surrounded by snow on every side. The outfield wall in left field featured the New York Rangers logo along with a photo montage of some of the city’s most iconic places including the Statue of Liberty. The Islanders logo adorned the right-field wall. Of course, the backdrop of the game included the freeze, and Rangers, Islanders and “Stadium Series” flags were flying from atop the Stadium’s signature piece of architecture.
I’ve seen far too many baseball games to count from my seat in the press box, and I’ve even witnessed some great college football games at the Stadium, but the energy in the building tonight was unique. It had the feel of a Yankees postseason game with snow on the ground and cold air swirling around.
There will be a photo essay from the Stadium Series — which also included Sunday’s game between the Rangers and the New Jersey Devils — in the 2014 New York Yankees Official Yearbook. Whether you braved the cold or not, check out the collection of photos from these two classic games. Yankees photographers captured photos of the Devils players in their throwback red and green uniforms, and they snapped photos of both Rangers victories from every angle of the Stadium.
The 2014 Yearbook will be on sale beginning April 7, and it can be purchased at Yankee Stadium, on yankees.com/publications and by calling (800) GO-YANKS.
–Alfred Santasiere III
January 14, 2014 – On December 9, former Yankees manager Joe Torre was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. A few hours after the Hall of Fame announced that Torre would be heading to Cooperstown, I sat down with four of the skipper’s greatest players. While at a Steiner Sports event in New York City, I asked each of the members of the famed Core Four — Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte — to share their thoughts on the man who helped lead them to four championships.
The conversation below will be published in the September Issue of Yankees Magazine along with a feature on Torre’s upcoming induction into baseball’s greatest fraternity. But for now, enjoy this brief look at our coverage of Torre’s lifetime accomplishment.
–Alfred Santasiere III
Alfred Santasiere III: What made Joe different from other managers?
Jorge Posada: He treated me like I was part of his family. He was very encouraging and he did everything he could to get the most out of me. Looking back, his best quality as a manager was that he communicated well with everyone.
Andy Pettitte: Joe never panicked. He never let us get stressed out. When we were young, that gave us the ability to relax in stressful situations. He always showed confidence in us — and he always let us know that he had confidence in us — even when we were struggling. That really helped me. He was my manager, but he was and will always be my friend. I’m really happy for him.
AGS III: Derek, what did Joe mean to you when you were thrust into the spotlight of New York City?
Derek Jeter: The bottom line is that I trusted him. Coming up as a young player, you don’t know what to expect, especially in New York, where the expectations are so high. He put me out there every single day. He put me on the field when I was playing well and when I wasn’t playing well. He’s like a second father to me, and to all of us sitting here. I can’t think of anyone who is deserves this more than Joe.
AGS III: Mariano, what is your favorite memory of the time you played for Joe?
Mariano Rivera: Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series. He put me out there for three innings, and he trusted me that whole time. That is something I will never forget. But, overall, he just let us enjoy playing the game.
December 28, 2013 – With the exception of the last few minutes of the game, the second half of the 2013 New Era Pinstripe Bowl was almost as evenly matched as the first half (see blog entry below on the first two quarters of the game).
In the early part of the third quarter, it appeared as if Notre Dame was going to take control of the game, but the Scarlet Knight’s defense held quarterback Tommy Reese and the Fighting Irish to two field goals. Trailing 19-13 mid-way through the fourth quarter, Rutgers kicker Kyle Federico brought the game within three points.
After the Rutgers field goal, Notre Dame did what their loyal following had been waiting for since the game began. Reese guided the Fighting Irish on a 79-yard drive, which took 5 minutes and 12 seconds off the clock and resulted in a three-yard touchdown run by running back Tarean Folston. The touchdown gave Notre Dame a 26-16 lead, and Rutgers had just over three minutes to make up the deficit.
Notre Dame kicker Kyle Brindza capped the scoring with a 49-yard field goal, and in the end, Notre Dame enhanced their legacy in of winning big games in New York City.
My favorite moment of the day came when Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly accepted the George M. Steinbrenner Trophy moments after the game ended.
“It’s great to be in New York,” Kelly said from the 50-yard line.
–Alfred Santasiere III
December 28, 2013 — The tradition continues.
The 4th annual New Era Pinstripe Bowl is underway on a perfect day for football in the Northeast, and the game features two teams with strong ties to New York City.
Under a clear blue sky at Yankee Stadium, the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers University are taking on the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. Notre Dame, which is one year removed from the National Championship, has strong ties to both the old Yankee Stadium and the Yankees current home.
Beginning in 1923, Yankee Stadium was one of the nation’s foremost venues for college football games. Some of the most historic games were played at the House That Ruth Built, and Notre Dame was the centerpiece of that tradition for five decades. My feature story on the complete history of college football at the old ballpark in the Bronx can be found on pages of the 2013 New Era Pinstripe Bowl Official Game Program, which is on sale at today’s game and can be purchased by calling (800) GO-YANKS.
Notre Dame also played in the first football game at the current Yankee Stadium, as well. In 2010, the Fighting Irish renewed their rivalry with Army, capturing a win in the 50th matchup between the two storied institutions.
In addition to the geographic proximity between Rutgers University and the South Bronx, the Scarlet Knights have also made some history at the current Stadium. Former Rutgers head football coach Greg Schiano, who is currently the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach, hoisted the 2011 George M. Steinbrenner Trophy after his team defeated Iowa State University in the second Pinstripe Bowl game. The Scarlet Knights defeated Army in a regular season game at Yankee Stadium a few weeks before the 2011 Pinstripe Bowl.
The official program also features game stories from each of the two teams’ games this season. Notre Dame, which compiled an 8-4 record, came into today’s game heavily favored over Rutgers, which racked up a 6-6 record. But in front of a sea of fans decked out in scarlet red, Rutgers has certainly played a spirited first half in the chilly air. The Fighting Irish and the Scarlet Knights players went to their respective locker rooms with the game tied at 13.
If the first half of the 2013 New Era Pinstripe Bowl is any indication of what the rest of the day will bring, this game might just go down as yet another thriller on the Yankees home turf.
–Alfred Santasiere III