April 14, 2013 – On April 4, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders played the first game in their home ballpark since September 2011. The Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate played their entire 2012 slate on the road while PNC Field underwent major renovations.
I was at the RailRiders first game in their newly renovated ballpark, which, in my opinion, is now as comfortable as any minor league facility. It has more amenities than I could have imagined, and it’s truly a family-friendly place.
For more on PNC Field, check out the May Issue of Yankees Magazine, which will include a feature on the park by Scott Walsh of the Times-Tribune of Scranton.
Prior to the game, I caught up with Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, who was there to throw the ceremonial first pitch. Enjoy the interview below, which is exclusive to this blog.
–Alfred Santasiere III
Alfred Santasiere III: What are your thoughts on the renovated ballpark in Scranton?
Reggie Jackson: They did a great job with it. It’s exciting for the fans and for the players. It’s always nice playing in a new ballpark, and this really is state-of-the-art now. It will be an unbelievable setting in the summer, when the trees are in full bloom. There are nice places for the fans to gather and to have good time, and the players will benefit from the improved facilities that are in place. I never played in a minor league park like this, but I’m really excited for everyone involved.
AS: What does being asked to throw the ceremonial first pitch mean to you?
RJ: The Steinbrenners asked me to throw out the first pitch, and I was happy to do it. I have had a close relationship with the Steinbrenner family, and, of course, George Steinbrenner, since I was in my late-20s. They’ve always been respectful, and anything that I can ever do for them I am happy to do. I consider it an honor to be in a position to represent the Yankees and the Steinbrenner family. I wouldn’t get to do things like this if the Steinbrenners didn’t respect me, and the fact that they asked me means a lot.
AS: You’re from Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, which is about 100 miles from here. Does this first pitch have added significance because it’s in your home state?
RJ: Yes. I like being back in Pennsylvania. Scranton reminds me a lot of Cheltenham, and it always feels good to be back in this part of the country. I’m proud to be from the Keystone state.
AS: Any predictions for the pitch? Are you going to throw a strike?
RJ: I’m not that young anymore, but if I can get my arm loose, I will get it over the plate.
April 14, 2013 – Last year, I wrote a feature about the Yankees history at West Point, and that story was published in the June 2012 Issue of Yankees Magazine. It detailed the 21 exhibition games that the Yankees played against the Army Black Knights at the United States Military Academy between 1927 and 1976.
Besides chronicling the game action, I also wrote about everything from the tours of the campus that various Yankees teams went on to the reactions of the cadets who got to take the field against some of baseball’s all-time great clubs.
As I conducted research for that story, I quickly realized that quite a few special moments took place on the days the Yankees were in West Point between 1927 and 1976.
Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig played against the cadets. Mickey Mantle laced up his spikes at West Point. Yogi Berra took the field on the grounds of the most prestigious military institution in the world and Whitey Ford pitched there.
When I completed that feature, I didn’t think I would ever be writing another story about the Yankees playing a game in West Point because the organization hadn’t played there since 1976 and there was no word of them returning any time soon.
But that all changed earlier this year when Army officials approached the Yankees about renewing the tradition.
Those discussions led to the Yankees’ return to West Point. On March 30, the team traveled by bus from Yankee Stadium to West Point — which is about 50 miles north of New York City — for the 22nd all-time match-up against the cadets.
I can’t speak to what it was like to tour the campus with Ruth, Gehrig or Mantle and I wasn’t around to see them play at West Point’s tiny ballpark. But, a few weeks ago, I visited the United States Military Academy with a group of future Hall of Famers and Yankees icons that included Mariano Rivera, Robinson Cano, Ichiro Suzuki, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte (pictured below with Kevin Youkilis).
Upon our arrival at West Point, we were given a tour that brought us onto the football field at Michie Stadium, and to Cadet Chapel and Trophy Point. After the tour, the team ate lunch with hundreds of cadets in the Mess Hall. Following that special meal, the Yankees were driven to tiny Johnson Stadium at Doubleday Field, where they prepared for the game.
In front of a few thousand fans — many of whom were sitting in bleachers that were put in place just for the day — Rivera tossed a ceremonial first pitch. After the pre-game ceremony, the Yankees defeated Army, improving their record against the cadets to 22-0.
My latest feature story on the Yankees tradition of playing at West Point is all about the 2013 visit. It will appear in the May Issue of Yankees Magazine.
–Alfred Santasiere III
April 14, 2013 – On the evening of the Yankees game at West Point (see blog entry above for more details on that), I attended an Army baseball alumni dinner. Former Yankees first baseman Joe Pepitone, who played in several exhibition games at West Point in the 1960s, accompanied me to the event, which was held at the Thayer Hotel — on the United States Military Academy campus.
Pepitone was mentioned prominently in the first story I wrote about the Yankees tradition of playing at West Point (published in the June 2012 Issue of Yankees Magazine), and the opening spread photo featured Pepitone and two cadets in 1969.
In early March, I was informed that the two Army ballplayers in the photo with Pepitone were scheduled to be at the dinner.
Although Pepitone admittedly didn’t remember meeting the cadets when the photo was taken in 1969, he welcomed the opportunity to see them again. And so, at a quiet gathering, Pepitone, 73, was reunited with Pete McCall, 64, and Bill Lord, 63.
The three men, who were originally photographed together almost 44 years ago because they were all born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, immediately began reminiscing about the 1969 game.
“Joe hit one of the longest home runs in West Point history that day,” said Lord, now 63, who was a partner in a recruiting firm before his retirement. “We didn’t have a home run fence up here at that time, so Joe had to slide into home.”
“I wasn’t that fast, but I don’t remember being that slow,” Pepitone responded. “But I’ll take Billy’s word for it. We played hard against the cadets. They were a good team, and they always got after it when they played us.”
Before the end of the night, the former ballplayers re-enacted the original photo. This time, they posed for current-day Yankees team photographer James Petrozzello in a suite that was dedicated to Army’s baseball program that evening.
“When we found out that Joe was going to be at our dinner, we really wanted to re-enact the photo,” Lord said. “Seeing Joe tonight was as much fun as it was meeting him the first time.”
The then and now photos, which are posted below, will be published in a sidebar to my feature story on the March 30 game in the May issue of Yankees Magazine.
–Alfred Santasiere III
April 1, 2013 — Regardless of how good or bad the weather is, Opening Day at Yankee Stadium is always a special time to be at the ballpark.
The weather in the Bronx for today’s opener is nearly perfect. The sun is out, and there’s more blue in the sky than there are clouds. Most importantly, and unlike so many other openers, it’s not freezing outside. The temperature at game time was 62 degrees.
Before the game began, the Yankees and the their opponents, the Boston Red Sox, dedicated the game to the victims of the unspeakable tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. Both teams are wearing patches, honoring the small town, and that same logo is painted on the first baseline and on the third baseline.
As part of the pre-game ceremony, the names of the children, teachers and administrators who lost their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School were listed on the scoreboard during a moment of silence. As the names continued to scroll across the centerfield video board, an overwhelming sense of sadness swept through the press box and rest of the Stadium. For me, the length of the silence — which lasted longer than other remembrances because of the number of people whose names were displayed — reaffirmed the heartbreak. The fact that most of those names were those of young children certainly added an unbearable layer of grief to the moment.
Earlier today in a press conference, Mariano Rivera was asked what the game’s dedication meant to him. The classy closer not only discussed the gravity of the tragedy, but he also shared his thoughts on the importance of today’s respectful tribute.
“We can not change what happened,” Rivera said. “I wish we could. But at the same time, we’re trying to bring them a lot of good moments and just trying to take the tragedies off their minds for a little bit. We want to honor them the right way, and we believe that we are doing that.”
The May Issue of Yankees Magazine will feature a story on today’s tribute to the people of Newtown, which several first responders and other members of the Western Connecticut community were on the field for.
Additionally, the 2013 New York Yankees Official Yearbook includes feature stories on great Yankees players of today and yesterday, biographies on every member of the team, a special section on the final out of every World Series the club won and much more. In my opinion, the most important paragraph — which will have the most long-lasting impact — in the entire Yearbook, has nothing to do with baseball. Instead, it’s a dedication that reads as follows…
As we prepared for the 2013 season, the inexplicable tragedy that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012, was never far from our minds. The 2013 New York Yankees Official Yearbook is dedicated to the memory of the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims, their families and their resilient community.
–Alfred Santasiere III
March 18, 2013 — The 2013 New York Yankees Official Yearbook will be on sale at Yankee Stadium on April 1 — Opening Day.
You can purchase the print version of the Yearbook by visiting http://www.yankees.com/publications or by calling (800) GO-YANKS. The digital version of the Yearbook is available through http://www.yankees.com/publications.
The 2013 Yearbook features a cover that captures the beauty of the Yankee Stadium (see below). It includes images of the field as well as of the frieze and the Gate 4 entrance, which has become one of the most recognizable places in or around the Stadium. Before the design of the cover was finalized, it was given a throwback copper green look. In my opinion, the color of the cover stands out, and it will make the 320-page publication a keepsake for years to come.
In addition to biographies about all of the Yankees, along with the 2013 season preview feature and the 2012 season in review story, the Yearbook includes a special 31-page section on the final outs of each of the World Series won by the Yankees. For this expansive piece, senior editor Nathan Maciborski — who came up with the idea last summer — spoke to more than half of the men who recorded the 27th out in the deciding games of Fall Classics for the Yankees.
The Yearbook also features three important anniversary pieces. The first is on the 100th anniversary of the 1913 season, which is when the team began to be commonly referred to as the Yankees. The second anniversary story is on the 1923 season, which is when the club moved into the old Yankee Stadium and won its first of 27 world championships. The third story is about the late George Steinbrenner’s 1973 purchase of the Yankees.
Finally, as I discussed in a recent blog post, my exclusive feature story on Ichiro will be published in the 2013 Yearbook, and it provides great insight on number 31.
Enjoy this special publication.
–Alfred Santasiere III
March 18, 2013 – While it still feels like winter in the Northeast, Opening Day is only two weeks away. On April 1, the Yankees will begin their regular season at home against the Boston Red Sox.
The April Issue of Yankees Magazine will be on sale that afternoon, and it will include a special Opening Day cover (see below). Copies of the April edition — with the commemorative cover — will be available at Yankee Stadium on April 1. After that, we will unveil our regular April cover (see below), which features Derek Jeter and which will remain on sale through the end of the month.
Of course, you can purchase the print version of the April Issue — with either cover — by visiting http://www.yankees.com/publications or by calling (800) GO-YANKS. The digital version of the magazine — featuring the Jeter cover — will be available through http://www.yankees.com/publications.
The April Issue is a must have publication — for many reasons.
In the cover story, contributing writer Bob Klapisch details the Yankee captain’s journey back to the field after suffering the most serious injury of his career. On one of the first days of spring training, Klapisch spoke to Jeter about the intense rehabilitation he needed to go through after breaking his ankle in the 2012 American League Championship Series. The story also discusses Jeter’s expectations for the upcoming season.
The April edition includes plenty of other thought-provoking features including associate editor Craig Tapper’s story on Kevin Youkilis, managing editor Kristina Dodge’s feature on the passion that so many Yankees players and coaches have for golf and deputy editor Ken Derry’s recap of his recent visit to the Yankees training facility and the Latino Hall of Fame in the Dominican Republic.
As I detailed in previous blog entries, I wrote two features for the April Issue. My story about Jorge Posada’s adjustment to his post-baseball career as well as my feature on Dan Marino’s ceremonial first pitch in spring training will be published in April.
With the NCAA’s basketball tournament set to culminate in April, we chose this issue to publish “Five Minutes with…” interviews with two coaches who made their mark on the tournament. Over the winter, I sat down with Bob Knight and P.J. Carlesimo (who is currently the interim head coach of the Brooklyn Nets) for two interesting pieces.
Enjoy the beginning of the season and the April Issue.
–Alfred Santasiere III
March 14, 2013 – A few minutes after the Mariano Rivera press conference (see below) came to an end, I left George M. Steinbrenner Field for the Tampa International Airport.
I wasn’t heading back to New York, but instead, I was picking up one of the greatest football players in history.
Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino flew to Tampa to throw out a ceremonial first pitch at the Yankees spring home on March 9, and for the second time in two years, I had the privilege of spending the day with him.
Marino came to Yankee Stadium last January for a tour of the ballpark and an interview with me, which was published in the April 2012 Issue of Yankees Magazine.
On that winter day last year, Jorge Posada announced his retirement after 17 seasons with the Yankees.
“I’ve been around the Yankees on two days in the last two years,” Marino said. “Those are the days that two great players announced that they’re going to retire, which is a crazy coincidence.”
This time around, the long-time Miami Dolphins quarterback spent some time with Yankees players and coaches. Walking into the home clubhouse with Marino made for an unforgettable experience. It’s not often that you see the game’s best players in awe of another athlete, but that was the case on that sunny morning.
A few minutes after we walked in to the locker room, CC Sabathia approached Marino.
“Mr. Marino,” Sabathia began. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I just want to shake your hand.”
Pitcher David Phelps then asked Marino if he would autograph a baseball, and All-Star David Robertson followed suite. When fellow pitchers Joba Chamberlain and Adam Warren noticed how gracious Marino was, they grabbed baseballs and approached him.
Sabathia came back over and asked Marino if he would pose for a photo with him, and before team photographer James Petrozzello could snap the photo, Chamberlain jumped in.
“When athletes from other sports visited the Dolphins facility, I would ask for photos with them,” Marino said. “It’s part of the camaraderie among athletes. For me, it’s an honor when a professional athlete asks you for your autograph or photo.”
As interesting as it was to see the aforementioned players with Marino, the former quarterback’s interactions with two legends in their own right, truly stood out.
When Derek Jeter walked into the clubhouse, he and Marino immediately greeted each other with a hug. The two icons had spent time together before, and on this day, they discussed the challenges of coming back from serious injuries.
Jeter, who suffered a broken leg in the 2012 postseason, asked Marino about the challenges he faced in coming back from a torn Achilles tendon, which ended his 1993 season.
“Take your time this spring to figure out how your body is going to adjust to the injury,” Marino said. “But trust me, even though your leg might not feel the same way it did before the injury, you will learn to adjust. You’ll get it done when it counts.”
A few minutes later, Marino and Rivera crossed paths. Although they had never met, it appeared as if they were old friends.
Marino congratulated Rivera on what he called a “magical career,” and the two posed for a few photos together.
Another great relief pitcher caught Marino’s ceremonial toss. Hall of Famer Goose Gossage greeted Marino when he got to the home dugout.
“I’m going to give you three signs,” Gossage said. “One is fastball. Two is fastball. And, three is fastball.”
The quarterback, who set more than 30 major National Football League records, threw a strike to Gossage and received a loud ovation from the sold-out crowd.
After the pitch, Marino and I watched the first three innings of the game together in the seats. The experience of watching a Yankees game with Marino will be etched in my mind forever.
During that time, Marino shared his thoughts on what it was like taking the mound.
“I had a lot of nervous energy before every game I played in, and I had that same feeling today” Marino said. “You need to have it. If you don’t have it, there’s something wrong.”
We left the game for a late lunch at Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza in South Tampa. Marino is a partner in the chain of restaurants, which are owned by Anthony Bruno.
We spent a few hours at the restaurant with Bruno and with David Wells, who did his best to un-nerve Marino before the pitch.
“I was worried about bouncing the pitch in front of you,” Marino said to the former Yankees pitcher turned spring training instructor. “I bet if you had to throw a football off the mound, you would have bounced it.”
The rest of the story will be published in the April Issue of Yankees Magazine, which will be available on April 1.
–Alfred Santasiere III
March 14, 2013 – On Saturday March 9, Mariano Rivera announced that the 2013 season would be his last.
Rivera made the announcement in a press conference at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa a few hours before the Yankees took on the Atlanta Braves, and it was was difficult not to get caught up in the moment.
With the same grace that Rivera has shown during his 18 years in pinstripes, he informed the world that his career would soon come to an end.
“The tank is almost empty,” said Rivera, who was flanked by his wife, Clara, and two of their children. “The little gas I have left will be for this year. After that, I will empty everything. That’s why it’s my time.”
I consider myself lucky to have been at the historic announcement. For me, the most memorable part of the morning was when the entire Yankees team — including coaches and spring training instructors — walked into the pavilion where the press conference was held. Seeing the sea of Yankees, who took the time out of their training routines to support Rivera, spoke volumes about the respect that the game’s greatest closer has garnered.
“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” Derek Jeter said later that day. “He’s a close friend. It’s difficult to put into words how much he’s meant to our team, but let’s just say, we wouldn’t have had the success we had without him.”
“He’s irreplaceable,” GM Brian Cashman added. “He is the greatest of all time.”
When you look at what Rivera has accomplished, it’s almost impossible to disagree with Jeter or Cashman.
Rivera is the all-time leader in regular season saves with 608 and postseason saves with 42. While Rivera’s 2.39 career ERA in the regular season is impressive, his 0.70 ERA in October is untouchable, especially considering he has pitched in 96 postseason games. Additionally, in 21 of the 32 postseason series Rivera has pitched in, he has not given up a run.
Of course, Rivera has recorded the final outs in four World Series, and in one of my favorite baseball moments, he threw the last pitch at the old Yankee Stadium.
“It’s been a privilege and honor to wear the pinstripes for so many years,” Rivera said. “I’m proud to have been part of so many great times with the Yankees.”
There will be an article about Rivera’s news conference in the April Issue of Yankees Magazine.
Additionally, in a feature story that I have been working on for some time, I will detail a project that means almost as much to Rivera as some of his greatest baseball accomplishments.
Since purchasing a deteriorating church in New Rochelle, New York, Rivera has worked diligently to re-build it. The 122-year old building, which is located on North Avenue in the Westchester County suburb, has not been in use for almost 30 years. Rivera raised and donated enough money to fund a construction project, which will ultimately restore the church. The Yanks closer has overseen virtually every detail of the church’s renovation since day one, and the building is scheduled to begin serving as a house of worship, day-care center and after-school destination this summer.
Rivera, who has also built churches in his native Panama, spent more than an hour with me discussing this meaningful project during spring training.
“The town needed a church for everyone to congregate at,” Rivera said. “With all that the Lord has done for me, this was the least I could do. When I first saw the church, it was beat up. But all I saw was the beauty of the church. The stone and the woodwork really stood out, even though the church had been vacant for about thirty years. I knew I wanted to buy the church as soon as I saw it.”
The feature on the soon-to-be-opened Pentecostal church will be published in the July Issue of Yankees Magazine — about a month after the house of worship is scheduled to officially open it’s doors.
Until then, Rivera will be writing the final chapter of one of the greatest careers in baseball history.
–Alfred Santasiere III
March 7, 2013 – On February 23, I conducted a lengthy interview in the Yankees dugout at George M. Steinbrenner Field with Ichiro for an exclusive feature, which will be published in the 2013 New York Yankees Official Yearbook. After the interview, Yankees team photographer James Petrozzello took several portrait shots of Ichiro for the story (below).
In the interview, Ichiro was about as candid as I’ve heard him about his desire to return to the Yankees after playing in New York for the second half of the 2012 season.
“To be honest with you, if the Yankees wanted and needed me on this team, there’s no reason I wouldn’t have come back,” Ichiro said. “I wanted to be here. We have agents, and those agents have a job to do. But sometimes I think there’s no need to have negotiations. That’s how I felt about coming back here. I didn’t want anything to come in between what was most important to me, which was coming back to the Yankees. But in the end, everything worked out, and I’m glad it did.”
Ichiro, who has led the American League in hits seven of his first 12 major league seasons since coming to the United States from Japan, also spoke to me about his reverence for the tradition of the Yankees. In fact, the two-time batting champion made a special trip to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown this winter to learn more about the history of the Yankees.
“I really didn’t know that much about the history of the Yankees before I was traded here last year,” Ichiro said. “But on my most recent trip to Cooperstown, I wanted to learn more about it. The curators took me into a special room, which has a jersey that Babe Ruth actually wore, a bat that Babe Ruth used and one of Lou Gehrig’s gloves. I was able to touch the actual things that they used, and I was able to imagine what baseball was like back in those days. That was a very special experience.”
Ichiro also discussed a present-day Yankees legend — Derek Jeter.
“Derek went to the absolute limit that he could have gone before he got hurt last season,” Ichiro said. “He wouldn’t let anyone know that he was hurting. I’ve seen a lot of different players over my career, but I haven’t seen many guys who play the game as hard as Derek. He puts high expectations on himself, and he doesn’t let people see his weak side — when he’s playing with pain. That’s something I really admire about him.
“Let’s just say that if I was stranded out on the mountain, he’s somebody that I would want to have up there with me,” Ichiro continued. “Derek is somebody who you can count on.”
For the rest of my feature story on Ichiro’s storied career, his expectations for 2013 and the appreciation he has for the Yankees, be sure to pick up your copy of the 2013 New York Yankees Official Yearbook.
The print version of the Yearbook will be available on April 1 at Yankee Stadium or you can purchase your copy by visiting http://www.yankees.com/publications or by calling (800) GO-YANKS. The digital version of the Yearbook will also be released in early April. Visit http://www.yankees.com/publications to purchase.
–Alfred Santasiere III
February 28, 2013 – The excitement of seeing the Yankees take the field for the first time each spring is generally preceded by on on-field ceremony, which adds to the already special day.
Moments before the Yankees played their first game of 2013 at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa on Sunday February 24, the crowd got an up-close look at a fixed wing HC-130 Hercules aircraft and two HH-60 Jayhawk helicopters.
The United States Coast Guard plane and two choppers flew over the ballpark at an altitude of less than 1,000 feet.
From my vantage point in front of the first base dugout, it appeared as if the plane was barely above the roof of the stadium, and it made for a very impressive spectacle. As the plane and helicopters approached from the third base side of the ballpark, I could read just about all of the words on the belly and sides of the plane. In comparison to many of the flyovers I’ve seen at Yankee Stadium, this one was unique.
Even for the veteran players, who watched the Coast Guard aircrafts from the first base line, the altitude — or lack there of — was eye catching.
“That surprised me,” said David Wells, who serves as a spring training instructor. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that. It certainly got our attention, and it was very cool.”
–Alfred Santasiere III