February 4, 2016 – It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 15 years since Yankees icon Paul O’Neill played his last game in pinstripes. But regardless of how many years have passed since the right fielder’s swan song, his epic good-bye will stay with him — and with the Yankees fan base from the late ’90s and early 2000’s — forever.
A few weeks ago, I traveled to Lake Worth, Florida, for Bucky Dent’s annual charity golf outing, which O’Neill played in for the first time. Before my group hit the links with O’Neill, I sat down with him to discuss his final game at Yankee Stadium — an epic win in the 2001 World Series — along with the emotional aftermath of the tragedies of Sept. 11.
My candid conversation with O’Neill will be published in the October Issue of Yankees Magazine, and this first-person piece will be highlighted by The Warrior’s recollections of Game 5 of the 2001 World Series. That night, when O’Neill took the field in the top of the ninth inning, the Stadium crowd chanted his name for nearly five minutes.
“Like so many other ballplayers, I’ve been lucky enough to get an ovation after big home runs or great catches, but this was totally different,” O’Neill began. “This wasn’t a chant that would only last for a few seconds, but instead, it seemed as if it would go on for the entire half inning. At first, I got goose bumps because I was so honored that our fans thought that much of me. I didn’t’ realize that I meant so much to New York City until that moment. Then, as the chant continued, I had no idea how to react. It wasn’t as if I could tip my cap and run into the dugout. I was standing out there in right field during a World Series game that we were losing, and more than 50,000 people were chanting my name for almost five minutes.
“If I could have said anything to the fans at that moment, it would have been, ‘Thank you very much, but we’re losing the game,’” O’Neill continued. “But knowing that I couldn’t communicate those feelings to the crowd, I began to just soak it all in.”
After the half inning — and the serenade — came to a close, O’Neill and his teammates quickly regained their focus. Although they were trailing the Diamondbacks by two runs, recent history was on their side. A night earlier, O’Neill’s ninth inning single, brought the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the ninth. Then, with two outs, Tino Martinez hit the first pitch he saw over the centerfield wall to tie Game 4, and Derek Jeter earned the nickname “Mr. November” when he won that game with a 10th inning home run.
The Yankees were facing the same obstacle in Game 5.
Then, it happened again. The Diamondbacks brought closer Byung-Hyun Kim into the game to protect a two-run lead for the second night in a row. This time around, Jorge Posada led off the inning with a double, and with two outs, Scott Brosius hit a home run to even the score. Alfonso Soriano singled in the winning run in the bottom of the 12th.
“That comeback for the ages made my swan song so much more meaningful,” O’Neill said. “The thing I will remember most from the end of that game was the joy that our fans had. I remember looking into the stands as I was walking off the Yankee Stadium field for the last time as a player, and all I saw was people hugging each other. It was very special.
“After I got into the clubhouse, I took my home jersey off for the last time, but I had no intention of parting ways with it,” O’Neill continued. “Besides playing my last game at Yankee Stadium in that jersey, it had an American flag on the back. That symbolized all that our country had fought through, and I wanted to keep it forever. When I look at that jersey all these years later, it brings me back to that incredibly emotional time.”
In the end, the Yankees fell short of their ultimate goal, falling to the Diamondbacks in the last two games of the Series, both played in Arizona. But for O’Neill, the three World Series games at Yankee Stadium provided a level of gratification that had previously come only with championship seasons.
“I was at peace with the way the season ended,” said the notoriously fierce competitor. “The three games at Yankee Stadium were the most memorable of my career. You couldn’t write a script like that. Because of what those three victories meant to New York City in the wake of the worst tragedy on American soil, those three wins were enough for me.”
–Alfred Santasiere III
January 11, 2016 – Earlier this winter, I traveled to South Florida for what was a once-in-a-lifetime interview. After a few years of trying, I was finally able to set up at date in which Alex Rodriguez and Dan Marino could sit down with me for an exclusive conversation.
The interview with A-Rod and Marino will be published in the 2016 New York Yankees Spring Training Program and in the April Issue of Yankees Magazine.
Having the opportunity to be the first person to interview A-Rod and Marino together was a thrill, and thinking about the combined milestones of these greats is still overwhelming: 687 home runs and 3,070 hits (and counting) for Rodriguez and 420 touchdowns passes and 61,361 passing yards for Marino. But what made the experience even more special for me was that Marino was my childhood hero. I revered him when I was growing up, and I still do today.
Marino was also A-Rod’s childhood hero. The Yankees star spent his childhood in Miami during Marino’s heyday with the Miami Dolphins. From the time he was very young, Rodriguez rooted for Marino and Dolphins with great passion — the type of enthusiasm that I have always been able to relate to.
And, so, it was with great excitement that I sat down with Marino and A-Rod on a balmy morning at the 50-yard line of Sun Life Stadium, the Dolphins home since 1987 (see photo below). Being on the field that Marino played on for the majority of his career combined with the happiness that both legends brought to the gridiron, made the 40-minute conversation the most enjoyable interview I’ve ever conducted.
At the beginning of our conversation, I asked Rodriguez what his favorite memories of watching Marino play at the old Orange Bowl stadium are, and he was not at a loss for words.
“One of the best memories of my childhood — or of my whole life for that matter — was the <Monday Night> game in which Dan led the Dolphins to the big win against the undefeated Chicago Bears in 1985,” A-Rod said. “Everyone thought that the Bears were going to run the table, but what you did that night was unbelievable. The other game that really stands out in my mind was when the Dolphins beat the New York Jets down here in 1985. Dan connected with Mark Duper on a bomb in the last seconds of the game, and Duper took it the rest of the way for the game-winning touchdown.”
For Marino, who played at the Orange Bowl from 1983 through 1986, the Monday Night win against Chicago also marked his favorite memory of his first professional football home.
“The crowd was never louder than it was that night, and beating that team was a great accomplishment,” Marino said. “We had several players from our undefeated 1972 team on the sidelines, and preserving their undefeated record by beating Chicago is something I will always be proud of.”
Later in the conversation, I asked the two icons to discuss the first time they met.
“I remember when Alex was back in high school,” Marino began. “He used to come to the taping of my TV show at my restaurant.”
“I’ll tell you the story in much more detail, Al,” A-Rod countered. “When Dan was playing for the Dolphins, I watched everything that had to do with the team. I would watch his show all the time, and that was one of my favorite things to do each week. I read in the local paper that they were moving his show to Dan Marino’s American Sports Bar & Grill, which was only about 2 miles from where I lived. It was perfect for me because I could just take the bus there and back, and it didn’t cost anything to get a seat in the audience to watch the show. The first time I went to the show, I was about 15 years old. I got there early and scouted things out because I really wanted to meet Dan. I went out to the parking lot, and there were about a dozen other guys out there who were all about my age. We saw Dan getting out of the car, and I rushed over to him and I said, “Hey, Dan, you’re my favorite player. I wear No. 13 because of you. I’m a quarterback, but I also play shortstop.” He put his arm around me, and he said, “Boy, you’re a good-looking athlete. You have a bright future, young man.” I couldn’t wait to tell my mom that story. When I got home, I said, “Mom, I’m going to make it. Dan thinks I have a future in sports.” You never forget that. When I talk to young kids today, I still visualize that moment with Dan. It’s amazing how much athletes influence kids.”
At the end of the interview, I asked A-Rod — who was an All-State quarterback when he was in high school — what it’s been like getting to know his childhood hero over the last few decades.
“Ever since I was a little boy, I put Dan on a pedestal just like most of the kids who grew up in my generation did,” Rodriguez said. “Then, I got to meet him, and I realized that he’s an even better person than I could have ever imagined. It’s great when you meet your heroes, and they are as kind as Dan. From the first time we spent time together, he treated me like a little brother, like family. It’s been a really respectful relationship. Dan really set the example for me on how to treat young players who I’m around these days.”
After the interview, our group walked from mid-field to a lounge in Sun Life Stadium. There, we were treated to a catered lunch from Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza, an Italian restaurant chain that Marino is a partner in.
“We brought a lot of great food here today,” Marino said. “You’re going to love the meatballs and the pizza. It’s going to be a great lunch.”
Marino was right. Everything about our lunch — from the conversation to the food — was spectacular.
As our lunch was wrapping up, I thought of one last question for A-Rod. When he had arrived at the field, he caught a few passes from Marino. Knowing what a thrill that experience has been for me (on previous occasions and on that day), I asked A-Rod what it was like for him.
“Honestly, I had never thought about it until today,” he said. “But when [Dan] grabbed the football, I said to myself, “Oh my God. This is a childhood dream, and it’s about to happen.” That was really cool. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
–Alfred Santasiere III
December 14, 2015 – There’s still 12 days before the Duke Blue Devils and Indiana Hoosiers will take the field at Yankee Stadium for the 2015 New Era Pinstripe Bowl, but below you’ll see the cover of the official game program.
New York Yankees team photographer James Petrozzello snapped this photo, featuring the Duke and Indiana helmets, on the field at Yankee Stadium.
Besides providing all of the information you’ll ever need on the history of game and on the Duke and Indiana football programs, his year’s program includes a Q&A feature with the head coaches of each of the participating teams. On the day of that Duke University coach David Cutcliffe and Indiana University coach Kevin Wilson came to Yankee Stadium for the New Era Pinstripe Bowl press conference, editors Nathan Maciborski and Jon Schwartz spoke with them about the upcoming matchup.
A few days prior to that, Schwartz interviewed the former Penn State kicker Sam Ficken for the New Era Pinstripe Bowl alumni piece. Ficken etched his name into Yankee Stadium lore when he kicked a “walk-off extra point” to beat Boston College in the 2014 New Era Pinstripe Bowl. After BC scored the first touchdown in overtime, their kicker missed an extra point. Penn State countered with a touchdown of their own, and Ficken sealed the deal by putting the ball through the uprights.
Additionally, my Q&A with Carl Banks is included in the program (see blog entry below), and in the feature, the former New York Giants linebacker sheds light on some of the best places to visit in the Big Apple.
If you are going to be at the Dec. 26 game, be sure to grab a copy of the program. If you can’t make it out to the Stadium, you can purchase a copy of the program at www.yankees.com/publications or by calling (800) GO-YANKS.
–Alfred Santasiere III
December 14, 2015 – The 2015 New Era Pinstripe Bowl is set to take place at Yankee Stadium on Saturday Dec. 26, and it will feature the Duke Blue Devils from the ACC Conference and the Indiana Hoosiers from the Big Ten Conference.
This year’s official New Era Pinstripe Bowl game program is filled with features on the history of college football in New York City, as well as individual sections dedicated to the teams that will square off on the day after Christmas.
Additionally, I put together a Q&A feature with Carl Banks, who played for the Michigan State Spartans before he became a household name with the New York Giants in the 1980s.
I sat down with the former linebacker and two-time Super Bowl champion at the famous John’s of Bleecker Street and spoke with him about his journey from the Big Ten to the Big Apple.
At the beginning of our conversation, Banks talked about his days at Michigan State. During the time Banks was a Spartan, the team was in a rebuilding era.
“I’m proud to have been part of the foundation of something great,” Banks said. “Even though our football team had some lean years when I was there, I don’t regret any aspect of my football career there. I was a first team All-Big Ten selection three times, and that is something I still take a lot of pride in.”
Banks, who is originally from Flint, Michigan, also shared his thoughts on getting to witness today’s student athletes play in a bowl game in the Big Apple.
“It’s all about the experience when you go to a bowl game,” Banks said. “They should be proud that they earned the opportunity to play in the game, and as a result, they get to see a great city. In the case of the Pinstripe Bowl, they get to play in a football game in the stadium where the most storied baseball team takes the field. Who wouldn’t want to say that they played on the same field that Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Alex Rodriguez have played on?”
As we began to dig in to the first of two pizzas, the conversation turned to Banks’ favorite places to frequent in New York City.
“I’ve been coming to John’s of Bleecker Street for a long time,” said Banks, who has lived in the New York metropolitan area since the Giants drafted him in 1984. “The pizza is incredible here. It’s the best.
“I’m very eclectic these days,” Banks continued. “My favorite Italian restaurant is Trattoria L’incontro, which is in Queens. It’s one of the best Italian restaurants in the city. I like going to Ocean Grill or Isabella’s on Sundays in the spring or fall. If you want to people watch, Isabella’s is the place to go. If I’m in downtown Manhattan, I like to go to Lure Fishbar or El Toro Blanco, and if I’m looking for a really good burger, Black Iron Burger is where I’ll go.”
Near the end of our lunch, I asked Banks to discuss the destinations he would make it a priority to get to if he was visiting the city around the time of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.
“Central Park should be first on the list,” Banks said. “ But en route to Central Park, I would suggest walking up Fifth Avenue or Park Avenue because you’ll get to see the Waldorf Astoria and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Of course, going to see the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center should be part of every visitor’s plans.”
To read the rest of the Q&A feature with Banks, grab a copy of the 2015 New Era Pinstripe Bowl Official Game Program at Yankee Stadium. If you can’t make it out to the game on Dec. 26, you can purchase a copy of the program at www.yankees.com/publications or by calling (800) GO-YANKS.
–Alfred Santasiere III
October 13, 2015 – The Yankees’ 2015 campaign came to an end a week ago. As the case is when any team gets bounced in the postseason, the days that follow are usually filled with feelings of disappointment, and it’s no different here at Yankee Stadium.
But there is a distinct silver lining with this team. For the first time since 2012, the Yankees made it to the postseason, and they did so with a group of players that overachieved. This team was not picked to qualify for October play, and more than one linchpin went down for the season with injury. Yet, the Yankees overcame significant setbacks and made it back to the postseason.
In my opinion, all of this leads to a bright future for several reasons. In the short term, the team’s best offensive player, Mark Teixeira, is expected to be back at the before the start of spring training, as is Nathan Eovaldi — who posted a 14-3 record before suffering a season-ending arm injury. Additionally, the pitching staff will likely include Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova and the surging Luis Severino at the front end of games when the 2016 season begins. At the back end of games, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller are expected to again give the Yankees the best set-up man/closer combination in the sport.
The other reason I’m optimistic about the future of the team is because of performances in 2015 by Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, Didi Gregorius and Teixeira. Will all of those guys be able to put together the same type of quality performances in 2016, as they did in 2015? That’s difficult to say. But what I do feel good about is that each of those players silenced the doubters this past season, and the feelings of uncertainty surrounding the team’s lineup has in large part been replaced with excitement.
From a long-term perspective, things look good. Severino, Greg Bird, and Rob Refsnyder are legitimate prospects who generated the most excitement this season because they all made contributions in the Bronx. But that trifecta is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s my understanding that the organization’s minor league system has plenty more high-quality players right behind those guys, including outfielder Aaron Judge. I spent some time with Judge this season in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and he will be the subject of a feature story I’m writing for the Spring Issue of Yankees Magazine.
Of course, after the team’s performance down the stretch and in the Wild Card Game, it’s obvious that there’s a long way to go, and just like with any team, the Yankees will need to catch some breaks in order to make it further next October. But with that said, it’s a lot of fun to think of what might be in store for this team in the future.
For those of you who follow our coverage of the team in Yankees Magazine, thank you for the support. We’ll continue to work diligently to bring you the most comprehensive and unique coverage of any team in sports.
–Alfred Santasiere III
October 6, 2015 – A game with the magnitude of tonight’s tilt has been on the mind of Masahiro Tanaka since he signed with the Yankees.
A few weeks after the righthander from Japan joined the team in 2014, I met him for lunch in Tampa. That meeting — which was for a Yankees Magazine feature story —took place on Tanaka’s first day in a Yankees uniform, the first day of spring training.
While that lunch meeting seems like a long time ago now, one of the things that is still vivid in my memory is our conversation about what Tanaka looked for forward to the most.
More than anything else, his desire to compete in games like this one was what was already on his mind. He had watched postseason games at Yankee Stadium prior to signing with the team, and he wanted to be part of those moments. He wanted to be part of the magic that has taken place in the Bronx for decades each autumn.
A lot has happened for Tanaka since that lunch in Tampa. He dominated American League hitters for half a season. Then, he was out of the lineup with an arm injury. Then, he battled his way back in order to make it to the mound by the end of the 2014 season. This season, he’s been relatively healthy, and he’s posted numbers that have helped pave the Yankees’ road to October. Tonight, he took the ball in the type of game he so much wanted to pitch in.
Not unlike what he’s done throughout his two-years with the Yankees, Tanaka battled tonight. He made good pitches at times. He gave up two solo home runs, but he made big pitches every time he had to. In doing so, Tanaka gave the Yankees a chance to come back from a two-run deficit, even though Joe Girardi pulled him after five innings of work.
–Alfred Santasiere III
October 6, 2015— It’s been three years since the Yankees last took the field for a big game in October, but tonight, the team’s postseason drought is over. Tonight, the Yankees are taking on the Houston Astros in the American League Wild Card Game.
While the celebrations of 2013 and 2014 for Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, respectively, were spectacular in their own right, there is a different kind of electricity in the air at the Stadium tonight.
Just like he had done so many times in the postseason, October legend Tino Martinez got the crowd on its feet with a ceremonial first pitch. When Martinez took the mound, the crowd noise quickly reached a booming volume, and I do not remember it being that loud prior to a game in a long time.
Things got louder and more electric in a hurry when Masahiro Tanaka took the mound at the start of the game and struck out the first two batters. From the first batter, the crowd stood and cheered when Tanaka got to two strikes.
For a team that was been mired in a difficult end to the regular season, the importance of playing the Wild Card Game at home can’t be overstated. This team’s fans have already given the players a much-needed boost tonight. Now, it’s time for the Yankees to return the favor.
–Alfred Santasiere III
October 2, 2015 — September 2, 2015 – The October Issue of Yankees Magazine will be on sale on October 6 at Yankee Stadium when the gates open for the American Wild Card Game (if that game is played in the Bronx). The October issue will also be on available on newsstands in the Tri-State area that same day.
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://yankees.com/publications.
A beautiful portrait of the late great Yogi Berra graces the cover of this month’s edition, and contributing writer Jack O’Connell’s feature about the iconic catcher is a fitting tribute (see blog entry below).
This issue also includes features on youngsters Luis Severino and Didi Gregorius, as well as three unique stories I put together on three great Yankees from the past.
Take a gander at my story about a recent fishing trip I took with Hall of Famer Wade Boggs for our alumni spotlight, a day I spent with Tino Martinez at a famous golf course for a Q&A piece and my feature on Mariano Rivera’s recent trip to Scranton, Pennsylvania (see blog entries below).
There’s a lot more in the October Issue, including Q&A pieces with two heroes from the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team.
Enjoy this edition.
–Alfred Santasiere III
October 2, 2015 — Last month, I spent a day at Leewood Golf Club — where Babe Ruth was once a member — with former Yankees great Tino Martinez. After a round of golf at the Eastchester, New York, course, I interviewed Martinez about the 2000 Subway World Series for a Q&A feature.
At the beginning of our conversation, Martinez, who batted .364 in that Fall Classic, spoke about what was at stake when his team took on the cross-town Mets.
“There was more at stake in that Series than there was in the previous three we had played in before that,” Martinez said. “With the Mets getting to the World Series, we felt that if we had lost, we might have lost our fan base a little bit and that the Mets would have really gained a lot of momentum toward becoming the team of New York. I knew how badly Mr. Steinbrenner wanted it and how much everyone in our clubhouse wanted it. There was definitely a lot more pressure on us in that World Series.”
Martinez also shared his feeling on the home run that Derek Jeter hit to leadoff the fourth game, following the Yankees’ Game 3 loss.
“When you lose a game in the playoffs, whether it’s Game 1 or Game 3, there’s a momentum shift,” Martinez said. “The Mets had the momentum going into Game 4, even though we were still leading the Series 2 games to 1. For Derek to hit that first-inning homer, it really took the air out of the Mets and really gave us the boost we needed to win that game. That was a crucial game because the winner was really going to be in the driver’s seat the rest of the way. I think that home run deflated the Mets, and then we went out and won a big ballgame at Shea Stadium to take a commanding 3-games-to-1 lead.”
It’s hard to believe that the Yankees World Series triumph over the Mets took place 15 years ago, but this conversation will bring you back to what was a memorable time in New York City. Check it out in the October Issue of Yankees Magazine.
–Alfred Santasiere III
October 2, 2015 – On September 3, I covered a special story in Scranton, Pennsylvania that centered around Mariano Rivera.
That night, the Yankees Triple-A affiliate, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, honored Rivera at their ballpark. But prior to those festivities, Rivera inspired two distinct groups of people, the first of which was the highlight of the day.
At about 4:30 pm, an SUV pulled into the driveway of Temple Hesed in Scranton, where the NativityMiguel School is housed. Rivera jumped out of the vehicle and walked into the ground floor of the building. There, on the first day of the school year — and the first day of classes ever for the school — the 16-person student body beamed as Rivera walked into their classroom.
NativityMiguel is a tuition-free, Catholic school, which provides private education to fifth graders from low-income families, and the Scranton chapter is one of 64 in North America.
Once Rivera got to the front of the classroom, the students walked up to him and introduced themselves. A few minutes later, Rivera addressed the group and then each student asked the former closer a question.
“Were you ever nervous when you went into a game?” a child asked, as he read the question off of a post-it note.
“Yeah, I was nervous,” Rivera answered. “Being nervous is OK. It’s part of being human. Don’t ever think that there is anything wrong with being nervous. The problem is when you are nervous when you are actually working or taking a test. I was nervous before I went into games, but once I went out to the mound, I was not nervous. I was in control.”
After the Q&A, the group moved to another room, where 16 RailRiders jerseys were hanging from a bookshelf. The jerseys had each of the children’s last name and Rivera’s No. 42 stitched across their backs.
Rivera’s 30-minute visit to the school concluded a few minutes later, as he was quickly whisked back to PNC Field. Before throwing out a ceremonial first pitch, the future Hall of Famer delivered a moving speech to a RailRiders team that would clinch the International League’s North Division.
“What you guys do is amazing,” Rivera told the players from the middle of the home clubhouse. “Only a handful of people in the world can do what you do. But this is only the beginning. This is not it. I hope you guys don’t want to stay here. Playing in the majors is incredible. That’s where you really get to shine.”
For the entire story, including some exclusive quotes from my interview with Rivera later that evening, pick up a copy of the October Issue of Yankees Magazine.
–Alfred Santasiere III