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Homecoming for Andy Pettitte

September 27, 2013 – Following last night’s game at Yankee Stadium, I traveled with the team to Houston to chronicle the final game of Andy Pettitte’s career for the cover story of the October Issue of Yankees Magazine. I will also be covering a meet-and-greet and pre-game ceremony with Mariano Rivera this weekend for a special section in the 2014 New York Yankees Official Yearbook.

Pettitte will take the hill for the final time on Saturday night. Tonight, the Astros honored Pettitte in the middle of the fifth inning. The team for which Pettitte played from 2004 through 2006, presented him with his No. 21 Astros jersey.

It was a nice moment for Pettitte, who tipped his hat to the crowd of 29,486 at Minute Maid Park, as they gave him a lengthy standing ovation. While the crowd applauded Pettitte, every player in the Yankees dugout and Astros dugout emerged and clapped for the legendary lefty.

For Pettitte, Saturday night’s start will be hugely sentimental. After pitching a gem in his last game in New York, he will be pitching the last game of his life in the place where he pitched the first game of his life. Pettitte was raised in Houston, and he still lives there today. With the Yankees season ending in Houston, Pettitte’s baseball journey will be coming full circle, and I’m confident he will leave us in awe on Saturday night.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Sweet Good-Bye

September 27, 2013 – In the 7th inning of last night’s game at Yankee Stadium, the sold-out crowd began chanting “Mari-ano.”

From my seat, it seemed as if the anticipation for Rivera to come out of the bullpen for the final time in his storied 19-year career, was all that anyone was thinking about.

After Dellin Betances gave up a two-run single to Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Even Longoria, the bittersweet moment had arrived. I was overjoyed to be witnessing a historic moment, but I was also mindful that this would be the last time I would hear “Enter Sandman” and feel the adrenaline rush that I got every time Rivera came into a game since I was a junior in high school.

As he has done every season — and especially this season — Rivera remained unfazed by extraordinary circumstances, mowing down the final two batters of the 8th inning.

An inning later, the Yankees took the field without Rivera. The closer sat in the dugout for a few minutes longer than normal. Writers in press box wondered if he was coming back out. He was, but for the first time in 1,115 appearances, Rivera’s emotions were affecting him.

Within minutes, Rivera had retired the first two batters of the ninth, and one of the great moments in baseball history was about to take place.

With the permission of the umpires, Joe Girardi sent Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte to the mound to pull Rivera from the game.

When Rivera realized what was happening, he smiled at Pettitte and Jeter, who he frequently refers to as his brothers. It’s common knowledge in baseball circles that the three Yankees heroes are very close friends. But, in my opinion, the number of years that the trio spent in the minor leagues together before they won five championships in pinstripes and each authored their own legendary careers, is a big part of what made the moment so special. To say they grew up in the game together is not just a cliché. It’s the reality of their lives.

Mariano Rivera left the mound for the final time with two friends he met when he was a 21-year-old pitching for the Greensboro Bats of the Single-A South Atlantic League in 1991. When Rivera handed the baseball to Pettitte, with whom he also teamed with at Double-A Albany-Colony and Triple-A Columbus in 1994 and in Columbus again in 1995, he began to cry.

After the game, Pettitte was asked what he said to Rivera as he stood in front of the world and embraced the closer. Pettitte told Rivera that he loved him and that it was an honor to be his teammate.

Still crying, Rivera wrapped his arms around Jeter, who he teamed with when the two were trying to claw their way out of Greensboro in 1993 and in 1994 with Albany-Colony and in Columbus during the 1995 season.

After almost five minutes, during which time the crowd cheered passionately and loudly, Rivera began to walk away from the mound — and the game he has given so much to. The cheers kept going as Rivera tipped his cap and waved to the crowd over and over.

Rivera, who called his exit from the game a blessed moment, outdid himself in his swan song. His emotions were heartfelt, and he didn’t try to hide them. It made me, and probably millions of other people, gain an even keener awareness of what the game and the people he cares about mean to Rivera.

A half inning later, the crowd began to chant Pettitte’s name, and he emerged from the dugout for one last ovation at Yankee Stadium.

In sports, it’s rare for athletes to go out on top, but Rivera and Pettitte did just that. After last night, it’s hard to imagine anyone leaving the game with more dignity, respect and love.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Special Meeting with Mo

September 27, 2013 – There will never be another Mariano Rivera.

In addition to the way Rivera has dominated the competition for nearly two decades, the manner in which he has carried himself off the field is unlike that of just about anyone else in sports.

A perfect example of that occurred at Yankee Stadium yesterday. Rivera met with a group of Yankees employees in the Stadium’s press conference room. Members of the front office who have been with the organization for 10 or more years were invited to be part of the special gathering. Never before did I feel so lucky to have been with the team for more than a decade than when I found out I would have the opportunity to spend a half hour with one of the all-time greatest Yankees shortly before his final game in New York.

I’ve covered similar get togethers, which Rivera has held in ballparks throughout the county this year. But this meeting had special meaning to the closer.

“This is a lot different,” Rivera said a few seconds after he walked into the room to a standing ovation. “You’re my family.”

Then, Rivera passionately thanked the group of about 30 employees.

“When I first came here from Panama, it wasn’t easy,” Rivera said. “But, starting with the Boss, people at every level of the organization have always supported me and my family. When I look at the people in this room, I feel blessed to have been a Yankee. You made my job easy.”

When it was time for members of the group to join in the discussion, senior vice president/chief security officer Sonny Hight gave Rivera a compliment that resonated with me.

“I respect you for what you’ve accomplished on the field,” Hight began. “But the thing I respect most about you is the way you love your family and the way they love you. I’ve been around you and your family at your home, and to see you all together is a beautiful thing.”

Hight is right. Seeing Rivera with his family is a beautiful thing. And, to see an athlete of Rivera’s stature taking hour after hour throughout his final season to personally thank ballpark employees in every city is also a beautiful thing. It’s one of the ways that Rivera has separated himself from the pack.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Leaving It All On The Field

September 23, 2013 – Two days after announcing that the 2013 season would be his last, Andy Pettitte took the mound at Yankee Stadium for the final time.

As if the day wasn’t already emotional enough with the once-in-a-lifetime celebration for Mariano Rivera (see blog entry below), Sept. 22 became more special with every pitch Pettitte tossed.

As Pettitte sat down every San Francisco Giants batter that came to the plate during the first five innings of the game, the atmosphere at Yankee Stadium became suspenseful. From my seat in the press box, all the chatter I heard centered around one question: Could Pettitte really throw a perfect game in his final Yankee Stadium appearance?

While Yankee Stadium has been the site of so many incredible feats, the thought of the 41-year-old Pettitte, who has admittedly battled the effects of Father Time this season, and who only has only made it through eight innings one time this season (April 4 vs. Boston), was too good to be true.

Maybe I’m too unrealistic or emotional, but because of the way Pettitte was battling each hitter and because of the determined spirit I’ve seen him take to the hill for more than a decade, I felt as if he was going to accomplish the feat of perfection.

That dream came to an end with two outs in the fifth inning when Pettitte walked Pablo Sandoval. An inning later, a no-hit bid went away when Ehire Adrianza hit a game-tying solo home run off the legendary lefty.

After Pettitte retired the Giants in order during the seventh inning, he gave up a leadoff double to Sandoval in the eighth. A few seconds later, Joe Girardi make the slow walk to the mound to get Pettitte.

At first glance, Pettitte’s exit was a bittersweet moment. Although he was getting a heart-felt ovation from the sold-out crowd, he was coming out the game after losing a key battle in a big spot – in a game that the Yankees would ultimately be defeated in.

But as the ovation continued and Pettitte pumped his fist, tipped his cap and wrapped his arms around his longtime friend and teammate Derek Jeter at the top step of the dugout, I quickly realized that there was nothing about that moment that was anything but joyous.

In its truest form, Pettitte had put together an effort for the ages. If ever a guy had left it all on the field, Pettitte did just that in his last game at the Stadium. Pettitte’s final line read: 7-plus innings pitched, 2 earned runs, 1 walk and 6 strikeouts. Even the most loyal fans will soon forget those numbers. But what won’t ever leave the minds of the Yankees faithful is Pettitte’s will to win his last game in New York and every game that came before Sept. 22, 2013.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Yankees Honor Mariano Rivera in Emotional Ceremony

September 22, 2013 – In the recent history of the Yankees, there have been several stirring ceremonies in the Bronx, including the final game festivities at the old Yankee Stadium. That night was special and unforgettable. It was emotional, and it was historic.

But, today’s 45-minute pre-game ceremony, in which the career of Mariano Rivera was celebrated, included some of the most heart-warming and emotional moments I’ve ever witnessed on a baseball field.

The ceremony began in Monument Park as the Yankees dedicated and unveiled a plaque in honor of Jackie Robinson. The late pioneer’s wife Rachel and daughter Sharon unveiled the plaque. From there, the group of people in Monument Park, which also included Rivera’s family, walked to the area in which the retired numbers are located. As Rachel Robinson began the slow walk, Rivera’s wife, Clara, grabbed her hand – and the two walked hand in hand. It was a fitting gesture, and a wonderful one.

When the group arrived on the other side of Monument Park, Rivera pulled a curtain off a Yankees’ pinstriped No. 42 plate, signifying that his number was officially retired.

Rivera then walked into the bullpen, while a collection of great Yankees were introduced at home plate. When Tino Martinez and David Cone were introduced — and they were two of the first three players to be announced — I was taken aback by the length and loudness of the ovations they each received. Then, as the introductions went on, I realized that today’s ceremony meant more to the sold-out crowd then most every other sporting event. The ovations for Joe Torre, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams (among others) were thunderous, and they lasted nearly a minute each.

After all of the great Yankees were introduced, Rivera was asked to make the stroll from the bullpen to the mound. Instead of being introduced by the on-field announcers, a recording of the late great Bob Sheppard introducing Rivera was played on the sound system. To hear Sheppard announce Rivera one last time was a sentimental touch

Rivera has jogged from the bullpen to the mound hundreds of times, but on this sun-soaked day, he took his time, walking slowly through centerfield. As the case has been on the majority of those now memorable walks to the mound, heavy metal has filled the air at Yankee Stadium. For so many Yankees fans, Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” has been the soundtrack to victory. It has meant that the great Rivera would soon be putting the opponent to bed.

On this day, no one was falling asleep because the band performed the song live on a stage in centerfield. I’m not sure when Rivera picked up on the surprise appearance by the band, but his ear-to-ear smile never went away.

When Rivera got to infield, he received a three-minute standing ovation, and then he greeted his wife, his three children, the Robinson family and his former teammates and manager with warm embraces.

Rivera was then presented with several special gifts including a speaker that was given to him by the four members of Metallica. The Yankees handed Rivera a check for $100,000 — for his foundation — and a Waterford crystal mitt, which is an exact replica of the glove the closer wears.

At the end of the ceremony, Rivera authored a few more emotional moments. He thanked his wife for years of support, and he paid tribute to his parents and his children. And, a few minutes later, Rivera turned toward Rachel Robinson and spoke about the late Jackie Robinson.

“I never got to meet Mr. Jackie Robinson, and I wish he was here today,” Rivera said. “It has been a great pleasure and honor to wear his number. He has been my hero and my inspiration.”

While all of Rivera’s speech evoked emotions, there was one part that stood out to me above the rest. When Rivera addressed today’s opponent, the San Francisco Giants, he thanked them for the opportunity to take the mound against them.

“Thank you for allowing me to compete against you,” Rivera said. “I appreciate that.”

Those very words epitomize who Rivera is. He is the most humble superstar in history. I can only imagine that he was humble when he was growing up in Panama, and that beautiful characteristic has never changed. Not even a little bit.

Now that the pomp-and-circumstance is done, a very special game will be played. It will mark the final game Andy Pettitte will ever throw in pinstripes.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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5 Minutes with Gloria Estefan

September 21, 2013 – Last week, I had the privilege of interviewing seven-time Grammy award winning singer Gloria Estefan for a “5 Minutes with…” feature that will be published in the October 2013 Issue of Yankees Magazine.

Although the interview didn’t take place in time to make it into the second annual Yankees Magazine en Español (this season), it will certainly be published in the 2014 edition.

The interview with Estefan was one that I coveted for a long time because of my admiration for the Cuban-born singer. After a few years of trying to set up the rare one-on-one conversation with Estefan, I finally got the opportunity, thanks in large part to the relentless efforts of my close friend and Yankees director of Latino affairs Manuel Garcia (pictured below with Gloria Estefan, Emilio Estefan and me). Estefan, who was in New York City promoting her 27th album, sat down with me for a half hour at the 3 West Club.

The interview took place in a meeting room that featured thousands of books on United States presidential history. Without a doubt, the “old New York” feel of the hotel and of the mahogany-filled room we were in added to an already unforgettable experience.

In the interview, I asked Estefan about her newest album, The Standards.

“As a child, I listened to Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis and Frank Sinatra with my parents and I used to sing some of the songs that are on The Standards to them, as well,” Estefan said. “My father died in 1980, so every time I sing any of those songs, he is on the forefront of my mind. He was a big inspiration for this entire album. Once I chose the tracks for this album, I sang them to my mom. She was very emotional, as was I.”

I was also interested to find out if Estefan could have ever imaged that she would become an international star during the earliest days of the Miami Sound Machine. The largest gatherings that Estefan, her husband Emilio and the rest of the Miami Sound Machine were performing at in the late ’70s were weddings and other private events.

“Back then, I believed that the only place music would have in my life would simply be for fun,” Estefan said. “If someone would have predicted that would go on to sell 100 million albums, I would have told them that they were crazy. If I could have looked into the future and seen myself performing in concert, I would have said, ‘Who is that?’ I’m glad it was a gradual process because in the 10 years before we made it big, I learned how to relax and be myself on stage.”

The most vivid memories I have of Estefan came from documentaries that chronicled her many tours in the mid-’80s. During the heyday of the Miami Sound Machine, it was awe-inspiring to watch Estefan take the stage in front of thousands of fans in every city of the world night in and night out. I have long wanted to ask Estefan about those experiences, and her response was as interesting as I thought it would be.

“When “Dr. Beat” became the No. 1 song in Holland, Emilio and I felt as if we got on a roller coaster at full speed,” Estefan said. “We didn’t get off that roller coaster for 18 years. It was like an explosion of work and excitement. After we created each album, we would promote them for a few months throughout the world. Then, I would come home and begin rehearsing for the next tour for a few months. After that, we would spend 16 months to two years on the road, doing the tour. To be immersed in music like that was heaven. The toughest part was the grueling schedule, and I had to keep myself very fit. I spent two hours in the gym every morning. I tried to sleep as much as I could, and I didn’t drink coffee or alcohol. The biggest reason I was able to tour like that is because my family was with me. Otherwise, I would not have been willing to be away that much.”

Of course, the conversation had to include a question about the song that helped catapult Estefan to become the most successful Latin crossover performer in history.

“Conga came from one of the most infectious celebratory rhythms, which used to be performed on the streets of Cuba,” Estefan said. “We took the Cuban conga and fused it with dance music, which people in America and throughout the world really understand. When we put that song together, it included everything from lyrics to melody and the rhythm underneath. It was one big percussion, and that got through to everyone.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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September Issue of Yankees Magazine – ON SALE NOW

September 4, 2013 – The September Issue of Yankees Magazine is on sale now at Yankee Stadium.

Of course, you can purchase a subscription to the print version of Yankees Magazine by visiting http://www.yankees.com/publications or by calling (800) GO-YANKS. The digital version of the magazine is available through http://www.yankees.com/publications.

While I’m proud of every edition of Yankees Magazine I’ve been involved with, it is my opinion that the September issue is the best issue we’ve ever published.

For starters, this issue features three covers (below) — the September Issue cover plus commemorative covers for the game on September 22, when the Yankees will be honoring Rivera in a special pre-game ceremony and the September 26 game, which will be the closer’s final regular-season game. The cover photos of Mariano Rivera were taken on team photo day, and they are all exceptional (see previous blog entry for back story).

The interior of the magazine includes a commemorative section on Mariano Rivera, which starts on page 42. Within that section is deputy editor Kristina M. Dodge’s career retrospective on the great closer, my exclusive interview with Rivera and Cal Ripken Jr. (see previous blog entry for back story) and managing editor Nathan Maciborski’s conversation with the only two pitchers who have amassed 600 or more saves — Rivera and Trevor Hoffman. The section also features a two-page spread that contains quotes from some of the game’s greatest players of today and yesterday (see previous blog entry for back story) and contributing writer Bob Klapisch’s piece on the five best pitches in modern Yankees history — after Rivera’s cutter.

My story on the church that Rivera is restoring in New Rochelle, New York rounds out the 42-page section (see previous blog entry for back story).

In addition to the tribute to Rivera, this issue includes four Q&A pieces that I am proud of. My “5 Minutes with” interview with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor (see previous blog entry for back story) as well those that I conducted with Minnesota Vikings legends John Randle (see previous blog entry for back story) and Chris Doleman are in this edition. Also, my exclusive interview with Rivera and Panama president Ricardo Martinelli is the subject of this month’s La Esquina Caliente.

Finally, a story that I have been anxious to see in print since last winter is now on the shelves. If you are a fan of former Yankee Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez or if you are interested in a great human-interest story, you don’t want to miss my feature on the Cuban pitcher (see previous blog entry for back story). My three-hour interview with Hernandez was about as candid as any conversation gets, and I believe that I captured the emotion of that day in the story.

Enjoy this issue. It is truly a special collection of work.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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2013 Edition of Yankees Magazine en Español – ON SALE NOW

September 4, 2013 – The 2013 edition of Yankees Magazine en Español is on sale now at Yankee Stadium.

The publication is also available through yankeesbeisbol.com, which is the team’s official Spanish-language website.

The editorial lineup in the second edition of Yankees Magazine en Español features a collection of some of the best stories we’ve published in Yankees Magazine this season. Those pieces include deputy editor Kristina M. Dodge’s comprehensive feature on the once-in-forever career of Mariano Rivera, my once-in-a-lifetime interview with Rivera and Cal Ripken Jr. and managing editor Nathan Maciborski’s exclusive feature on Robinson Cano.

Before the season began, I spent a day with former catcher Jorge Posada and a day with Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez for Yankees Magazine feature stories. I am extremely proud of the way those stories turned out, and they are both included in the pages of Yankees Magazine en Espanol.

Lastly, the subject of the “Where Are They Now” article is Bernie Williams. In the piece, editorial assistant Asher Feldman takes readers into the former centerfielder’s present-day life in the music world. I was fortunate enough to have a front-row seat when Feldman interviewed the Williams for this story (earlier this summer), and I can confidently say that the writer captured the best of the Yankee great.

Enjoy this special edition.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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5 Minutes with John Randle

September 4, 2013 – Last September, I spent a day at the world-famous Bethpage State Park golf course in Long Island with Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive tackle John Randle.

My wife, Tiana, and a group of our friends teamed up with Randle in the Joe Namath – March of Dimes Celebrity Golf Classic. After a most enjoyable round of golf, I conducted a candid interview with the Minnesota Vikings legend. That “5 Minutes with” Q&A, along with my interview with Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive end Chris Doleman, who also played for the Vikings, are in the September Issue of Yankees Magazine.

As great as Randle’s career was, I was even more impressed by his path to Minnesota and ultimately to Canton.

Randle joined the Vikings as an undrafted free agent out of tiny Texas A&I University, and only through a rare blend of un-noticed talent and unbridled work ethic did he make the team and then become one of the NFL’s most dominating players.

“Not getting drafted was a big motivation,” Randle said. “I always believed that I could play in the National Football League. I was undersized, and I didn’t come from a big school. As a result, nobody gave me much of a chance to make it in the NFL. Every time I stepped on the field for practice or for a game, I wanted to let everyone know what they missed by not drafting me.”

The most interesting part of our conversation was about Randle’s pre-game rituals.

“I would put my shoulder pads on, and then I would get into the shower with them so that they would get tight and form fitting. On Sunday mornings, no one could talk to me or shake my hand. Also, I would take the game programs that were sitting at our lockers and switch them all up. I was transitioning from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde.”

While the interview was fascinating, my favorite experience from the day took place when I got to line up against the Hall of Famer — even if it was just for a photo op. After our golf team sunk the final putt of the day, Randle posed for photos with each of golfers and I in football’s three-point stance. Among the reasons I was smiling in the photo below is because I knew that Randle wasn’t going to barrel over me.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Clutch Save for Mo

August 19, 2013 – As I’ve written about on this blog, there will be a commemorative section on Mariano Rivera in the September Issue of Yankees Magazine.

The section will include a retrospective on Rivera’s career in pinstripes, a photo essay dedicated to the greatest closer of all time and a Q&A with Rivera and Cal Ripken, Jr.

The 42-page layout will also include a story that I wrote about one of Rivera’s greatest saves off the field.
Since 2011, Rivera and his wife, Clara, have spearheaded a $3 million renovation of a church in New Rochelle, New York. The church, which is located in the town that the couple lived in during the late 1990s, was originally built in 1891 and served as a house of worship for nearly a century. But, in the mid-1980s, the then Presbyterian church encountered a decrease in parishioners and was forced to close its doors.

For the last 20 years, the church was used by the New Rochelle Police Department as a storage facility. That was until Rivera and long-time Yankees tailor Joe Fosina (who is a close friend of Rivera and a former city council member in New Rochelle) approached city officials about the church.

“The building was old and strong,” Rivera told me during my visit to the church last week. “The interior was beat-up, but I didn’t see it like that. I saw the beauty of the church and what we could do in this church for the community.”

After many discussions, New Rochelle officials agreed to sell the church to Rivera for a $1, if he were to fund the renovation project. In addition to donating more than $1 million of his own money — through the Mariano Rivera Foundation — Rivera raised millions of dollars to restore the beautiful stone building.

Rivera also added three rooms to the original building. Those new rooms will be used as a learning center for children, and they will also house food and clothes drives.

The Pentecostal church is expected to open its doors in October, and Rivera’s wife Clara will serve as the pastor.

“Clara is excited,” Rivera said. “She knows that it’s going to be a challenge, but it’s a wonderful thing to do for the community.”

For Rivera, the church in New Rochelle is not the first house of worship he built. Since his career began, Rivera has built churches in his native Panama, as well as in Puerto Rico and Mexico. Rivera has also made annual donations of between $500,000 and $1 million to benefit underprivileged children in Panama.

Through my interview with Rivera about the church and from spending a morning inside the building with him, I learned that the closer is as proud of this project as any accomplishment he’s had on the field. I hope you enjoy reading my story as much as I enjoyed writing it.

–Alfred Santasiere III

Mariano Rivera (at church)

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