August 3, 2015 – A few months before I traveled to Puerto Rico with Jorge Posada for a story in the September Issue of Yankees Magazine on the catcher’s upbringing (see blog entry below), I sat down with him in South Florida for another feature.
In early January, I met Posada for lunch in Coral Gables. During the three hours we spent together, Posada shared memories of his journey from Calhoun Community College in Alabama through his final days in pinstripes.
Posada’s first-person story will be published in the August Issue of Yankees Magazine. Of course, on August 22, the Yankees will be dedicating a Monument Park plaque to Posada and retiring his number.
Not long after we sat down, Posada discussed his earliest days in the Yankees organization.
“As a 24th-round draft choice, there was no guarantee that I would someday make it to the majors,” he said. “But I always had a strong belief in myself and a great work ethic. When you’re in Triple-A, you realize that you’re one step away, and you start thinking about who’s ahead of you. At that time, Mike Stanley was the starting catcher, and Jim Leyritz was there, but there wasn’t anyone who had much of a chance to leapfrog me. I knew it was just going to be a matter of time before I was in New York.”
A short while later, the former catcher shared what he considers to be the most difficult experience of his life.
“The 2001 season was a great year for me on the field, but it was an incredibly hard time for me off the field,” Posada began. “My son, Jorge, was born in 1999 with craniosynostosis, a birth defect in which the joints in his skull closed prematurely and before the brain was fully formed. In the summer of 2001, he had his second of 11 surgeries, but during that one, he got a serious infection. The surgery was a complete failure, and he was in the hospital [in New York City] for about a month and a half.
“I slept at the hospital on the night of Sept. 10,” Posada continued as his eyes welled up. “On the morning of Sept. 11, Jorge wanted to watch a kid’s show that we had on tape. As I was rewinding the tape, the news was on, and they were showing images of a plane crashing into one of the World Trade Center towers. I walked over to the window, and I saw the second plane hit the other tower. I walked out into the hallway and asked the nurse if she could unhook all of the tubes that Jorge was hooked up to because I thought that I had to get him out of there. I thought that the whole city was going to be under attack. A few minutes later, they began bringing beds downstairs to the emergency room because they were anticipating a lot of people coming in, but no one came in. It really hit me when one of the nurses said, ‘There’s no wounds; no one’s hurt. People are just dead.’”
About a half hour after Posada told me that compelling story, our conversation reverted back to baseball, and he took me through his game-tying, eighth-inning hit in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series against Pedro Martinez and the Boston Red Sox [which the Yankees ultimately won.]
“I was glad that I would have the chance to face Pedro with the game on the line,” Posada said. “In the brawl at Fenway Park a few days earlier, Pedro pushed [Yankees coach] Don Zimmer to the ground, and I didn’t like that. Pedro didn’t need to do that. I was screaming at Pedro, and he pointed to his head, saying that he was going to throw a pitch at my head. I was very angry at Pedro for the way he acted, and I wanted revenge.
“With a 2-2 count, he threw a fastball on the inside corner of the plate,” Posada continued. “I swung at it, and it broke my bat. The ball landed in between second base and center field, and both runners scored. As I was standing on second base, I felt like a lot of pressure was lifted off my shoulders. I had gotten revenge, and it was very gratifying.”
During a visit to Yankee Stadium this summer, chief photographer Ariele Goldman Hecht snapped a portrait of Posada for the opening spread of the story (below). The photo was taken on the suite level of the current Stadium, and the view in the background is the site of old Yankee Stadium — where Posada played for many seasons.
For the rest of the story about Posada’s legendary career — in his own words — be sure to pick up a copy of the August Issue of Yankees Magazine.
–Alfred Santasiere III
August 3, 2015 — On the weekend before the All-Star break, I sat down with Alex Rodriguez for an exclusive interview that will be published in the August Issue of Yankees Magazine.
During our conversation, which took place over lunch at Hillstone restaurant in Boston, the highly-publicized slugger spoke about his comeback this season, as well as several of the career landmarks he’s reached in the last few months.
But before I asked A-Rod about 2015, we discussed his very first major league game, back in 1994. That game took place at Fenway Park, located only a few miles away from where we met for lunch.
“The thing I remember most is that I was 18 years old and only a few months removed from my senior prom,” Rodriguez said. “I was excited and full of anxiety. I remember walking into the tiny visitors’ clubhouse in Fenway Park and going out to the field to take ground balls. When I got to the ballpark, I saw my name in the lineup, and that sight has stayed in my mind forever.”
When we got to the 2015 season, A-Rod spoke about how much he has enjoyed everything about it.
“This has been the most fun season I’ve had in New York,” he said. “I’ve never been this happy or relaxed playing baseball. I feel like I’m a little kid in my backyard, playing baseball. I think that the year off, although it was extremely tough, was a blessing in disguise because it made me appreciate everything the game has given to me.”
Rodriguez also talked about what reaching 3,000 hits means to him in comparison to his other great accomplishments.
“To me, it’s synonymous with longevity, and I’m proud of that,” A-Rod said. “It also means that I’ve played for great teams with incredible players who have made life hard for opposing pitchers. It’s really a toast to all the great players I’ve been surrounded by for along time.”
At the end of the interview, I asked the now 40-year-old if it’s realistic to expect him to match his performance from the first half of the season after the All-Star break.
“Yes,” A-Rod said emphatically. “It’s realistic. Going into the season, I thought that the most challenging months would be April and May because I hadn’t played baseball for a long time. I also thought that as the weather got warmer and I got more repetition, I would get more fine-tuned and play better. I still feel that way.”
Before A-Rod left for that evening’s game against the Boston Red Sox, I thanked him for the candid interview, and his response was unforgettable.
“This is the longest I’ve spent with someone who is putting together a story on me,” he said. “I’ve shared more with you today than I have with any other writer before.”
–Alfred Santasiere III
July 18, 2015 — In late-June, I traveled to Jorge Posada’s hometown of Río Piedras, Puerto Rico to spend a day with the former catcher. My story on Posada’s upbringing will be published in the September Issue of Yankees Magazine and in the 2015 edition of Yankees Magazine en Español.
There will also be a first-person story on Posada’s career in pinstripes in the August Issue of Yankees Magazine. Posada shared his experiences about his baseball career with me over lunch last winter in Miami, and that story will be out on the day the Yankees retire the catcher’s number and dedicate a Monument Park plaque to him.
While I’m proud of both stories, I consider the experiences I had with Posada in Puerto Rico and that story to be among my best.
On a hot and humid morning, I met Posada in the lobby of the hotel he was staying at, and he drove me to several of the landmark places from his childhood.
One of our first stops was Parque de Pelota de Isla Verde, a fenced-in baseball field in the Carolina neighborhood of San Juan. It was there, as a member of Casa Cuba — a social club that Posada and his family belonged to — that he played in his organized game of baseball when he was 9 years old.
When we got to the field, Posada walked across the dirt infield past the puddle of water near first base and over to the shortstop position — where he played when he was a kid.
“The thing I remember most about this field is the day I got my first baseball uniform,” Posada said from the red wooden bleachers behind home plate. “I was sitting right here when the coach walked over with a box in his hands and began to hand out our jerseys. They looked just like the old Texas Rangers uniforms. They were red and blue, and they said ‘Casa Cuba’ along the front.”
A little while later, we sat down for lunch at one Posada’s favorite restaurants, Ceviche House. During the meal, Posada spoke about the ways his father — a former baseball player in his native Cuba — instilled tough love and pushed him to the limit when he in his youth.
When Posada was about 8 years old, his father insisted that he learn to bat from both sides of the plate and that he only swing a wooden bat.
“He didn’t tell me that I was going to bat left-handed against righties until I started playing organized baseball,” Posada said. “I struck out and struck out and struck out. It was probably more mental because my swing was there, but it took me awhile to get the confidence I needed to have from the left side. It wasn’t easy at the beginning.”
Amid a long streak of consecutive strikeouts, Posada pleaded with his father to go back to his natural side.
“Without even thinking about it, he said no,” Posada said. “He told me that if I kept working at it from the left side, I would be fine. He always encouraged me to stay with it.”
After lunch, we drove to the house that Posada grew up in and where his parents still reside. Almost as soon as we walked in, the couple led us through their living room and dining room and into a sitting room in the back of the house.
That room is a temple to Posada’s professional career and specifically to his 17 seasons in pinstripes.
The white concrete walls are covered with photos of him celebrating championships, magazine articles and even his first Yankees Magazine cover. There is a bat rack behind the couch with one bat from each of the five World Series Posada won in New York. Sitting on a table next to those bats is the first of five Silver Slugger Awards the catcher took home during his career, and Posada’s locker nameplates from each of the five All-Star games he played in hang on another wall.
From that treasure trove of memorabilia symbolizing the catcher’s years in the limelight, we walked down the hall to a small bedroom that was Posada’s when he was growing up (see photo below).
Much of what was in that bedroom when Posada was growing up is still there. The twin bed that he fell asleep in night after night takes up about half the width of the room. Two shelves hang above a wooden dresser on the wall next to the bed, and they are packed with mementos from Posada’s youth, including a few baseballs and more than a dozen trophies from various baseball seasons and tournaments.
On the part of the ceiling above the bed, there are several tiny marks and grooves.
“Every night, when I would lie down, I would play catch,” Posada said. “I would pretend I was playing for a major league team. I tried not to hit the ceiling, but that was hard to do.”
At the end of the day, we spent time on the family’s backyard patio, and as the afternoon turned to evening, Posada’s father — the man who rarely showered his son with praise — reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper.
On the paper, there was a list of all the catchers in the Hall of Fame — and Posada. The players’ most important statistics — games played, batting average, home runs and RBI — were listed along with their rankings in each of those categories. Among the Hall of Fame catchers, Posada was in the middle of the pack or better in all of the statistical categories.
Posada’s father handed the paper to his son.
“The Hall of Fame is next,” the older Posada said. “You have the numbers, and what’s different from a lot of the other catchers on this list is that you have won five World Series and played in five All-Star Games.”
Posada smiled and then carefully looked over the paper, discussing the accomplishments of a few of his favorite catchers.
A little while later, the older Posada walked toward the refrigerator. As he was about to open it, he stared at a magnet on the refrigerator door. The magnet, which was produced by the Yankees, featured a photograph of the former catcher, and it read “Jorge Posada Day, August 22, 2015,” referring to the afternoon the team is scheduled to retire his number and dedicate a Monument Park plaque to him.
“It’s like a dream,” the older Posada said. “It’s like I’m walking on air. I couldn’t be prouder of him.”
That touching moment made what was already going to be a great story, more special than I could have ever imagined it could be. I’m forever grateful to Jorge Posada and his family for that moment and several others that day.
–Alfred Santasiere III
July 4, 2015 – The July Issue of Yankees Magazine is on sale today at Yankee Stadium and on newsstands in the Tri-State area.
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.
Of all the stories I’ve put together, the piece I’m most proud of is in this edition of Yankees Magazine. In my Art of Sport Q&A feature with George W. Bush, the former President of the United States discusses his ceremonial first pitch at the old Yankee Stadium, as well as so many other baseball-related topics.
This edition also includes the feature that the most candid interview I’ve ever conducted produced. In my Art of Sport piece with Jimmy Johnson, the former football coach shares his feelings on everything from his wild experiences at the University of Miami, his rivalries with former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz and former Philadelphia Eagles coach Buddy Ryan, his well-publicized split from the Dallas Cowboys, and, of course, his three championships.
The subject of this month’s cover story is another Texas native. Starting pitcher Nathan Eovoldi sat down with editorial associate Hilary Giorgi and discussed his first five months with the Yankees (including spring training). Based on what Eovaldi has done thus far and especially in his last few starts, I believe he is going to have a big second half, and this story will enlighten you on what he’s all about.
Speaking of pitchers, my story on one of the greatest in team history can be found on the pages of the July issue. In advance of the dedication of a Monument Park plaque to Mel Stottlemyre, I sat down with the former Yankees pitcher and pitching coach in his home state of Washington for a long interview. In that interview, Stottlemyre spoke with me about his entire life in baseball, and my story concludes with what may be his proudest moment. That moment took place at Yankee Stadium when the team unveiled his well-deserved plaque.
–Alfred Santasiere III
July 4, 2015 – Earlier this week, I was at Arm & Hammer Park, where the Trenton Thunder (Yankees Double-A affiliate) held Yankees Magazine Night for the fourth consecutive season.
As part of the festivities, the first 1,000 fans in attendance for the June 30 game received a complimentary copy of the May Issue of Yankees Magazine. Additionally, the Thunder invited me and my 7-year-old son, Alfred, to toss ceremonial first pitches.
Even though I’ve had to opportunity to take the mound with Alfred in each of the last four seasons, the experience never gets old. It’s still very exciting and very special.
Unlike our previous experiences, Alfred led off this time around, firing a strike from about half way between the mound and the plate. Moments later, I followed with a strike pitch of my own.
During the Thunder game later that evening, my family and I spent some time with ESPN.com senior writer and New York Times Bestselling author Ian O’Connor in a suite. Like so many others in the ballpark, O’Connor took notice of Alfred’s pitch, and that made me proud.
“You’ve got great poise on the mound, Alfred,” O’Connor said. “You threw that ball as hard as you dad.”
–Alfred Santasiere III
June 25, 2015 — A day after Old-Timers’ Day, the Yankees Legends Game was played at the home of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (see blog entry below about the special edition of Yankees Magazine for that game).
The Father’s Day fundraising event was dedicated to former second baseman Brian Doyle, who has been battling Parkinson’s disease since 2014, and proceeds from the game benefitted the National Parkinson Foundation and the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
For a story that will be published in the July Issue of Yankees Magazine, I spent the day at PNC Field in Northeastern PA, and I sat down with Doyle for a long conversation prior to the game.
“They raised $40,000 for Parkinson’s research in one day,” Doyle said from his seat in the dugout. “We’ve gotten an amazing turnout of great players, and everyone is having fun. I feel very blessed.”
Doyle also shared his excitement with me about achieving a goal that he had worked diligently and courageously toward. Despite the physical limitations that Parkinson’s has presented him with, Doyle was determined to jog onto the field when he was introduced.
“My daughter takes me to work out every Thursday,” Doyle said. “After I go through my Parkinson’s therapy, we go to a track, and I jog just a little. Eventually, I was able to jog a little more, and I began to think that I could do this. It meant so much for me to jog out to the infield at Yankee Stadium yesterday and here at PNC Field. Then, I was not only able to throw the ceremonial first pitch today, but I also threw it for strike. That capped off an unbelievable weekend for me.”
On a personal note, I feel very lucky to have had the chance to spend time with Doyle. He’s a kind man and a class act, and it’s a pleasure to be around him. I’m also grateful to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders and especially their co-managing owner David Abrams for rolling out the red carpet for my family and I. Being in the dugout with my wife, Tiana, and our son, Alfred, made for an unforgettable experience. And, after the game, I took my 7-year-old boy “to work with me.” Having Alfred at my side in the clubhouse as I interviewed several Yankees greats for the story was an equally memorable Father’s Day present.
–Alfred Santasiere III
June 25, 2015 – This year’s Old-Timers’ Day festivities were as special for me — and I’m sure for so many Yankees fans — as any have been.
Prior to the Old-Timers’ Day game, the Yankees dedicated Monument Park plaques to two of their most important alums. As I wrote on this blog earlier, plans were in place to recognize former second baseman and coach Willie Randolph. Randolph was indeed honored, and his speech was wonderfully heartfelt. For more on Randolph’s great career in pinstripes, check out the June Issue of Yankees Magazine, where my story on the Brooklyn native was published.
A few months ago, I learned that that there was a plan in place to also dedicate a plaque to Mel Stottlemyre on Old-Timers’ Day, but that it would be a surprise to the former pitcher and coach. With the blessing of Stottlemyre’s wife, Jean — contingent on my promise to not reveal the news — I traveled to Snoqualmie Falls, Washington to interview the great Yankee about his career. When Stottlemyre and Jean sat down with me at a restaurant in the Salish Lodge & Spa for a three-hour interview, he had no idea why I was writing a retrospective piece on him this year.
Regardless of that, I enjoyed every second of our candid lunch conversation, which covered everything from when Stottlemyre first got interested in baseball through his tenure as the Yankees pitching coach.
“My younger brother and I used to play baseball in the backyard,” said Stottlemyre, who grew up in Mabton, Washington. “I always pretended that I was playing for the Yankees. We used to watch the baseball game of the week religiously, and the majority of the time, the Yankees were playing in those games. I always loved the Yankees, and from the time I was about 5 years old, I actually dreamt of playing for the Yankees one day.”
Sometime later in our conversation, Stottlemyre spoke about his rookie season with the Yankees, when his heroics helped get the team to the 1964 World Series.
“I just think I filled a void that they had at the time,” the humble Stottlemyre said about his 9-3 regular season. “We didn’t have anyone else in Richmond [Yankees minor league home] who was ready to come up, and I was able to pinpoint my pitches and get major league hitters out.”
Stottlemyre also shared a story about one of his first days on the Yankees coaching staff in 1996.
“On the first day of spring training, I walked into Joe Torre’s office to let him know which pitchers I was going to have throwing,” Stottlemyre said. “He looked at me and said, ‘You don’t have to tell me that. I hired you to do a job, and I trust everything you’re doing.’ That was a huge relief because it wasn’t always like when I was with the Mets.”
When I said good-bye to the couple, Stottlemyre — who has been battling multiple myeloma, a rare form of cancer, for several years — told me that he was hoping to make it to New York for Old-Timers’ Day — simply to take part in the annual tradition.
Without knowing about the surprise tribute, and despite a few more health-related setbacks between my late April interview and mid-June, Stottlemyre was able to make the trip.
As Stottlemyre sat in the home dugout during the introductions of the other former Yankees on June 20, he wondered when his name would be called.
“I thought they forgot me,” Stottlemyre said.
Then, after the last Yankee was introduced, Stottlemyre’s family emerged from the other dugout, and the masters of ceremonies announced that the Yankees would be dedicating a plaque to one of the team’s greatest right-handers and the guy who guided a group of pitchers to four championships.
“This is the best surprise I’ve ever had,” Stottlemyre said when he got to the podium. “There’s no one happier to be on this field than myself.”
As moving as Stottlemyre’s entire speech was, he saved the best for the end.
“If I never get to come to another Old-Timers’ Day, I will take the memories that I have today, and I will start another baseball club, coaching up there wherever they need me.”
After the ceremony, I caught up with Stottlemyre in a Yankee Stadium suite for the follow-up interview I had been looking forward to for several weeks. During that conversation, I thanked him for meeting with me in Washington, and I told him how special that time was for me.
“It was special for me too,” Stottlemyre responded. “It gave me the chance to reflect on my whole life, and that felt great.”
My feature on Stottlemyre’s life in baseball and his well-deserved Monument Park plaque dedication will be published in the July Issue of Yankees Magazine.
–Alfred Santasiere III
June 19, 2015 – A day after the Yankees will celebrate their glorious past on Old-Timers’ Day at Yankee Stadium, several former pinstriped heroes will be traveling to PNC Field in Scranton, Pennsylvania, for the much-anticipated Yankees Legends Game.
On June 21, World Series stars such as Reggie Jackson, Bucky Dent, Joe Pepitone, Charlie Hayes, Don Larsen and Jeff Nelson — along with several other great players — will converge on the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders home field for a Father’s Day barbecue and a game of baseball.
The game will be dedicated to 1978 World Series hero Brian Doyle, who was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. A portion of the proceeds from the game will benefit the National Parkinson Foundation and The Michael J. Fox Foundation.
When RailRiders co-managing partner David Abrams asked me about the possibility of producing a game program for this important fundraising event, I was elated.
We have produced a special edition of Yankees Magazine, with a commemorative cover that features a beautiful photo of PNC Field. As a graduate of nearby Misericordia University, I’m proud to bring Yankees Magazine to Northeastern Pennsylvania for the first time, but most importantly, I’m honored to be involved in this special day.
If you’re at PNC Field for the Yankees Legends Game on Sunday or if you head out to the ballpark on a later date in 2015, be sure to grab your copy of this special commemorative program.
–Alfred Santasiere III
June 19, 2015 – I was fortunate enough to spend about a half hour with two of the greatest on-field leaders in New York City’s sports history. Prior to the True Blue celebrity softball game benefitting fallen officers Brian Moore, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, I interviewed Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre and New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin about their careers.
At the beginning of our conversation, I asked the men to discuss whether they made adjustments to their respective leadership approaches through the years.
“One of my assistants came up to me and said, ‘Let the players see what you’re like when you’re with your grandchildren,’” Coughlin began. “I thought about it and started to do that, and as a result, I think I became much more approachable to the players. I don’t think my values changed at all but my perspective on how I could get my players to understand that what I was trying to get them to do was in their best interest certainly changed.”
“Just like Tommy said, we can only do as well as our players perform on the field,” Torre said. “Coaching or managing is all about dealing with people. When I took over the Yankees, I started to believe some of the press clippings — which stated that I was a player’s manager. That was viewed as a negative thing, but when I started to think about it, I realized that over the course of 162 games, if you try to be someone your not, that will be exposed. I really needed to be sure that my style and the way I was going about my business was going to be beneficial to the Yankees. I had players with a lot of character, guys who you would want to be in a foxhole with. I quickly realized that being true to who I was and to how I had always dealt with players was going to be the way I could get through to my guys during the tough times. What teams do during those moments really define a season.”
I also asked Torre and Coughlin, who have won a combined six championships in New York, to share the best part of winning it all in the Big Apple.
“The parade,” Coughlin said. “I’m telling you, it’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced in your life. When we were riding down the Canyon of Heroes, I was watching people hanging out of their windows and celebrating. I got the same feeling I had a few days earlier when we won the Super Bowl. There’s just nothing like it. Quite frankly, I have never experienced anything like that in my life, and I was so glad I had my wife with me.”
“There’s no doubt that it’s the Canyon of Heroes,” Torre agreed. “When you’re going through the season and the postseason, you have tunnel vision. You know there are fans in the stands and you know they always appreciate it. But when you look at what we accomplished as a team, how it affects those people lining the streets and hanging on light posts, you realize that what you’ve done is something special. To have that kind of glee and to see the smiles on so many faces was really unforgettable.”
To read the rest of this special Q&A feature, check out the August Issue of Yankees Magazine.
–Alfred Santasiere III
June 19, 2015 – Less than 24 hours after jockey Victor Espinoza captured horse racing’s first Triple Crown since 1978, he took the mound at Yankee Stadium to toss a ceremonial first pitch.
Two days after Espinoza’s June 6 win at the Belmont Stakes, I met the jockey at the Essex House hotel and interviewed him over a cup of coffee for an Art of Sport Q&A feature that will be published in the August Issue of Yankees Magazine.
In our conversation, Espinoza spoke about the first time he rode American Pharoah.
“I knew he was a special horse on the first day I rode him,” Espinoza said. “He had never run before, but I could tell just by the way he ran. It was an amazing feeling. I didn’t want to jinx myself but I thought right away that he was going to be a Kentucky Derby winner. I didn’t know he was going to win a Triple Crown through.”
Espinoza also spoke with me about the long gap since the last Triple Crown sweep and his two near misses.
“It took a long time,” Espinoza said. “Before the Belmont last year, I was thinking, ‘I need to win, I need to win.’ This time I felt like, if it’s meant to be, than it’s going to happen. I believe in destiny and that things are meant to be. I guess after all these years, destiny was waiting for me to win the Triple Crown.”
At the end of our conversation, Espinoza shared his thoughts on the Yankee Stadium first pitch.
“It was an amazing experience,” Espinoza said. “That was my first exercise since the race, and I did not work out or anything before the pitch. Last year, I threw a ceremonial first pitch before the Belmont Stakes, and I was very tense. This time, I was completely relaxed, and I had a lot more fun.”
–Alfred Santasiere III