Dinner with Willie Randolph

May 7, 2015 – This year on Old-Timers’ Day, the Yankees will be dedicating a Monument Park plaque to former second baseman and longtime coach Willie Randolph. For the June Issue of Yankees Magazine, I’m writing a feature story on Randolph’s playing career and coaching tenure in pinstripes.

A few weeks ago, Randolph visited Yankee Stadium for an exclusive photo shoot. Chief photographer Ariele Goldman Hecht captured several portraits of Randolph for my feature and for the cover of all copies of Yankees Magazine that will be sold at the Stadium during the June 20 Old-Timers’ Day festivities and game against the Detroit Tigers. If you’re in the ballpark that day, be sure to pick up your copy because the Willie Randolph commemorative cover will likely be a collector’s item before long.

After the Stadium photo shoot, I met up with Randolph on the other side of the Hudson River for dinner at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in Edgewater, New Jersey. But before we sat down, we felt compelled to get one more photo. As you’ll see below, Randolph walked down to a pathway that offers a great view of the New York City skyline, and Hecht captured this epic shot (which will be the opening spread of my story).

As the daylight turned to night, Randolph and I spoke for several hours about his life, and the many decades he spent in the game of baseball.

Our conversation began where Randolph’s baseball career started, in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn.

“When I was 10 years old, I met a little old man who loved the game of baseball and loved teaching the game to the kids in the neighborhood,” Randolph said. “Mr. Gonzalez came up to me and a group of my friends one day and asked us if we wanted to play baseball at Prospect Park. He would get the local bodegas to sponsor teams and buy our uniforms, and we would play in tournaments on the weekends. That’s how I got into the game.”

Randolph, who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of high school and traded to the Yankees a few years later, shared his most difficult experiences in the minor leagues.

“I was playing in Thetford Mines, which is a small province in Quebec, Canada,” Randolph said. “It was kind of a makeshift situation because the team wasn’t planning to play there, but they were forced to. It was really cold, and the ballpark we were playing in didn’t even have clubhouses. We had to get dressed at a hockey rink and walk over to the ballpark. I wasn’t as mentally tough as I needed to be. It was hard to play well in the cold weather, and for the first time, I struggled statistically. I remember calling my mother and saying, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ She said, ‘I didn’t raise you to be a quitter, but if you want to come home, I will send you a bus ticket.’ I thought about it, and I told myself to grow up. I stuck it out and began to play well a few weeks later. Once I got past that hurdle, I felt like I could make it in baseball.”

As for his time as the Yankees second baseman, Randolph spoke extensively about the team’s 1977 World Series win.

“Winning the World Series was like being at a big party,” Randolph said. “It was a culmination and an emotional climax. When you win in the town you grew up in, there is nothing better than that.”

Although he missed the 1978 postseason with an injury, Randolph was still a key contributor during the Yankees amazing comeback that season. In the famed Boston Massacre series, in which the Yankees took four straight September games from the Red Sox in Fenway Park, Randolph collected seven hits and six walks.

“I loved playing in Fenway Park,” he said. “If you had a pulse, you were motivated and ready to play there. The fans were calling us all kinds of names, but you do good teams a favor when you do that stuff. I was focused on kicking their [butts], and I was able to have a great series.”

As one of the more enjoyable interviews I’ve ever conducted wound down, I asked Randolph to put the honor of having a Monument Park plaque in perspective.

“I’m extremely proud,” Randolph said. “When you think about the other players who have plaques in Monument Park, guys like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, it’s incredible. It’s hard to believe that there will be a plaque for me that will be there forever.”

You can read the rest of the Randolph story — including quite a bit on the four World Series championships he won as a member of Joe Torre’s coaching staff — in the June Issue of Yankees Magazine.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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The Art of Sport with Bill Wennington

May 7, 2015 – In addition to interviewing St. John’s University basketball legend —and now head coach — Chris Mullin (see blog entry below), for an Art of Sport feature in the June Issue of Yankees Magazine, I also sat down with former Johnnies center Bill Wennington.

I met up with Wennington at John’s of Bleecker Street, one of New York City’s oldest and most famous pizza places (see photo below). For me, the opportunity to conduct an interview over what I consider to be the best pizza in the world, made for a memorable experience. It was also a sentimental experience for me because I began frequenting John’s when I was a child.

Like Mullin, Wennington was a big part of the 1985 St. John’s team that went to the Final Four, and I asked the big guy several questions about that season, including what it was like to face Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing four times in ’85.

“I always looked forward to challenges like that,” said Wennington, who is currently part of the Chicago Bulls broadcast team. “I wanted to play the best because they made me better, and in my mind, I couldn’t lose. If Patrick Ewing had 30 points, 20 rebounds and they won the game, the media wouldn’t even criticize me because that’s what they expected him to do. But if I could hold Patrick to nine points, I got a lot of credit. Patrick was a phenomenal player in college and in the pros. In my opinion, playing against him and having to battle that hard got me to the NBA because it made me work harder.”

Wennington also spoke about the intangibles that made that Johnnies team special.

“We were a family,” he said. “We all got a long. We hung out on road trips in each other’s rooms, and when we were home, we would go out together all the time. I was on a lot of other great teams, where we liked each other, but the guys on that team truly cared about each other, and that was unique.”

Of course, I asked Wennington a few questions about his time in Chicago, where he helped the Bulls win three NBA titles. More than anything, I was curious to find out what the Bulls practices were like when Michael Jordan was in his heyday.

“Those practices were intense,” Wennington said. “They were hard but really fun. They were fun because everyone there knew how hard you had to work, and I would actually feel a sense of accomplishment when we would walk off the court. You knew Michael was going to push you. He didn’t only want to be the best player; he wanted to be the best player on the best team. He made sure that all 12 guys on the team were going to work their hardest because he needed them in order to win. Some guys had issues with him. If you weren’t working hard, he was unpleasant, to put it mildly. But if you understood why he was pushing everyone and what he wanted from you, then you could deal with it, and you were better off as a result.”

I was also interested to hear about the tremendous fanfare that surrounded Jordan from a fellow Chicago Bulls player of that era.

“It was hard to hang out with Michael because he was always attracted huge crowds,” Wennington said. “We couldn’t go out a have a few beers together or come to a place like this to grab a pizza. If we were having lunch in a quiet restaurant, two or three security guards would have to stand around our table, and there would be a hundred people trying to get in to get a glimpse of Michael. Everywhere he went, flashbulbs were going off, and he rarely had any personal time in a public setting.”

At the end of our lunch, I asked Wennington the toughest question of the interview. I asked him whether he prefers New York’s thin crust style of pizza or Chicago’s deep-dish style.

“If I want thin crust, New York is the place to be,” Wennington said.

“The pizza we had today was absolutely fantastic. But every now and then, you’ve got to get some deep-dish pizza. One slice is a meal in and of itself. The debate is fun but they are completely different and hard to compare. They’re as different as hamburgers and hot dogs.”

To read the complete Art of Sport feature with Bill Wennington or the Art of Sport with Chris Mullin, grab a copy of the June Issue of Yankees Magazine.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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2015 New York Yankees Official Yearbook – ON SALE, APRIL 6

April 6, 2015 – The 2015 New York Yankees Official Yearbook is on sale today at Yankee Stadium.

The annual publication is also available by calling (800) GO-YANKS or by visiting http://yankees.com/publications.

There is a feature on all of the new faces on the field today, including Didi Gregorius, Andrew Miller and Nathan Eovaldi as well as a season preview that takes readers through the upcoming schedule. As in previous years, the 2015 Yearbook also includes bio pages on every Yankees player, and the entire coaching staff.

What makes this yearbook stand out is the 72-page section dedicated to Derek Jeter. That section begins with a black and white pullout poster featuring a photo of The Captain after his final game. In the background of the image, there is a quote by Jeter that reads “In my opinion, I’ve had the greatest job in the world. I got a chance to be the shortstop of the New York Yankees, and there’s only one of those.”

The section also includes a piece on The Captain’s years in the minor leagues as well as a thoughtfully-written career retrospective on his time in pinstripes. Additionally, there is a photo essay on Derek Jeter Day at Yankee Stadium and a feature on all of the pre-game ceremonies throughout baseball, during which Jeter was honored in 2014.

Lastly, contributing writer Jack O’Connell wrote a beautiful piece on the late Don Zimmer for the 2015 Yearbook. In that feature, Joe Torre shares his feelings on his long-time bench coach’s contributions to four championship teams.

Besides Zimmer’s years on the Yankees bench, O’Connell shed light on his entire life in the game.

“What I wanted to do with the story was let some younger people know what a great prospect he was as a player,” O’Connell said. “He’s a great subject because he was pure baseball. Anyone how knew him, knew what a great guy he was.”

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Second Edition of Derek Jeter Commemorative Edition – ON SALE, APRIL 6

April 6, 2015 – Last September, we released the Derek Jeter Commemorative Edition of Yankees Magazine, and today, the second edition of that publication is available.

The second edition of the DJ Commemorative is also available by calling (800) GO-YANKS or by visiting http://www.yankees.com/publications.

The second edition includes every story that was published in mid-September including the feature on Jeter’s childhood through the words of his parents (see blog entry below), my exclusive interview with Jeter and the late great Ernie Banks (see blog entry below), managing editor Nathan Maciborski’s career retrospective on the Yankees shortstop, senior editor Jon Schwartz’ piece on the scout who persuaded the Yankees to draft Jeter and first-person vignettes about The Captain by several of his former teammates and by the likes of Bill Clinton, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky.

But what makes the second edition even better — and more complete — is the addition of several special stories. Those stories include my interview with Jeter and fellow New York icon Joe Namath (see blog entry below), my portrayals of Jeter’s final All-Star Game and final game at Yankee Stadium, executive editor Ken Derry’s beautifully-written piece on The Captain’s final game — which took place in Fenway Park — and Maciborski’s story on Jeter’s mighty contributions to five championship teams.

As for the people I tracked down during the offseason to add to the already impressive collection of vignettes about Jeter, there’s quite a few of them. George W. Bush, Don Mattingly, Dan Marino, Jerry Rice and Scott Brosius headline the group of people whose words grace the pages of the second edition.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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April Issue of Yankees Magazine – ON SALE, APRIL 6

April 6, 2014 – The April Issue of Yankees Magazine is on sale today at Yankee Stadium.

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://www.yankees.com/publications.

Star relief pitcher Dellin Betances will grace the cover on copies that will be sold during the rest of the month, but there will be a special Opening Day cover (below) on sale today. That cover features a watercolor illustration of Yankee Stadium, created by artist Jeremy Collins.

This edition is filled with stories about players who will be taking the field on Opening Day this afternoon and on those who graced the diamond in the past.

I wrote the cover story on Betances (see blog entry below), and senior editor Jon Schwartz wrote an inimitable feature on Carlos Beltran. For the story on Beltran, Schwartz spent a day in Puerto Rico with the Yankees right fielder this winter. Schwartz shadowed Beltran during his entire workout regiment, which including weight training, fielding and batting. This intimate portrayal of Beltran really illustrates how hard the 37-year-old worked to get back onto the field and to contribute in 2015. It’s a must read.

The April Issue also includes features on Masahiro Tanaka and Elston Howard along with deputy editor Kristina M. Dodge’s story on former pitcher Mike Mussina, who is now a high school basketball coach in Pennsylvania. Dodge spent some time with Moose at Montoursville Area High School for this feature, and it depicts a man who is enjoying his post-baseball life and also contributing a great deal to the lives of others.

The two Art of Sport Q&A pieces in the April Issue feature hockey legends. As I wrote on this blog earlier, I sat down with Wayne Gretzky in September and Denis Potvin a few weeks ago, and I’m proud of the way both interviews turned out.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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The Story Behind No. 51 – May Issue of Yankees Magazine

April 6, 2015 — Last summer, I spent a few days in Puerto Rico with Yankees legend Bernie Williams for two Yankees Magazine stories. The first feature, which detailed Williams’ childhood and his earliest days of playing baseball in Puerto Rico — was published in the August 2014 edition of Yankees Magazine.

In between the chronicling of Williams’ roots in Puerto Rico, I interviewed him about his 16-year career in pinstripes for a second feature story. That story will be published in the May 2015 issue of Yankees Magazine, and it’s as unique as the first story I wrote about Williams.

The reason we are publishing the feature on Williams’ career in our third issue this season is because the Yankees will retiring his No. 51 and dedicating a Monument Park plaque to him on May 24.

During our long conversation about his time on the field, Williams spoke about how he decided to wear No. 51 during his entire career.

In his first two partial seasons in pinstripes, Williams was given No. 51. As a player who had not yet proven himself beyond Triple-A, there was little chance the Yankees would give the switch-hitter one of the few remaining single digits. Those numbers were reserved for stars, or at least for veteran players. Those numbers were saved for players whom team officials firmly believed would some day reach the status of the men who wore the single digits that had already been retired — men such as Babe Ruth, who wore No. 3, and Lou Gehrig, who dressed in No. 4, and Joe DiMaggio, who donned No. 5.

With only two single digits left unretired at the time, the Yankees were even more selective.

Still wearing No. 51 in the spring of 1993, Williams was summoned to then Yankees manager Buck Showalter’s office after a workout.

“I had no idea what he wanted to talk about,” Williams said over lunch at The Ritz-Carlton resort in Dorado Beach. “I was hoping it wasn’t something bad. I was hoping he wasn’t going to tell me that I had been traded or that I was going to start the season in the minors.”

When Williams sat down, Showalter explained that he had engaged in a conversation with principal owner George Steinbrenner, and they both felt that the center fielder should make the switch from No. 51 to No. 2 or No. 6.

“Buck was really direct in that conversation,” Williams said. “He told me that he wanted me to wear one of those numbers because they were right with the numbers that the greatest Yankees had worn.”

But without giving it another thought, Williams told Showalter that he preferred to stick with No. 51.

“He was surprised,” Williams said. “He told me they pretty much only gave those high numbers to the young guys, to the players who would probably be sent down again. Fifty-one was supposed to be a temporary number for me.”

Williams did not have a special connection to No. 51. But he also didn’t feel the need to show the world how good he was — or could be — by wearing a highly-regarded number on his back.

“I was flattered,” Williams said. “I was thrilled that he and Mr. Steinbrenner thought so highly of me, especially with how little I had done. But I was OK with 51. It didn’t matter what number I had as long as I was continuing to improve on the field. I was happy with them giving No. 2 and No. 6 to someone else.”

That conversation epitomizes what Bernie Williams is all about. It serves as an example of his humility. In a profession where outward confidence and big egos are part of the culture, Williams is the opposite. Throughout his career, Williams carried himself with a quiet sense of confidence. He didn’t brag about his personal accomplishments, and when he hit a big home run, he simply put his head down and ran toward first base.

That great characteristic, along with Williams’ consistent and clutch hitting, made him one of the most popular Yankees in history. The ceremony on May 24 will be a special one, and the game program sold at Yankee Stadium that night will feature a commemorative Bernie Williams cover — along with my exclusive feature on No. 51.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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The Art of Sport with Denis Potvin

March 27, 2015 – In addition to my Art of Sport feature with Wayne Gretzky, there will be a Q&A with New York Islanders legend and fellow Hockey Hall of Famer Denis Potvin in the April Issue of Yankees Magazine

When I interviewed Gretzky last September, The Great One mentioned that Potvin was the most difficult player he faced on the ice. As I was trying to come up with a hockey player to feature in second Art of Sport in the April Issue, I shared that Gretzky quote about Potvin with my closest friend, Matthew Shauger.

Shauger, who is a lifelong hockey fan, strongly suggested that I attempt to set up an interview with Potvin. With the Islanders playing in their final season at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, featuring Potvin seemed like a great idea. A few weeks before our print deadline, the Florida Panthers — whom Potvin is an announcer for — played a late-season game at Madison Square Garden. On the morning of that contest, I met Potvin at Shula’s Steak House in Manhattan for breakfast, and I quickly realized that my friend’s idea was a stroke of genius.

During our nearly three-hour conversation, I told Potvin that Gretzky considered him to be his toughest opponent.

“That’s very flattering,” Potvin said with a huge smile. “That’s nice to hear.”

Potvin then discussed the challenge of facing Gretzky.

“Playing against Gretzky was like a scene from a book,” Potvin said. “It was like trying to find something through a heavy mist. He had an innate ability to move the puck at the right time. He knew that I was always trying to hit him, but I never got a good check on him. Of all the guys I tried to get a good hit on during my career, Gretzky’s the only one I never got. He was an incredible competitor, and he changed the game of hockey.”

I also asked Potvin to rank his Islanders teams from the early ‘80s that won four consecutive Stanley Cup championships before losing to Gretzky’s Oilers in the 1984 Finals.

“We were the best hockey team that’s ever played the game,” Potvin said. “No other team ever won 19 consecutive Stanley Cup playoff series, and no team is ever going to do that. The Montreal Canadiens won five in a row in the ’50s, but we had to win four playoff rounds in each of our championship seasons. In the four years that we won, we only played in one elimination game. We’re a lot like Don Shula’s 1972 undefeated Miami Dolphins for the simple fact that we did what no other team could ever do.”

As I interviewed Potvin in Midtown Manhattan, only a few blocks away from Madison Square Garden, I was compelled to ask him about the chant that New York Rangers fans began more than 35 years ago and which is still heard today.

“It’s amazing that they’re still chanting ‘Potvin sucks,’” he said. “But it doesn’t bother me at all. A friend of mine was at a Rangers game recently when the chant began. He leaned over to a young kid who was chanting “Potvin sucks” and asked, “Who is Potvin?” The kid said, “I don’t know, but I think he died.” My daughter heard the chant at a rodeo at Madison Square Garden, and I heard it at the old Yankee Stadium during the 2003 World Series and at Giants Stadium during a football game. The same chant was a lot more threatening 35 years ago, when Rangers fans were throwing full beer bottles at our bus. These days, it’s almost mystical.”

At the end of the interview, I asked Potvin about the arena he called home for 15 seasons.

“It used to be called “Fort Neverlose,” and we had a tremendous level of confidence every time we took the ice there,” the former defenseman said. “The crowd was on top of you, and the fans were rabid during the playoff years. It was as good a building as I’ve played in, and that includes the Montreal Forum and the Maple Leaf Gardens. They were more legendary arenas, but for us, there was no better home than the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. I’m certainly going to miss it.”

–Alfred Santasiere III

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The Art of Sport with Wayne Gretzky

March 27, 2015 – Last September, I traveled to Toronto, Canada, to interview Hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky for a very special Art of Sport feature that will be published in the April Issue of Yankees Magazine.

I met up with Gretzky on a Friday afternoon in a suite at the Four Seasons Hotel, and having the opportunity to sit down with the greatest hockey player for nearly an hour was one of the most memorable experiences of my career. Gretzky’s kindness and candor made what I expected to be an exciting day, even better.

In the interview, I asked Gretzky about what it was like to given the name “The Great One” when he was only 10 years old.

“It certainly put some added pressure on me, but in those days, the world was a big place,” Gretzky said. “By that I mean that we would play in games that were three hours from where we lived in Brantford, and although quite a few people had already heard about me, they had never seen me play. In this day and age, we live in such a small world, and there are no secrets or surprises. If a kid has some potential, everyone has seen him play or read about him on the Internet. Even though there was a lot of attention on me, it didn’t phase me because the only people who really knew anything about me were people living between Brantford and Toronto. When I was 11 years old, a writer asked my dad if the pressure was going to get to me, and my dad said, ‘He has more fun when he’s playing than when he’s doing anything else. He enjoys hockey, and he doesn’t think about the pressure.’ My dad was right, and I felt that way until the day I retired.”

While we were discussing Gretzky’s childhood, he also shared the story of how he decided to wear No. 99 — the number that the NHL would ultimately retire in honor of The Great One.

“People think there’s some magical theory to how I got the No. 99,” said Gretzky, who won four Stanley Cup championships with the Edmonton Oilers. “But in reality, there was a kid on my junior hockey team who already had No. 9, which was Gordie Howe’s number. Kiddingly, the coach said, “Why don’t you wear two nines?” I liked that idea, and I wore 99 from that day on.”

When we began to talk about Gretzky’s professional career, I asked the NHL’s all-time leading goal scorer and points leader who he viewed as his greatest competition.

“Mario Lemieux was the best player I ever faced, but Denis Potvin was the most difficult to play against,” Gretzky said. “Denis was smart, agile, tough and mean. It was never fun to face the Islanders when he was there, but we all had respect for each other.”

As much as I enjoyed every one of Gretzky’s answers, an anecdote about his final game stood out to me the most.

“The drive to Madison Square Garden was the most memorable part of my last game,” said the former New York Ranger. “I drove to The Garden that day with my dad. He drove me to my first game when I was 5 years old, and I drove him to my last game. He spent the whole ride trying to convince me to play one more year because he wanted to watch me play more games. But I knew it was the right time.”

You can find the rest of this interview — along with my conversation with Gretzky’s longtime rival Denis Potvin — in the April Issue of Yankees Magazine, which comes out on April 6.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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The Art of Sport with Jimmy Johnson

March 7, 2015 – A few days ago, I traveled south from Tampa to Key Largo, Florida to interview former collegiate and NFL coach Jimmy Johnson for an Art of Sport feature.

I interviewed the coach at his restaurant, Jimmy Johnson’s Big Chill. Our long conversation, which took place on a deck overlooking the ocean, was one of the most fun interviews I’ve ever conducted. Besides being charismatic and having a brilliant understanding of how to lead players, Johnson is a great storyteller.

With a career in coaching that spanned more than three decades and included a National Championship with the University of Miami and two Super Bowl titles with the Dallas Cowboys — in addition to a National Championship as a player at the University of Arkansas — Johnson has a large inventory of compelling stories.

As the candid coach knocked back a few Heineken Light beers, he shared several of his experiences with me, including several that came from his time at the University of Miami. In Johnson’s five-year tenure with the Hurricanes (1984-88), he earned a 52-9 record and won the 1987 National Championship while also captivating the nation with a swagger that had never been seen in college football.

“I fit in with our guys,” Johnson said. “We had a lot of inner-city guys, and I was one of the fellas. I took pride in that. To give you an idea of our swagger, when we played Oklahoma in 1986, [Oklahoma linebacker] Brian Bosworth had made some horrible comments about our guys prior to the game. When our captains, Winston Moss, Alonzo Highsmith and Jerome Brown, went out for the coin toss, they wouldn’t shake Bosworth’s hand. Instead, Winston Moss kept saying, ‘Don’t be afraid, [expletive].’ Then, we out there beat them by a bunch of touchdowns.”

Johnson also spoke about the old Miami Orange Bowl, where he won his last 26 home games as the Hurricanes’ coach.

“The crowd was on top of the field,” he said. “It was a truly a party every time we played there. Another time we played Oklahoma — whom at one point only lost three out of 35 games, and all three losses were to us —  [star defensive lineman] Jerome Brown walked past where they were stretching, and began yelling “fresh meat.” Then, we went out and dominated them.”

When the conversation turned to Johnson’s time with the Cowboys, the coach spoke about his rivalry with the Philadelphia Eagles and their former leader.

“Philadelphia beat up on us the first couple years I was in Dallas,” Johnson said. “Buddy Ryan used to say that there were no East Carolina’s in the NFL, which was a shot at me and what he considered to be some of the easy teams we played while I was at Miami. But I fired back a few years later that he never won a playoff game, and I won a couple of Super Bowls.”

At the end of the interview, I asked Johnson about his highly-publicized split from the Cowboys.

“I’ve always been a little bit of a gypsy,” Johnson said. “I get bored easily, and I felt like I had accomplished everything I wanted to there. And the main thing is that I wanted to move to the Florida Keys. I had already bought a home down here. I was ready to move on.”

Following the interview, Johnson invited me to join him for lunch, and the lifelong Yankees fan shared some of his favorite baseball memories over the meal.

“My favorite player was Mickey Mantle,” Johnson said. “I took my oldest son to Kansas City when he was a little kid, and he got to pose for a photo with him. When I was coaching of the Cowboys, I got to meet Mickey again on a golf course. That was a great thrill. You won’t believe this but my second favorite player was Roger Repoz. Back in the ’60s, he was going to be the next Mickey Mantle. I would read the box score every day to find out what he did.”

The entire Art of Sport interview with Johnson will be published in Yankees Magazine this season.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Cover Story on Dellin Betances – April Issue of Yankees Magazine

March 7, 2015 – A few days after Media Day (see blog entry below), I interviewed Dellin Betances over dinner at my favorite restaurant in Tampa for the cover story of the April Issue of Yankees Magazine.

Earlier this week, the All-Star relief pitcher and I met up at Bern’s Steak House, a Tampa institution and one of the finest restaurants in North America. With one of the largest wine cellars in the world — featuring more than 6,800 selections and more than a half million bottles — the wine list is as impressive as the dry-aged steaks at the 1956 establishment. To further explain Bern’s place among the great restaurants, it’s worth noting that most United States presidents from the last 50 years have dined there, and Tampa resident and Yankees icon Derek Jeter is a regular.

“I knew this place was impressive, but I had no idea how unique it really is,” the 26-year-old Betances said before ordering a glass of Cabernet from the 178-page award-winning wine list.

Then, the 6-foot-8-inch Betances ordered a 10-ounce filet — which was seven ounces smaller than the 17-ounce porterhouse steak I ordered (see photo below).

“This looks funny,” Betances said. “I’m the biggest guy in this restaurant and I’m eating the smallest steak. But you know what? We’ve got a nutritionist with the Yankees now, and I’m concentrating on eating right.”

Those words epitomized what Betances is all about these days. He’s focused on repeating what he did on the mound in 2014. After spending eight long seasons on a roller-coaster ride through the minors, Betances had incredible success last year. Almost out of no-where, he became one of the league’s most dominant hitters.

In his first full season, he broke Mariano Rivera’s team record for strikeouts by a relief pitcher, finishing the campaign with 135. And of greater significance, Betances’ 1.40 ERA in 90 innings was among the lowest in baseball.

“I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to pitch so well,” Betances said. “I wasn’t surprised by any of it because I believed in myself. I believed I could do the job, regardless of who I was facing.”

My feature chronicles Betances’ journey through the minors, which began after the Yankees drafted him in 2006. The story also delves into just how special Betances’ performance was last season, and how good he can be, regardless of whether he becomes the team’s closer or set-up man this year.

But the most important thing I learned in the evening I spent with Betances at Bern’s Steak House is that one of his greatest characteristics is his humility.

“The closer has a big role, especially with the Yankees,” Betances said a few moments before the end of the dinner. “Whether I get that opportunity or not, I’m going to do my best to help the team win. Like all the bottles of wine in here, I just want to keep getting better with age.”

Enjoy the rest of the story, in the April Issue of Yankees Magazine.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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