May 1, 2014 – In November, I sat down with legendary New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms for a “5 Minutes with…” Q&A that will be published in the July Issue of Yankees Magazine, along with my interview with the Giants Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells (see blog entry below).
I spoke with Simms at the 2013 ALS Association Greater New York Chapter’s annual dinner, and the former quarterback discussed his admiration for Lou Gehrig — whose life was cut short by ALS.
“I wish I could have seen him play,” said Simms, who was honored at the dinner. “I know everything about Lou Gehrig. He stood up to what he had in the most dignified way, and I am honored to be here tonight.”
Simms also shared his thoughts on playing for Parcells.
“He was tough,” Simms began. “The way he talked to players was different from anything I had ever been around. It was very cool, but you couldn’t be sensitive. He was good to play for, and he made all the hard work tolerable. Bill was as tough as any coach that has ever been in professional football, but at the end of the day, you didn’t hate him for it. That’s a great quality.”
When I asked Simms about his MVP performance in Super Bowl XXI, he spoke about the significance that game has had in his life and the emotions he felt when he took the field.
“Well, when I really think about it, I’m here tonight and you’re talking to me because of that game,” said Simms, who completed 22 of the 25 passes he threw for 268 yards and three touchdowns. “It sure isn’t because I beat the Detroit Lions twice in 1985. I didn’t know how important that game was at the time, and that’s probably a good thing. [Super Bowl III MVP] Joe Namath and I were laughing recently about the fact that if we knew what a big deal it was to play in the Super Bowl, we would have been a lot more nervous. I was not afraid to fail in that game, and I took the field with an aggressive approach. I wish I had played my whole career like that.”
In April, Simms came to Yankee Stadium for an exclusive Yankees Magazine photo shoot, and team photographer James Petrozzello snapped several portraits for the Q&A piece, including the image below.
While we were on the field, Simms showed off his passing ability.
“I bet you I can throw a football underhanded farther than any of you guys can throw it overhand,” Simms said to me, Petrozzello and managing editor Nathan Maciborski.
Before any of us took him on, Simms threw an underhanded strike to me that sailed about 40 yards. Had I not gotten in front of the pigskin, it would have gone several more yards. I threw the football back to Simms from where I was standing, and it hit his hands with much less velocity than the pass he threw to me. At that point, I knew he had won the competition, and instead of prolonging it, we played catch from a shorter distance (see photo below).
As much fun as it was to interview the NFL great, catching a football from him was the best part of the experience.
–Alfred Santasiere III
April 24, 2014 – A few weeks ago, I interviewed hockey legend Mark Messier for a “5 Minutes with…” Q&A feature that will be published in the May Issue of Yankees Magazine.
I met up with the NHL’s eighth-ranked goal scorer at the old Kingsbridge Armory, which is in the process of being transformed into the largest ice facility in the world. Only a few miles from Yankee Stadium, there is a building that will soon hold nine full-sized ice rinks. While the project is far from complete, Messier, who is the chief executive officer and an investor in the Kingsbridge National Ice Center, predicts that the project will be complete by 2017.
After taking a tour of the cavernous 750,000 abandoned landmark with Messier, the Hockey Hall of Famer spoke with me about his dream for the facility.
“I have a shared vision to do something here in the armory that will be inclusive of everyone in the community,” Messier said. “I understand that we’re not going to get every child in the Bronx to play ice sports, but it’s a healthy alternative. We look at this armory as the vehicle to create economic growth. It will create jobs in the Bronx and bring in new businesses. That will help everyone.
“I want to walk through the front door and see six or seven different ice disciplines on the ice all at the same time,” the former New York Rangers captain said from a rooftop that overlooks Manhattan. “There will also be a health and wellness center and a community center, which will have several after-school programs. We are also planning to have internship and mentorship programs available every day.”
After our conversation about the ice facility, I asked Messier about the guarantee he made 20 years ago, when he told the world that his Rangers would defeat the New Jersey Devils in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
“The basic inspiration behind [the guarantee] was to find a way to make sure that my teammates knew that I believed in them,” Messier said. “We had lost momentum in that series, and I wanted my teammates to know that I thought we could win that game and win the series. I knew we could win the game, and I was just doing anything I could to instill the confidence and the belief that we could do it.”
Behind Messier’s hat trick, the Rangers won that game. A few weeks later, the team captured its first Stanley Cup in 54 years. From that epic championship run, Messier became a New York legend, and I asked him what it’s like to be one of the very few people who will never have to buy a drink in the Big Apple.
“It means a lot,” Messier said. “I came here when I was 30 years old, and although I was excited about what was ahead of me, I never expected to be embraced the way I was. I was lucky to be part of a great team on and off the ice, and that is a big reason why I am still well respected in New York. We were approachable and honest, and we played hard. Everyone on that team was entrenched in the community. When the team embraces the community, the community embraces the team, and there’s an energy that forms. That’s what happened to us in 1994, and for me, that energy has never gone away.”
To read the rest of this compelling interview, check out the May Issue of Yankees Magazine, which will be available on May 2.
–Alfred Santasiere III
April 11, 2014 – In early March, I spent a morning with former Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly in Glendale, Arizona. I interviewed Mattingly about his historic 1984 campaign for a feature that will be published in the June Issue of Yankees Magazine.
Thirty years ago, Mattingly edged out teammate Dave Winfield for the American League batting title on the last day of the regular season.
In my conversation with Mattingly, he spoke about the first time he realized that he and Winfield were atop the batting charts in 1984.
“At some time in June, Dave and I were asked to pose for a Sports Illustrated photo together,” said Mattingly, who is the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. “I didn’t think about it as a serious competition. We were on the same team, and we were trying to win games. I wasn’t really competing with Dave, and I didn’t feel any pressure. Dave had the tough job. He was the older veteran who had a big contract and I was just a young kid. I felt as if anything I accomplished beyond hitting .300 was gravy.”
Mattingly also spoke about the final game of the ’84 season. In that game, Mattingly thrilled the Yankee Stadium crowd by going 4-for-5. In his first at-bat, Donnie Baseball got things going with a bloop single.
“I felt good after I got that first hit,” Mattingly said from the Dodgers’ spring training complex. “After that, I hit two first-pitch doubles. I never used to swing at the first pitch but I had a feeling that the they were going to throw me strikes right away that afternoon. I just wanted to take advantage of that, and I was able to do that.”
At the end of the interview, Mattingly shared his memories of the moment when the batting title became a reality.
“After my fourth hit of the game, Dave hit a ground ball,” Mattingly said. “They threw me out at second base. I went back to the dugout, and the fans quickly called me out to do a curtain call. Without planning it, I went over to first base, and Dave and I tipped our caps together. When I look back on my career, that moment stands out. Dave and I have been friends for a long time, and that was something neither of us will ever forget.”
–Alfred Santasiere III
April 11, 2014 – As someone who has been at every Yankees’ home opener since 1992, including the last 12 as a member of the team’s publications department, I can honestly say that certain Opening Day games stick out in my memory more than others.
The first Opening Day game I was at — a month after my 13th birthday — was unforgettable. The 1996 opener, during which a young Andy Pettitte earned a win against the Minnesota Twins in a snowstorm, was equally as memorable. The 2003 Opening Day game became an instant thriller when Hideki Matsui hit a grand slam in his debut in pinstripes. Of course, the 2009 home opener was also significant, because it was the first game at the current Yankee Stadium. In my opinion, everyone who had a seat in the ballpark that day was part of history.
This year’s home opener on April 7 was one of the most memorable of them all. As everyone on the planet knows, it was Derek Jeter’s final Opening Day, but in reality, it was more than that.
Opening Day at Yankee Stadium marked the first of many tributes to one of the greatest Yankees — and baseball players — of all time in what will be a year-long celebration. Some of those tributes will be planned, and others, like the thunderous ovation Jeter got when he was announced before the game, are not part of any script.
The Yankees made an already special day even more meaningful when they paraded Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte out to the infield for two ceremonial first pitches. Rivera tossed a pitch to Jeter, and Pettitte hit Posada’s mitt with a strike.
A few seconds after the pitches were thrown, Yankees chief photographer Ariele Goldman Hecht captured an exclusive photo of the Core Four coming off the field. The group of legends stopped on their way back to the dugout and posed for what may be the only photo that features Jeter in uniform and Rivera, Posada and Pettitte in street clothes. That image will be featured prominently in an upcoming issue of Yankees Magazine.
Speaking of Yankees publications, don’t miss your chance to grab a copy of the 2014 New York Yankees Official Opening Day Program (see cover image below). Whether you were at the game or not, you can be part of the historical day. To purchase a copy of the Opening Day Program, please call (800) GO-YANKS or log on to http://www.yankees.com/publications.
–Alfred Santasiere III
April 11, 2014 – The 2014 New York Yankees Official Yearbook is on sale now.
You can purchase print version of the Yearbook by calling (800) GO-YANKS, and you can purchase the print or digital versions by logging on to http://www.yankees.com/publications.
For many reasons, this Yearbook is one of the greatest keepsakes in baseball. For starters, Derek Jeter graces the cover, and the captain is the first person to be featured by himself on the cover a Yankees Yearbook since Don Mattingly earned that distinction in 1992.
In the cover photo, which was taken by Yankees team photographer James Petrozzello, Jeter has a huge smile (see blog entry below about the photo shoot). Jeter’s love of the game and the pride he takes in wearing the pinstripes is captured in this rare photo. The cover also features a line that reads, “The Final Season of Derek Jeter.”
The interior of the book is pretty special, as well. In addition to a feature story on the Yankees free agent acquisitions, a 2014 season preview, and bios on every player and coach, this publication includes a massive section on Mariano Rivera.
In the nearly 100-page tribute to the greatest closer, 53 pages are dedicated to Rivera’s farewell tour. Our team of editors, writers and photographers were in every city that the Yankees played in last season. We documented the many ways that Rivera was honored along with all the instances in which he met with small groups of fans, thanking them for their support of the game.
The Rivera section also includes a career retrospective by deputy editor Kristina M. Dodge along with my story about the Yankees recent trip to Panama, where Rivera was honored in his home country. Closer to home, the New York Giants recognized Rivera last fall by making him an honorary captain before their win against the Minnesota Vikings (see blog entry below). I was with Rivera on the field that night, and I am proud of the story I was able to put together for the Yearbook.
There is also a section on the legendary career of Andy Pettitte in the Yearbook. That section includes my feature on Pettitte’s final game (see blog entry below) along with a photo essay that will take you through all the great seasons Pettitte spent in pinstripes.
Finally, Joe DiMaggio would have turned 100 in 2014, and contributing writer Pete Caldera went to the Yankee Clipper’s hometown of San Francisco to put together a special story for the Yearbook. In Caldera’s feature, he discusses several remnants of DiMaggio’s youth, which still exist today. From DiMaggio’s first home, to the restaurants he once frequented to the church that he received his first Holy Communion in, to the playground where he first swung a bat, Caldera described all the key places from the great centerfielder’s earliest days. What resonated with me the most when I read Caldera’s story was that even after DiMaggio’s death, his presence is still very much alive in San Francisco.
The 2014 New York Yankees Official Yearbook spans generations of great players and teams. It’s a keepsake for the ages.
–Alfred Santasiere III
April 11, 2014 – The April Issue of Yankees Magazine is on sale now. 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.
This edition of the team’s flagship publication includes several exclusive stories. From the team’s newest players to the honor of a lifetime for one of the Yankees greatest players — plus a lot more — it’s all in this extraordinary issue.
Masahiro Tanaka is the subject of the cover story. I was fortunate enough to spend more than an hour with the star pitcher on one of his first days in the United States (see blog entry below). In our conversation, which took place over lunch, Tanaka spoke candidly about his career in Japan and his expectations for the future.
I also wrote a lengthy feature on the Yankees spring training trip to Panama, during which Mariano Rivera was honored in his home country (see blog entry below). A few weeks before that trip, I interviewed former President Bill Clinton in his midtown Manhattan office for a special “5 Minutes with…” piece that I believe is a must read (see blog entry below).
There is a second “5 Minutes with…” feature in this issue. In November, I interviewed former NFL quarterback Jay Fiedler over dinner in New York City. Fiedler’s story is a real inspiration, and I am excited to have published my interview with him in Yankees Magazine.
After a record-breaking career at Dartmouth College, Fiedler signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent. After two seasons in Philly, Fiedler found himself out of football for two years. But, regardless of how bleak things looked, he never gave up on his dream of becoming a starting quarterback in the NFL. Through tremendous determination, Fiedler made his way back to the NFL, eventually becoming the Miami Dolphins starting quarterback in 2000.
Executive editor Ken Derry wrote two features in this issue. Derry traveled to the Yankees Baseball Academy in the Dominican Republic to explore how so many of the organization’s prospects and established players hone their craft. Derry also interviewed Jacoby Ellsbury during spring training for a feature on the Yankees new centerfielder.
There are several other great stories in this issue. Grab your copy now!
–Alfred Santasiere III
March 24, 2014 – On Friday night (March 21), Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino was at George M. Steinbrenner Field for the second time in two years to throw out a ceremonial first pitch.
Marino, who was representing Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza, an Italian restaurant that has locations in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida, took a unique approach to the mound.
A few minutes before he went out to the mound, Marino was asked to autograph a football. As he was signing the pigskin, Yankees clubhouse manager Lou Cucuzza suggested that he throw the football rather than a baseball.
“I can’t do that,” Marino said. “Everyone is expecting me to throw a baseball.”
But on second thought, Marino came up with a great idea.
“I’m going to throw the first pitch with a baseball,” Marino said. “Then, I’ll throw the football.”
That’s exactly what he did. Marino tossed a strike to Jorge Posada with a baseball, before picking up a football and completing a pass to the former catcher.
There will be an article in the April Issue of Yankees Magazine on Marino’s first pitches. I also interviewed Marino, who played quarterback for the Miami Dolphins for his entire 17-year career, and Posada, who wore pinstripes for the same number of years, before the Yankees’ game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
During the interview, which can only be read below, Marino shared his memories of being at Yankee Stadium on the mid-winter day that Posada announced his retirement in 2012.
Enjoy this exclusive Q&A piece.
–Alfred Santasiere III
Alfred Santasiere III: What are your thoughts on catching Dan’s first pitch?
Jorge Posada: It’s a big honor to catch Dan. Watching him play for one team for so long was special, and all the things he does now in the South Florida community is great. Dan is an important part of the community in South Florida, and as a member of that community, he is someone I really admire.
AGS III: Dan, Hall of Famer Goose Gossage caught your pitch last year. This year, you’ve got one of the greatest Yankees catchers of all-time behind the plate. What was your reaction when you found out that Jorge would be your catcher?
DM: Well, I knew it was going to be fun. I’ve always been a big fan of Jorge. He’s had a great relationship with the community in South Florida, as well. And, of course, he was a great Yankee for long time. I’m going to throw my best heat and see what happens.
AGS III: You each played for your respective organizations for 17 seasons. What did it mean to each of you to have only played for one team?
JP: There’s nothing better than putting the pinstripes on. I get chills every time I put that uniform on. I was proud when Dan put that jersey on tonight, because I wore it for so long. Dan wore a Dolphins uniform for 17 years, and I’m sure he feels that same pride. It’s something that has deep meaning to me. I started playing for the Yankees when I was a little kid, and I was a grown man when I left.
DM: Playing for the Dolphins was very special. I created relationships with the fans that will never change. When you play for one team for your whole career, I think you’re always a part of that organization in the hearts of the fans. I’m proud to have done that.
March 20, 2014 – The Yankees made history last weekend by playing the first major league game in Panama since 1947. I covered the Yankees two-game Legend Series — honoring Mariano Rivera — against the Miami Marlins for a feature story that will appear in the 2014 New York Yankees Yearbook and in the April Issue of Yankees Magazine.
The games certainly didn’t lack drama — the Yankees were no-hit on Saturday, and then they came back and held Miami to one hit on Sunday — but the weekend was about so much more than what took place between the white lines.
The three-day event was all about the great Mariano Rivera, who had long wanted to bring the Yankees to his native country. After nearly a year of planning, Rivera’s dream came true, and as an ambassador, the former closer certainly made the most of the experience.
The team flew to Panama on a chartered flight on March 13, and as each member of the traveling party stepped out of the plane, Rivera and his wife, Clara, were there. Rivera welcomed the guys he had played alongside for decades as well as the ballplayers who have joined the team since his 2013 retirement with the same enthusiasm.
“I wanted to greet my team,” Rivera said. “When they saw me, they were smiling and laughing. I could feel the love from them, and that meant more to me than I can put into words.”
The following morning, Rivera and several Yankees players, coaches and executives took a guided tour of the Panama Canal, and that was my favorite experience of the trip, and one that exceeded my expectations.
The 48-mile waterway, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and which has saved ships from having to travel 8,000 miles around the southern tip of South America for the last 100 years, is awe-inspiring.
As I stood on a concrete platform that overlooked a small portion of the canal, I gained a tremendous appreciation for the people who created the canal 100 years ago, and I enjoyed listening to Rivera share his pride in Panama’s most significant landmark.
“The people who built the canal are not around today, but I often think about the sacrifices they made during the 10 years the canal was being built,” said Rivera. “Those people caught malaria, they were injured, and in some cases, they lost their lives. It’s refreshing to see how those people are appreciated today for opening up a pathway between two oceans. More than anything else, I am proud that the people who gave so much were Panamanians.”
During the tour, we walked across the Mira Flora Locks on a two-foot wide bridge. That would not be a trek I would recommend to anyone who is afraid of heights, especially when the water in the locks is brought down. As you walk across the tiny bridge, which has metal railings on each side — except, of course, where there are gaps in the railings — it’s difficult to avoid looking down several hundred feet to the surface of the water on one side of the locks.
Once we got to the other side of the locks, we toured the building with the computerized system that controls the locks, raising and lowering the water so that ships can pass from one ocean to another.
A few feet from the modern-day control center sits the now out-dated manual controls, and that was as interesting to learn about as the massive computerized operation.
Following the tour of the canal, we ate lunch at the American Trade Hotel, located in Panama City’s Casco Viejo. The historic part of town, which was settled in 1673, still has an old-world look. From the brick streets outside the hotel, to the marble floors within the rustic building, it felt like we had stepped back in time.
Later that evening, Rivera hosted about 500 people at a charity gala. The dinner, benefitting Panama City’s Children’s Hospital, took place on a roof-top deck at the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel & Tower. In addition to raising a sizable amount of money for the pediatric medial center — tickets to the event cost $400 — Rivera also signed autographs for the better part of the night. As Joe Girardi said afterward, “Everyone who wanted to take a photo with Mo or get his autograph, got their wish. Mo made sure that everyone left happy.”
The biggest celebration of the weekend took place on Saturday night. After being honored throughout the United States in 2013, Rivera received the most memorable tribute of them all on March 15. In front of a tightly-packed crowd of 27,000, Rivera made his entrance from right field before the game. With Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” playing, Rivera walked slowly to the mound, where he addressed the crowd.
“Thank you very much for being here for me in my beautiful Panama,” Rivera said. “This is something I wanted for a long time.”
Then, Rivera tossed a ceremonial first pitch to his successor, David Robertson.
“That pitch was the passing of the torch to David,” Rivera said in a news conference after the ceremony. “I’m praying that he will succeed as the Yankees closer, and I’m confident that he will do the job. I believe in him.”
For Rivera, the passionate ovation from his fellow Panamanians and the presence of the Yankees in his home country made for an emotional night.
“To get that ovation in my hometown, with my teammates on hand, that was wonderful,” Rivera said. “This one is different. I am thankful for all of the ceremonies I had in the United States. But when you come home, there’s nothing better than that. To have that moment in my country, and to feel the love from my people is the greatest gift I could ever get. When I got to the mound and saw my people cheering in the seats, it was spectacular. I can’t describe the emotions I felt that moment, because there are no words that could express how happy I really was.”
The next day, boxing legend Roberto Duran — who is also from Panama — tossed the ceremonial first pitch, with Rivera at his side. A few hours later, we were on a chartered flight back to Tampa, and by my count, everyone on that plane left the country with lifelong memories of a historic event. I was lucky to be one of those people.
This was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. During the three days in Panama, I had unequaled access to Rivera. I shadowed him at the Panama Canal. I was in the dugout with he and his family in the hour before he took the field for his greatest honor. And, I conducted a lengthy one-on-one interview with the great closer moments after the emotional pre-game ceremony.
All of that went into a unique feature that I believe is a great read. Enjoy the story.
–Alfred Santasiere III
March 10, 2014 – A few weeks before spring training began, legendary quarterback Joe Namath accepted my invitation to attend a game at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida.
With the cooperation of Yankees skipper Joe Girardi and GM Brian Cashman, I arranged for Namath to serve as the Yankees honorary co-manager and to also toss a ceremonial first pitch.
Before the March 3 game, I conducted an interview that I had long coveted. With Namath in a full Yankees uniform — including a number 12 jersey — he and fellow New York icon Derek Jeter joined me in the dugout for a 20-minute discussion (see photo below).
From the moment that Namath and Jeter approached each other, just about every photographer and reporter swarmed them. Everyone wanted to capture the rare encounter between two of New York’s most storied athletes, and I felt extremely fortunate to have an audience with them.
As the interview began, Namath offered a classy comment that meant the world to me.
“First of all, I want to thank you both for doing this,” Namath said. “This is a real thrill for me.”
Then, with about 50 members of the media looking on from the area in front of the dugout, I asked Jeter and Namath how they maintained their outwardly calm demeanors in the biggest games they played in.
For Namath, the question brought him back to Super Bowl III, the game he so famously guaranteed a win in, despite being on a New York Jets team that was heavy underdogs.
“Well, my heart was beating pretty hard before I got out there on the field that day,” Namath said. “I learned to accept the nervous energy before a big game. But once I got out there, I was just repeating what I knew how to do. I was doing something that I had done since I was a child. I wouldn’t have been out there if I lacked confidence, and I always knew the difference between being cocky and confident. I was able to be calm once the game started, and that came from confidence in myself.”
“I agree with what Joe said about having butterflies,” Jeter then said. “I’ve always feel the butterflies before I take the field. I’ve always cared about winning and playing well, and that nervous energy is there before I get on the field. But I’ve tried to treat every game the same. Baseball is baseball, whether it’s a spring training game, a regular season game or a World Series game. There is more attention off the field during the bigger games, but once you get on the field, you have to treat every game the same way. Like Joe said, when you get out there, it’s just about playing the game you’ve played your whole life.”
I also asked Broadway Joe and the Yankees captain to discuss why winning in New York is extraordinarily special.
“The fans really care,” Jeter began. “They watch every game. It’s almost like life or death some times. They experience everything that happens throughout the year. Also, New York is the media capital of the world, so there’s a lot of attention and scrutiny, and if you’re able to win a championship in New York City, it doesn’t get any better. With no disrespect to any other cities or teams, if you can win it all in New York with all the attention that is on you, it makes it that much more special.”
“I’ve given this a lot of thought over the years,” Namath said. “What makes New York special? Well it goes back a few hundred years. New York was special from the beginning. The Big Apple is made up of a gathering of people from different backgrounds who have always had their own ways of doing things but still worked collectively together. The people are sharp, and they will let you know how they feel, especially when you win. It’s the greatest city in the world. I cherish my relationship with New Yorkers. I feel like I’m one of them.”
After the interview, Namath visited with players and coaches in a lounge inside the home clubhouse. Then, as we walked out to the field, he asked me to warm him up for the ceremonial first pitch. That experience was both thrilling and nerve racking.
In front of the packed Yankees dugout, I found myself playing catch with Joe Namath, and the Hall of Fame quarterback made one strong throw after another. Fortunately, I caught Nathath’s warm-up pitches, and I got the ball back to him without making any throwing errors.
Namath then took the field to a chorus of cheers, and from a few feet in front of the mound, he threw a strike to his catcher — Derek Jeter.
“I planned to walk out to the mound,” Namath said. “But I ended up jogging out there, because the adrenaline was going. I was really excited because of where I was. When I looked down there and saw Derek in the catcher’s stance, I couldn’t believe it. I knew he was going to catch the pitch, but I when I saw him out there, it was really special.”
When the game was over, I asked Girardi’s co-manager if he had to make any difficult decisions during the team’s win over the Washington Nationals.
“I wasn’t sure how long I wanted to keep Jeter in the game,” Namath joked. “For real, I kept thinking to myself, this is the early part of spring training, and he’s been out there for a while. Then, around the sixth inning, it dawned on me: Derek’s probably calling that shot. I realized that he was going to stay in the game as long as he wanted to.”
My entire interview with Namath and Jeter, along with sidebars on the former quarterback’s first pitch and his time in the dugout, will be published in the May Issue of Yankees Magazine.
–Alfred Santasiere III
March 10, 2014 – During the first week of spring training, I interviewed Masahiro Tanaka over lunch for the cover story of the April Issue of Yankees Magazine.
On February 18, I spent a few hours with the Yankees free agent acquisition at SoHo Sushi in Tampa, Florida. During our meal, Tanaka discussed his childhood in Japan, his incredible career in Japan’s Nippon League and his goals with the Yankees.
In final three seasons with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, Tanaka racked up a 53-9 record, and he put together a perfect 24-0 season with a 1.27 ERA, while leading the Golden Eagles to their first championship in 2013.
Tanaka — who was accompanied by Yankees advisor of Pacific Rim operations, George Rose, interpreter Shingo Horie and Japanese media advisor Yoshiki Sato — ordered a variety of sushi and other Japanese favorites for the group.
Without even browsing the menu at the acclaimed sushi bar, Tanaka quickly rattled off a list of items in Japanese to Horie, who then relayed the order to our waitress.
Moments later, 12 sushi rolls and several other dishes began to fill the table.
As quickly as the culinary masterpieces arrived, Tanaka began to pluck pieces of sushi off each dish with a pair of chopsticks. From the tuna rolls to the elaborate volcano roll, which included crab and cucumber wrapped in avocado and buried under a mountain of baked spicy salmon and crabmeat, Tanaka devoured it all.
“I love sushi,” Tanaka said through Horie. “I’ve been eating it since I was a little kid.”
During the meal, Tanaka opened up about his decision to attend Komazawa University Tomakamai High School, which was located far from his hometown.
“It took a two-hour plane ride to get from my home to the high school,” Tanaka said. “I was far away from where my family was, but I wanted to go to that high school because I felt that I could become a better baseball player there. Even when I was very young, I was thinking about where I could improve my skills as a baseball player, and when I saw the environment that they had at Tomakamai, I knew that was the best place for me. That’s why I made the decision to go there.”
Tanaka, who led Tomakamai to two championships in Japan’s prestigious Summer Koshien tournament, also discussed the pressure he felt to perform at such a young age.
“Tomakamai had been very successful before I got there,” Tanaka said. “As a result, there was an enormous amount of pressure on me to continue to help them win championships. I didn’t feel any pressure when I was playing, but when the games were over, I always felt a sense of relief. That helped me to understand that there was a lot of pressure, but I also felt good about the way I dealt with it.”
The part of the conversation that interested me the most involved the amount of time Tanaka spent on the diamond when he was in high school.
“I practiced baseball about nine hours a day back then,” Tanaka said. “I went to school and finished my studies at about 1 p.m., and then I would play baseball until about 10 o’clock at night. There were nights in which some of my teammates and I would finish up at around midnight.”
After we discussed Tanaka’s early days, he shared his thoughts on more recent times, including his undefeated campaign in 2013.
“I was just taking it one game at a time,” said the 25 year-old right-hander. “I just happened to get 24 wins.”
At the end of the lunch, Tanaka beamed as he spoke about his decision to sign with the Yankees.
“I feel that the Yankees wanted me the most and gave me the highest evaluation,” Tanaka said. “As a player, you can’t ask for much more than that. The Yankees are so rich in tradition. They are the team that everyone wants to play for. I felt that this was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”
–Alfred Santasiere III