Berra on Steinbrenner

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This is a very sad day for me and Carmen and all of baseball. My sympathies go out to the Steinbrenner family.

George was The Boss, make no mistake. He built the Yankees into champions and that’s something nobody can ever deny. He was a very generous, caring, passionate man. George and I had our differences, but who didn’t? We became great friends over the last decade and I will miss him very much.

Always a class act.

Of course I mean Berra…

The Greatest Baseball Game In 37 Years, (Part 1)

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was first published this past July. I am republishing in celebration (and hopeful anticipation) of tonight’s Game 6 of the ALCS in the Bronx. I’ll repost Part 2 tomorrow.

Baseball is back after the All-Star break. Is mid-season in the baseball universe.

I have never been to an All-Star Baseball Game. Even though I watched a few on television, lately I’ve noticed that my interest in them has waned. For me it’s just not a real baseball game. I suspect that players don’t play really that hard. They seem afraid of an injury that could jeopardize their team’s chances of winning a pennant, or worse, an individual player’s own future.

So, I didn’t tune into the game. But I was glad to learn that the American League had won again. I also watched the replays of President Obama throwing the ceremonial first pitch. He seemed relieved that it didn’t go the way of the bowling ball in Pennsylvania. I think presidents should be allowed to throw a few warm-up pitches in the bullpen before their first — and only — pitch in front of a larger audience.

I’ve been thinking a lot about baseball this past week. More than usual. Let me tell you why.

My team, the Yankees were swept in Anaheim prior to the All-Star Game. (Now,  just hold it, all you Yankee haters! Before you start sending me hate-mail, I became a fan when the Yankees sucked so bad that even the Mets were drawing bigger crowds). The games against the Angels reminded me — as they always do — of the day in 1970 when I met Minnesota’s Tony Oliva in Anaheim. That’s the kind of thing that really makes an impression on a fourteen year-old. My father, just arrived from Cuba, had a message for Mr. Oliva from his first manager back in Cuba. Dad had met the man working in the Castro forced-labor camps for those seeking to emigrate to the U. S.  Mr. Oliva’s manager asked Dad to seek out the famous right fielder, the first chance he got, and deliver a personal message. I thought it was a crazy idea. And I didn’t believe for one minute that we would actually be taken seriously when my cousin called the stadium to arrange a meeting. Hours later, when I was standing in front of the visiting team’s locker room at Anaheim Stadium, I still didn’t believe it.

When the six foot-something, gently-walking, softly-speaking hero to most baseball-loving Cubans that I knew — and most Cubans that I know love baseball — appeared in front of me, I lost the ability to speak. A rare thing indeed for a teenager. It took me a few years to understand that what most impressed me about the man was his humble, decent demeanor and what I would now call a certain grace. My Dad spoke about Mr. Oliva’s manager and Mr. Oliva listened and nodded and if he smiled, I don’t remember. He seemed saddened by the remembrance of the coach he had left behind.

I don’t know how many of those memories are accurate. It’s been a long time since that game. The joy and excitement I felt that evening, not only survived all of these years, but grew deeper and richer. The further certain memories recede, the more we value them. And father-son visits to a ballpark can be one of the most treasured.

That Anaheim game, where my Dad introduced me to a legend, was the greatest baseball game that I had ever been to. That’s what I said, to anyone who asked, for the next 37 years.

Next time I’ll tell you about the one that replaced it.

–JM