February 2012

My First Trip to the New Yankee Stadium

This afternoon I found myself organizing a bunch of documents on my laptop. School assignments from my College years, newspaper articles from the school paper, and all of my recent work assignments were stockpiled in my computer folder.

I came across a personal experience story I had to write for my feature writing class in May of 2009. It should come as no shock that I wrote about my experience from the first trip I took to the new Yankee Stadium.

Reading this back, I felt like a little kid. It was priceless. I figured it might be nice to share it on here; put it on the blog. Most of the pictures in this entry are ones I shot that day.

 Enjoy!….

I was exhausted as I looked out the window on the train ride home. As a die-hard baseball fan, I had just been through an absolute whirlwind. The day of my baseball-loving life.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 was a very special day for me. I was privileged enough to make my first trip with my friends and family to the new Yankee Stadium.

In only the sixth regular season game at the new ballpark, the New York Yankees hosted the Oakland Athletics in an afternoon game.

Wearing my pinstriped Mariano Rivera jersey on my back and one of my many fitted Yankee caps on my head, I met up with my friends, Brian and Jenn, and my cousin Joe for what would be a memorable day.

On the train ride to the Bronx, we really did not know what to expect, other than a great time. I, for one, was not sure if the new Stadium would live up to the hype.

Sure, it looks incredible on television and in the newspapers, but how is it going look in-person? Will it be the same feeling as enjoying a game at the old Stadium? I couldn’t help but think.

We walked off the number four subway in the Bronx to an overwhelming site: The new Yankee Stadium in all its glory.

As we approached the building, we did not know what we were in for.

“The Kingdom of Heaven!” I exclaimed, while I was glaring at the building.

“This place looks absolutely amazing, and we are not even inside yet.”

The first thing we had to do was take pictures. I reached into my bag and pulled out my camera. I shot the façade of the stadium. I snapped pictures of the new Babe Ruth Plaza outside the Stadium.

And I got a picture of the new electronic game day board that read, “Oakland Athletics vs. New YorkYankees Today1:05.”

With seats in the bleachers, we were unsure of where to enter. If you had seats in the bleachers at the old Stadium, you could only enter through the back of the building. But we wanted to see everything in the new stadium. We walked up to Gate Six, and asked where to go.

“As long as you have your ticket, you can enter at any gate,” the gentleman informed us. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in the bleachers. We treat everybody equally at this Stadium!”

We happily entered the gate, right into the Great Hall. What I saw left me in disbelief. Yankees everywhere I looked.

“Wow,” I said in amazement. “I…I just can’t believe this. This place is unreal.”

 Of course we had to take more pictures. My friends got a shot of me standing in the Great Hall with all the Yankee banners behind me.

Reggie Jackson. Paul O’Neill. Thurman Munson. Me. What a picture.

After walking around and snapping a ridiculous amount of photos, we finally settled into our seats. Left field bleachers, Section 236, row five, seat 16. That was mine.

It was about11:00 a.m.by the time we made it to the seats. The A’s were out on the field, stretching and taking batting practice.

I noticed so many baseballs fly out of the park. One flew right over our heads, landing about 20 feet away. Not long after that, one came within ten feet of Joe’s seat, landing directly in the glove of the kid next to him.

“Holy cow,” I said. “Pretty close!”  

I then took a few minutes to take it all in. I looked at the frieze which now surrounds the top of the entire stadium. I looked out at the field. I looked at the flags around the top of the stadium, indicating the league standings.

“We are in second place right now,” I noted. “Right behind Toronto.”

And then I beheld the press box, which is located in the mezzanine behind home plate.

“I’ll be there someday,” I quietly said to myself.

“I just need my journalism degree, which I’ll be getting very soon, and a little bit of time to work my way up. I’ll be sitting up there with the rest of the writers, eventually.”

It had started to lightly rain during batting practice, and I began to feel very skeptical as to whether or not the game was going to be played. There was rain in the forecast, and I was not certain they were going to get it in.

But the grounds crew thought differently. They did not come out to put the tarp on the field. They chalked the lines and the batter’s box, raked the mound, and put the bases in, as if they were starting the game on time.

Then I noticed CC Sabathia chug from the dugout to the outfield to play long toss with the bullpen catcher. Pitching Coach Dave Eiland and Jorge Posada soon followed Sabathia out to centerfield.

I felt a little more confident now that the pitcher was warming up.

“If the game was not going to start on time, they would not have CC out there throwing,” I thought to myself. “We’ll see some baseball today.”

It got to be 1:00, and the P.A. announcer gave us the starting lineups. Oaklandfirst. The visitors are always announced first. Then the home team.

“…And for the Yankees: led by their manager, number 27, Joe Girardi. Batting first, the shortstop, number two, Derek Jeter!”

I could not contain myself as each Yankee was announced. I am a passionate Yankee fan, and I marked out for every single Yankee in the lineup.

“YAY, Derek! YAY Johnny! YAY BigTex!” …and so on.

Then came the National Anthem. And after the on-the-field warm-ups, the start of the game.

The first pitch was so exciting. Everybody was up and cheering. The roar of the crowd gets to you, even as a fan. I don’t know how the players handle it, but as a fan, it’s extremely intense.

After the first pitch, which was ball one from Sabathia, we heard it.

“YOOOOOO, Melky!!!!!”

“Bald Vinny,” the main bleacher creature who always sits in right field, started the Yankee roll call. He did this for every game in the old Stadium and apparently the tradition lives on.

“Some things will never change,” I said with a smile on my face.

I watched as the fans standing in the bleachers cried out for every Yankee until they were acknowledged. I could only laugh as I watched right fielder Nick Swisher turn around, face the bleacher creatures, and salute them, as if he was an Army soldier.

In the top of the second inning, Oakland catcher Kurt Suzuki slaughtered Sabathia’s offering to left field. Brian, Jenn, Joe and I all stood up as we gazed at the ball flying out to left field.

It carried far enough for a fan sitting in the front row to snatch the ball. He closed his glove and caught the ball for a three-run Oakland home run.

As the boos reverberated throughout the Stadium, Girardi came out to argue that the fan interfered.

“Here we go again,” I said. “Just like Sunday against Cleveland – bring on instant replay!”

The umps went into the tunnel for what seemed like only five minutes to decide whether or not the ball was a home run.

“Here come the umps,” Brian said to me as they walked from the third base tunnel out onto the field. “I hope it gets overturned!”

Third base umpire Brian Gorman twirled his index finger, signaling that the ball was indeed a goner. The Yankees were now down, 3-0.

A little depressed, we knew the Yankees needed a spark. Being down 3-0 early on in the game never puts any fan in a good mood.

But the bottom of the second inning lifted our spirits in a great way.

Hideki Matsui stepped up to the plate, and cracked a long, solo homer into the right field seats, putting us back within two runs.

“YES! I joyfully cried out. “We’re back in it!”

After Matsui’s blast, I high fived everyone around me, including two Yankee fans I had never met.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the other fans when a Yankee hits a home run. We’re all Yankee fans, which makes us family at the game.

“That’s what I’m talking about,” one of the fans said to me as I slapped his hand.

The next batter was Melky Cabrera. We had just seen one Yankee home run, and Cabrera made it two.

Back-to-back jacks – the first set of back-to-back home runs in the new house, in fact. Cabrera clobbered Oakland starter Brett Anderson’s offering into the area right below us.

Again, I yelled out, “YES! 3-2!”

While Cabrera rounded the bases, I borrowed Yankee announcer John Sterling’s cheesy catch-phrase and shouted, “The Melk-man always knocks twice!”

With the Yankees now trailing by only one run at the end of the second inning and the rain pouring down rather steadily, we had no choice but to leave our seats and take cover.

One of the best facets of the new stadium are the standing rooms. You can leave your seat, and still view the on-the-field-action.

Now protected from the rain and perched over the centerfield gate with Monument Park beneath us, we stood and watched Sabathia and the Yankees give up another run in the top of the third, making the score 4-2.

“Are you kidding me? This just is not right,” I told Joe while shaking my head in confusion.

Down 4-2, the Yankees received a much-needed lift in the bottom half of the third.

With Posada on second and Teixeira on third, Robinson Cano was able to push Teixeira across the plate for a run, bringing the Yanks back within one.

Soon after Nick Swisher came up and singled to drive in Posada, knotting the game at four runs apiece.

“Alright, we’re making some progress here,” I said as I peered out onto the field at the end of third inning.

“I have a gut feeling we’ll be on top when this game is all said and done.”

In the bottom of the fourth inning, we were treated to yet another Yankee home run. This time it was the Captain.

Jeter came up and blasted a solo home run directly below us in centerfield, taking the ball into Monument Park. If you looked closely enough on the replay, for a split second, you could just see the group of us cheering on the home run from the standing room platform above centerfield before it landed.

“Way to go, Captain! He did it again,” I gleefully exclaimed.

According to the scoreboard, Jeter was playing in his 2,000th career game. A home run must have been a nice way to remember it by.  

Oakland would get a run back off Sabathia in the top of the sixth, as Mark Ellis singled to score Jack Cust.

I could hear the other fans’ disgust at Sabathia’s pitching.

“Why does this guy suck? He’s terrible,” I heard one upset fan say.

“Go back toMilwaukee, you waste of money,” I heard another disgruntled fan cry out.

The bad feelings towards Sabathia temporarily evaporated in the bottom of the sixth, as the Yankees re-took the lead.

Tied at five, Jeter doubled to score Cody Ransom, and Teixeira singled to score Jeter, giving the Bronx Bombers a 7-5 edge.

“This is real Yankee baseball,” I thought to myself. “It doesn’t matter how bad CC is, as long as the offense does its job.”

With the Yanks up by two at the end of six, we decided to leave the standing area and see the rest of the palace.

 The new stadium offers so much, and there’s a lot to see and do. We heard that there was museum inside the ballpark, open to the fans. We asked around, and found out that we had just enough time to visit the museum before it closed.

So we went.

We walked in the Yankee museum, and just as I had been blown away coming off the subway, I was taken aback by everything in the room. There was so much to see.

We took pictures with the World Series trophies from the 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000 Championship years. The years I fell in love with the Yankees and with baseball.  

I couldn’t help but think of the great teams of those years, and how much I loved watching them at the old Stadium.

“I remember when Tino Martinez crushed that grand slam into the upper deck in right field in first game of the ’98 series,” I said to Brian.

“Tino was one of the greatest players to ever put on the pinstripes, and my favorite during the dynasty.”

Then we made our way to the “ball wall,” an incased shelf of baseballs autographed by practically every player ever to wear a Yankee uniform.

I was amazed, saying to my friends and cousin, “Hey, look here’s Yogi! Oh man, it’s Jeter’s ball. And here’s Tino’s! And the greatest player to ever live: Babe Ruth.” 

After viewing the ball wall, we journeyed over to the replica clubhouse locker. You can type your name into the computer, and it will appear above the locker, as if you are in the Yankee clubhouse as a player.

I typed my name in, and it appeared.

“A.J. Martelli” appeared above the locker, much to my delight.

I thought to myself, “This is what it feels like to be a Yankee. It feels pretty good.”

Of course, I got a picture of me in the locker with my name posted over my head to remember it by.

As all this was going on, we noticed on the high definition television screen that Sabathia was blowing the lead.

Ex-Yankee and current Athletic Jason Giambi grounded out to short while Bobby Crosby scored, and Matt Holliday singled to score Ryan Sweeney, knotting the game again, this time at seven.

Sabathia exited to a mixed reaction from the Yankee faithful, and those bad feelings toward him from the sixth inning came back.

We made our way out of the museum, and back to a standing area, this time by first base.

We could only look on as the Yankees and A’s could not get anything offensive going. With the game still knotted at seven heading into the top half of the ninth, we watched Mariano Rivera come in to pitch.

As Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” blared through the new stadium speakers and Rivera dashed in from the bullpen, it all looked so different to me. 

“It’s so weird to see him enter from right field,” I said. “I’m so used to seeing him come in through the left field gate.”

The new Stadium features the Yankee bullpen behind the right field fence, in contrast to the old Stadium, where it sat behind left-center. 

Rivera mowed through the A’s in the top of the ninth. The Yankees could not generate a winning run in the bottom of the ninth, and the game went into extra innings.

The 11th. The 12th. The 13th. After awhile we found ourselves completely wiped out.

With our legs tired and already harboring a seven and a half-hour day at the stadium, we contemplated whether or not to stay or hit the subway back to Grand Central.

“If they don’t win after the 13th, you want to head out?” I asked.

“We are all really tired, I don’t care what we do,” said Brian.

 “I just hope they win, either way!”

With sore legs from walking, a horse voice from cheering, and a tired mind, my friends, my cousin, and I made our way back to the subway.

Many others had the same idea, as the subway was crammed with Yankee fans.

“Was this your first game at the new stadium?” a man wearing a Yankee hat sitting across from me asked.

“Yeah,” I replied.

“How’d you like it?” he followed up.

“It was amazing. I can’t believe how stunning the Stadium really is. The television does not do it justice. You have to come down here and physically enter the building to really appreciate it,” I again replied.

He agreed with everything I said.

When we reached Grand Central, we found that the Yankees were still playing in the top of the 14th inning.

We finally boarded the train back home, exhausted and worn out. However, I was not going to rest until I found out if the Yankees had won or lost.

Strangely enough, I looked out the train window as we passed the Stadium on the way home. Staring in awe at the ballpark from the train, I received a text message from another friend, Micheal.

“Melky just hit a walk-off homer in the bottom of the fourteenth. Yankees win!”

As I was glaring at the “Kingdom of Heaven” from the train, the Bronx Bombers were celebrating at home plate, mobbing Cabrera in a 9-7 Yankee victory. The first walk-off home run in the new Yankee Stadium. History.

I smiled, and knew that even though we didn’t exactly see the game-winner, it was like I did.

I was satisfied knowing that I’ll always remember my first trip to the new stadium. I was just an infant when my parents took me to my first game in the old stadium. I can’t exactly remember that first visit to the old ballpark vividly.

But now I’ll have memories that will last for the rest of my life. Memories from my first trip to the new Stadium that I’ll remember forever.

Exhausted and staring out the window as we passed Dobbs Ferry, I finally shut my eyes.

The Yankees won. Now I could rest easily.

Another Evening with Bernie

At work yesterday, my editor (also a photographer) decided it would be funny to take a shot of me sitting courtside next to a certain person. He e-mailed it to me, calling it a “souvenir” from the game he sent me to cover.

Although I look like the Angry Video Game Nerd in the photo, I’m happy he took it.

On Feb. 7 I had the honor of meeting Yankee legend Bernie Williams, covering his daughter Bea’s basketball game. Bea’s team made the playoffs and I was once again assigned to cover her team yesterday evening. Just being able to shake Bernie’s hand and the fact that he signed an autograph for me was enough of a memory to last me the rest of my life.

But it got even better. More good times. More great memories.

I hit some traffic on the way to the game, but got to Byram Hills High School in Armonk, N.Y. and sat down literally right before the girls tipped off. Bea gained possession of the ball, drove to the hoop on a fast break, and banked in the first basket of the game.

Maybe a minute later, Bernie walked in, and I was the first person he noticed. He smiled at me, reached out to shake my hand, and said,

“Hey! How’s it going? Good to see you again.”

I shook his hand and answered, “Good! Nice to see you again, too.”

Bernie took the seat right next to me. He leaned over to me and said, “This is going to be a tough game for them.” I replied, “Yeah, the playoffs are always tough.” He gave me nod and a look expressing agreement.

I mean, Bernie would know a lot about postseason play. In 12 out of his 16 seasons with the Yankees he was playing in October. He would know about playoff difficulty better than anyone.

Bea’s team fell behind 12-7 late in the first quarter, and the coach called a full timeout. While the teams were in the huddle, Bernie leaned over to me again and kind of tapped me on the shoulder.

“So really, how’ve you been? Everything good?”

I tried to mask my amazement. As I described when I first met him, I felt just like Max Kellerman in “Rocky Balboa.” I grew up watching him belt home runs at Yankee Stadium, and afford me and the rest of the Yankee fans wonderful memories. Now he’s asking me how I’m doing?!

In the words of Kellerman I wanted to scream, “This is unbelievable! I’m a fan, I can’t help it!”

But I couldn’t express it. I had to show him I’m normal person, not just another Yankee fanatic.

Calm, cool, and collectively I answered, “Yep. Everything’s good. I hit a little bit of traffic getting here, but walked in right before tipoff.  Bea actually had the first basket of the game, right before you came in.”

Bernie chuckled, and then gazed at his daughter. I could just tell by the look in his eyes how proud he was of her. It’s funny, because I bet when she was younger, watching him patrol centerfield at Yankee Stadium, she had the same, spirited look.

As it happened, Bea’s team rallied from behind to win, 48-46. They were trailing 34-27 after the third quarter and staged a come-from-behind victory, outscoring the other team 21-12 in the fourth. Bea led her team with 19 points, and bucketed three shots from beyond the 3-point arc.

Afterward I caught up with her and interviewed her about her outstanding performance. She was so happy that her team won – not only because she didn’t want her team to be eliminated from playoff contention, but to keep her High School basketball career alive.

Bea is a senior, and it’s never fun to be playing that last game.

I pretty much burst out laughing at what Bea’s mom (and obviously Bernie’s wife) said to me right before I conducted my postgame interview. She got behind her daughter and teased her with a big smile on her face, saying,

“It’s all her mother! She gets everything from me!”

All three of us just started to laugh. I thought it was classic; such a “mom” thing to do and say.

After I was done interviewing Bea, I offered my praise and let her know Bernie looked incredibly honored watching her play.

“Congratulations on the win Bea,” I remarked. “I was sitting next to your dad and he looked very proud.”

She thanked me with an ear-to-ear smile.

I know I said it last time, but I have to say it again: I feel extremely lucky to be doing what I’m doing as far was my job is concerned. Not many die-hard Yankee fans can say they get to go to work and sit next to a Yankee legend – and then get to write about it.

This is just another memory I’ll carry with me forever, and I’ll never forget.

Later on, Mike D’Antoni’s son (who I believe I mentioned before) played in the second game I covered. Obviously his father wasn’t in attendance, as the Knicks and their new phenom Jeremy Lin dropped their game at Madison Square Garden to the New Orleans Hornets, losing 89-84, thus ending their seven-game “Linning” streak.

If you’re wondering, D’Antoni’s son’s team also lost, 53-40, eliminating them from the High School postseason. Mike, Jr. is…well…a junior, however. He still has another year to win a basketball championship.

As for Bea’s team, I hope they keep winning and go all the way to win the Gold Ball in the Section 1, Class A finals. For as nice as the Williams family has been to me the two times I covered her team, she deserves to win.

Hot Flashes

Every so often a player will come along in any sport, and set the world on fire. Big plays, clutch performances and wild finishes typically define these players, as they become the talk of the town upon emerging.

The latest player to set the world ablaze: New York Knicks’ point guard Jeremy Lin.

The 23-year-old phenom is a classic feel-good story. Lin was a nobody; just days away from being cut. When the Knicks were scuffling he was given a chance to play – and it’s safe to say he made the most of that opportunity.

Among some of his accomplishments, “Super Lin-tendo” outscored basketball god Kobe Bryant on Friday, netted the game-winning 3-point field goal vs. the Toronto Raptors last night, was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, and became the first player in NBA history to score at least 20 points and record seven assists through his first four starts.

“Linsanity” has swept the nation. Even I have caught the fever. I bought this the other day:

Lin is on a roll, but keep in mind, he has only dominated a small number of games – six to be exact. He has certainly shown what he can do, seeing as how the Knicks are undefeated in the so-called “Lin Era.” The question has to be raised however:

Will Lin be a mainstay or just a flash in the pan?

After last night’s dramatics, Lin has me sold. I truly feel he will be a great player for a long time, as he has demonstrated remarkable ability to elevate his team. The Knicks were getting their faces rubbed in the dirt. Lin came along, picked them up, dusted them off, and made them relevant again.

This whole “Lin-credible” craze got me thinking about the Yankees: which Bombers came out of nowhere, made an immediate impact, and lifted the team?

Here are a few names that came to mind…

Kevin Maas

Never heard of Kevin Maas? Neither did I, until I began my research for this blog entry.

According to what I read, Maas was a first baseman who played for the Yankees from 1990-93. He crushed 10 homers in just 77 at-bats and finished his first season with 24 homers, playing in only 79 games.

A lot of people even went as far as saying Maas was going to be Don Mattingly’s heir.

But it all declined for him. His numbers slowly but surely decreased as the time passed. Despite clubbing 23 homers in ’91, he hit just .220 in 148 games. He only hit 11 homers the following year and nine the year after.

Maas eventually went to the Minnesota Twins in 1995 and was cut after only 22 games. I suppose he will just remain an anomaly; a one-hit wonder who set the baseball world aglow literally right before I started following the Yankees.

I’m actually very surprised I didn’t know about him until today.

Shane Spencer

In September of 1998, a 26-year-old outfielder who tore apart the minor leagues was called up to the show. Shane Spencer, who in 1997 hit 30 homers and knocked in 86 runs for the Columbus Clippers (the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate at the time), took New York by storm.

Unexpectedly, Spencer smacked 10 home runs in the month of September, in only 67 at-bats. Of those 10 homers, three of them came with the bases loaded. A lot of the veteran Yankee players and fans were right behind Spencer, on the edge of their seats every time he stepped up to the plate.

Much like the barrage of Lin nicknames, fans in the crowd held signs that read,

“Shane Brings da Pain!” Not to mention even the Sports Illustrated recognized his outburst.

Unfortunately for Spencer, in a lot of ways, he was just a one-hit wonder. Aside from his spectacular “September to Remember” he didn’t accomplish much else of note, save for a few accolades. Spencer did collect three World Series rings, being with the Yanks from ’98-00, and hit two home runs in the ‘98 ALDS vs. Texas.

He also smacked a home run in the 2001 Fall Classic vs. Arizona, while only securing a .222 batting average in eight postseason series.

It’s kind of sad what happened to him after the hype vanished. Spencer got in some off-the-field trouble for drunk driving and reports surfaced that he had problems with the Florida police around Spring Training, 2004.

Nevertheless, his late-season spark of the ‘98 Yankees may never be forgotten by the most devout pinstripe faithful.

Aaron Small

In 2005 the Yankees were coming off arguably the worst time in their franchise history. The 2004 Boston Red Sox rallied back from an 0-3 ALCS deficit to not only beat them, but also embarrass them.

Boston made history. The Yankees became history.

The following season however, the Bombers re-tooled by signing the overpowering southpaw Randy Johnson, as a lack of solid starting pitching was cited as their 2004 playoff downfall.

But the Big Unit couldn’t do it all by himself.  Other starters had to step up.

Cue Aaron Small, a 34-year-old right-handed journeyman. Small had stints with six other ball clubs before finding his way to the Bronx. He emerged at just the right time, filling a hole in an injury-ravaged starting rotation. He made his first start on July 20, 2005, beating the Texas Rangers.

Small would go on to win 10 games in 2005 – without ever losing. In fact, he became the first Yankee to win his first nine decisions since Tommy John (1979) and just the fourth player in MLB history to win 10 games without recording a loss.

He turned Yankee Stadium into “Smallville,” I guess you could say.

The Yankees began the ’05 season with a lopsided 11-19 record through their first 30 games. Considering where they were, it’s not crazy to say Small played a huge role in terms of getting his team back into the playoff hunt.

Much like Spencer, Small’s success didn’t last. He recorded the loss in Game 3 of the 2005 ALDS vs. the Los Angeles Angels, and went on to go 0-3 in three starts for the Yanks in 2006. Small was designated for assignment on June 17, 2006 and signed a minor league deal with the Seattle Mariners prior to the 2007 season.

He was released by the Mariners in May and shortly after called it a career.

Small’s contribution in ’05 was remembered by the Yankee brass, as he has been honored at two Old Timer’s Days (2008, 2011). Before his appearance at Old Timer’s Day ’08, Small won a battle with encephalitis, which had put him in a coma for eight days.

To me, Small will always be remembered as a winner; a player who stepped up when everyone else was struggling. If you ask me, by no means is that a bad way to be remembered.

Shawn Chacon

Much like Small, Shawn Chacon emerged at the right time. The Yanks’ starting rotation in ‘05 was in disarray and the starters needed to step it up. The 28-year-old righty was having a rough go of it in Colorado, going 1-7 for the Rockies before being dealt to the Yanks for minor leaguers Ramon Ramirez and Eduardo Sierra.

He came to the Yankees with low expectations, but went above and beyond what anyone could have hoped for. Right from the get-go Chacon made a splash, tossing six innings without surrendering a run to the Angels in his first start in pinstripes. Although he didn’t get the decision, the Yanks beat the Halos behind Chacon, 8-7.

Chacon ended 2005 with a 7-3 record for New York while notching a 2.85 ERA. He also picked up Small, winning Game 4 of the ALDS vs. the Angels. The Yanks went on to lose the ALDS, yet many baseball analysts felt Chacon was going to continue to pitch well in 2006, and become a key member of the Yankee rotation.

Not so much.

He started ’06 off slowly, though he began to pick up the pace in late April. Chacon started the infamous “Crazy Tuesday vs. Texas” game, giving up seven runs to the Rangers – a game Jorge Posada eventually won in dramatic fashion for New York. He eventually landed himself on the disabled list, and after a brutal game vs. the Cleveland Indians on July 4, was sent to the bullpen.

By the 2006 trade deadline Chacon was swapped for Pirates’ left-handed bat Craig Wilson, thus ending his Yankee tenure. He was last seen pitching for the Houston Astros in 2008 and to my knowledge is not currently signed by any MLB team.

My best memory of Chacon actually came in virtual reality. I was throwing a perfect game with him in MLB 2006 for PlayStation 2. It didn’t end well. You can read more about that sad story here, if you’d like.

Shelley Duncan

The 2007 baseball season was mostly known for one thing: the unrealistic, clutch season that belonged to third baseman Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod put the Yankee team on his back and carried them to win after win, hitting unfathomably long home runs that would have probably left Mickey Mantle in disbelief.

But midway through the year a career minor leaguer came up by the name of Shelley Duncan. At the time his father Dave was the pitching coach for the St. Louis Cardinals. His brother Chris was an outfielder, also with the Cards.

A second generation player, Duncan was called to the show on July 20, 2007 and ignited the Yankees. In his first game, he recorded his first hit and his first RBI against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The next day he crushed his first home run, and then followed with a multi-home run performance the day after.

Duncan became such a fan-favorite for his enthusiasm. He would give hard high-fives to his teammates and even injured clubhouse reporter Kim Jones, smacking her hand as hard as he could in celebration of a Yankee win during a postgame interview.

A website even surfaced: Shelley Duncan Facts, a play off the famous “Chuck Norris Facts” site.

At the end of ’07, Duncan had 19 hits in 34 at-bats, including seven home runs on his ledger. He registered 17 RBIs while securing a .257 batting average and an on-base percentage of .329.

Did “Duncan-Mania” survive? No, it didn’t.

In 2008 Duncan had just one homer in 57 at-bats for the Yanks and batted a measly .175 through 23 games. He was reassigned to the minors and never really became what the Yankees might have hoped for; never made the same amount of noise he made throughout the second half of 2007.

Before 2010 Duncan signed with the Cleveland Indians, where he is today.

Joba Chamberlain

Unlike the other players on the list, Joba Chamberlain still has a chance to shed his status as a flash in the pan. The 26-year-old right-handed hurler has life left in him, but only time will tell if he can go back to what he was when he was first called up.

Go back to August of 2007 for a second. Chamberlain made his MLB debut in a game the Yanks played vs. the Toronto Blue Jays, fanning the first batter he faced. He went on to throw two scoreless frames in a Yankee win.

But the brass didn’t want to ruin his arm at such a young age. Being only 22 years old at the time, the Yankees put him on the “Joba Rules” – a system which didn’t allow Chamberlain to pitch on consecutive days, and if he pitched in multiple innings, he would have that many days off.

For example, if he tossed two innings, he wouldn’t be available pitch again for another two days.

Chamberlain finished the ’07 regular season with a tiny ERA of 0.38 out of the ‘pen, getting all of the Yankee fans behind him. Whenever he raced in from the bullpen, the crowd would go absolutely bananas.

And he was just as fired up.

After every strikeout, Chamberlain would aggressively pump his fists, charged up by the emotion of the moment. Unfortunately he was the victim of a vicious attack by midges in Cleveland during the ’07 ALDS vs. the Indians, a series the Yanks went on to lose.

From there, it’s extremely difficult to describe what happened to Chamberlain. Under new manager Joe Girardi in 2008, he began the season in a relief role then was made into a starter. He only made one noteworthy start in ’08, a brilliant nine-strikeout performance in Boston, outdueling Josh Beckett in a 1-0 Yankee win.

Not long after that game, Chamberlain injured his shoulder, and was placed on the 15-day DL. When he came back he was a reliever again. His role was just never defined – and it got even more confusing in 2009.

Beginning the season as one of the starting five, the “Joba Rules” were rewritten to accommodate the rotation. Girardi would only pitch Chamberlain for a few innings, and then when applicable, would use him on six days rest. It seemed to disrupt his mental balance, to say the least.

The Yanks thought about demoting him to the minors and leaving him off the postseason roster, but ultimately decided to keep him. During the playoffs he took on the role of reliever yet again, and captured a Game 4 victory over the Phillies in the ‘09 Fall Classic.

A good end to a rather turbulent season.

Since then Chamberlain has not made a start. In 2010 he went 3-4 out of the bullpen with a 4.40 ERA, and opponents hit .429 off him. On a light note, his strikeout total went up, as he K’d 77 batters in 71 2/3 innings pitched.

Despite a 2-0 record with a 2.83 ERA this past year, 2011 marked another setback period for Chamberlain. He was sidelined with a torn ligament in his throwing arm in June, ending his season and forcing him to undergo Tommy John Surgery.

This off-season the Yankees and Chamberlain agreed on a one-year contract worth $1.675 million. With that in mind, this could be his last chance to keep wearing the pinstripes. If he continues to scuffle and his arm problems draw on, I don’t see the Yankees holding onto him beyond 2012.

However, if he can rekindle that spark – the spark he lit in 2007 – he will be fine.

To Chamberlain, I can only say good luck and I hope it works out for him. To the rest of the players on this list, I guess I can only say one thing:

It was fun while it lasted.

It Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This

In the last Rocky film produced, “Rocky Balboa,” HBO boxing analyst and commentator Max Kellerman becomes overwhelmed with emotion when one of his childhood heroes acknowledges him.

“Rocky Balboa just asked me how I’m doing!” he exclaims, with an ear-to-ear smile. “I grew up watching this guy; I never thought I’d be calling one of his fights! This is unbelievable! I’m a fan, I can’t help it!”

Last night I had that same feeling Kellerman had in the movie.

Although having to do my job as a High School sports reporter, the fan in me came out; the little kid who gets star-struck being in the presence of a hero. The childhood hero in my presence:

Former Yankee centerfielder Bernie Williams.

A few weeks ago I blogged about writing a possible story involving Bernie, being that his daughter Beatriz plays for the Byram Hills High School varsity girls’ basketball team, one of the teams my newspaper covers. My goal was to write a feature story about Bea, getting some quotes from her dad and insight from his perspective.

Think about it: Bernie is famous; one of the greatest players to ever put on the Yankee pinstripes. His family undoubtedly attended many of his games at Yankee Stadium and watched him play. What must he feel like now, on the other end of it watching his daughter play?

My editor thought it would be a unique, original concept for a player profile to put in the paper – that is if we could get the story. I would have to cover one of her games in the hopes he would be there in order to set up an interview of some sort.

Monday night I received an e-mail from my editor, letting me know the Byram girls had a home game Tuesday. The odds of Bernie being in attendance were pretty high, so he gave me the assignment of covering the game. Bea is a senior and yesterday afternoon was her final regular season home game, so naturally I thought I had a good shot to meet Bernie and inquire about the interview.

I was pretty excited. But of course when I got to the game, Bernie was nowhere to be found.

At halftime Bea’s team was trailing by one point, and my editor (who was photographing the game for the paper) came up to me and pointed out that Bernie had arrived, and was sitting near the front of the gym.

“Do you want to maybe go talk to him now?” my editor asked. “I’m sure it’ll be alright. We’ve interviewed him before, and we don’t have to do the interview today. We can just ask about it.”

We made our way over to where Bernie was sitting, and just being so close to him put me in a state of awe. I couldn’t believe I was literally standing inches away from a Yankee legend, when all those years watching him from the grandstands at Yankee Stadium, I felt as if I was lightyears away from him.

My editor showed Bernie some shots of Bea he took on his camera for the paper and then introduced me to him, asking about the story idea. Bernie looked at me and said,

“A story on her? Yes, you can interview me for that. Do you have a card or something where I can reach you?

I didn’t, so I went for the next best thing.

“Can I give you my e-mail address?” I asked.

“Yeah, that’s fine,” he replied.

While I was jotting down my contact information for Bernie, an older gentleman approached him and asked for an autograph. He happily signed for him, and gave the man a smile.

After the gentleman walked away, I handed over my e-mail address to Bernie. Even as I write this, I cannot believe I gave my contact info. to a man I grew up idolizing; a true Yankee warrior. Before I walked away, with a shy look on my face, I asked Bernie for an autograph.

“Sure,” he said with a smile.

I had no baseball for him to sign; not even a baseball card. Technically, I was at work. I didn’t bring anything with me, save for my reporting materials, so I just tore a blank page out of my reporter’s notebook and handed him my pen – the same pen I was using to write down the number of baskets his daughter was scoring in her game. (Just for the record, Bea netted 17 points to lead her team to a 49-39 win!)

Not just because I was thankful for his time, but as an objective reporter, I gave his daughter a polite compliment.

“Bea is a terrific ballplayer,” I remarked.

Bernie gave me a proud look and replied, “Yeah, she works hard.”

He signed my autograph, “To A.J. Best Wishes! Bernie Williams 51”

I reached out my hand in gratitude, and he shook it.

“Thank you so much Bernie, I really appreciate this.”

He nodded at me with a gentle expression and said, “It’s no problem.”

It is times like this I feel blessed in life; blessed to have a job that gives me chances like this. There aren’t many people in the world who get to go to work and run into a recognizable and famous athlete – and incorporate that famous athlete and his family into their work.

In a lot of respects I’m extremely lucky, only because Bea isn’t the only child of a famous sports-related figure I have seen play this year.

The past two weeks I had the pleasure of covering varsity boys’ basketball games featuring Mike D’Antoni, Jr., who is the son of New York Knicks’ Head Coach Mike D’Antoni. Coach D’Antoni didn’t attend either game to watch his son, as the Knicks had games both nights I saw Mike Jr. play.

I guess I take comfort in knowing that even though I’m not on the big stage yet – I’m not writing for ESPN or the YES Network, or even MLB – but at the very least I’m getting a small taste of it, even if it’s at the bottom level.

And days like this that only give me more confidence, as a journalist.

Right now I can really only think of the TV show “Smallville,” which tells the story of a young Clark Kent (the hero who went on to become Superman). Keep in mind, Kent occupied his time as a journalist when not saving the world as the Man of Steel.

There was an episode in which Kent’s friend Chloe gets a job at the Daily Planet newspaper. They gave her an office on the ground floor and a position as a cub reporter, not exactly her dream job. Yet it didn’t matter to her. She was just happy to be there and grateful to be doing what she loves to do.

Chloe’s feelings match so well how I’ve felt this last year and a half, covering High School sports. It may not be the top, but it’s a start and it’s what I love: sports. And Chloe’s words after they gave her the job keep echoing in my mind:

“OK, so it’s actually the basement. But it’s the Daily Planet…The way I look at it, I have no place to go but up, up, and away.”

That Championship Season

*To all of my football lovers out there: this one is for the Giants. Because we were ALL IN.*

Before Super Bowl XLII in February of 2008, then-Giants’ wide receiver Plaxico Burress predicted his team would beat the Patriots by a score of 21-17. New York wound up beating New England in exciting fashion, 17-14. It may have taken another four years but last night Burress’s prediction finally came to fruition.

In Super Bowl XLVI the Giants beat the Patriots 21-17, in another exhilarating title match.

I can’t really explain why – maybe it’s just God’s way – but whenever the Giants and Patriots meet, the Giants seem to have their number. Two weeks ago I wrote about all the similarities between this year and their last Championship season.

And both Super Bowls proved to be just as comparable.

2007: The Patriots led at halftime, but not by a lot: 7-3.

2011: The Patriots led at halftime, and again, not by much: 10-9.

2007: Eli Manning had the ball on his own 17-yard line, Giants trailing 14-10 with just 2:39 left in the game.

2011: Eli Manning had the ball on his own 12-yard line, Giants trailing 17-15 with just 3:46 left in the game.

2007: On third and five Manning evaded what looked like a sack, threw up a Hail Mary, and miraculously hit David Tyree, who pinned the football up against his helmet for a 32-yard completion and a first down. The catch laid the groundwork for the winning touchdown.

2011: On the first play from scrimmage, Manning found Mario Manningham near the sideline and beating double coverage, hooked up with him for a 38-yard gain, giving the Giants prime field position to set up a score.

2007: Manning hit Burress in the end zone for a TD with just 35 seconds left on the clock. Tom Brady and the Patriots failed to move the ball into field goal range as time ticked down and lost by three points, 17-14.

2011: Ahmad Bradshaw hesitantly ran the ball into the end zone for a TD, leaving Brady and the Pats with only 57 seconds to score a touchdown. And once again, Brady and his receivers failed to move the ball down the field, losing by four points, 21-17.

2007: Manning wins the Super Bowl XLII Most Valuable Player award. He went to Disney World and the Canyon of Heroes – in that order.

2011: Take a guess who won Super Bowl XLVI MVP….Yes. It was Manning again. Today Manning was once again at Mickey Mouse’s home – and tomorrow he’ll be with his teammates in the Canyon of Heroes.

This year truly was, as Yogi Berra would say, déjà vu. Or déjà blue, depending on which way you want to phrase it. New York once again triumphs over New England, and gets the opportunity to celebrate a huge win.

Jubilation in New York. And for the fans in Boston; New England: more heartache.

Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe had it right today when he wrote,

“History Repeats:

Instead of celebrating a grand slam–championships in every major sport over a period of four years and four months–New Englanders are spitting out pieces of their broken luck, bracing for the avalanche of grief from those annoying New Yorkers.”

Yeah, pretty much spot on.

Every fan of the Patriots must be saying “Mario (bleeping) Manningham” right now, the same way four years ago they were undoubtedly saying “David (bleeping) Tyree” – and just like most Red Sox fans in the past have exclaimed, “Bucky (bleeping) Dent” and “Aaron (bleeping) Boone.”

A win like yesterday is the type of victory that can carry New York bragging rights over New England for a long way.

I know as a fan of the Giants, and as a fan who doubted they would go anywhere this season, I was enthralled; fascinated. The familiar feeling of sports joy overcame me. One of my favorite teams won a title and I was so happy I got down on one knee and…I’m not calling it “Tebowing.” In the spirit of the win, I prefer to call it “Manning’ing.”

That’s what I did.

Tom Coughlin, the Giants’ Head Coach, seemed just as happy as I was, seeing as how he was on the hot seat when the Giants scuffled. Coughlin became the oldest Head Coach in the NFL to win a Super Bowl at 65 years. He is also only the second coach to lead the Giants to a Super Bowl win. Bill Parcells was at the helm of the squad for the Giants’ first two Super Bowl victories in 1986 and 1990.

As for Manning…well…

At the outset of the season he called himself an elite quarterback; a top five-caliber manager who deserves to be put on the same level as Brady. The media jumped all over that statement and put Manning under the microscope. When he struggled, they doubted his words.

But now that he has beaten Brady three times in his career – and twice on the worldwide stage – his bold words are now inarguable. Manning is an elite quarterback, and he is as every bit as good as Brady, if not better. He led his team in a total of eight game-winning drives in the fourth quarter this season (including the postseason).

If that isn’t considered clutch, what the heck is?

And now, if anyone tries to call out Manning; say he isn’t one of the best QBs in the league, their point will be invalid. The proof of his greatness lies in his stat columns and the number of Super Bowl rings on his fingers.

No more Manning-bashing.

The Giants became only the fifth team in NFL history to win four or more Super Bowls. The Pittsburgh Steelers own six titles, the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers both have five. The Green Bay Packers have four, and now, so does the so-called “Big Blue Wrecking Crew.”

That’s right. The Steelers have the most Super Bowl titles in history with six. Football certainly is a different game than baseball as far as the Championship goes, looking at the 27 World Series titles the Yankees have.

And speaking of the Yankees, Spring Training will be starting shortly. Pretty soon camp will start and before we know it camp will break, bringing the 2012 MLB season. Now that football season has come to a dramatic and happy ending, baseball is soon to begin.

And while we wait, we can enjoy yet another New York Championship.

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