Instant All-Stars

By Jason Klein

As Seen in Guestbook NY  – 2013

Click each individual thumbnail below to read the feature story, exactly as it appeared in the 2013 issue of Guestbook NY.

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Granderson Represents Himself, Game With Class

By Jason Klein

As Seen in In New York Magazine  – 8/16/12

Commissioner Bud Selig once said he couldn’t think of anyone better to represent the game of baseball than Curtis Granderson.

After meeting with the Yankees Centerfielder, I can see why.

Granderson lived up to the high praise when I spoke with him on Monday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.  We chatted in front of a group of fifty children, and their parents, during a meet & greet event coordinated by Steiner Sports Marketing.

Speaking with Curtis Granderson

The Yankees center fielder was all smiles as he addressed the kids on a wide variety of topics, many of which emphasized his solid upbringing and strong moral background.  Dressed in full Yankees attire, Granderson stressed the importance of “always doing the right thing,” “working hard,” and “having fun.”

Though he happily discussed his accomplishments on the field – including 3 All-Star selections and a 2011 Silver Slugger Award – Granderson was most proud of what he’s been able to accomplish off it.

“There are 750 Major League Baseball players.  Out of those 750 players there are 38 of them with a college degree.  I’m one of them,” he said.  “So that’s one of the big things I brag about.  I don’t brag about too much else, except for that.”

And rightfully so.

Granderson earned a degree in business from the University of Illinois-Chicago after being drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 2002 as a junior.  He easily could have given up on school after securing a professional baseball contract.  However, as the son of two teachers, Granderson grew up understanding the importance of a solid education and the opportunities it can create.

“The great thing about getting your college degree is, after you’ve done that, you can do a million other things in life,” he said.  “All the doors and opportunities are available for you.  I do have an opportunity to play this great game of baseball, but that’s not going to happen forever.  I have to start thinking about other things I want to do with my life afterwards.”

The possibilities will be endless for the articulate and animated Granderson.  He didn’t dismiss the idea of going into teaching like his parents did, but upon his retirement, there will be no shortage of television and radio opportunities available for him.  An energetic and well-spoken former player is a hot commodity in the sports media industry.  Granderson’s bubbly disposition certainly fits the part.

He let his personality shine during our interview, joking with the kids about his obsession with social media and texting.  He admitted: “you can’t keep the phone out of my hand.”  He acknowledged an addiction to Facebook & Twitter – confirming he does all of his own posting and tweeting – and laughed while admitting that eating, sleeping, and putting on a clean pair of socks are among his favorite activities.

Regular stuff for a regular guy.

“We just go around and do our thing,” he said.  Everyone is surprised to see us in basic places like Walmart, Target, and Bed Bath & Beyond.  We need groceries, and toothpaste. We need to go get that stuff too!  We’re normal people!”

In Selig’s eyes, Granderson is anything but normal.  He is a special player and an extraordinary ambassador for baseball.  For this reason, he’s shown no hesitation in sending him out to spread the game to other cultures.

“This game of baseball has allowed me the opportunities to do amazing things,” he said.  “I get a chance to be here at Yankee Stadium, travel all over the world to places like South Africa, New Zealand, China, Europe and Panama.  I’ve been to a bunch of different places to help promote baseball.  I get to meet with a lot of kids from all over the world and show them how cool this game is.”

They also get to see just how cool Granderson is.

Selig already knew.

Now I do too.

Watch My Interview With Granderson!

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Jeter Keeps it Simple: More Winning, Less Talking

By Jason Klein

As Seen in In New York Magazine  – 6/25/12

Derek Jeter doesn’t want to talk about himself.  Heck, he doesn’t even want to hear someone else talk about him.

Believe me.  I tried.

I met with Jeter on Tuesday afternoon, at his place of business, Yankee Stadium.  A group of fifty children had just finished up an on-field clinic, coordinated by Steiner Sports Marketing, and had since gathered out in the centerfield bleachers.  Sitting along with their parents, they anxiously awaited their chance to chat with the Captain of the Yankees.

Jeter Was Humble During Our Talk.

I was there to emcee the question and answer session – a staple of most Steiner Sports events – and decided to give Jeter the type of introduction an athlete of his stature rightfully deserves.  I was prepared to mention his Rookie of the Year Award, all of the Gold Gloves, the All-Star appearances, “The Flip,” “The Dive,” the fist pumps, his 3,000 hits, and of course, his 5 World Series Rings.  It was the proper thing to do, no question.

Jeter arrived on time sporting his familiar game day attire, personalized Brand Jordan cleats, and Yankees cap pulled down low – like his reputation, the curve on his brim was flawless.  Everyone stopped to stare at him upon his arrival, as if Superman had entered the building.   A hero to Yankees fans, the shortstop was wearing his signature “Jeter Shield” logo across his chest, instead of a Super “S.”

I sat down next to Jeter – we shared a bleacher seat – took a deep breath, briefly introduced myself to the audience, and then began my pinstriped soliloquy:

“I have the pleasure of introducing someone who really doesn’t need an introduction…” I started.

Then, it happened.

“So don’t introduce me…hi everyone!” interrupted Jeter.

Derek Jeter cut me off like an errant throw from the outfield.  I quickly recovered.

“I’ll do it anyway,” I said.

I was determined to deliver my premeditated homage to the star player.   I continued:

“The guy right here to my right, drafted by the Yankees…”

It happened again.

“No, no, no, you don’t have to do all that,” Jeter interjected again.  This time, defiantly waiving his arms above his head.  “Hi, I’m Derek.”  He said.

He’s just Derek.  Simple as that.

The Kalamazoo Kid has never been one to hog the spotlight, or discuss his personal achievements.  It’s just not his style.  Throughout his legendary career, Derek Jeter has maintained a very consistent message.  His priorities are his teammates, and his mission statement is to win championships.  Period.

It’s a theme that permeated our chat.

Jeter was asked to decipher which of his seventeen seasons he cherished most.  His answer was confident, and decisive, like his swing.

“‘96, ‘98, ‘99, 2000, and 2009.  All five of them,” Jeter said.  “We won all of those years.”

Many of the little sluggers listening in weren’t born when confetti rained down on those teams from the late nineties.  I asked Jeter to explain to them what made those World Series teams so special.  His response reinforced his selfless stance.

Jeter Larger Than Life With Fans.

“The only thing we cared about was winning.   That was it.  We didn’t care about statistics.  I can’t tell you what anyone hit on those particular teams, but I can tell you we won a lot of games.  The only thing that mattered to us was winning.”

When asked for his thoughts on potentially catching Pete Rose and his record 4,256 career hits, Jeter dodged the question admitting, “I’m just trying to make it to 7:00 tonight.  Rose is a long way away.”

I couldn’t break him.  His team-oriented responses are polished, professional, and genuine.  He consistently looks you in the eye with every noble word he speaks.

He’s just as dependable on the field.  He shot down any notion he plays differently in big games against the rival Red Sox, stating: “There are more fans, but I try to play the same all the time.”

Jeter was unflappable throughout the session, hitting all of his points with the same consistency he does a baseball.

One audience member wondered how Jeter was able to get over the 2004 ALCS collapse to the Red Sox, admitting he had not yet recovered.  Jeter responded with: “Time to let it go buddy.”  Then adding, “When you lose it’s tough, but you have to be able to turn the page.”

The reply gave insight into his tremendous composure and focus on the field.

Rather than boast about his triumphs, Jeter chose to use the open forum to communicate uplifting messages to the throng of adoring kids.  He urged them to “get good grades,” and “be willing to work harder than everyone else.”  He also told them to “try and have fun and stay as positive as possible.”

There is no one in the game more positive than Jeter.  Always confident and smiling, Jeter tries to avoid all negativity, a trait that will ultimately keep him out of the broadcast booth once his Hall of Fame career comes to an end.

“I have a hard time criticizing people,” he said.  “There’s no chance I’ll ever be in the broadcast booth.  I know what it’s like to fail.  I know what it’s like to be out there and struggle.”

He also knows a lot about success.  He’s had a ton of it over the course of his seventeen seasons with the Yankees.

You could ask him about all of his triumphs.  Chances are, he won’t elaborate too much.  You see, Derek Jeter doesn’t want to talk about himself.  In his eyes, he’s no bigger than anyone else on the team.

He’s just Derek.  Simple as that.

Watch My Interview With Jeter (e-mail for password)

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Five Four a Perfect Fit For Emerging Athletes

By Jason Klein 

As Seen in In New York Magazine  – 4/26/12

When 22 year-old Michael Floyd marches across the Radio City Music Hall stage during tonight’s NFL Draft, he will officially shed his amateur status and transition towards life as a professional athlete.  The wide receiver out of Notre Dame – expected to go early in the first round – will hold up his new jersey, flash a smile and pose for pictures with NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell.  He’ll do all of this while sporting a designer suit, custom made for the big event.

After all the pomp and circumstance, he’ll slip into something a little more comfortable – something tailor-made for his personal lifestyle rather than tonight’s gaudy Broadway spectacle.  Like many of today’s athletes, Floyd will throw on some clothing from Five Four.

NY Jets QB, Mark Sanchez, Wearing Five Four

It’s the hottest line of apparel you’ve likely never heard of.  Its reach covers a wide variety of entertainers, celebrities and athletes.  Jay-Z, Dr. Dre, Zac Efron and Larry King have all been spotted rocking Five Four.  Top players like Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose, Troy Polomalu and Mark Sanchez wear it too.

Their garb is everywhere, especially in the sports world.  I wanted to know why?  Why Five Four?  Why not Nike, Adidas, or some designer label?  When I asked Five Four Co-CEO/Founder Andres Izquieta, his response was simple.

“Our stuff is just cool,” says Izquieta.  “Athletes love our brand because it fits comfortably, no matter what size you are, its stylish, and it perfectly represents an athlete’s lifestyle.”

Izquieta and Dee Murthy started Five Four as 21 year-old students at the University of Southern California in 2002.  Since its inception, the modern, yet classic-looking “Lifestyle Brand” has been all about setting goals, dreaming big, passion, winning and success – all core values shared by up-and-coming athletes looking to make it on a professional stage.

“Athletes transitioning to the NFL are great ambassadors of the brand,” says Izquieta.  “They work so hard their entire life to get rewarded and take the next step.  That’s the kind of passion and drive we have at Five Four.”

It’s the reason Izquieta and Murthy teamed up with California-based football agency, Athletes First to create The Graduating Class.  It’s a 108-page book profiling twelve NFL prospects entering the 2011 Draft, and their transition from college to the NFL.  According to Izquieta, the book gives a stunningly personal look into each athlete, “chronicling their journey through fashion, art, and photography, while they are in the pursuit of achieving their lifelong dream.”

The book is filled with motivational phrases, philosophies, and great photography.  There are even hand-written bios from each player, revealing their fears, inspirations, and career goals.  Of course, I also noticed each athlete is draped in Five Four.  According to Izquieta, they wear the clothes “not because they have to, but because they truly want to.”

Often portrayed as superheroes in the media, The Graduating Classdelicately humanizes each player, peeking in on their insecurities and anxiety leading up to the biggest day of their lives – draft day.  Casually decorated in Five Four, each player comes off as a “regular guy” – a concept that helps readers relate to these larger-than-life figures.

The Graduating Class.

Notable members of The Graduating Class 2011 include Von Miller (Broncos), Jake Locker (Titans), and Scotty McKnight (Jets).  Five Four will feature twelve players from tonight’s draft, including Floyd, as part of the project’s second run – this time, packaged as part of an online campaign.  Other highlighted players include: Keenan Robinson (Texas), Melvin Ingram (South Carolina), Kellen Moore and Doug Martin (Boise State), Ryan Broyles (Oklahoma), Keleche Osemele (Iowa State), Alfonzo Dennard and Jared Crick (Nebraska), Harrison Smith (Notre Dame), Cyrus Gray and Jeff Fuller (Texas A&M)

Though Five Four is primarily a West Coast brand – their one retail location is in Los Angeles – their product is carried in over 400 stores nation-wide and is worn by athletes and celebrities everywhere.  This May, they will introduce Five Four Club, a men’s subscription service that will serve as a personal stylist for men.  They also plan to introduce a line of footwear this June.

Like many of the young players drafted tonight, you may have never heard of Five Four Clothing.  Projects like The Graduating Class are helping to spread the word, and expose it as a brand of choice among many athletes.

Especially players like Michael Floyd, a man who will realize his dream tonight.

When he does, his life will change forever.

His Five Four wardrobe won’t.

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The Day I Faced Mariano Rivera

By Jason Klein 

As Seen in In New York Magazine  – 4/5/12

If tomorrow’s Opening Day is the beginning of the end for Mariano Rivera, I’m proud to say I faced him at least once during his remarkable career.

The first time I saw Rivera throw a baseball, I was fifteen years-old.  It was 1995, and I couldn’t drive a car yet.  Luckily, to tag along on his impending ride into baseball immortality, I didn’t have to.

With Mariano Rivera, in 2007, After Our Face Off.

For half of my life, I’ve watched the Yankee closer dominate a sport like no other athlete ever has.  His tranquil disposition and devastating cutter are both legendary. His career regular season numbers are staggering and his postseason stats are incomprehensible.

His competitive spirit and propensity to always do the right thing help make him the most revered player in baseball.  In May of 2007, I got a first-hand glimpse of both these remarkable traits when I personally stepped up to the plate against The Great Rivera.

While working at Steiner Sports Marketing, I would periodically unite passionate clients with their sports heroes during a public question and answer session or a private meet and greet event.  I had arranged to meet Rivera prior to an afternoon game in the Bronx, and introduce him to a client’s child.  The brave youngster was battling illness and desperately wanted to meet his favorite player, Mariano.

The meeting was scheduled for 10:45 AM behind the Yankees Dugout, just before the gates were scheduled to open to the general public.  Rivera was to huddle up with us for about 5-10 minutes, take some pictures, and sign some baseballs.  There were very few people in the Stadium at that point so connecting wouldn’t be an issue if things went according to schedule.  They didn’t.

By 11:00 AM, Rivera had yet to emerge from the clubhouse and other fans were starting to make their way into the building. I reassured the child that everything would work out as planned, but the beads of sweat on my neck told a different story.  I was panicking.

Was I being stood up by Mariano Rivera?  How could this be reconciled?  What would I tell the child?  How could I explain to my boss, Steiner Sports CEO, Brandon Steiner?  It was embarrassing, like a hitter’s feeble attempt to connect with one of Rivera’s cutters.

Then, “The Sandman” entered.  The greatest closer in the history of baseball popped his head over the top of the dugout looking for me.  It was 11:10 AM, the gates were open, and I was now surrounded by autograph-seeking fanatics.  I yelled for Rivera.  So did the three hundred other people now standing with me.  He couldn’t find me in the crowd and disappeared back into the dugout.  The meeting never occurred.

Despite their distinct disappointment, the child and his family were very appreciative of my efforts.  I profusely apologized and left them to enjoy the afternoon from their seats, just behind the dugout.

Two days passed and I received a call from Brandon.  He summoned me to his office to discuss my botch in the Bronx.  When I entered, there was already someone sitting with him – a balding, lanky-looking guy in a brown polo and black jacket.

“Come on in, Jason,” Brandon bellowed with a smile from ear to ear. “Time to defend yourself against Mo! It’s Klein v. Rivera today.”

The skinny fellow sitting in the office calmly uncrossed his legs, spun himself around, and flashed a bright toothy smile in my direction.  It was Mariano Rivera.

I dug in against the legendary pitcher, blaming his tardiness for the plan’s failure.  Rivera stared me down and unloaded some high heat in my direction.  He contended that he was exactly where he was supposed to be and that I was the one who dropped the ball.

Take that!

Mo shot me a look, and then grinned.  He was toying with me, trying to break me like an opponent’s bat.  I didn’t stand a chance, did I?  He was Mariano Rivera, after all.

I knocked the dirt out of my cleats and stepped back in the box.

Again, I detailed exactly what went down, condemning Rivera’s poor punctuality and questioning his recollection of the day’s events.  The competitive Rivera calmly and quietly shook his head in disagreement.  Brandon, still smiling as he presided over the dispute, seemed to enjoy watching me try to take down the celebrated closer.

It was clear, this was going nowhere.  Like on the mound, Rivera, the ultimate competitor, could do no wrong.

Our showdown yielded a benign base on balls as I walked out of Brandon’s office without resolution. Baffled by Rivera’s stubbornness, I slumped back down at my desk and got back to work.  I remember thinking, this must be what it’s like to hit against the tenacious pitcher.

Then, like he seemingly always does, Rivera did the right thing.  He stopped by my desk on his way out and assured me he would connect with the boy and his family at an upcoming game.  He confidently nodded his head at me as if to say, “I got this, don’t worry.”

He never admitted he was late the first time – he didn’t have to.  After all, a good closer is always last to enter a game, but ultimately, seals the deal when the pressure is on.  Mo did just that.

He met the boy during the next home stand.  The get-together was just a brief stop on baseball’s freeway for Rivera, but it was a prime example of how the closer always gets the job done.  He’s hinted that 2012 will be his final stop.  If he decides to take the exit ramp at season’s end, it will take him directly to Cooperstown.

He’s a Hall of Famer both on, and off the field.

It’s been a heck of a ride for Mo.

I’m glad I got to face him at least once along the way.

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Not Easy Being Green on Super Sunday

By Jason Klein

As Seen in In New York Magazine  – 2/3/12

Wait, there’s a game this Sunday?  Who knew?

OK, I admit it; I’ll watch the Super Bowl.

I don’t want to, but I will.

Let me explain.  This native New Yorker has the fanatical misfortune of rooting for the wrong team in town.  As a Jets fan, I admit that my allegiance is misguided.  I’ve accepted my role as a second-class citizen within New York’s football fandom.

Over the years, I’ve watched Jets teams lose games, seasons, and their minds in ways that would make the Bad News Bears blush.  I’ve witnessed Super Bowl dreams, seemingly within reach, decimated by injury, ignorance, and ineptitude.  This franchise is a bigger tease than a Kardashian.

A Giants/Patriots Super Bowl Will Be Tough for Jets Fans

Kermit the Frog had it right: It’s not easy being green.

Despite my eternal pessimism, I continue to passionately support them and hold out hope that one day, my Super dream of a championship might be a reality.

Until then, I’ll watch other teams compete for a Lombardi Trophy each February.  On Sunday, I have the distinct displeasure of watching New York’s more successful team, the Giants, battle the Jets’ biggest rival, the New England Patriots, for a Super Bowl Title.

It’s like being forced to watch your school’s bully and most popular kid fight to the death over the girl you have been chasing your whole life.

Yeah, I’m bitter.

I don’t dislike either team.  I really don’t.  I respect what the Giants and Patriots have accomplished this season, and in previous campaigns.  Yet, the perennial dysfunction that seems to infect Jets seasons past and present leaves me green with envy over the successes of my team’s two biggest rivals.

Even Jets Pro Bowl Center, Nick Mangold admits, “No matter who wins the game, it’s going to be a bad outcome for us as players and for the fans.”

It’s my obligation as a football fan to watch the Super Bowl.  I get it.  I’ll be more interested in the wings and beer than the game itself, but yes, I’ll watch it.

The cathartic viewing will tweak my pigskin inferiority complex, but ultimately build character.  When it’s over, I’ll emotionally hit the reset button, and await a new beginning in 2012.

There’s always next season.  The optimistic cliché represents all that is great about sports.  Especially in the NFL, a league predicated on parody.

Before that new beginning, there must be an end.

Apparently, the Giants and Patriots will do the honors on Sunday.

At least that’s the rumor.

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Ali An Artist Both In & Out of the Ring

By Jason Klein

As Seen in In New York Magazine  – 1/17/12

He could no longer float like a butterfly, but his stinger was still just as sharp.

Muhammad Ali was at the Steiner Sports Corporate Offices in New Rochelle, New York to tattoo his coveted signature on a slew of rare collectables.  His body had already endured two decades of physical decay at the hands of Parkinson’s Disease, but his creative mind was still focused.

“The Champ” inked his name on photos and red Everlast gloves with devastating consistency, one after the next, like throwing jabs in the ring.  Once an outspoken showman, he then sat quietly in the Steiner signing room, head down, hard at work to finish the task at hand.

Ali Turns 70 Years-Old Today

His autograph instantly transformed each item into a sought-after keepsake, destined to sell for a couple thousand dollars each.  However, what Ali did next was priceless.

During a lull in the action, while others in the room conversed on a break, Ali got his legendary hands on an ordinary piece of cardboard.  It was part of a brown shipping box some of the photos had come in.  He then picked up a sharpie off the table.  “The Greatest of All-Time” had something cooking.

Always innovative with his words, at that moment, Ali let his imagination run wild with each pen stroke.  He drew a square in the center of his makeshift canvas, and then began to make hundreds of tiny dots.  He surrounded his square with these dots, pelting the pen to cardboard like rain drops landing on a windshield.

When he was done, he carefully drew two tiny figures inside of his box.  He took a moment to reflect upon his masterpiece before putting pen to cardboard one last time to sign his name at the bottom.  Ali peered up and saw looks of amazement from Steiner employees there to conduct the signing.

The greatest fighter in the history of boxing had just personally illustrated one of the greatest collectibles in the history of memorabilia.  He had drawn his own interpretation of a championship boxing match – the square was his ring, the dots were his cheering crowd, and the figures in the box were his fighters.  It was brilliant.

Not realizing the magnitude of what he had done, “The Champ” left the unique piece of artwork behind after his signing was completed.  A one-of-a-kind, it was hologramed with a Steiner Sports seal and sold to a private collector.

Like the artist himself, the sketch was without peer.  It was an intimate peek into one of the most unique minds the sports world has ever known, that of a man that turns 70 years-old today.

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