Bernie Williams Did Things His Way, Quietly.

By Jason Klein

“Shut Up.  Play.”

Bernie Williams stood there and faced the media with those three words quietly displayed on his t-shirt.  It was October of 1996, and Williams wore this motivational garb in front of his locker throughout the post season.  This subtle reminder personified the Yankees of the mid-90s.

Williams will have his #51 retired tonight.

Williams will have his #51 retired tonight.

Those Yankees teams never gloated, always acted as if they had “been there before,” and proceeded to win four World Series titles in five years.  When I spoke with Bernie Williams, a few years back, he reflected on his time in pinstripes. All these years later, he still maintained a humble opinion of his years in the Bronx.

“I played on some unbelievable teams, but I was never concerned about where we ranked all-time or anything like that,” he said.  “I was just glad to be there and be a part of all the winning.”

Williams, who officially retired earlier this year, will have his #51 follow suit tonight at Yankee Stadium. The switch-hitting legend will take his rightful place among Yankee immortals during a pre-game ceremony – A fitting tribute for a humble man who enjoyed a special career.

“As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to appreciate all the precious moments I had,” he told me.  “I was part of a truly great team and I enjoy sitting back and enjoying those moments.”

Williams played on some of the most successful Yankees teams of all-time, and the center fielder had a major role in most of those triumphs. Over the course of his 16-year career – all with the Yankees – Bernie Williams was selected to 5 All-Star Games, won the 1996 ALCS MVP Award, won 4 Gold Gloves for his wizardry in center field, and captured the 1998 Batting Title.  Despite all his personal accolades along the way, Williams insisted his greatest memories are team oriented.

“The batting title in 1998 was special, but that whole 1998 team was unbelievable,” he said.  “Those are the things I remember the most…the things we accomplished as a team.”

It is that unassuming personality that has landed Bernie a special place in the hearts of most Yankees fans.  Adulation that was never more evident to Williams than at the final game ever played at the original Yankee Stadium.

With Bernie Williams

With Bernie Williams

“It was awesome to see the fans embrace me the way they did,” he said.  “Especially after being out of the game for a few years.  I was so surprised I got introduced after Yogi!”

Williams was invited back the following April to help open the new home of the Yankees.  He appeared in center field, playing “Take me out to the ball game” on his guitar, and highlighted an extraordinary day at the new ballpark.

“Playing [the guitar] in center field on Opening Day was weird,” he said.  “It was such a bizarre moment.  I was in Yankee Stadium, with a guitar, playing in front of a full house.  It was such a cool moment.  There was so much electricity that day.  It reminded me of the old Stadium a lot.”

Inside that old Stadium, Bernie Williams cemented his place in Yankees lore, quietly positioning himself in the record books alongside other Yankees center fielders like Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio. Tonight, he’ll join them in Monument Park as well.

“I have no regrets about my career,” he said.  “I was part of a great team for 16 years.  I am very proud of that, and I did it my way.”

He shut up and just played.

*Updated from original 2009 Piece.

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The Kentucky Derby, Whitey Ford & Me.

By Jason Klein 

I watched the Kentucky Derby with Whitey Ford.

It was just the two of us. Well, not really, but it sure seemed that way.

It was May of 2005, and I was at a charity event in Scarsdale, NY. Brandon Steiner, CEO of Steiner Sports Marketing, had put the affair together at his home, and had attracted a group of former Yankees that would rival any Old Timer’s Day in the Bronx.

While there, I talked hitting with Don Mattingly, pitching with Ron Guidry, and drank some Miller Lite’s with Wade Boggs. I even played poker with reigning World Series of Poker Champion, Chris Moneymaker.

Whitey Ford.

Whitey Ford.

Around 5:30 PM, a bunch of us filed into Steiner’s TV room to watch the 131st Kentucky Derby. That year’s race had a strong pinstriped presence too. The late George Steinbrenner, then still much in control of his beloved Yankees, owned the race’s 5-2 favorite, Bellamy Road. Trained by Hall of Famer, Nick Zito, and coming off a victory in the Wood Memorial, Bellamy Road was Steinbrenner’s best chance to win the storied race. He had tried four times prior and never saw any of his horses finish higher than 5th place. This was his big shot!

The room I was in was packed. Everyone wanted to see how Bellamy Road would do. I couldn’t find a seat, so I leaned up against the wall on the side of the room. Moments before “My Old Kentucky Home” signaled the race’s imminent start, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around and saw that the left hand resting on me was attached to the most famous left arm in New York Yankees history. It was Ford. He was there to watch the race too.

“The Boss is probably nervous as all hell,” he said to me.

“I know, I responded. “You think he’s going to win this thing?”

“I sure hope so,” he said with a stone cold face. “Otherwise, he’s going to be mad as shit.”

With Mattingly at the event.

With Mattingly at the event.

I tried to swallow, but suddenly my palms were wet and my throat was dry. During his career, Whitey Ford had that effect on nervous opposing batters. That day, he had the same impact on me. At the time, he was an ornery 76 years old, baseball royalty, and still very intimidating. After that, I don’t remember another person in that room besides Ford and myself.

I was about to share the “greatest two minutes in sports” with the greatest lefty starter in Yankees history. The horses entered the start gate, heard the gun sound, and were off!

Bellamy Road got off to a decent start, keeping pace with the early leader Spanish Chestnut. I looked over at Ford and saw him pumping his fist. He looked encouraged.

Things got very exciting about a minute into the race. That’s when the announcer blurted out, “…and here comes Bellamy Road, who’s charging up on the outside!”

I made eye contact with Ford. He gave me the same confident look he used to give Yogi Berra behind the plate, or so I imagined. He was sure Steinbrenner’s winning ways would continue that day at the Derby.

I remember thinking to myself, “I wonder what it would be like to be watching this race with Steinbrenner?” I also wondered if Ford was thinking the same thing. What an experience that would be! Especially if his horse actually came out on top!

Hold that thought. That’s when things fell apart.

With Boggs & Guidry at the event.

With Boggs & Guidry at the event.

As the horses came down the final stretch, Bellamy Road faded worse than the 1978 Red Sox.

“Come on!” Ford yelled.

It wasn’t meant to be. The Boss’s hyped horse drifted backwards into the pack to finish the race in 7th place. A 50-1 shot, Giacomo, ended up winning that day.

Ford put his hand on my shoulder one more time, brought his lips close to my ear, and whispered, “The Boss is going to be fucking pissed! That I promise you.”

With that, the “Chairman of the Board,” chuckled, patted me on the back, picked up his drink, and walked out of the room.

Ford was right. Steinbrenner must have been seething after that defeat. On the other hand, I think Ford was at peace with the situation – for once, he didn’t have to deal with the boiling boss. He watched the race with me instead.

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Time Stood Still With Jeter In Pinstripes

By Jason Klein

Nobody wants to get old.

As long as Derek Jeter kept playing for the Yankees, I didn’t have to.

Watching him play on a nightly basis over the last nineteen years helped prolong my childhood and allowed me to escape Father Time’s inevitable grasp.  His consistent play, stable demeanor, and youthful appearance made me feel like time stood still for two decades.  As long as Jeter wore pinstripes, I’d feel young.

I watched him as a kid & worked with him as an adult.

I watched him as a kid & worked with him as an adult.

Flip on the game and…POOF!  I could be a kid again.

This October, when Derek Jeter walks away from baseball for good, he’ll take a big piece of my childhood along with him.  He’ll also leave behind a franchise in need of a new identity.

Former Yankees Pitcher, and Jeter teammate, Mike Mussina once said: “We can put on the uniform, and we can play in the Stadium, but we’re not the New York Yankees unless Derek Jeter is playing shortstop.”

With Jeter onboard, the Yankees could always be the Yankees of the mid-to-late-90s.  They could be the Bernie-Tino-O’Neill-Posada-Pettitte-Mo Yankees.  With #2 penciled in the lineup, expectations, confidence and accountability would always be high.  No waters ever seemed too choppy, as long as Jeter was the Captain of this pinstriped ship.

He is the final link to the most recent golden era of Yankees baseball – the last “Core 4” member standing.  He helped win four World Series Titles in five seasons.  He made his jump throws, wore his Jumpman, and at times, you believed he’d keep playing, and winning, forever.

He won’t though.  His remarkable career will come to an end after the 2014 season.  The Kalamazoo Kid who never seemed to age, finally did.  It reminds us all of our own mortality.

Nothing lasts forever.  Even if it seems like it might.  If you’re twenty-something, all you know is Derek Jeter at shortstop for the Yankees.  Literally.  That’s it.

Taking my daughter to a game in April 2013.

Taking my daughter to a game in April 2013.

I was fourteen when he made his debut.  I’ll be 34 when he tips his cap for the final time.  For twenty years, no matter what was going on in my life, Derek Jeter was a constant.

He entertained me as a high school kid, distracted me as a college student, inspired me as an adult, and worked alongside me during my career at Steiner Sports.

My Dad took me to see him play as a kid.  Now I take my own daughter to see him.

The fact that my 3 year-old daughter roots for the same active player in 2014 that I did in 1995 is a tribute to Jeter’s consistency, longevity, and drive to succeed.

As a parent now, I watch her get older with each day that passes.

With Derek Jeter retiring, I’ll get a little bit older too.

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Cano Goes To Seattle, Leaves Future Earnings In The Bronx

By Jason Klein

Robinson Cano went after every last cent.

I don’t blame him.

But, before he did, he should have paid closer attention to some lyrics his agent, Jay Z, once rapped:

“I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man!  Let me handle my business…damn!”

As a top baseball talent, Cano is much more than just another player.  He’s his own brand.  He’s a company.  He’s a “business, man!”  His new 10 year, $240 M deal with the Mariners is incredibly shortsighted.  If he wanted to truly maximize his value, he should have accepted less money up front and stayed put in the Bronx.

He's smiling now, but Cano just left his future earnings in the Bronx.

He’s smiling now, but Cano just left his future earnings in the Bronx.

There would have been a lifetime of earnings waiting for him at the end of his career.  He would have made more money in the long run.

Not only would he have capitalized on the marketing appeal that goes along with being a life-long Yankee, but he also would have established himself as a staple within the sports memorabilia and collectibles industry.

After cementing his legacy in pinstripes, he would have essentially been able to print money by just signing his name over and over…as long as he lived.

The New York Yankees, and their players, dictate the collectibles market.  Cano should have looked no further than the men within his former locker room for confirmation.

Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera are both pinstriped lifers, and are two of the most sought after, and expensive autographs around.  A Jeter hand signed MLB baseball retails for $799 on SteinerSports.com.  A Rivera ball goes for $399.  Even at these prices, Steiner Sports can’t keep these balls in stock!

During my time at Steiner, Jeter and Rivera were consistently the most asked about autographs on Steiner’s menu – many collectors extended beyond their financial means just to add them to their collections.

Cano would have received a similar demand had he stayed in New York.  With Rivera gone now, and Jeter on the way out, this could have been Cano’s team moving forward.  Instead, he’ll disappear on the West Coast.  His new team will be financially hamstrung by his deal and won’t be able to support him with the talent he needs to succeed.  Plus, he’ll lose his marketing appeal since half the country won’t watch his late games.

Had Cano won another World Series or two in New York, and continued to dominate on the biggest stage in sports, he would have dominated the collectibles world as well – making even more money long term.

Robinson, you should have remembered…you’re a business, man!

Big picture was, a new Yankees deal would have meant unlimited long term earning potential.

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I Saw Bob Knight Cry

By Jason Klein

I saw Bob Knight Cry.

I also saw him scream his way through an obscenity-laced tirade – but that’s what you’d expect from the legendarily intense Hall of Fame basketball coach.

Yes, I also got a rare look at the compassionate side of a man who once threw a chair across the court to express his anger.

I saw Bob Knight Cry.

I spent a full week with Coach Knight in his home.

I spent a week down in Lubbock, Texas with Coach Knight this month.  I was stationed at Knight’s house with a team of Steiner Sports personnel rummaging through his massive collection of sports memorabilia, awards, and NCAA Championship rings.  The unique items we discovered will be part of a Steiner Sports auction beginning October 8, 2012.

I was there to talk to the Coach about his collection and get a better understanding of where each item came from, and what it all meant to him.  I was fortunate to go one-on-one with the Coach.  The only person who interrupted my time with him was Frank Sinatra.  You see, every time his cell phone rang, Old Blue Eyes came on to the tune of “I Did it My Way.”

Fitting for a man who told me “If I spent time worrying about what other’s thought, I’d get nothing done.”

It was an unbelievable opportunity for exclusive face time with one of the most renowned coaches in the history of basketball.

Over the course of the week, Coach Knight played the role I’m accustomed to seeing him play.  He was gruff and crotchety, he was also focused and intense.  He mocked us, pushed us to work hard, and even threatened me when I inadvertently called him “Bobby.”

I found out, the hard way, that Coach prefers “Bob.”

But then, during a private moment, I saw the man momentarily let his guard down.  It was astonishing.

He was signing some pieces from his collection when he began to tell me another anecdote from his past – Coach has more stories than a library – but this one had a different feel to it.  Unlike his other tales, there was no fury in his voice and no sarcasm in his delivery this time. Known for always having his guns blazing, this time, the resident of Lubbock, Texas held his fire.

I hung on every word.

He was recounting the story of Landon Turner, an Indiana University forward who played for Knight from 1978-1981.  An All American in High School, Turner had his choice of playing at just about any top college basketball program in the country.  He chose Indiana, and Coach Knight.

Knight told me how instrumental Turner was in his 1979 NIT Championship, and their 1981 National Title run.  Earlier in 1981, Knight mentioned how he had spent some time in Knight’s “dog house,” (who hasn’t?) but won him over with extraordinary play down the stretch that resulted in the National Championship for Indiana.

Knight had more stories than a library – each one better than the last.

Knight was beaming when he told me how proud he was of Turner, and how bright his future was going to be at the next level, the NBA.  Then, Coach’s demeanor changed drastically.  He started speaking quietly, and got misty-eyed, as he continued his story.

You see, just four months after winning the 1981 National Championship, Turner was paralyzed, from the chest down, after suffering through a nasty car accident.  So much hard work and dedication, and in an instant, Turner’s career on the basketball court was over.

Knight was heart-broken.  He was devastated by the sudden tragedy.  He sat slouched in his chair, and looked up at the ceiling as he recounted the story.  Though helpless, Knight told me, he felt he had to do something to honor his player.

“I called Red Auerbach and asked him to draft Landon anyway,” Knight told me.  “I asked him to make Landon a Boston Celtic.  I only asked once.  I never mentioned it to him again.”

On June 29, 1982, Knight got his wish.  With the final pick of the draft – pick number 21 in round 10, Auerbach selected Landon Turner out of Indiana University.  It was a poignant gesture to commemorate the collegiate career Turner had in Bloomington.

I sat there speechless.  I had never heard the story before, and to hear Coach Knight tell it with emotion and sincerity left me stunned.

Knight quickly shook it off and got back to autographing pieces of his collection.  Moments later, he was back to his normal self, using colorful language to describe just about anything he could.

As an outsider, that’s about what you’d expect from the Coach who once requested that he be “buried upside down so his critics can kiss his ass.”

That’s what I expected when I first flew out to Lubbock to meet with him.  I knew I’d get insider access to his home, I never imagined I’d get such a close look behind his emotional steel curtain as well.

I never thought I’d see Bob Knight cry.

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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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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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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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Shonn Greene & Ray Rice Meet & Greet Scheduled for March 7

By Jason Klein

Originally Written For The Official Steiner Sports Blog – 2/16/11

Are you ready for some football…in March?

Why wait until September to talk football?  Pitchers and catchers may be reporting to camp this week, but Steiner Sports is preparing for an unforgettable evening featuring two of the bright, young runners in the NFL today.

Meet Greene & Rice on March 7!

On Monday, March 7, a limited group of people will be talking football and enjoying time withShonn Greene of the New York Jets, and Ray Riceof the Baltimore Ravens.  The event will take place in New Rochelle, NY at the Steiner Sports Corporate Headquarters.

Greene’s tough, bruising running style and Rice’s quick, elusive feet have made these two studs invaluable parts of their respective teams, keeping them on top of the competitive AFC.  These two backs figure to be among the league’s elite for the foreseeable future – this is an opportunity to pick their brains and hear their stories.

This event will be limited to just 100 people (50 total packages of 2) and each package will take home mini helmets or photos signed by each athlete.  Plus, fans in attendance will have the chance to take pictures with both players, enjoy food and beverages, and tour the world famous, Steiner Sports facility.

In 2011, the Jets and Ravens will no doubt be competing for a spot in Super Bowl XLVI.  Before they begin that journey, they’ll be headed to New Rochelle on March 7th for an unforgettable “chalk talk” with fans.

Are you ready?

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