New Players & Fans Set To Experience Yankees in ALCS For First Time

By Jason Klein  

I walked my daughter to the bus stop this morning.

It’s a short stroll, really.  Around the corner and down a hill – just enough steps to pad my Fitbit stats and see some familiar October sights.  There were pumpkins on porches, leaves on the ground, and an interlocking “NY” on my shirt.

Of course there was.

ALCS Logo

Yankee Stadium Prepares For The ALCS’s Bronx Return.

The Yankees will play Game 1 of the American League Championship Series tonight in Houston.  Watching the Yanks play baseball deep into October is typical of my childhood.  Not so for kids my daughter’s age.

The Yankees reached the ALCS or World Series 7 times from 1996-2004.  Then, 3 more times between 2009-2012.  Since then, their lone Postseason appearance came in 2015 when they lost to the Astros in the AL Wild Card Game.

So, tonight is special for kids like my daughter, born within the last 10 years.

A boy waiting for the bus noticed my shirt and asked if I was excited for the upcoming series.

“Of course,” I said.  “How about you?”

His face lit up.  His smile was huge, like an Aaron Judge homerun swing.

“Yeah!” He said.  “I’ve never seen them play in the ALCS before.”

He then gave me a “thumbs down.”

“When were you born?” I asked.

“2008.  But I was too young to watch the 2009 World Series,” he said.

His excitement reminded me a lot of myself back in 1996 – the first time I’d seen the Yankees win a playoff series.  He had a look of wonderment – like he was about to witness something he’d never seen before.

He is.

My Yankees – you know, Jeter, Bernie, Pettitte, Posada and Mo – are nice historical footnotes for today’s kids.  Now, Judge, Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and the rest of this young core of players are ushering in a new generation of Yankees success.  They’re bringing the new generation of fans along with them. Judge-Sanchez

The boy’s reaction did make me further appreciate the late-90s dynastic run.  It’s so difficult to sustain success from one year to the next.  Every opportunity to win a championship should be treasured.  You never know when it will happen again.

Many say these Yankees arrived ahead of schedule.  They weren’t expected to compete this soon.  They are “playing with the house’s money.”

I disagree.

It’s never the wrong time to win a Title.  Teams that get this close must capitalize.  “Wait ‘till next year” isn’t guaranteed.

Just ask the 2015 Mets.

It’s possible, this could be the only shot this young group of Yankees have to win a World Series.

Or, it could be just the beginning of another sustained run of success.

The latter would give kids my daughter’s age a childhood experience similar to mine.  Yankees baseball, deep into the Fall, would once again be a familiar October sight.

Like pumpkins on porches, leaves on the ground, and an interlocking “NY” on my shirt.

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Wild Card Yanks Can Be Anything They Want

By Jason Klein

The Yankees drew a Wild Card.

They can turn their mediocre hand into something special.

Tanaka Time in the Bronx Tonight vs. the Astros.

Tanaka Time in the Bronx Tonight vs. the Astros.

The Postseason offers a clean slate for all. Just like in poker, the Yankees can be anything they want to be as a Wild Card.

2’s can be Jacks. 7’s can be Queens.

Ordinary baseball teams can be Kings.

Just ask the 2014 San Francisco Giants.

Sure, the Yanks looked lifeless as they stumbled towards Tuesday night’s one-game playoff at Yankee Stadium. Losers of six of their last seven games, the Yanks weren’t hitting, looked tired, and appeared destined for a quicker hook than Joe Philbin got in Miami.

None of that matters now, though. That’s old news.

They made it to October as a Wild Card. They’ve got a seat at the table – just like those 2000 Yankees, who also sputtered through September and won 87 games. Those guys turned a Wild Card berth into a Championship.

Today’s team shows their hand tonight. It starts with an ace, Masahiro Tanaka. He’ll take the ball in this sudden-death matchup with the Houston Astros – the exact type of game the Yankees envisioned him pitching when they invested $175 million in him prior to the 2014 season.

It’s his biggest moment as a Yankee. It’s the most important game the franchise has had in two years. It’s the type of event that could propel them towards a 28th title.

October is different. The Yankees organization knows that better than anyone.

Ante up, Yanks! Push those chips to the center of the table.

Tonight, as a Wild Card, they can be anything they want to be.

Perhaps even winners.

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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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Rooting For History, Not The Red Sox.

By Jason Klein

I love watching the Yankees win.

I also love watching sports history made.

This puts me in an uncomfortably conflicted position for tonight’s Game 6 in Boston.

Fenway Park will host Game 6 of the World Series Tonight.

Fenway Park will host Game 6 of the World Series Tonight.

There’s nothing more satisfying than a “Wow” moment in sports.  I crave those “stop whatever you’re doing and watch this” type of events.

Tonight, we potentially get one of them at Fenway Park.  With a win, the Red Sox would knock off the St. Louis Cardinals to clinch their first World Series Championship at home since 1918.

Wow.

In 2004, the Curse-breaking barrage of  “Idiots” (their term, not mine) capped off their title on the road, in St. Louis.  Three years later, they stormed the field as champions again, this time in Denver.  The last time they turned the trick at home, Babe Ruth, no doubt, enjoyed a few celebratory cold ones.

Needless to say, it’s been a while since Red Sox fans witnessed history made in their own backyard.

Root, root, root for the Red Sox tonight?

I don’t know if I’ll go that far.

But, there’s a chance to witness something that hasn’t happened in 95 years!

If they don’t win it’s a shame.

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Boone Sends Yankees To The World Series, Fans Into A Frenzy

By Jason Klein

(Today is the 10 Year Anniversary of Aaron Boone’s miraculous ALCS Game 7 HR.  The 11th inning walk-off blast sent the Yankees to the World Series, and preserved the Bambino’s Curse for at least one more season.  The Following Post Can Be Read, In Its Original Form, As I wrote on 10/17/03)

Babe, Bucky, Buckner…Boone.

At 16 minutes past midnight on Friday morning, Aaron Boone added his name to the list.  Aaron “Bleepin’” Boone.  Tied at 5 in the bottom of the 11th inning of game 7 of the ALCS, Boone sent Tim Wakefield’s first pitch through the Bronx sky, and safely into the hands of George Herman Ruth sitting out in the left field stands.

“Like Derek [Jeter] told me, the ghosts will show up eventually,” Boone said.

Images From Game 7, 10/16/03.

Images From Game 7, 10/16/03.

With an early 4-0 deficit, and Roger Clemens out of the game, the 56,297 in attendance were wondering just when the Great Bambino planed on showing up.  He probably just got caught up in traffic following the water main break on the Deagon.  He showed up 8 innings late to the party, but the Babe arrived in time to see the Yanks capture their 39th American League pennant in dramatic fashion, coming from 3 down in the 8th inning, to win the game 6-5 in 11 innings.  Boone’s walk off, series ending blast punctuated the evening.

“I knew it was out, I finally put a good swing on it,” he said.

It’s a swing that will long be remembered, perhaps one of the most dramatic of all time.   One swing of the bat from Boone ended the most compelling, evenly matched series in Major League Baseball history, sending Yankee Stadium into a frenzy and the Red Sox home for the winter.

“This was our chance to get the World Series,” Boston’s Johnny Damon said. “And we were so close.”

Cowboy Down.

“This is the best, said Yankees manager Joe Torre.  “To come here and play against the Red Sox, and play them 26 times and beat our rival like we did, it couldn’t be more satisfying.  This has to be the sweetest taste of all for me.

However, early on things were rather sour in the Bronx.   The Sox got to Clemens early, tagging the Rocket for 6 hits and 4 runs through only 3 innings.  Clemens’ ineffectiveness, coupled with Pedro Martinez’s brilliance was a sure sign of a pinstriped apocalypse.  Many wondered if this would be the night the curse was broken.

Jason Giambi, batting out of the 7 hole, delivered 2 solo shots and Mike Mussina’s 3 scoreless innings of relief kept the Bombers in the game, but it wasn’t until that fateful 8th inning when the Empire finally struck back.

The Captain, Derek Jeter got it all started with a double to right, and Bernie Williams knocked him in with a single to make it 5-3.  After a Hideki Matsui double, Red Sox Manager Grady Little went out to meet with Martinez.  After some convincing, Pedro stayed in the game and gave up a game tying double to Jorge Posada.  Red Sox 5, Yankees 5.

That’s the way it would stay until the 11th, thanks to a flawless 3 innings of relief from the incomparable Mariano Rivera.  It was the first time Rivera had thrown 3 innings in a game since 1996.

“Words can’t describe him, he is a cartoon character,” Jason Giambi said of Rivera.

After Boone hit, what former Mayor Rudolph Guliani deemed “the best home run since Chris Chambliss in ’76,” the Yankees were World Series bound for the first time since 2001.  They will be fishing for Marlin starting Saturday night in the Bronx.

That challenge can wait until then.  For now, New York revels in its latest dance with destiny.  They came from behind to beat Pedro, Wakefield, and an entire Red Sox nation that holds little regard for the aura and mystique found season after season in the Bronx.

“I believe in ghosts,” Derek Jeter said when asked if there was something to the Curse. “And we have a lot of ghosts in this Stadium.”

Those Cowboys from New England may not agree with Jeter, but they surely have heard of the killer “B’s” that continue to haunt them every year.

Babe, Bucky, Buckner…and now Boone.

“Go back to Boston boys. Goodbye,” said George Steinbrenner following game 7. “They didn’t treat us very well in Boston, but you know, we get the last laugh.”

Bye Bye, Boston.

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No Phone. No Problem. Douds Still Got Through.

By Jason Klein

My iPhone wouldn’t turn on.

It wouldn’t charge, connect to a network, or receive a call.  A spilled glass of water was the culprit, but all fingers were pointed squarely at me.  I was the one who accidently left my device next to cell phone kryptonite.

I was frustrated, annoyed, and upset with myself for the gaffe.

I felt isolated from the world.  All alone.

No one could get through to me.

In a panic, I put life on hold, and headed to the Apple Store to try and restore my method of communication.

Ironically, while there, I ran into a man who once heard me loud and clear.

________________________________

It was 1996.  I was a sophomore at Yorktown High School in Westchester, NY, and had serious concerns about what direction I wanted to take my life.  Looking back, I guess I was no different than any other sixteen year-old.  For some reason, though, figuring out my career path was very important to me at an early age.  At times, it consumed me.

Professionally, I just wanted to know where I’d fit in.  My indecisiveness often left me feeling isolated from the world.  All alone.

Everyone had advice, but nothing seemed to fit.

No one could get through to me.

Then came Forrest Douds.

Douds Understood My Passions & Helped Set My Career Path in HS. Image Courtesy of lohud.com

Douds Understood My Passions & Helped Set My Career Path in HS. Image Courtesy of lohud.com

He was my high school guidance counselor and I craved guidance.  We had talked several times in the past – mostly about football, and his father, the first head coach in Pittsburgh Steelers history – but this time we huddled up to discuss my future.  With encouragement and compassion, Douds analyzed my situation.

Our broad, and lengthy talk concluded with a single, focused plan of attack.  We decided I should make a career out of my two passions (sports and writing) and that somehow, I would have to meet a former student of his, Rick Cerrone.

Cerrone, also a Yorktown High School graduate, had once engaged in a similar conversation with Douds.  Combining his own love of sports and writing, Cerrone went on to become the Director of Media Relations and Publicity for the New York Yankees – a role he held from 1996-2006, spanning 6 World Series appearances and 4 championships.

Back then, Cerrone’s schedule was tighter than a Yankees-Red Sox Pennant Race.  An actual meeting with him, as Douds had suggested, would be difficult to swing.

Getting together with him seemed unimportant at the time though.  Just hearing that a local kid had made it in professional sports was enough motivation for me.  Yet, just a few hours after Douds told me his story, Cerrone randomly showed up at Yorktown High School.  Unannounced and unbeknownst to Douds, he happened to be in the area and decided to visit the man who had once helped him find his own way.

Fate?  Coincidence?  Didn’t matter.  I had my meeting.

I was fortunate enough to spend some time chatting with Cerrone about his career path, and quickly developed a nice relationship.  Through the years, I would periodically pop into the Press Box at Yankee Stadium to meet up with him during games.  I made a habit of checking in from time-to-time, to update him on my career, or give him a quick call to say hello.

Something I couldn’t do without a phone, though.

________________________________

Several hours had passed now, and I still couldn’t power up my device.  Some Genius at the Apple Store informed me that the phone was beyond repair, and I’d have to invest in a new one.  The revelation left me even more frustrated, and for the moment, still isolated.  In need of a quick pick-me-up, I decided to take a walk before committing to the unexpected purchase.

Then came Forrest Douds.  Again.

I hadn’t seen him since graduating in 1998, and there he stood, inside Lids, chatting with the kid at the register about his father’s 1933 stint with the Steelers.  It was surreal.

I approached him from behind and patiently waited for a break in his conversation to jump in.  The Lids employee noticed me hovering and asked if I had a question.  I replied, “Not for you…but for him.”

I pointed at Douds.

“Forrest Douds?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied.

“Jason Klein…Yorktown High School,” I continued.

His eyes opened wider than a 300-pound lineman.

What ensued was a true testament to just how dedicated Douds was, and still is, to all of his students.  Though fifteen years had passed, it may as well have been fifteen minutes.  To my surprise, he remembered everything about me.  He jumped right into conversation, asked how my writing career was going, wanted to hear how my parents were doing, and even referenced our fateful meeting with Cerrone.

“I tell that story all the time,” he gushed.

“So do I,” I admitted.

Throughout our talk, Douds showered me with praise and recounted fond memories he had of me as a student.

We talked a little football too, naturally.  Now a high school football coach, Douds glowingly spoke about his current roster.  He loved his players, and loved life.  His passion was infectious.   For the moment, I realized just how insignificant my dead phone really was.

Douds got through to me again.

Despite my technological limitations, we exchanged contact info – the old-fashioned way, with a pen and paper – and wished each other continued luck and success moving forward.

Before heading back to the Apple Store, I asked that he stay in touch with me.

With a new iPhone in my pocket, he’d have no trouble getting through to me.

Again.

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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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Bald Vinny Leads Roll Call, Passionate Bleacher Creatures

By Jason Klein 

Originally Written ForIN New York Magazine – 4/12/11

Bald Vinny comes to play every night.

A staple within the hallowed walls of Yankee Stadium, like pinstripes and Sinatra, “Bald” Vinny Milano can be seen, and definitely heard, sitting in section 203 during every home game in the Bronx.  It’s obvious that Milano is a passionate and dedicated Yankees fan.  He is also the most prominent member of the Yankee Stadium Bleacher Creatures.

Although Milano is not the official leader of the Bleacher Creatures – that distinction goes to Tina “The Queen Bee” Lewis, a regular in the bleachers since 1983 – he became known as the face of the Creatures in 2005 after being featured on the YES Network’s “Ultimate Roadtrip.”

Just another day at the office for Bald Vinny

With his cult-like following comes a unique responsibility.  Prior to the first pitch of every home game, Milano rallies the rest of the creatures to their feet, and works them into a pinstriped frenzy.  As the first pitch crosses home plate, Milano gazes into centerfield, through his signature Oakley sunglasses, cups his hands around his mouth, and goes to work.

“Yooooooooo…Curtis!”

The Roll Call is underway.

Starting with the Centerfielder – Curtis Granderson has the honor in 2011 – Milano and the rest of the Creatures work their way around the Yankees defense, chanting the player’s name until they receive acknowledgement (typically a waive) from the player.

“Brett Gard-ner…Brett Gard-ner…”

A tradition in the Bronx since 1997, the Roll Call only takes place during home games.  According to Milano, “it disrespects the other team” if done on the road.  It’s also extremely difficult to rally enough troops to be heard while in enemy territory – not something the Creatures struggle with on East 161st Street and River Avenue.

“The Bleacher Creatures are the heart, soul, and passion of Yankee Stadium,” says Milano.  We represent the most dedicated and passionate of Yankees fans, and we always show up in full force to do whatever we can to help the team win.”

“Swish-er…Swish-er…”

According to Milano, the Bleacher Creatures are a different breed of fan.  They believe their proactive approach to cheering benefits the Yankees on the field.  With the Bronx Bombers in contention for a World Series almost every year, it’s difficult to argue with the results.

“Most baseball fans around the country only cheer when something happens,” says Milano.  “Yankees fans cheer in order to make something happen.  In the bleachers, it’s our job to make noise when there needs to be noise.  We are always the first on our feet when we need a big hit.  We’ll do whatever we can to give our team an advantage.”

“Mark Teix-eira…Mark Teix-eira…”

However, for Milano, it’s not just about peanuts and Cracker Jack at the old ballgame.  Attending every single home game as a fan is a time-consuming task in itself – he’s missed only 7 games since 2004.   For Milano, it’s also his livelihood.

Before and after each game, Milano is stationed on River Avenue, selling official Bleacher Creature T-Shirts, a business he developed in 2001.  In essence, he’s truly just doing his job everyday at the Stadium, getting to enjoy a ball game during his lunch break

“Rob-in-son…Rob-in-son…”

He often gets the question, “how do I become a Bleacher Creature?”  According to Milano, there are only three simple rules to follow.  First, a fan must willingly choose to sit in the bleachers.  An everlasting passion for the Yankees is the second requirement.  Finally, complete dedication is necessary.  Milano is quick to point out that it’s easy to sit in the bleachers for a few games each year and claim to be one of them.  That just won’t cut it.

“[Bleacher Creatures] attend 40-50 home games a year,” says Milano.  “It’s about being there in person and supporting your team, day in and day out.

“Der-ek Jet-er…Der-ek Jet-er…”

Perhaps no one was as consistently devoted to supporting the Yankees as Freddy Schuman, the legendary super fan, better known as “Freddy Sez.” Schuman would walk around Yankee Stadium each night with a frying pan, urging fans to hit it with a spoon for luck.  Schuman passed away in October 2010, during yet another Yankees postseason run, perhaps leaving Milano as the “next generation” face of the Yankees fan.

“That’s incredibly flattering to hear,” says Milano.  “Freddy was such an iconic presence.  I remember him when I was a kid.  His longevity is really admirable.”

“A-Rod…A-Rod…”

Rather than compare himself to someone like Schuman, Milano remains humble, just happy to be associated with a great group of fans, and the premier franchise in professional sports.

“I’m proud that I get to represent the creatures, and I appreciate all the support I’ve gotten from Yankees fans,” he says.  “I’ve gotten to live out quite a few ‘Yankees fantasies’ over the years and I enjoy sharing those experiences with other fans.”

He gets to do just that, when he shows up to play, every night.

To view Bald Vinny’s Line of Bleacher Creature Apparel, visit www.baldvinny.com

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First Pitch

By Jason Klein 

Originally Written For IN New York Magazine – 3/31/11

Time for a fresh start.

A pen rests peacefully on the desk, nestled next to a clean, white, crisp piece of paper.  Together, they will transcribe history.

There are no guidelines or limitations for what’s about to be written.  No guarantees either.  Only hope.

Time to pick up the pen and script a new beginning.

The 2011 Season Starts Today

It’s Opening Day.

Regarded as a pseudo National holiday, the celebration grants all 30 Major League Baseball Clubs a clean slate, and takes place today, and tomorrow, within stadiums across the country.  It’s one of the most anticipated events on the sports calendar.  After a miserably long, cold winter here in the New York area, baseball fans are eager to trade in their snow shovels for Louisville Sluggers and get cracking!

Legendary Yankees Centerfielder, Joe DiMaggio, once said, “You look forward to it like a birthday party when you’re a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen.”

“Joltin’ Joe” couldn’t have spoken truer words.

Everyone’s a kid on Opening Day.  Children of all ages play hooky from school, and work, properly commemorating the day and basking in its excitement.  It’s an opportunity, as a fan, to believe in the impossible.  Today, everyone’s in first place, and everyone has a chance to achieve greatness.

Even the Mets.

In Queens, Opening Day 2011 is truly the dawn of a new era.  New Manager, Terry Collins and General Manager, Sandy Alderson, replace Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya, respectively.  New leadership and focus at the top will help a team that looked lost much of 2010.

The 2011 Mets are looking to improve on a paltry 79-83 record, good for 4th place in the National League East last year.  They will have their hands full in a very difficult division.  For the Mets to capture the flag, they will have to go through their long-time rivals, the Atlanta Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies – a team stacked with the most dominant pitching staff in the sport.  If the Phillies were playing poker, they’d confidently go “all in” with their four aces, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, and the newly re-acquired, Cliff Lee.

A successful 2011 season for the Mets will depend on their ability to stay healthy.  Johan Santana, the jewel of the pitching staff, is already in danger of missing the entire season as he recovers from elbow surgery.  Question marks in the outfield could cause problems as well.  Carlos Beltran continues to battle the same knee problems that plagued his 2010 and Jason Bay pulled a rib cage muscle this week, an injury that could send him to the Disabled List to start the season.

The Mets Hope Bay Stays Healthy This Year

If key members of their offense can spend more time in the lineup than the infirmary, this club could contend.  They will have no trouble scoring runs with stars like Jose Reyes and David Wright at the top of their order again this year.  Add a healthy Beltran and Bay to the mix, and the Mets could potentially compete.

Across the river, in the Bronx, a new season brings the same expectations: an October date with the jeweler.  That’s when the Yankees hope to be fitted for World Series rings commemorating another championship, the 28th in franchise history.

Like the Mets, the Bronx Bombers will have no trouble scoring runs in 2011.  Superstars like Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano round out the heart of a devastating lineup and will do most of the damage for the Yankees.  Expect a big offensive year from Curtis Granderson as well, as he looks to rebound from a subpar inaugural season in pinstripes.

The face of the franchise, Derek Jeter, will also try to improve upon a statistically poor offensive 2010 season.  Now 36 years-old, The Captain will look to silence critics by still producing at a superstar level. Jeter will make history this summer, becoming the first Yankee to collect 3,000 hits in pinstripes.  He enters the season only 74 hits shy of the mark –he should get there by mid-June.

The key to the entire Yankees season is an unlikely one: A.J. Burnett.  With Andy Pettitte’s retirement, and Cliff Lee’s decision to take his talents to Philly instead of the Bronx, Burnett’s shoulders might get sore carrying the added expectations.  CC Sabathia will be solid at the top of the rotation, as usual, but he’ll need help.  Burnett must carry his weight and turn the page on a disastrous 2010 season, recapturing the magic on the mound that helped bring the Yankees a Title in 2009.

Should the train go off the track early on, look for General Manager, Brian Cashman, to make some moves and shore up the rotation before the trading deadline.  With two stud catching prospects in Jesus Montero and Austin Romine, the Yanks might have the chips to land a top starter via trade.  Promoting the young, and highly regarded pitching prospect, Manuel Banuelos, is another option.

Derek Jeter Will Reach The 3,000 Hit Milestone in 2011

The acquisition of Rafael Soriano should compliment the legendary, Mariano Rivera, joining forces to form a dominant backend of the bullpen.  With those two, the Yankees will certainly have no problem finishing games.

Before they can finish though, everyone has to start.  It begins this afternoon, in the Bronx, with the Yankees and Tigers.  It continues tomorrow night with the Mets and Marlins in Miami.  Time to pick up the pen and begin documenting history.

It’s a fresh start.  It’s Opening Day.

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Members of “Bronx Zoo” Yankees To Run Wild at Steiner Sports

By Jason Klein

Originally Written For The Official Steiner Sports Blog – 11/11/10

Deep in the heart of the ever-changing sports landscape, the Steiner Sports Corporate Office can get chaotic from time-to-time.  On Saturday, December 4, it will be a complete Zoo!

That’s when members of the 1977 and 1978 World Champion New York Yankees, affectionately referred to as the “Bronx Zoo,” will be making their way up to New Rochelle, NY to meet and greet fans at Steiner Sports.  Touting some of the biggest and boldest personalities ever to sport the pinstripes, this group of players draws a crowd wherever they go, holding a special place in the hearts of Yankees fans everywhere.

The 1978 Yankees Celebrate their WS Title.

Rightfully so.  This distinctive collection of Bombers captured imaginations in the late 1970’s, winning back-to-back Titles, the first Championships of the George Steinbrenner era.  While their World Series rings secured their place in baseball history, it was, perhaps, their colorful personalities that created lasting power with their fans, even inspiring a 2007 ESPN Drama, The Bronx is Burning.

There is no doubt, fans in attendance on December 4th will be treated to a wide-range of behind-the-scenes stories, as told by the men who lived them during the summers of 1977 and 1978.  Among those in attendance at Steiner Sports will be Ron GuidrySparky LyleChris ChamblissBucky DentGraig NettlesPaul BlairRoy WhiteWillie Randolph and Lou Piniella.

The event will be catered, Yankee Stadium-style, including the World Famous Lobel’s Steak, peanuts & Cracker Jack.  Fans can take photos with the players, participate in question & answer sessions, raffles, giveaways, and a silent auction.  In addition, special activities will be set up for children.

Those in attendance will get the unique opportunity to re-live historic moments like Reggie Jackson’s 3 home run performance in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series and Bucky Dent’s curse-preserving blast at Fenway Park during the one-game playoff in 1978.

It’s just the latest meet & greet event offered by Steiner Sports, the leader in authentic sports gifts and collectibles.  With so many great Yankees on-hand, this particular event figures to take on a Zoo-like atmosphere…minus the giraffes and elephants, of course.

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