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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Yanks Need A-Rod To Speak Softly, Carry Big Stick

By Jason Klein

His words are hollow, just like his milestone records.

That’s ok though. I don’t need to believe his new humble “good guy” routine. I don’t care where his personal triumphs will ultimately rest within baseball lore either. As a Yankees fan, in 2015, I only need Alex Rodriguez to do one thing.

A-Rod Has Returned.  So Has His Power!

A-Rod Has Returned. So Has His Power!

Keep hitting.

Defying Yankees brass is his business.   Defying Father Time is mine.

Thirteen games into 2015, he’s doing a great job of both. Yankees management had hoped the 39 year-old, admitted PED cheat would disappear faster than his own credibility. Instead, he’s strong-armed his way back into the heart of the Yankees line up, batting .286 with 4 HR and 11 RBI. Coming off two hip surgeries, and a yearlong steroid suspension, he’s once again the team’s most potent offensive force.

Fans around the league are disgusted by his return to baseball. Big deal. They never liked him to begin with. Yankees fans should embrace this! To make the Postseason in 2015, the Bombers need his bat to stay hot.

Just a few months ago, the remaining $61 million left on Rodriguez’s contract was an albatross. For the time being, it seems like money well invested. This will hold true as long as he speaks softly and carries that big stick.

To date, he’s done everything right. Despite all the scrutiny, haters and doubters, he came back and refused to be insubordinate or average. Instead, he’s batted all over the line up, willingly learned how to play first base, and kept his focus on helping the team win games. He’s also determined to be A-Rod again – one of the premier sluggers in the game.

So far, so good.

In 2015, Yankees fans shouldn’t concern themselves so much with A-Rod’s past. When he ties Willie Mays with home run #660 – he’s only 2 HR shy – don’t worry about whether the team publically celebrates or privately pays him a bonus for it.

That’s his concern.

For the team to find success this year, there’s only one thing Yankees fans need Alex Rodriguez to do.

Keep hitting.

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One More Time, Jeter Brings Out The Kid In Me

By Jason Klein

It was supposed to mark the end of my childhood.

Instead, I got thrown right back in the middle of it.

I was a kid again – despite having kids of my own now – all because the kid from Kalamazoo did what he always does…one last time.

Jeter Leaps Following His Walk-Off Hit.

Jeter Leaps Following His Walk-Off Hit.

Thursday night against the Orioles, in his final Yankee Stadium at bat, Derek Jeter poked a bottom of the ninth, game winning RBI single to right field. In the last huge moment of his twenty-year career, Jeter came through again.

Of course he did.

His storied career is loaded with sweet ice cream sundae moments, and this last one will sit near the top like a cherry. Captain Clutch’s latest greatest moment didn’t surprise anyone who’s been paying attention for the past two decades. It certainly didn’t shock me. Instead, it brought me right back to the late-90s, when these types of things happened with regularity.

After securing victory, Jeter leapt high into the Bronx night, the way he used to back when I was in high school. In that moment, his recent injury woes and diminished abilities didn’t matter. The forty candles on his last birthday cake didn’t matter either. In that moment, the only thing that mattered was that Derek Jeter – at least for one night – was a kid again, flying high through the sky, arms raised, like the super hero he’s been for more than half my life.

Teammates Celebrate With Jeter.

Teammates Celebrate With Jeter.

He always seems to save the day for the Yankees.

As teammates flooded the field, so did memories of previous triumphs, so magical and so perfect, you’d think the whole thing was a Hollywood script. Instead, it’s reality, and Jeter’s been the one writing history, one remarkable moment at a time, for the past twenty seasons.

When the spotlight – and camera phone flashes – were brightest, that’s when Jeter would always shine brighter. Thursday night was no exception. His walk-off hit was so reminiscent of past Jeter conquests, you’d swear you saw the Posadas, Pettittes, Bernies, Tinos, Torres and Mos out there celebrating victory with him.

And then they actually were.

Torre, Posada, Rivera & Martinez Wait To Walk Jeter into Retirement.

Torre, Posada, Rivera & Martinez Wait To Walk Jeter into Retirement.

Jeter’s baseball brothers stood behind home plate in the Bronx, quietly watching their former teammate do what he always seems to do…one last time. Then, they too congratulated him and symbolically asked him to join them in retirement.

It was a poignant moment that, no doubt, had Jeter fighting back some tears.

“I think I’ve done a pretty good job of controlling my emotions throughout my career,” he would later say, “but today, I wasn’t able to.”

Neither were those of us watching the drama unfold.

Eliminated from playoff contention the night before, it was the first game of Derek Jeter’s Yankee Stadium career without any meaning.

Jeter Acknowledges The Yankee Stadium Crowd.

Jeter Acknowledges The Yankee Stadium Crowd.

Except, in the end, it really meant so much.

For Jeter, it was the final big moment of a career he would later deem to be “above and beyond anything I’d ever dreamt of.”

For me, it was a chance to be a kid again, one more time, when these types of Jeter moments happened with regularity.

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Sheppard’s Run Ends With Jeter’s Exit. Introduced Major Yankees, Personal Moments

By Jason Klein

Derek Jeter’s career is coming to an end.

When it does, he’ll take Bob Sheppard’s voice with him.

Though Sheppard was silenced for good with his passing in July 2010, Jeter has continued to pay homage to the legendary Yankees Public Address Announcer of nearly 60 years. Since his final game in the booth, back in 2007, a recording of Sheppard’s Jeter introduction has been played prior to each of Derek’s at bats.

A Sheppard Recording is Played Before Every Jeter At Bat.

A Sheppard Recording is Played Before Every Jeter At Bat.

“Now batting for the Yankees…number 2…Derek Jeter…number 2.”

Sheppard’s voice had a mythical quality to it. Goosebumps surfaced with every properly pronounced syllable. Jeter single-handedly extended Sheppard’s Stadium shelf life by seven years – long enough for a new generation of fans to experience him, including my 4 year-old daughter.

For that, I’ll always be grateful for Jeter’s decision to be introduced by the “Voice of God” for as long as he continued playing.

As it turns out, he only has another month to go. Two if we’re lucky.

Sheppard’s style always inspired me. In an industry saturated with big, booming voices, Sheppard preferred to quietly stick to his timeless method of “Clear, Concise, Correct.” Yelling and over-embellishment wasn’t his style. Instead, he took pride in his ability to properly speak the English language.

His voice was ear candy. He made every trip to Yankee Stadium an event. He was synonymous with the Yankees brand, like pinstripes and façade.

His voice was heard before some of the biggest moments in franchise history.

In 2008, I wanted his voice heard before my biggest moment too.

In the winter of 2008, I placed a call to Paul Sheppard, Bob’s son. I was getting married that upcoming July 4th, and wanted the “Voice of Yankee Stadium” to present my wife and I to our guests.

At that time, Sheppard had already announced his final game at Yankee Stadium. His health was deteriorating and his son informed me that he’d honor my request should his condition remain stable.

In late Spring, Sheppard, feeling more like himself, pre-recorded intros for my future wife and me, along with the rest of our wedding party – something that remained a surprise for our guests until our wedding reception was interrupted by:

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Glen Island Harbour Club.”

Heads swiveled, eyes popped, and jaws dropped low. His voice added a layer of historical elegance typically only found at East 161st Street in the Bronx.

After our wedding party entered, my wife and I joined the fun on Sheppard’s cue:

“Now, ladies and gentlemen, please rise, and remove your caps. Please give a warm welcome to, for the first time as husband and wife…the Bride and Groom…Mr. and Mrs. Jason Klein…the Bride and Groom.

[See Video of Intro Below]

Hearing Sheppard announce my name as I entered the room on my wedding day was one of the most surreal experiences of my life.

Only Derek Jeter has had that same pleasure over the past seven years.

When he goes, so does Sheppard’s voice.

We can all enjoy hearing it over the next month.

Two if we’re lucky.

 

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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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Yankees Trio Part Of My Childhood. My Daughter’s Too.

By Jason Klein

“Dewick Jeeta!”  “Annie Peditte!”  “Mo!”

That’s what my three year-old daughter calls them.

I’m just ecstatic she even knows who they are.

Like the iPhone, baseball rosters change every year.  Players come and go, switch teams, retire, or fade into baseball ambiguity as their skills diminish.

Taking my daughter to a game in April 2013.

Taking my daughter to a game in April 2013.

Yet, incredibly, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera have remained a constant within the Yankees Universe for 19 years.

Long enough for me to enjoy them with my daughter.

It’s every father’s dream to share their passion with their children.  Jeter, Pettitte and Rivera were a major part of my childhood.  Remarkably, they are now a part of my daughter’s too.

I’ve watched them compete since 1995, when I was a fifteen year-old sophomore in high school.  I grew up celebrating their success.  Some of my happiest memories were made watching the three of them play, and win, in the Bronx.

Now I’m 33 years-old, married, and have a child.

They’re still playing.

Think about that.  They’re still playing!  Not on a YES Network Yankees Classic from ten years ago.  They’re still out there grinding today (Jeter’s injuries aside), at a high level for the Yankees, in 2013.

It’s a remarkable tribute to their consistency, longevity, and drive to succeed.

When the 2013 season ends, so will Pettitte & Rivera’s careers.  Jeter isn’t far behind.  Together, they’ve authored tons of memorable moments.  Baseball fans of all ages are fortunate to have watched their extraordinary careers.

There may never be another trio quite like “Jeeta, Peditte & Mo.”

When they finally leave the game for good, they’ll take a piece of my childhood with them.

My daughter’s too.

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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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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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