The Last Opening Day for Derek Jeter

I took my son, Jack, on a roadtrip to see the Yankees play the Astros for the last opening day for Derek Jeter.

Jack Collins at Houston Astros opening day 2014

It was a much different atmosphere from the final three games of last season when the Yankees closed things out in Houston.

This time around, the Houston fans showed up, and they were excited.

It didn’t hurt for them that CC Sabathia got lit up and it was 6-0 after the second inning.

At first, I was bummed, but then I figured it’s a long season, so let’s enjoy the game, and that’s what we did.

The Yankees did have a couple potential rallies and at the end of the day, it was a nice experience to be there together with my son for a little bit of history.

Plus, he got to have a lot of junk food.

Jack in the last row of the upper deck in Houston

I’m looking forward to seeing Jeter in Arlington, TX later in the season, and I’ll see at least one home game when I’m in NYC for business in August.

And maybe the very last home game!

My Favorite Yankees Playoff Memory

I’ve been to many Yankees playoff games, both home and away, over the years.

Old Yankee Stadium

Some of the amazing World Series games that I’ve been fortunate enough to see in person were game 2 of the 2000 World Series (Clemens throwing the bat at Piazza), game 5 of the 2001 World Series (dramatic extra inning win for the second night in a row), and game 6 of the 2009 World Series (my only clinch game).

But the game that really sticks out for me is game 2 of the 1995 ALDS against the Mariners.

I was so excited just to see Don Mattingly in the playoffs, and I knew it might be the last time I saw him in pinstripes.

I went to the game with my older brother, and we got some seats out in the lower deck in right field. Andy Pettitte was the starter against Andy Benes. It was cold and drizzling, but the Stadium was so electric as the teams exchanged runs.

As we hit the extra innings, I was nervous like crazy, but also felt good about the Yankees bats. I was hoping Donnie Baseball would hit a homerun to end things. When the clock passed midnight, I knew I was going to be calling in sick to work.

And then the real rains came. Pouring down. I was worried that they might delay until the next day. But they kept on playing.

I can still feel that explosive feeling in my chest when Jim Leyritz connected in the bottom of the fifteenth with a two-run walk-off homerun. I was soaked and ecstatic.

The winning pitcher for that game… Mariano Rivera.

Don’t Be An Asshole, A-Rod

A-Rod,

arod

By Keith Allison from Baltimore, USA (Alex Rodriguez) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Baseball has been good to you. The New York Yankees have been good to you. You’ve made more money in your tainted career than any other baseball player – by a large margin… Yet, you insist on shitting on the the same people and organizations who made you.

Frankly, I don’t care that you did performance enhancing drugs. I assume that most of the good players from your era did.

I get it – you just wanted to get an edge over the competition. You wanted to hit more home runs. You wanted to break records. You wanted to make more money. Who wouldn’t want that? I’m okay with all of that.

What I don’t understand is your defensive tactics. You’ve been busted, but instead of taking it like a man, you’re using the Lance Armstrong Defense.

You’re suing Major League Baseball, the Commissioner of Baseball, a New York hospital, and the Yankee’s Doctors?!

I have low expectations for professional athletes. I don’t expect you to be role models. I don’t expect you to be superheroes. All I want you to do is come out and be your best on the field. Do whatever you want in your personal life – it’s not my business.

But I do have one rule for people – don’t be an asshole. It’s really easy to be an All Star in my league. All you have to do is act like a decent human being. When you start suing the people who paid for your mansion, in an attempt to save face, you’re an asshole.

Unfortunately, you’ll never read this post, or heed this advice. You and Lance Armstrong are cut from the same cloth. Your egos were on steroids long before you ever stuck a needle in your body.

I’m just trying to help you out. Less than a year ago Lance Armstrong faced the same fate. He was under fire for using PEDs, but instead of facing the facts, and admitting to his mistakes, he insisted on protecting his image, and torching anybody that didn’t stick to the narrative.

How did that turn out for Lance? It was a year ago (this month) that all of his sponsors abandoned him. Two months later he was on Oprah doing his predictable confession and apology. His sport, the media, and his own charity cast him out. Do you really want to go that route?

You don’t have to go down like that. Just go away. Take your money and your memories and fade out. Don’t try to save face. Don’t try and prove that you’re right. You have nothing to gain. You’ve already lost all respect and credibility. You’ll never be in the hall of fame. It’s over.

I’m Not Ready to See Mariano Rivera Retire Just Yet

Mariano Rivera had an emotional last appearance at Yankee Stadium last night, as Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter headed to the mound to take him out of the game.

Mariano Rivera is honored before his last regular season game in Arlington, TX

What a great moment in his last appearance at Yankee Stadium.

But it’s not over, yet. There are three more games in Houston to end the season, and I’m hitting all of them to see Mariano before he retires.

Hopefully, he’ll get his wish and playing in the outfield in one of those games.

As of now, Pettitte is scheduled to start on the second to last game. That would be pretty sweet to see Mariano get his last save on Andy’s last start.

Just so you know, Jimmy Dugan says it’s OK to having crying in baseball this weekend.

New York Yankees and September 11

I was in New York City on September 11, 2001, and the experience made me a basket case. I was paranoid and miserable each day I’d go into work when things resumed to “normal” days later.

But one thing that helped bring me back and get my head straight was baseball and the first game back for the Yankees on September 18, 2001.

September 11 and the Yankees

It may sound trivial, but it was such a fearful and freaky time, and I really needed to grasp onto something. I went to the Yankees game the Saturday before 9/11, and that feeling seemed so easy and free.

That was something I desperately wanted back.

At the time, I was fearful of being with any crowds. I no longer took the train home out of Penn Station. Instead, I took a more circuitous route through Hoboken, NJ.

I worked near the Empire State Building, and I would always cross the street to stay away from the concentration of tourists there at lunchtime and to and from work.

The Yankees games. I wanted to go so bad during the playoff run, but I was paralyzed with fear. Even after things calmed down a little in the city, there was the lingering sense of dread, and the anthrax scares didn’t help.

But I ended up getting tickets for game 5 of the World Series.

I wasn’t sure if I would go. It seemed like such a perfect target for the bastard terrorists. I was seriously thinking of giving away my ticket, and then I had this magical feeling.

It was when President Bush threw out the first pitch in game 3 of the 2001 World Series. His confidence gave me confidence.

I have the picture of him throwing that pitch on my wall, and I often look at it and remember that moment as the one that turned things for me. It was when I started getting a little normal again.

That win in game 5 was the therapy I needed. Man, was that a win.

The picture in this post is a t-shirt I still have from that playoff run, as well as special 9/11 Yankees and FDNY caps.

I have been wearing that Yankees cap to every game ever since then. The pin on it is a commemorative one I got from my cousin Pat, who was NYPD at the time.

Sometimes baseball is bigger than just a game.

Jim Bouton on the Secret of Success

Back in 2006, I had former Yankees pitcher, Jim Bouton, come out to my conference to give a speech to the crowd.

Shawn Collins and Jim BoutonI had been a longtime fan of Jim’s book, Ball Four, and I love hearing the first hand accounts of the 1960’s Yankees.

So, it was an exciting thing for me to have Jim come out to speak.

I had a chance to walk around with him before the speech and hear a bunch of old stories. Some were in Ball Four, others were not, but all of them were fun to hear straight from him.

We recorded the entire speech, but he asked us to only share an excerpt. This is one of my favorite parts of his 45 minutes or so that he spoke to us that day.

Video: Jim Bouton on the Secret of Success

Can the Yankees Make the Playoffs?

Yankees vs. Angels

Yankees vs. Angels Wednesday, August, 14 2013

In my last post, I wrote about the Yankees salvaging the season by not loosing to bad teams, and beating the RedSox. But the way the Yankees are playing right now, it looks like they might have a legitimate run at the Wild Card.

The front office doesn’t look like they’re ready to give up on this season yet. They’re still making moves to put the Yankees in contention for the playoffs. By adding Alfonso Soriano and Mark Reynolds to the lineup this Summer, the Yankees are set to finish the season strong.

The two big questions are:

1. When will Derek Jeter return? A lot of baseball analysts are suggesting his season is done. If the Yankees are out of contention it doesn’t make much difference, but if they make a playoff run, having the Captain back in the lineup will be paramount.

2. How long will A-Rod be in the lineup? His situation is precarious. Joe Girardi doesn’t have a problem playing him, but MLB wants him out. His posturing can only by him so much time. Bud Selig is going to bring the hammer down sooner than later. When he does, what impact will that have on the Yankees, who are struggling to get run production this year?

My 2013 Trip to Yankee Stadium

Lucky for me, there’s often a business conference in NYC during the Yankees season. This has made it easy for me to make an annual trip to Yankee Stadium nearly ever year since 2007.

I had great seats to the Yankees/Angels game last week – third base line (about 20 rows up). It was fun watching them destroy Jered Weaver.

Alfonso Soriano is Hot

The Yankees didn’t waste any time getting on the board. They had 2 outs at the bottom of the first, but then managed to load up the bases. Alfonso Soriano walked up to the plate, and dared Weaver to pitch to him. Weaver must not have heard that Soriano knocked out 2 home runs in the previous game, otherwise, he would have walked him. Instead of walking him, and sending 1 guy home, he threw a pitch that resulted in a grand slam.

This was my first (live) major league grand slam! It couldn’t have worked out any better – my team, at home.

Soriano’s next at bat was another home run. He hit a double later in the game. The guy is on fire right now.

A-Rod Still (Mostly) Loved in New York

I didn’t know what to expect when A-Rod stepped up to the plate. I’ve never been a big fan of A-Rod. The PED controversy, combined with (allegedly) selling out other players, has made me like him even less. In fact, I chuckled when I read this, because it sums up how a lot of Yankees fans feel about A-Rod:

A-Rod PED Controversy

People had problems with A-Rod long before he was accused of using steroids.

When he stepped up to the plate, I expected a cold reception, but to my surprise more than half the fans cheered him on. It was fun to see the mixed reaction among fans. There were people in front of me jeering, and others were cheering. When A-Rod got a hit, everybody seemed to forget his problems. When he was called out, the boos were definitely louder.

I don’t care how well he plays – I’m not going to cheer for him again.

The Day We Met Freddy ‘Sez’ Schuman on the Subway

One of my favorite fixtures for many years at Yankee Stadium was Freddy ‘Sez’ Schuman. Anybody who went to games over the past two decades had to have seen Freddy going around with his trademark signs and banging on his frying pan.

Freddy on Opening Day in 2009

On Memorial Day in 2010, I brought my daughter Lexie to the Stadium.

Usually, I would drive to the game from Jersey, but since it was a holiday, I figured traffic would be nasty. So we took NJ Transit into Penn Station and then hopped on the subway to the south Bronx.

It was an enjoyable, sunny day with the Yankees beating up the Indians 11-2.

On the way home, I saw Freddy on the subway and asked if he would pose for a photo with my daughter, and he happily complied.

Lexie meets Freddy Sez on the Subway

Lexie thought that was the coolest thing, and we put the picture in a frame in her room.

Later in the season, I met up with my brother at a bar before the game and he asked how Lexie ended up on the cover of Freddy’s newsletter. I thought he was joking, and then he took it out of his pocket and showed me.

Freddy Sez newsletter with Lexie

Apparently, Freddy’s people found the picture on Flickr after I posted it and used it on the cover.

As you can imagine, Lexie thought that was extra cool. I was sure to grab a few extra copies for her before the game.

Sadly, Freddy died less than five months later. I miss seeing him at the games, and it makes that picture all the more special.

RIP Freddy.

The Yankees that I Use to Know

I became a Yankees fan in the late 80’s. Back then there was little to celebrate. They had a few star players on their roster during the late 80s and early 90s, but the best finish they had from 1987-1992 was 4th place.

Back then there were only two divisions in each league, with 7 teams each (AL East/West  and NL East/West) so 4th place was a middle of the road performance. In 1990 they hit rock bottom and finished last in the division. To make matters worse, the RedSox won the division that year. The stretch from 1982-1993 was arguably the worst in Yankees history (in the post Babe Ruth era).

I became a fan when there was nothing to celebrate – except their winning legacy. It was fun to cheer on All Stars like Don Mattingly, Willie Randolph, Rickey Henderson, and Dave Righetti, but team performance is far more important than any individual player’s stats – just ask any Cleveland Cavaliers fan.

2013 reminds me of when I first became a Yankees fan. There’s not a lot of hope left this season. With an aging roster and injuries holding the team back, it’s hard to imagine them getting hot and making the playoffs. My expectations are low. I just want to see them give the Red Sox a hard time, not get swept by shitty teams, and see Mo go out on top in Houston at the end of the season.

No doubt the Yankees have a tough road ahead, but they will recover and win another World Series. Seasons like this give me a little perspective – what would it be like if I were a Cubs fan? 105 years without a World Series is a lot harder to deal with than a few bad years.

Onward.

Interview with Former New York Yankees Pitcher Jim Bouton

Jim Bouton was a 21-game winner for the Yankees in 1963 and a delegate for George McGovern in 1972. He’s mastered ballroom dancing and starred in his own sitcom. But in the three decades since playing with the Bronx Bombers, the renegade knuckleballer still hadn’t been invited to Old-Timer’s Day at the Stadium. Until 1998.

Jim Bouton 63 Topps cardAt the 1998 Old-Timer’s Day, Bouton stood alongside other Yankee alums and acknowledged the cheers (and jeers) from the fans. It marked the end of one of the most ridiculous baseball grudges in history; the one the Yanks had against Bouton after the publication of his pitch-and-tell baseball expose, Ball Four in 1970.

How did that all come about? In June of 1998, Bouton’s son Michael penned a guest column in the New York Times. He wrote of the tragedy of losing his sister Laurie in a car accident the previous year, and how Old-Timers Day holds some sort of healing power for wounded families.

The column must have touched a nerve in the Bronx, because Bouton was finally invited back to Yankee Stadium, 30 years after his last Yankee win, and just a year after his retirement from Momma’s Pizza of the Albany Twilight League, his final, semi-pro farewell to baseball.

In the spring of 1998, Bouton sat down with me for an interview for a zine on NYC I was publishing at the time. Here is how it went.

Shawn Collins — What’s your take on the whole Clinton Sexgate thing?

Jim Bouton — Well, if Clinton can run the country this well and maintain such popularity, even if he uses questionable judgement in his private life, then maybe we should make adultery a prerequisite for the office. (Pause) I guess my point is this – adultery doesn’t really affect anybody except Bill Clinton’s relationship with his wife. But the witch-hunt affects all of us.

First of all, because it discourages other people from running for public office who have anything in their past that they might be embarrassed about. And secondly, it establishes the precedent that the government can simply go after people. It’s sexual McCarthyism.

SC — Do you think, as Hillary Clinton said, there is some sort of “right wing conspiracy” going on here?

JB — Oh, I don’t think it’s a conspiracy where they sat down and said here’s how we can get him. But they’re certainly enjoying communicating with each other. You know – (Kenneth) Starr and (Linda) Tripp and Paula Jones’ attorneys, etc. etc

SC — Would you want to change anything about how you were raised?

JB — No, I wouldn’t change anything.

SC — Did you follow those kinds of principles with your own kids…however you were raised?

JB — No. I don’t think I was as good a father to my kids as my father was to me, because I was traveling a lot. I would say that I was more focused on my career — be it either as a baseball player or a TV sportscaster — than my father was. I had a job that took me away from my family and my dad didn’t.

SC — If you had it to do over, would you change it?

JB — I might. Yeah, looking back on it, I wished I had spent more time with my kids. I’ve always had a great relationship with my kids. I’ve always felt like I was a good father and I did the best I could.

SC — Who would you say is the most important person in your life?

JB — This sounds like a “10 Best . . .” interview (laughs). The most important person in my life? Right now, it’s my wife.

My American Legion baseball coach gave me a chance when nobody else would. My dad was always there to encourage me, when I was a kid and I was sitting on the bench in high school. Johnny Sain, who was the pitching coach of the Yankees, who taught me a lot about pitching and how to live your life. Leonard Schechter, the guy who edited Ball Four, taught me a lot about writing, living.

SC — So, I guess you would consider yourself a Democrat?

JB — No, not really. I voted for Ralph Nader. He’s not a Democrat.

SC — So you’re not affiliated then?

JB — I’m not affiliated with any party.

SC — Well then, what’s your perspective on the issue of capital punishment?

JB — I’m against capital punishment. I don’t see that as a Republican or a Democratic idea. I’m against it for moral and for political and for practical reasons. I think when we kill somebody, we say that it’s all right to kill people under certain circumstances, because we’re killing them. Everybody else is going to have their own opinion on who should be killed and who shouldn’t. So it’s a bad precedent, number one.

Number two – once you’ve killed somebody — if they really are a deranged enough person, a twisted enough person to have committed murder — once you’ve killed them you’ve lost the opportunity to learn anything about them.

SC — OK. You’ve said that once in a while you tried the “greenies” (pep pills). Did you ever touch that kind of stuff after you got out of baseball?

JB — Yeah, it was when I was playing baseball.

SC — Did you ever have any bad experience with them, or any great experience?

JB — No, the experience I had with “greenies” I already wrote about in Ball Four.

SC — So that was the extent of it there?

JB — Yeah, I tried pep pills, I tried a couple of pep pills and I didn’t like them. They just made me jumpy.

SC — OK, here’s a little hypothetical thing for you. If your house was to catch on fire and after saving everybody, saving your loved ones . . .

JB — I’m not one for saving momentos. My trophies are in boxes. I don’t live in the past; I live in the present. I’d try to grab my calendar and my laptop so I wouldn’t lose my files.

SC — So you don’t even wear a World Series ring or anything?

JB — No.

SC — Did you pass them on to your kids or something, or do you just have it boxed away somewhere?

JB — They’re in a safety deposit box.

SC — Do you have any biggest disappointment in your life?

JB — Biggest disappointment in my life? I don’t have too many disappointments. I’ve been very fortunate at this point. I would separate that from tragedy, including my daughter. Awful tragedy.

SC — What happened with that?

JB — Well, that’s something I don’t want to talk about. It’s too recent and too raw. I just didn’t want you to write that Jim Bouton says he doesn’t have any disappointments and didn’t mention his daughter. I just wouldn’t put that in a disappointment category. You know what I mean? I hate to get into the notion of who’s your best this and who’s your best that. It’s too superficial.

SC — I just thought in terms of any goals or anything.

JB — I have goals, but when I set out to do something I focus on the process, not the result. I do things for their own sake, not because what it’s going to get me, how much money it might make me, or that I might win as a result of it. I do it because I want to do it.

SC — OK, so what kind of stage are you at with the screenplay that you’ve mentioned?

JB — Just at the treatment level.

SC — What is it going to be about?

JB — It’s a romantic comedy.

SC — Is it autobiographical?

JB — No, but there are some aspects of me in there. It’s about a knuckleball pitcher that gets kidnapped by the Chinese, who want to win a gold medal in the Olympics, so they kidnap this knuckleball pitcher.

SC — You making that up?

JB — No, that’s really the story. Sounds like it’s made up, doesn’t it?

SC — Is this going to be your first script?

JB — No, actually the first script I ever wrote became the pilot for a TV sitcom.

SC — Oh, that show that you were on?

JB — Yeah, Ball Four. And the second script I ever wrote became the third episode. There were six episodes. We aired four before it got cancelled.

SC — Were you happy with the way those came out?

JB — I didn’t think my script writing was that great. I said to the producer, “How good is this show going to be if I can write the script? I’ve never written a script before.” And he said, “It’s no worse than the other stuff that we’re getting. It’s no worse than the rest of the stuff that’s on television.” And unfortunately he was right.

SC — Are there any plans for a 30th Anniversary Edition (of Ball Four)?

JB — Yeah, I’ll probably do a Millennium Edition. It first came out in 1970, and I did updates in ’80 and ’90, so I’ll probably do one for the Millennium.

SC — Do you think there will be a big stir about it again when it comes out?

JB — I hope so.

SC — Are you working on anything besides the screenplay? Any new books?

JB — Ah, no. I wrote a novel three years ago called Strike Zone. I enjoyed that.

SC — Did you ever encounter a situation where you thought something was really funny, but somebody took it wrong and got pissed off at you?

JB — Well, I thought Ball Four was funny and some people got pissed off at me for it, so there’s an instance where something I thought was funny somebody else didn’t like. Again, distance is the key. I think that people that were upset about Ball Four got less upset as time went by.

SC — Do you consider yourself a fan of any team now?

JB — No.

SC — So you don’t really follow it?

JB — No, I don’t follow it that closely. I couldn’t tell you which guy is playing for which team. My only interest in baseball over the last 10 or 15 years has been playing it myself.

SC — Were you a fan of the Yankees when you were growing up in Rochelle Park, NJ?

JB — No, no I didn’t like the Yankees. I was a fan of the Giants, who played in the Polo Grounds. I rooted for the Giants, the old Giants, before they moved to San Francisco in the days of Monte Irvin, Whitey Lockman.

SC — Did you ever have a chance to meet any of those guys after you got into baseball?

JB — Yeah, actually one of my heroes when I was a kid was Sal Maglie, who became my pitching coach with the Seattle Pilots.

SC — Was that exciting to you to be sort of a peer with him, and meeting him for the first time like that?

JB — It was, until I got to know him as a pitching coach. And then, to me, there were two Sal Maglies – the one I thought so highly of as a kid, and the one I couldn’t understand how he got to be a pitching coach. Two different ones, you know?

SC — Did you ever consider going into coaching?

JB — Nope, never.

SC — Who do you think makes the best coaches? Do you think they have to be former players?

JB — I think a coach has to be a good teacher and there aren’t too many players who are good teachers. I think the best teachers are people who have to work hard at it.

The best batting coaches, for example, have never been star players. Charlie Lau, and you know, guys like that. They’re the batting coaches. Ruth was never a good batting coach. Mickey Mantle was never a good batting coach. Whitey Ford was never a good pitching coach.

Occasionally, you run into somebody like Johnny Sain who was a great pitcher and a great pitching coach, but that’s rare. You know, most nuclear scientists are not teaching science. Most ballet dancers are not teaching ballet. The ones who are teaching ballet are the ones who had some ballet, but did not achieve greatness.

SC — So do you think that once they achieve greatness, they can’t really relate as well to the people who are just learning?

JB — I think that’s part of it. They can’t relate and a lot of them don’t know how they do it. You know when Yogi Berra was named batting coach for the Yankees, I saw his first clinic that he conducted in the batting cage during spring training. He couldn’t explain what he did. He started saying, “Well, your hands have to be…ah, forget your hands. Your feet, make sure that your feet are, um…because when the ball comes, you turn and you have your hips…ahh just watch me!”

He was a perfect example of a great hitter, but not a great teacher. Because you have to not only know what to do, but you have to know how to explain it to somebody else.

SC — Do you think that you would be a good teacher at anything that you don’t think that you’re great at?

JB — Umm . . . I’ve been helping some beginners with ballroom dancing.

SC — And that’s easier than teaching somebody to pitch a knuckleball?

JB — Yeah.

SC — So, do you think that I’m more likely to do become a ballroom dancer than to pitch a knuckleball?

JB — Yeah, ballroom dancing is easier than throwing a knuckleball. And you do a lot better with girls. I’ll tell you, if young men understood how the ability to dance would help them with young women, there would be a lot of people dropping out of baseball and learning ballroom dancing.

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