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.

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

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.

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.

Gary Collins Rests in Peace at the Old Yankee Stadium

My Dad, Gary Collins, passed on his love for the Yankees to me from the time I was a little kid. Same with my brother.

That’s him looking like Eddie Munster as a kid.

Gary Collins as a kid

So, when he died on June 12, 2002, my brother and I decided to spread his ashes in places he loved.

One of those was the old Yankee Stadium.

We went on a Stadium tour with little baggies of his ashes stashed in strategic places. He was laid to rest in the home dugout, the warning track, Monument Park, all over the place.

This wasn’t so long after 9/11 and the subsequent anthrax scare, and we were sprinkling an unusual powder around the Stadium, so we were a little afraid that we’d get arrested, but we escaped without trouble.

For the many games we went to at the Stadium after that, it was a plus that we could have some drinks with our Dad and visit him as we cheered on the Yanks.

This made it all extra emotional to see the old Stadium coming down.

Old Yankee Stadium Being Torn Down

But it’s great to see kids playing there these days on that hallowed ground.

I gave our Yankees a mention in my eulogy to him

“Just a few days ago, I came to terms with the fact that I would never again have a mid-day chat with him about up and coming guys on the Yankees.

This past week, we would have been talking about how Nick Johnson is coming along, and how great it was that this kid Marcus Thames jacked out a homerun on his first-ever Major League pitch.”

Among the things we included with him to be cremated were an autographed baseball from David Wells (one of his favorite players around that time), a Yankees World Series 1998 baseball cap, and the 2002 Yankees media guide that I’d bought him that year for Father’s Day and was never able to give him.

We also got a Yankee related tribute for him with an ad in the outfield at Mickey Mantle Field in Commerce, OK.

In memory of John Gary Collins

You can see it out in right field below.

Grenade in the outfield

I look forward to my next visit to the Stadium, so I can peek over to where he still gets to be at the ballpark every day.

We Saw the Last Two Games of the Yankees at the Rangers

My fellow New York Baseball Fan, Jeremy, and I took a roadtrip last Wednesday morning from Austin to Arlington, TX to see the Yankees in their last two games at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington this season.

The first night (Wednesday, July 24) we got some seats up in the “all you can eat” section in upper right field.

All You Can Eat seats at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington

Good view and the ticket includes all you can eat hot dogs, nachos, sodas, peanuts, popcorn, and grilled chicken sandwiches. Nice deal for a game where we got caught up at Happy Hour and didn’t have time for dinner.

That game was a loss with absolutely dead bats – it didn’t help that the Rangers had just picked up Matt Garza and he pitched well. Still a fun night, despite the 3-1 loss.

After the game, we walked over to Cowboys Stadium to check out the semi-finals for the CONCACAF Gold Cup (soccer) with Mexico playing Panama.

The ticket office was closed, so we couldn’t get in, but we ended up stumbling up on Mariano Rivera, as he headed in to see his Panama team.

Very cool to see him, and we managed not to be knuckleheaded fans trying to chase him down for a picture (I sort of wish I did).

I was feeling good about the final game with Kuroda on the mound, though it certainly wasn’t a lock, since he was facing Derek Holland.

As we got in the stadium, we heard “Enter Sandman” playing and were thinking that was not cool that they were song-jacking Mariano. It turned out they were seeing him off with a nice ceremony for his last regular season game in Arlington.

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

It was a cool thing, as they brought in John Wetteland and Joe Nathan, and presented Mariano with some cowboy boots emblazoned with the Yankees logo, as well as a black cowboy hat.

We had a great view in some VIP Infield Seats near the Yankees dugout. By the way – wow, you can get amazing seats for good prices at this stadium. These cost $120 each.

VIP infield seats for the Yankees

The game was a gem, though stressful with the lack of scoring (scoreless through the 5th).

Around the middle of the game, we ran up to get some lunch, which ended up being a Flintstone’s sized turkey leg. Delicious.

Turkey leg at the Rangers game

It was a relief when the Yankees tacked on a couple runs, and fans of the Yankees and Rangers were crossing their fingers for a save from Mariano. And we got it! The last one that will happen in the regular season for Rivera in Arlington.

Mariano Rivera's final save in Arlington, TX

What a fantastic way to end the series, and a fun 48 hours of baseball and beers.

Time to start scouting out some tickets for the final series of the season in Houston. That would be cool to see Mariano’s last save ever (in the regular season – hoping for more in the playoffs).

Heading to Arlington to See a Couple Yankees Games

We’re heading north to Arlington, TX from Austin this morning to see the final two games of the four game series between the Yankees and Rangers.

Rangers Ballpark in Arlington

I haven’t seen the Yankees play since last August in the Bronx, so I am excited to get back to a game.

I’m most looking forward to seeing some nice swings from Cano, a healthy Jeter, and a close or two from Rivera.

Robinson Cano playing the Texas Rangers

Derek Jeter playing the Texas Rangers

Mariano Rivera shutting down the Texas Rangers

Stay tuned for a roadtrip recap.

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