Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I was lucky enough to sit down for lunch with retired Yankee pitcher Tommy John this weekend.  What I really enjoy about spending time with him is being able to hear the stories that he tells.  One of my favorite from his arsenal is the following about late Yankee owner George Steinbrenner.

Tommy decided to bet Steinbrenner $50 that he couldn’t name all of the states in the United States.  Steinbrenner took the bet, and Tommy kindly handed him a piece of paper – with numbers 1-51.  When it was completed, Tommy took Steinbrenner’s $50, explaining there were only 50 states, and that Puerto Rico is not one of them!

Another very cute story he shared was when he introduced his family, including his young daughter at the time, to Joe DiMaggio.  “Do you know who this is?” Tommy John asked his toddler daughter.  “This is Joe DiMaggio, one of the best players to play the game.”

“That’s not Joe DiMaggio!” she exclaimed.  “That’s Mr. Coffee!”

And a personal story that I witnessed:

I was watching Tommy John coach the Bridgeport Bluefish a few years ago (part of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball and not part of MLB) while they played their arch-rivals the Long Island Ducks.  Truthfully, the umpires were making some really, really bad calls that night.  After a handful of these, Tommy came running out of the dugout to argue a play that the umpire called a home-run, which had clearly drifted into foul territory.  I couldn’t hear what was said, but I observed a heated, yet controlled exchange between the two men.  Tommy turned to walk back toward the dugout, and then stopped and returned to the umpire.  He leaned in and very calmly and quietly said a quick sentence.

You could see the red crawl up from the umpire’s chest protector to his neck and he very loudly and enthusiastically threw Tommy out of the game.  Since I know Tommy does not curse, I was very curious what he could have said to get thrown out.  It is amazing how powerful simple words can be.  Tommy simply told him, “That is why you will never be an umpire in affiliated baseball.” 

(Tommy John is a retired southpaw in MLB with 288 career victories.  Throughout his 26 years in the majors, he played for the Indians, Dodgers, White Sox, Angels, Athletics and Yankees.  You can follow him on twitter @TJsBullpen and read his weekly blog at

Friday, July 22, 2011

Paying to Play: How I Met Alec Baldwin and Chevy Chase on the Same Night

View from the 18th row before the show
This is something going on in sports for as long as I can remember – the idea that you pay a premium for better seats.  This is true at any stadium or sporting event and recently has become the norm at concert events.  But it wasn’t always that way.
Back in the day, concerts were sold at a first come, first serve basis.  If you were among the first to get through to Ticketmaster on the phone or were first on line at a retail outlet, you got the best seats.  You could get seats on the floor and even in the first row this way.  Because of this phenomenon, scalpers made a living getting on line at a Ticketmaster outlet and purchasing tens of sets of tickets at once.  Then, they would list them in the classified section of a newspaper at a 100-200% markup.
I am not sure if the artists or Ticketmaster caught on to this, but they started to section off the best seats and sell them at a premium.  Now in order to get front row seats, you must pay a premium, which can range from 100% - 1500% more than the other seats. 
While this really stinks for most of us mortals that can’t afford a $2,000 per seat price tag for front row seats, it does encourage celebrities to attend shows as members of the audience.  And, if you are lucky enough to get anywhere near the $2K seats, you can rub elbows with them.
Alec Baldwin and I before the concert
At the Paul McCartney concert at Yankee Stadium, tickets ranged from as low as $50 to as high as $2000.  With a generous grant from a close friend of mine, I was able to secure seats for $650, which put me on the floor in the 18th row, center stage.  While the “package” didn’t provide much more than a fantastic location (the front row seat package gave you admission to the sound check and a VIP reception before the show), what it did do was put me in the same section as the people that paid top prices for tickets.  These people included NYC Mayor Bloomberg, actors Alec Baldwin and Chevy Chase and Paul McCartney’s son.

Meeting Chevy Chase before the concert
My guess is that folks like this feel more comfortable seeing the concert from the seats (as opposed to from backstage) because they are with a very select group of fans.  I got to speak to both Alec and Chevy and got photos with them.  Both were receptive to meeting a fan and taking photos.  My wife spoke briefly to McCartney’s son, who was also very polite.  While I never got to speak to Mayor Bloomberg, I observed him conversing with a lot of the fans that were at the show.  He had a huge security team with him, all in suits with ear pieces that roamed the entire section for most of the show. 
My wife and I meeting Alec Baldwin
The moral of the story is this: even if you can’t afford the really expensive seats, if you can secure seats near the prime sections, you will increase your chances of meeting a celebrity.  Plus, you will have a fantastic view of the show.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Knight at the Cathedral

Paul McCartney carries an American flag at his Yankee Stadium concert on July 15, 2011.
Friday night (July 15th) I went with my wife and two friends to Yankee Stadium to see Paul McCartney.  I find it very interesting that big musicians – particularly non-American ones – choose to play in baseball stadiums.
Historically, Paul McCartney is significant in regard to playing at baseball stadiums in New York.   The Beatles opened their second world tour at Shea Stadium in the summer of 1965.  It was the first time a concert was played at a major league stadium and it broke both attendance and revenue records on that single stop.   It was so successful that the Beatles did an encore performance at Shea the following summer.
When Billy Joel did his “Last Play at Shea” in 2008, Paul McCartney came out to help close the concert to thunderous applause.  There was an amazing feeling knowing that I was watching one of the legendary Beatles close down the stadium.
While I loved the concert at Yankee Stadium last week, I felt it contrasted from Billy Joel’s at Shea Stadium.  Joel is a native New Yorker, and has grown up in and around the tri-state area.  He knows the game and knows the culture of the fans.  He chose his music well – as well as his special guests, including Tony Bennett , a fellow  New Yorker who sang New York State of Mind, and Garth Brooks, who had a brief stint playing for the San Diego Padres, and came out in a Mets uniform.  These guys know the culture of the game and of the fans.  I don’t know if McCartney did.

McCartney on stage at Yankee Stadium.

While McCartney’s concert, energy, voice and staging were second to none, there was one big thing he missed – he was at Yankee Stadium.  And he just didn’t do his homework on that.  Yes, he hit on the obvious when he stated, “Who is this Derek Jeter guy?  Someone told me he has more hits than me!”  I will admit that was witty and well timed. 
However, twice during the concert 55,000 or so fans started a roll call, chanting “Paul McCartney!” just like they do for Yankee players during the first inning of any given game at the stadium.  The problem is, Sir Paul had that dumbfounded English look on his face – he had no idea what the crowd was doing and made no acknowledgement to the fans for the distinct honor.  I don’t fault him – he is a Brit, and how would he know?  But then again, shouldn’t you know your audience?
My wife immediately tweeted to Nick Swisher, and requested that he school McCartney on proper protocol.  As a distinguished member of rock royalty in a baseball cathedral, you are expected to know protocol and act accordingly.  This is where Sir Paul fell short.  My advice to him is this: find out about the culture of your venue before you play there.  Here’s hoping he does before he hits the very classic, very historic Wrigley Field on August 1st.

Friday, July 8, 2011

What Makes the Game of Baseball Great

Two players from the 2011 Hudson Valley Renegades and their manager.

What makes the game of baseball great?  The players right?  A formula of correct players, with just the right amount of talent on the right team in the right city at the right time makes the game exciting.  That’s why MLB has an All Star Game – a combination of the best players in each league playing a game against each other is something that fans clamor to see.

But how do the best players make their way onto your favorite teams?  Yes, hard work and practice – but many players that work hard and practice don’t make it to the big leagues.  Why do we see the players we see on the major league level? 

A hardly recognized component in the process is the scout.  Sure, there are major league scouts – the kind that big summer movies are made of.  But there are scouts that go to the game at the beginning of the filtering process, that is, high school and college games.  I had the distinct pleasure of meeting one of them last week at the Professional Scout Hall of Fame induction at Dutchess Stadium in the Hudson Valley, NY.

Jim Howard (far left) watches the unveiling of his Professional Scout Hall of Fame plaque with representatives from the Goldklang group.

Jim Howard has been a scout for 22 years.  22 years!!  He spent his first 19 years in and out of various high school and college games, and his last 3 on the pro circuit.  Talk about hanging in there and paying your dues!  In speaking with him, what struck me most were the sacrifices he made and how generous his family is with their support.

Scouts spend the majority of their time on the road.  With expansive territories and multiple high schools, community colleges and colleges, scouts rack up tens of thousands of travel miles per year, often at the expense of spending time with their families. 

His high school sweetheart and current wife, Colleen, has supported Jim’s endeavors throughout.  She watched him in his four years as a minor leaguer and then transition from player to assessor.  The time on the road was not easy on Jim, Colleen or their two children, but he figured out how to strike a balance between the two. 

Jim described any location he had to scout as “local” if it fell within about 300 miles of his Albany, NY area home.  This meant that for any player he was scouting from Boston to New Jersey, Jim would make the drive home late that evening so that he could make sure to spend a few minutes with his family in the mornings, often seeing the kids off to school. 

It was really sweet to see Jim’s whole extended family at his induction to the Professional Scout Hall of Fame, including his wife, his two children, his brother, his mom and several other extended family members.  After the ceremony, we all attended the Hudson Valley Renegades game.

Jim's family checking out his plaque.

I sat with Jim in the stands and watched him as he watched the Renegades pummel the Aberdeen Ironbirds 8-0 with a beer in hand.  He looked at me, grinned and said, “This is the first game I have ever watched while drinking a beer.”  Cheers to you Jim Howard!

(The Professional Scouts Hall of Fame is brought to you by the Goldklang Group, a sports entertainment management and consulting firm. They own four professional baseball teams throughout the US.  You can see Jim Howard's entire induction ceremony here:

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Booze, television and Posada

With all this talk and controversy about Jorge Posada, I thought I might share my autograph experience with the Yankee DH.  It was in 2008, and I had gotten tickets to YES Network’s Centerstage program, to watch the taping of the Posada interview.
I have been to many Centerstage tapings in the past.  The format is rather simple - Michael Kay generally asks most of the questions to the guest, and some are taken from the audience later in the show.  What is very interesting about Centerstage (and probably about any show) is what is left in the final edit of the show for the tv audience to see and what is not.  Being at the taping live versus watching the show on television gives a fan two different perspectives. So if you are in New York, I suggest you get tickets to one of the tapings and see firsthand what I mean.
What I was most impressed about during the taping was how much Posada talked about family.  Much of that was put on the final tv show.  One of the things he talked a lot about was his son, and how difficult it was dealing with his craniosynostosis.  You can watch that portion of the interview here:  Posada’s wife Laura is often panned to during that segment.
After the interview, most fans wanted to get an autograph.  Most of them brought baseballs, bats or jerseys.  My wife Paige, who was in the wine business at the time, discovered a bottle of wine called Jorge Cabernet by Longball Cellars.  Most of the wines are produced in California and support charities of the players they feature.  A portion of the proceeds from Jorge Cabernet goes to the Jorge Posada Foundation which helps children and families affected by craniosynostosis.   She had purchased two bottles for me (well, one for me and one for my brother).  I had brought both of bottles and a sharpie to the taping in the hope to get them signed.
I was on a long line of people to get an autograph.  Posada signed for a few minutes, but his agent decided it was time for him to leave.  He was not going to sign any more items.  I caught the agent’s eye and held up the bottles for him to see.  He amended his statement, with, “except those two bottles.”
Needless to say, I got both of them autographed.  I keep one in my collection and sent the other to my brother for his collection.  Since then, my wife has discovered a sangria from Spain called Cinco Anillos that also supports the Jorge Posada Foundation.
I learned from this experience that just like everybody else, family means a lot to Posada.  That makes him sort of a regular guy, with many regular issues like everyone else.  He has family issues, health issues and sometimes work and boss issues.
Another thing I learned from this experience is the value in getting to know your favorite players’ passions.  In this case, I stood out among the throngs of fans because Posada understood I went the extra mile to help support a cause that means a lot to him.  When looking for an autograph, you can increase your chances by doing the same.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Baseball’s Fashion Police

So I’m not one to really talk much about fashion, especially when it comes to going to a ballgame.  Jeans and a tee shirt are my usual attire, sometimes shorts, or if it is directly after work, I am wearing a shirt and tie.  I really don’t pay much attention to what other people wear – I’m there for the game – at least most of the time.

However, sometimes a person’s outfit just stands out making me wonder if they own a mirror or have any self respect.  Here are my favorites so far this year:

The Ugly Christmas Sweater Guy – Citifield, April 20, 2011

Who knew the Mets had an Ugly Christmas Sweater Day in April?  Too bad this is the only guy that got the memo.  We spotted this outfit in the will-call ticket office at Citifield.  My wife requested his photo and he happily obliged.  Here is my salute to you Ugly Sweater Guy at a Baseball Game in April!

The Yankee Amazon Camden Yards, April 23, 2011

In my quest to find an interestingly dressed fan on a visit to Camden Yards, my friend Kathryn happened to come across this female Yankee fan at the Oriole game.  Since I am not an expert at women’s fashion, I will quote Kathryn on this photo.  “This girl has paired the cutoff jean skirt, silver glitter tights and jersey look with a matching silver belt AND gladiator sandals...I need the number to her stylist...ASAP please...”  I also would like to add that she tucked the Yankee jersey into her skirt.  That’s hot.

Pants on the Ground Yankee Stadium, April 15, 2011

It was a nasty, wet 40 degree evening, and my wife and I were walking from the train station to the Yankee game when we came across this guy.  “Pants on the Ground,” who obviously doesn’t own a belt, was changing his shirt as he walked to the game.  As we walked behind him, we sang the “Pants on the Ground” song, but he was too cool to pull them up.  So here he is in all his glory: grey underwear with his entire right cheek exposed.

So folks, when you go to a ballgame, wear a belt, check yourself in the mirror and leave your ugly Christmas sweater at home.  Unless, of course, you too wish to be featured in a future blog!  

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Day with the Babe

Today, April 27th, is Babe Ruth Day.  No, it isn’t his birthday, and it’s not the anniversary of his death.  It is the second to last time that the Bambino visited the House that Ruth Built.  On this day in 1947, Babe Ruth was honored by the Yankees, less than a year after he was diagnosed with throat cancer.  He addressed the crowd, many of whom were members of youth baseball leagues.

This past weekend, I was able to go to the Babe Ruth Museum, just a few blocks from Camden Yards.  Seeing the small accommodations of where this giant personality began was humbling.  His famous words highlighted one wall of the Sports Legends Museum, also in Baltimore outside of Camden Yards.  He said, “I swing big, with everything I got.  I hit big or I miss big.  I like to live as big as I can.”

I visited the Babe’s gravesite on my lunch hour today.  It is a beautiful spring day in Westchester, New York – sunny, warm and breezy.  I expected to see other fans there, but I found myself alone.
As I stood there looking at the monument that marked his grave, I wondered if anyone else realized that today was Babe Ruth Day.  Why didn’t I see any other fans while I was there?

I would have liked to have met the Babe.  I would have liked to have known who he was as a player and as a person.  I guess I came as close as I ever could by spending some time with him today.