Archives For cousin tony

I’m just wrapping up a rare six day, summer vacation back home in Niagara Falls. It is unusual that I’m home for six days, period and especially so before the middle of July. But, it’s not every year that I not only have the opportunity to stand in a wedding, but serve as the best man. I had the pleasure of doing just that on Saturday, as my best friend Anthony married his fiancé Vincenza.
Especially lately, it seems that every time I return home I am just showered with well-wishes. I can’t really put in to words how much this means to me. From longtime friends and family to friends of family and complete strangers – I’m constantly approached by people who offer words of congratulations and encouragement. To be honest, it’s a little awkward for me at times because I really don’t allow myself to think that I’ve accomplished anything, and there are still so many feats I want to tackle in my career. Regardless, I am certainly in the process of living out my dream in the world’s greatest city, and I am so appreciative of the support I receive from back home. I am proud to be a Niagara Falls, New York native and I will never forget where I came from.

Back to this past week – certainly the wedding provided a number of unforgettable moments. I wrote a little note about it on Facebook, which you can read below. A big congrats to my big bro Anth, and welcome to the family Vincenza!

The Yankees won the 2009 World Series. I was living in a spacious one bedroom apartment in downtown Wilkes Barre, Penn. and of course the Bronx Bombers had just defeated the other popular team in Northeastern Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Phillies. Things were going well at work. I was about to start dating a girl. Life was good.

I logged on to Steiner Sports’ website and saw that they were holding a special autograph event in Westchester. The date would feature appearances from a number of baseball stars, including Yankees’ Manager Joe Girardi and third baseman Alex Rodriguez.

Wait, A-Rod?! He never holds a public signing. Immediately I called my best friend, my cousin Anthony back home in Niagara Falls. We first bonded over collecting sports memorabilia and have been best friends ever since. The event was on a Saturday. So we devised a plan: he would drive from the Falls to me Friday night. We’d wake up Saturday morning, go to the show and come back. Depending on how he felt, he would crash with me Saturday or drive right back to Western New York.

The night before he arrived, I made a trip to Wegmans to stock up on groceries. There were a few new additions in the magazine section, including a special edition Sports Illustrated commemorating the World Series championship.
I picked up two and continued on with my shopping. When I got home, I called Anth again and the idea dawned on me. I’ve never attempted a “team piece.” I truly lived through this championship, attending the most games in a season at the Stadium in my life including the division clincher and Game 6 of the American League Championship Series. Plus I was about to attend an event where both the manager and one of the star players, who rarely makes such appearances, would be signing autographs.

So I set out on a mission: I wanted all 10 lineup starters, the three starting pitchers, the closer and the manager to sign this magazine.

Rodriguez would be the first piece to the puzzle. We left NEPA on a crisp fall Saturday morning in November. There wasn’t a ray of sunshine in sight but it didn’t matter. The drive to Westchester was relatively easy and we immediately parked and made our way inside, picking up our tickets for the autographs and sitting in line for A-Rod. The third baseman was on time and in a jovial mood. The line actually moved slower than normal because Rodriguez took his time with each person. You could tell how much the championship and the love from the fans affected him.

I walked up and handed over my Sports Illustrated. A-Rod had yet to see the issue and instead of signing my piece, picked it up and started thumbing through the magazine! He held up the line for a few minutes (seemed like an eternity standing there in front of him) as he turned to his handlers to show them various photos, including this one.
My cousin Anth snapped this photo, he signed the piece along with my cousin’s photo (which he also marveled at for a bit) and we went on our way.
Almost seven years (and 11 magazine signatures) later New Yorkers will now bid adieu to the much maligned star when he plays his final game in pinstripes on Friday. A lot will be written about A-Rod, but I think most Yankees fans will center their memories of him on that ’09 championship. I know I will.

Considering this story won’t really resonate with most of my loyal readers, I’ll attempt to keep it brief. However, the following exchange affected me so profoundly that I’d be remiss not to share.

Reggie Jackson is known in baseball as “Mr. October” for his clutch play in the most important month of the baseball season. He once hit three home runs in a World Series game… on three consecutive pitches. ESPN even made a mini-series about that team, the 1977 New York Yankees, entitled, “The Bronx Is Burning.”

Last Saturday, I traveled to the swamps of Secaucus, NJ for “Yanks For The Memories.” The event featured mostly former and a few current Yankees baseball players, and for nominal fees, you could meet the stars and obtain autographs and inscriptions on pre-purchased items. I went essentially to meet Jackson, who I look up to as a professional, although I also paid to meet Bucky Dent, Mel Stottlemyre, and David Wells.

I arrived at the event with about an hour left in the Jackson autograph session. My friends, including Cousin Tony, already met the Hall of Famer – and warned me about his terrible demeanor, especially compared with the other Yankees players. Nonetheless, I was unfazed, as I’m used to dealing with these types of people on a daily basis.

Fast forward to meeting Jackson. I wanted him to sign “The Straw That Stirs The Drink” underneath his famous cursive autograph. The quote was allegedly misattributed to him by a reporter in the late 70’s – although two sources lay the statement to Jackson at one point or another. The phrase, no pun intended, stirred up a controversy amongst the team, which though of it as overzealous.

Jackson refused to sign “The Straw That Stirs The Drink” or “The Bronx Is Burning” on the photo.

“I don’t want to be associated with that stuff,” the Hall of Famer told me. “A lot of people come up to me and say that they loved The Bronx Is Burning. But I was embaressed by it.”
He eventually relented to offering me two inscriptions for the price of one. So the photo reads: “To Ralph – Reggie Jackson, #44 – Mr. October.”

I offered up the original requests for two reasons: “The Straw That Stirs The Drink” is a quote I live my career by. Who doesn’t want to be “the man”… “the go-to-guy”… “Mr. Clutch”? 

Second, I wanted my autograph to be different, unique – something that carried more than just a monetary value.

But at the end of the day, Jackson satisfied my second reason. Now whenever I look back on the photo and experience, I’ll think about the man that I thought epitomized “swagger” – and how it was all manifested by the media.