New York – He is forever etched in the annals of baseball history, especially in New York baseball history but these days, Aaron Boone, former Yankee third baseman, American League All-Star, and author of one of the biggest home runs in baseball history, is just another baseball lifer, a 36-year old infielder trying to squeeze another day, another moment, another memory out of his playing career.
His current team, the Houston Astros are in New York playing the Mets in their final three games of what has been a long and disappointing season for the Astros. They were expected to contend for a championship this year but like so many other dreams, it doesn’t always come true. Except, in Boone’s case, this year will forever be unforgettable. More on that, later.
No one who was alive and living in New York will ever forget that night in October, 2003, when, in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series between the Yankees and their biggest rivals, the Boston Red Sox. Boone, the Yankees third baseman hit one of the more historic home runs in franchise and baseball history to send the Yanks to the World Series while continuing, for one more year, the Red Sox’ dreaded “Curse of the Bambino,” which would see the Boston unable to win a baseball World Series championship since the season they traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees, in 1920.
But, soon after his heroic moment, Boone was playing basketball in the off-season when he tore a ligament in his right knee, putting him out for the coming 2004 season and being dropped from the Yankee roster (while paving the way for the Yankees to trade for Alex Rodriguez as the new third baseman).
Boone’s hard luck with health was hardly over, however. The Astros had given Boone a one-year deal in December 2008 to be a backup infielder and pinch hitter for a team viewed as on the upswing in the National League but none of that mattered as Boone discovered during spring training this year that he had to undergo open-heart surgery to replace a bicuspid aortic valve. Now, we are talking very serious business. Boone had said at the time he had known about the condition since he was in college but it wasn’t viewed as an emergency situation by his doctors over the course of his 12-year career.
“Initially, my doctors thought I could delay corrective surgery for some time but because of some variations in my condition, they advised me to deal with the problem sooner rather than wait on it,” Boone said last night before the game. “I knew I would recover well enough to play baseball again. I didn’t know if teams would feel comfortable in giving me a job to play baseball again. I’m very thankful the Astros gave me this chance to come back this season.”
Boone had his surgery on March 26th and returned to baseball on August 10, 2009, when he began his rehabilitation with the Corpus Christi Hooks, the Astros’ Double-A minor league affiliate. Boone’s goal at the time was to be back on the Major League roster by September 1, the date that major league rosters expand. Like any good storybook ending, Boone was indeed, activated on September 1, 2009 and added to the Astros’ roster. At the time, the then-manager of the Astros, Cecil Cooper had said, “He can pinch-hit, play tomorrow, there are a lot of options. I want to do it as soon as I can. I don’t want to wait too long, cut the suspense. I know he’s pretty anxious and everyone wants to see him out there.” Boone started a game at first base on September 2nd, went 0-3, but it hardly mattered. The baseball lifer was back in uniform and playing after open heart surgery, just five scant months earlier.
As Boone looks back at his season and his career, he has no regrets.
“It’s good to be back and be in uniform and joining the team the last month has been rewarding,” he said. “I’m just so thankful that everything went well and here I am. I’ve definitely had my share of injuries throughout my career. It’s part of the game and they’re things that sometimes you have to go through. All of your experiences combine to make you who you are. I wouldn’t trade anything and I’m just thankful I get to be back out here.”
Boone is a career .264 hitter with 126 home runs and 555 RBI over 12 seasons with five clubs. He is the fourth generation of Boones to play in the big leagues, beginning with his grandfather, Ray (1948-1960), father Bob, a major league catcher for 18 years, and brother Bret, a 12-year major leaguer.
He’s only gotten into nine games with the Astros with just 10 at bats, going hitless, but his view of this season isn’t based on typical baseball self-evaluation.
“I’m just trying to enjoy it,” he told me. “I really haven’t played much but for me, I think this year just being able to get to the point where I was able to come back is reward in itself. I’ve gotten my work in and I feel like I’ve gotten my body back to where I need to be. I’ll just try to enjoy these last three days of this season and see where we are as far as next year is concerned.”
Looking back on his career highlights, which include playoff and World Series games, All-Star teams, carrying on the Boone family legacy of major leaguers, and of course, the big home run, Boone surprises with his own description of his time on big league fields.
“There are so many little memories that I have,” he said. “Probably, on the surface to other people looking at me, these wouldn’t be a big deal but on a personal level, they’ve meant a lot to me. Just the opportunity to play this game for so long with so many great players and teammates and friends. I wouldn’t trade places with anyone.”
The home run?
“As a baseball player, being around fans every day, I’m reminded of it all the time and almost a day doesn’t go by during the season that somebody doesn’t mention it or notice me for it,” Boone said. “To have a small place in the history of that rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox is, at the end of the day, pretty cool. I’ve learned to really appreciate it and it’s cool to be a part of it.”
Read more of Scott Mandel at www.sportsreporters.com