(Neil Miller/Sportsday Wire)
Past and present heroes of the New York Yankees and New York Mets were at the Grand Hyatt on Tuesday night to be honored as this year’s recipients of the 36th annual Thurman Munson Awards. Only one of the honorees was not a pitcher, Yankee catcher Brian McCann.
Current New York closers, Andrew Miller of the Yanks and Jeurys Familia of the Mets received Munson Awards just days prior to their departure to Florida for Spring Training. Last season was the first for both to show their ability in the closer role. In his first season wearing pinstripes, and as the successor to the legendary Mariano Rivera, Miller earned 36 saves. In 259 games in his previous nine years in the majors, Miller only saved one game. In Familia’s previous 93 major league contests, he had earned only six saves. In 2015, Familia tied the Mets record high of 43 saves in a single season. Familia also saved five games in the 12 he pitched in the postseason last year.
Miller said he felt more comfortable going into the forthcoming season than he did before his first year in New York. When asked how he thought the three short relievers, Dellin Betances, newest arrival Aroldis Chapman and himself would be placed, he commented, “So far, it’s all speculation.”
Many questions from reporters were directed to Familia regarding the Mets loss of the 2015 World Series. He responded in a very positive manner, “We were proud to win the National League Championship. It [the loss] affected me in a very positive way. Having that experience so early in my career prepares me even better for this year. You learn to be calm when you pitch under pressure.”
Familia spoke with great regard about fellow Dominican pitcher Antonio Bastardo, who was signed by the Mets on January 22, “When I first started in the Dominican Republic, he was the first player to approach me. He was really there for me. In tough times, he was always there to give an encouraging word. Who I am now is partly because of him.”
McCann was asked to give his assessment of the 2016 Yankee pitchers, “I love our staff. Any fifth day we run out a good arm. Bullpens are winning championships-that’s where we are going today. We have endless options.” He commented upon the signing of Chapman, “When we add that arm, Aroldis Chapman, it’s going to be great. When he comes into the game, the other team feels it’s over.” He also expressed his happiness about the catching prospect, Gary Sanchez, “There’s nothing not to like. It’s going to be fun to be in the mix with him.”
Two respected former New York pitchers also were honored. Jesse Orosco, the star of the 1986 World Champion Mets was 21 and a member of the Mets staff when Munson died in a plane crash in the summer of 1979. He later played with the Yankees in his lengthy career, a record 1,252 games pitched when he was in the majors that ended when he was 46. He remarked, “I got to see both sides.”
Jim Abbott, born without a right hand, was an inspiration to all who watched him and thus most deserving of a Munson Award. In 1993, he pitched a no-hitter while in a Yankee uniform. He began his talk with the following statement, “I cherish my relationship with New York City and the Yankees. I tried to use baseball as a platform to show what people can accomplish.”
Each of the players was honored for what he did on the field and the charitable endeavors he engaged in. The 36 years of award dinners have raised more than $14 million for AHRC New York City Foundation that improves the lives of children and adults with intellectual and developmental dis