Negron: For the Love of the Game and the Yankees – NY Sports Day


NY Sports Day
Ray Negron

Negron: For the Love of the Game and the Yankees

Photo: Ray Negron

TAMPA – Each spring produces a unique baseball story. For whatever the reason, it’s core seems to be at Steinbrenner Field. This year was no different.

A few days before spring training began, I walked into the Yankee locker room to check out Reggie Jackson’s locker. The volume of apparel (t-shirts, shoes, etc.) present typically signifies the proximity to Mr. October’s arrival. It’s an old trick that Pete Sheehy, the famed clubhouse manager taught me.

As the players arrival draws near, Pete would stock with equipment Babe Ruth’s, Lou Gehrig’s, and later Joe DiMaggio’s and Mickey Mantle’s lockers. Pete told me that it would naturally work out that way, it really wasn’t planned.

When I looked to the right of Reggie’s locker, I saw a name that I recognized — but not from Major League Baseball. The nameplate on the locker read “Mike Megale.” When I saw that, I said to myself, I wonder if it’s the same guy that I know. The Mike Megale that I know is a guy that works with young players — both high school and college — in the Westchester and Connecticut parts of the Tri-State area. Mike actually works out of the former Mets and Red Sox manager, Bobby Valentine’s baseball facility in Connecticut.

Richard Gere and his best friend, Russell Hernandez, the construction mogul, first told me about Mike and the great work that he does with young players. So, I took my son Ricky to take some hitting lessons from him. The thing that I know about Mike is he is very intense and passionate about the game. He is not afraid to work and his love of the game speaks for itself.

At that moment, I grabbed my cell phone and called Mike. I told him I was standing in the locker room at GMS Field and saw a name on the locker next to Reggie’s that I recognized. He started to laugh and told me that yes, it was him. All of a sudden, he asked me, “Are you really standing in the locker room? Is it really next to Reggie’s?” I told him it was actually two lockers from Reggie’s. He asked if I would do him a favor and take a picture and send it to him so he could share it with his family.

Over the years, I have seen so many players walk into the Yankee locker room for the first time and experience the same emotion. If you have ever seen the movie The Pride of the Yankees, there is that famous scene of Lou Gehrig walking up to his locker for the first time with that look of true excitement. I could understand how Mike felt the exact same way.

I asked Mike, “How did this happen?” He told me that he had been training Brian Cashman’s son at the Valentine facility in Connecticut. The fact that Mike had played pro ball with various organizations endeared him to Cashman. Cashman knew that Mike was familiar with the different players and coaches in the area. Cashman had also told Mike that he was looking for a bullpen catcher to help the Yankees during spring training. Without batting an eye, Mike told Cashman that he had his man.

Knowing Brian the way I do, I’m sure he had seen enough of Mike’s work to know that he would do a terrific job. Mike showed me a video of himself preparing for spring training. That video included Mike getting in front of a pitching machine and catching balls coming in at over 100 miles per hour.

During spring training, I grew to know Mike well. He actually bored me because at dinner all he would talk about was baseball and more baseball. At one dinner we were eating with President Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen and his son, Jake, who happens to be a very talented left handed pitcher. Mike actually gave Jake a pitching lesson in the middle of the restaurant — our rice and beans had to wait.

Every morning, Mike would arrive at the ballpark by 6 a.m. and was the last to leave. At the start of training camp, he asked me if I had any advice for him. I told him spring training would fly by and because it was the Yankees, he would grow to love the game more than ever. I also told him that when the end comes, even though he might be disappointed, he would know that whatever success the Yankees have this season, he would have played a part in it.

During spring training, I keep an eye on everything. Joe Girardi runs the best spring camp since when Dick Houser used to handle Billy Martin’s camp. Through it all, I saw a very intense young man work his ass off to make the Yankees better. No one worked harder and I’m sure that Brian Cashman got exactly what he had expected from Mike.

At the end of camp, Mike was thanked for his efforts. In his eyes I saw the look of a guy who was both proud and saddened that camp had come to an end. Mike did what millions wish they could do. The time was short, and he was not ready to say goodbye to the Yankees. The magic of being part of the Yankees, like love, stays with you forever.

I never saw anyone love the Yankees more than George Steinbrenner and I remember he warned me once about how powerful that team can be. I talked to Brian Cashman and to many coaches and players and, to a man, they told me that Mike Megale did a fantastic job. He made their jobs easier because of how hard he worked. As one coach told me, “Any success we have this season, Mike is a part of this, because he helped us prepare.”

Similarly, Gary Sanchez told me, “Mike Megale earned his stripes, the Yankee pinstripes.”