Negron: Yankees Opening Day with Hank and Mr. October

I spent the afternoon watching the Yankees season opener with Hank Steinbrenner and Reggie Jackson.

The team had flown to Toronto earlier in the week after a very successful spring training. A lot of new players to mix in with a lot of young ones. A new manager, who hasn’t managed before but has great baseball pedigree. On the last day of spring training, I asked Aaron Boone if he had asked his dad for advice, considering that Bob Boone had been a good big league manager, a terrific player and a clubhouse leader. Boone smiled and said. “A little.” This is one spring that I really got to see the dynamics of what goes into the full preparation of a major league team today.

It’s not harder than when I first started 45 years ago, it’s just so very different. It takes an army of people in order to make this great machine run and they all have a great responsibility. If one of the hands falter, it could be devastating to the progress of the overall show. To see Brian Cashman and Randy Levine and their army of people prepare this impressive program is a show within itself. To see the look on Hal Steinbrenner’s face with each passing day of spring training and getting closer to show time tells me that winning for the city of New York is what the Steinbrenner family is all about. Since the Yankees are starting the season in Toronto, I am still in Tampa. I was invited to Hank Steinbrenner’s residence along with Reggie and my friend Aris to watch the game. When we got there we were met at the door by Hank’s assistant and friend Max Solon. He led us to the living room and like a movie we waited for Hank and Reggie to make their entrances.

Hank came in first with a nervous look on his face and right away he started to talk about the team and the reasons that they should win. Almost as if he was trying to convince himself that the Yankees are that good. In the first inning Giancarlo Stanton hit a monster two run homer and that took away Mr. Steinbrenner’s anxiety.

Like clockwork, at that moment Mr. October walked in. The reason he was late was because he had stopped at the super market to get lots of food. Hank had food for us there already but Reggie wanted to make it a party. The best part of the afternoon seeing the brotherly affection that Reggie has for Hank. Let’s not forget that Reggie, Hal and Hank go back forty five years. The great thing about the relationship is the way they talk about the team and baseball in general.  Reggie was very positive about the desire of all those young men in the clubhouse.

The day before I had written a story about our starting pitcher, Luis Severino.  So he made me look good because he pitched six very strong innings. Reggie and Hank have a very good relationship with Aris and they joke around like crazy. (I can’t get into some of the stories because too many kids read my column.)  Stanton hits a second monster homer to dead centerfield and about four decks up. With the exception of Dellin Betances giving up a home run, the pitching was very good. By the time the game ended Hank and Mr. October were in great spirits, both were feeling very good about the chance of this team having a super year. At that point, we started talking about the championship teams of Yankees’ past. Reggie and Hank both felt that the 1977 Yankees were the best however, the 1998 team would give them a run for their money. If you ask me, I think it’s the ’77 team also, but I will be honest with you, that was the Boss’s first World Championship team so I’m a little partial to them. That was, after all, the most glorious time of my life.

After we cleaned up we went outside to enjoy the beautiful eighty degree weather. Aris told a few more crazy stories and mimicked a few people that we know. At that point with all the crazy laughs, Reggie had enough. Years ago when Reggie first met Aris, who is known to wear some crazy outfits, he asked me, “Ray, who is this hip hop lollipop guy?”  Today, Hank and Reggie love him because he is a good person with a good heart.

The best part of the afternoon was watching the New York Yankees with one of the Steinbrenner’s and to see that they really have a wonderful passion for the team. I followed the Yankees before they were owned by the Steinbrenner Family and believe me, as an employee or a fan you don’t ever want to go there again.

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