This winter was a very normal winter for me. As usual, I got to visit a lot of schools and hospitals where I try to cheer up as many kids as possible. It’s the Yankee way. It was always the Boss’s way. (George Steinbrenner not Bruce)
At one point during Christmas, my friend and a great philanthropist, John Theisen and the wonderful Yankee second baseman Gleyber Torres, got a bunch of toys and surprised New York City shelter kids who usually would not have had a Merry Christmas.
During this time I received a phone call from the former Yankee bullpen catcher and the head coach of Adelphi University, Dom Scala. Dom wanted to tell me about a little boy with stage four brain cancer. He said that he had taken a very special interest in this young man and was hoping that I could possibly help get some players to visit or call him.
I asked Dom where the boy resided and he said ‘South Dakota.’ I said “holy cow,” that’s gonna be a tall order. I was hoping that he was going to be in New York or New Jersey where I take athletes or people from the arts. I told Dom that this might be a tough one and Dom said in his wonderful Brooklyn Italian accent, ‘just see what you can do.’ It was like Robert De Niro in the movie “Goodfellas” saying just get it done.
That night I was having a conversation with Doc Gooden and I mentioned the situation about the little boy with cancer and how I couldn’t find someone to visit him. Doc asked me what his name was and I told him it was Derek Gerlach and that he was in South Dakota. All of a sudden Doc started to laugh and said your troubles are over. I’m going to South Dakota this week on business and I will visit Derek while I’m there.
Now this all sounds unreal but it really happened and Doc did visit Derek and spent a whole evening there watching football with Derek and his family. This didn’t surprise me because if you really know Doc Gooden then you know that he can be the greatest guy in the world. For one day, “Dr. K” helped Derek forget about cancer.
A week passed and my phone rang and it was my Brooklyn friend again, Dom Scala. In his best Brooklyn accent he said, How you doin? He wasted no time. Dom said that he had the great, former Yankee Willie Randolph call him but it would be great if we could get a present day Yankee to call Derek because he wasn’t feeling well and we need to cheer him up. Please do this for me. Then he hung up. Since I was doing some Christmas things with Gleyber Torres and he speaks fluent English, I thought this would be perfect, and it was. They had a great conversation and it was established that Derek was also a shortstop and second baseman. While there were talking, they had a couple of nice laughs and Gleyber felt great about his good deed and Derek felt great about his two new friends in Doc and Gleyber.
Now this is where the story gets good.
During spring training I would always help the wonderful John Szponar with kids from different organizations. One of these organizations was “Make a Wish.” Sadly John passed away this winter. Hal Steinbrenner’s assistant Jenette Cruz asked me if I could help her with a “Make a Wish” kid that was coming in from South Dakota. I naturally said yes because, like John Szponar, we live for these wonderful moments where we can help these kids.
Well the day came and wouldn’t you know it that the kid was Derek. I got to meet his parents and they were great. Derek’s dad Shane was a huge Yankee fan. He wanted to name his son Thurman but instead they named him after a more present day Yankee (Derek Jeter). Jenette was great because she has been doing things like this for years and she puts the kids’ happiness first. I told her that most of the players would be at the back field, and would it be ok if I took Derek there and she said do what you got to do.
So I did and Derek had a wonderful time. The epic moment was when we sat in the dugout at the back practice field and all of a sudden Gleyber Torres walked in. It was as if it was staged. Gleyber walked over and said ‘Hi, I’m Gleyber Torres.’ In Spanish, I said ‘Gleyber this is the kid that I had you call over the winter.’ Gleyber was shocked but played it cool. They talked to each other like they were best friends. It was a beautiful moment. Afterwards, Gleyber said good bye and walked away.
Derek had tears in his eyes and said ‘I can’t believe that Gleyber talked to me like I was his friend’ All I could do was put my arm around him and thank God because he does work in mysterious ways. I also believe that he loves to work through the Yankees.
As the Boss always said ‘We’re Yankees, it’s what we do’.