By Aris Sakellaridis
The 40th annual “Thurman Munson Awards” dinner was held Tuesday night at Pier 60 in Chelsea Piers and the New York Yankees were well represented. They had an old school pinstriper in Lou Piniella receiving an award along with current shortstop Gleyber Torres. Basketball Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman showed the audience her heart had pinstripes and Yankees community advisor Ray Negron, who is a true ambassador to the brand, made his presence known.
The first lady of this annual event, Diana Munson, always lights up the room. Diana is what Vera Clemente meant to Puerto Rico and what Rachel Robinson was to Brooklyn. These women are the ultimate backbone behind the men they were married to.
On this 40th year since Thurman’s passing it was a rough week for “Lady Diana,” following the tragic death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant along with the eight other passengers on that horrific helicopter crash, which included his 13-year-old daughter Gianna. Diana held it together as her forever friend and solid supporter, Joanne Murray, was there by her side.
Negron, who was the team’s batboy back then, always had a link to Thurman. He drove him to Teterboro Airport and babysat his brown Cadillac, while the Yankee Captain would get as much quality time back in Canton, Ohio with his wife, son Michael and daughters Tracy and Kelly. Diana’s quote of, “Ray means the world to me and my family,” spoke volumes of the 46-year employee. The humble Mrs. Munson shined on the podium as she thanked the AHRC organization for keeping this charity rolling throughout the years.
“Sweet Lou” Piniella praised his trade in 1974 from the Kansas City Royals to the Yankees, which led to an everlasting friendship with Thurman. He also was amazed that 40 years later, the dinner still packs them in, which says New York will never forget number 15.
Lieberman, the Jewish girl from Far Rockaway, Queens spoke from her soul when she delivered a heartfelt message to Diana on the magnitude Thurman had on her as a youth. The basketball standout silenced everyone in the audience by sharing a phone call conversation she recently had with Kobe, who persuaded her to come to Cali to work out his daughter Gianna and her teammates. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as Nancy kept it as real as her New York roots.
Yankee Shortstop Gleyber Torres was the “Selfie King” as he acknowledged everyone that came his way. His mere presence around the youngsters in New York provides hope to their dreams. Thanks to Negron, who leads him into the inner blocks of the Bronx, Torres has come across hundreds of kids in his short time as a Yankee. As much as Torres is his “go to” guy, Gleyber feels the same about Negron leading the path. “I just follow him ‘cause he knows the streets and it always works out for everyone, as they also inspire me,” Torres shared, as his agent Jose Mijares nodded in approval and remained patient as can be as Gleyber gave everyone a moment of his time.
It’s been 40 years since Thurman left us, and Kobe’s passing just reminded us of that dreadful August 2nd, 1979 day. The only cure for that pain is the memories that have been cemented for eternity. Diana’s smile will always light up a room, and when you add that with Negron’s clubhouse tales, there will always be Thurman’s impact on all.