Negron: Coronavirus can’t beat New York or the Yanks

Out of respect to Cope 2 and Slone, two of the greatest graffiti artists of all time, I must admit that I was not doing graffiti art when I was caught by George Steinbrenner in 1973. I was doing a simple interlocking NY with blue spray paint on the wall outside Yankee Stadium on a dare from the guys that I was with. It was a true case of peer pressure.

As fate would have it, a car drove up on the side walk and two guys jumped out of the car. In the scramble to get away I bumped into one of the other guys, I stumble and I’m the one that’s caught. They drag me to a holding cell that they had at Yankee Stadium with the intention of sending me over to the 44th precinct. For whatever reason, the two men came back to the make shift jail area and told the cops stationed there to give them the kid. I was extremely confused and almost disoriented. I had never been in trouble before and now, where were these two guys taking me?

To say that I was scared was the all time understatement. The two guys held me by each of my arms. They dragged me down a dark hallway. One of the guys seemed angrier than the other and kept saying that you can’t help these kids. All of a sudden we stop at a black metal door. We walked in and it was as if we were walking into Oz (as in the Wizard of Oz).

There we were in the Yankee locker room. Beautiful bright pinstriped uniforms were hanging all around every locker and some of the players that I recognized from television were actually sitting in their lockers. The one guy that seemed to be the boss introduced me to an elderly man that he called Pete. The man told me that I had a choice. I was either going to work for Pete in the clubhouse or go to jail. I was a dumb kid but I wasn’t that dumb so naturally I agreed.

The other guy seemed very disturbed with what this man was doing for me and again he blurted out that he was making a mistake and the guy told him to shut up, that he was in charge. The man told me to listen to Pete and do what ever he said. In a threatening voice he looked me dead in the eyes and said, “don’t you make me look bad.” (That statement was my p-g statement, kids may be reading this). Then they walked out of the clubhouse.

Pete walked me to a locker and asked me if I knew who that man that gave me this opportunity was? I said no. Pete said that he was George Steinbrenner, the new owner of the Yankees. Pete stared at me up and down. I wondered why. He walked away, then he came back with a Yankee uniform. He said this should fit you. A real Yankee uniform and a real Yankee cap. In my neighborhood you only dreamed of having a real Yankee cap because we could never afford one.

Pete introduced me to the other batboys and they showed me the ropes. Pete Sheehy could not have been nicer. He had been with the Yankees since the days of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. He would in time tell me incredible stories about all the Yankee greats. At one point when I would become close to Thurman Munson and Reggie Jackson and Bobby Murcer, Pete would love to tell me how that’s the way he was with Babe and Lou. I used to think how incredible that was.

That day I learned how to clean shoes and shine helmets, fold towels and how to put the underwear in the right locker. During batting practice I got to shag in the outfield. I learned how to put the bats in the right slots in the bat rack in the dugout.
Bobby Murcer and Thurman Munson got a big kick out of the way I became a batboy. That was the big laugh in the clubhouse that day. I was actually very embarrassed but acted like it didn’t bother me. I have to say that when I put on that uniform I couldn’t help but to think of Lou Gehrig in the movie “The Pride of the Yankees,” when he got his uniform and he kept looking in the mirror. Man what a proud moment for me.

When it was game time I was so nervous standing in the dugout, Murcer came over to me and said that I looked scared. I said I was. He asked me what was I gonna be doing during the game. I said I was the ball boy on the right field foul line. So Bobby told me to run out on the field with him when the organist Eddie Layton played “Here Come The Yankees.” I have to tell you that it was one of the biggest thrills of my life.

We played the Cleveland Indians that day and we won. It was a big victory for George Steinbrenner because he was from Cleveland and he had tried to purchase the Indians. After the game he came into the clubhouse and acted as if we had just won the pennant. He was really happy. After the game we had to collect all the shoes and scrape all the dirt off the bottom and shine them. Pick up the towels and the underwear that the players would throw on the floor and take to the laundry room.

When I finally finished I was instructed to go see Mr. Steinbrenner. He was by the manager’s office. He asked me how I liked my job. I said it was great. He asked me if I wanted to keep it. I said yes sir I would. He asked me how was I in school. I said just fair. He said you will improve your grades, oh and naturally you and your friends won’t do graffiti on Yankee Stadium anymore right? I said yes sir.

My mom and my father had been called and they picked me up that night. It was the only time they ever met George Steinbrenner. Before I left, he told me not to ever let him down because he was taking a chance on me even though people that worked for him told him that he should not. He went into his pocket and handed me money for carfare. He said tomorrow is a day game don’t be late. That was my very first day as a Yankee Batboy. 47 years later I can honestly say that it’s the most wonderful job that I have ever had.

Years later I would ask the Boss why he would do that for me and he said that when the security guard told him that there is nothing you could do for this kid I knew you deserved a second chance. I remember thanking him for saving my life and he said, I didn’t save your life. Your story was told long before I met you. It wasn’t until recently that I truly comprehended what he truly meant. I asked him how I could pay him back and he said just don’t forget where you come from and never be afraid to help those in need.

Today with this whole Corona Virus situation going on I think of the Boss and how he would be handling this. I think about the fact that of the four guys that were with me that day, two are dead and the other two were always in and out of prison. So the blessing that this man gave me overwhelms me to this day. There has to be a God or else how could all of this have happened.

So today and every day I get up and as the Yankees Community Consultant, I go to wherever I can in the city and help deliver food and whatever else is needed with many volunteers including my dear friend and psychologist Steve Vaccaro. We try to work extra hard in the Bronx with some people that fall in the cracks.

One of the school principals, Luis Torres, said that he needed a way to keep the kids in the house so we came up with the idea of doing a movie night through the public access television station Bronxnet. Over two hundred thousand homes in the Bronx saw the animated film that I was the creator of and also Executive Producer. After the telecast, Principal Torres said tonight we actually saved lives by keeping all those families home. I was so very proud and happy about this because it would not have happened without the magic of George Steinbrenner and the New York Yankees.

As the Boss would say ‘We’re Yankees it’s what we do’.

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