How ‘Yankee Miracles’ Perfectly Capped a Year Reconnecting with Baseball

(Hello again! Occasionally, I’ll post some things that still fit in with the ‘media’ portion of my job, but don’t necessarily fit in over at SBN. Thanks for giving this a read.)

Baseball kind of dropped off the face of the earth for me for a while. I’ve spent most of my 23 years on this earth as a fan of the New York Mets, despite an earlier attempt at revolting against my mom (who loves the Mets, and convinced me when I was five that she wrote “Meet the Mets”) with the Minnesota Twins, I became – as many are – true to the orange and blue. 1999 and 2000 were a huge part of forming me as a sports fan. I used to listen to the games on radio every night, followed with Steve Somers and Joe Beningo recapping the game on WFAN afterward.

I kind of fell out of love with sports in general during the year(s) of the first NHL lockout, in 2004-05. I focused on pretty much anything that didn’t have to do with sports, because anything centered on sports would make me think of my first love, hockey, and how sad I was that it wasn’t around. Also, I was in high school and crushing it pretty hard on the mock trial team (this is sarcasm because A. saying you’re crushing it in mock trial sounds awful, and B. our school’s mock trial team didn’t peak until the 2006-07 season, when we went to the county semifinals). I honestly don’t remember what the Giants or the Mets did during 2004 or 2005.

For that reason, I didn’t entirely latch on to the Mets rebirth in 2006. I was a little put off by the free agent signings (Tom Glavine as a Met seemed like total blasphemy to start with, and the one thing I do remember about 2005 is that Carlos Beltran had been a disappointment). I remember watching a few of the playoff games, and I remember Endy Chavez’s remarkable catch in Game 7 of the NLCS, but it never resonated with me (or hurt me) like it should have. On the other side, the Mets 2007 and 2008 collapses didn’t hurt as much as they could have, either. By then, hockey was back, and I was burying myself into it like never before.

The Mets slid further and further into oblivion, the Madoff scandal happened, and I went further and further down the hockey rabbit hole. But I remember noticing something along the way: the Mets were starting to become likable again. I had long ago made piece with Carlos Beltran before he departed, David Wright was always the perfect “face of the franchise” guy, and then R.A. Dickey showed up. Here is where we finally start to make the connection to the subject that I’m writing this to talk about.

It was R.A. Dickey’s excellent book Wherever I Wind Up, that got me back on board with baseball and the Mets in 2012. If you haven’t picked it up yet, it’s stunningly good as athlete memoirs go, and as memoirs go in general. Dickey gave the Mets a real personality I could identify with for the first time in years, and I sort of rededicated myself to baseball. Of course, the consequence of that is the Mets’ awful second half being more painful than anything I’ve felt in a while. But it felt good to feel that bad about something, strangely.

It makes sense, then, that a book is what closes out a fun baseball season for me (which ended with a trip on the Subway to see Dickey’s 20th win against Pittsburgh). Yankee Miracles is the story of Ray Negron, who, as a teenager, was discovered by George Steinbrenner attempting to spray paint the outside of Yankee Stadium. This, remarkably enough, led to the legendary ‘Boss’ of the Yankees giving him a job as the Yankees bat boy, which led to him getting drafted by the Pirates, and eventually rejoining the Yankee organization.

From just an outsider’s opinion, Negron’s life is remarkable. He goes on to become a community leader, and occasional actor, and a consultant to the Bronx Bombers. He recently related the following in an interview, which makes the story even more unlikely and courageous:

I would say to him, “Boss, four people were with me that day, two lived half their lives in prison, one died of AIDS due to a dirty needle and the other was shot at close range in a drug bust gone bad.” I said, “What was going to happen to me had you not interceded that day?” He would look at me in the eye and he would say, “No, No, No. The day that I caught you, your story was already told. That story was already written and I’ve always known that.”

I’m a big fan of chance in stories like this. Negron goes on, in a way, to be sort of the Forest Gump of the Yankees organization, relating stories about Thurmon Munson, Billy Martin and all the way through to a particular eye-opening (if brief) chapter about Alex Rodriguez. He and co-author Sally Cook tell the story in a way that is sensitive, but never overly sentimental. Some of the stories (especially from the 70’s) have comic elements to them, but the authors are never afraid to give the reader something sincere. As far as great sports stories go, this one has an almost earnest, cinematic feel of older movies. A true redemption tale.

It is, in that way, much like Dickey’s book. Dickey’s redemption came at a much later time in his life, but the pages read the same: misfits, found by someone who saw something in them, which helped them find the greatness within. It was a heartwarming, perfect way to cap off a year in which I remembered just why I fell in love with baseball in the first place.