At this time of year, I’m asked to visit many schools because it’s graduation time.
In the past, I use to ask why do you want me, or I’m sure you can get a more high profile individual, however, the popular response was that because of my history with George Steinbrenner, the Yankees, and a kid that was able to get out of the tough streets of New York that I represent hope.
Professor Bill O’Connell from Suffolk Community College says that I owe it to the kids with hopes and dreams to hear where I came from and where I still wish to go.
Professor Joe Favorito actually asked me to come to speak at Columbia University after my second best-selling book ( The Greatest Story Never Told ) The first thing I thought about was that this was Lou Gehrig’s alma mater. The second thing I thought about was that this wasn’t just a regular college, it is one of the greatest Ivy League schools in America. I said to Joe that I barely have one year of college credit and yet you want me to talk to these students. Joe said yes because you are real. You represent the fact that dreams can come true. At that point, I said if my message can possibly help one kid then I’m in.
I had already spoken at smaller colleges like Suffolk so that helped me with anxiety in putting on a good show. I must add that I feel the spirit of Lou Gehrig every time that I was at the podium in Columbia.
Each school always has its own identity which in turn helps me with the message that I’m giving that day.
Yesterday was no different. When I got to Fordham University and I saw their wall of fame and saw the names like the great baseball player Frankie Frisch or the wonderful Dodgers broadcaster Vince Scully or the television voice of the Yankees Michael Kay, it gave me the chills.
I understood the magnitude of Fordham. At that point, I knew that when I walked into the Communications program and addressed the future sports writers and broadcasters I hoped that I could possibly give them a message that would possibly help them.
Professor Favorito is also a teacher at Fordham and when he introduced me to the students I kept it honest and real. I talked about the fact that we must grow to the point that we become mentors to the young people that are coming behind us. I tell them about the fact that without my mentors I would have been nothing. I tell them about the fact that in my house at one point there were six boys most of which at one point or another had been to jail. How I was the only one left. I emphasize to them that the reason for that was because of my mentors.
I ask them to please understand the importance of becoming good parents and not to take that for granted. Naturally, I do tell them about the great people in the sports and entertainment world that have impacted my life because they were real and they treated me like an equal.
I tell them that there have been people that have told me that I should know my place and how that would hurt because it would make me feel like me and my people were no better or we were inferior to everyone else.
George Steinbrenner would always say the right things to mentally get me out of it.
I shared with the students how Billy Martin, who was like a father to me once said… Do you understand that even if you were Italian, I couldn’t love you anymore? This has always meant the world to me because I knew how proud Billy was to be Italian.
At the different schools sometimes I deliver the message that I strongly believe in God and I know that we are here as his messengers. So I close by saying to please let’s continue to deliver what ever the message God has instilled in you.