Friday August 4th was National Batboy Day on the grounds of the original Yankee Stadium.
Batboys from eight decades were honored. Frank Prudenti was the batboy that greeted Roger Maris at Homeplate after the 61st homer in 1961. Lou Cucuzza was the main batboy during the Yogi Berra regime of the 1980s. Shawn DeRosa was the batboy that helped Don Mattingly and Buck Showalter also during their formative years in the 80s. Luis Castillo was the batboy that warmed up David Cone during the perfect game of 1999. Terrence Roker was there with Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams and then there was Ray Avila in 1971 who was there during the dark days of the Yankees, a time known as the Horace Clark years when they just couldn’t win until an American ship builder named George Steinbrenner purchased the team from CBS television network in 1973. Of course, I was there as the batboy to represent Mr. Steinbrenner’s first dynasty, the Thurman/ Reggie years. Then we had the batboy of today, Alex Rodriguez. It’s great to see that Alex understands the magnitude of his responsibilities in helping the Aaron Judges and the Harrison Bader’s go to the next level in helping the Yanks win.
It was great to have World Series hero Jim Leyritz in attendance, who ironically was the batboy for the Cincinnati Reds Big Red Machine. I’m sure that Pete Rose and Johnny Bench had a great impact on Jim’s baseball life.
The highlight of the event was the fact that artist, Maria Cooper Janis was present. Yes, Maria is a great artist but you’re probably asking what does this artist of great landscapes have to do with Batboys or the Yankees. Well, the reality is that Maria’s father was the three-time Academy Award winning actor Gary Cooper.
Gary Cooper portrayed Lou Gehrig in arguably the greatest sports film of all time, The Pride of the Yankees. Even though Cooper didn’t win, he was nominated for an Oscar.
Maria who is married to Byron Janis, one of America’s biggest baseball fans and probably one of the greatest classical pianist ever, was surprised by the children of the Mount Vernon Boys & Girls club with an academy award statue for the “Pride of the Yankees.” We also presented Maria with a framed photo of Gary Cooper and Babe Ruth that was shot during the production of this classic motion picture.
The significance of Gary Cooper was that the man that he portrayed (Lou Gehrig) was always very close friends with the Batboys during his whole career.
The greatest compliment that equipment manager and batboy during the 1920s Pete Sheehy gave me was … “Ray, you are to Reggie Jackson and Thurman Munson what I was to Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.”
I want to thank Murray Bauer and New York State Assemblyman, Kenneth Zabrowski for the wonderful proclamation for my 50 years of service to the game of baseball. Thank you also to WABC radio host and singer, Vinny Medugno, and From the Hackensack Medical Center, David Jurist. Special thanks to Boys & Girls club psychologist, Steve Vaccaro and making his first public appearance, future Yankee Batboy and my first Grandson Prince Rowen Hopkins.