This is the 10th anniversary of my first children’s book, The Boy of Steel. The book was about a boy who had cancer and loved baseball, and the Yankees. The inspiration came from my many visits to hospitals with players that were loved so much by so many of these kids. Believe it or not, the very first visit to hospitals and schools that I did on different occasions where with Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson and Billy Martin. Billy was wonderful because he never liked planning anything. He just did it spur of the moment. He felt that he was blessed because his kids were healthy, especially his son Billy Joe. This was what George Steinbrenner loved about Billy.
The Boss was the same way. He could be very busy in his office and if I had a kid with me that would want to meet him I would never hesitate to bring the kid into his office. Some of the people that worked for him would go crazy because I would do that but Steinbrenner always felt that the kids were more important and he would say.” I am the Boss.” I love that about him. I’m sure that is why his kids are the people they are today.
I remember Billy Martin and the Boss coming back from a hospital visit with a New York big shot named Bill Fugazy, who set the visit up. They just couldn’t get enough of those kids. I asked Billy why and he said, “We’re Yankees, that’s what we do.” I never forgot Billy saying that and years later when I produced an animated film called Henry & Me with Joe Avallone and Reveal Productions, I had the line used by Richard Gere who played Lou Gehrig in the film.
One of the most wonderful people that I have known in this game, from the standpoint of giving back, was Yankee outfielder Bobby Murcer. He was tireless and very giving. Like Munson and the rest mentioned, he had a very big heart. It is ironic that Bobby would die of cancer at the age of 62.
I will never forget Mariano Rivera befriending another young cancer patient named Jack Szigety Jack’s chances of survival at the time were slim yet 12 years later Jack is a senior at Notre Dame.
This past spring, the Make-A-Wish Foundation and our community relations director in Tampa, John Szponar, introduced me to a young man named Daniel Wilson. Daniel was a freshman in high school and through a mandatory checkup, discovered that he had thyroid cancer. Daniel went through a very extensive procedure, including a nine hour surgery at Children’s Hospital Philadelphia. He had a tube down his throat and he fought like a champion. To say that he was at spring training, I would call it a miracle. That is what these kids are.
I will never forget when I walked him onto the field, one of the first players to come over to him was Dellin Betances. When Dellin put his hand on him, Daniel just broke down and cried. He was so happy to be meeting his hero, he just couldn’t believe it. Reggie came over and heard Daniel’s story and they became instant best friends. Willie Randolph, Goose Gossage, Mark Texiera, a true champion in making Daniel feel welcome.
Not since Billy Martin has a Yankee manager been as giving and caring as Joe Girardi. Like Billy, you could just go up to Joe and let him know the situation and nine times out of ten, he will do his best for the individual. When I told him about Daniel not only did he come over and talk to him but he had Daniel walk the lineup card out to the umpires and let Daniel stay in the dugout to help him manage for two innings. That’s who Joe Girardi is. I’m proud to say that I know him.
Daniel, like Jack, is healthy again and doing the fun things that boys his age are supposed to do like playing baseball etc. I wish that all of the stories with the kids I meet turn out this well but unfortunately they don’t.
My very dear friend David Jurist and his family just lost their daughter Eileen. Eileen battled cancer for many years. To David, she was his princess and if you know her you would understand why. She was and will always be very beautiful. David has and will always help to battle pediatric cancer. David and his wife, Alice have done so much for Hackensack University Medical Center in the same way that Yankees team President Randy Levine and his wife Mindy are always there for Sloan Kettering.
I will never forget a young Robinson Cano who was always going to the hospital to visit the kids. One day as I was driving him to the airport to go home after a long season, and we still had about three hours to kill, Cano said.” Let’s stop off at Sloan and visit some of the kids.” It was about 8:30 in the morning so I called the hospital to let them know. I think they thought it was a prank because they called Randy Levine who called me on the other line. Randy asked if I was trying to get to the hospital with Cano. I said.” Yes” and we laughed. He appreciated that Cano cared so much. That is why today Cano has the Robinson Cano Pediatric Physical Therapy Suite at Hackensack University Medical Center.
Today we have Gary Sanchez and a whole new generation of Yankees that will continue a tradition that was actually started by Babe Ruth.
As Billy Martin once said, “We’re Yankees. This is what we do!”
Ray Negron is heard every Sunday on ESPN deportes 1050am at 11am and his column appears on Newsmax.