Every dad that loves baseball and has a son dreams that some day his son plays professional baseball. Two weeks ago, my son Ricky was drafted by the Atlanta Braves. To say that it brought tears to my eyes would be an understatement. Ricky was an original member of Hanks Yanks and the 16th player signed from the organization.
Dreams do come true. This week the Cleveland Indians signed George Valera, an outfielder that played four seasons for Hank Steinbrenner’s storied youth baseball team Hank’s Yanks.
Hank and I founded the team in 2010 and George came on board in 2012.
“Jojo” as he was known to his teammates, was an exceptional baseball player but more importantly he was already an exceptional person. Jojo was on our junior team and his parents felt that it was so important for him to be on Hank’s Yanks that the youngster used to commute from the Bronx to Long Island. His parents and coach, Sandy Kyrkostas was always able to work out the long journey to Baseball Heaven in Yaphank. Even organizational coach, Aris Sakellaridis took his turn picking up the youngster and delivering him to his game. Coach Sandy is a motion picture producer by trade and has produced many films including Empire State staring Duane “the Rock” Johnson, a film that George also appeared in.
I had a long talk with Jojo last night and gave him my two cents about pro ball, agents and life as a professional baseball player. I begged him to never change as a person. The thing that impresses me the most about this young man is how he is so grateful to his coach Sandy for teaching him so much as a man. This kid is only 16 years old but you would think he was 26. He is so grateful to Hank Steinbrenner even though he only met him once and says Hank is the reason he wanted, so badly to be on this team.
During this whole conversation, not once did he ever mention that the Indians gave him one million three hundred thousand dollars.
During the eight years that we have had the Hank’s Yanks teams, we have had seventeen players signed and I can honestly say that most usually talk about their bonus money. This kid never mentioned it. I thought that was so very cool.
I asked him what the most important thing was that he got out of Hank’s Yanks and Jojo said, “This was the first time that I had actually been around white people and because of this experience I now feel comfortable around anyone.
“I actually feel that I learned to be a leader and feel that I can always help all people.”
Jojo was very surprised when I told him that I had worked with Charlie Maher, the team psychologist with the Indians for four years. I told him that he is going to a class organization and that he would really grow as a player and a man there. He asked me if all teams were like this and I told him only a few, but definitely the Yankees!
George Valera wanted to thank his parents, Delabona and Jorge that he loves so much, a school teacher, a Jennifer Jaeger, that introduced him to Hank’s Yanks, and of course his beloved baseball coach Sandy and all the assistant coaches and naturally all of his teammates that he still stays in touch with. The Indians will have Jojo in a Dominican Summer league starting sometime next week. Jojo says that that he will never forget his wonderful summers with Hank’s Yanks.
“Even though I’m with the Indians, I will always be grateful to the Yankees for my wonderful opportunities as a kid,” he said.
Someday the baseball world will be in for a treat when this young man gets to the big leagues. Hank Steinbrenner should be very proud because the labor of his love has produced a very beautiful story.
This year we have three Hank’s Yanks teams in the Bronx so that these kids don’t have to travel so far on school nights.
Go Hank’s Yanks!
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