My motherJenny and I lived at Westchester Ave and 161 St in the Bronx.
At that time it was a very dangerous neighborhood because of the constant gang violence and territorial fights.
When my mom married a young grocery worker named Cirillo, he took me on as his own son. He eventually moved us out of the neighborhood because he himself had gotten into fights with some gang members.
At one point, we lived together with my mom’s brother Roman and his family in Queens. Altogether there were 15 people living in the house. We were all one family and we looked out for each other. There were 6 boys and 5 girls. Naturally, being boys in tough neighborhoods, we were constantly getting in and out of trouble. The difference between myself and the 5 other boys was that I truly loved baseball. I was introduced to the game when I learned that their father, Roman, had been a very good baseball player who tried out for the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field but ended up joining the Marines instead of going to war in Korea. I was very proud of all of my mom’s brothers because they all served in the different branches of the armed forces. My biological father also served in the Air Force. Even though my father Jose had given me up for adoption, I was still proud of the fact that he had served our country.
I remember once watching the movie “The Pride of the Yankees” starring the great movie star GaryCooper, and just falling in love with the game and the Yankees.
Whether or not I could sneak into the Stadium, I just wanted to be by the player’s parking lot and watch the players going in and out.
The team wasn’t good in those days but we had 3 players that gave us hope. They were Roy White, Bobby Murcer, and Thurman Munson.
In January of 1973, a Man named Steinbrenner and others purchased the Yankees from CBS. This gave us hope that the Yankees could be great again.
One June day of that same year I just happened to be outside the Stadium with a couple of friends doing something that I had no business doing, defacing a part of the Stadium with graffiti. I was caught, put in a holding cell at the Stadium, and for whatever the reason, the man that caught me decided to bring me into the Yanks locker room and make me a Batboy. That man was George Steinbrenner. From that moment on he had decided that he was going to use me as an example of hope. He told me that “You can do anything in life if you try hard enough.” He always expressed how hard work was always the best way to go. At that time I was a very scared and angry kid. When Mr. Steinbrenner gave me this opportunity I was always waiting for this dream to turn into a nightmare. I learned about the haters in life. I learned about true Jealousy. I was confused about prejudice and Jealousy. I felt like maybe I didn’t belong in that world. God knows I was reminded of that by certain people that worked there.
I remember one time a team official told me that once the Boss was out of town that he would get rid of me. The Boss found out about it and told me that unless his name was Steinbrenner, he could not get rid of me. Mr. Steinbrenner said that the guy was just jealous of me. I was confused and I responded to the boss by saying that I don’t have anything, why? I told him that I thought that the guy was prejudiced.
Mr. Steinbrenner looked me in the eyes and said, “first, I want you to understand that you have my friendship, some people think that’s worth something” and he chuckled, and “secondly. as you grow up you will find out that there is a very fine line between prejudice and jealousy. You will also find out that jealousy may be worse.”
Throughout the years he grew to understand where I came from. When they shot and killed my cousin Christopher he let me sleep at the stadium and offered me big-time help. When my cousin Ed died of aids because of his drug use again he offered assistance. The hope that this very strong-willed individual gave me was never-ending. People forget that I was a second-round draft pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1975. ( you can look it up). That I got to appear in Major motion pictures and that I have written five books. I don’t take credit for this, I give the credit to this man, George Steinbrenner because he instilled the hopes and dreams into my head. He kept telling me to stop feeling sorry for myself. As bad as I may have thought I had it, there was always someone that had it worse.
Today, forty-nine years later, I think about the man that gave me the chance at having a good life. I think about how because of the color of my skin I felt that I didn’t belong and he told me to stop being ridiculous and that I was no different than anyone else.
The funny thing about all this is that I like to think that just maybe me being a minority at that time, he was able to use me to open the door for other kids that came after me becoming batboys, etc.
During Hope Week, I hope so!