Our next Pinch Hitter, Sanford Williams, is a 44-year-old Yankees fan who has been married to his wife Anastasia for 23 years. He calls her “an incredible woman,” and the two have three children. One is a student at the University of Virginia Law School, one is an undergraduate at UVA, and the youngest is a middle school student. Sanford was born and raised in New Jersey, went to college at Cornell, lived for a while in the Bronx – where Anastasia was born and raised – and eventually settled in Virginia.
For his post, Sanford looked back at more than four decades spent following the Yankees for a post he calls: What I have learned from the New York Yankees.
I love sports. I love playing them and watching them, and, like most people I have my favorites. I root for my alma maters, Cornell University and the University of Virginia, in every sport, and I cheer for the Giants (Go Big Blue). Two teams I have rooted for as long as I can remember are the Georgetown Hoyas basketball team and the New York Yankees.
My love of the Yankees was passed down to me from my Dad. He loved and still follows the Yankees, but my cousin Denise and took it to another level. Neither of us named our kids Babe, Moose or Scooter — I know she was tempted to name her kid Louisiana Lightning — but we collected cards, bought yearbooks and went to as many games as we could.
My Dad was born and raised in New Jersey surrounded by Brooklyn Dodger fans. The Dodgers were heroes to many Black Americans because they integrated baseball when Jackie Robinson joined in 1947. Growing up, as an African American in a predominately African American neighborhood, my Dad was an anomaly. He truly appreciated the history of Jackie Robinson, but he liked the Yankees. He liked Elston Howard, but his favorite player was Mickey Mantle. My Dad told me he was a switch hitter who had a unique combination of power and speed.
The teasing of my Dad’s neighbors, friends and classmates only fortified his love for the Yankees, and that was the first lesson I learned from the team (albeit indirectly). It’s OK to like what you like. Or as kids say today, “do you.” Don’t worry about doing what’s popular.
The Yankees have taught me patience. I remember running around the house when I was 9 years old because Chris Chambliss hit a home run to win the pennant in 1976. The Yankees lost the World Series that year, but they won the next two, and I thought this is great. My team would win every year, but it took 18 years for the Yankees to win their next World Series.
I learned how to walk from Mickey Rivers. Not really. The dude could fly like the wind, but I think he walked slower than my 90-year-old grandma walks today. I loved watching him play though.
I learned about loyalty from Phil Rizzuto. Mr. Rizzuto lived in the town I grew up in. I did not know him personally, but everyone that knew him said he was a great guy who was loyal to the Yankees.
I learned about acting with class and dignity from watching many players. Paul Blair, Roy White, Jim Kaat, Graig Nettles, Chris Chambliss, Thurman Munson, Don Mattingly, Tino Martinez, Jorge Posada, Dave Winfield, Ron Guidry, Willie Randolph, Bobby Murcer, Derek Jeter, Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia, David Robertson, Gene Monahan (I know he’s not a player, but he seems like a cool guy and he was in the dugout just about my entire life) and Mariano Rivera are just a few to come to mind. I don’t know any of these men off the field, but as a child growing up who listened to the games, read the Sporting News and Baseball Digest, watched This Week in Baseball and Kiners Korner, and caught 1010 WINS to hear the latest news, and being an adult fan today who tries to catch at least a part of every game, these are some of the players who struck me as acting the way I would want to act if I played baseball.
I learned about tragedy, love and friendship after the death of Thurman Munson. I will never forget the shock that I felt as a kid that a real live Yankee could be here one day and gone the next. And I will never forget Bobby Murcer’s performance in the first game after Munson’s funeral.
I learned there are things you can’t rationally explain. Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner’s relationship. Why Giambi didn’t slide. Why Jeter was in position to throw him out. Luis Tiant’s pitching delivery. Why my afro never looked as cool as Oscar Gamble’s. Why my kids and my wife can hear the entire roll call and all they remember is “Der-ek Jeter.” Dwight Gooden’s no-hitter. Dave Righetti’s no-hitter. Jim Abbott’s no-hitter. David Wells. David Cone’ no-hitter. Why the Yankees have 5 no hitters in the last 50 years and the Mets have none. Why I stay up until 1:30 in the morning on a weekday watching a game against Seattle (or any other west coast team) when I know I have to go to work the next day.
I learned to love listening to baseball on the radio from Frank Messer, Bill White and Phil Rizzuto.
I learned that pitching is the key to the kingdom.I guess that means Jesus is the kingdom and Pineda was the key. I don’t want to get struck by lightning, so no jokes here.
I learned that you have to give something to get something (see Montero-Pineda). Its kind of like Rumplestiltskin says on that TV show I — I mean, my kids — watch called Once Upon a Time: “When you use magic, it always comes with a price.”
I learned that looks can be deceiving from Ron Guidry and Mariano Rivera. Neither man looks to be an imposing physical specimen, but what Guidry did in 1978 and what Rivera has done for his career are astounding.
I learned about miracles from Bucky Dent’s home run in Fenway, Aaron Boone’s home run in New York and Reggie Jackson’s three home runs in one game. I could not believe what I was seeing when I saw each of those events, and I will never forget them either.
I learned that sports can transform a community and championships aren’t everything. I will never forget the run in 2001. Of course I wish the Yankees won that World Series, but the tenacity they showed will not be forgotten by anyone who watched those games.
I learned that winning is fun and it never gets old. I can recite 1977, 1978, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009 in my sleep.
I learned that Yankee fans are everywhere. I have seen Yankee caps in many places including Haiti (shortly after the earthquake), Italy, England, France, South Africa (and even here in Virginia). It’s always a pleasant surprise to see a Yankees cap when far away from home, and it shows just how far flung Yankees Universe really is.
I could go on and on, but you would all stop reading and Chad would not be happy. So, I will end with this. The Yankees have taught me many things, but the most important lesson I have learned in my life as a Yankee fan is to weather the ups and downs and enjoy the ride.
And I intend to enjoy the ride this year and every year I am fortunate enough to be around.
Associated Press photo