Ten years ago I brought Yankee rookie outfielder Brett Gardner to visit some sick children at a hospital in Manhattan. This is a tradition that was actually taught to me by the great Yankee catcher and Captain, Thurman Munson.
Munson would quietly go to hospitals and schools, as long as there would not be any fanfare surrounding the event. He didn’t want any distractions to mess up the occasion, taking attention away from those ill children.
Reggie was also very good in these settings because he was never afraid to show affection towards these kids. Bobby Murcer was very sentimental when it came to visiting kids or adults in hospitals.
Bobby actually showed me that it was okay to cry.
The Boss (George Steinbrenner) was great because he would make the kids feel like they were his equal. One of the great visits I shared with a Yankee was when I had plans to visit a little boy at a hospital with Chien-Ming Wang.
I arose that morning and looked at the sports page.
I realized that Wang was pitching that day and there is an unwritten rule that says that if a starting pitcher is pitching that day he is not supposed to make any kind of appearances.
So I called Wang and mentioned this to him and he immediately asked, "Is this visit going to be so tought that it’s going to affect my start?" I replied, "Probably not, but that’s the rule."
Wang responded, "Look, if you don’t want to come because you might get in trouble then don’t come however, I am not going to let that kid in the hospital down."
So he went, and I did go with him and I was reprimanded for taking him. However, Wang did pitch a great game in beating the Orioles and the little boy in the hospital had a wonderful visit with the great Yankee.
It's something that to this day that little boy has never forgotten.
When I took Brett Gardner to the hospital he met a young lady who had been waiting and praying for a heart. With each passing day things were not looking good. Brett actually got to sit in front of a lot of the kids in the hospital and read one of my children’s books, "The Greatest Story Never Told."
After finishing up and signing some autographs for everyone we started to walk out.
A girl by the name of Alyssa Esposito went up to Brett and said, "If you take my bracelet you will hit a home run tonight."
She added, "Please take it because in some way this might help me."
Brett smiled and took it.
When we got in the car Brett said, "I’m not playing tonight and if I play you know I don’t hit home runs." I said, "Look Brett you did a wonderful job with all the kids and you never know what’s going to happen tonight."
Well, Brett was right, he wasn’t in the starting lineup, however Johnny Damon got into an argument with the umpire and got thrown out of the game — Brett Gardner was to hit for Damon.
Gardner hit a fly ball down the left field line that got past twins left fielder, Denard Span, and went all the way to the wall. Gardner raced all around the bases at about 100 miles per hour for the first inside the park homer at the new Yankee Stadium. As Gardner was celebrating in the Dugout, another miracle was happening in Manhattan.
The Doctors at the hospital were telling Alyssa that they located a heart.
Ten years later, she is a strong beautiful woman, about to be married in October.
She is a strong believer in God and strongly believes that God sent Brett Gardner to the hospital that day. Yesterday I got together with Alyssa at the Project Sunshine fundraiser and met her fiancé, Kenneth Sosnicki.
I marveled at Alyssa’s confidence as she addressed the 800 people at the event and thanked Project Sunshine, the Yankees, her family and fiancé and of course her hero, who hit her the homer that she so badly needed at that time — Brett Gardner.
I guess that was just another Yankee Miracle.
A special thank you to Sally Cook from Project Sunshine for always pushing me into bringing players to visit the kids.
Ray Negron is a sports executive with over 40 years of experience in baseball. His first job came from a chance encounter with George Steinbrenner as a youth. He has become an American film producer, a best-selling author, and a philanthropist. His memoir is entitled, "Yankee Miracles: Life with the Boss and the Bronx Bombers." For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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