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Batboy's Courage Would Make the Boss and Gehrig Proud

neil herbst as a yankees batboy in 1978
Neil Herbst (Photo courtesy Ray Negron)

Ray Negron By Tuesday, 20 October 2020 08:22 AM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

When George Steinbrenner walked into the "swanky" restaurant, La Club, everyone ran around trying to please the man known as "the Boss" as if he owned the place. That was the kind of respect he demanded and received without even saying a word. His look would be strong and he would dress impeccably, nothing out of place including his very neatly combed hair.

All the "high rollers" there couldn't get to Mr. Steinbrenner fast enough to say hello. The restaurant bigwigs couldn't help but to drool over the Boss. The Boss naturally played up to all the attention until he noticed that the busboy near his table dropped some plates. The maitre'd got very upset and said some words to the kid that even the Boss didn't like.

After the maitre'd walked away Mr. Steinbrenner called the busboy over and asked him his name. The kid said his name was Neil Herbst. The Boss said, "I guess you know who I am?" Neil said. "I do because my brother Seth was a batboy for you in 1974."

Mr. Steinbrenner asked Neil if he would like to come work for him. Naturally, Neil said that he would love it. The Boss told Neil to write his name and number on a piece of paper and trust that "I will have one of my people call you."

A little while later Neil received a phone call from a Yankee official and later during that 1978 baseball season, Neil Herbst was a Yankee batboy. It basically happened because an adult was belittling a youngster and that never went well with George Steinbrenner.

That mean maitre'd probably did Neil a big favor without even realizing it. Neil went on to watch and work for the 1978 Yankees. That summer the Bronx Bombers would come back from 14 1/2 games in July to become World Champions with the greatest comeback in sports history. Neil Herbst had the best seat in "the house that Ruth built."

After that year Neil, like his brother Seth did four years earlier, went on to college, graduated with honors and built a beautiful career in the finance industry. Seth became a great doctor. It's incredible how their love for the Yankees gave them and so many other young people the motivation to be possibly even more successful than they would have otherwise been.

I have always maintained contact with many former batboys throughout the years. Recently, Seth Herbst asked me to talk to his brother Neil because he was battling ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). Like Lou Gehrig, Neil spoke to me with the same courage and passion that I imagined that Lou Gehrig would have displayed.

Rather than me writing about Neil's feelings with his battle, I asked Neil to put his feelings into his own words.

These are Neil's words…..

As a child, baseball and the New York Yankees were synonymous with family, fun and magic to a young boy especially to one who dreamed about being a professional baseball player or a doctor. They were bigger than life, and me and my friends thought about them every second of every day that we weren't in school. It took everything that was bad in life away — to be a baseball player.

In 1978, I was a batboy for the New York Yankees. Being a batboy for the Yankees it was such a high honor to see the amount of hard work the players needed to have — I got to see firsthand what had to be done and especially their work in the community and with diversity. How special this time really was. It was also a large part of my development of the adult I would become — hardworking, business owner, parent and husband.

One of the most famous Yankees players — Lou Gehrig (called Baseball's Iron Man) — was diagnosed with ALS at the height of his career. In fact, many people call ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease. His diagnosis in 1939 brought awareness of ALS to the public. One of his most notable quotes and one that helped change the views of communities throughout this country was: "There is no room in baseball for discrimination. It is our national pastime and a game for all." At his final appearance at Yankee Stadium he delivered his "luckiest man speech" and the part I remember the most is his saying he was "the luckiest man on the face of the earth."

Even though I have been recently diagnosed with ALS, I too feel like the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I know I've been preparing for this all my life and the Yankees helped me get here. My time as a bat boy and the lessons I learned, being a successful business owner, having a loving family, and being involved in the community.

The last years of my life I want to be like the Yankees — continue to work hard, but work on healing. The healing of our country and a cure for ALS are my top priorities. Today when I think of the Yankees I still have those same feelings I had as a boy. They are about fun, love and family and it brings a sense of peace to watch the Yankees and to know how this organization has remained dedicated to its values over all of these years. I also know that they can be influential again in helping with ALS. It's been too long since Lou Gehrig passed and a cure has not been found!

As we approach 2021, I would like to ask every baseball team around the world, but particularly in the U.S., to have an ALS patient throw the opening day first pitch of the season. It's time for everyone to rally to find a cure. — Neil Herbst

Beautiful words from a kid who, in the summer of 1978, came of age and matured to become a credit to this great country. Neil Herbst feels that his time with the Yankees had prepared him for everything in his life, both good and bad. Even with all the success that he has had in his life, he still says that the greatest job he has ever had was that of a Yankee batboy.

Now with the fact that he has such a horrible decease like ALS, it's incredible that the magic of the Yankees continue to give Neil the strength and courage to live life one day at a time and know that a cure could be somewhere in the horizon. With the power of prayer, hopefully sooner than we think.

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." Read Ray Negron's Reports — More Here.

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Like Lou Gehrig, Neil spoke to me with the same courage and passion that I imagined that Lou Gehrig would have displayed.
lougehrig, georgesteinbrenner
Tuesday, 20 October 2020 08:22 AM
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