Small World And The Big Stadium


My daughter-in-law Liz gave me the best compliment recently when she said she is going to be more like me, in that I talk to everyone I meet and make friends easily. A few days later, we were going out to breakfast by their new home in Babylon at a great little diner named Glen’s Dinette. Since there was a 30-minute wait, she offered to wait while my son, my two grandsons and I went over to the local surf shop, Bungers, to kill some time. The couple behind the counter was very nice. I mentioned that I just got back from Rincon, Puerto Rico because I knew the shop was started by the legendary surf board shaper Charlie Bunger, who now lives down in Rincon. 

“That’s my father!” Theresa informed us.

Her husband Ray noticed my son’s Yankees jacket and asked if we were Yankees fans. As it turns out, he wrote a children’s book called “One Last Time,” a baseball fantasy about the legends of the Yankees coming back to play a final game together at the old stadium before it is closed. Ray gave my grandsons a free copy of the book that they will cherish for years to come. I mentioned that the Yankees have a day game Thursday that I was thinking of going to.

“Who you going to go with?” Ray inquired.

“My daughter Trish, we go to a lot of games together.”

“Write down your name and phone number,” Ray said as he passed me a pen and paper. “I’ll get you tickets, just go to will call when you get to the stadium.”

Wow. I just met Ray and Theresa and he gave my grandsons a book, and me and Trish tickets to the game. Who was this special man? I was about to find out. There was another book behind the counter called “Yankee Miracles.” I inquired about that book and sure enough, Ray wrote that one too.  I told him I’d like to buy a copy and as I read it I learned what a special man Ray is. 

If you get a chance, pick up a copy. The book tells the true story of Ray Negron, who as a young 17-year-old in the early 1970’s, cut out of school and was spray painting graffiti on the walls of Yankee Stadium when a limo pulled up and out came George Steinbrenner who grabbed Ray and took him into the stadium where he was going to be arrested. But George saw an opportunity to change a kid’s life and made Ray work for him to pay off the damage. Ray found himself in a Yankees uniform on the field, shagging fly balls during batting practice hours later, while his cousins watched in disbelief. 

So began Ray’s lifelong career working with the Yankees in many different capacities. While his inside-the-clubhouse tales of all the Yankee greats through the years are riveting, the real story is what Ray did with his opportunity, parlaying it into his becoming a community leader, dedicating his own life to helping, inspiring and rescuing generations of city kids from the temptations of the street. The book is funny, inspirational, emotional and a fun read for Yankees and non-Yankees fans alike.

Back to Babylon, when we got back to the diner, all my daughter-in-law Liz could do was shake her head in disbelief at our good fortune of meeting such great people.

The game itself was an adventure. At the stadium, they were having trouble tracking down our tickets. Ray was in Florida and the Yankees staff couldn’t have been nicer trying to locate where our tickets were. It took two innings and phone calls to a half dozen Yankees officers to finally get us in. But it was worth the wait. The seats were in the second section, front row, just to the right of home plate.       Trish and I were in our glory watching the game so close. After about an inning, a gentleman and Yankees staff member named George came over to us and asked us if we knew about the Delta Club.  He told us to go up there when we wanted and help ourselves to free snacks, gourmet food and drinks for sale in a beautiful setting. When he walked away, the people sitting around us said, “Who do you know?” The answer, of course, is Ray. The Delta Club was great. They had an outdoor deck with waiter service and views of the field. But we spent most of our time back in our great seats. Even when the opposing pitcher had a perfect game going in the fifth, Trish and I were counting our blessings. As a great Yankee once said, we considered ourselves to be the luckiest people on the face of the earth.  Trish and I had a bet, we each picked one Yankee to see who would hit a home run. She had Stanton and I had Sanchez. With the Yankees down in the bottom of the ninth 3-1, Sanchez got up with two on and drilled one into the left field seats for a game winning walk off homer. Lifetime memories are made at the Stadium.

One more amazing coincidence. Sitting next to us was this wildly enthusiastic fan that we struck up a conversation with named Sokol. Small talk led us to find out he was from Astoria, Queens and when we told him we were from Rockaway, he said he was working on a house in Belle Harbor. We asked him the address and sure enough it was my son’s house, which he just sold a month ago. Our jaws dropped when he said the address. Of the 40,758 people in attendance, we are sitting next to a guy working on my son’s house a month after he sold it. Crazy world.

The moral of the story is to greet people with a smile and an open heart. Everyone you meet has a story and the beauty of life is to open your eyes and ears to it.

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