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Guest post: The day George Steinbrenner changed my life

16

July

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A number of public officials in Tampa Bay and New York spoke of George Steinbrenner's philanthropy after his death on Tuesday. Greg Swisher, of Largo, shares his personal observance of that generosity in this guest post for Let's Talk. Swisher is shown above with "The Boss" on opening day of Legends Field in Tampa (now George M. Steinbrenner Field).

 *****

A New York Yankees fan all me life, I was at the opening game at Legends Field, the new spring training home of the New York Yankees in Tampa. I went with my good friend and “brother” James (Jimmy) Palamara, a Yankee fan his whole life too. Life was good. It could not have been any better.

I moved to Florida in the middle of in 1993 after graduating from Penn State. A few years later an article appeared in the St. Petersburg Times. It was a picture of the “Scooter” (Phil Rizzuto) and the headline said, “Be Part of the Legend”. The article continued, “the Yankees are bringing their spring training home to the Tampa area”. I stood up without hesitation and wrote a check to the New York Yankees.

A year later I was sitting at the newest, biggest spring training facility in the majors. All the legends were there: Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Clete Boyer, the Scooter and many more.

The next part of opening day came when Jimmy started getting antsy, he can’t sit still. But I, on the other hand, wasn’t moving, just enjoying the introductions and the start of the game. Jimmy had to get up and check out this awesome new stadium. I followed.

Still staring at the field in wonderment knowing my beloved team was here and going to be here every spring. We walked the stadium checking everything out. The beer stands, food venders, souvenirs, etc. We then decided to walk down the stairs in front of the stadium to see the monuments.

I’m uneasy because I’m missing the game, but now enjoying the plaques of Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle and DiMaggio. As I’m taking in the tradition of the Yankees, in the distance an elevator door opens. Jimmy says “There’s the Boss !”.

“NO WAY”, I said. Just behind us are 10,000 people in His new stadium and George Steinbrenner (alone) is walking toward Jimmy and me.

I normally would take it easy, breathe deep and ask for an autograph. But, I had Jimmy with me. And with all the Brooklyn accent possible, Jimmy yells “George, take a picture with my ‘brother’”. It was loud enough to compete with the demolition of the Big Sombrero which was still just across Dale Mabry.

Mr. Steinbrenner just smiled, walked closer, signed my poster the Yankees gave out to all the fans coming into the stadium that day (an artists rendering of Legends Field) and put his arm around me. CLICK. There it was, The Boss and Me!

Forever hanging in any house I will live in for the rest of my life, (as well as Detzi’s Tavern just outside of Bangor, PA). He shook my hand and said something nice that I wish I could remember, but was too in awe to do so. That’s when this story REALLY started.

Mr. Steinbrenner turned away as did I, thinking this was the greatest day for me in my Yankee-loving history. At this time a lady with 3 young children walked across the sidewalk and past the monuments. She did not know Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle or DiMaggio. Her kids just wanted to go to a ball game. They looked like they were not so fortunate. Honestly, down on their luck. I followed slowly behind because of the curiosity of Mr. Steinbrenner who had noticed the very same lady.

They went up to the ticket window of a sold out game being followed by a curious Yankee fan and a man with a blue blazer and white turtle neck. Obviously the game was sold out and in the third inning. She and the children just turned and walked away. The man in the blue blazer and white turtleneck stopped them and asked if they had gotten tickets to the game.

She sheepishly said, “no”. The kids looked disappointed but were somehow comfortable, maybe used to disappointment. This man in the blue blazer who had followed them to the window asked them to hold on.

They had no idea who he was, but I did, and followed with respectful distance to see what was happening. The man in the blue blazer and white turtleneck took them to the ticket window and instructed the person behind the glass to print out four tickets for the next three games at the new stadium.

The person behind the glass handed them to Mr. Steinbrenner. I guess I don’t need to tell the rest or this story. I will probably never know where that lady is or her three kids for the rest of my life. But I DO know that George Steinbrenner changed five lives that day.

The fifth, by the way, is mine. Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, and DiMaggio are important to me. Peace, Happiness, Giving and Love are the most important.

*****

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[Last modified: Friday, July 16, 2010 4:01pm]

    

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