Thursday, December 17, 2009

Yankee adviser sad to see old Stadium go

Yankee adviser sad to see old Stadium go
December 17, 2009 by JIM BAUMBACH /

Ray Negron and George Steinbrenner

In what used to be centerfield at the old Yankee Stadium Ray Negron stood Wednesday with his shoulders slumped, a somber look plastered on his face.

Clearly he did not like what he was seeing.

“Sad,” he said. “Just sad.”

The stadium is slowing coming down, and of all the people who have come through these hallowed grounds over the years, perhaps no one has a stronger connection to it than Negron.

After all, it changed his life.

It was some 36 years ago when new Yankees owner George Steinbrenner caught Negron painting graffiti on the outside of Yankee Stadium. Instead of turning Negron over to the police, Steinbrenner made him the batboy for that night’s game, telling him he could keep the job if he stayed out of trouble.

That began a lifelong relationship between Steinbrenner and Negron, one that has inspired Negron in recent years to give back to children – and to Steinbrenner, for what he describes as living a dream ever since the Yankees owner dragged him away by the shoulder that day.

He has brought sick children, underprivileged kids – basically anyone in need of hope – to the stadium for a pick-me-up. Or he has brought the Yankees to them, including one time last summer appearing with Alex Rodriguez at the handball court across from Yankee Stadium for an impromptu game of stickball.

He has written three Yankee-themed children’s books, all dedicated to Steinbrenner, but his current passion has been films.

There’s an animated movie due out next spring, “Henry and Me,” detailing a young sick boy’s magical journey in which various Yankees give him life lessons. Richard Gere lent his voice for the lede role, with more than a dozen Yankees from Yogi Berra to Joe Girardi making cameos.

Finally, there’s a movie tentatively entitled “Keeper of the Pinstripes,” focusing on a kid Steinbrenner finds on the street and instructs to move the ghosts and spirits from the old Yankee Stadium to the new one before it is gone. That’s why Negron and his movie crew were on hand at the old stadium yesterday.

“You want to feel the heart and soul of what Yankee Stadium represents, and you want to feel the spirits in the room,” executive producer Alfred Zaccagnino said, “so you can convey that on screen.”

If you believe in the Yankee Stadium ghosts and think they’re still there, then they must be residing in the Lou Gehrig room, the last place still standing in its original form. This is the place Gehrig’s widow once told Negron Gehrig used to go to sit, cry and pray in his remaining days as a Yankee.

To commemorate the room, there is a painting on the pillar of Yankees captains Gehrig, Thurman Munson and Derek Jeter, which still stands there today amid the construction.

“Jeter would never come into this room,” Negron said. “He was afraid. Everyday I used to say to him, ‘Let’s go to the room.’ And he’d say, ‘We will. We will.’ But I finally gave up.
“A month before we closed the stadium, I accidentally bumped into him right by the room and I said, ‘This is not a coincidence. Do me a favor. Let’s go there.’ And we did.

“He saw this, and he was silent but you could tell he was moved. He only said one thing. He repeated thank you, eight or nine times.”

That it was Negron who was in position to give Jeter that perspective of history is not lost on him.

Negron is the first to tell you he’s lived a life every Yankees fan could dream of, and he owes it all to a can of graffiti and an owner willing to give a kid a chance.

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