TAMPA, FL – Before it was renamed Steinbrenner Field, the Spring Training home was rightfully called Legends Field. The name change took place in 2009. Legends are what the Yankees franchise has produced throughout their history. The homegrown names include Gehrig, Lazzeri, DiMaggio, Mantle, Rizzuto, Ford, Dickey, Munson and many others. When they were alive and well, they would make their way to Spring Training as guest instructors. One of the few remaining ones showed up in 2011. Lawrence Peter Berra was the Last of the Mohicans; “Yogi,” commanded respect from everyone who was around him. He had the most world championship rings as a player at ten, one for each finger.
Yogi was like the Grand Master when he donned his pinstripe number 8 uniform. When he spoke everyone listened. He had a habit of always leaving Florida a few days before Spring Training would end. As he was on his way to the airport, Yogi wanted to offer his appreciation to Hank. Hank and I were upstairs in the office when in walked Yogi, escorted by clubhouse attendant Lou Cucuzza. Hank jumped up from his chair at the sight of “Baseball Royalty.”
Yogi’s words to Hank were, “I’m going back home, thanks for having me.” Hank was blushing as he told the Hall of Famer, “Thanks for being here.” I then jumped from my chair and asked both of them to pose for a family photo. I snapped a couple of shots from my camera, and then handed it to Hank, to let him know it was my turn to pose. Hank clicked the camera toward me and the best catcher in Yankees history. I didn’t stop there. I called over Cucuzza and asked him to take a shot of Hank, Yogi and me. Yogi said his goodbyes and made his way back to New Jersey.
It was a surreal moment being in the same room with Yogi. I explained to Hank why I had to take those pictures, “That man is up there in age, and you never know if those are the last photos that he’ll appear in.” Hank gave me that, “Don’t talk like that,” look and then he asked me if the camera I held was reliable. I told him, “I’ll let you know after I develop them.” He was now anxious to see the images. He said, “When’s that happening?” I answered, “I’m going to Walgreens right now.”
I left his office and headed to the Walgreens by Westshore Boulevard. It took five minutes to get the 8×10 images of Yogi’s visit. I got back to Hank’s office where he excitedly waited for my photo presentation. His eyes got wide, as he glared at the glossy of him and Yogi. The image in my mind of Hank’s smile as he clutched that photo will stay with me forever.
It was on September 22, 2015, when Yogi made it to “Yankee Heaven.” Instead of mourning his death, I smiled at the memory of the legend with Hank and me up in the office that March day in 2011.