NEW YORK, NY – Watching a game from an owner’s suite is a pure privilege. There are family members, friends and every now and then a surprise celebrity guest who pops in. Hank [Steinbrenner] called me one day and needed a favor. “I need you to entertain someone in the suite tomorrow,” he pleaded. That someone was Hall of Fame Hockey coach Scotty Bowman. He was living in Sarasota, Florida, the Spring Training home of the Baltimore Orioles, and coincidentally the Yankees were hosting the Orioles. I told Hank I don’t know shit about hockey, and he responded, “Tomorrow we’ll have the best of the best teach us the game.”
I walked into the suite for the 1 p.m. game and there he was, the Canadian legend. I introduced myself to him and sat by his side for nine innings. This man who coached his teams to nine Stanley Cups was a joy to be with. We spent the whole time talking about baseball. The winningest coach in NHL history knew his stuff. He was a huge Montreal Expos fan, and he was surprised at how much I knew about that defunct team. I broke down each player, position by position and Mr. Bowman thought he could stump me when he asked, “I bet you don’t remember our second baseman?” When I blurted out, “Rodney Scott!,” he was shocked. He responded, “Wow, not too many people remember that.”
Hank would occasionally stop by to see if the hockey legend was enjoying himself. Bowman would just praise me to him. He would ask Hank, “This guy is great; he knows the game, why isn’t he working for you?” Hank seemed amused that me and Bowman hit it off. The talk went back to the Expos and Bowman couldn’t remember a pitcher in the rotation that had potential Hall of Fame written all over him. I gave him a few seconds to come up with the name before I blurted out, “Bill Gullickson!” Bowman’s face lit up, “Yes, yes, that’s him,” he exclaimed. Hank told Bowman, “Me and Aris want to hear about hockey, tell us some hockey stories.” Bowman laughed and said, “I like hockey too, but I love baseball.”
The man bragged about his baseball card collection and about a prized Mickey Mantle card that he owned. You could feel his passion for the sport as he watched and talked about “America’s Pastime.”
The Orioles had a rookie on their Spring Training roster named Mike Yastrzemski. He stepped into the batter’s box and I pointed out to Bowman that was the Red Sox legend’s grandson. Bowman studied the rookie, who was at the bat and said, “Really? His grandfather Carl was one great player.” Another Hall of Famer named Reggie Jackson, who was a guest instructor during the spring, made his way up to the suite in his full pinstriped uniform. I introduced Bowman to him, and the hockey legend excitedly asked him for his autograph. Jackson signed a ball as I snapped photos of the two.
The game was over and before Bowman made his way out, he thanked Hank and then came over to me and said, “Aris, you were a great guy to talk baseball with.” That made my day, even though he pronounced my name his way. He posed for a picture with me and off he went.
Hank kidded with me, “Man, he spent more time with you than me, get outta my suite,” as we both laughed. He then added, “He’s coached his teams to the most Stanley Cups, and he wouldn’t share his knowledge of hockey with us.” I then told Hank, “That is one man who refuses to talk about his line of work.”
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