Today: A special memory of Bob Andelman — Mr. Media — sharing a one-of-a-kind moment with the late New York Yankees great Yogi Berra.
Pull up a chair, kids, and I’ll tell you about my close encounter with Yogi Berra, who passed away yesterday.
In the fall of 1984, New York Yankees owner (and long-time Tampa resident) George Steinbrenner saw the Dunedin High School Falconaires chorus perform at a civic function at the Tampa Downtown Hyatt Hotel. Impressed by their work, he boldly invited the group to Yankee Stadium the following spring to sing the National Anthem before the start of a Yankees game.
I was a hustling young correspondent working out of The St. Petersburg Times’s Clearwater Bureau and either Joseph Childs or Bob Jenkins took a call from a DHS parent with this wild Steinbrenner story. Not impossible — The Boss was always doing things to support the communities on both sides of Tampa Bay — just unusual. I was tasked with tracking down Steinbrenner and seeing if he would confirm the promise he made to the kids.
I did and he did.
On the telephone, in his inimitable way, Steinbrenner complimented the kids’ performance and confirmed he would bring them to The Bronx to sing in the spring.
Fast-forward to April.
No one at Dunedin High had heard from Steinbrenner or the Yankees since then. But instead of calling him, they called me to find out what happened to the invitation.
One more time, I reached out to Steinbrenner and one more time he said it was on. (Maybe he forgot, I don’t know.) Within days, a Yankees rep made all the arrangements to fly the kids to New York and be Steinbrenner’s guests.
Be sheer coincidence, their big day coincided with a week I was already going to be in New Jersey visiting my mom. So, of course, I made arrangements to cover the DHS kids at The House That Ruth Built.
There was a very pretty girl I liked at the time, Alicia Grimaldi, the daughter of a woman who worked with my mom, and I invited her to be my guest at Yankee Stadium.
When the day arrived, we went to the stadium and while Alicia took her seat in the stands, I sought out my press contact with the Yankees so I could follow the Dunedin High singers through their long-awaited adventure.
To my surprise, he led me through the narrow tunnels of old Yankee Stadium, at one point stopping to introduce me to Dave Winfield. I didn’t know where we were headed until we got there: the New York Yankees dugout.
My first baseball game ever was in this stadium, in 1968, with my grandfather, where we saw my (still) hero, Mickey Mantle, slug one of his last home runs from way up in the cheap seats.
The press guy deposited me in the dugout, said the kids would come through there to the field, and I could see it all from the bench.
Then he left me there.
Pretty soon, the Yankees came along for their pregame rituals and I just sat there, mouth agape, wishing my grandfather could have seen me that day.
Eventually, the Dunedin High singers were led to the field, sang “The Star Spangled Banner,” and were led out.
I suppose I should have followed them out, but I figured the press guy would come get me, not wanting a reporter to be wandering around the underbelly of the stadium unattended.
So I sat at the far end of the dugout and waited.
Eventually, the players came to the bench and the game was moments away from starting.
A short man with oversized ears soon came and sat down next to me. He was the manager of the Bombers then.
“Uh, hi, Mr. Berra,” I said.
“Hi,” he said. “Who the HELL are you and what the EFF are you doing in my G-DDAMN dugout???”
“Well, I’m a reporter with the St. Petersburg Times and Mr. Steinbrenner invited these kids from Florida to sing the…”
“Let me rephrase that,” he said, “I don’t care WHO the EFF you are, just get the EFF out of my dugout NOW before the game starts!”
“But I don’t know where to…”
And that’s my Yogi Berra close encounter. I’ve told the story a few times over the years, to no better audience than the current publications editor for the New York Yankees this past winter, when she assigned me to write a history of Legends Field/Steinbrenner Field for the Spring Training program.
I hope it was worth reading to the end.