Negron’s Impact: Want To learn About Stadia And Fandom? There Is A New Book for That

Stadia And Fandom

I interviewed a great author last weekend on my radio show ESPN Impact on 1050 AM.

His name is Rafi Kohan and he has written a book called The Arena.  It was a very interesting interview and I think you would all love this book!

The football season has brought lots of changes with regard to fandom, especially around football. From the opening of a new stadium in Atlanta, the Chargers move to LA, the Athletics announcing a new stadium, the Golden Knights ready to face off in Las Vegas and the Raiders constantly in flux between the Bay Area and Sin City. While new facilities are important, what makes a franchise go are not gleaming suites, but the people and the quirks that make them special.

A Brooklyn resident and lifelong sports fan, Kohan looks at the numbers of building these mammoth shrines, but then takes us deep inside the minds and hearts of fandom, from the lifelong workers to the passionate fans, and shows us what really makes America as a sports-crazed culture so unique.

THE ARENA goes into how stadium owners and architects evolve with the demands of ticket holders—respecting their nostalgia while offering greater creature comforts and modern amenities and where to the money to build, maintain, and improve these cities within cities has come and gone.

He touches on:

  • How tradition is maintained in Wrigley Field, where the vintage center-field scoreboard is still manually operated;
  • How ticket scalpers in places like Cleveland’s Progressive Field, skirt law enforcement while eking out a living on the fringes and fighting increased competition from StubHub;
  • How sod is farmed (in Alabama) and AstroTurf produced (in Georgia), and how unforgiving grounds keeping can be for the crews after a monster truck show;
  • How security keeps the peace and controls crowds at some of the most infamous rowdy fan sections (like the Raider Nation’s Black Hole in Oakland);
  • How mascots and halftime acts (like Amazing Sladek and Kansas City’s Sluggerrr) approach their jobs with the utmost professionalism;
  • How concessions are partnering with celebrity chefs, and the elaborate beer rooms, food warehouses, and prep kitchens involved in servicing tens of thousands of spectators (and how the consumption of food now outpaces that of alcohol in the stands);
  • How professional teams celebrate and exploit patriotism, while also being inclusive and progressive on social issues sensitive to the players and the fans.

All of that and more comes across in THE ARENA, a great read for both the casual and the die-hard sports fan.    It can be found at your local bookseller or online at Amazon.

Negron’s Impact: Hollywood Will Not Forget Gene “The Stick” Michael

Tonight marked the end of principle photography for the motion picture that has been in production in New York all summer called Stano. It is a wonderful story, so elegantly written by Bronx boy, Robert Bruzio and starring Joe Manganiello and Sofia Vergara. It is a story of redemption.

It is a story of what sports fans would say the Yankees have been all about ever since an Ohio ship builder bought the Yankees in 1973.

Besides winning championships, George Steinbrenner proved to the world that letting people, who were down on there luck for what ever the reason, can be helpful and positive influences in making the Yankees and New York winners again.

He had people like Gene Micheal help him understand baseball, who also supported the Boss in making very difficult life decisions. Examples being Steve Howe, Darryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden. Gene was there every step of the way and these two man learned from each other and many learned from them.

Gene Michael was the people’s guy. The Stick was truly color blind. That’s why so many African Americans and Hispanics loved him so much. When I was a kid and we were playing in the sandlots, if I couldn’t be Mickey Mantle in 1968, then I was always Gene “The Stick” Michael. Most Spanish kids were “The Stick” because a lot of us were built skinny like Gene was.

Oh and by the way, Gene was a very graceful dancer just like he played shortstop. Let’s not forget that he started in the Pittsburgh Pirate organization where they had so many black and Latin players that loved to dance. Roberto Clemente being one of them.

Ken Fagen and Ray Negron with Stick Michael

Gene Michael always wanted to write his book, but never did because he was afraid of offending anyone especially the Boss or any member of the Steinbrenner family. This past year I was pushing him into doing a children’s book because I thought the kids would of loved his story, which also included the fact that he was also a great basketball player.

As many of you know, Robert Molloy and I are associate producers on Stano. We were suppose to have Gene Michael do a cameo appearance as a scout. He was so excited to be asked to appear in a movie that he was beside himself. I was gonna have Ken Fagan – a gentleman who had become Gene’s closest confidant the last few years – act as his assistant scout sitting next to him.

However in life, things just don’t always go according to plan and as you know we lost our beloved Stick. On the last day of shooting, I went to our great cinematographer Barry Markowitz and our director Raymond De Felitta to talk about the situation and they decided that when we shot the scouts scene there would be an empty seat between the scouts to represent Gene “The Stick” Michael. De Felitta actually plays a scout who acknowledges the seat belonging to Stick.

To say that there wasn’t a dry eye on the movie set would be an understatement.

Thank you George Steinbrenner for realizing the potential genius of “The Stick” in 1976. Also I speak for so many of us when I say we miss you and love you so much.

Let me add that Stick and Thurman Munson were by far the best card players ever. At least that’s what the Stick would say and then he would give you that famous laugh of his.

Weekends belong to Ray Negron on 1050 ESPN Deportes. Read Ray on Newsmax. 

Negron: Gene “The Stick” Michael Was Always a Hero!

Ray Negron with Gene Michael

To say that Gene Michael was a hero would be an understatement.  Gene was part of the era that when the Yankees were not playing well, in his graceful way he made them look so good.  He took that same work ethic and charisma to help George Steinbrenner build that wonderful winning era of the nineties and beyond.  He was a dear friend who loved the fact that in my book, Yankee Miracles, a Puerto Rican kid from the Bronx during the era of Mickey Mantle and Billy Martin would say. “Gene Michael Your my hero!”  And he would always respond by saying, “You should set your sights higher.”  And laugh…

I am on the committee for the Ted Williams Hall of Fame and I was so happy to have inducted Gene Michael into the museum.  I know how happy that made him.  I spoke to him yesterday and he sounded fine.  He agreed to play the part of a scout in the motion picture, “Stano” that I am currently working on.  I will miss you forever my friend, my hero!

One of the very first Yankees that I met my first day in the Yankee clubhouse was Gene “The Stick” Michael. I idolized Gene Michael because like me, he was a shortstop, and he was skinny.  He was the most graceful infielder that I had ever seen.

When Mr. Steinbrenner ordered Pete Sheehy, the clubhouse manager, to get me a uniform so that I could be a bat boy that night in order to work off damages for my graffiti antics, the first players to come over and introduce themselves to me were Ron Bloomberg, baseballs very first designated hitter and Gene Michael.

It was so cool meeting him because I used to tag all around the city. “The Stick” – that’s how much I idolized this man.

I will never forget when he first extended his hand to me and said, “Hi, I’m Gene Michael.” He reminded me of the great actor Gary Cooper who played Lou Gehrig in “The Pride of the Yankees.” He was just a very cool guy and very generous on the field. When he found out that I could play a little bit, he gave me a lot of advice about playing shortstop.

You could tell that he was a true student of the game because he studied everything when it came to baseball. Sometimes I would just stare at Gene sitting in the dugout in between at bats and he would be studying every player from the opposition.

Sometimes some of our players would sit next to him and ask his opinion about different situations. We used to have a player on the team by the name of Walt “No Neck” Williams who loved talking all facets of the game with Gene. I would love to just sit and listen to them. It actually made me a better player because I would practice what they talked about.

Gene MichaelGene helped me with my fielding and Walt “No Neck” Williams helped me with my hitting. It was no coincidence that that following year I would be drafted in the second round by the Pittsburgh Pirates. It would not have happened without the baseball tutelage from these two guys.

I will never forget taking ground balls with Gene Michael. There used to be a game where we would play for a Coke. We would take ground balls and the guy that made the most errors had to get the winner a cup of Coke with ice after batting practice and put it on the stool in his locker. As you could imagine, I don’t remember ever winning.

Gene was also the best card player I had ever seen. At that time, I think the big card game in the clubhouse was whisk and some guys played spade. I remember that Gene and Thurman Munson were always a team and they beat everybody.

In the winter, some of the players had a basketball team and the two best players were Gene Michael and Walt Williams. They used to play at different high schools and colleges in order to raise money for the school athletic programs. Late in the game, they always gave me a couple of minutes playing time and once they realized that I could play, I became the extra player who gave the starters a breather. Dick Barnett, the great Knick guard, even played with us. Barnett had once played for George Steinbrenner when the Boss owned the Cleveland Pipers of the old ABA.

The fans always loved “the Stick” because he had been with the Yankees for almost 10 years and had a strong personal relationship with them. In those days, the players had to come out of the stadium and cross the street in order to get their cars in the parking lot. Gene always took the time to stop, sign autographs and talk to the fans. People used to feel like they personally knew him.

I will never forget that one time in 1974, we were playing a Saturday afternoon game at Shea Stadium. After the game, I was leaving with my girlfriend and her sister and the car broke down. I ran inside to get help and when I got back to the car Gene was under the hood getting the car going! By that time, the gesture didn’t surprise me because that’s who Gene Michael was. Always helping.

That year Gene was our utility infielder. My very first road trip with the team was in August and we were in Chicago. It was a Saturday night and our manager, Bill Virdon, decided to start Gene at shortstop in place of Jim Mason. I was the happiest guy on the bench and I’m sure Gene knew it. That day he went five for five and I was feeling like I had also gone five for five.

Ray Negron talking to Gene MichaelThurman Munson was very close to Gene Michael. Thurman thought of Gene like a big brother. He knew how much I admired “The Stick” and I think that opened the door to the great friendship that I would have with Thurman and his family. To this day, I consider the Munson family just that, family. Just as Bobby and Kay Murcer and their kids will always be my family also.

It is no coincidence that it all started with Gene “The Stick” Michael, a man with one of the greatest baseball minds ever. He was extremely respected and loved by the Boss, George Steinbrenner. For me and a lot of kids like me of that era, Gene “The Stick” Michael would always be our hero!

PS: The first time I knew that Gene Michael was truly a baseball genius was October 18 of 1977. Reggie Jackson has just completed the greatest batting practice exhibition that I had ever seen since Mickey Mantle in 1968. Reggie probably hit 35 out of 50 balls Way- Way out of Yankee Stadium. Reggie then went to a telephone and called Gene Michael, who was our advance scout and would sit in the press box with a walkie-talkie and send info to Billy Martin. Reggie asked Gene, “What do I look for today?” Gene Michael said, “Fastball in. Move back in the batter’s box a few inches.” Reggie followed his orders perfectly and the rest is history. Three pitches and three home runs and the birth of “Mr. October!”

Gene Michael would go on to manage, become a general manager, Vice President of Baseball Operations. But more importantly, one of The Boss’s very best friends.

Negron’s Impact: Hank’s Yanks Are The Angels With Dirty Faces in Stano


If your an old movie buff, you might remember the great movie Angels with Dirty Faces, which was done in 1939 with the great James Cagney. Then there was the great film, They Made Me Criminal. That film starred John Garfield a wonderful actor who got caught up in the communist hearings of the 1950s and basically got blacklisted.

Both of these films were critically acclaimed by a very tough media at the time. Both of these films co-starred The Dead End Kids. They were a gang of kids that came from New York. A big producer spotted these kids tested them and took a shot with them in a film and the rest is history. They would go on to great fame doing their own movies, also known as the Eastside Kids and later The Bowery Boys.

James Cagney and the Dead End Kids.

The latest film project that I’m working on is called Stano.  It’s a great story about a kid from Arthur Ave in the Bronx who because of his natural baseball ability has the world at his feet until he makes a tragic mistake and must pay the price.

This film Stars Joe Manganiello as Sonny Stano and Sofia Vergara as the love he left behind.

The film also has a group of kids that were originally taken from the tough streets of New York over ten years ago by Hank Steinbrenner to form the first Hank’s Yanks baseball team. Many of these kids went from street gangs to go on and get college educations and a few of them went on to play professional baseball.

This past week I got to see Manganiello do a scene with Brandon Martinez, an original Hank’s Yank and to say that it brought tears to my eyes would be an understatement .

Brandon just finished his final year of college and expected to be drafted in the Major League Baseball draft. For what ever reason it didn’t happen. It broke his heart and it broke my heart even more because as their manager these kids become your sons. I could only tell Brandon and his dad Angelo that everything happens for a reason.

Well, that reason has become Stano. Brandon’s other love interest was the arts and it’s become story book the way this has happened for him.

My other player on the film is Bryan Dromerhauser a catcher on Hank’s Yanks who also should be playing pro ball, but just didn’t get the break. Bryan was studying acting in California when I call him about Stano. No one gave Bryan anything. He went to the audition and just took the part. Another bad boy on the film is Anthony Rossati. A terrific pitcher that reaches 95 on the radar gun but just didn’t get the chance.

In all, there are about eight Hank’s Yanks players involved in the film and they are having the time of their lives.

When I watch Manganiello doing his scenes with these kids it reminds me of those two great films and it makes me wonder if that’s the way it was working with Cagney and Garfield.

I asked Brandon what did he get out of working with Joe and he said how natural and yet intense he was in such a strong scene.

The players love how such an established actor like Manganiello can be so generous in making them feel like they belong.

Kudos to a wonderful script written by Robert Bruzio a true Bronx boy from Arthur Ave .  Filming will continue all throughout New York City until the end of September and the film is directed by the terrific Raymond Defelitta.

Weekends Belong To Ray on 1050 ESPN Deportes. Read him on Newsmax.