Negron: Tip of the Cap Helps ALS Battler Dan Colon

Dan Colon is a 52-year old baseball player from the sandlots of New York and New Jersey. As a kid, he lived in the Bronx and Manhattan. Like most kids of that era, he had the dream of playing in the big leagues. Dan was a very good player, a third baseman, but he fell just short of his dream. Dan went to college, got married, had kids and continued to play baseball. He played for so long and so well in these leagues that he would become a sandlot legend. Always a true gentleman, he was well liked by the players that interacted with him.

Two years ago, he played in a major adult tournament at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. In his final game there, he played so well both offensively and defensively that they were comparing him to Yankee legend Graig Nettles. Play after play, his glove was like a magnet. As fate would have it, Dan even stroked a big double to help win the game. Afterwards, the kids that were there would ask Dan for his autograph. That was truly Dan’s big moment in the sun.

However, fate would not be so kind. Shortly after getting home, Dan started feeling a little strange. His hands were not feeling right. He started having trouble combing his hair. All the little things that we take for granted, Dan was having trouble doing. He started going to doctors for all sorts of exams until he got the horrible news that no one would ever want to hear. Dan has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclorosis or ALS and as it’s come to be known, “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” a disease that affects one’s motor skills.

When Dan was telling me about what he’s going through, I couldn’t help but think of the movie, “Pride of the Yankees.” I immediately thought of the scene when Gehrig couldn’t put on his tie. I also though about the fact that just like Dan, Gehrig was a wonderful person.

I asked Dan what keeps him going from day to day and he tells me that, naturally, the love and support that his family gives him and then without skipping a beat, he says his ‘love of the Yankees.’ The fact that he can watch all the games and really stay mentally involved with the team helps him so very much.

Just recently, he was watching a great pitching performance by James Paxton. The left hander struck out 12 hitters in 6 innings. It was the second consecutive start that Paxton struck out 12. It was also a game that, even though it’s early in the season, the Yankees needed a start like that out of Paxton in order to preserve the pitching staff.

The thing that really impressed Dan about the Yankee pitcher was when Yankee Mgr. Aaron Boone came to take him out of the game, Paxton tipped his cap and waved to the fans. Dan asked me when was the last time that you saw that? I told him that it was Jim “Catfish” Hunter. I told Dan that “Catfish” was one of the classiest players that I had ever met in baseball. Just a wonderful man. I told Dan that “Catfish” was the same type person as Dan is. What is ironic is that at just about the same age that “Catfish” would get ALS, Dan was also afflicted with the dreaded disease.

Dan asked me what kind of person James Paxton is. I told him we have had limited conversations but it has always been about reaching out to help kids and charities. Dave Valle, the former catcher and MLB broadcaster, has told me what a terrific young man Paxton is. So Dan responded by saying that he roots for all the Yankees but will root a little harder for James Paxton, just so that he can see that little tip of the cap and also think of “Catfish” Hunter.

Dan asked me if “Catfish” was a fighter? I told Dan that “Catfish” was just like you. With that, Dan said, then he fought ’til the end.

If you would like to help Dan with his fight:

Negron: Hank, A Regular Guy

Frank Tack baseball field, Clearwater, Florida.

It was a warm and somewhat foggy night. Two teams are battling it out. Mostly teenagers and guys in their twenties. The only exception is 57-year old Aris Sakellaridis, the oldest guy in the league.

It had been a pretty uneventful game until the 6th inning when all of a sudden a tall figure was walking in from the right field parking lot. It seemed as if everyone stopped what they were doing to see who the figure was. It looked like an old classic picture of the great actor James Dean.

Well it wasn’t James Dean, it was Yankee co-Chairman Hank Steinbrenner who decided to come to the game to see his friend Aris play. The young players, and for that matter all the players, were blown away that Hank would come down to the field to watch everyday people play.

Aris would respond to that statement by saying that Hank is a regular person who appreciates the good in all. After Aris grounded out, Hank grabbed a bat and gave him some proper batting tips. In some of their conversation Hank even told him about proper pitching mechanics, just in case Aris would be brought in to pitch. Joking around, Hank said I’m taking over and the first thing I’m gonna do is change the name of this team from the Pandas to a more masculine name like “Bullfrogs.”

Michael Kelly is the Pandas’ designated hitter. As it turned out he had been a spring training intern for the Yankees. Now he works for the Yanks class A affiliate, the Tampa Tarpons. Kelly is the public address announcer during the Tarpons’ games.

In between at bats he got to spend time with Hank getting advice on steps he should take in order to advance in the world of sports management. Hank could not have been nicer in his advice to this aspiring young man. He was like a professor talking to his pupil.

One by one some of the other players and some parents would come over to shake Hank’s hand. As you stand next to this man and listen to him talk about different subjects you realize how much he really has to give to the world.

This morning I was watching the animated film “Henry & Me.” I had forgotten that Hank did the voice of his father, George Steinbrenner. He may have been the best actor in that film. I must add that the other actors were named Richard Gere, Luis Guzman, and two Oscar Nominated actors named Danny Aiello and Chazz Palminteri.

I guess he is just like James Dean.

Negron: “Love At First Bite”

George Hamilton and Ray Negrons

Last week I had the pleasure of having my off Broadway play, “Batboy, A Yankee Miracle,” performed by my cast in Hernando County, Florida, for the U.S. Veterans and First Responders. I also got to do two, one-man shows with the original music of the incredible Alex Martin for the Admiral Farragut Academy in St. Petersburg, Florida where 100% of the proceeds went to the area charities.

After the shows at the Academy, I had a reunion of sorts with the legendary actor George Hamilton. It was “Love at first bite!” (Title of the 1979 Horror Comedy movie that starred George Hamilton as Dracula)  Actually it had been probably 40 years since the last time that we had seen each other.

The first thing out of Mr. Hamilton’s mouth was “I remember your hair well, what happened to it.” He was referring to the fact that I had a rather large Afro hairstyle in the decade of the 70s. Now I keep it short and straight. I told Mr. Hamilton that it’s called old age. He looked at me and laughed.

We got a chance to talk about how much he liked George Steinbrenner and the great relationship that the Boss had with his dear friend Cary Grant. Mr. Hamilton told me how terrific the Admiral Academy had been for his son George Jr.

My pal Aris, who is in the Batboy play, was thrilled to meet the distinguished Mr. Hamilton and actually brought him a gift. Aris asked him if he had seen the new Yankee Stadium yet and Mr. Hamilton said he had not. So Aris said ‘I have a special gift for you.’ Aris handed him a small box and inside was a replica plaque of the great George Steinbrenner. “Wow,” Mr Hamilton responded. He said that he would ‘always cherish this gift because he thought that George Steinbrenner was just a really good man.’

George HamiltonMr. Hamilton said he would always have fond memories of his great Hollywood friends and him visiting with the Boss during those Championship games in the 70s at the old Yankee Stadium.