When I was 10, the New York Yankees were the “best-est” thing ever in the whole world. The world at that time was the entire Bronx. Yogi Berra (8), Joe Pepitone (25), Roger Maris (9) and Mickey Mantle (7) were the bubble gum cards that got you respect and honor in any schoolyard. The Yankees were so cool, that the candy at Ida’s Sweet Shop on Burke Avenue was named after them. Baby Ruth bars and the M&M boys. And Yogi sold Yoo-hoo Chocolate drink on TV. To be fair, Gil Hodges from the Brooklyn Dodgers, also sold Maypo on TV. But Maypo was a hot, maple flavored oatmeal cereal, not peanuts and nougat wrapped in chocolate. The Yankees were, as was candy, the biggest thing to that point in my decade long life.
I remember that on long hot summer days, you licked the salty sweat that dribbled down your face from your lips as the sun bounced off the concrete of the schoolyard’s ball field and blasted you from below and above. Squinting, you watched Joey Mangione wind up to pitch a black electrical tape wrapped, “clincher” softball at you. At that second you fantasized that you would step into the bucket, explode your rear hip and extend perfectly through the swing, connecting on the fat part of the bat and send that ball right over the 12-foot chain link fence into the traffic on Bronxwood Avenue – just like Mantle or Maris! Extra points if you hit Mr. Deputo’s old salmon and dingy white, colored Studebaker that never moved from the spot outside his house.
In all that time, the thought of actually meeting Roger Maris or Mickey Mantle was the same fat chance as going to the moon. We’d hang out on River Avenue at 161st street outside the Stadium after the game. And sure, maybe we’d catch a glimpse of Tresh, Richardson, Boyer, Whitey Ford even Mantle, but they were out of there like a shot. Piling onto the team bus or beyond reach on the other side of a blue, police stanchion line. A couple of dorky lawyer’s kid’s from the suburbs usually got up front to get an autograph or shake a hand. But not us, we was nobody’s kids. We was just Bronx guys.
Now I am considerably older than I was back in the 60’s and hero worship has gone the way of the Studebaker – free agented and drug tested out of existence. But we did eventually go to the moon. And so did I, last week, in fact.
Now that I am an author, my heroes have changed. The new “Yankees” in my life are the literary team that plays at the top of the New York Times standings. Guys and gals who can hit the long ball out 20 to 30 million books. Men and women who keep their percentages up by coming to bat and connecting… connecting with their fans. At Thrillerfest, the International Thriller Writer’s convention that I attended last week, I met the Mickey Mantles and Roger Maris’ of the game I play in now.
My hero worship, adjusted for age and decorum, returned. The same awe and esteem by which I held The Mick and the rest of the pinstripe company was back and at full gush. So that’s how me, a kid from the Bronx, wound up just shooting the breeze for twenty minutes with Nelson DeMille, a kid from Queens. We didn’t talk baseball much, but I did get his autograph… on his latest book, Radiant Angel.
Here’s the thing. In my life, as a Director – Writer – Producer – Author, I have met and worked with some of the biggest stars, names, celebrities and musicians ever and never asked for a picture… but here’s me and Nelson from Jamaica.