Tag Archive | "Derek Jeter"

Fordham Shortstop Kownacki Enjoying Instant Celebrity

Tuesday evening was shaping up to be just another night at the ballpark for Brian Kownacki, Fordham University’s 20-year-old shortstop. Fordham, limping into its match against Iona College with a 12-22 record, trailed 9-3 at the bottom of the eighth inning, but a miraculous turn of events saw the Rams win 12-9 and Kownacki transformed into an overnight Internet phenomenon.

“I was just thinking about scoring a run,” Kownacki said. “It was a one-time thing. I’d never thought about it until I got to five feet away from the catcher.”

Kownacki, blocked from home plate by Iona catcher James Beck, improvised by leaping over the head of his befuddled opponent to score the game’s final run — a play that was caught on video by school officials and quickly spread worldwide.

“I knew the sports information director had sent it to ESPN. I thought it might get into the top plays,” said Kownacki, a native of Woodbridge, Conn., who is in his sophomore year of a business administration degree. “I woke up to 20 missed phone calls saying I had interviews on ESPN and that it had made No. 1.”

Kownacki’s life has since been turned upside down by a barrage of media requests. “It’s all a big blur right now,” he said this afternoon before boarding the team’s bus ahead of a flight to Ohio. “I’ve done 11 or 12 interviews. It’s really fun.” CBS’s “Early Show” awaits his arrival in Dayton, where the Rams play a three-game series this weekend.

Tuesday wasn’t the first time that Kownacki’s acrobatics have gained notice — he was featured in a Sports Illustrated photo spread earlier this year. But his latest dazzling maneuver has pushed unheralded Fordham firmly into the spotlight. Diana Mackie, a communications student who works part time in the sports office, said the school deserves the attention. “We have excellent sports programs here, and it’s about time we were recognized,” she said.

Mark Stevens, the team’s hitting coach, said he is surprised by the reaction but delighted by the exposure that Kownacki and the program are receiving. “It was an amazing play. He’s a very athletic kid,” Stevens said. “I think he needs an agent.”

The resulting media circus could be a distraction for the team, but Head Coach Nick Restaino is confident that his shortstop will not be affected. “Brian is the last guy that’s ever going to look for attention,” Restaino said. “He’s very grounded. I think he’ll handle it well.”

Restaino admitted that he had never seen anything like Kownacki’s leap in 18 years of coaching, but his reaction was straight out of the coaching manual. “He did a great job getting the run scored and that’s what really matters,” he said.

Any lingering thoughts that Kownacki might get carried away were quickly deflated by a sobering reaction from his family. “I talked to my parents,” Kownacki said. “They said it was a very nice play, but very dangerous and I shouldn’t try it again.”

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Year 87 of a Bronx Ritual

By Alec Johnson

At dawn the only person outside Yankee Stadium besides the street sweepers was one Chris McCably who waited for the ticket windows to open. He was from, of all places, Boston.

Freddy Schuman, 85, greets Claudio Beltral, 64, outside the Yankee's home opener against the Los Angeles Angels, Tuesday afternoon. (Alec Johnson/The Bronx Ink)

Freddy Schuman, 85, greets Claudio Beltran, 64, outside the Yankee's home opener against the Los Angeles Angels, Tuesday afternoon. (Alec Johnson/The Bronx Ink)

McCably, who co-owns a towing company, had left his home to catch a New York-bound bus at 1 a.m. By 5:20 he was in the city, and soon afterwards had planted himself on a bench between Gates Four and Six.

“I’m a Red Sox fan,” he said, “and I just wanted to experience an opening day and see them get the rings.”

So began the ritual that has taken place every spring since 1923: It was opening day for baseball in the Bronx.

By 7 a.m., McCably stopped chortling about his employees hard at work back in Boston to take note of the fact that he was still the only man on line. “I cannot believe it is this quiet,” he said, before adding the requisite Red Sox fan’s dig. ”In Boston a line would be wrapped around the building for tickets. I’m going to break down and buy a Yankees hat, just as a remembrance. But I won’t put it on my head.”

Soon, a teenage boy walked past and said he usually sells candy inside but because he didn’t have to work today he was hoping to get a ticket and actually watch the game without having to hawk snacks.

By 8 a.m. the Yankee Stadium support staff, numbering more than 2,000, began to assemble on the River Avenue side of the stadium. A line stretched the entire length of the building and cooks, cleaners and merchandise sales people shivered on the gray morning as they waited to go through metal detectors on their way to work. The delay, one said, was a result of everyone being issued new identification cards for the new season.

The Number 4 train rumbled overhead and the back-up beepers of a crew of forklifts echoed across the empty plaza. One deposited boxes packed with t-shirts, baseballs, pennants, pens, refrigerator magnets at a white tent near Gate Six.

The Yankee’s manager, Joe Girardi, zipped into the players’ entrance at 8:25. A few moments later the street sweepers made their last pass. A black Bentley Continental GT with smoked windows and black rims rolled in a few moments later. Joba Chaimberlain rolled down the window and gave a fan a fist bump.

Nearby, Tony Dipitero, who looked as if he had been attending Yankee games since the days of Babe Ruth and who keeps score of every  game in a 99-cent spiral notebook chatted with a friend. Dipitero comes to about 60 games a year and usually gets tickets from cops or other people in the neighborhood who recognize him.

“I’ve got my book and my radio,” he said. “If I don’t get tickets maybe I’ll go sit in the bar and listen to the game.”

Derek Jeter arrived at 8:40 and the line of fans and stadium employees was four hundred deep. Jeter drove a shiny black Ford SUV He slowed down long enough to tip a Starbucks coffee cup towards those on line. From behind the tinted glass, it appeared to be a Venti.

“That’s got to be a record for him,” said Dipitero. “Write that down. He’s early today.”

Then, he told his friend, “There’s a guy from Boston waiting for tickets over there. He might get one.”

Over the next half-hour the remaining players arrived in sports cars, SUVs and pick-up trucks with mud flaps. Some drove themselves; some had drivers and others were dropped off by their wives or girlfriends.

Meanwhile, Paulette Williams was waiting to start work on her first day as a cashier. She is training to be a drug counselor and took the stadium job to make some extra money. “This is exciting,” she said. “I love the Yankees.”

Nearby stood Ray Basques, who had traveled from Minnesota for the opener. He is 60 and has been a Yankee fan since he was 10. “Life begins when the season starts,” he said. He held up a disposable camera. “I’m trying to get some pictures of the players.”

Around the corner at the ticket window things were still quiet. It was 9:30 and four men who’d been waiting on line had their tickets. They were not entirely pleased. “I was planning on paying $50,” said John Bruno of New Paltz who has been to some 20 opening days. “But $100, that’s ok. I’m in there.”

By 10 a.m. the smell of lighter fluid permeated the air around a parking garage on River Avenue. Tailgating fans had arrived and were spread thin across the upper level. Some barbecued. A father and son played Wiffle Ball. A group of girls played beer pong on the back of a BMW. A man from New Jersey admitted he was playing hookie from work and wouldn’t give his name.

Patrons filled the Dugout on River Ave by 11:00 a.m.

Patrons filled the Dugout on River Avenue by 11:00 a.m. (Michael Ratliff / Bronx Ink)

Meanwhile the crowd was building on the stadium plaza in anticipation for the 11 a.m. gate opening. Swarms of men, women and children, many dressed for a warmer day, mingled and munched on street food as they waited.

Claudio Beltran, 64, wearing a ten-gallon blue straw hat posed for pictures with fans alongside the famed Freddy Schuman, 85, better known by his nickname, Freddy Sez, Freddy held onto his trademark shamrock-painted frying pan as a pack of people took their turns hitting it with a metal spoon for good luck.

At last the gates opened, six hours after Chris McCably had arrived. Fans in blue hats swarmed inside, moving like a school of tightly-packed sardines.

Tony Dipitero was nowhere to be found. He was last seen chatting up a police officer. “Hey Charlie, what’s up?” he had said Dipitero, adding “That’s the cop that hooks me up with tickets.”

(Slide show: Michael Ratliff and Alec Johnson for Bronx Ink)

(Homepage Photo: Michael Ratliff / Bronx Ink)

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