I got a phone call Wednesday morning. It was former PawSox infielder, Jeff Natale. “Dude” he said. “You’re not going to believe this.” When a conversation begins like that, it could go in any direction. So I braced myself for news from my friend, and even in my wildest imagination, I wouldn’t have expected this. “I’m signing with the Yankees.” “Huh?” was my insightful reply. After I got up off the ground, I congratulated him. He is an excellent baseball player and I still contend the Red Sox made a big mistake letting him go. “I’m heading to Tampa for a week or so, then probably to Scranton.” Natale had been weighing his options, including a series of conversations with the Arizona Diamondbacks and worst case scenario, a job in independent ball.
If you are familiar with my blog or broadcast, there is nothing in the world, NOTHING that I hate more than the New York Yankees. I’ve admitted in the past that I think it’s irrational. In “Fever Pitch”, Jimmy Fallon talks about his undying love for the Red Sox. He tells Drew Barrymore that he has always loved the Sox. He asks her what in her life has she loved since she was a kid and still loves today. I thought it was a brilliant point in the movie for a fanatic like me. Conversely, as I say, there is nothing I loathe like the Yankees. Everyone says-“Well, you can hate the Yankees, but you’ve got to like Jeter, right?” No, I don’t. Natale once confided to me that he grew up as a Yankees fan in Connecticut. He likes Jeter, but he was able to put it aside while he was in the Sox system. He can now come out of the closet and proudly proclaim his love for the “Evil Empire”.
I never thought I’d say this, but I find myself in a predicament. I’m probsbly as close with Nat as I have ever been with an athlete I covered. We just hit it off. So what do I do? Inevitably, he’ll come back to haunt the Sox, whether it’s in Pawtucket or Moosic, or Boston or New York. I’ll be honest. On the inside, I’ll be cheering like a proud papa. Dan Hoard has been teasing me that I am really, secretly a Yankees fan. He cited the picture of Johnny Damon I carry in my wallet. (It’s with my daughters and he was a Red Sox at the time). He inferred that I would wear a Yankees hat if Nat got me one. (No worries there, there’s never been a hat of any type that fits my Abraham Lincolnesque dome). Hoard even went as far as to fabricate a story that had me sending a birthday card to 85 year old Yogi Berra.
It’s like changing religions, or families. Usually, it’s just not done. The response from his former teammates has been terrific. They respect and like him. He told me Thursday that he had received text messages from some of the guys, congratulating him. “Pretty awesome.” was how he put it. Two pitchers, currently on the ballclub, separately told me the same thing. “Man, I don’t want to have to face Natale.” They know what he can do, and almost certainly, will do when the clubs meet . Nats’ final words to me Thursday night were- “I’m pumped to get another shot.” Great for Natale and I hate to say it, but-Great for the Yankees.
Folks, please be generous on Saturday at McCoy. PawSox players’ wives and girlfriends are holding a food drive to help benefit those less fortunate. Bring your non-perishable food items to the game on Saturday night. It’s something you can feel really good about.