This article was contributed by: Charie La Marr
One of the things that made George M. Steinbrenner a great man was that he always knew the right guy for the right job. In 1977, when he needed an outfielder, someone to hit cleanup behind the great Thurman Munson and to fill up the stadium once again, he went right to Reggie Jackson. In the early 90’s when he needed a face for the franchise, someone to build a dynasty on and who would one day become a team leader, he drafted a young kid from Kalamazoo named Derek Jeter and surrounded him with names like Posada, Williams, Pettitte and Rivera. And when he dragged a young kid named Ray Negron into the holding cell in the old stadium after catching him spray painting on the side of the building, I think he knew then that eventually that kid’s place was back in that very community where The Boss first found him. Ray Negron was born to do community outreach, and that is why to this day he carries business cards that identify him as Special Assistant to George Steinbrenner, Community Outreach. Yankee President Randy Levine has been tremendously supportive of Ray and his efforts to continue the job he started with The Boss, and I know Ray is incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to continue his special work with the team.
In his new book, Yankee Miracles, Ray tells stories about how his time in the community representing the New York Yankees has resulted in one miracle after another. We learn about how Ray goes through the locker room grabbing players who aren’t busy and takes them to hospitals, schools and other places in the community to reach out and help. He tells of how a yellow bracelet and the first inside the park homerun in the new stadium forever connected outfielder Brett Gardner to a little girl in need of a new heart. He talks about Reggie Jackson helping a bus full of kids stuck in the snow and of Thurman Munson chasing away bullies picking on a Down’s Syndrome child in a McDonald’s playground on 161st Street and of Alex Rodriguez drawing crowds of kids when he decides to take Ray and go play stickball in the street outside of the stadium. Wherever Ray goes, it seems that magic follows him. His three children’s books echo this fact.
But it was this past Thursday night, almost two and a half years after his mentor passed away that Ray finally stepped into the spotlight and proved what The Boss knew all along. There was no way that George Steinbrenner knew on that summer night in 1973 when he caught Ray with a can of white spray paint in his hand that on a night in late October 2012, a hurricane named Sandy would hit the New York area with a force like no other storm we had ever seen before. But there was one thing The Boss did know—and that was that he had left Ray Negron more than prepared to jump into his shoes and do what he could to help the victims in its wake. As Mr. Steinbrenner so often told Ray, his story was already written when he found himself in that holding cell at the old stadium. And that story included his amazing response to a storm that literally hit home for him.
Music of the Night, a benefit concert held at CW Post’s Tilles Center was literally born before the first sun shone on the devastation the storm left behind. Sitting in his darkened home, not knowing what lie outside, already the wheels were turning. Ray Negron was going to help produce a concert that would help rebuild his community because that is what George M. Steinbrenner would have done.
Ray received a call from his friends, community leader and former World Champion swimmer Greg Jagenburg and Suffolk Community College professor William O’Connell, then they did what they do best. They picked up their cellphones and started making calls. Before the weekend was over, Ray had gotten Jose Feliciano to agree to perform. Raul Ibanez, whose contract with the Yankees has expired, agreed to drive to Long Island from his home near Philadelphia to host. From there the ball was rolling. A call to the great Yankee left fielder Roy White brought singer Jay Black on board, and a benefit was born.
The show began with Jose Feliciano singing the theme song from the TV show Chico and the Man. Of all his hits, Jose could not have chosen a better song to open the show with. I listened to the words.
Chico, don’t be discouraged,
The Man he ain’t so hard to understand.
Chico, if you try now,
I know that you can lend a helping hand.
Because there’s good in everyone
And a new day has begun
You can see the morning sun if you try.
And I know, things will be better
Oh yes they will for Chico and the Man.
And I realized that Ray Negron was Chico, doing what he could to lend a helping hand. And there was no mistaking that The Man, George Steinbrenner, was there that night sitting upstairs in his private box wearing his familiar blue blazer and white turtleneck enjoying every minute of the show.
Jose finished by getting the audience to sing along to ‘Feliz Navidad’, and suddenly the words of Dr. Seuss hit me. For many this year, Christmas is going to come without ribbons and tinsel because those things were destroyed in many a basement. And while most of those who lost so much will do what they can to replace those treasured items, it will never be the same. But as Dr. Seuss tells us, “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!” And spending that happy moment singing along with Jose made that seem all too true to me. Prospero año y felicidad for us all.
The lineup was a blend of old time performers like Jose Feliciano, Jay Black and Prentiss McNeil of the Drifters and young performers from the Long Island area who have appeared on shows like American Idol and The Voice. As each took the stage, they spoke about how they have been victims of Sandy themselves. And everywhere in the audience, most of them also victims, nodded their heads sympathetically. The connection was that strong.
The songs could not have been more perfectly selected. When Prentiss McNeil sang ‘Under the Boardwalk’ with the audience singing along, in the backs of our minds we all were thinking about the boardwalks in places like Long Beach and Seaside Heights that were washed out to sea by the storm. But somehow singing those simple words, “on a blanket with my baby is where I’ll be” seemed to take us back to better times and remind us that those days will come again.
When Charles Gange sang Frank Sinatra’s version of ‘New York New York’, it was no longer about the song we are used to hearing at the end of Yankee games. Ssuddenly it was a rallying cry for the storm ravaged area and the audience sang right along. “I’m gonna make a brand new start of it in old New York.” Yes, we are.
Robbie Rosen sat down at the piano and sang a beautiful ballad called ‘Make It Through’. When he sang “there is no storm that we can’t weather”, it brought tears to my eyes. His performance was perfect—simple and powerful.
And when Mike DelGuidice sang ‘New York State of Mind ‘with the sweet sounds of his band Big Shot behind him, we were all right there with him—especially when he changed the lyrics to “Don’t care if it’s Chinatown or Oceanside”. It made us feel like one.
Jay Black did an incredible set, reaching those high notes in ‘Cara Mia’ at the ripe old age of 74. It was great seeing people of all ages cuddle together and listen as he sang some of the greatest date hits of the ‘60’s. You couldn’t help but tap your toes and sing along. He came up with some of the evening’s best one liners, too.
Nothing would have made The Boss happier than to hear young Alessandra Guercio sing Sue Pelino and Laura Casini’s song “Yankee Miracles, Rise on Me” and dedicate it to him. And he would have loved seeing young Dwight Gooden, Jr. come out and do a fantastic job rapping about his beloved Yankees. It was a special moment, and the pictures of The Boss on the screen behind them brought cheers from the crowd and chants of “Boss, Boss, Boss” from the crowd.
Donations can still be made by visiting this site: musicpowerny.com