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Williams: New Doc Pays Homage to a Favorite Player

Mattingly's number was retired 08/31/1997.

Cover of Mattingly Day program

 

 

 

Spring Training is at the midway point. Giancarlo Stanton looks absolutely locked in. Thankfully, so does new Dad Gleyber Torres. All of the Yankees Universe impatiently awaits the Bronx Bombers presenting Aaron Judge with a suitable contract offer to keep the gargantuan superstar in pinstripes until the end of his career.

Possibly lost in all the excitement: MLB Network announced a documentary based on the career of Donald Arthur Mattingly. And I, for one, couldn’t possibly be more giddy. “Donnie Baseball” was my original favorite baseball player. And he maintains a special place in this Yankee fan’s heart. The film will air April third. Get your popcorn ready.

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When I was a young fan in the 1980s and early 1990s, there didn’t exist a single athlete cooler than Don Mattingly, (yeah I said it, tell your friends). The eyeblack. What other athlete’s sideburns could become a news story, then written into the most iconic Simpsons episode in history? Kirby Puckett actually dubbed him Donnie Baseball and that’s how he’s forever known. You’ve seen the video where he grabs some popcorn from a fan mid-game. You watched the broadcast when Bob Costas implored fans to hold onto the roof when Mattingly homered in the 1995 playoffs. You knew the end was near when Ken Griffey slid home in Seattle.

As a young player, I emulated Mattingly’s sweet lefty swing, but as a right-handed hitter. I wore nothing but black Franklin batting gloves. I didn’t swing at the first pitch. Every single online handle I’ve ever had has been leswilliams23. The first time I gave someone my email address, they asked if No. 23 was because of Michael Jordan. Not a chance. I wore the number every chance I could.

I have Mattingly’s autograph in my office at my home, a gift from my parents when I was a teen. When I was a kid, my family and I ate seemingly every Ritz Cracker product in creation to get a bunch of Mattingly memorabilia. To this day, I still have most of the merchandise.

My uncle Dave Williams is the reason I’m a Yankees fan today. My Dad’s middle brother took me to my first game in the Bronx. I don’t remember much of the game as I was a little kid. He told me to watch Rickey Henderson when he got on first because he was going to steal second. He did just that on the next pitch. Then I heard Bob Sheppard announce Don Mattingly’s name and I got goosebumps. I felt those same bumps when I heard him announce Derek Jeter.

We went to Don Mattingly Day August 31, 1997. It was a sunny day in the Bronx and the Yankees played the Expos. The team gave him a plaque, a ring and an arcade game. Could you imagine that in 2022? The team’s retiring Paul O’Neill’s number later in the season and I doubt they’re going to give him a Playstation 5.

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My cousin Dave and I shouted at Pedro Martinez to join the Yanks when he hit free agency. He didn’t heed our advice. I’m still annoyed about that.

Mattingly’s career has been over for 27 years. He remains the man to me. I obviously saw more of Derek Jeter’s career, and he’s on the same level as Mattingly on my favorite player Mount Rushmore. My youngest son is named Derek. However, I have a daughter named Madison. A subtle nod toward her old man’s favorite player. I hope you’ll throw on your no. 23 pinstripe jersey and join me next Sunday.

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Les is a life-long Yankees fan residing in northeastern PA. He's married with 5 kids.

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