Why I Left The Yankees
When I was a kid the only thing I wanted was to become a sports broadcaster. At eight years old I began reading the local sports page, listening to Red Sox games through the static of AM radio, and studying in-game tactics with my dad — understanding when the pitcher would throw offspeed, how the running back’s pre-snap alignment indicated a pass or run, and why Coach K sometimes replaced his top scorer with only a few seconds left in the first half.
In junior high and high school I fell into a rare category: I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I grew up. I went to Fordham University for two reasons: to play varsity basketball and to be part of the school’s professional radio station. In two seasons on the basketball team, we won a total of five games. My stat line looked like this: 0 points scored and 0 shots attempted. By choice, my career ended after my sophomore season.
Turning my focus entirely to broadcasting, I’d often spend 12 straight hours creating and editing my own projects inside the radio station. At the end of senior year I was named by Sports Talent Agency of America as a top five collegiate broadcaster in the country. The next week, an independent minor league baseball team in West Texas offered me a job broadcasting their inaugural season. There was one hurdle, though. Accepting the job required me to leave school a month before graduation. I was staring out the window of my senior year apartment when my best friends walked in. I turned to them and said, “I’m moving to Texas.”
As soon as I arrived, I became a member at the local library where I wrote term papers after work and emailed them to my professors back east. The school called my name on graduation day, but I wasn’t there to hear it. Shortly after the baseball season began, I connected with a young agent in New York who represented on-air talent. “Don’t tell anyone,” he said. “But I’m about to join one of the biggest talent agencies in the world, and I want you to be my first client.” Before the end of 2012, I signed with the same agency that represents Bob Costas.
In Texas, though, things weren’t as glamorous. There were 96 games in 102 days. Almost every one of them was played in 100-degree heat and many required nine-hour bus trips to the border towns near Mexico. We’d leave at 1AM, arrive at 10AM, and be on the field for batting practice six hours later. On top of broadcasting the games, I operated the team website, wrote all its content, and managed the team’s payroll. I was one of four front office employees (three of us were under the age of 24), and we all hustled to sell tickets and advertising. Still, though, the organization couldn’t stay afloat, and with only a few weeks left in the season we had $80 in the bank.
Eventually, the team’s 6’5”, 260 pound closer asked why I didn’t have a paycheck for he and his family that week. I told him we didn’t have the money. I felt his hot breath against my cheeks as he pushed his nose right up against mine and shouted in my face. As I prepared to duke it out with a guy 80 pounds heavier than me, the manager stepped in and cooled him off. Two weeks later the team went under and I went home — living with my parents in Connecticut for the first time since I was 19.
In late October, my best friend landed a job in San Diego. Right after dropping him off at the airport, I noticed a missed call and a voicemail on my phone. Still in the “Departures” lane at Bradley Airport, I played the message. It was from the New York Yankees. They were looking for an on-camera pregame host and wanted me to audition. While hearing the words of the voicemail, I remember the tingling that ran through my body, the weight of my head pressing against the seat back, and the blackness behind my closed eyes, “An audition is all I need,” I thought to myself. “I’ll take care of the rest.”
Even though I’d never been on-camera before, I performed at the audition and earned a second one. “You’ll be the live pregame host for our college football bowl game at the end of December,” the director told me. “If you prove you can handle it, the job is yours.” I spent a week studying the teams and arrived on gameday with a binder full of notes and scripts. I’d prepared so hard, though, that I could have hosted the show empty handed, and that’s exactly what happened when a snowstorm hit New York City that afternoon. My papers were soaked and illegible and my hands were frozen, but it didn’t matter. Nor did it matter that I’d never been in front of a live camera. I turned in the best performance of my life.
Three months later, and one week before my 24th birthday, I hosted my first baseball pregame show live in front of 50,000 people on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium. They were playing the Red Sox. I remember standing on the field that afternoon and looking up at the clear sky right before the show began. It was the most beautiful spring day I’d ever seen, and I allowed myself, just for a moment, to remember the young boy who’d dreamt about this 15 years earlier.
My first season was a thrill, improving my on-camera skills and regularly interviewing future hall-of-famers Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera — two legends I’d watched on television for as a long as I could remember. But deeper than the cameras, celebrities, and big screens something else was developing. Even though I was commuting from my parents house in Connecticut, I began spending more time in Manhattan. I met people from all over the world, brushed up against different industries, expanded the types of books I was reading, and taught myself New York’s other primary language. Soon, I was interacting more intimately with the vast number of New Yorkers born in Latin America. Suddenly, stats and athlete-interviews seemed small.
Three months into the season, on a hot night in July, I met the most completely beautiful person. She alone is the closest thing to pure love I’ve encountered. Again, though, there was a hurdle. She lived in California. And again, this time together, we overcame it. Three months later the baseball season ended and we spent 41 days traveling through Western Europe, just the two of us. It was the first time I’d ever left the United States.
After returning to the US, though, three thousand miles still separated our homes, and I didn’t have a source of income until baseball season came back around. But soon I picked up a job as an update anchor in the city and finally moved to Manhattan in January of 2014. On a tight budget, I went to Craigslist to find a roommate — who turned out to be a 65-year-old Syrian chef with limited English.
While the snow fell that winter, I spent much of my free time writing about our adventure in Europe. In March, 26-year-old running back Rashard Mendenall published a letter announcing his retirement from the NFL. I read it over and over and shared it with just about everyone who was close to me. Here’s a line from it: “My focus has always been on becoming a better me, not a second-rate somebody else.” It was around that time — early 2014 — when I realized I didn’t want my career to be defined by the things I said about professional athletes. The truth was, I didn’t know anything about them as people. I may have thought I did, but I was only seeing their public image. And, regardless, who was I to make a comment? What I truly wanted was to be myself, but I didn’t know how. For close to two decades I’d been striving for this type of a job and now I didn’t value it anymore.
During the 2014 summer I felt pulled toward New York’s entrepreneurial scene and came up with an idea for a website platform that would host independent music videos. With no experience in the music industry nor the business world, I took my idea to a friend whom I knew to be a savvy business person. Soon we were in contact every day. We outlined a business model, produced a fundraising video, formed an LLC, and gained a trademark. By the time the 2015 summer was in full swing, we’d partnered with a web developer, launched the first version of the site, and hosted our first live event. None of it worked the way we planned, though, and by the end of that summer we’d pivoted, trying a few content-based ideas before taking the site down. I now look back on that project as my own real-world business school degree.
As my third season with the Yankees drew to a close, any lingering desire to continue pursuing my childhood dream was extinguished on a muggy evening in the visiting broadcast booth at Yankee Stadium. With just a couple weeks left on the schedule, the Boston newspapers reported that the Red Sox play-by-play announcer was leaving his position at season’s end. So, during Boston’s final visit to Yankee Stadium in late 2015, one of the Red Sox broadcast crew members (we’d become friends since my first year in the big leagues) asked me privately, “Have you given any thought to the fact that there’s gonna be an open seat in this booth next year?” I laughed and shrugged the question off by asking, “Could you imagine the Red Sox hiring a Yankees employee as their next play-by-play guy?” Beneath my sarcasm, though, was the stark realization that the exact job I once dreamt about — the same way many American boys dream of playing professional baseball — was now wide open and and literally right in front of me — yet I felt no longing for it.
A few weeks later when the season ended, I was coming off a six-month stretch during which my girlfriend had moved from California to New York, I’d worked three paying jobs (one of them a night shift), and had sunk with my first startup. As the fall approached, I felt a gripping urge to go off on my own. My brain had been overloaded with information and emotion, and I wanted to see what would happen if I quieted the noise. With my developing Spanish skills, a desire to escape the northeast winter for the first time in my life, a thirst for more adventure, and a lingering question of whether I truly wanted to write about my travel experiences, I filled a high-school-sized backpack and on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving took off on an open-ended trek through Latin America. By myself. No itinerary.
It was nearly four months before I returned to the United States with dozens of writings about my time abroad. I touched Puerto Rico, The Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. I went scuba diving, surfing, paragliding, windsurfing, hiked the Inca Trail, and spent nearly a week in a village without running water or electricity. All throughout, I interacted with perfectly happy individuals and families who live in a manner Americans typically classify as “poverty-stricken.” On top of it all, for the first time in my life I recognized an unknowable spirituality inside me and inside every living being I came across.
When I returned to the United States, I felt a greater sense of culture-shock than when I entered Latin America four months prior. Through a new lens, I saw the sheer greed and wastefulness of our society. The saddest part, I thought, was that most American people — just like people across the globe — are only trying to live an honest and happy life while earning enough money to support their family. It’s not their fault they were born into the most lavish society in the world. Still, I felt lost and often found myself wandering through the city until 3:00 in the morning. I didn’t know whether I wanted to continue living in the United States and couldn’t find it in myself to place enough value on money in order to pursue a new career.
At the end of June I made the most difficult decision of my life, ending the relationship that was responsible for more love, more intimacy, and more joyous memories than anything in my life. Fearing I’d made an irreconcilable mistake, I sank to a new low. One morning in July I woke up and stared out the window of my apartment, thinking, “If I even bother getting out of bed today, I don’t know what I’ll do next.”
Staggering through my fourth season with the Yankees and working a second job that went until four in the morning, I nearly broke. One day at the stadium, as I walked down to the field for my pregame show, I couldn’t find the cameraman. I frantically called up to the control room and asked how we planned to go live without a camera. There was silence on the other end of the phone. Then I looked down at my watch and realized it was a full hour before showtime. I felt all the life in my body contract into my sternum. Completely embarrassed, I hung up the phone.
When the Yankees took off for a road trip at the end of July, I did too, flying to Mexico to reconnect with a native tribe I’d met while I was in Colombia. With a group of 30 people, I spent two hours hiking into the Tepozteco mountains in northern Morales for the group’s annual ceremony. Everything we brought we carried on our backs, and we spent four days in isolation — giving thanks to the earth and everything within it. While in the mountains, I challenged myself to develop a core set of values, but in complete darkness on the final night, I could come up with only one. I wrote it down: All human lives are of equal value. In the time since then, I’ve challenged myself to reflect that belief in everything I do.
During the times in my life when I’ve felt most alone, language has been a companion. In order to read or write, you don’t need anyone else. In fact, you really can’t do either of those things unless you are alone. On the way back from Mexico, I read Napoleon Hill’s “Think And Grow Rich.” He was an author who influenced both presidents Woodrow Wilson and FDR. I interpreted the book as a tool meant to implore Americans to search within. Within themselves, Hill believed, were the necessary resources to bring themselves out of the Great Depression.
On the shoulders of that axiom, I put the onus on myself and stopped relying on others to help find my way. In the months that followed the baseball season, I woke at 6AM, began reading and writing with newfound vigor, exercised daily, and cleaned my diet to near perfection. Through this introspective process, I taught myself to keep my own council — examining my mind and understanding how to drive it at optimal health and efficiency.
In January I took off on my next adventure — a 35-day trip from Spokane, Washington to San Diego. Finally, along this route, I broke through private barriers I’d been building for years and began sharing and experiencing through the internet and social media. During the trip, I finished my first collection of short stories (which I started writing during my time in Latin America) and began working on my second book.
I’ve always found pride in being true to myself. The people closest to me know that, but often I’ve made things difficult on myself. The people closest to me also know that. For years my best friend has called me “stubborn”, and he’s been right. He could have instead used the word “scared” and he still would’ve been right. For years I’ve worked to protect myself, protect my image, and protect my privacy. But I’ve failed to truly ask myself why I’ve been living so privately. Right after my family and I saw “A Bronx Tale” on Broadway back in December, I went home and wrote down one of Sonny’s famous lines. “It’s your choice, kid. You can either live out of fear or you can live out of love.” I know I’m finally headed toward love and that’s why I’m sharing my stories.
I’ve spent three weeks with no cell phone, no credit card, and only a few dollars cash in my pocket in rural Colombia. I’ve fallen in love while running through crisp fall air across the most renowned cities in Western Europe. I’ve spent nearly a decade riding the rollercoaster of the most famous city in the world. I have flown an airplane upside down over the Atlantic Ocean. I’ve played in a basketball game at Madison Square Garden. I’ve drunk ayahuasca and then danced with indigenous Andeans at a spiritual ceremony near the Amazon Rainforest. I’ve been on the field and in the clubhouse right after Derek Jeter’s final at-bat at Yankee Stadium — a game-winning single in the bottom of the 9th. The first time I ever put on scuba diving equipment I dove to 18 meters off the coast of Ecuador and swam within three feet of the deadliest snake in the Pacific. At the end of my third day on skis, I fell on a black diamond slope in Eastern Washington — then I got up and skied the rest of it.
I’ve developed a core group of friends who’ve dragged me away from my darkest thoughts, encouraged me to challenge the conventions of a working-class life, and motivated me to remain in pursuit of personal growth, happiness, and creativity. I’ve done all of these things only on the strength of my foundation — a family so devoted to love and unity that each one of them has been with me through it all, sometimes without me recognizing it. I’m going to share my stories with you, because writing them alleviates my angst, and I hope sharing them will help others do the same. I feel like I’m just getting started, so I’ll stop here and let this be the end of hello.