As Opening Day unfolds, all eyes are cast toward big cities and major markets, with perhaps the most discerning eye, at least in these parts, focused on New York City, where the Yankees once again vie for a spot in the World Series, and the Mets (once again) look to remain somewhat relevant for as long as humanly possible.
Despite the attention given to the big city, local residents need look no further than right here in Westchester County to find ample ties to our national pastime, both past and present … and perhaps future.
“So many players live in Westchester County, even Fairfield County, they’re establishing themselves within the fabric of the community here,” said Brandon Steiner, CEO and founder of Steiner Sports Marketing. Steiner owns Last Licks ice cream and memorabilia stores in Armonk, and . “With so many Yankees and Mets players living here, it really creates a vibe in these towns.”
A sizeable number of Major Leaguers were born, studied, resided and died within county lines. And some of the greatest Major League Baseball stars of all time call Westchester County their permanent home. As Steiner told Patch, proximity to the workplace is the key, traffic on the Hutch notwithstanding.
“It’s so easy to get to Yankee Stadium from Westchester,” Steiner said. “It’s even pretty easy to get to Citi Field. Because we’re so close to the venues, it just makes sense that there would be ties, with fans and players alike. We even have people in our Last Licks stores who bought grass from the old Yankee Stadium to plant at their parents’ graves.”
It’s not only location that draws the players to Westchester. After all, they could just as easily head to New Jersey, Long Island or Manhattan. Harrison Mayor Joan Walsh feels the greener pastures of suburbia found in Westchester are a welcome escape from the hectic lifestyle a pro athlete usually encounters.
"First of all, the players like the location, and the general small town atmosphere," Walsh said. "Secondly, they like the fact that we leave them alone. They can shop, dine out, walk around, and no one rushes for autographs, or bothers them. One of the Yankees has a child in one of the schools, and he goes to their ball games, and the parents don't make a fuss about it. We grant them privacy."
New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson specifically points to the desirable qualities Westchester towns have to offer as a selling point.
“What draws professional athletes to our communities are the same things which draw other residents,” Bramson said. “This includes a high quality of life, good public school systems, diverse housing stock, attractive parks, history, in addition to proximity to New York City.”
Bramson also noted that having ties to star ballplayers can help a community by association.
“The best example is Mariano Rivera, who is a business owner, along with several residents, of Mo’s New York Grill in New Rochelle,” Bramson told Patch. “Having a well-known athlete show confidence in our community by putting his name on a business within the heart of our city is clearly beneficial to us.”
So as hope springs eternal with stadiums filled with anxious fans, let’s take a look at Westchester County’s own “Boys of Summer”:
Claim to Fame
The Yankees fiery second baseman and oft-fired manager is buried in Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne. His famous quote, "I may not have been the greatest Yankee to wear the uniform, but I was the proudest" is etched on the headstone.
One man who CAN lay claim to being not only the greatest Yankee, but also the greatest baseball player of all time, is also buried in Gate of Heaven. Pilgrimages to the Bambino's gravesite continue more than 60 years after his death, with fans leaving everything from baseballs to six-packs at his final resting site.
The Mets RF has a nice quick ride to Citi Field from his Larchmont home. Met fans are hoping the ride back is as enjoyable.
Pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers. This Mount Vernon native is best known for giving up Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round the World" home run, clinching the 1951 NL Pennant for the arch-rival NY Giants. Branca is also former MLB player and Met skipper Bobby Valentine’s father-in-law.
Smith won only 30 games in his 8-year career in the bigs, but one of those years garnered the Mount Vernon native a World Series ring, as the Minnesota Twins upset the St. Louis Cardinals in 7 games to take the 1987 title.
The talented right-hander spent 12 years in the bigs, all with the Kansas City Royals. The Iona alum won 144 games and sported a terrific 3.70 ERA. His best year was 1977, when he won 20 games with 244 Ks and a mind-boggling 25 complete games. Unfortunately, the early wear and tear on his arm caught up with him, and Leonard spent most of the 1980s battling injuries before retiring after the 1986 season.
When he played for the New York Giants, the Hall of Fame CF lived in a home on Croft Terrace.
Along with Christy Mathewson, McGraw is perhaps the only person who can come close to Mays’ standing as the greatest figure to ever don a New York Giants baseball uniform. Despite his success as a player for the legendary Baltimore Oriole teams of the late 19th Century, “Little Napoleon” is best known for his managerial career, primarily spent at the helm of the Giants, where he amassed more than 2,700 wins, placing him 2nd on the all-time list behind Connie Mack. In 1934, only two years after his retirement, McGraw, who lived in Pelham Manor, died in New Rochelle.
The flame throwing reliever for the St. Louis Cardinals is also a former Iona Gael and potential future closer for the Cards.
Hands down, the greatest relief pitcher in the history of the game, Rivera calls this Harrison hamlet home during the baseball season, as he enters the 17th year of his Hall of Fame career with the Yankees. He is also part owner of Mo's New York Grill in New Rochelle.
The Yankees skipper lives a stone's throw (or a cut fastball) from his star closer, along with his wife and three kids.
Best known to local residents as the Mets longtime announcer (2011 marks Kiner's 50th year in the Mets booth), Kiner had a brief, yet prolific, playing career as a power-hitting Hall of Fame OF for the Pirates, Cubs, and Indians. When a back injury forced his early retirement at the age of 32, he had blasted 369 home runs in his 10 MLB seasons.
Though he grew up in Manhattan and spent his final years in Riverdale, the Iron Horse lived for a time on Meadow Lane in New Rochelle. Fans can visit his final resting place at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla.
Beer magnate and Yankees owner Col. Ruppert spends his eternity a home run’s distance away from his prized first baseman in Kensico.
Power hitting OF/1B for the Yankees, Pasqua, a Yonkers native, was a local favorite at Yankee Stadium, and his left-handed pull-hitter's swing was custom designed for the short-porch in RF. Alas, he never reached his full potential in Pinstripes and was dealt to the Chicago White Sox after the 1987 season, where he finished his 10-year career in 1994.
A 12-year veteran for five teams, this knuckleballing right-hander was born in Yonkers and was a member of the 1950 NL-Champion Philadelphia Phillies, aka the "Whiz Kids." After his retirement, he helped form the MLB Players Alumni Association.
Have any MLB players in your town? Any past experiences or facts that may be of interest to other baseball fans who live in Westchester?
Editor's note: A previous version of this story listed incorrectly as Rye the location of Last Licks. It is in Rye Brook. The story has been updated.