08/13/2017 10:31 AM
For someone who played in Major League Baseball for 18 seasons, including 13 as a member of the New York Yankees, you would think that stepping onto a pro field would be old hat for Willie Randolph.
You would be wrong.
"I still get a thrill coming out here," said Randolph, who attended the Borough Cup U-13 and U-14 championship games Thursday at Yankee Stadium, "especially seeing these kids play the game."
Randolph, who served as an MLB coach for 14 years and managed the New York Mets to an NL East Division crown in 2006, went above and beyond simply attending the doubleheader.
The graduate of Samuel Tilden High School in Brooklyn, Randolph spoke to the four teams before each contest started, imparting his wisdom to youngsters who never saw him play -- but whose legacy in this city as the second base cornerstone of the 1977 and '78 Yanks championship squads certainly left the kids' parents (and grandparents) in the stands star struck.
"I just told them how it's a privilege to have this opportunity, and that they should have fun and enjoy it," Randolph said. "I was in their position many years ago, so I told them to embrace it and enjoy it. How many kids can say they've played on the field at Yankee Stadium?"
Randolph, who attended many games as a youngster through a ticket program sponsored by Con Edison, made his debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1975. An offseason trade brought him back to New York City, and he was the starting second sacker in 1976 when the Yankees ended a 12-year postseason drought by capturing the AL title.
I told the kids when you looking at me, you're looking at yourself," said Randolph, a six-time All Star. "Having a dream is nice, but you have to believe it. I had a dream to become a Major League player and it came true. It can happen for them, too, if they put in the work -- and that includes putting in the work in the classroom."
Maybe Randolph's most important role on Thursday was as comforter. After Brooklyn Bluestorm starting pitcher Tory Cooks exited during a tough first inning, Randolph made sure to lift the young man's spirits, speaking to him at the dugout after being lifted.
"I just wanted to give him encouragement," said Randolph, who was joined in consoling Cooks by legendary Mets reliever John Franco, one of the founders of the Borough Cup who was also in attendance Thursday.
"I told (Cooks) we've all been there before, we've all had our ups and downs. You just have to learn from it and go out the next time and be better. It can be emotional for someone that young, but you tell them to try and keep it in perspective."
As for the Borough Cup: "I love it," Randolph said. "It reminds me of the all-city tournaments I was in as a teenager."