NEW YORK -- Ray Negron has been with the Yankees for 44 years. He started as a batboy and has grown into one of the club's most trusted community relations advisors. He writes columns on the side and hosts a radio show for ESPN Deportes.Now Negron is taking on one
NEW YORK -- Ray Negron has been with the Yankees for 44 years. He started as a batboy and has grown into one of the club's most trusted community relations advisors. He writes columns on the side and hosts a radio show for ESPN Deportes.
Now Negron is taking on one of his most important roles: as agent and advisor to his son, Ricky, a power-hitting third baseman who was selected earlier this month by the Braves in the 34th round of the MLB Draft.
The 22-year-old has been around baseball his entire life, befriended and tutored by Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson and Roberto Alomar, and he is about to make good on his dream. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound University of Tampa product hit five homers with 20 RBIs in 35 games over the last two years.
"I can't wait to get going," said the younger Negron, a New York native who's still in Tampa, Fla., with his dad, awaiting a contract offer from the Braves. "I'm excited. Ever since I was born, I've been around the game, as long as I can remember, because of my dad."
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Ray was also a ballplayer, selected by the Pirates in the second round of the January phase of the 1975 Draft. A slightly built, light-hitting shortstop, his career lasted two games and seven at-bats in the Gulf League. He had one hit.
"I stunk," Ray said. "I tell my son all the time that if I had his body and power I'd be in the Hall of Fame. I couldn't hit the curveball and the fastball overwhelmed me."
Ray earned his start with the Yankees in the most dubious of fashions. Playing hooky from his final day as a high school junior in 1973, Ray was caught spray-painting an "NY" on the side of the original Yankee Stadium.
The man who nabbed him was none other than the late George M. Steinbrenner, who had only recently purchased the team. As strong as the man they called "The Boss" was on the exterior, he had a soft spot for kids.
"Instead of having me arrested, he made me a batboy -- as long as I promised I would never do graffiti again," Ray said.
Ray's other duties included work in the clubhouse, babysitting a kid named Barry Bonds for his center-field-playing father, Bobby, and later on running errands for Jackson. He even threw batting practice until then-manager Billy Martin told him he wasn't good enough. Steinbrenner agreed with Martin, who he hired and dismissed as Yankees manager five times.
As he grew older, Ray became a conduit to taking Yankees players into the city where he grew up -- to hospitals, Little League fields and community centers. In 2012, two years after The Boss died at 80, The New Yorker called Ray, "The Bronx Ambassador."
"Ray's a good guy and bleeds Yankee blue," said Randy Levine, the club's longtime president who took Negron under his wing a decade ago. "He's done a good job in whatever I've assigned him to do. He knows a lot of people in baseball and around the city. He should be very proud. He has one son who's a police officer and another who's been drafted."
Actually, Negron has four children. His sons are a police officer, a boxer and a baseball player. His daughter is a makeup artist for Broadway shows.
Ricky has taken the test to join his older brother as a police officer on Long Island and passed with high marks, his father said. He just wants to give baseball a solid try.
When Ricky wandered around the ballpark as a kid, Steinbrenner advised him never to forsake his education.
"Promise me you'll get your degree," he told the youngster. "As much as you love baseball, you have to get an education."
The kid made that pledge to his mother, father and The Boss, and he followed through, earning a degree in criminal justice while at Tampa. Playing junior college ball at Tallahassee College, he decided to remain in school after the Padres made him their 39th-round pick in the 2014 Draft.
Ricky said he'll always remember the personal influence of Steinbrenner, whose clubs won the World Series seven times and captured 11 American League pennants during his tenure as principal owner. Ray said Steinbrenner and Levine are the two baseball executives, "I would jump off a pier for."
"Just seeing how encouraging he was behind the scenes made a big impact on me," Ricky said about The Boss. "He was big on education and always finishing up school. I was big on that, too. I wanted to get that done."
Both he and his father are anticipating the next step. It was a tough year in 2016 for Ray, who lost his mother and father. But now he's having fun. Ricky is working out twice a day in Florida to stay in baseball shape until signing his deal with Atlanta.
They're out there daily on Huggins-Stengel Field across Tampa Bay in St. Petersburg, where the Yankees and Mets both trained, and named after the famed managers Miller Huggins and Casey Stengel.
"As you well know, it's the field where Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio used to have their Spring Trainings," said Ray, who might have also added Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford. "We do it there because of the spirits that are supposed to be there, that they say are there.
"We go there for special, spiritual support."
And wait for the phone to ring.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.