My one personal encounter with George Steinbrenner was brief but memorable. It took place at a Yankees-Orioles playoff game in October 1996, and came about thanks to an introduction extended to me by my younger son, Dov, who was 15 at the time.
It was an afternoon game at Yankee Stadium, the day after my beloved Orioles had been robbed of victory by Jeffrey Maier, the 12-year-old who reached out from the bleachers to turn a sure out into a home run for Derek Jeter.
(I try not to hold grudges but that kid should have been carted off to jail for thievery…)
A friend with connections in the Yankee organization had provided the tickets for my two sons and me to sit in the owner’s box, no less – a bit tricky because we were from Baltimore and die-hard O’s fans.
We had decided it would be impolite to wear our Orioles caps to the game and did our rooting quietly, seated as we were at the epicenter of enemy territory.
During the game, Dov, who was cutting school to attend, headed off for a soft drink. When he hadn’t returned an inning or two later, I turned around to see him a few rows back, sitting and shmoozing with The Boss himself, just the two of them having a fine time.
When Dov saw me looking at them, he motioned for me to join him and his new friend, which I did. Steinbrenner clearly was taken with my son, who I found out later had spotted the Yankee owner sitting alone so he went over to introduce himself.
Steinbrenner then invited Dov to join him and the two began to chat. At one point, Dov mentioned that our family had recently moved, and when Steinbrenner asked “from where,” Dov tried to avoid mentioning Baltimore so he commented on how beautiful the stadium was.
Steinbrenner asked again. Dov deflected again.
Now the owner was getting seriously curious, and asked a third time, “where did you move from?”
Finally, Dov blurted out “Baltimore,” and acknowledged that we were Orioles fans.
Steinbrenner was charmed, and by the time I joined them, he told me my son was “a great kid” and maybe a future Yankee shortstop. He even signed a few autographs, including one for Dov’s school principal, a serious Yankee fan.
As we were leaving the stadium – the Orioles won that game but lost the series – Dov commented about the feared Yankee owner, “He’s really a nice guy, you just have to get to know him.”