Going into the weekend of Mar. 13, I was very, very excited. I was set for an awesome weekend (yet now part of that weekend seems meaningless). However, Friday Mar. 13 was very meaningful, as I was lucky enough to interview an ex-Yankee.
John Flaherty, the former Yankee catcher, was the guest of honor at my College softball team’s breakfast fundraiser. Me being the sports editor of my college’s newspaper, I was asked to cover the event, and was able to spend part of my morning with the former catcher and current YES Network broadcaster.
I am not really a morning person (as you can tell from the photo), but being up at 6:00 am was worth the opportunity to talk to Flaherty. With my Yankee warmup fleece on, my Yankee franchise cap atop my head, and Yankee Phiten necklace around my neck, I made the trip to school for this unique experience.
Of course all fans remember that it was on July 1, 2004 when John Flaherty stepped up to the plate at Yankee Stadium against the Boston Red Sox in the bottom of the 13th inning.
In a heated 4-4 game, Flaherty clobbered a game-winning, ground rule double to score Miguel Cairo, beat the Red Sox by a count of 5-4, and send the Yankee fans home with smiles on their faces.
When the softball coach announced Flaherty before he spoke, he mentioned Flaherty's playing time with the Red Sox. One person cheered. Then coach mentioned his time with the Yankees. The room erupted.
And moments after members of my school’s softball team served bacon, eggs, pancakes, and coffee to friends, family, and the student body, Flaherty shared personal stories about his life, making it to the big leagues, and what his college experience was like.
“I played baseball for George Washington University,” he said. “It was advantageous for me to go into the minor leagues with degrees in speech communication and psychology.”
After three years of college, Flaherty was selected in the 25th round of the 1988 amateur draft by the Red Sox. He then worked his way through the minors playing for Elmira and in the Florida State league before finally getting the call to the show in 1992.
For Flaherty, getting the big promotion was a unique experience, and I asked him how he felt his first day in the big leagues. I really was not expecting this answer.
“I was actually hung over the day I made my Major League Baseball debut,” he recalled. “My friends and I went out for ‘sodas’ the night before, and of course I woke up late. When I got the call from Boston, they asked me how far I was from Yankee Stadium. I was not that far away, and managed to get to the ballpark just in time for the game.”
Making his MLB debut for the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium was an emotional experience for Flaherty and he recollected what is was like to be playing in the Cathedral of Baseball in his first big league game.
“It was a whirlwind,” he said. “It takes awhile to sink in that you are a major leaguer. I didn’t even really believe I was until Kirk Gibson told me I was never going back to the minors.”
In 1994, Flaherty was dealt from Boston to the Detroit Tigers. He spent two and a half years playing for the Tigers as their everyday catcher before heading west to play for the San Diego Padres for the 1997 campaign.
“Playing for the Padres was an enlightening experience,” said Flaherty. “I was privileged to play with athletes like Ken Caminiti, Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, and Rickey Henderson, who will be inducted to the Hall of Fame this upcoming summer.”
Continuing to move forward, Flaherty then went on to play for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays from 1998-2002. He was a part of the history of Rays’ franchise, as he was behind the plate catching for the first Rays game in their existence.
After spending five years with the Rays, Flaherty fulfilled his dream of becoming a New York Yankee. In 2003, he was signed to be the backup catcher behind current Yankee backstop Jorge Posada. Flaherty remembered how it almost didn’t happen.
“I had initially turned down the Yankees’ offer to play for the Texas Rangers as their everyday catcher,” he said. “Things didn’t work out in Texas, so I had to call Yankees’ General Manager Brian Cashman back and ask for that spot. He invited me to spring training as a non-roster invitee, and I made the team.”
Aside from his brilliant walk-off win against the Red Sox on July 1, 2004, Flaherty’s favorite memory of being a Yankee came in 2003, playing in the World Series against the Florida Marlins.
“Even though we didn’t win, it still felt great to play in the fall classic.”
When he finished his time with the Yankees in 2005, Flaherty went back to Boston, where he started his career.
After a final spring training stint as a member of the Red Sox before the 2006 season, Flaherty called it a career and turned to the broadcasting booth working for the YES Network, where he is today.
“It is really fun to call the games now,” he said. “I do 70 games a year for the YES Network, and it’s nice to be home for the majority of the time with my family in New York.”
After sharing his personal stories and highlights of his MLB career, Flaherty encouraged the athletes of my school in attendance to cherish their time together as teammates.
“My advice to all the athletes here at Mercy is to enjoy yourselves,” he remarked. “Enjoy the time you have together, work hard, and your team will be fine.”
After his words, he signed baseballs for everyone, and I got a picture with him.
Although my weekend was fun, and some things didn’t work out the way I expected them to eventually, I still got to talk with a former Yankee. It will be something I won’t soon forget.