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Pretty much every story written about Ray Negron starts with the same anecdote.
The reason is twofold. One, it makes sense to start at the beginning. Two, it is a story no one would never believe if it wasn’t true.
In 1973, at age 17, Negron was busted by an irate man in a suit and a security guard for spray-painting graffiti on Yankee Stadium. Negron was tossed in a cell in the bowels of the stadium, where he sat and envisioned every possible scenario that would follow. None of the hypotheticals ended well.
The fact that I spoke Spanish is what cracked the ice between me and Reggie.
- Ray Negron
The man who apprehended Negron returned and demanded the terrified teen come with him. Left with no choice, Negron did. What proceeded made the wildest possibilities Negron had imagined seem pedestrian.
Negron was hauled into the Yankee clubhouse, given a uniform and made the team’s batboy. The man, it turned out, was Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
The experience marked the beginning of Negron’s career in professional baseball that has spanned more than four decades and continues to this day, highlighted by his unique relationship with the Yankees’ organization.
But Negron has worked to turn what began as a chance encounter into a career grounded both in baseball and giving back.
“I was very, very blessed,” he said. “But I also worked very methodically to do things right. I tried. Listen, I made a lot of mistakes along the way, and I was lucky that I had a man like George Steinbrenner that gave me second, third, 11th chances. That doesn’t happen every day.”
Negron’s remarkable ride has seen him go from batboy to prospect (he was the Pittsburgh Pirates’ second-round draft pick in 1975) to sports executive.
He was an integral part of the Yankees’ organization during the late 1970s, establishing close bonds with team legends, including Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson and manager Billy Marlin. Negron’s relationship with Jackson was born initially out of something that seems so commonplace in Major League Baseball clubhouses today.
“The fact that I spoke Spanish is what cracked the ice between me and Reggie,” Negron said.
The shared language (Jackson’s grandmother was Puerto Rican) allowed them to speak privately, even when surrounded by other players.
Negron had a dugout seat to watch the game – and the Yankees -- evolve. He also worked to further himself, striving to take full advantage of every opportunity he encountered.
He has worked as an actor. He wrote three children’s books and released his own memoir, “Yankee Miracles,” in September. He’s actively involved in community outreach and a consultant for the Yankees.
That unlikely meeting – and the mentorship from Steinbrenner that developed –shaped Negron’s life.
“He may have been a tough businessman,” Negron said of Steinbrenner, who passed away in 2010. “But when it came to people who had less, he always was there for them. He helped them. He reached out and did things in a very quiet but powerful way. And he didn’t need people to know. It was a wonderful lesson that I learned.”
The lesson is just one of many Steinbrenner taught that Negron works to impart on the young people he encounters through his work in the community.
“I tell them to, ‘Go to school, study hard and take life one day at a time, and hopefully, things will happen,’” Negron said, explaining the advice he gives. “Don’t rush. Rushing will not get you anyplace. We don’t know what tomorrow brings.”
Negron’s initial encounter with the Yankees’ owner is proof of that mantra.
And it’s why Negron seeks to carry on Steinbrenner’s legacy to this day. The one-time batboy-turned-executive said his measure of success is ultimately, “Did I help The Boss in every way I could to make this a better place to live, period?”
Maria Burns Ortiz is a freelance sports journalist, chair of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists' Sports Task Force, and a regular contributor to Fox News Latino. Follow her on Twitter: @BurnsOrtiz