This week's new cycle as far as the Yankees are concerned will be entirely Jeter-centric as we collectively reminisce ad-nauseum over the great career of the iconic Yankee Captain. Jeter's impending retirement marks the end of an era, an era defined by unprecedented success built around a foundation of homegrown talent commonly referred to as the "Core Four," of which Jeter is the last remaining member. With all of the attempts to recount the best Jeter moments currently circulating the media and the interwebs, I figured I would seek some perspective from someone who had the good fortune of seeing basically all of them. If you're a Yankee fan that goes to game or watches them on TV, you've probably heard the pinstriped faithful chanting the names of players until they acknowledge them, in what has come to be known as "Roll Call." However, what you may not know is that there is a man behind the chant, a man who whips the unwashed masses that refer to themselves as the "Bleacher Creatures" and who can be aptly described as the de facto leader of this group of die hards.
That man is Vinny Milano, known affectionately in Yankee-dom as "Bald Vinny." He has been in charge leading Roll Call and some other now-banned on unmentionable chants for the better part of the last two decades and by virtue of his role, has had the good fortune of seeing most of the great moments of this "golden era" of Yankees baseball, live and in person.
Very few people realize that aside from being a group of rowdy/vocal fans, the "Bleacher Creatures" are an organization that engages in a number of different initiatives, many of them philanthropic with Milano serving as one of the principle organizers/point men. Milano believes that "it doesn't take a lot to make a real difference," so he tries to use his platform to help out as much as he can. The Creatures and Milano have done extensive work with the charitable foundations of several current and former players, including Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, David Robertson, and Carlos Beltran, just to name a few. However, it isn't just players that the Bleacher Creatures work with, when an opportunity presents itself to help a fellow pinstriped brother in need, Milano and the Creatures will make every attempt to do whatever they can to make a difference. Whether that means guest bartending at Foley's to raise money for a fellow creature whose daughter was diagnosed with Cancer or raising money for a victim of senseless in-stadium violence, Milano and the Creatures are there to lend a helping hand.
Although he never anticipated being such a big part of the Yankee game day experience, Milano tries to use his platform for good. What started out as him "trying to chase the dream by chasing the Yankees," turned into something much more and he is committed to growing the bleacher creature brand. When asked what the Bleacher Creatures brand represents, he responded "passion, dedication, and maybe a little obnoxiousness." One would be hard-pressed to disagree with him on that point but because of how long he has been "Bald Vinny," leader of the Bleacher Creatures, he has been able to have experiences that would make most fans green with envy.
When asked to recount his favorite Jeter moments and memories from the Core Four era of Yankee baseball, Milano is quick to point out and share a sentiment that is felt widely across the Yankee Universe in regards to the "Core Four".
"I hate when people talk about the Core Four, sure those guys were great but you can't talk about this era and the foundation of those teams without including Bernie Williams."
For Milano, he describes the last 20 years or so as a "total highlight reel, my favorite memories and moments from this era are less about the on-field stuff and more about the personal moments, the players I had the good fortune of meeting and working with, etc. Some of my favorite memories of these guys, Jeter especially are small personal moments as opposed to the memories every Yankee fan shares."
"My favorite Jeter moment was during Hope Week a few years ago, the Yankees had a picture day where you could go on the field and actually talk to and rub elbows with some of the players. The day before, my picture was in the Daily News because Justice Sotomayor was sitting in the bleachers with us at the game. Derek came up to me without us ever having met before and said 'Hey Vinny, I saw you in the paper, you looked good.' I was shocked that he knew he I was but it's moments like those that are the most meaningful for me and ones that tell you everything you need to know about Derek."
Considering he admits that he has attended virtually every home game since 1998, I asked Milano for a little perspective and if he realized early on that Jeter, as well as the other members of the "Core Four" would eventually become they iconic players they are known as today:
"Derek was pretty much too cool for school right off the bat because he was always in the public eye. In terms of the different personas of these guys, I always like to compare Jeter to Joe DiMaggio and Mariano Rivera to Yogi Berra. Mo is like everyone's grandpa, he'll sit there, talk with you, and tell stories. Derek on the other hand, because he's always been in the limelight he's less accessible but they're all just regular guys at the end of the day."
Many media-types, especially the talking heads that occupy the local radio airwaves like to talk about certain players' place in Yankee lore and the question that constantly comes up is: Who is a monument guy and who is just a plaque guy? (referring to monument park). When posed with the same question Milano had this to say:
"Wow, that's a tough one, it's not something I really give much thought because I don't have a say in that decision. I guess you would have to say that Jeter is the only one that deserves a monument and the rest just get plaques but like I said, I don't have to make those decisions."
Over the course of our conversation, Milano revealed that he and Jeter are "hanging it up" on the same day, the Long Island native is giving up his tickets and his honorary position as the leader of the roll call. When asked about what prompted the decision to give it up after all this time, he admitted:
"My situation has changed, when I was younger and didn't have a family it was easier for me to do. I was able to turn my passion into a business (referring to his River Avenue T-Shirt stand) and that's why I was able to go to all those games because I had to be there anyway. However, the business isn't what it used to be and I found the job I really wanted . There's nothing I want and love more than being Bald Vinny but I have to think of life beyond River Ave, I have to think about my family. It just felt like a fitting time to go."
With the future of the Roll Call now in flux it begged the question as to whether anyone would take up the mantel and pick up where he left off:
"I hope it continues because it's not just about one person, it's not just me, there's a ton of people, hundreds of Bleacher Creatures behind it."
When asked what it would be like for him during that final home game and what he will take away from his time and tenure with the Bleacher Creatures, Milano said:
"It's probably going to be a little bit surreal but the one thing I'll take away and always remember is everything I was able to do with the Bleacher Creatures because we went from nothing to being a part of the franchise. What I will really remember and cherish are the people: the friends, the fans, the relationships I made."
When the final out is recorded tonight and number two walks off the field at the corner of 161st and River Ave for the last time, just drink it in and reflect. Remember the on the field moments, the moments that had you at the edge of your seat, from the old stadium to the new stadium and everywhere in between, and most importantly remember who you were with because it's the people that have made this run and this era so special and if you have the good fortune of being there be sure to wish Vinny a happy birthday as well.