-Originally published for “The Double Play NJ” on January 19, 2014-
“Nicole…. What is that?!” Gina exclaimed early on the morning of Saturday, January 18, 2014.
There we were: stopped at the longest red light in the history of New Jersey. My best-sister-in-the-universe had just taken me to drop my car off for an oil change at good old Midas, the place I spend way too much of my free time (and way too much money).
“Is that a dancing cow?” I reacted from the passenger seat.
“That’s not just a dancing cow,” Gina said. “That cow is doing the Bernie.”
“What even is that?” I asked. Kids these days. Can’t keep up with them.
“You seriously live under a rock,” she charmingly responded. “It’s a dance. Look it up on YouTube.”
“I don’t need to look it up,” I said. “I’m watching it right now.”
Any other morning, this would have been a random occurrence, but not on this day. We just so happened to be in full-on preparation mode for our press conference that evening in Connecticut for New York Yankees legend Bernie Williams’s charity event.
After picking up Lady Libs (my Jeep Liberty’s name, in case you didn’t know), we headed northbound on the always-interesting-to-drive Garden State Parkway, crossed the Tappen Zee Bridge, and eventually found ourselves driving around in circles on the top of a mountain.
“Keep going straight,” shouted my co-pilot. “It says ‘Main Reception – Straight Ahead.'”
The location of the event was secluded, alright. We somehow wound up in the correct parking garage of the largest corporate complex I had ever seen with a half hour to find where we had to be.
“Where do we go?” Gina asked.
“Let’s just follow all the fancily dressed people,” I suggested.
We entered the building through a classy lounge and checked in. After going to the wrong table first, we were directed towards an elevator.
“It’s only you two and the YES Network here tonight,” said a gentleman who lead us to the fourth floor conference room where the presser would take place.
We both looked at each other with dropped jaws, but this was no time to freak out. By the time we made it upstairs, we had only ten minutes before the interview would start.
“I can’t believe there aren’t any other media members here!” I exclaimed.
We picked seats right at the end of the table in the front of the room and made our final preparations. Gina reviewed her questions while I adjusted my camera’s settings (and took selfles, naturally).
Then, as if a choir of angels was singing in the background, in walked two of the most beloved Yankees of all time – Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera, along with WFAN Yankees beat reporter Sweeny Murti and about thirty other guests. And to make this surreal moment even more surreal, Williams and Rivera sat directly across from me and Gina.
Williams was busy signing a guitar before the interview began, but Rivera came right over. I instinctually stood up and introduced myself.
“Hi, I’m Nicole Sorce with The Double Play,” I said as I shook hands with the greatest closer of all time.
“Hello, Nicole,” Rivera said back.
“I’m Gina Sorce with The Double Play,” said Gina as she also shook his hand.
“Hello, Gina,” said Rivera, with a pleasantly confused look on his face.
“We’re sisters,” I said, sensing that’s what he was curious about.
“Alriiiiiiiight!” exclaimed Rivera. And with that, the room became quiet, and the interview had begun.
Williams and Rivera have experienced a lot together over the years, such as winning four World Series titles among other thrills during their careers in pinstripes. With a bond as strong as theirs, it’s no surprise that Williams invited Rivera to be his guest of honor at this year’s annual Hillside Food Outreach Gala at the Matrix Corporate Center in Danbury, Connecticut.
“This is my second time that I’ve done this, and he called me and made sure I was coming, otherwise he was going to send the police for me,” joked Rivera, “but it’s an honor and a privilege to be here. Being able to support Bernie and what he does for a living, I mean, it’s wonderful.”
Williams first got involved with Hillside Food Outreach, an organization founded in 1993 that makes monthly food deliveries to those who live at or below the poverty level in Putnam and Westchester counties, when he met Executive Director and Founder Kathleen Purdy.
“Well, a number of years ago, I went to a church in Mount Kisco, New York, called the Fountain of Eternal Life Church, and had the opportunity to meet Kathy at one of the services,” recalled Williams. “Her idea and her plan of Hillside Outreach started from scratch and from her house. We were so moved by the story that we decided to get involved.”
The annual fundraiser, which is hosted by Williams, wasn’t always such a large-scale event.
“Back then, we started from really doing the simplest things: delivering food, helping packing it up,” said Williams. “We figured I would be a better use for the organization to have my likeness, and be a sponsor, and have my presence be of encouragement for other people to join in. That’s how it started, and it has been really rewarding for us to be a part of this.”
Naturally, Rivera, this year’s special guest, couldn’t be more supportive of his former teammate’s involvement with such a tremendous cause.
“I mean, it’s important. You see a baseball player, or any sport, or any athlete, or individual doing this kind of event, and it’s wonderful,” Rivera said. “Giving back to the community: that’s what it’s all about, and having he opportunity to touch lives in a different way, besides the baseball game, is just wonderful.”
Williams has a third way to touch lives besides baseball and charity work as well: his guitar. In fact, Williams would prepare for Yankees games by jamming out with Paul O’Neill deep in the catacombs of Yankee Stadium.
“Both disciplines require a lot of work, a lot of preparation, a lot of perseverance, and they’re both a lot of fun,” said Williams. “I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to play baseball, and then kind of shift gears into the music. I mean, I have very few words to describe how exciting that is.”
While Williams has been out of the game since 2006, Rivera is new to being a retiree, and Williams was full of nothing but helpful advice for his old teammate on transitioning into this new phase of his life.
“I know that players have a hard time adjusting to life after baseball. You do have to change gears from living the kind of life that a baseball player lives,” Williams said. “Even when you’re in the offseason, you’re always thinking about the next season and getting in shape, and thinking about what you’re going to do.”
“And that’s gonna stop, and it’s gonna take him a while, but that’s alright,” Williams continued. “Knowing that he is ready to move on to the next phase of his life is such an important thing, and it has been for me as well.”
“He actually announced his retirement, though,” chimed in Murti, who I had the pleasure of interviewing in 2013.
“I have yet to announce my retirement, and I’m getting AARP cards in the mail,” admitted Williams as the room burst into laughter.
“I think Yankees fans would enjoy a Bernie Williams Day,” Gina added.
“I think I would enjoy that, too,” said Williams.
Since retiring from baseball, Rivera hasn’t yet taken a break as he has been heavily involved in his own charitable actions.
“I don’t have any free time! I’m working more than when I used to play baseball, which I love. It keeps me busy,” Rivera said. “I mean, I’m doing what I wanted to do, and I can’t complain at all. I’m doing exactly what I wanted to do, and that’s helping the community as much as I can. That’s my time.”
The remainder of the evening following our interview was planned out to the minute. Aside from an auction and musical performance by Williams himself, Murti would be hosting the Q&A session with guest of honor, Rivera.
“I’ve been doing this since 2008, and with these guys, it’s always a fun thing,” said Murti. “I’m glad Bernie thinks enough of me to come back every year, and I was able to form a bond with Bernie early on about music, and just being a guy to talk to.”
And then Murti uttered words of wisdom that summed up my and Gina’s interview with Williams and Rivera perfectly:
“With both of these guys, I’ve always really appreciated them because they’re not your typical athletes. They don’t just spit out whatever cliches that you think you’re going to hear. They always took the time to think about whatever question you were asking, and give the whatever they honestly thought. Not everybody does that. A lot of times, it’s ‘get the interview over with and go, and move on, and go home.’ These guys would always take the time, and they respected you for doing your job. As somebody who does this job, you can’t ask for more than that.”
Before we knew it, our 10-minute interview window was over, and we were being rushed out of the back door of the conference room. We thanked our humble interviewees and proceeded back to the parking garage, back down the mountain, and southbound to the shore. To say we were riding on cloud nine the entire commute home would be an understatement.
“I can’t wait to write this,” I kept saying.
“Me too, Nicole, ” said Gina. “Me too.”
You can’t disagree with me that The Double Play witnessing a “Bernie-ing” cow at a random stoplight down the shore on the morning of the biggest night of our lives was anything other than a coincidence.