Glen Cove’s Aidan and Patrick Annello got the day off from school on Tuesday to play baseball with a Yankees legend.
“I never thought I’d be on a field with a Yankee,” said Aidan, 10, after he, his brother and seven friends participated in a hitting competition with former Yankee Paul O’Neill at Macombs Dam Park across the street from Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. “It was a very fun experience for me and my family.”
Fun for O’Neill, as well.
“It was a neat day and I think these kids will remember it for a long time,” said O’Neill, who played for the Yankees from 1993 to 2001. “You got young kids that are enthusiastic about baseball, so they learn the fundamentals and they have fun.”
The Annello family was granted the experience after placing the winning bid as part of Starwood Preferred Guest Moments, a Marriott International loyalty program that enables members to bid their earned Starwood points on interactive experiences with celebrities. Aidan and Patrick’s parents, Patrick and Katrina Annello, used their membership points to bid on the “Go to Bat with Paul O’Neill” master class.
“Patrick saw this opportunity, and being big baseball fans, we thought it was perfect for us,” Katrina said. “We bid on it and we were very surprised that we actually won.”
Patrick said they also invited their four nephews and some players from the Glen Cove Little League team he coaches.
“It was great being down here on a beautiful morning to learn from one of the game’s greats,” said Patrick, who was also surprised with tickets to Tuesday’s playoff game between the Yankees and Houston Astros. “There was a lot of photos, a lot of autographs and a lot of memories.”
In addition to giving instruction on batting, fielding and baserunning, O’Neill also participated in a hitting contest where each batter was awarded points for hitting the ball to various spots on the field.
Patrick, 8, said his favorite moment was “hitting the ball and fielding.” Did O’Neill give him any advice?
“Just to take it easy,” Patrick said. “Just make contact and it will go.”
Added Aidan: “Just to be confident.”
Jordan Lambert, 15, said that since he plays for the junior varsity baseball team at Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School, O’Neill’s input on fundamentals was valuable. He also got an autographed bat and baseball.
“Growing up I really didn’t like the Yankees,” said Lambert, a Mets fan. “But I thought it was cool because I have never met a baseball player like him.”
To level the playing field, O’Neill was asked to use a plastic Wiffle ball bat for a portion of the contest as opposed to a wooden bat. O’Neill last swung a Wiffle ball bat “when I was like 5,” he said with a laugh. “It’s been a while.”
Calling play-by-play for the event was Yankees broadcaster John Sterling. When announcing the hitting contest winner, which was 12-year-old Anthony Ortado of Staten Island, Sterling used a portion of his trademark catchphrase that follows each Yankees victory.
“THEEEEEEEEE winner is Anthony!” Sterling shouted to the crowd during the trophy presentation.
“I’m going to tell my friends that I beat Paul O’Neill in a hitting contest,” Ortado said. “They’re going to say, ‘No you didn’t!’ ”
O’Neill was asked what lesson he hopes the kids will take away from the day.
“Just to appreciate what the Annellos did,” O’Neill said. “Every time they drive by this stadium, they’re going to picture themselves hitting next to it.”