If not for Long Islander Mike Messina, Derek Jeter might never have been nicknamed “Mr. November.”
As Halloween night approached midnight and November lurked seconds away, Jeter came to the plate at Yankee Stadium during the 2001 World Series. It was Game 4 against the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the score was tied at 2 in the bottom of the 10th inning.
Meanwhile, in the Yankees’ control room, Messina, who works in the scoreboard and video production department, mentioned to colleague Jim Shutterly that they should put “Welcome to November baseball” up on the scoreboard as the clock struck midnight.
Midnight arrived, marking the first time a major league game had been played in that month. Shutterly followed Messina’s suggestion. And a few minutes later, Jeter, with his inside-out swing, drove Byung-Hyun Kim’s 3-and-2 pitch over the rightfield wall to tie the series at two games apiece.
A fan quickly scribbled “Mr. November” on a sign that was captured on the Fox television broadcast, prompting then-Yankees radio announcer Michael Kay to say, “He is Mr. November!”
Messina, 52, who is in his 21st season with the Yankees, has seen his fair share of memorable moments, and not just at Yankees games. He’s worked six World Series (including four championships), a couple of perfect games, Jeter’s 3,000th hit and the captain’s final home game, but he also has worked soccer games, concerts and even Pope Benedict’s appearance at the old stadium in 2008, which he called the “hardest time to get into Yankee Stadium ever.”
When Messina married his wife, Rita, in 2007, longtime Yankees public address announcer Bob Sheppard recorded the voice-over for his wedding party. The same voice that Reggie Jackson dubbed “The Voice of God” introduced the baseball-loving couple to their guests: “Now, for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. Messina.”
Messina, who now lives in Middle Village, grew up in Commack and attended Hauppauge High School before heading to Suffolk County Community College and C.W. Post. After changing his major a couple of times, Messina decided to study broadcast and telecommunications. He joined the Yankees as a freelancer in 1997.
“I always wanted to work for the Yankees in one way or another,” the lifelong fan said. “Eventually I had a friend who worked here as an intern and started working the scoreboard, and every time I would see him, I would get my résumé in here and [ask], if you ever need a fill-in. And one day I was just at a game in ’97 and he told me to come up and showed me the booth and met the guys that were doing the game that night, and eventually they took my number down and he eventually got a staff job somewhere that prevented him from working the games, so I ended up — after filling in for him — I ended up getting his job and never left.”
Messina — not to be confused with former Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina — started out as a balls-and-strikes operator, which earned him the nickname “Mikey Strikes,” because that essentially was his sole responsibility for his first 12 years with the Yankees.
When Messina started, the Yankees used to roll credits on the scoreboard after a game, and, he said, to avoid having his other employer, ABC, find out that he was working for the Yankees, he used the pseudonym.
“You get a nickname, it’s hard to shake it,” he said. “But it’s my nickname only here. It’s weird if someone calls me that anywhere else, but once in a while my wife will call me that.”
Now he’s not just a balls-and-strikes operator. Messina works six different positions, including stationary and wireless cameras, where he and his colleagues film everything that appears on the videoboard — from promotional games to batting-practice footage — throughout the game.
Messina said he works about 70 to 75 Yankees home games per season on top of other events at the Stadium such as NYCFC games, concerts and parties.
Messina said he also freelances for CNN and Nasdaq in Times Square. Before that, he said, he worked for the United Nations’ in-house television station for 17 years until he decided he wanted to be more available for games and events at Yankee Stadium.
“You need something when baseball’s over between November and March to keep the money coming in,” he said.
Messina’s love of baseball is clear. On the evening of July 7, while doing out-of-town score updates and choosing stats on the linescore wrap for the batter during the Yankees’ game against the Brewers, Messina donned a Yankees cap under his headset and kept a precise scorecard to follow the game, which he said he’s done since he first started watching baseball as a kid. He added even the minute details such as first pitch (7:10 p.m.) and temperature (83 degrees).
“It’s really like coming to the game with a bunch of friends every night and watching baseball and doing your job, too,” Messina said.
Now Messina, who said he played baseball from around the time he was 8 until he was into his forties, is trying to pass on his love of the game to his sons, Dylan, 9, and Jakob, 7.
“If I’m not at a Little League game, I’m at a major league game,” said Messina, who coaches his sons’ Little League teams. Dylan played on the team that won the Forest Hills Little League International Division championship this season.
Messina said he was never good enough to play in college, but during his high school years, he did play against a couple of big-leaguers in future Hall of Famer Craig Biggio of Kings Park and Pete Harnisch of Commack North.
And of course, it’s hard to ignore the similarity between Messina’s name and that of a former major-leaguer.
“Yeah, one-letter difference,” said Messina after being asked if there was ever any confusion between him and Mike Mussina in the eight seasons (2001-08) that both were with the Yankees. “They never switched our paychecks. I was hoping for that to happen.”
Messina did have an unusual moment with Mussina while shooting a postgame segment after Mussina recorded a win.
“My ID’s right in front of him just as he’s talking to all the reporters around,” Messina said. “He looked at it and said, ‘Is that your real name?’ . . . So I said, ‘I was here before you.’ Now I’m here after him, too.”