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Yankees honor 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 landing with Jack Aker and Mike Massimino

Astronaut Mike Massamino, right, poses for photographs with

Astronaut Mike Massamino, right, poses for photographs with former New York Yankees pitcher Jack Aker before a baseball game between the Yankees and the Colorado Rockies Saturday, Jan. 20, 2019. Credit: AP/Frank Franklin II

Jack Aker was back on the field at Yankee Stadium on Saturday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the moment when baseball stood still and Apollo 11 landed on the moon.

Aker was pitching relief for the Yanks on July 20, 1969 in a tie game against the Washington Senators when stadium announcer Bob Sheppard interrupted play as the Americans neared the moon’s surface and ultimately announced it had landed.

Said Sheppard: “Ladies and gentleman, your attention please. You will be happy to know that the Apollo 11 has landed safely on the moon."  Posted on the Stadium scoreboard was “THEYRE ON THE MOON.”

The Yankees marked the anniversary with Aker catching a ceremonial first pitch from former astronaut and Long Island product Mike Massimino. Massimino, who was born in Oceanside and grew up in Franklin Square, flew on space shuttle missions in 2002 and 2009.

“I was  six years old when that happened and it changed my life,” said Massimino, who now a professor at Columbia University who teaches and advises research on spaceflight topics. “My two passions in life were baseball and space. It was right around the time those passions were formed. If I couldn’t grow up to be a Jack Aker, I wanted to grow up to be a Neil Armstrong.”

“I felt like I was representing NASA and the space program and doing it here at Yankee Stadium is something special and getting to throw it to Jack makes it beyond anything I could ever imagine,” Massimino added.

According to reports, the Yankees and Senators were interrupted for approximately four minutes. All of the players were aware of the impending moon landing. The Yanks ended up winning 3-2 in 11 innings and Aker got the victory.

“I was on the mound and my first idea that something was going on was I hear Bob Sheppard say ‘we’re going to break in here’ and so I just backed off the rubber and down onto the grass,” Aker said. “Everybody stood still for a moment or so and we realized it was going to take more than that. Infielders bunched up and the outfielders, I think, joined together. I didn’t want to mix in with anybody because I didn’t want to break my concentration  . . . I just stayed around the area of the mound and I actually sat down on the grass and took a breather.”

After the moon landing, “America the Beautiful” was played at the Stadium before the game resumed and Aker recollected enjoying that because, he said, “to present to the public to show what kind of a country we have.”

“I just want to say we were playing a kid’s game at a man’s level, but all of our playing came nowhere close to what these guys were doing,” Akers said. “We were little tiny people compared to [the astronauts].”

Massimino said he was inspired that the federal government has announced it “will be launching . . .. astronauts again for the first time since 2011 from U.S. soil” and called some of the innovation in space travel by private industry exciting.

“We’ll never replicate the interest and accomplishment that was 50 years ago and that’s OK. The Apollo 11 landing was that momentous an occasion,” he said. “I think we’re looking at a very long time until we can say there is something near what was 50 years ago.”

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