When it comes to charity, Joe Girardi will give you the shirt off his back. Literally. By the end of the regular season on Sunday, the Yankees’ manager will have done it 75 times.
Girardi, on the suggestion of Jason Zillo, the Yankees executive director of communications and media relations, started this season wearing a different charity’s T-shirt during his pregame news conferences at Yankee Stadium.
Before he takes questions about the state of the Yankees – an exercise which at times can resemble Greco-Roman wrestling as the super intense skipper grapples with reporters — Girardi will explain a little about the charity and its cause.
Sometimes, Girardi will bring in special guests, as he did on Tuesday when he was flanked by NASCAR driver Martin Truex Jr. and Truex’s partner, Sherry Pollex, who is an ovarian cancer survivor.
Girardi, whose mother died from the disease 33 years ago, wore a teal T-shirt highlighting Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, as did Truex.
“I was asked to do a commercial sort of thing about ovarian cancer because I lost my mom,” Girardi said. “The lady who asked me do it kind of hooked me up with Martin Truex. He happened to be in town for a banquet. It was just really neat to meet him.”
Girardi was introduced to NASCAR by former Yankees trainer Gene Monahan and is now a huge fan of the sport.
Raising awareness for ovarian cancer prevention was deeply personal for Girardi. Most days, however, Zillo – who also thought up the Yankees’ successful HOPE Week charity project eight years ago – will pick the organization and leave Girardi a T-shirt along with a note about the charity’s work.
Girardi will do his own research before slipping on the shirt before his news conference. The manager later autographs the shirt so the Yankees can send it back to the organization.
“Jason asked me if I’d be interested in doing it,” Girardi said. “I thought, ‘Yeah, this is a really good idea.’ I know we have HOPE week, but there’s a lot of other organizations that probably need recognition and help because they’re helping others. If you can bring some light to it and it tugs on somebody’s heart, it’s a good thing.”
One of those organizations is the Sunrise Day Camp-Long Island, a free full-summer day camp for children with cancer and their siblings which is located in Wheatley Heights. Girardi wore the Sunrise T-shirt on July 17 before a game against the Red Sox.
“We were thrilled, needless to say,” said Judy Fishkind, marketing director for the Sunrise Association, which operates three day camps in New York and seven overall in the U.S. and Israel. “It went so viral. People were amazed at what went on and that we were mentioned. The reaction was phenomenal. It makes our kids feel really special that he’s supporting us. The Yankees are heroes to the kids. They love it.”
Fishkind said the T-shirt with Girardi’s autograph will be auctioned off at a future event.
“He’s such a cool guy,” Fishkind said.
Said Girardi: “That’s not a word that’s usually associated with me.”
Sometimes the charities contact the Yankees and sometimes the Yankees contact them. One case of the Yankees reaching out was with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and its Long Island branch, which is based in Melville.
“It’s not every day that someone from the Yankees calls and says, ‘We want one of your T-shirts,’ ” said Michael Buscemi, senior director of development for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. “Not to use a pun, but it was out of leftfield.”
Girardi wore the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation T-shirt before a Sept. 12 game against the Dodgers. It was personal for him because a good friend from his Florida Marlins managing stint in 2006 has a daughter with Cystic Fibrosis.
Girardi’s friend, Jim Caldwell, is now the president of a Cystic Fibrosis group called Sharktank Research Foundation. His daughter is in college.
“The Caldwells were very instrumental in starting this organization down there to try to help kids get individualized treatment,” Girardi said.
Now, you may have wondered why Girardi will only have worn a charity’s T-shirt 75 times by Sunday when the Yankees have 81 home games. What happened the other six times?
Well, he is the manager of the New York Yankees. Occasionally the demands of the job meant Girardi didn’t have what he felt was enough time to familiarize himself with the charity or its cause. He didn’t want to wing it for a presentation that may, in the grander scheme, be a little more important than updating someone’s hamstring injury or going over a pitching change from the night before that didn’t work out.
“You get busy around here and I just don’t have time to do it,” Girardi said. “In the beginning, it was somewhat foreign to me and I was a little uncomfortable. Now, it’s become comfortable and I realize it takes five minutes to get myself ready for the day.”
So, after the regular season ends on Sunday, is he going to do it again starting with the home opener in 2017?
“Yes,” Girardi said. “If I can help one person, it’s worth it.”