December 17 – Happy Birthday Curtis Pride
My Dad was a full blooded Italian who for some reason, took a liking to country music. Some of my favorite memories of him occurred when I’d be sitting in the living room of his home and he’d be shaving in the bathroom and I would listen to him sing a few select lines from some of his favorite country tunes. He used to love the old Hank Williams’ tune, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” , and Eddie Arnold’s “The Last Word in Lonesome is Me.”
I’m sharing this with you as part of today’s Pinstripe Birthday Blog post because I still remember the first time I saw today’s birthday celebrant play a game in a Yankee uniform, even though it happened over nine years ago and he ended up appearing in just four games in pinstripes. There’s three reasons for my ability to still recollect such a nondescript Yankee and the first one is my Dad. One of his all-time favorite country & western shaving tunes was called “Kiss an Angel Good Morning.” It was sung by Charley Pride, who was a huge C&W recording artist during the 1970s and one of the greatest Texas Ranger fans in the history of that franchise. So when I heard Curtis Pride’s name mentioned the first time during that 2003 televised Yankee/Red Sox contest, I immediately associated him with Charley Pride, which immediately made me picture my Dad singing the tune “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” while shaving in front of the steamed up mirror of his medicine cabinet.
The second reason I still remember Pride’s first Yankee game was because during his first at bat, the game announcers revealed that he had been born deaf. After attending special schools until the seventh grade, Curtis’s parents insisted he go to regular schools and learn how to survive in the mainstream world with his handicap. Pride was up to the task and he also developed into a superb athlete, attending William & Mary on a basketball scholarship, while also playing minor league baseball. He broke into the big leagues with the Expos in 1993, was released by Montreal in ’95 and was then signed by the Tigers. During the next two seasons he saw more playing time with Detroit than he would see with any of the other five teams he played with during his 11 years as a big leaguer.
The Yankees signed him in May of that 2003 season and sent him to their Triple A farm team in Columbus. That July, Yankee outfielders Bernie Williams and Raul Mondesi both went down with injuries and Pride was called up to the Bronx as a temporary replacement just in time for a four game series with the Red Sox. New York had started that series with a four game lead in the AL East over second-place Boston. That lead had been cut in half after Boston had won the first two games. New York was leading the third game 3-1 when Pride led off the top of the sixth and gave me my third reason for remembering his debut. He hit a long home run over the old Yankee Stadium’s center field wall off of Boston right-hander John Burkett and the Stadium went wild, standing and cheering as Pride circled the bases. At the urging of Manager Joe Torre, Pride emerged from the dugout for a curtain call and you could see tears coming down his cheek when he tipped his cap to the cheering fans. He later admitted he couldn’t hear the crowd’s cheers.
The next afternoon, Pride came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning of a 1-1 game with the bases loaded and one out and hit a ground ball to Red Sox second baseman, Todd Walker. Walker bobbled the ball, eliminating his chance to turn it into a game-ending double play. His throw to the plate sailed over the head of Jason Varitek, allowing Hideki Matsui to score the winning run. Pride was mobbed by his Yankee teammates as the Stadium once again went wild with cheers that Pride could not hear.
Curtis Pride would appear in just two more games for New York before he was sent back to Columbus in late July to make room on the Yankee roster for reliever Jesse Orosco. He would catch on with the Angels in 2004 and play portions of three more big league seasons. Pride shares his birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher and this other one too.