12/03/2008 11:25 AM ET
From Yankees bat boy to best-seller
Children's author Ray Negron takes books to big screen
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
Ray Negron's life with the New York Yankees started on the magical day in 1973 when he was caught spray-painting the team's famed "NY" insignia onto the outside wall of Yankee Stadium.
The tagline of that occurrence reads like a can't-miss blockbuster movie: Young graffiti artist with heart of gold and untapped potential apprehended by new team owner George Steinbrenner, hired as bat boy, and eventually becomes team executive and one of the closest confidants of "The Boss."
Negron has had plenty of interest for a book and film on that exact concept, but he's got his own Hollywood dreams that are close to coming true.
Negron's three best-selling children's books, all about the Yankees and all published by HarperCollins, have been combined into one film script, the soon-to-be-in-production "Keeper of the Pinstripes."
Negron's got actor Josh Lucas already on board as well as former Yankees players Bernie Williams and Darryl Strawberry. The movie, which will feature scenes at the recently closed old Yankee Stadium, will be directed by former "One On One" actor Robby Benson and could start filming as early as April.
"I feel the books and the movie are something kids can really relate to and love," says Negron, whose stories weave classic kids' lessons of tolerance, good will and education in with fantastic stories of time travel and rare meetings with long-departed Yankee legends.
"That's the key here. That's the importance of it. I don't want anybody ever to forget the real Yankee Stadium.
"The new one is going to be wonderful for the next generation, but at the same time, the spirits of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Thurman Munson and Bobby Murcer, I don't want them to ever forget that."
Negron hasn't forgotten his Yankee roots.
After being plucked by Steinbrenner and put to work, Negron climbed up the baseball ladder, serving as a loyal batboy in the glory years of the late 1970s. He became a good enough shortstop at Springfield Gardens High, in Queens, N.Y., that he was a second-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates and minor leaguer before landing gigs with the Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers as team counselor.
These days, Negron works for the Yankees as a personal consultant to Steinbrenner and also serves as director of community relations for the equipment company Spalding.
Negron's also a member of the Screen Actors Guild, having appeared in numerous television commercials and motion pictures, including "The Cotton Club," which starred Richard Gere.
Gere, a New York resident and Yankees fan Negron has been friends with for 25 years, is set to play the voice of Gehrig in an animated movie project Negron's also working on.
"I took my last tour around Yankee Stadium with Richard," Negron says. "I showed him every nook and cranny of that stadium, and to see him shake and have tears in his eyes as he saw parts of the park, that was a thrill for me. To know that today, he's still talking about that, it's very special. Even at the fantasy camp, he was telling all the campers."
Negron has many stories to tell, too, and he says he started doing it in written form after a tragic event hit the Yankees -- and baseball -- community in 1979.
"I started writing when Thurman Munson died," he says. "It was a way to get over the emotion of what we were all going through. And I've always written throughout the years."
But when Negron was offered a major publishing deal for his Steinbrenner-graffiti story -- which was to be called "The Boss and the Batboy," he rejected it.
"Emotionally I didn't want to do a Steinbrenner book," he says. "But I said, 'Hey, I have a children's book that you might like.' The publisher laughed and said, 'OK, let's check it out.' She read it and loved it and I got a three-book deal."
The third and latest book in the series, "One Last Time: Goodbye to Yankee Stadium," is the one Negron says he's the most proud of. It's also going to be a major focus of the upcoming film.
"It's all the spirits coming back for one last game," Negron says.
And don't think for a minute that Steinbrenner won't be a big part of the story.
"I'll always be grateful to him," Negron says. "I idolize the guy because of the personal relationship I've had with him. He took me in and I got to know the real person. I have always been grateful for that and have always enjoyed his support. He showed me in his own way how to be a man and how to be strong."
Negron now passes on the same life lessons to his four children and to the many readers of his books, and, if everything goes as planned, he'll have a much bigger audience "some time between Christmas 2009 and Opening Day 2010," as he says.
"It's all a wonderful thrill, no question about it," Negron says. "The fact that I came out with three books, and to have these dreams and share them with the world and hopefully motivate all people into giving it their best shot, that's the key. Not money or anything like that.
"That's how I live my life."
Doug Miller is a Senior Writer for MLB.com/Entertainment. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.