Results tagged ‘ Yankees ’

Yanks, Rays have safety net

Fans seem to like the wild-card system in baseball because if gives more teams a chance to reach the playoffs.  The powers that be in the game certainly approve it of it because the more teams involved in races the greater the interest there is in the sport in the final month of the season.

There is one downside of the system that was adopted in 1994 by which the second place team with the best record qualifies for post-season play as a wild card, and that is it can ruin an old-fashioned race for first place.

Take what is going on this year between the Yankees and the Rays, for example. These two teams entered play Tuesday night tied for first in the American League East for the eighth straight day. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that marks the most consecutive days that a pair of teams has been tied for first this late in a season. The previous record was seven straight days by the Dodgers and the Astros in the National League West Sept. 10-16, 1980.

That season featured one of the wildest finishes in major league history. The Dodgers swept the Astros in a three-game series at Los Angeles to force a one-game playoff that also took place at Dodger Stadium the day after the regular season ended. The Dodgers’ bubble was burst by Joe Niekro’s knuckleball as Houston won the playoff to qualify for the NL Championship Series against the Phillies.

Had there been a wild-card system, there would have been no need for a playoff because both teams would have made it.

Something similar happened in 1993, the last year there was no wild-card in the majors. In fact, the finish in the NL West that year was a major reason the wild-card supporters got what they wanted. The Giants won 103 games but finished one game behind the Braves (then in the NL West) and went home.

It was as wild a race as every existed. Atlanta trailed San Francisco by a season-high 10 games July 22 and by 9 as late as Aug. 7. A seven-game losing streak Sept. 7-15 brought the Giants back to earth as they fell 3 games behind the Braves, who were amid a 9-1 run. It came down to the final weekend. The Braves swept a three-game series from the Rockies, but the Giants lost to their arch-rival Dodgers on the final day of the season.

There was no fallback position for the Giants without the wild card. As tight as that race was, it does not compare really to what is going on between the Yankees and Tampa Bay. The Braves and Giants were tied on the same day only eight times total in 1993, only as often as the Yanks and Rays have been for a little more than the past week.

Over the past 30 days, the Yankees and the Rays have been tied for first place 12 times and have had the same share of the top spot 23 days during the season. But with the third-place Red Sox having fallen seven games behind them and the second-place teams in the other divisions nowhere near contention for the wild-card berth, the juice is missing from the Yanks-Rays race because whoever doesn’t win the division will make the playoffs anyway.

Sure, there is home-field advantage in the Division Series and Championship Series at stake, which is sort of a carrot but not as appetizing as eliminating a foe altogether.

Get your shots

The Yankees and Lincoln Memorial Medical and Mental Health Center will be the co-hosts of their fourth annual collaborative “Back to School Immunization Fair” Wednesday, Aug. 11, at the FedEx Banquet and Conference Center at Yankee Stadium.

The hours for the fair are from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Students and their families should enter at Gate 6, located on the corner of River Avenue and 161st Street in the Bronx. All children must be accompanied by an adult. For children to receive vaccinations and free gifts, parents and/or guardians need to bring proof of guardianship (New York State photo identification and child’s birth certificate) proof of address, immunization card and a health insurance card.

“Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center is doing more than ever to ensure that our children receive the highest quality health care,” Lincoln executive director Jose R. Sanchez said. “Whether it’s immunization or education, Lincoln is at the forefront of addressing important health issues. This year we are expanding the immunizations available to include all recommended vaccines for ages 4 to 17, not only those mandated for school entry.”

Vaccinations protect children for years against serious, sometimes life-threatening diseases such as tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough and hepatitis. The Yankees and Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center are emphasizing the importance of vaccinating the children of the Bronx.

Two guys named George

Fans of the Yankees and “Seinfeld” reruns may satisfy both pleasures this week as the TBS cable network will honor the memory of George Steinbrenner with classic episodes that featured the late principal owner from the series that had its initial nine-year run (1989-98) on NBC and is now seen in syndication.

The Boss did not portray himself in the show. An actor named Lee Bear was shot from the back usually seated at a big desk, and Steinbrenner’s voice was provided by head writer Larry David, who is now the star of his own “Curb Your Enthusiasm” sitcom on HBO.

One of the show’s lead characters, George Costanza, played by Jason Alexander, lands a job with the Yankees as assistant traveling secretary. “The Opposite,” the finale of the fifth season in which Costanza gets hired, will begin the tribute week, which will end with “The Muffin Tops,” the last episode that featured the Steinbrenner character in which he trades Costanza for new chicken concessions at Yankee Stadium.

The schedule follows. Just disregard for the time being that in real life series star Jerry Seinfeld is a Mets fan who is a season ticket holder at Citi Field.

Monday, July 19: 7 p.m., “The Opposite” – George convinces Steinbrenner to give him a job; 7:30 p.m., “The Secretary” – George finds out Steinbrenner’s secretary makes more than he does.

Tuesday, July 20: 7 p.m., “The Race” – George heads to Cuba to recruit baseball players for Steinbrenner; 7:30 p.m., “The Wink” – Steinbrenner lists all the people he has fired over the years.
Wednesday, July 21: 7 p.m., “The Hot Tub” – Steinbrenner convinces George that a hot tub is the perfect way to relieve stress; 7:30 p.m., “The Caddy” – George’s father (Jerry Stiller) confronts Steinbrenner about a traded player.

Thursday, July 22: 7 p.m., “The Calzone” – Steinbrenner gets the idea to put Yankees clothes in a pizza oven; 7:30 p.m., “The Nap” – George’s napping habits at work lead Steinbrenner to think he has ESP.

Friday, July 23: 7 p.m., “The Millennium” – George does everything he can to get fired, but Steinbrenner loves what he does; 7:30 p.m., “The Muffin Tops” – George’s relationship with the Yankees finally ends when Steinbrenner trades him.

The “Bombers Boomer Broadway Softball Classic,” featuring Boomer Esiason and Broadway celebrities, had been scheduled for Monday at Yankee Stadium but has been canceled due to the deaths last week of Steinbrenner and public address announcer Bob Sheppard. Information regarding a possible rescheduling of the event will be released at a later date.

Go, Buckeyes!

Nick Swisher must think he is still campaigning for the All-Star Game. Suffice it to say he is not resting on his first-half laurels now that the 2010 All-Star Game is history.

Swish was all over Friday night’s 5-4 victory over the Rays at Yankee Stadium in some ways good and in some ways not. At the end, however, he put a bright face on a game that began with somber tones and ended with pie-in-the-face exhilaration.

As a bow to the memory of Bob Sheppard, the only public address announcements were of the starting lineups and nothing else for the remainder of the game. That meant the noise would have to come from elsewhere, preferably to the sellout crowd of 47,524 here to honor Sheppard and George Steinbrenner from Yankees bats.

But it was pretty quiet out there for a while. Tampa Bay starter James Shields beat the Yankees May 20 to improve his record to 5-1. He was 2-8 with a 6.87 ERA since then but continued to give the Yankees trouble allowing only one run through five innings. Swisher knocked in the run with sharp single past Rays first baseman Carlos Pena in the third.

Tampa Bay nickeled and dimed its way to three runs off CC Sabathia, who had runners on base in six of his seven innings. An error by Swisher, who misplayed a fly ball in the sixth, proved inconsequential. Sabathia was never better than in the seventh after the Yankees had tied the score the previous inning on two-out, solo home runs by Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada.

After B.J. Upton reached first on an infield hit, Carl Crawford singled to right. Swisher air-mailed his throw to third up the line missing the cutoff man along the way, and the Rays had runners at second and third with none out. The Yankees decided to walk Evan Longoria intentionally and take their chances with a force at each base. CC struck out Pena.

Upton’s speed allowed him to score on a grounder to third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who wisely threw to first for the second out. Had he tried for Upton at the plate, A-Rod would have been late and lost the sure out. That would be it for the Rays as Kelly Stobbach grounded out.

One inning later, Swisher was in the middle of things again with a leadoff home run to tie the score. In the ninth, the Yankees got the potential winning run to second with one out. The moment seemed set up for Derek Jeter to be the hero, the same Jeter who represented the Yankees in a pre-game ceremony with a succinct speech about the qualities of both Steinbrenner and Sheppard. Jeter had a good at-bat against a tough reliever, Dan Wheeler, but he struck out.

Of course, you know who was up next. Swisher, naturally. The Rays turned to righthander Lance Cormier, who tried one too many sliders against Swisher, who singled off the third one to send home Curtis Granderson for the winner. It was somehow appropriate that Swisher was the hero, even though his time with the Yankees has been after the Boss’ direct involvement.

As manager Joe Girardi pointed out, “There were two things George Steinbrenner loved more than anything – his Yankees and his Buckeyes.”

So it was that Ohio-born and Ohio State University-educated Nick Swisher put the finishing touch on an important victory. On nights like this, the value of the game can seem diminished because attention appears to be focused on other things.

That was never the way George Steinbrenner saw it. He would have emphasized the final score. It means that Tampa Bay cannot leave town in first place in the American League East. We are past the All-Star Game and well out of the first half. The standings will now be studied closely every day. The Yankees won the sort of game Steinbrenner truly appreciated.


Tasteful tribute

I gave credit to the Red Sox for their tribute to George Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard Thursday night at Fenway Park, and the Boston club deserves it. But no club quite handles moments such as these as the Yankees. Friday night was no different as the Yankees paid tribute to the deceased icons movingly and tastefully in a pre-game ceremony at Yankee Stadium.

A five-minute video of Steinbrenner’s lengthy and largely successful career as the franchise’s principal owner was shown on the Mitsubishi screen. After which, the crowd stood in preparation for the playing of taps as the West Point Color Guard walked onto the field.

Mariano Rivera then came forward with two long-stemmed roses and placed them on the plate. After the playing of taps by Staff Sergeant Mikki Skinner, a bugler with the West Point Band, a tape of Sheppard was heard directing attention to the microphone behind the plate and the appearance of Derek Jeter. The captain gave a brief, poignant address about the legacy of the two larger than life figures.

“We gather here tonight to honor two men who were both shining stars in the Yankee universe. Both men, Mr. George Steinbrenner and Mr. Bob Sheppard, cared deeply about their responsibilities to this organization and to our fans, and for that, will forever be remembered in baseball history and in our hearts. 
“Simply put, Mr. Steinbrenner and Mr. Sheppard both left this organization in a much better place than when they first arrived. They’ve set the example for all employees of the New York Yankees to strive to follow. 
“So now I ask everyone to join us in a moment of silence.”

Jeter’s role as team spokesman has been firmly established at times like these. Think of his eloquence the day of the last regular-season game at the old Stadium in September 2008. He has a sense of the moment that is fitting for such occasions.

After Jeter’s speech, United States Army Sergeant First Class Mary Kay Messenger delivered a rousing rendition of the Star Spangled Banner that the patriotic Boss would have applauded.

Paul Olden, Sheppard’s successor, read the starting lineups of the Rays and the Yankees, then told the crowd that in Sheppard’s honor there would be no more announcements during the game. A camera shot of the empty chair in the PA announcer’s booth was displayed on the screen.

The bleacher creatures got into the spirit of the evening and refrained from shouting out the roll call of the Yankees in the field that has become a first-inning ritual the past decade and a half or so. The lack of noise actually allowed fans the opportunity to speak among one another between pitches, which Sheppard surely would have enjoyed.

Memories of the Boss and the Voice

The media were all over the place at Yankee Stadium Friday night trying to get all the reaction they could about the passing of principal owner George Steinbrenner. The reality of the situation is that most of the players in uniform these days didn’t really know him. He has been out of the public eye largely for quite a few years now. Those who did have relationships with the Boss – Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and manager Joe Girardi, especially – gave their opinions during the All-Star Game break at Anaheim.

It is about an hour and a half before the tribute planned at Yankee Stadium for Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard, the legendary public address announcer, is to start. I decided rather than waste my time talking to people who have no personal history with either man; I’ll share some thoughts with you about both.

I’ll start with Sheppard because this is easy. The most accurate description I heard of him the other day came from Gene Monahan, the Yankees’ trainer who has been a part of the organization for 37 years. Geno called Bob “the most polite man I have ever met in baseball.”

Perfect. It was my privilege on many occasions to sit at Bob’s table in the Stadium dining room and talk about topics ranging from baseball to literature. One night, the discussion centered on Joe DiMaggio and the fact that he was the subject of so many song lyrics, such as the 1940s hit, “Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio,” and Paul Simon’s 1968 opus, “Mrs. Robinson.”

I mentioned the lyric Oscar Hammerstein II wrote in the song about the character Bloody Mary in “South Pacific,” one of the great shows in his long collaboration with Richard Rodgers.

Bloody Mary is the girl I love;
Her skin’s as tender as DiMaggio’s glove

I was surprised when Bob said he had not heard of that. He was practically an encyclopedia of theatrical language, so I figured he would know anything from such a classic. I let it pass. A few days later, Bob came up to me in the press box and said, “You know, I played my recording of ‘South Pacific’ last night and listened very closely to the song, ‘Bloody Mary.’ My God, I thought, Jack was right. I’ll have to let him know.’ And so I am. For the life of me, I cannot understand how I listened to that song over the years and never picked up the reference to DiMaggio.”

We were pals from then on. For years, the New York Chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America tried to get Sheppard to be a subject of our annual roasts in what is known as the Pre Dinner Dinner, an informal affair that is held about 10 days before the annual New York Baseball Writers’ Dinner. Bob attended other of our events, especially the Indoor Outing, a dance that he and wife Mary were our version of Vernon and Irene Castle.

He would never agree to being roasted, however. “I am flattered,” he told me, “but let me ask you this, Jack? Could my daughter attend this?”

Well, he had me there. Language at a roast can get pretty blue. One of Bob’s daughters is a Roman Catholic nun. I never bothered him about it again. Instead, we pushed to honor him at the big dinner one year with the William J. Slocum Long and Meritorious Award, and the standing ovation he received was one of the longest ever accorded an honoree.

Now on to the Boss; let me get it right out front that covering a team that was owned by George Steinbrenner was not as easy assignment for a beat writer because he was a beat all to himself. With other teams, owners are seldom seen and rarely heard. There have been exceptions, of course, such as Charlie Finley and Ted Turner. But they did not run the New York Yankees. The combination of Steinbrenner and the Yankees was a daily double of absolutely epic proportions.

Back in the day before mobile phone, texting, twittering and the like, contact with George was through regular phone lines. So on those days you needed to get him, you have to call his secretary, leave your number and wait for him to return the call. That meant you were a prisoner in your hotel room and couldn’t go anywhere for fear you’d miss his call, which he didn’t always make, anyway.

That reminds me of the line former publicist Harvey Greene had about George and the telephone. Harvey said that in his job there were only two reasons he got a phone call after midnight – it was either a death in the family or Mr. Steinbrenner trying to reach him. “It got to the point,” Harvey said, “that I started rooting for a death in the family.”

The weird thing about some phone conversations with George is that he never wanted to discuss what you wanted to talk about. “No, I’m not interested in that, but here’s something you should write instead,” he would say. He would be adamant about it, as if he were my sports editor.

His opening line to me was always the same, “O’Connell, this is George, you know, my mother was Irish.” He only told me this about 380 times. Then he’d follow that with, “How’s the elevator running?”

The elevator situation at old Yankee Stadium was basically my introduction to the Steinbrenner world. I had been covering the Mets for four years at the Bergen Record in New Jersey when I was asked to switch to the Yankees after the All-Star break in 1983. Our Yankees writer, Filip Bondy, had just gone to the Daily News. With the Mets out of contention, I was moved to the Yankees, who were challenging the Orioles for the American League East.

With the Mets, I never had to call Nelson Doubleday or Fred Wilpon. With the Yankees, if they lost three or four games in a row, reporters had to call Steinbrenner. I covered a Detroit Tigers team in 1975 that lost 19 games in a row at one point and not once did I pick up the phone and dial John Fetzer’s number.

One of the problems I was confronted with at Yankee Stadium was that there was not an express elevator run from the press box to the clubhouse after games, which was the case at nearly every other ballpark in the major leagues, including Shea Stadium. There was no stairwell to use, either, so writers had to wait while on deadline or head down the ramps where they were forced to wade through clusters of fans exiting the Stadium.

As a chapter officer in the BBWAA, the more I looked into what could be done about this the more frustrated I got. Everybody passed the buck. But I was now around the Yankees long enough to realize there could be one possible solution, so I got hold of some BBWAA stationery and wrote a detailed letter to Steinbrenner because I had become convinced that he was the only guy who could get anything done around here.

It was probably the line about the Yankees not doing something that the Mets did regularly that shot him into action. By the next homestand, by order of the owner there were two express runs of the elevator for the press immediately after games. If you didn’t make it, that was too bad. It was good enough for me.

My other favorite George story revolves around the 1984 Winter Meetings in Houston. My paper had been late in applying for credentials. I was unable to get a room in the headquarters hotel and was booked in another hotel a few blocks away. On the flight out of Newark I happened to be on the same plane as Bill “Killer” Kane, the Yankees’ travel director who I got to know in my brief time with the team.

Killer said he had a car and would drive me into town. On the way, he told me to come with him and he’d set me up with a room at the regular hotel. Get this. The room turned out to be Steinbrenner’s suite.

“George doesn’t like to come to these things for more than a day,” Killer told me. “He won’t be here until Monday. By then, a room will open for you, and we’ll move you. In the meantime, enjoy, but don’t touch anything!”

This was on a Saturday, which went well. There was a huge, covered fruit basket and a magnum of champagne on a table. They were tempting, but I left them alone. Come Sunday morning, everything changed. The phone rang
early. It was Killer.

“Jackie, you gotta vacate that room,” he said. “Just pack up and get out in the hallway. George changed his plans. He’s on his way here. He just called me from the limo.”

Fortunately, the ride from the Houston airport to downtown is nearly an hour, which gave me time to pack up and get out of there. But to where? I envisioned having to sleep in the lobby until Monday. Somehow, Killer found me a room and met me in the hallway with a key for a room down the hall. I reached the room just moments before the elevator (another elevator yet) door opened and Steinbrenner stormed out heading for the suite.

Later in the day, I asked Killer how everything went. “Not bad,” he said. “George just doesn’t know why he keeps getting phone messages for Jack O’Connell.”

That was a private story between Killer and me before he allowed me to tell it at a roast we had for George at the Stadium in the late 1990s, and nobody laughed heartier at the tale than the Boss himself.

When I came off the beat to become the national baseball columnist at the Hartford Courant in 2000, George called to congratulate me for what he knew was a promotion. I was stunned. I was nowhere near as close to him as some of the other writers.

“I wish you luck, but I’ll miss you,” George told me. “There are too many new faces in the press box. I kind of hate to see an old one go; stay in touch.”

I have to admit that in recent years I have missed George, but in all honesty I do not miss covering the Yankees when he was around. Believe me when I say I am sure he understands.

Pick Nick

Word around Major League Baseball is that Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher was making a big surge in the All-Star fan balloting which ends one minute before midnight Thursday. Yankees fans have all day and evening to help get Swish a spot in the American League outfield for the July 13 game at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif.

The Yankees haven’t had an outfielder in the AL All-Star lineup since Bernie Williams in 2000 at Atlanta’s Turner Field. Ten years is too long, folks. Pick Nick.

Swisher entered the day in fifth place behind the Mariners’ Ichiro Suzuki and the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton, who were apparent locks for the first two spots; last year’s All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Carl Crawford of the Rays and Nelson Cruz of the Rangers.

The Yankees will surely have two starters in shortstop Derek Jeter and second baseman Robinson Cano, whose leads at their positions are insurmountable. Hanging on to the runner-up spot at first base behind the Twins’ Justin Morneau is the Yankees’ Mark Teixeira, but the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera in third place has been closing ground as the election winds down.

Happy birthday, Boss

Yankees principal owner George Steinbrenner will celebrate his 80th birthday Sunday with his family at home and Tampa, Fla., and issued a statement Thursday through his spokesman, Howard J. Rubenstein.

“I want to thank everyone who has sent their good wishes,” the Boss said. “I am very fortunate to have the love and support of a great family and many, many friends. The Yankees and their fans are a large part of what keeps me going. It means a lot. And I remind everyone that the Fourth of July is also the birthday of our country. We are all lucky to be Americans.”

“He has meant a lot to me and my career,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “I played on three championship teams for him. He put me behind the microphone when I retired as a player and brought me in as a bench coach and a manager. I think about the passion he has for winning. We win the 2009 World Series and now it’s time to move on to 2010.”

Honoring community service

The Yankees got an early start on the Fourth of July weekend with pre-game ceremonies Thursday at Yankee Stadium honoring young people making important contributions to their communities.

Mariano Rivera presented Yankees jerseys No. 42 to Rachel Robinson, Jackie Robinson’s widow, as donations from the club of those used in the 2009 and 2010 Jackie Robinson Foundation celebrations. The Foundation, which was started by Mrs. Robinson in 1973, the year after her husband’s death, funds college scholarships. Participating in the ceremony were Foundation president Della Britton Baeza and Jamal Cole, a Jackie Robinson scholar who is entering his senior year at Cornell University.

Jackie Robinson’s uniform No. 42 was retired in perpetuity by commissioner Bud Selig in 1997, the 50th anniversary of Robinson’s breaking baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Players wearing the number at the time could continue to do so, but once they left that team or retired the number could not be worn again. Rivera is the last player in the majors to wear No. 42.

Yankees captain Derek Jeter joined Naya Gary on the field for the presentation of the VH1 Do Something Awards for her involvement in “Part of the Solution,” which has a mission of feeding and nourishing the community. Naya is the senior class president and valedictorian at Morris Academy in the Bronx.

On Wednesday, Alex Rodriguez joined Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center president and chief executive officer Miguel A. Fuentes Jr. and other board members and patients at the hospital on the Grand Concourse to dedicate a new children’s outpatient center named in his honor. A-Rod contributed $250,000 to help find construction and completion of the center, which offers a child-friendly environment for young patients and their families.

“I am proud to support the children’s outpatient facility and Bronx-Lebanon’s efforts to care for the children of the Bronx community,” Alex said.

Celebrity softball event July 19

General admission tickets priced at $10 apiece for the “Bombers Boomer Broadway Softball Classic” July 19 at Yankee Stadium went on sale Tuesday. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Boomer Esiason Foundation Fighting Cystic Fibrosis and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. In addition, the Yankees will donate 2,500 tickets to Bronx-area camps and youth league teams.

Fans may purchase tickets online at or via Ticketmaster phone at 877-469-9849 or Ticketmaster TTY at 800-943-4327. Subject to availability, tickets will also be sold at the Yankee Stadium box office only on the day of the event.
The inaugural doubleheader will include two seven-inning games with current Broadway stars facing off in the first game and WFAN Radio All-Stars and VIP guests playing Yankees alumni in the second game. 
Scheduled to attend the “Bombers Boomer Broadway Softball Classic” are Broadway stars Corbin Bleu and Matthew Broderick; former Yankees Oscar Gamble, Charlie Hayes, Pat Kelly and Joe Pepitone; WFAN’s No. 1-rated morning show personalities Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton; Brandon Jacobs of the football Giants and “Good Day New York” hosts Greg Kelly and Rosanna Scotto. WFAN’s Boomer & Carton show will broadcast live from the Stadium beginning at 6 a.m. that day. The four-hour program can be heard on-air at 660AM or online at
Constantine Maroulis, the Tony-nominated star of “Rock of Ages,” will perform the national anthem before taking the field with the Broadway stars. Members of various Broadway shows will form two teams in the event’s first game, scheduled to begin at 11:40 a.m. Following the first game, “Rockers on Broadway in the Bronx” – with cast members from the Tony Award-winning Best Musical “Memphis” as well as “Billy Elliott,” “Jersey Boys” and “Rock of Ages” – will perform on the warning track behind the plate.

Between games, Katie Rose Clarke from the Broadway show “Wicked” will perform the national anthem. The second game, between the WFAN All-Stars and Yankees alumni, will start at approximately 1:45 p.m.

Fans holding tickets for the “Bombers Boomer Broadway Softball Classic” can only enter the Stadium through the Great Hall between Gate 4 and Gate 6 beginning at 9:30 a.m. Select Broadway stars, former Yankees players and WFAN personalities and VIP guests will greet fans and sign autographs in the Great Hall from 9:45 to 10:45 a.m.