Let’s face it: Many professional athletes, their lives upended like the rest of us due to the coronavirus, exist in isolation not only from their previous existences, but also from the suffering that so many people have endured.
Montana Semmel is not such a professional athlete. Accordingly, he’s doing what he can to help.
Semmel, a 36th-round draft pick by the Yankees last year out of Westhill High School in Stamford, Conn., has a couple of friends who have lost grandmothers to COVID-19. The righty pitcher’s cousin Christin Lucia works as a head nurse at Stamford Hospital.
“It’s bad up here,” Semmel, who is with his family in Stamford, said last week in a telephone interview.
Furthermore, Semmel avoided a close encounter with the disease at Yankees camp only because of a different tragedy. For sure, the 18-year-old has experienced more than his share of pandemic adventures.
So you can understand why it proved a no-brainer for Semmel to do his part. After huddling with his family and his representatives at the Beverly Hills Sports Council, Semmel decided to raise money for Stamford Health’s COVID-19 Pandemic Response Fund. He is using his Twitter account to promote his efforts.
“It’s my hometown,” Semmel said. “I feel like it’s the right thing to do.”
When he did the right thing in early March, before the shutdown, it wound up inadvertently protecting him. With the Yankees’ blessing, Semmel left the club’s minor-league complex in Tampa to attend the funeral of Kelly Rodman, the scout who had signed him, in Connecticut. The highly respected Rodman died of cancer in her mid-40s.
“The first time I saw Kelly was during my sophomore year of my high school,” Semmel said. “She was actually watching one of my buddies on the high school team and she noticed me.”
Semmel underwent Tommy John surgery his junior year, and when he returned for his senior season, Rodman showed up once again. “Kelly called me every week, asking, ‘How’s your arm healing?’” Semmel said. “She was there with me the whole ride.” After the draft, Semmel continued, “She would call me every other day, telling me to sign with the Yankees,.” He did, forgoing a junior college commitment for a $125,000 signing bonus, becoming one of Rodman’s first finds.
“I really had a close relationship with her,” Semmel said of Rodman. “She changed my life by drafting me, She meant everything to me.”
Missing a couple of days from camp meant that Semmel wasn’t around his catch partner, Denny Larrondo, who wound up being the first professional baseball player known to test positive for coronavirus. Thankfully, Larrondo recovered quickly, although a second Yankees minor league also tested positive (he has recovered as well), causing the Yankees to shut down their complex and quarantine their young players.
“You don’t know with the virus,” Semmel said. For such a young man, he knows plenty, probably too much. Kudos to him for using that knowledge for good.
–This week’s Pop Quiz Question came from Jerry Maffia of Manhattan: Name the Cy Young Award winner who appeared in a 2003 episode of “JAG.”
–Joshua Hammerman, a rabbi in Stamford (coincidentally enough) who happens to be my cousin, has written an outstanding collection of articles and personal essays entitled “Mensch Marks.” So why am I plugging it here, besides the nepotism factor? Because there are great pieces on Mets minor leaguer Tim Tebow, ever the lightning rod, and legendary Yankees broadcaster Mel Allen, whose funeral Josh (that’s Rabbi Hammerman to you) officiated in 1996.
–Your Pop Quiz Answer is Barry Zito. If you have a tidbit that connects baseball with popular culture, please send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.