George M. Steinbrenner III, principal owner of the New York Yankees was sitting at a table with others having dinner at the Diamond Club Restaurant at Shea Stadium. The year was 1974, and the Steinbrenner ownership was in its infancy as the team played at Shea for two years awaiting the renovation of Yankee Stadium.
With that “we can - I can” positive attitude and New York state of mind, and at the young age of 16, Chris Karalekas passed a security guard, walked into that same dining room at Shea, and introduced himself to renowned Cleveland shipbuilder, George Steinbrenner.
Wearing his maroon Long Island City High School varsity jacket and blue jeans, and with his “Yes We Can” banner tucked under his left arm, he walked up to the table, excused himself and apologized for interrupting dinner. Chris thereafter asked to have a word with Mr. Steinbrenner. As Mr. Steinbrenner began to get up from the table he clearly saw Chris somewhat nervously holding the bright yellow bed sheet of a banner under his arm. Mr. Steinbrenner immediately recognized him and said, “ Hey, you’re the “Yes We Can” kid ! How are you young man?” Exactly 30 years later those moments are frozen in time.
Chris went on to innocently and boldly asks Mr. Steinbrenner if the team could possibly take the banner on the road trip as a good luck charm. After all, Chris reasoned, with the Yankees in their first pennant race in years, they needed all the luck and support against a great Orioles team that went on to have one of the greatest September’s in recorded baseball history that they could get.
The next thing Chris knew, Mr. Steinbrenner peering down at him in a firm but very compassionate way, put his hand on Chris’ shoulder and with a straight face told him, “No Chris, we can’t take the banner. You’re going to have to take it. Have your bags packed because you’re leaving with the team for the road trip to Cleveland.” He went on to add, “See that lady there – that’s Judy Serra, she’ll help you with all the tickets and arrangements. See you in Cleveland, Chris.” Well, as it turned out the entire “Yes We Can” gang also went on the trip, with Mr. Steinbrenner generously agreeing to permit Chris’ brother George, friend Louie, and Aunt Elaine to accompany him.
After shaking Mr. Steinbrenner’s hand and thanking him, Chris and his buddy Louie, not knowing what hit them, danced and galloped down the rotunda at Shea gasping for air and occasionally stopping to look at each other in astonishment, in a joyous frolic beyond description. It was a beautifully clear New York night, and the stars in the sky were never brighter.