December 16, 2012

TRAVIS LAZARCZYK: Yankee hater no more

By Travis Lazarczyk tlazarczyk@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Tony Mathieu is a fan of the Boston Red Sox, and has been his entire life. But he won't hate the New York Yankees. Not anymore. Not ever again.

"Red Sox Nation needs to know there's some good people on the Yankees," Mathieu, of Winslow, said.

In late May, Mathieu's grandson, Zachary Mathieu, died after a year and a half fight against an aggressive brain tumor. Zachary was 18. Instead of preparing for his high school graduation, Zachary's family prepared for his funeral.

Among those who provided encouragement, comfort and friendship to Zachary after he was diagnosed with cancer in October 2010, were Joe Girardi, the Yankees' manager, and Nick Swisher, a first baseman and outfielder with the Yankees since 2009.

Zachary grew up in Rock Tavern, N.Y., approximately 65 miles north of New York City. While most of his family, with its Maine ties, cheered for the Red Sox, Zachary was a Yankees fan. Zachary was 10 in 2004, when the Red Sox overcame a three game deficit in the American League Championship Series to beat the Yankees. Tony and the other Red Sox fans let the kid have it.

"Zach was a very athletic kid, just a great kid," Tony said. "We liked to hash it out. We'd tease him, always good-naturedly. We just had a good time talking sports."

Zachary met Girardi shortly after he was diagnosed in October 2010. Girardi and his family visited children at the hospital in which Zachary received treatment. The Yankee manager spoke with Zachary, offering him encouragement.

Six months later, Zachary's health took a turn for the worse. He needed a pick up. An uncle, Chris Mathieu, got in contact with Girardi, who remembered meeting Zachary at the hospital. Girardi called, and invited Zachary to Opening Day at Yankee Stadium.

Zachary didn't feel well enough to accept the invitation, but Girardi kept in touch. The manager sent Zachary an autographed photo of Derek Jeter.

"When they told me about what Girardi did, I thought 'Wow,'" Tony said. "To keep in touch, to continue catching up with (Zachary). He didn't have to do that."

Zachary and Girardi spoke a handful of times on the phone. During one of those calls, Girardi told Zachary to hold on, there was somebody there wanted to say hello. It was Swisher. Tony recalled how he was told the conversation went.

"Swisher said 'Hang in there, buddy. If I were there, I'd give you a great big hug,'" Tony said.

Swisher is a free agent. In his nine-year career, Swisher has 209 home runs and 673 runs batted in. If Swisher were to sign with the Red Sox, Tony would be the first person in line to welcome him to Boston.

"Now it's our turn to take a good player from them," Tony said. "He's a good guy, too."

On the day Zachary died last May, Swisher tried to contact him, only to learn the terrible news.

When Zachary needed some cheering up, when he just needed some kindness, Girardi and Swisher were there, and for that Tony will always be grateful. Hate the New York Yankees? No way.

"I always hated the Yankees, my whole life. I can't be a Yankee hater any more," Tony said. "I'm going to root for the Red Sox when they play the Yankees, but anytime the Yankees play anyone else, I'm rooting for them."

Travis Lazarczyk -- 861-9242

tlazarczyk@centralmaine.com

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