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Once a Yankees fan, always a Yankees fan

Even before Mickey Mantle was a Yankees phenom, Dave Hawrey was turned into a New York Yankees fan. Here he is at age 2 in the late 1940s. (Photo courtesy of Dave Hawrey)
Even before Mickey Mantle was a Yankees phenom, Dave Hawrey was turned into a New York Yankees fan. Here he is at age 2 in the late 1940s. (Photo courtesy of Dave Hawrey)
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Looking back, Dave Hawrey of Rio Rancho thinks he made the right decision more than five decades ago.

Growing up in Canarsie in the New York borough of Brooklyn, his grandfather and father, plus an uncle or two, were fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Of course, after the 1957 baseball season, with the Dodgers and New York Giants moving west to California, the Yankees were the only MLB team left in New York.

One of Hawrey’s uncles was a fan of those “hated” New York Yankees, and he took little Dave to Yankee Stadium and even bought him a Yankees uniform for his second birthday (see the photo at right).

That did it for Hawrey, 66, who has a dozen or so autographed items of his hero, Mickey Mantle, in his Yankees room of his River’s Edge II home, where a sign near the front door warns uninvited visitors that due to the cost of ammunition these days, warning shots are no longer being used.

Suffice it to say Hawrey’s got some nice things adorning the room, including a signed Mantle jersey and a signed Mantle bat. The room has a definite Yankees tinge to it, although if one looks closely, he’ll see a Mets item or two. Among his items is a baseball signed by New York’s three great center fielders, all Hall of Fame members: Willie Mays, Duke Snider and “The Mick.”

Hawrey remembers the first Yankee to sign an autograph for him: infielder Gil McDougald. “I found out where he worked in New Jersey,” this one-time baseball “stalker” admitted, sheepishly.

Hawrey’s teenaged baseball-fan days were interrupted by a stint (1963-67) in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam era — “I didn’t like going to school,” he said.

“The day after I turned 17, I signed,” he recalled. That really didn’t turn out well: Hawrey said he’s 20 percent disabled from the effects of Agent Orange. Every year, Hawrey and his USS Kennebec (an oiler) shipmates have a reunion, one of which was held in Albuquerque in 2011.

Hawrey’s not been happy thus far this spring, with his injury-ridden Bronx Bombers off to a 4-4 start.

Unlike Cubs fans, or fans of other long-suffering franchises — Kansas City and Pittsburgh come to mind – Hawrey has fond memories of many of the 27 world championships the Yankees have won, including those won before he was born. He’s been to games the Yankees played in the 2000 Fall Classic, when they beat the Mets in a “Subway series,” and again in Phoenix in 2001, when they ultimately lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Hawrey is easy to find if the Yankees are playing: He’s seated in his living room, watching his Pinstripers on his hi-def big-screen TV. He really doesn’t spend much time relaxing in his baseball room, and seemed surprised when a baseball fan called him recently and asked to see his room.

“When I die, you can throw it in the garbage,” he’s told his wife, Linda, not a big fan but someone who bought him a seat that once bore the butts of Yankees fans at Yankee Stadium before it was torn down a few years ago.

“She’s a Yankee fan now,” he said, grinning. Their second date, he said, back in 1967 was a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. “That’s a cheap date.”

Like a lot of ex-New Yorkers, in 1987, Hawrey and his wife followed relatives who moved to New Mexico first, all via AMREP and its promotion of the Southwest as a retirement haven.

He found a new baseball team to follow, although not as extensively as the Yankees, the Albuquerque Dukes. “I went to a Dukes game (finally), because the first two times (I went to the Sports Stadium), it rained.”

If you’re driving around Rio Rancho and see the front license plate of a truck behind you that proclaims “#1 Yankee Fan,” that just might be Hawrey.

Make that the new and improved Dave Hawrey: He recently lost 120 pounds in 16 months and now, instead of putting weight on and not burning off calories, he works out six days a week.

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