Dave Winfield, the former Yankees outfielder and Hall of Famer, has been touring to talk about the Capital One Cup, a yearly event that awards the best collegiate athletic programs in the country a combined $400,000 in academic scholarships. I was lucky enough to get to speak with him, both about his sponsorship of this event, and of his thoughts about the Yankees' season, Bernie Williams Day, and his favorite player and prospect.
Matt Provenzano: If you could, talk a little bit about the Capital One Cup, namely the most exciting part of that for you and how your foundation got involved.
Dave Winfield: Well, Matthew, this is how it goes: basically, Capital One is a major corporation that's always interested in supporting youths, athletics, and particularly college sports, and so five years ago they created the Capital One Cup race, so all Division I programs compete all year to earn points in a race for the Capital One Cup. It's really based on their success in their athletic programs; if you win a national championship you get quite a few points, and with top ten finishes you get some more. At the end of the year, the school with the most points wins--the men's program receives $200,000, and the women's program gets $200,000, so $400,000 is at stake for athletic programs, so that can push a lot of pride, and not only for players, but for the schools.
The cool thing about it is that it usually isn't decided until after the spring program, which is at the end of June after the College World Series. So, there are a couple of teams that could make decided wins at the College World Series. Although Ohio State is in first place in men's because of football and wrestling, UCLA has a chance because they're in the World Series, and if they win they might vault over Ohio State. For women's, Stanford is in first place, but you have Florida--who won last year--and if they win in softball, they would be the eventual champions. So, it's a good competition, I'm glad to be the ambassador of this, and I know I'm going to be in Omaha to see some of these challenges evolve.
MP: As you know, you were the first athlete to start their own charitable foundation, the Dave Winfield Foundation. What was the inspiration for that, and how do you feel about the fact that that has inspired other athletes to start their own foundations?
DW: Well, thanks for asking that question. You know, when I started in the early 70's, it was unheard of for athletes to start charitable foundations; professional athletes did not make that much money back then. It was a part of my heart, my mind, and I wanted to give back to people who supported me. So, I started a foundation, and then we did numerous programs, ranging from bringing kids to the ballpark, to scholarships, to health initiatives, et cetera. And as it caught on, I was able to help other people who were friends: there was Martina Navratilova, Arthur Ashe, and Harold Reynolds. All of these players watched what I was doing and asked how it was done, I gave them some advice, and it has blossomed. Virtually everyone who plays professional sports gives back in one way or another. And you're right--I was the first one to create that structure.
MP: To pivot a bit: last week, the Yankees honored Bernie Williams. You had your own day on Dave Winfield Day in 2001, so how does it feel nearly fifteen years later to see the next generation of players getting their own honors?
DW: Well, they got a plaque out there! [laughs] I can't speak to that because I don't have that, and I don't have a number retired. But, I am happy for guys like Bernie--he's a classy individual--and they're going to do it for a number of other players. They've done it for other players I've played with, from Reggie [Jackson] to [Ron] Guidry to Don Mattingly. They're running out of space! [laughs] But that's what it is. I've played with some great players, and I'll leave it at that.
MP: Have you followed the Yankees at all this year? If so, what is your opinion on the team as a whole?
DW: Working with the Players' Association, I try to watch as many teams and individuals as I can. I saw they [the Yankees] had a blowout win against Kansas City the other day, but that was on the heels of a miserable slump they're trying to get out of, and I think they've done that. They're going to be a competitive team. It's a very new looking team--I couldn't tell you who is going to be in that lineup. I think the Mets are still going to hang in there--they have good pitching. A lot of teams are fun to watch. I'm right here in Los Angeles, so the Dodgers are very active and they've been a very good team; they have a good following. St. Louis is always good; they're a tradition.
MP: It's been mentioned that your favorite player is Giancarlo Stanton. If that's true, why would that be? Does he remind you of yourself in a way?
DW: Yeah, I got a chance to get to know Giancarlo. He's from the Los Angeles area, and we have some mutual people in common. Before everyone was hearing about him now, I introduced myself and just wanted to know him and see how he was going to perform. But as you said, I like to watch the people with the big frames, the big body. This can be a difficult game for big guys. He hits the home runs; he's still evolving as a complete player, but he can play defense, he can run, and he can certainly hit that ball. So, I can appreciate that. I smile when I see him play, I'm glad to know him, and I wish him all the best. I didn't know he was going to be highest paid guy in the game or anything like that, though.
Also, I'll have to mention this other kid quickly: Aaron Judge. He's a minor league player, a Yankee player, and many people have said to him that he reminds them of Dave Winfield. I met him in spring training, and he's a very large individual--6'8" and 275 pounds, Paul Bunyan-eque in size, plays the outfield, and he's pretty smooth. I would love to see him make it to the big leagues, and one day people will say, 'My gosh, look at this guy!'. I hope he performs well. He's a good young man, and I look forward to seeing another giant play the game.
MP: I'm glad you mentioned Judge--I was just about to ask about that! Is there anything else you want to add about the Cup or your foundation?
DW: Just regarding the Capital One Cup: it's really a good thing. You can look at the conversation on Twitter at @CapitalOne, you can go to Capital One's Facebook page, or you can go to their website, www.capitalonecup.com. You can then follow this conversation and see who will win, show your school colors, and I'm just glad to be an ambassador for this--it's been my pleasure. By the College World Series, we'll know who the eventual champions will be.
MP: Great, thank you for your time!
DW: My pleasure.