PANAMA CITY -- Roberto "Hands of Stone" Duran has always been a fan of the New York Yankees.
The best boxer in the history of Panamanian boxing, who threw the first pitch in the second game of the "Legends Series" at Rod Carew National Stadium, claimed that he has been the Bronx Bombers' no. 1 fan since the day "Mr. October" promised to hit a home run in his name.
"I flew to New York for a baseball game and Reggie Jackson, who was a fan of mine, told me he was going to dedicate me a home run. And he later told me that during [the at-bat] a strike was called on him and another strike and he got nervous because he didn't know what to do and started praying to God, but later the pitcher, not wanting to, gave him a pitch and he took it out of the stadium and I got happy," Duran said Sunday inside a conference room at Rod Carew National Stadium, host site of two exhibition games between the Yankees and the Marlins.
"When they finished the game, he sent for me to go the clubhouse and Luis Tiant, Willie Randolph were there and that's where he told me the story and gave me the bat, which was cracked because of the power he hit it with. After that, Luis Tiant came over, gave me a glove with the No. 23 and then all of the players started giving me bats and balls and it seemed like a supermarket," the former champion added with his usual sense of humor.
"That is one of the greatest stories I have of the Yankees and all my life I've been a Yankee [fan]," Duran said.
The Panamanian, who is recognized by experts as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the history of boxing after crowning himself in four different weight classes, was a special guest of Mariano Rivera to throw out the first pitch at Sunday's game.
"I'm very happy to see Mariano and I feel proud that the Yankees and Marlins have come and hopefully more games will keep coming because there are a lot of Panamanians that can't travel to the United States and it's a great opportunity," Duran pointed out. "I'm even more happy with the Panamanian people that have demonstrated that they support baseball."
Accompanied to the mound by Rivera, Duran was received with a rousing standing ovation by more than 12,000 people who packed the stands, with Marlins outfielder Giancarlos Stanton serving as the catcher for the pitch.
Duran, who will be inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame, concluded the news conference by expressing his admiration for Rivera as the best closer in the history of the major leagues, guaranteeing his place as an immortal in Cooperstown. But he stressed that there is no doubt who is the most famous athlete in Panama: "That's me!"