Prime Time at Yankee Stadium: Prime ministers from New Zealand and Curacao see Red Sox Yankees

By Ben Walker


NEW YORK _ Be it a president, king or emir, there’s plenty that world leaders in town for the United Nations General Assembly can enjoy in their spare time.

For New Zealand Prime Minister John Key on Tuesday, it was an event with possible World Series overtones _ he was at Yankee Stadium, watching the Boston Red Sox play the New York Yankees.

“This is a totally unique experience,” he said in the first inning. “You can’t get this anywhere else.”

In fact, it was Prime Time at the big ballyard in the Bronx.

Curacao Prime Minister Ben Whiteman also was in attendance. Before the game, he was on the field to greet Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius. Born in the Netherlands, Gregorius was knighted a few years ago on the Dutch island in the Caribbean.

Key chose the ballgame over other possibilities. He could’ve gone to see the hit Broadway musical “American in Paris.” Or perhaps dine at the popular Russian Tea Room. Or even explore Little Italy.

Key said he figured a few other of the some 160 top executives here would’ve liked the ballgame.

“I’m not sure they knew it was an option,” he said.

Key spent a lot of time in the city about 15 years ago as a member of the foreign exchange committee at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Then again, he studied near Boston at Harvard University.

No split allegiance, though.

“I’m rooting for the Yankees,” he said, without hesitation. “But my wife is a Boston Red Sox fan.”

He did, however, share a political similarity with the Red Sox. Told they had won three championships in little over a decade, he smiled and said: “We’ve won three times, too.”

Key was in a third base suite with wife Bronagh and some key aides. And he was ready, in case Red Sox slugger David Ortiz or anyone else hit a foul ball his way.

“I’ll catch it,” he said.

Key’s son, Max, played youth baseball in New Zealand and the prime minister once travelled to see him play in a tournament in Bangor, Maine.

In a country of about 4.5 million where rugby, cricket and fast-pitch softball are the big sports, more and more kids are playing baseball.

“It’s growing very rapidly,” Key said. “More money is being spent to build more diamonds.”

No one born in New Zealand has yet played in the majors. John Holdzkom, whose father is a Kiwi, played for the country in the 2013 World Baseball Classic qualifying round and then pitched in the big leagues for Pittsburgh the next year.

Boston signed Wellington-born teenage softball catcher Beau Bishop several years ago, and he played a couple of seasons in the low minors. Infielder Scott Campbell made it to Triple-A for Toronto in 2009.

Arizona Diamondbacks star Paul Goldschmidt and Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson have put on clinics in the country in recent years. The Kiwis will take part in qualifiers for the 2017 WBC, and this time they have someone close by to share his knowledge.

The U.S. ambassador to New Zealand, Mark Gilbert, played for the Chicago White Sox in 1985, starting in a lineup with former Red Sox Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk.

“Mark gave me one of his bats. I’ve swung it a few times with my son pitching balls to me,” Key said.

Any luck hitting ’em?

“No,” he said. “Too fast.”

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