Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Bernie Williams, restaurateur?

When spring training opened for the Yankees, hardcore fans almost sprained a tonsil in rooting for Bernie Williams to be put on the roster for a 26th year. Only the truly fanatical fans held back, knowing his retirement could mean having dinner with the legendary pin-striper—in his very own place, no less.

Williams has yet to utter a word publicly, but industry insiders say the Bomber and his wife plan to open a restaurant if Bernie decides the 2006 baseball season was his last as a player (he was offered a minor-league contract by the Yanks but declined, maintaining his class to the end.) Waleska, known as Wally, would be the back-of-the-house talent, using the culinary skills she fire-hardened during her recent schooling at the Culinary Institute of America. The Williams live in nearby Armonk, N.Y., so Bernie would often visit the campus, located about 90 minutes north of the stadium where he whacked a horsehide for a living. Faculty members describe him as a warm, down-to-earth guy who just happened to bat .297 lifetime for the greatest sports franchise in history. In short: A perfect front-of-the-house partner, who could roam the dining room as gracefully as he once prowled center field.

Unclear is where the two might open a place. New York City, where Bernie could follow the lead of such sluggers-turned-restaurateurs as Mickey Mantle? Or how about the upscale communities near their home in Upstate New York? Or what about Williams’ native Puerto Rico?

That’s assuming, of course, that Joe Torre doesn’t pick up his phone one day in Florida and summon Williams to the squad one more time. If so, the Yankees might get a repeat of Bernie’s outstanding 2006 season, when he compensated admirably for the loss to injuries of several younger and more celebrated Yankee stars.

It’d be great for Bernie, the Yankees and the game. But the industry would have to wait a long, long year for such a notable addition to its ranks.

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