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Carthage woman loves those Yankees

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CARTHAGE — In Josephine L. Avallone’s home, Derek Jeter gazes across the living room.

A sign reading, “2 Derek Jeter Dr.” hangs over the door of the breezeway.

There’s a New York Yankees calendar on the wall; a Yankees tissue box on the side table; a bench with a Yankees throw blanket and plush pillow on it. A wall near the front of her house is dedicated to Yankees memorabilia, including a Jeter bobblehead.

Avallone herself dons a Yankees sweatshirt.

The Carthage native has a long history with the state’s representation in America’s greatest pastime.

“I was born in Carthage, up the road [from her current home]. My husband, Frank, was born in the house next door. He and I were [born] a month apart,” said Avallone.

It’s been 25 years since her husband passed.

Sitting in a chair beneath the Derek Jeter collage, Avallone studied a photo of her husband, and recalled how he influenced her love of the baseball team.

“We moved to New York City when I was 8 ... Growing up, my [four] brothers talked a lot about baseball ... but I was a girl and I liked to go to the movies,” she said. “Then I met my husband and he was a Yankee fan. He fit in real good with my brothers, we even went to Yankee Stadium. It was a highlight of my life.”

The couple was married in 1947 and had six children together. Avallone would prepare meatball sandwiches for the guys when they came to watch the games. Sometimes, if the game were later in the day and she was done with her housework, she would watch them. But it was not really a sport she understood.

“Finally, I opened my eyes and thought, I better learn something. It didn’t take me long,” she admitted.

When her son was attending high school in the 1960s, he asked her to keep score of the World Series.

“I didn’t know anything about it. But I found out ‘H’ was hits, ‘O’ for outs and ‘S’ were strikes ... Now, what a mess. But you know what, I understood pretty well what I was doing,” said Avallone.

She did not begin religiously keeping score for herself until 2000. The hobby easily developed with the support of her children.

“I learned quite a lot and it’s good for my mind. I’m a widow and alone here, and the kids always say ‘good for you, keep it up,’” said the near 89-year-old. “I think he [Frank] would be proud of me. I know he would.”

Littered across her kitchen table were over 13 years worth of Yankees scores and stats, all carefully penned in notebooks. One page proclaims, “Yankees 1st Day at New Stadium Go Yankees.” There are folders with newspaper clippings on Derek Jeter. One folder reads, “Jeter’s 3,000th hit and who caught the ball (Carthage Local and SLU player) and gave back to D. Jeter. N. Country made headlines in our local paper.”

Jeter’s 3,000th hit was struck in 2011 and caught by Christian Lopez, whose name was later placed in a 2012 Topps Opening Day card set.

Of course, Avallone knows the names of the former greats — Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Joe DiMaggio. But it’s Derek Jeter who she knows the most about.

“My special player is of course Derek Jeter; my idol. A true and loyal player, no one can replace him. Many will try very hard, but only time will tell,” she said. “When Jeter reached his 3,000th hit ... I was home watching TV and I had a camera — one of those old cameras ... I took pictures of Jeter on my big TV.”

She was able to see him play in 2007 when the Yankees played in Toronto.

“It was fantastic,” she said, though confessing she was so distracted by the stadium and everything that was going on that she could hardly pay attention.

Avallone estimated that over her lifetime she has been to four games at Yankee Stadium in addition to the Canadian visit.

This year marks Jeter’s final year with the Yankees and 20th season, total. He announced in February he will retire.

“I’m very sad, but with all his injuries and everything, I think he’s doing the best thing he can. He’s got a life, it can’t always be about baseball,” she said.

Knowing she would be interviewed, Avallone chronicled her own life and experiences with the Yankees in a letter, which she finished with, “Good luck, Jeter. Love, Josephine, a Yankee fan.”

Will Jeter’s retirement mark an end to Avallone’s hobby?

“I’m a Yankees fan, so I will keep score as much as I can. But, on the side, I will wonder what Jeter’s next move is,” said Avallone. “I will continue to keep score until I am unable to.”

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