Surgeon Treasures Friendship With Yankees’ Stars
By Space Coast Daily // February 16, 2013
Fantasy Camp Leads To Player Introductions
BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – Don’t expect Dr. Jim Battaglini to give up his surgical scrubs any time soon, but if he did have to exchange them for another uniform, it would probably be for pinstripes. New York Yankees pinstripes, that is.
Growing up in Cranford, N.J., just a short bus ride from Yankee Stadium, Battaglini made many trips into New York City as a child to catch Yankees games and especially to see his favorite player, Mickey Mantle, compete.
“I have always been a baseball fan which I probably got from my mother and father,” Battaglini said. “I have always and will always be been a Yankees fan.
“Mickey Mantle was my favorite player and I still think the greatest player I ever saw play the game –certainly he had more talent than anyone I ever saw,” he said. “It was an unbelievable thrill to meet him in 1988 and then get to know him over the next seven years until his death in 1995.”
Battaglini’s other interest growing up was establishing a career in medicine. After high school, he graduated from college at Rutgers University and then finished first in his class in medical school at the University of Rochester.
A surgical internship and residency followed at Duke University and for three years Battaglini worked at The National Institute of Health Heart and Lung Institute in Bethesda, Md., where he was involved with a clinical trial studying the relationship between cholesterol levels and coronary disease and co-authored several papers about the subject.
“It was a great time to be there because doctors were just beginning to see the relationship between cholesterol and vascular disease,” he said.
Upon resuming his surgery residency at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, Battaglini wrapped up his general surgery residency and then became a cardiothoracic resident there.
He chose to stay on the faculty in the cardiothoracic division at UNC as an assistant professor before working for Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit for two years.
At the encouragement of his friend and fellow University of North Carolina resident, Dr. O.C. Mendes, and with the support of then-Holmes Regional Medical Center CEO Ned Wilford, Battaglini was asked to help establish a heart surgery program here and arrived in July 1986.
Over the years, Battaglini’s practice has grown and is located on corner of Silver Palm and South Apollo in Melbourne, where he specializes in cardiothoracic surgery and the treatment of cardiovascular disease. His partner through the years has been his good friend, Dr. O.C. Mendes.
But baseball remains Battaglini’s passion and he’s been fortunate to have met many of his boyhood Yankee idols through participation in Yankee fantasy camps for a week every year in Florida.
“My first camp was in 1988 and I have gone every year since then except for this past year and from 1990 to 1994, I went for two consecutive weeks,” he said.
As a student, Battaglini played Little League and Babe Ruth baseball from the age of 8 through his teen years.
“I did not play on my high school team or formally in college, but continued to play in pick-up games and for years in softball games,” he said. “I like the pace of the game, the team involvement, but at the same time the opportunity to shine individually.”
His position as a child was first base or in left field and at the fantasy camps, Battaglini also played outfield, but following a skiing injury to his left knee in 1992, he gave up playing in the outfield for good.
He says he’s never regretted going to a Yankees fantasy camp and the memories he’s taken away from those experiences are priceless.
Players he’s worked with or met at the camps have included some of the all-time Yankee greats like Yogi Berra; Don Mattingly; Whitey Ford; Don Larsen; Ron Guidry; Goose Gossage; Moose Skowron; Chris Chambliss; Catfish Hunter; Tony Kubek; Bobby Richardson; Hank Bauer; Mel Stottlemyre; and Graig Nettles.
At the camps he’s also met other prominent ballplayers such as Luis Tiant; Enos Slaughter; Jake Gibbs; Mickey Rivers; Pedro Ramos; Stan Bahnsen; Johnny Blanchard; Clete Boyer; Roy White; Hector Lopez; Don Zimmer; Tino Martinez; Mike Pagliarulo; and many others.
Of the current crop of Yankees, Battaglini says he admires shortstop Derek Jeter and would like to meet him some day.
“Derek Jeter is a true Yankee in the mold of Ruth, Gehrig, Mickey and Yogi and I think he is great player,” he said.
Battaglini’s family and friends are proud of his participation in the fantasy camps.
“My mother got a tremendous kick out of seeing me in a Yankee uniform with all those old Yankees,” he said. “My sister is also a big fan and in fact, she went to the fantasy camp twice. My longtime partner Dr. Mendes has shown great forebearance in watching me leave town for a week or two at the end of every October since 1988.”
For Battaglini, everything he has done at the fantasy camps pales in comparison though to meeting and getting to know Mickey Mantle.
“Meeting Mickey was great,” he said. “I played golf with him 10 or 12 times and went to dinner with him and his family quite a few times.
“It always made my day when he said ‘good shot’ when we played golf-and he was pretty quick to remind you if you hit a bad one too,” Battaglini said. “He did spend several days at one camp teaching me to drag bunt and I did it against Pedro Ramos in a fantasy game, but was thrown out by a step.”
He says it’s hard to draw a correlation between attending Yankee fantasy camps and his medical practice, but there is something he’s taken away from the experience.
“I have to tell you that the fantasy camps are one of the best things I ever did, but I guess I learned that it was a good idea to stick to my day job,” Battaglini said.