Saturday, August 6, 2011

Someone we should know: Andy Garay

I first had the idea to write a quick story about Sporting Kansas City's assistant equipment manager Andy Garay after I heard he is a cancer survivor. I asked around and it seems that he was the only cancer survivor on the team side and I thought it would be interesting to see what he thought of the LIVESTRONG connection with the new stadium.

Sometimes stories just refuse to go where you want them to go.

Andy is a cancer survivor. He beat thyroid cancer over ten years ago and is reminded of that every day when he takes the medicine he needs and every six months when he gets his check up. Being a cancer survivor is part of who he is but it is far from what defines him.

Andy lives and breathes soccer.

Andy with a few jerseys...
It's probably best to start with how Andy came to be with Sporting Kansas City. He did not start out as a team employee, he was a fan. A dedicated fan. Andy hung around practice wanting to be closer to his favorite players. Equipment Manager Michael Flaherty told the story best. " He was always on the other side of the fence until one day I was walking by and he was yapping at me about getting a jersey from Abe Thompson. He said Abe promised him a jersey and I explained to him that those guys aren't in charge of the gear. So I took him on the other side one time and had him help me out. After that he stuck around."

Flaherty gave Andy a piece of team gear after making him do a bunch of laundry and he stuck around. Andy helped Flaherty out once in a awhile and when a position opened up with the team Andy Garay was the obvious candidate.

Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes explained why he hired Garay, " Whenever I talk to anyone about a position within the organization I always ask them what their ambitions are, where they want to get to. I thinks it's important to know. When a guy like Andy tells you that this is his dream job because he loves the team so much, he loves the game of soccer, it means a lot."

I tried to make this about Andy's thoughts on being the cancer survivor and Sporting KC's partnership with LIVESTRONG but for Andy it always turned back to soccer and the team. Part of this article was based on an interview from before the opening of LIVESTRONG Sporting Park and part from after. When I asked Andy how it felt walking in to LIVESTRONG he responded " It meant a lot, since the beginning of MLS I have always wanted this, for us to have our own stadium."

That was not the answer I was looking for nor expecting but for Andy it was about soccer, about the team. When I asked again and made sure I asked as a cancer survivor what did it mean, "It was special." Short, simple and he then quickly added that he wished the team had gotten a better result instead of the draw that night.

Garay is still a fan even though he is on the other side of the fence now. "I'm still the same fan and I still feel that same excitement, every day, every game. I think even more. It's a different environment now, I get to be around the players, the coaches every day and I see how things are," Andy explained. "I'm more proud to be part of the team now."

Flaherty explained it was not always an easy conversion from fan to team staff for Andy, "It took him a little while to learn he was a worker instead of a fan. Singing on the bench and stuff like that. We had to kind of knock that out of him." Flaherty had to laugh, "I will never forget the day he started chanting at (former KC coach Curt) Onalfo when the fans were. You can't do that, you're not a fan anymore!"

"It was hard for him to see some of these guys that he looked at as heroes being just normal guys. Throwing their laundry on the floor and we're having to clean up after them, they're like kids sometimes. For Andy it was a big deal to get on this side of it and see his heroes but also see they are just normal guys."

Sometimes it is hard to get good quotes to describe someone. Every person I asked, players and staff alike, all said the same with some variation on words and accent.
Andy Garay

Great guy, great person, dedicated, hard worker were all repeatedly said to describe Andy. Not exactly the most exciting quotes to repeat over and over again but still all so true.

Team Administrator Rick Dressel described Andy, "He's a very conscientious worker, he's a great person is what he is. He's an outstanding human being and he's very much in love with the sport of soccer and in love with Sporting. He would do anything for us (the team) and goes above and beyond quite often. Again, the biggest thing about him is he is such a great person and we love that he is on the staff."

Those words were repeated over and over by Andy's co-workers, his team mates.

Flaherty probably knows him best and had the most to say, "One thing he always brings to the table is the passion he has for the game and the love for this club and where it was from the start. There are a lot of times I have to look at him and realize this is why we do this, for the love of the game. He lives that passion every single day."

"You can see the pride he takes in everything he does, when he does a jersey he takes great pride in that. He take great pride in doing all of the little things, putting the numbers and letters on, he feels he is part of game day and he is. He's a big part of game day."

Vermes also added, "He lives and dies by all the results. He lives and dies with, well just all of it. It's great to have people passionate about what they do in your organization."

Andy is one of the many contributors that helps Sporting KC perform. He does all the little tasks, airing up balls, making jerseys, collecting up gear after practice and doing tons of laundry. Towels, towels and more towels. All to help his team be better.

Like I said, the story did not go where I thought it would go, where I wanted it to go. Andy is not defined by his cancer. He is a wonderful person that most fans will never know and that is too bad. He can be defined by his love for the game and the team.

"It's my passion," Andy quietly said.

More true words have never been spoken...

Part of one of my interviews with Andy. Soft spoken and mild mannered but not a more passionate fan around...

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