Retirement rocker for Yankees' Rivera made in Astoria

Astoria craftsmanship made its debut in Yankee Stadium early Sunday afternoon.

During the tribute marking the retirement of Mariano Rivera, the Yankees presented the legendary relief pitcher with a chair made by Supple Rockers of Astoria.

For Dan Supple, watching a satellite feed at the Silver Salmon Grille, this was a dream come to life. Supple's fondest desire has been to make a custom rocker for one of Major League Baseball's living legends.

The Supple Rocker is a work of art composed of six baseball bats, two wooden balls, an impressive slab of ash wood and a hand-sewn leather seat that replicates the stitching on a baseball.

Listening to Supple talk about his inspiration and what goes into his rocker is like listening to a Zen master. The answers he gives aren't linear. But taken as a whole they describe his art.

Asked how long it takes to build a rocker, Supple said: "Until it's perfect. When the customer is in love with it, it is done. I hate to apply hours to it. It's a complex order or sequence in which the rocker is built. Each sequence has to be right."

Supple pondered the rocker concept for five years before building one. He did his thinking during two-hour drives between Portland and Astoria. He made his first rocker in 2009. He's made 32 of the chairs.

He describes the rocker as "the end of a passion for two things: baseball and wood working." Supple played baseball in college and in 1980 for the minor league Salem Senators, a Class A team.

Supple Rockers' big moment started with an email that arrived on a Sunday in June. "Hi, Dan. My name is Debby Tymon. I'm vice president of marketing for the New York Yankees. I'd like to talk with someone about creating a custom rocking chair for the New York Yankees." Supple spent the rest of the day wondering who would be gifted with his chair.

On the following Monday he got the big surprise. "I open up her email and it's for Mariano Rivera!" exclaimed Supple. "You've got to be kidding me. If you're going to build a rocking chair for a baseball purist, it doesn't get any bigger. This is the biggest retirement since Hank Aaron."

Three suppliers are the source of Supple's materials. The bats - part of what Supple calls the chair's "heartbeat" - come from Marucci Bats of Baton Rouge, La. "The chair back, which we call the ticket stub, is a magnificent piece of northern white ash from Pennsylvania." The leather comes from Oregon Leather in Portland.

Supple uses laser engraving to fill in the chair's back with an image that has meaning for the buyer. The Yankees provided Supple with the silhouette of Rivera leaving the bullpen, heading for the pitcher's mound.

Supple's day job is managing Astoria Warehousing, a business that goes back in his family. The Supple family came to Astoria when Dan's father, John, went to work for Bumblebee Seafoods. When Bumblebee left Astoria in the early 1970s, John created Astoria Warehousing, which holds canned fish product in transshipment.

If Sunday was monumental for Mariano Rivera, it was huge for Dan Supple. "I'm throwing my soul out there," he said "That's what I put into each chair."

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Monday, September 23, 2013