Monthly Archives: September 2016

THE SPORTS WORLD PAUSES FOR TRAGEDY

My original thoughts for this week’s blog was going to be on the longevity of today’s ballparks.  That is going to have to be a discussion for another day.

As a sports fan, my world was turned upside down this morning when I read a Facebook post that I thought was a hoax.  “I am in shock and sad by the news today about one of my favorite players, Jose Fernandez Miami Marlins pitcher, Rest in Peace.

Journalist that I am I immediately went into fact checking mode.  I googled “Jose Fernandez death hoax,” and as I was doing that I got a notification from ESPN confirming what had happened.  I went back on Facebook and the New York Giants were reporting this unthinkable story.

So shaken, stunned and distraught I went upstairs to my room, handed my wife my phone, and said, “I can’t even talk right now, read what I just got from ESPN.”  We were getting ready to head to Hard Rock Stadium to see the Miami Dolphins home opener against the Cleveland Browns, but again, today got turned upside down.  The Fernandez story took center stage and punched both of us, all of South Florida and the baseball world in our collective guts.

As we headed south on Florida’s Turnpike we were listening to one of many sports talk stations down here.  They were supposed to be carrying a Dolphins pregame, but like my blog, the morning turned upside down as the boating accident that occurred at Government Cut took center stage.

The Florida Panthers took to social media as well as their team website with a statement consoling Fernandez’ family and the Marlins organization.  The Dolphins and Heat followed moments later. The Dolphins also added that they would ask for a moment of silence prior to their game.

Once we arrived at Hard Rock Stadium things didn’t get any easier.  Our tickets were on the Club Level which included indoor air-conditioned concession stands with tables to sit and eat.  As we were eating our lunch neither myself or my wife could tear ourselves away from Facebook and Twitter as reactions unfolded.  Football seemed secondary.  The fact that this was the Dolphins home opener was definitely put on the back burner.

The urge to follow the story continued as we got to our seats and watched the Dolphins and Browns warm up.

Before today’s colors were posted the Dolphins held their moment of silence and tribute to Jose Fernandez.  His picture was on the video boards with his dates of birth and death, but while we stood in silence the video boards went dark.  My wife and I looked at each other as we both wiped our eyes.  It was a gripping moment that gives me goosebumps writing about it.

Today’s football game was a three-hour diversion to what really mattered.  Although the Dolphins won 30-24 in a back and forth game that took overtime to settle, Jose Fernandez still took center stage.

At Citi Field in New York and at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, fellow Cubans Yeonis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig paid homage to their countryman.  Jose Fernandez jerseys hung in the Mets dugout in Flushing as well as the Dodgers dugout at Dodger Stadium.  Jose was looking out for his Cuban brothers.  The Mets defeated the Phillies 17-0 and the Dodgers clinched the National League West on a walk-off home run in the tenth inning.

There was no baseball at Marlins Park in Miami today.  As soon as the news broke, the Marlins announced the cancellation of their game with the Atlanta Braves.  A banner paying tribute to Jose Fernandez hangs from the outside of Marlins Park.  Inside the Marlins home a memorial was constructed on the pitcher’s mound.  Fernandez’ hat, his number 16 and flowers adorn the mound where Jose had so much joy, and gave Marlin fans so much happiness.

Jose Fernandez lived his life and enjoyed it.  Major League Baseball and the Miami Marlins lost a rising star today.  The Cuban community in South Florida and beyond lost an ambassador.

Today’s events just goes to show how brittle life is.  Life is short, live it while you are here to enjoy it.

Rest in peace Jose Fernandez, thanks for the memories.  Thanks for all you did for the Marlins, the community of South Florida and the brotherhood of athletes everywhere.

THE BROADCAST BOOTH-THE MOUTHPIECE OF SPORTS

When we lost Joe Garagiola back in March I had planned on writing about the subject of sports broadcasters.  As life went on it kind of slipped away from me so I decided to revisit the subject when Vin Scully called his final out for the Dodgers.

So pull up a chair, members of my blog audience and grab a beverage.

Vin Scully joined Red Barber in the Ebbets Field broadcast booth in 1950.  He would eventually take over the “Cat Bird Seat” in Brooklyn and will be vacating the booth at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on October 2. His 67 years as the voice of the Dodgers, which spanned two locations on opposite coasts, is the longest tenure of a broadcaster with one organization.  This record wont be touched for a very long time, if ever.

Mr. Scully, I have to thank you for influencing me.  My writing style is much like your broadcasting style.  Yes you have a legendary way of describing facts that happen on a baseball field (and in years past on a gridiron as well), but your story telling talent is unparalleled.  I can hear your voice as I tell stories here on WordPress just as if I was watching a Dodger broadcast.  Thank you again Vin!

On the night that we lost Joe Garagiola I began to think and reflect on all the sports voices I’ve heard over the years.  I can honestly say there have been many literary influences that have shaped me. Those of us who grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s will remember when NBC had a stronghold on Major League Baseball.  I have such fond memories of the “Game of the Week” on Saturday afternoons.  I will say that as a young boy growing up in Queens my first broadcast idol, if you will, was Curt Gowdy.  Like Scully, Gowdy was a story-teller in addition to being almost flawless in describing the action on the diamond as well as the football field.  His longtime baseball partner, Tony Kubek still strikes me as one of the best analysts of my time.

My Queens upbringing formed a bond with the New York Mets who played in my home boro.  The trio of Bob Murphy, Ralph Kiner, and Lindsey Nelson remains full of fond childhood memories.  They were the voices of the Mets from their inaugural season of 1962 until Nelson left the Mets for San Francisco following the 1978 season.  I was pretty disappointed when he left.  Mets baseball would never be the same.  Met fans who followed the franchise will always remember Bob Murphy’s “Happy Recap” when the Mets won, and Ralph Kiner’s post-game show “Kiner’s Korner.”

In addition to his baseball career, Lindsey Nelson spent years behind the CBS College Football mic.  He was the annual voice of the Cotton Bowl.  It’s not the same without him.

The “hated” crosstown Yankees also had their share of broadcast legends.  From Mel Allen’s “How about that” to Phil Rizutto’s “Holy Cow!”  But for most of this blogger’s life nobody manned the public address microphone like Bob Sheppard.  Growing up as a Met fan I didn’t go to many Yankee games. I was at the Big Ballpark in the Bronx twice and saw a handful of Yankee games at Shea Stadium in 1974 and 1975. For those who may not know the Yankees played those two years in Flushing while the Stadium was undergoing a massive renovation.  Sheppard had a presence unlike any other public address announcer.  Players referred to him as “the voice of God.”

Growing up, baseball wasn’t the only sport that I took to.  To this day I am a hockey fanatic.  Just as a coming attraction I will be following the Florida Panthers this year here on my WordPress page.  That being said, I became a fan of the New York Islanders when the NHL awarded a franchise to Long Island.   Tim Ryan was an established NHL announcer when he joined the Islanders TV crew in their inaugural season.  I grew up listening to him as well as Marv Albert calling Rangers games on radio.  As much as I hated the rival Rangers, I have got to admit Marv’s call of the Rangers and Knicks games was a big influence.  I miss Marv as a hockey announcer and still enjoy his NBA broadcasts on TNT.

In 1980 the voice of the Islanders changed.  The legendary Ryan would leave Long Island for a national football job with CBS.  Jiggs McDonald would join Ed Westfall as voice of the Islanders.  The tandem would last seventeen wonderful years that included four Stanley Cup championships and a streak of nineteen consecutive playoff series wins.  Any Islander fan from that era can still here Jiggs referring to Westfall as “18” in reference to his uniform number in his playing days with the club.

Hearing Marv open Ranger broadcasts still rings through my head.  “This is Marv Albert with Sal “Red Light” Messina at Madison Square Garden” was how each home broadcast began.  Marv would then describe how the game would begin by identifying the 7th Avenue end and 8th Avenue end of Madison Square Garden as to which net the teams were to defend.

In today’s time there are so many voices to be heard, so many new pictures to be painted.  To me the story-teller that would be the heir apparent to Vin Scully has to come from the hockey world.  Mike “Doc” Emrick who broadcasts the NHL for NBC and its networks has a unique way of calling games while getting descriptive.  Locally Steve”Goldy” Goldstein’s  New York accent throws me back to my childhood roots as the voice of the Florida Panthers.

Local sports legend Jim Mandich was the voice of the Miami Dolphins.  It was such a sad South Florida day when we lost him to cancer in 2011.  We also have a Scully disciple on the Marlins radio network in Dave Van Horne.  Dave is another great combination of facts and story telling.

There are just so many more that are going through my head, probably enough to fill another blog.

In closing, thank you so much Vin Scully.  I hope someday you can pull up a chair and read my work.

AMERICA’S DARKEST DAY AND HOW THE SPORTS WORLD HELPED HEAL A NATION

It has been fifteen years and it doesn’t get any easier.

This morning, as I have every year following the attacks on our nation on September 11, 2001 I paused and prayed at 8:46 and once again at 9:03.  I also watched as MSNBC reran that morning’s Today Show that also turned into news coverage of the heart wrenching events that unfolded.  Seeing not only my country, but my hometown being attacked brought it all back as if it was yesterday.

Our lives changed so much on that cloudless morning in the northeast.  So many families that lost loved ones who simply went to work and boarded airplanes.  Ordinary things that met with anything but ordinary.  On a personal level that morning was as scary and stressful as it can ever get.  I am the middle of three brothers, and the only one who relocated when I left the New York area for South Florida.

Both of my brothers spend time in Manhattan as part of their daily routines.  I spent that morning frantically trying to find out about their whereabouts and safety.  I knew my parents were safe in their home in New Jersey.  I thank God that all I got that morning was a scare.  Many people weren’t so lucky.  I can never forget the anguished looks on the faces of those walking around the neighborhood that was beginning to be called Ground Zero.  The fear of the worst, the finality that came.  Sad beyond words.

I know that everyone who was old enough to understand what happened in New York, Washington, and Shanksville has a story to tell. But how does this all connect to a sports blog?

Let’s set the clock back to Sunday September 16, 2001.  Baseball was still on hold, the NFL had postponed week 2 till the end of the season.  Too soon for fun and games to continue, but one of American sports’ famous cathedrals was actually was used as one.  The city of New York picked Yankee Stadium as the venue to begin healing.  A massive memorial service was held at the House That Ruth Built.  Six weeks later President Bush would bring the nation to its feet when he threw out the first ball at game 3 of the 2001 World Series from the pitcher’s mound of the Bronx landmark.

Across the East River in Queens, Shea Stadium would be the center of healing.  On September 21, 2001 Major League Baseball was back in business in New York.  The Braves would face the Mets (clad in NYPD and FDNY baseball caps) as New York attempted to return to some semblance of normalcy and fun.  If Bobby Thompson’s epic walk off home run at the Polo Grounds in 1951 was the “shot heard round the world” then Mike Piazza’s walk off on that September night was the “shot heard round America”.  The crowd at Shea exploded to a fever pitch not seen since Jesse Orosco finished off the Red Sox in 1986.

On September 20th the Rangers, one night removed from opening their preseason at Madison Square Garden headed to Philadelphia to face one of their fiercest rivals.  What happened that night still gives me goosebumps.  You see, President Bush addressed Congress that night with a status report on the events of September 11th.  The Flyers decided to post the speech on the scoreboard at what is now known as the Wells Fargo Center.  The Rangers and Flyers stopped the game.  The NHL officiating crew stopped officiating.  No brawling, no rivalry, everyone stopped and listened to the president.  The game never resumed.

Anyone who knows the makeup of South Florida knows the distinct connection to the New York area.  Like most of the country, time stood still on that awful day as residents had one eye on their loved ones up north.  The typical South Floridian question among transplanted New Yorkers was “everyone OK?, Have you heard from everyone?”

On September 23rd the NFL resumed their schedule with what was supposed to be week 3. South Florida went into a collective cheer when Jay Fiedler crossed the goal line to finish a Miami Dolphins comeback victory over the Oakland Raiders.  The eruption at the stadium now known as Hard Rock Stadium was deafening.  Our community reacted with such a release with that win you would have thought the Dolphins just won the Super Bowl.

So as the NFL opens up in earnest this afternoon, the fifteenth anniversary of the worst attack on American soil still overshadows fun and games.  Amid the pregame and halftime ceremonies that will go on around the league today, hearts will still be heavy.  Despite it all games will go on in the NFL and Major League Baseball.  Sports will once again be there for America.  The sporting world will again be part of the healing process.

God Bless America!

IT’S THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE (SPORTS) YEAR

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

 Pennant races are going

And pigskin a throwin’

Hockey season is near!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Yes, it’s Labor Day weekend, and the start of college football season made me think of how much goes on in September and October in the world of sports.

Going into the final month of the baseball season story lines abound.  As of this writing the Blue Jays and Red Sox are tied atop the AL East with the Orioles looming 2 games behind.  Throughout the season the Dodgers and Giants have traded places atop the National League West with the second place team leading the way in the Wild Card race.

About those Wild Card races,  the Jays/Sox lead the Orioles by 2 with the Tigers and Astros in their shadow.  The Giants are 2 1/2 up on the Cardinals who have the Mets, Pirates, and Marlins looking over their shoulders.  Should be an exciting end to the 2016 regular season.

The aforementioned college football season held center stage yesterday.  Ohio State, Alabama, and Michigan all won handily.  Clemson won a close one over Auburn.  With the college ranks off and running the NFL opens for business on Thursday with the first ever Super Bowl rematch as a national opener.

This got me to thinking, what a crossroads of sports this time of year is.  Baseball is in their postseason stretch, football is off and running and hockey is poised to open training camp.  Oh, by the way there is a little hockey tournament on tap this September called the World Cup.  The dribble and squeak of basketball is waiting in the wings.

I started to reflect on my memorable moments in the month of September.

In the strike torn, two half baseball season of 1981 I was at Shea Stadium in New York when the hometown Mets lost to the Montreal Expos.  This would kick off a celebration in front of me on the field as well as north of the border.  You see, the Expos celebrated clinching the Second Half NL East championship. Their only championship in Montreal. They would go on to lose the National League Championship Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers.  The Dodgers would go on to win the World Series over the Yankees.

Fast forward five years and back at Shea.  This time it was the Mets turn.I’ll never forget the final out in the Mets division clinching win over the Chicago Cubs.  It was a routine grounder to Wally Backman at second.  What followed was anything but ordinary.  Fans stormed the field as Backman was throwing to Keith Hernandez at first to finish the groundout.  How the ball got there I still don’t know.  The fans swarmed in a flash and were all over the field.  The celebration was on!  The Mets would go on to win the 1986 World Series.

The last time I was ever in Big Shea was in September 22, 1988.  The Mets again were in position to claim the division title.  This time New York’s finest was ready for any field storming.  As my wife and I walked from the parking lot to the stadium the first thing we noticed was police on horseback lined up behind the bullpen and picnic areas.  When Ron Darling stuck out Phillies catcher Lance Parrish looking in the 9th inning the Mets were champions once more.  They would go on to lose the NLCS to the Dodgers.  The Dodgers again would win it all.

My wife and I moved to South Florida in the spring of 1989.  This meant embracing new teams in our new home.  On September 26, 2003  my son and I were in attendance at the ballpark now known as Hard Rock Stadium.  The Mets were the opponent this time and the  hometown Marlins would lock up the National League Wild Card.  I’ll never forget the celebration that took place in the concourses and ramps.  The chant of “Lets Go Marlins” reverberated so loud that the building was shaking!  The Marlins would go on to defeat the Yankees in the World Series.

With all the baseball stories in September I have a football one as well.  I recall a Dolphins season opener against the Detroit Lions in which Ricky Williams ran for over 200 yards.  The stadium would be rocking as Williams scampered for big chunks of yardage and a touchdown in a Dolphins win.

There is one memorable hockey moment too.  It was the opening of the New York Islanders 2001-02 training camp.  It wasn’t what happened on the ice that was memorable, it was the fact that camp was to begin in Wheeling, WV on Tuesday September 11. Like all sports on that day, the start of camp was put on hold.  More on that horrific day next  week.

As the sports world comes to its annual crossroads I look forward to the opening weekend of the NFL.  I will be rooting on my hometown Marlins to win an NL Wild Card, and will be at the Florida Panthers training camp in nearby Coral Springs, Florida cheering on a promising hockey team.

Enjoy the crossroads!