Saturday, October 30, 2010

Autumn in the EMPIRE CITY

This is the time of year when the NYC Sports Scene is absolutely at it's most splendid and fascinatingly spectacular.  Evey Autumn, new scripts are written while the earlier Spring shows hustle towards their finale.  The action plays out differently from year to year.  But make no mistake Autumn in New York City is the greatest time and place to be if you're a sports fan.  So much of my life has revolved around the time of year when everything is bursting with Orange, Blue, Red and Green (and the leaves are pretty too).  Whether you're decked out in Pinstripes or BlueShirts, Autumn and NYC are always in fashion.

The probability Citi Field will pitch their own OctoberFest Tent in coming years grew by leaps and bounds yesterday with the introduction of Sandy Alderson as the new Mets' General Manager.  The last few years in Flushing have been a mine field of gaffes, chokes, let-downs, disappointments, embarrassments, injuries, foibles, miscommunication, finger pointing, chaos and mayhem.  But from one day to the next, the Mets achieved victory this late October day under their new leadership and just like the turning leaves of Fall, the Mets' fortunes seem to have taken on a brighter color as they move forward.

The leaves fell off the trees in the Bronx a little earlier than the denizens of Yankee Stadium would have liked.  But that's not the point today as I much would rather say Baseball, the Bronx and Autumn are as synonymous together as the Moe, Larry and Curly triad of magical contentment are; and just as much a Classic of all time.

I was at the Game 5, 1976 Chris Chambliss ALCS Home Run Moment.  As a 9 year old, what I remember most vividly about that game was a banner hanging from the upper deck reading, "When it's Cold, the Yanks are always Hot!!"  Before Reggie-Reggie-Reggie ever came to town, impressions of October were already set in stone this night with my Father (the Yankee Fan) in the Old Stadium.

I was already an unyielding Mets' fan that October night.  I was so in love with my team in 1975 and 1976.  But what transpired that October night in the Bronx is still to this day in my life of 43 years, the singular most spectacular Baseball moment I have ever had the pleasure being a part of!  I knew after that night I would die with a baseball in my hand sometime hopefully in the very very distant future.

That game transcended something much more than Mets or Yankees.  That night fixed my mind forever.

This was right around the time I started to fall in love with the game of Basketball.  There used to be a family across the street from me who had five brothers among them.  Their parents gave up the garage and paved the whole backyard to erect a basketball 1/2 court for their sons.  Of course the entire block congregated there.  We all took our turns pretending to be Clyde Frazier, Earl the Pearl and Bill Bradley during those mid-70's days.  The big guy, Willis Reed retired.  I was part of the next generation.

My first guy that I grew an affinity for was Lonnie Shelton.  I can't explain that but Channel 9 WOR had everything to do with it; I'm sure.  Truck Robinson, Spencer Haywood, Michael Richardson, Butch Beard and McAdoo were all reminders of Fall because the days grew shorter and there was no night light in the backyard where we played.  If you don't remember the 70's as a kid; once upon a time kids used to play outside, in the day, till it got dark, unsupervised,  AAaaahhhhhgggg!  To think.... Sigh.  anyway...So, off it was for us back then, to take a shower, finish up that last bit of homework and pop on channel 9 after dinner.

Bill Cartwright and Bernard King meant something else to me.  I wasn't old enough for the championship years.  But,  I was now old enough to stray throughout the neighborhood and play basketball well after dark, under the lights provided by NYC Parks.  Sweat pants, half cut sweatshirts, Pro-Keds and sweatbands were the uniform of Fall for this Brooklynite in the Era of Jordache Jeans.

In Fall even more so than Summer, the neighborhood kids packed the local park like a church.  On one side of the fence Basketball was going hard.  On the other side of the fence Football was going strong.  On any given Saturday and Sunday, teams evolved, determined by what time you got there and if the Giants or Jets were playing.  You stayed home to watch your team.  Every five guys was a team unless you came with your pack.  Those five guys are who you stuck with all day.  All day meant 10am till 6 pm.  Winners stayed on the court or field.  Losers went on the other side of the fence.  Everything was in rotation.  The Romans couldn't have planned it better.  If you spend the day winning you had about six games under your belt by the time you went home.  Either way, you were going home with feet barking due to the pounding they just took.  It was an exceptional way to spend your teenage years in Brooklyn when Autumn rolled around.

Yes, this was the time in my life when The NY Football Giants and me came together in Pigskin matrimony.  Fall and Sundays was never the same for me again.  The Giants more and more came to dominate my Autumns and ultimately, my life.  Now, the change in seasons meant the weather got a little more unpredictable, unstable, crisp and chilling like a HARRY CARSON hit, or a Ray Perkins stare; they left you cold and feeling vulnerable.  THEN, came the Parcells Years.  Autumns were GLORIOUS!

...and My Mets Were CHAMPIONS!

A hand full of years later, the boy who bears my name and the name of my father was born.  One month later, Scott Norwood was wide-right and the Giants won Super Bowl XXV.  What ensued from that day on was perhaps the greatest ten year stretch of NYC Sports Xanadu this city has ever experienced (outside the previous 1967-1975 Era when you take the NYR, NYK, NYM, NYJ all into account).

The Giants won the Super Bowl and returned ten years later.  The Knicks and NY Rangers electrified NYC like no other time I can remember.  Of course, the Rangers won the Stanley Cup in '94 but it was the Knicks who 'kept on keeping-on' through the decade making it to the Finals again after Pat Riley skipped town.  The Yankees? - 1994 - 2001.  "Nuf Ced".  Even the Mets; the Bobby Valentine Years ~ You were hard pressed to find a dull moment.  There was hot blood pumping through the organization as they closed out the decade.

I spent those ten years changing diapers, getting spit-up on, burping him, watching a million episodes of Barney the Dinosaur, trick-or-treating, doing arts and crafts, going to the parks, making sure Christmas was magical, Back to School, school projects, homework......,

...AND exhibiting to my wife every reason why she should commit me once she realized that I could watch grass grow while sitting through a rain delayed double header where both games go into extra innings and understanding that was my idea of a good time.  I also spent those years training her SUNDAY in AUTUMN was a matter of my life and a question of her death.  Yes, Giants Football could come between our marriage.  She's been perfect week in, and week out since the beginning.  She has been there for my highs (SB XXV and '94 Stanley Cup) and through my lows (2000 NYMets..anything Mets).  I'm her biggest fan and she, mine.  But that ten year stretch went by like a whisper barely audible to my son who only achieved the age of ten by the decade's close.

Over the last ten years, and my son's second decade on the planet, he's really come a long way in establishing his sporting allegiances.  He's a Yankee fan and.....well, he's experienced some good times and thrilling Octobers.

But for my part, I am working with a whole new dynamic now.  My boy is a man now; two decades old.  On an emotional level I couldn't explain to you what my feelings were one night during the 2007 Giants' season.  I don't think I can get through it.  But it was that time in Green Bay when the Giants played the Packers in a really big game while the temperature was -24 degrees at game time.  Ahmad Bradshaw broke out for what appeared to be a touchdown late in that game.  My boy and I had that Father Son moment that welds the two of you together for eternity.  We screamed, jumped, hugged and began to dance when Both our jaws dropped when we saw a flag calling the play back.  But the moment was had!  He and I had moments like that prior, like that Little League Championship we won together in 2002; I coached his team.  But he was an 'adult' now.  It's different.

We go to Mets games and Yankee games together.  What takes place there is healthy give and take as we make fun of each other's favorite teams.  We share common ground on the Giants.  I'm a Knicks fan while he's leaned Nets over the years.  But now he's starting to turn Knicks and my attention is on the Nets because they're coming to Brooklyn.

The trick or treating has stopped around here as far as he's concerned.  And now Christmas is less magical and more monetary these days.  But Fall still for me remains a source of utter contentment through all these years and with all the changes life brings.

Now-a-days Autumn means donning my #4 Ron Greschner jersey and heading over to MSG with my son, adorned in his #11 Messier jersey.  He and I have established pre-game rituals which would cause us to kill you should you learn of our secrets (but only in the purest Looney Tunes manners of death). 

But to myself, in between the laughs, I look up and see the dark night sky over MSG and see it as I see the morning sun;  Nothing lights me up more than the 7pm night over MSG when I'm with my son on our way to root for the BlueShirts.  My near twenty year old is a raving, raging lunatic of a Ranger Fan.

And so, this is Autumn Today.  NYC is my EMPIRE.  And He'll continue my Dynasty.


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