Photo by Chelsea Durand – Courtesy NYRA
American Pharoah winning the Triple Crown at the Belmont Stakes Saturday elicited the same euphoric feelings for spectators that Johan’s Santana’s no-hitter against the Cardinals at CitiField three years earlier did. The Mets faithful had to wait 50 years to see their team on the upside of a no-hitter while thoroughbred racing fans endured a 37-year drought.
Since Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978 there had been a dozen horses, including California Chrome last year, who won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, but fell short at the toughest race of them all, the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes. There was some concern that many race fans and television viewers might become indifferent to yet another equine contender for what was beginning to look like an unattainable holy grail.
The New York Racing Association was a beneficiary of American Pharoah’s success even before Saturday’s revenue bonanza for them. At the annual post-position draw press conference the Wednesday before the race NYRA officials announced that NBC had agreed to extend their contract to cover the Belmont Stakes as well as covering other key NYRA events. Draft Kings, who compete with Fan Duel, in the fantasy sports gaming business which is big with millennials, recently signed a sponsorship deal with both NYRA. General Cigar, the manufacturer of such premium brands as Macanudo and Cohiba, rented a sizable booth at Belmont Park’s beautiful backyard for the big weekend.
The trick for NYRA officials is to get spectators to show up at Belmont and Aqueduct on regular racing card days. Belmont used to host last afternoon concerts in its backyard area by name acts in the 1970s and early 1980s but then stopped doing so. Attendance dropped precipitously and the crowds never returned, Belmont Stakes Saturdays notwithstanding.
NYRA had the 90s rock band O.A.R. perform late Friday afternoon and then had the Goo Goo Dolls play after the Belmont Stakes. That was a particularly smart idea as it prevented a stampede of people from leaving Belmont Park as soon as American Pharoah crossed the finish line.
I asked NYRA president Chris Kay if he planned to bring back post-race concerts on ordinary race card weekends. Kay shook his head no. “We think that marginal fans want to come out for big events and not for a regular day. It’s like baseball fans who turn out for a playoff game but not for a midweek Tampa Bay Rays-New York Yankees game,” Kay told me.
No one is asking that NYRA contract Taylor Swift or Katy Perry to play at Belmont, but there are plenty of affordable name musical acts out there. Based on personal experience, one winds up betting on races and developing an interest in the ponies even if the main purpose of a trip to Belmont Park is to enjoy the entertainment.
The New York Yankees have a right to take a bow for hosting two very exciting events that benefitted non-profits last Wednesday.
The annual PSAL championship baseball game pitting two of the city’s powerhouses, George Washington High School from Washington Heights beat Staten Island’s Tottenville High School in a thrilling 1-0 game. Washington’s Wesley Rodriguez struck out two Tottenville hitters on some nasty pitches with the bases loaded.
A celebrity softball game organized by the WFAN morning drive team of Craig Carton and Boomer Esiason that honored the memories of three NYPD police officers who were killed in the line of duty this year (Wenjian Liu, Rafael Ramos, and Brian Moore) and raised funds for a variety of organizations that benefit the surviving spouses and children of slain officers followed the PSAL game.
Former New York Jets and current Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan used the True Blue softball game as his first public return to the Big Apple since his dismissal back in January.
I asked Ryan why he jumped at the offer to coach the Buffalo Bills since it was safe to say that he would have his pick of coaching jobs as well as high profile NFL broadcasting gigs. “I did have my choice of jobs but I was overwhelmed by the Buffalo offer,” said Ryan.
Rex claimed that he had made a complete emotional break from the Jets but that may be wishful thinking on his part. He is an entertainer who likes performing under the brightest lights. When I asked him about the fact that the western New York State media contingent is a lot smaller than what he had become accustomed to here he winced. “Oh it’s about the same!” Ryan said with pursed lips and his eyes rolling towards the heavens.
Yankees great Willie Randolph smiled when I said that most Mets fans and the media have a greater respect for the job he did as the manager of the Mets roughly a decade ago now than they did then. Willie said that he is still amenable to managing at the big league level again.
Randolph was a second baseman for over 20 years and thus had to do a lot of bending. I asked him if he ever experienced the kind of back pain that is affecting Mets captain and third baseman David Wright. “I was fortunate in that I never experienced that. Surprisingly, that is not a common problem for baseball players,” he replied. Willie will be honored by the Yankees with a plaque in Monument Park on Saturday, June 20.
Former Mets closer and St. John’s University alum John Franco stepped out on the balcony of the Delta Club at Yankee Stadium while the PSAL Championship Game was still being played. Franco, a longtime Staten Island resident, was instantly recognized by Tottenville High School fans and he acknowledged their applause. “I wish that CitiField would host the PSAL championship game,” Franco stated candidly.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie also took part in the softball game and the hefty governor took a lot of ribbing on social media for his uniform’s tight white pants. Before the game I asked Christie about former New York governor George Pataki’s decision to enter the growing Republican presidential field and his chances. “I don’t make prognostications,” Christie grumpily replied. He was clearly unhappy that a moderate Republican from the Northeast who was a proven winner in a very blue state jumped into the presidential race before he did.
New St. John’s University men’s basketball head coach, Chris Mullin, who had thrown out the ceremonial pitch at Yankee Stadium a week earlier, returned to take part in the softball game.
Aside from Governor Christie, the most noticeable player on the field was 7-foot Brooklyn Nets center Mason Plumlee. He conceded that baseball/softball was never his game.
The New York Liberty, led by star center and Jamaica Estates native Tina Charles, opened the season with an 82-73 win over the Atlanta Dream at Madison Square Garden Friday night. The Dream were led by their center Angel McCoughtry who scored 27 points.
McCoughtry is from Baltimore and her play reminded of another famous basketball player who grew up in that town, Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony. She has slashing moves to the basket; can hit shots from nearly every place on the floor; and she doesn’t kill herself playing defense.
Before the game, controversial New York Liberty president met informally with the media thirty minutes before tipoff on Friday. Not surprisingly, Thomas deflected all questions about the controversy surrounding his hiring and his desire to purchase an equity stake in the Liberty. I asked him if about the profitability of the Liberty. “I would love to elaborate about that but I was advised not to because the WNBA is still reviewing my application.” The only topic that he did speak about at length was when I asked him how his popcorn business is doing. “Popcorn, Indiana is doing great. We are found in a lot of supermarkets and even in airports,” he said flashing his trademark smile.
Atlanta Hawks forward and NBA All-Star Al Horford was on hand at a press event organized by Carnival Corporation to announce its newest cruise brand in Manhattan last week, Fathom. What makes Fathom different from other cruise lines is that its goal is to have travelers enjoy a Peace Corps-like experience by helping the local populace. Horford grew up in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic and said that he was thrilled that Americans would be willing to help local businessmen and children to have better lives by rolling up their sleeves instead of just relaxing at the beach while they are in his hometown.
The first-ever “Legends of Wrestling” event at CitiField Sunday drew a respectable crowd who came out to cheer such longtime ring heroes as Tommy Dreamer, Jim “Hacksaw” Duggan, Ric Flair, Bret “The Hitman” Hart, and Bill Goldberg. It was a homecoming for a pair of former Bayside residents, longtime ring announcer Dave Pelzer and wrestler Brian Myers who calls himself the “Prince of Queens.” Here’s to hoping that this becomes an annual late spring event when the Mets are out of town.
The Mets finished their last road trip with a 3-4 record as they dropped two of three to a struggling San Diego Padres team and split a four-game series with the Arizona Diamondbacks who have a less imposing lineup than the injury-ravaged Mets as implausible as that may seem.
The arrival of June means that a lot of us will be firing up the outdoor grill. Robert Mondavi, the famous Napa Valley vintner, has come up with a barbecue sauce that contains Cabernet Sauvignon that is called Woodbridge Wine ‘Cue Sauce.