The Big East, the conference which the St. John’s University Red Storm calls home, held its annual media day for men’s and women’s basketball last week at Madison Square Garden.
The Villanova University Wildcats, who won the NCAA men’s tournament last spring thanks to returning stars Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart, understandably drew the largest throng of reporters at its table. Head coach Jay Wright displayed his trademark sense of humor when I asked him if he would ever schedule the Columbia Lions for a non-conference game again. Wright chuckled because he remembers when the Lions visited his campus in 2012 and beat his highly ranked team by 18 points in a tremendous upset and they haven’t been invited back since. “We’ll try to get them back,” he said with a smile.
St. John’s Red Storm coach Chris Mullin understandably attracted a media throng as well. Mullin, a Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, will be beginning his second season at the helm and I asked him if he felt that he felt the urgency when he was hired to replace Steve Lavin to restore the program to the glory it enjoyed back in the mid 1980s when he was a star player there. “Of course I want to get the program back to that level but I realize that it is a process that can’t be rushed,” he replied.
The Red Storm may only be ranked eighth in the Big East coaches preseason poll but there was little doubt that they are first when it comes to fashion. Forward Kassoum Yakwe and swingman Bashir Ahmed wore sharp black suits with matching wide-brimmed hats that resembled the headwear that Hasidic men favor. Chris Mullin borrowed Bashir’s hat to happily pose for photos outside of the Garden.
The Red Storm women’s basketball team won the Big East title in 2016 but the aforementioned preseason coaches poll doesn’t think that good fortune will follow this year as they are only ranked sixth in the conference. That didn’t seem to discourage head coach Joe Tartamella or two of the players who attended media day, guard Aaliyah Lewis and forward Jade Walker.
The National Hockey League season opened last Thursday. Even though the Rangers home opener featured the Islanders as their opponent, the New York dailies reacted with a collective yawn as their backpages featured stories about the Major League Baseball playoffs even though neither the Mets nor the Yankees were involved.
That couldn’t have been good news to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman who grew up in Forest Hills. Bettman has worked tirelessly to expand his sport’s popularity by placing teams in warm weather cities as well as establishing a Wednesday night NHL telecast that features rivals based on either geography or playoff history on the NBC Sports Network.
Harness racing gets scant attention with the exception of the Hambletonian, the sport’s version of the Kentucky Derby which takes place the first Saturday in August at the Meadowlands. Last Saturday the $1 million Yonkers International Trot at Yonkers Raceway was revived after twenty years of dormancy. The reason for this race’s rebirth is because Yonkers Raceway is part of the very profitable Empire City Casino. The winning trotter was Resolve who harness racing officials hope will be to their sport what American Pharoah was to its thoroughbred cousin.
Atlanta Braves infielder Chase d’Arnaud, the brother of Mets catcher Travis d’Arnaud, enjoys a busy second career during the off-season as a musician. He is the lead guitarist and vocalist of the Chase d’Arnaud Band which specializes in a country pop sound reminiscent of harmonious pop/country rock bands as Poco, the Eagles, and even Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. You can check out the video of the Chase d’Arnaud Band’s debut single, “Seven Ghosts,” on YouTube. Chase told me that Travis played the violin growing up but hasn’t kept up with it.
Tourism representatives from Phoenix and its surrounding cities were in town last for their annual visit with New York media. The Arizona Fall League, which showcases developing talent from the various Major League Baseball teams, has gotten extra attention this year because Tim Tebow, who the Mets signed last month is playing for the Scottsdale Scorpions.
Scottsdale has long been the ritziest town in the Phoenix area but representatives from both Tempe and Mesa were quick to point out their cities also have teams in the Arizona Fall League and that Mets fans can cheer for Tebow there. Both Tempe and Mesa are serviced by the Phoenix Light Rail so you don’t need a car if you stay there. Scottsdale voted not to have the Light Rail years ago. Hotel rates are also less expensive in Tempe and Mesa than in Scottsdale as a general rule. The Arizona Fall League runs through mid-November. Tempe is also home to Arizona State University and the demand for Sun Devils football tickets is fairly soft so it’s easy to catch one of their games. JetBlue has daily service between JFK and Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport.
Kentucky has long been the leading rye, bourbon, and whisky producing state in the country but judging by last weekend’s New York City Wine & Food Festival, the Empire State could be giving the Bluegrass State some competition. Tuthilltown Spirits out of Duchess County, and Catskill Distilling, whose plant is located across the street from the site of the Woodstock Festival in Bethel, both produce ryes, bourbons, and whiskies that are surprisingly easy to imbibe since they are not bitter which is frequently the case with harder spirits.
For years there was little innovation with respect to beer and soft drinks. An iconic Scottish brewer, Crabbie’s, has just introduced line of alcoholic ginger beer. On the soft drink front, Stubborn Soda, which had a major presence at the recent New York Comic Con, is making bottles of fun-flavored sodas as orange hibiscus, black cherry with tarragon, lemon berry acai, and agave vanilla cream.
Moonpies, a popular confection comprised of chocolate, marshmallows, and graham cracker filling were invented in Chattanooga, Tennessee almost a century ago. Baby boomers in the Northeast will fondly remember Burry’s Scooter Pies but they have become a rather forgotten delicacy in these parts in these parts. Lamour “Lovie” Workman is attempting to restore the moonpie’s popularity in the Big Apple with her new Astoria-based company, Lovie’s Nostalgia. Lovie debuted her varieties of moonpies at the Big Chocolate Show in Hudson Yards two weeks ago.
The 2016 New York City Wine & Food Festival was not only a chance for foodies to enjoy themselves but more importantly it raised a lot of money for a variety of organizations that fight hunger. Now in its tenth year, the NYCWFF has collected nearly $10 million for nonprofit food distribution organizations.
The presidential campaign has provided ample fodder for comedians and satirists. Harrison Ferber, an artist entrepreneur, has partnered with an underwear manufacturer, Caramba Boxers, to create a line of boxer shorts that feature cartoon caricatures of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and their supporters. Bernie Sanders even gets a co-starring nod here. Ferber and Caramba feel that since this election has been “below the belt” far more than any other presidential campaign then they might as well humorously capitalize on that fact.
It has been a mild first month of autumn but the first true sign of winter arrived in New York as the Rockefeller Center Skating Rink opened for its 80th season last Tuesday. The Bryant Park Skating Rink is scheduled to open on October 29.