The Week That Was: The Empire Rises Again

     The New York Empire of World Team Tennis will begin their second season of existence on July 16 in a new venue, Court 17, at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The Empire played their maiden season at Forest Hills Stadium.

      A team official told me at the team’s media day last Thursday that they wanted return to the West Side Tennis Club but it would be too much work to set up and break down for tennis between the many concerts that are scheduled to take place there this summer.

     Douglaston native Patrick McEnroe was the Empire head coach last summer but after a lamentable 2-10 record, the worst in World Team Tennis, he has been replaced by Gigi Fernandez, who had a very successful career on the Women’s Tennis Association tour, and is now the only female head coach in the WTT.

     To say that last year’s Empire team lacked star power was a gross understatement. Christina McHale was the team’s marquee player which says a lot. Andy Roddick deigned to play one match for the Empire but the rest of the team was fairly anonymous.

      Apparently the league paid attention because this year’s Empire squad includes popular Canadian player Eugenie Bouchard, perennial fan favorite Mardy Fish, and arguably the best American player in the game today (granted, he’s never won a Grand Slam event), John Isner.

    Billie Jean King, who co-founded World Team Tennis 42 years ago, told the press at the Empire event that this was her proudest accomplishment. “It was always a dream of mine to have men and women playing together on the same team.”

    After what has been a very disappointing season so far for the Mets, they finally got a ray of sunshine in Atlanta. Not only did the Mets take 3 out of 4 from the Braves (in spite of their poor record they always give the Mets agita) but they got terrific starting pitching from both Seth Lugo and Steven Matz in their first appearances of the 2017 season after spending what seemed like forever on the disabled list.

    Amed Rosario is the brightest prospect in the Mets organization and he’ll undoubtedly be the team’s shortstop in 2018. Nonetheless there is no reason for the fans and media to treat incumbent shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera like chopped liver. Sure, his defensive range has gotten more limited at age 31 but he has been a consummate pro. Fans should remember that he batted .280 collecting many clutch hits while swatting 23 homers last year.

    Cabrera’s double play partner, second baseman Neil Walker, is on the disabled list with an inflamed knee. Mets fans shouldn’t worry too much however about this key team leader and integral part of their offense. By Mets injury standards, this is the equivalent of  a common cold.

      Phillies great and Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt took some heat for saying that Phils centerfielder Odubel Herrera could not be a team leader because of his limited English skills.

      While Schmidt may have been impolitic with his statement, he is not altogether wrong. Former Met Julio Franco, who played in the majors until he was nearly 50, always told me how important it was to learn as much of a foreign language that he could of wherever he was playing and that included Japan.

      On the other hand, given how important Latin America is to baseball on all levels, I think that all players, broadcasters, and reporters should study Spanish. It has always bothered me when I have seen media ignore players in the clubhouse whose native language isn’t English.

      I have spoken to many Hispanic players over the years in their native tongue. While the players clearly knew that it wasn’t my first language, they have almost always been appreciative. Some have even helped me with vocabulary and understanding an idiomatic expression.

     Just about the only exception was Rey Ordonez who was the Mets shortstop back in the ‘90s. Ordonez mocked me and a number of Hispanic players and reporters informed me that Rey was a strange guy in any language and that I should just ignore him.

     Even the most upbeat New York Racing Association official has to concede that this was a Belmont Stakes to forget. Neither Always Dreaming nor Cloud Computing, who won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness respectively, opted to run the mile-and-a-half race. To make matters worse, Classic Empire, which ran well in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, and Epicharis, a horse from Japan that was generating a lot of buzz, were both scratched.

    All of this made this race the Belmont Fakes in my opinion. The owners and other connections of the winning horse, Tapwrit, were presented with pricy Longines timepieces. Given the paltry level of competition, they should have gotten Timex watches at best.

   Beach tennis, a sport involving racquets, nets, and sand that never really caught on here in the US in spite of some Labor Day tournaments in Long Beach, is doing surprisingly well in other parts of the world. The Barbados Beach Tennis Open, which will feature some of the world’s best players, will take place in that Caribbean island nation from June 26-July 2.

     Nick Swisher, one of the most popular Yankees players of recent years, is a sideline reporter on “Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge,” which is an athletic competition show in the mold of “American Gladiators” and “American Ninja Warrior.” The show airs Mondays at 10 PM on NBC and will have an eight-week run. 

      The seventh annual Green Festival Expo held this past weekend at the Javits Center had more exhibitors in food and beverage, health supplements, and skin care industries than I recall from previous years. What was thankfully missing was new age claptrap such as healing crystals and products that simply did not perform well such as “green” batteries.

     The death of 1960s TV Batman, Adam West, unleashed a ton of memories from my fellow baby boomers on social media, and rightfully so. In the pre-cable, pre-Internet world that we grew up in, West was an icon.

      He was also a hell of an actor to be able to deliver tongue-in-cheek lines in a very droll manner while not letting the public know that he was ever in on the absurd humor which made “Batman” delightful camp comedy. I did not fully appreciate the show’s talented writers or cast until I watched it a few years later in reruns and was able to catch the jokes that went over my head when I first watched the show during its primetime run on ABC.

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