The Week That Was: The Queen Of Soul Sports

Aretha Franklin’s passing last week at the age of 76 elicited tributes from all sectors of American life and that included the sports world.

     The Detroit Tigers paid tribute to a hometown heroine last Friday by beginning each paragraph of their press notes with a title of an Aretha classic hit. Nearly every ballpark in the majors and minors played “Respect” between innings as well that night.

     It should be noted that Aretha Franklin was a big sports fan who sang the national anthem at many major sporting events. ESPN showed a smattering of them on its Friday night Sportscenter telecast.

     The one that stands out to me may have been her last. Having grown up in the Motor City, Franklin was a big Detroit Lions fan. The Lions have been playing at home at noon every Thanksgiving since 1934 so they are as traditional to the holiday as roast turkey. In 2016 the team asked her to perform “The Star-Spangled Banner” before its game with the Minnesota Vikings. Aretha delivered a rendition of the national anthem that was vocally powerful but it taxed the attention of spectators as it dragged past four minutes. It created a bit of a stir on social media and sports call-in shows. New York Post sports media critic Phil Mushnick wrote a column at the time lambasting her.

    After watching a replay, it was clear to me that she meant no disrespect and simply wanted to turn in a memorable performance for her fellow Detroit Lions fans. RIP, Aretha.

    While I was in Los Angeles I learned of the passing of Josip Peruzovic better known to wrestling fans as Nikolai Volkoff. He was one of the WWE’s greatest villains of the 1980s as he would enter the ring with a red jacket and matching trunks that bore the USSR’s hammer and sickle symbols and demand that the crowd  rise and respect his singing of the Soviet national anthem. What made the gimmick work was that he had an operatic voice. He was also Croatian which meant that he clearly enjoyed the character he created.

    I met Nikolai at a Comic Con in New York a few years ago. He chuckled when I told him that Mikhail Gorbachev, who was the Russian leader when Communism fell in 1991, ruined his act.

    No word as to whether President Donald Trump (a WWE Hall of Fame inductee just like Nikolai) expressed his condolences to Vladimir Putin.

    A reminder that you can watch the US Open Qualifying Tournament which runs through Friday for free. On Sunday tennis fans can stroll the grounds of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and watch the big stars practice on the various courts at no charge.

     It was classy of the Mets and Phillies players to shake hands in line following last Sunday’s Little League Classic game in Williamsport, Pa.                             

     The annual PGA Tour makes its annual New York area stop takes place this week at the Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, NJ as the Northern Trust runs through Sunday. Yes, Tiger Woods, fresh off his runner-up performance at the PGA Championship two weeks ago, will be taking part in it.

    You can park your car at the Garden State Plaza shopping center on Route 4 where a shuttle bus will take you to the course. Another option is to take New Jersey Transit to the Glen Rock station where buses will also transport you to the Ridgewood Country Club.

     If you are looking for a fun way to end your summer think about making a trip to Southern California.

    Del Mar, one of the most beautiful and successful thoroughbred racetracks in the nation, ends its summer season on September 3. The track is located just north of San Diego..The Hyatt Regency La Jolla, which just underwent a multi-million dollar renovation and has a heated Olympic-sized swimming pool, is just a ten-minute drive south of Del Mar on I-5.

    The Mets will be in Los Angeles to play a three-game series with the Dodgers beginning Labor Day. The Ramada Suites West Hollywood is a great choice because of its very reasonable rates, picturesque swimming area, and spacious rooms. It’s located right on Santa Monica Boulevard which means that means you can catch a bus to Union Station in downtown LA where a free shuttle bus will take you to Dodger Stadium saving you the hassle and expense of both driving and parking. The bus fare in LA is a reasonable $1.75 and if you are over 62 it is 75 cents during rush hour and 35 cents at all other times.

    West Hollywood reminds me a lot of Queens in that it is centrally located (downtown is a 30-minute drive east and the Pacific Ocean is a half-hour drive west) and you can walk to a lot of places. The restaurants are superb and are some of the best known in Los Angeles County as exemplified by Dan Tana’s, Pump, and the WeHo Bistro. It also has a great nightlife thanks to the music and dance clubs along the Sunset Strip as well as Santa Monica Boulevard. 

    Queens’ hometown airline, JetBlue, has frequent service to Southern California as it has frequent flights to San Diego, Long Beach and LAX (Los Angeles International). My suggestion is that you try JetBlue’s Mint business class service which offers more leg room than coach, gourmet food, and sizable screens where you can watch movies, television, or listen to Sirius XM radio.

     Speaking of Southern California, three cheers to the folks who put on Cat Con, the annual convention for feline lovers that takes place the first weekend in August at the Pasadena Convention Center. Yes, it’s fun to see Purina introduce their newest Morris the Cat (baby boomers will recall those humorous 9 Lives TV commercials), but what truly makes it special is the high number of stray cats get adopted by families.

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