The United States Tennis Association held its first qualifiers tournament in three years at the Billie Jean King National Tennis in Flushing Meadow Park last week. The admission, as per custom was free, and the crowds came. While most of the competitors were up-and-comers, there were some veterans vying for a slot at the US Open. Spain’s Fernando Verdasco was able to advance, while Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard fell short.
The long lines at the various food courts reminded me how the US Open is as much for foodies as it is for tennis fans. The food options are wide-ranging, high caliber, and not outrageously priced considering New York City restaurant prices and inflation we have experienced this year. Most of the entrees are priced between $15 and $25, and portions are certainly not small.
My favorite dishes were the Black Angus steak sandwich at the Pat LaFrieda concession located near the practice courts, and the chopped brisket sandwich at Hill Country, located in the main food pavilion area just to the left of Louis Armstrong Stadium. Healthy food choices include Fuku’s plant-based “Impossible Nuggets” which really do, as the old cliche goes tastes like chicken; and Poke Yachty’s tuna rice bowl. Seafood fans should enjoy lobster and crab rolls from The Crabby Shack.
The USTA is also recognizing local food producers. Jamaica’s The Nourish Spot is serving its fruit and veggie smoothies, while Brooklyn-based Van Leeuwen has replaced Ben & Jerry’s as the ice cream vendor at the Open.
Food was also on the mind of one of the best men’s tennis players on the tour, Greece’s Stefano Tsitsipas. At Friday’s media day, Tsitsipas told the press he loves to walk around Manhattan and explore the various neighborhoods. He also enjoys eating at the many Greek restaurants he finds there.
When he stepped off the podium, I told him he should visit Astoria which has always had one of the largest Greek-American populations in the United States. I added there are plenty of restaurants there which are as good, if not better, than what he finds in Manhattan, and it is a lot closer to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Tsitsipas told me he was unaware of Astoria and thanked me for the info.
The US Open is also helpful for corporate branding. Hotelier IHG, which operates Holiday Inn and Kimpton, has set up a booth which provides complimentary five-minute massages. As per custom, Emirates Airlines has a spin-the-wheel contest to win one of their red circular seat cushions.
Coco Gauff used her Friday media session to promote her shoe line deal with New Balance. Gauff knew tennis legend Stan Smith was the first pro athlete to get a shoe named in his honor. New Balance makes its shoes in the USA so it’s only fitting they have a top American athlete endorser.
Mets vice president of alumni affairs, Jay Horwitz, did a fine job arranging Saturday’s Old Timers’ Day celebration. 65 Mets alumni took part. Jay told me he received numerous calls from former Mets players who were miffed they were not invited. The fans certainly responded as the game was a sellout. The interest in the first Mets Old Timers’ Day since 1994 was higher from all parties was far higher than I expected when it was announced last year.
The question now is whether this will be an annual event, such as the Yankees have (although they did not play a game this year, a fact which Pedro Martinez had fun with during a post-event press conference), or a somewhat smaller event, such as what the Phillies have with their August “Wall of Fame” ceremony.
Most baseball teams do not hold Old Timers’ Days because of the expense and time involved. Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black told me he is hoping his team will hold one in 2023 to mark their 30th anniversary. Mets owner Steve Cohen saw Saturday’s celebration as the cornerstone of the team’s 60th anniversary celebration. Cohen is a savvy businessperson, and he realizes Old Timers’ events are excellent branding tools because they unite different generations of fans.
It was this thinking which led Cohen to have the Mets announce Saturday that Willie Mays’s #24 would be retired. Mays began his career in New York in 1951 as a member of the Giants but had to leave when the team relocated to San Francisco in 1958. Mays returned to New York in 1972 when the Mets, under the aegis of owner Joan Payson, traded pitcher Charlie Williams to get the 41-year-old Mays, who was still a productive player though far from the superstar he once was, from the cash-strapped San Francisco Giants.
Mets president Sandy Alderson told the media, Joan Payson had informed Mays she would retire his #24.” That promise, however, got lost in the shuffle when she died in 1975. Fulfilling that vow all these years later was important to Cohen.
2015 World Series hero Daniel Murphy recently received his bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Jacksonville. He is content to be a full-time dad for now but has not ruled out working in the business side of baseball in the future.
Current Mets pitcher Taijuan Walker was excited to meet the players from the yesteryear. “I was a shortstop growing up and Jose Reyes was one of my favorite players.” When I asked him if he was looking forward to taking part one day in an Old Timers’ game, he quickly replied, “Yes, but hopefully not for many years down the road!”
Many Mets fans were disappointed David Wright did not attend the big day. Jay Horwitz told me he had three young children and felt he was needed at home in Southern California. My guess is Wright, who had to retire because of a wide array of neck and back ailments, did not want to fly back and forth cross-county in a short span of time.
Bob Glauber, a well-respected NFL writer for Newsday, announced his retirement from Newsday on Sunday. Bob has always been gracious whenever