NY Sports Day

     The 2019 US Open officially started this past Monday at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow Park but in reality things got underway the previous Monday with the qualifiers tournament.

     The word has clearly gotten out about was once a big secret in the tennis community; namely that you can watch some of the best players around the world compete in very meaningful matches with no admission charge.

     The United States Tennis Association did its part as well to promote this preview week by terming it US Open Fan Week. With the financial help of its partner sponsors the USTA was able to have tennis legends as Kim Clijsters, Rennae Stubbs, Jim Courier, and Douglaston’s own, the inimitable John McEnroe , take part in a one-set mixed doubles exhibition at Louis Armstrong Stadium.

    The USTA also published the practice court schedules for nearly of today’s big names and encouraged fans to come out and watch. In addition, they hired veteran WNBC sports anchor Harry Cicma, to emcee afternoon player interviews on the South Plaza stage. Cicma has long been a solid and underrated sports TV voice in this town. What you may not know is that he was a terrific college tennis player at Rutgers University.

    The US Open has become a big event for foodies and every concession was open. You can’t go wrong with a hamburger at Prime Burger; a sliced Angus steak sandwich from Pat LaFrieda; or the sizable shrimp and lobster salad at Fish Shack by David Burke. The prices are not outrageous by New York dining standards.

     The hardest working performer during US Open Fan Week was arguably not a tennis player but rather R&B singer Leon Bridges. He gave concerts at both Wednesday’s launch event to mark the IHG hotel chain becoming the official lodging sponsor of the US Open and again on Friday for fans at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center as part of a Chase promotion.

    The Players Weekend uniforms unleashed a torrent of negative reactions for reasons ranging from general aesthetics to making it impossible to read the nicknames on the jerseys. The Mets, who wore all white with oversized helmets in their weekend series with the Braves, resembled cricket players. Mets reliever Seth Lugo took it all in good stride. He chose the nickname “Quarter Rican” in honor of his 25% Puerto Rican heritage. “My body was meant to wear all white!”he joked.

    Outfielder Michael Conforto, who is the Mets’ union rep, acknowledged some of the criticisms but added that a lot of players were happy to be able to design their own shoes and bats as well as promoting their own sobriquets. “We did have to make sure that there weren’t corporate endorsements or trademark infringements,” he added.                 

     Former Mets outfielders Benny Agbayani and George Theodore returned to Flushing as part of the most recent Mets alumni weekend that is being shepherded by Mets alumni affairs VP Jay Horwitz.

    Agbayani, who was a key part of the 2000 team that met the Yankees in the World Series, is still as muscular as ever and is coaching baseball in his native Honolulu.

     Theodore was a member of the 1973 “Ya Gotta Believe” team but his season was cut short when on July 7th he collided with centerfielder Don Hahn at Shea Stadium tracking down a long fly ball hit by Braves outfielder Ralph Garr who circled the bases for an inside-the-park home run which was the first one I ever witnessed in person.

    “I dislocated my hip in that collision and that effectively ended my playing career. I returned to Salt Lake City and became a guidance counselor in their public school system. I retired a couple of years ago,” he told me.

    Another retired former Mets player, Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Glavine, was at Citi Field as well this past weekend in his current role as a member of the Braves television team.

     Many Mets fans still bitterly recall how Glavine came up small when they were counting on his the most. He gave up seven runs to the Florida Marlins in the first inning of the last game of the 2007 season which eliminated the Mets from post-season contention. After the game, Glavine caught flack for saying that it wasn’t a tragedy.

     In my column that week I defended Tom Glavine by writing that all he was simply pointing out that watching your favorite team lose an important game shouldn’t be confused with something as serious as a heath scare or economic disaster occurring to you or a loved one.

     When I mentioned that to him last Friday Glavine smiled and replied “That is exactly the point that I was trying to make. In retrospect I probably should not have said that quite then!”

     Getting swept by the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field this past weekend certainly took some wind out of the Mets’ playoff drive sails. It also reminded me why there was skepticism about the Amazin’s even when they were reeling off one win after another a few weeks ago.

     At the Television Critics Association Summer Tour which was taking place in Beverly Hills earlier in the month I asked well-known Mets fan Jimmy Kimmel if he thought that our Flushing heroes were teasing us or truly capable of a miraculous playoff run.

    “Being a Mets fan has ebbs and flows–mostly ebbs. I have learned that if you don’t expect anything then you won’t be disappointed,” Kimmel replied.

      Former Mets SNY field reporter and now a key Major League Baseball and National Football League voice for Fox Sports, Kevin Burkhardt, pointed to the team’s incredibly poor record against teams with winning records as the key reason why he wasn’t sanguine about their chances of making the playoffs.

     Seeing the Mets in Philadelphia in always fun no matter what is on the line. The Mets and Phillies, who have both had countless ups and downs this year, will be meeting Friday through Sunday at Citizens Bank Park.

    While in Philadelphia be sure to check out the restaurants and clubs in Center City as well as newer attractions as the Museum of the American Revolution and the National Museum of American Jewish History which are both located a stone’s throw from Independence Hall.

Wallace Matthews