A happy and healthy Thanksgiving to everyone out there.
On this day of thanks, I thought it would be fun to list the 10 things I’ve been thankful for in 2008 when it comes to New York sports.
As a fan of the Mets, Jets, Knicks, Rangers, and Syracuse basketball team, I tried focusing on my teams but had to stray to come up with 10, especially with the teams’ lack of success.
10. The Major League Baseball All Star Game
I was lucky enough to be in attendance at the final All Star Game ever at Yankee Stadium. As I sat out in the left field bleachers, I couldn’t see everything, but I made sure I stuck around for all 15 innings and all five-plus hours in watching the American League pull out the victory and claim home field advantage in the World Series.
Seeing all the legends like Willie Mays and Hank Aaron was a once in a lifetime experience, and the whole night was as good as it gets for a baseball fan.
9. October Baseball without the Yankees
Now, the Mets weren’t part of the postseason either, so I know I’m opening myself up here for major criticism. However, after having to watch the Yankees extend their season for 12 years in a row, enough was enough.
The fact that the team wasn’t able to make the playoffs in the final season of their historic ballpark was icing on the cake. It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving fanbase.
Of course it only made things sweeter seeing Joe Torre get his Dodgers into the NLCS. However, his firing was still the correct decision, right George?
8. Henrik Lundqvist
I’ll admit it, I don’t watch a ton of hockey, but when I watch the Rangers, I can’t help but marvel at how dominant king Henry can be between the pipes. He stands on his head night after night keeping the team in games when the offense struggles.
Back in the spring, when the Rangers were looking to earn a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals, Lundqvist was sensational against Pittsburgh. Lundqvist led the squad when they weren’t able to capitalize on power play opportunities.
Lundqvist is quietly one of the five best athletes this city has to offer. Write it down.
7. Jonny Flynn
After two seasons of missing out on the NCAA tournament, the orange have jumped out to a 5-0 start, including road wins on back to back nights against Florida and Kansas. The big reason behind their early success has been the play of sophomore point guard Jonny Flynn, who is making a case as one of the best one-guards in all of America. His name has been mentioned in the same breath as guards like Darren Collison and Ty Lawson.
Flynn forced overtime Tuesday night with a game tying three with 6.4 seconds left. His ability to create shots for his teammates and score the basketball will make Syracuse a contender throughout the year. He’s the best pure basketball player Jim Boeheim has coached since Carmelo Anthony.
6. Leon Washington
The Jets’ most valuable player in my eyes, Washington makes something happen every game. You can pencil him in for making at least one game-changing play, whether it’s a long touchdown run or taking a kickoff back to the house.
Leon has been important in spelling Thomas Jones, and the two have formed a dynamic rushing tandem that has helped put the Jets on top of the AFC East, and in contention for a possible postseason run.
The quarterback handing Washington the ball has been a pretty big reason for their success as well, but more on him later.
5. The Escape, the Catch, the Upset
I’m not a Giants fan, but unlike the Mets-Yankees hate I’ve developed growing up, I always root for the Giants unless they’re taking on my Jets.
While my Jets were nowhere to be found in January, the Giants’ playoff run last season was something that any sports fan could appreciate. Going on the road and winning games in Tampa, Dallas, and Green Bay, when the wind chill was -20, and defeating the previously undefeated Patriots was all sorts of fun.
Of course the moment from that game that I, like everybody else, will think of first was the escape of Eli Manning and the throw and catch to David Tyree, who pinned the ball against his helmet on the Giants’ final touchdown drive, setting up the game-winning score.
The game was phenomenal, the Giants won a hard earned championship, and the Patriots were denied their piece of football immortality.
4. Johan Santana
While the Mets’ season ended up being a waste, the performance of Johan Santana was anything but that. Santana was brilliant, winning 16 games and finishing third in National League Cy Young voting.
It was his final two performances of the season, including his complete game, a three-hit shutout on the second to last game of the season (a game I was at), that electrified Mets fans and gave them hope that they would be able to avoid a second consecutive late season collapse.
Of course they didn’t, but that was no fault of Santana, who was pitching with a torn ligament in his knee. For all the prospects and money Omar Minaya and ownership gave up to bring him to Queens, and in the midst of a very disappointing season, Santana certainly shined.
3. Donnie Walsh
I could have given Isiah Thomas a spot and spoken about how I’m thankful for his removal, but I’m going to group that with Walsh. Since being hired by owner James Dolan, Walsh wasted little time in removing Thomas as coach.
Walsh not only was able to effectively end the dreadful Isiah Thomas era, but he hired a proven winner in Mike D’Antoni. He has already begun to clear cap space for when LeBron James, among others, becomes a free agent in 2010.
The trades of Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph clear nearly $28 million of cap space going into the summer of 2010, when the Knicks will be primed to start a new era with James leading the way.
Walsh would have topped my list, but still hasn’t gotten rid of Stephon Marbury, although that probably isn’t too far off from happening.
2. Shea Goodbye
I’ve been going to Shea Stadium for nearly 15 years, and at 21 years old, aside from the places I’ve called home and the classrooms I’ve been in, there isn’t a place I’ve spent more time than the former home of the Mets.
Although the season didn’t end as planned, I was able to drive home from Syracuse to attend the final three regular season games in the history of the ballpark. It was an emotional weekend, and it was great seeing the likes of Mike Piazza, Doc Gooden, and Tom Seaver one last time at Shea.
The final season at Shea also included Billy Joel as the last entertainer of the stadium, and I was lucky enough to be there when Paul McCartney came out.
All in all, some of my best memories were at Shea, and knowing I’ll never be there again to watch baseball is something that probably won’t sink in until I’m watching games at Citi Field.
1. Brett Favre
I can’t think of anything greater than one of your favorite players joining one of your favorite teams. Such was the case when, in early August, the New York Jets acquired one of the greatest to ever play the game to be their quarterback. Brett Favre was the centerpiece to an offseason makeover following a disastrous 4-12 season.
Bringing his one of a kind skills and child-like exuberance, the Jets find themselves at 8-3 and in contention for a division championship. Favre has completely changed the culture in the Jets locker room. Over the course of the season the group has come together as a unit and played the type of winning football Jets fans aren’t all accustomed used to.
Favre is easy to like and easier to root for, especially when he’s getting his team victories.
I hate the New York Yankees.
It’s no secret and anybody who knows me knows that I hate the Yankees about as much if not more than I hate anything.
However, I’ve always held a great deal of respect for the history of the franchise, and my experiences going to Yankee Stadium have always been enjoyable, usually regardless of result.
That said, despite my feelings towards the team that calls it home, Yankee Stadium has been the site of a number of my greatest sports memories, starting way back when in 1996 when I took my first ever trip to The Bronx, late in October for game 6 of the World Series.
That’s right, myself- 9 year old kid without any real emotional connection to the team I was going to see- was introduced to the hallowed grounds on 161st street and River Avenue.
There was the first time I saw Monument park a few years back, along with day-night, two stadium doubleheaders.
There was watching my favorite player take a fastball to his head, and most recently, baseball’s midsummer classic, the All Star Game.
Any sports fan, regardless of team affiliation, can appreciate the history surrounding Yankee Stadium, and the seemingly endless number of legends who have graced its batters boxes and pitching rubbers.
From Ruth, Gehrig, Dimaggio, Mantle and Berra to Munson and Jackson and Mattingly to Jeter, Rivera, Williams and Rivera, some of the games greatest have donned the pinstripes and had the honor of calling Yankee Stadium home.
Since I was 9, I’ve been going to Yankee Stadium with absolutely no regularity, however the times I’ve been lucky enough to have been there, have generally been unbelievably special.
In honor of the closing of baseball’s most prestigious stage, here are my ten most memorable trips to the house that Ruth built.
10. July 24th, 1999
Yankees beat Indians 22-1; I watch all of it from a Luxury Box
This game stands out for two reasons (which I guess I gave away in my little headline), but it was the only time I dined at the Stadium club restaurant and sat in one of it’s luxury suites. As a pure baseball fan, I absolutely detest luxury boxes. They take you away from the crowd, and while the food is great, the experience isn’t. It also isn’t often you see a team score 22 runs in a game, and on this particular July afternoon, the Yankees did just that, highlighted by Chili Davis (you’re gonna hear his name again later…if you can believe that) drove in 6, while every Yankee starter with the exception of Paul O’Neil drove in at least one run. And for what it’s worth, Ricky Ledee, who came in as a replacement for O’Neil, drove in 3.
9. September 25th, 1998
Yankees earn 112th victory of the season
On pace to setting the American League mark for wins in a season (until they were surpassed by the Seattle Mariners in 2001), the Yankees won their 112 game of the year that night, and the atmosphere was playoff like despite the Yankees being heavily favored to win their second world series in 3 seasons. Orlando Hernandez pitched, and the Yanks took care of the Tampa Bay (still at the time) DEVIL Rays.
8. June 27th, 2008
2 Games, 2 Stadiums and 9 RBI’s for Carlos Delgado
The first day of the rest of Carlos Delgado’s season would turn out to be the last regular season game I would ever see at Yankee Stadium, and what a way to go out. The Mets, mired in mediocrity and less than 2 weeks into the Jerry Manuel era, Delgado decided to extend batting practice and go off, hitting two home runs that still haven’t landed. He came into the day with 36 RBI, and left the ball park with 45. As I’ll get into greater detail discussing later on, leaving Yankee Stadium having seen the Mets win a game there always put a big, fat smile on my face. Making the day even more special was leaving the Stadium, heading for the subway, and taking two of them back to Queens, arriving in more than enough time to catch the second game of the two stadium doubleheader. A very unique experience for most, but it actually was the second time I would be completing such a feat.
7. June 25th, 2004 and June 26th, 2005
Mets fans take over in two Saturday thrashings
I listed two dates here because on virtually the same day a year apart, the Mets played the second of three games during their annual visit to Yankee Stadium, and for the first time I was able to remember, I left Yankee Stadium to the sweet sounds of “Lets go Mets”, as the visitors from Queens won 9-3 in ’04, and 10-3 in 2005. In both games, by the late innings, the stadium had mostly cleared out, with Mets fans staying behind and making themselves feel at home (myself included, both times). The chants were loud and the house that Ruth built was temporarily being overrun by Mets fans. It was a wild time, and after years of making the trip to the Bronx and either leaving with a loss or a hard earned win, it was nice walking out with a victory, being serenaded with a chant unfamiliar to the ears of fans who usually fill Yankee Stadium.
6. August 10th, 2005
Yank’s edged out by White Sox; I’m Introduced to Monument Park
The game was exciting, going 10 innings and seeing the Yankees lose a close, 2-1 game to the visiting White Sox. However, this day was defined by my first ever stroll through Monument Park. If you haven’t been there, Monument Park is located out in left field, underneath that netting that are often the recipient of home run balls. While all stadiums retire numbers and honor their history in one way or another, Yankee Stadium is extra special in this manor, having their own hall of fame which contains not only the retired numbers and plaques of legends past, but honors the Pope’s visits, Stadium voice Bob Sheppard along with a moving plaque commemorating both the victims and heroes of September 11th, 2001. Walking around and seeing the plaques of Ruth and Mantle sent chills up my spine, however it was overwhelming to see how many great players have been part of the Yankee family, and for all of the terrible things I’m quick to say about the team, their history is second to none and earns all of my respect. Visiting Monument Park is something any baseball fan needs to do, and with all of the monuments and plaques moving across the street, anybody who didn’t get the chance to see it at the old ballpark needs to make sure they make up for it by visiting them in the new stadium.
5. July 8th, 2000
Two Games, Two Stadiums, One Memorable Hit-By-Pitch
On a long day of New York baseball that started in Queens with Doc Gooden toeing the Shea Stadium mound for the first time in his second stint as a Yankee, pitching well and earning a victory in the first game of the first ever Mets-Yankees two-stadium doubleheader. I made the drive from Shea to Yankee Stadium for the second game, which was a make up for a game I was supposed to have seen a month earlier but was rained out (for anybody who can remember, that rain out was made memorable by Robin Ventura dressing up, facial hair and all, like Mike Piazza and rounding the bases in the pouring rain with the tarp on the field, emphatically sliding into home). That night, Piazza himself was on the field, although not for long. Roger Clemens was pitching, and after being worn out by Piazza in recent years, he threw a fastball at Piazza’s head, drilling him and knocking him out of the game, and eventually the All Star Game. I will never forget the sound of the ball hitting Piazza’s helmet, as I was sitting in the upper tier between home and third with a clear shot of what was happening. In addition to losing their star catcher, The Mets would go on to lose the game, with Piazza’s beaning simply adding injury to insult as the Mets were swept in the twin-bill. Not the greatest Yankee Stadium memory of mine, but one I’ll always remember, for all the wrong reasons.
4. September 10th, 1999
Pedro nearly perfect, strikes out 17 in Red Sox Victory
In what many describe as the most dominating pitching performance by any visitor in the history of Yankee Stadium, then Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez was electric. Being only 12 years old, I sat there not fully aware of how well Pedro was pitching, but inning after inning, strike out after strike out, I started to get it. With the exception of a Chili Davis (there’s that name again) solo home run in the second inning, Pedro was perfect. Literally. He faced 28 batters, allowing only the one run on the one hit, and nothing else. He threw 120 pitches, 80 of which were strikes, and fanned 17 Yankees in the process. In 1999, Pedro ended up winning the Cy Young in what many also consider to be his greatest single season, finishing 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA. In addition to winning the American League Cy Young award, he was started the All Star game in Boston that year, winning the game’s MVP award, and also finished second in the overal American League MVP voting. I was lucky enough to see his 21st victory of that magical season he had, while witnessing perhaps the greatest single pitching performance by a visiting pitcher in the history of Yankee Stadium. Not bad.
3. June 17th, 1997
The Inaugural Mets-Yankees Subway Series (Game 2)
No, I wasn’t in attendance for the first ever regular season meeting between the inner city rivals, but I was there for the second game. While the Mets won 6-0 in game one of the series, I wasn’t so lucky, watching my team fall 6-3. However, among the things from that night I’ll never forget was the crowd and the playoff atmosphere in June. At 10 years old, I probably had no business being there, but that was at the point in my childhood where I was coming into my own when it came to understanding and appreciating baseball, and I knew I was part of something pretty special. If you haven’t caught on, most of my trips to Yankee Stadium over the years coincided with the Mets being there, and that Tuesday night in June back in 1997, my first ever exposure to regular season, Mets-Yankees baseball that was anything by regular.
2. July 15th, 2008
Yankee Stadium hosts the All Star Game one final time
Talk about a once in a lifetime opportunity. Yankee Stadium, in the midst of it’s final season, was hosting baseball’s midsummer classic. Not only was this an All Star game being played in my city, but with it being the lats one ever at Yankee Stadium, I figured they were going to be pulling out all the stops. Sure enough, by the end of a very, very long night, not only had I watched the longest game in All Star Game history (the game ended at 1:40 in the morning after 15 innings of baseball, but I was able to enjoy the largest on field collection of Living Hall of Famers including Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. The game itself, while it started slow, had a thrilling conclusion, ending with a walk-off sacrifice fly off the bat of Michael Young. Extra innings saw great escapes, outstanding defensive plays and guys being thrown out at home, and I sat uncomfortably in the left field bleachers all night, enjoying every second of it. I had never sat out in the bleachers before which only added to the uniqueness of the whole experience, and between the game, the hall of fame players and the fact that it was an All Star game- and the last to ever be played at Yankee Stadium- it was a memory nearly impossible to top.
1. October 26th, 1996
A Dynasty is born; I make my first ever visit
The fact that (to the best of my memory) this was the first time I had ever stepped foot in Yankee Stadium, I couldn’t have asked for me. Game 6 of the 1996 World Series, and not only was I- a 9 year old- going to be there, I was sitting in the lower level down the third base line. A few points to make. First of all, at 9 years old, I was a Mets fan but hadn’t developed any hatred whatsoever for the Yankees, which would explain the Wade Boggs jersey and Yankees cap I showed up to the game wearing. Secondly, the fact that it was my first ever time in Yankee Stadium was secondary to the fact that when I saw Charlie Hayes snag that final foul pop off the bat of Mark Lemke (yea, I remember), I was watching the start of what would be a powerhouse Dynasty in the Bronx, and first real postseason success during their course of 12 consecutive playoff appearances. It was Joe Torre and Derek Jeter being officially welcomed as ‘true Yankees’. It was watching Wade Boggs ride around on a police horse, celebrating his first ever taste of championship glory.
In thinking back, I have no idea why I was lucky enough to experience some of these great Yankee moments, especially considering how much I despise the team.
That being said, as a baseball fan, I will always cherish the chance I had to live so close to a place so special, and witness some of the greatest moments in the history of a franchise that, like it or not, stands second to none when it comes to baseball royalty.
And so, as the gates come down for a final time tomorrow night, in a late September game that is unusually irrelevant, Yankee fans and baseball fans will say goodbye to a stadium that was anything but. And regardless of who you root for, anybody who calls them self a baseball fan- especially in New York- is going to miss baseball’s cathedral, and in that spirit, here’s a confession of mine:
I know I will.