It might be about once a year that I try to dedicate this space to writing about sports. Yes, I’m a big sports fan though my loyalties to various teams playing professional ball over the years has evolved. OK, let’s say it has shifted or perhaps just changed.
As a kid in high school, I was an avid Los Angeles Dodgers fan, and when it came to football I followed and rooted for the Buffalo Bills. Thank goodness, I managed to remove those attachments and admiration from whichever part of the mind turns us into sports fans.
As the years progressed, I became a Mets fan. Maybe it was all those struggling and unsuccessful years with occasional signs of daylight and success that connected that team to those who would empathize with the fundamental human condition. Somehow, the Mets were not supposed to be winners, so when they won it became a special cause to celebrate.
On the other hand, we came of age with the idea that the Yankees were traditionally winners. So while the Yankees’ success was expected, the Mets’ occasional winning ways were always viewed as fleeting.
But then again this idea of the need to harbor disdain for the Yankees in order to be an effective and complete Mets fan is not something that I was ever comfortable with. I try to tell my kids and now my grandchildren that once the Mets have been eliminated from post-season completion, it is proper to root for the Yankees to win, as was the case up until about a week ago. After all, if you’re a real baseball fan living in New York, what are you going to do, root for the Houston Astros?
I’ve observed over the years and have discussed this theory in this space a few years ago that, by and large, as far as the Jewish community is concerned, fans of the Yankees usually stem from those who experienced the pain of World War II and the Holocaust in some fashion. And the flip side of that equation always has been, I believe, that families that arrived in the U.S. before the war have always had a proclivity to the Mets.
Once they arrived in this country, families that suffered through the war and experienced losses and traumas may have needed a distraction associated with success, and that was embodied in the Yankees. On the other hand, the downtrodden Mets were more like the story of the fledgling state of Israel, especially once they scored that surprising come-from-behind victory that led them to be dubbed the Miracle Mets in 1969, which was akin to Israel’s against-all-odds victory in the Six Day War in 1967.
Kids love sports, and it is a special thrill to be able to take your children or grandchildren to one of the local sports arenas to see these games live.To that end, courtesy of Ephraim Fischbein, I wound up with one of my grandchildren at the Nassau Coliseum to watch the New York Islanders play hockey against the Arizona Coyotes last Thursday evening. The Coliseum is a scant 12 miles from the Five Towns but it might as well be located somewhere in Middle America or the Islanders could have been playing the Coyotes in Arizona.
We had these excellent seats three rows behind the Islanders bench. The fact is, had I not been offered the tickets earlier that day and had I not known how much these kids love hockey, this is probably one of the last places I would have been found on a Thursday night.
We arrived about 15 minutes prior to the faceoff and as I looked around the stands I was wondering what in the world I was doing there. But then a few minutes prior to the game I noticed three young men wearing yarmulkes with their tzitzis outside their shirts making their way to the front row of the arena. The sight placed me slightly more at ease as I came to the realization that Yosef and I were not the only Jewish spectators in the stands.
Like I said, these were great seats if you want to be close to the ice but not really the best if you prefer a broader overview of the entire rink. For that we would have been better off about another 20 rows further up.
For my part, during the timeouts and in between periods, I had a chance to absorb the names and numbers of the Islanders players as I was right behind where they were seated. Two names jumped out at me — Cal Clutterbuck and Johnny Boychuk. That’s funny, I thought, Boychuk does look like a young boychik.
The two guys sitting right in front of us and guzzling beers nonstop were wearing Barzal jerseys—that is the Islanders’ center, Mathew Barzal. All three of these players are young — in their twenties — and all are natives of Canada where, of course, ice hockey is king.
While we were driving to the game, I assured Yosef that there had to be a kosher concession at the Nassau Coliseum but the ushers and other staff in the arena looked like they did not know what I was talking about when I asked. Because there was no kosher food, we ended up buying a small coke that they only serve from the fountain, small size: $7.
If you look around at Madison Square Garden or at Citi Field, Yankee Stadium, or even the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, there is plenty of kosher food for sale. If you spend a few extra moments around these food stands, you will also inevitably be pulled into a minyan for Minchah or Ma’ariv, depending on the time of day.
OK, enough about the food. The mystery for a New York sports fan is why our teams are so awful most of the time. The Yankees had a great season and I was sure they were going to win it all. The Mets had a brief flash of greatness but then again quickly resorted to the usual subpar and mediocre ways.
The Knicks are just awful once again with a collection of no-names constituting the team. They are five players on the court at any given time playing one-on-one basketball. The team should be better. The Nets have some promise, as do the Rangers. The Islanders right now are doing great thanks to Clutterbuck and Boychuk.
As far as our football teams are concerned, it’s curious why the Jets were in a rush to cut Lucas Falk and were so excited that Sam Darnold was ready to return to quarterback. So far it seems both are equally inept. As for the Giants, I like Daniel Jones; he seems to have what it takes but just needs a bit more experience.
Oh, by the way, after the game we stopped at Carlos and Gabby’s for the hot dog that Yosef was talking about most of the night but was not available at the Coliseum. As we waited for the frank and fries, people all around us were waiting for their late-night cholent orders — after all, it was Thursday night.
And yes, the Islanders beat the Coyotes, 4–2.