Posts Tagged ‘Jeter’

Memorable Moments in Sports, for Me

Monday, February 9th, 2015

By Bob Gaydos

Frank Shorter, left, and Bill Rodgers, racing to the finish line in the first Orange Classic.

Frank Shorter, left, and Bill Rodgers, racing to the finish line.

The Super Bowl has been lost, baseball has yet to begin. The basketball and hockey professionals are passing the time until June, when their championships will be decided. lt has snowed three Mondays in a row. It must be February, the time of year when a lot of sports fans turn their attention to another favorite pastime — talking about sports.

Forget the dropped passes and ground balls that rolled through an infielder’s legs; this is the time of year I like to remember the good stuff, the memorable stuff, the stuff that makes someone a sports fan in the first place.

I found myself wandering into such a conversation the other day. What was the best single athletic feat ever? The greatest athletic accomplishment? Too arbitrary and prone to record-book chasing, I decided. For my February reminiscence, I’m going with the moments in sports that left an indelible mark on me — the tImes when I experienced something in person or on TV and went, “Wow!,” if just to myself.

The hope here is that you readers will share your own special moments in sports so that we can have an old-fashioned Hot Stove League discussion. Mantle-Mays-Snider? Montana-Unitas-Brady? The “Immaculate Reception?” Willis Reed’s entrance? What special moments in sports are still with you?

  • I’m starting my list of most memorable moments with an effort I have often called the best single performance by any athlete — Secretariat’s 31-length victory in the Belmont Stakes in 1973. In winning the Triple Crown and dominating the best of the rest of the three-year-olds, he set a world record time for the 1 1/2 miles distance – 2 minutes 24 seconds. Awesome. Check it out on YouTube.
  • Also in the category of “can you believe it?” was a more recent display of excellence in the moment — Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit on July 9, 2011. With all the baseball world waiting for the hit that would guarantee the Yankee captain a plaque in Cooperstown, Jeter just wanted it to not be an infield grounder that he beat out. No worry. He laced a home run into the left field seats at Yankee Stadium, trotted around the bases with a big smile on his face and proceeded to go five-for-five, including hitting the game-winning single in the eighth inning. Then there were the dives and the flips, the final hit, etc. A memorable career in toto.
  • Willie Mays, another New Yorker, of earlier vintage, was also a player who rose to the moment. I have plenty of special memories of Willie, including a day at the Polo Grounds in the 1950s when the Giants’ center fielder hit three triples in a double-header (they used to play them for the price of one game). I can’t find anything on Google to confirm this, but that’s how I remember it and I’m sticking to my memory.
  • Since this is just my personal recounting of memorable sports moments, I have never seen anyone better than Mickey Mantle at dragging a bunt past the pitcher and getting to first base before the second baseman got to the ball. Every single time.
  • When it comes to pure excellence, for me the performance by 14-year-old Nadia Comaneci at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal is in a class of its own. The tiny Romanian gymnast scored the first perfect 10 for a gymnastic event at the Olympics and added four more perfect scores that year while winning three gold medals and dazzling the world TV audience. Since the scoreboard makers didn’t think a 10 was possible, they only allowed for a 9.9. Four years later, there were updated scoreboards in Moscow.
  • The fastest I ever ran was in 1956, sprinting home six blocks from Bayonne High School, where we had been listening to the game on transistor radios, to see the final outs of the Yankees’ Don Larsen’s perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series. On our black and white TV. It’s the highest Yogi ever leapt, too, I think.
  • In 1981, the Times Herald-Record newspaper sponsored the first Orange Classic, a 10K race around the City of Middletown. It invited local hero Frank Shorter, 1972 Olympic gold medal winner and 1976 silver medal winner, and his chief rival, Bill Rodgers, Boston and New York CIty marathon champion, to headline the event. They did not fail to deliver. The two turned the corner on the final stretch of the race well ahead of the field, running neck and neck for more than a quarter mile as the crowd cheered. Shorter edged Rodgers out at the end. It was as perfect a finish as the crowd could hope for and, no, I’ve never thought Rodgers held back because it was Shorter’s hometown. A truly classic moment.
  • The Miracle on Ice. I admit it. I was swept up with the rest of the crowd chanting, “USA! USA!” when a team of American college all-stars defeated a team of Russian professionals, 4-3, in ice hockey at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. Winning the gold medal that year was almost an after-thought for the American team following that emotional upset. An unforgettable moment.
  • Finally, a purely personal moment that came far from any athletic venue. In 1973, while covering a sports-related conference in Binghamton, N.Y., I shook hands with Jackie Robinson and told him what a pleasure it was to meet him. It was more than that. It was memorable.

***

That’s it. Just a few moments that have nourished my love of sports over the years. I’d really like to hear some of yours. C’mon, folks, it’s February. The Knicks are dismal, it’s snowing and the Stanley Cup final is months away. Reminisce with me.

 rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

Mariano Rivera Saves the Night (for Me)

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

By Bob Gaydos

Mariano Rivera waves to crowd at All-Star Game.

Mariano Rivera waves to crowd at All-Star Game.

I started the practice, which soon became a habit, in my early teens. When I picked up the morning paper (my mother religiously bought four or five papers daily) I always turned to the back page first, the sports page of one of New York city’s two tabloids, the Daily News and the Mirror.

At first, this was because that’s where my interests were. As I grew older, it was because I found it to be a gentler way, if you will, to enter into the daily fray. It was sports, after all, fun and games. Nothing life and death or depressing there. For some time, I felt guilty about this habit, feeling I should be paying attention to the front of the paper and all the “important” news. The bad news. The annoying news. The depressing news. The infuriating news. But then I found out that other seemingly bright, responsible people started their daily newspaper the same way — on the sports page. So I stopped beating myself up over it.

There’s no back page where I get much of my news today, on the Internet, but Tuesday night I found myself turning figuratively to the back page of Facebook. The social media site’s front pages, if you will, screamed with anger, hatred, bigotry and ignorance prompted by the not guilty verdict on George Zimmerman. Then there was Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, people shooting people everywhere, bees still in a death spiral, people being denied food stamps while millionaire farmers got subsidies, American citizens being spied on by their government, which is owned by a small group of very rich people, children and animals being abused, politicians arguing about abortion and sex instead of creating jobs, Brits still wondering how horse meat got in their hamburgers, chemical companies controlling our food supply, and the Republican Party solidifying its identity as the racist reaction to the nation’s first black president.

In exhaustion, I turned to sports, to baseball’s All Star Game. To Mariano Rivera, an oasis of inspiration, reassurance and dignity in a world gone seemingly mad for the moment.

Dignity is not a word often used in connection with sports figures these days, what with steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs eroding trust in the athletes and alcohol and drug-connected behavior making respect difficult to bestow.

But Rivera, “Mo” to legions of spoiled Yankee fans, has always been the model of dignified behavior. No hint of cheating. No scandal. No bad-mouthing opponents. Just consistent excellence and humility.

That he also turned out to be the best ever at what he does on a baseball field, makes him all the more special. If you’re a front-of-the-paper reader, Rivera is a “closer,” the pitcher brought in at the end of a game your team is winning, to shut down the other team, lest it have any ideas about rallying to win. Over the years, the mere sound of Metallica‘s “Enter Sandman” playing on the Yankee Stadium public address system and the sight of Rivera jogging in from the bullpen, became enough to silence opponents’ bats before he threw a pitch. No one has saved more games than the slender Panamanian and Tuesday night he appeared in Major League Baseball’s All Star Game for the last time.

This is Rivera’s farewell tour year. He is retiring at age 43 with more saves than anyone else. He has been given warm welcomes, been treated with admiration and respect, in every visiting team’s ballpark on the Yankees’ last visit. He has also asked to have an informal meeting with employees of each team on his last visit — to thank them for what they do. Ushers, security guards, grounds crew members, cleaning crew members, office workers have had a chance to chat with the Yankees’ new goodwill ambassador.  At the All Star game being played in the new stadium of the New York Mets, the Yankees’ crosstown rival, Rivera received a standing ovation from every fan and all-star in attendance. It lasted 90 seconds and the rest of his team did not take the field in the eighth inning until the ovation was over, leaving him alone on the pitcher’s mound to soak up the love. Then he retired the three batters he faced and his work was done.

The official “save” would go to Joe Nathan, who pitched the ninth inning, but Mo saved the night for me on Facebook. It’s not that I ignore the other stuff, the issues and causes and injustices of the world. In fact, it’s what I usually write about. I have had a career, in fact, writing about man’s incredible capacity for stupidity and cruelty. But I have always appreciated a standing ovation for a Pavarotti, a Perlman, a Fonteyn, a Streep. The best of the best.

Sports figures used to be looked upon as role models, people you could point out to your children and say, “That’s the way to behave.’’ Those role models are hard to come by today. Ironically, Rivera has had a teammate throughout his career who also fills the bill, Derek Jeter. They have spoiled Yankee fans for a long time and when they finally go, both will be missed.

But Tuesday was Rivera’s night, in Queens and on Facebook, and for that, I am grateful. I will return soon enough to writing about greed, arrogance, ignorance and bigotry and the need to fight against all of it, but for one night it was a relief to witness excellence, elegance, admiration, dignity and mutual respect. Thanks for the save, Mo.

bob@zestoforange.com

 

Captain Karma Does it Again

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

By Bob Gaydos

If Derek Jeter had been the leader of a powerful Greek army in the fifth century BC, there would be no Greek tragedies.

Derek Jeter

Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides would have been out of luck, out of work, or trying to make ends meet by writing lyric poetry. And we know how well that gig still pays today.

If there had been Jeter Rex rather than Oedipus Rex, there would have been no patricide, no gouging of eyes. And who needs to marry his mother when he dates the likes of Tyra Banks, Vida Guerra, Miss Universe Lara Dutta, Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Victoria Secret’s Adriana Lima, Mariah Carey, TV personality Vanessa Minnillo and current flame, Minka Kelly, the cheerleader in TV’s Friday Night Lights and Esquire Magazine‘s “Sexiest Woman of the Year” in 2010?

You catch my drift.

Perfection really is its own reward.

If Jeter’s athletic skills had translated to football rather than baseball, the best college football player every year would be awarded the Jeter Trophy, not the Heisman. If he played basketball, we’d talk about Michael, Kobe, Wilt, Oscar and Derek. (Lebron still has some explaining to do.)

It could be no other way. That much is clear, finally and irrevocably. Derek Jeter, the Golden Boy of the New York Yankees, captain of the team, five time world champion, all-star, role model, Mr. November, Captain Clutch, and future Hall of Famer just told Messrs. Ruth and Gehrig to scrunch over a bit in Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park so they can make room for Number 2 when he retires, which may not be as soon as some mere mortals believed.

Sorry Babe, Lou. You, too, Joe and Mickey. The kid’s got more hits than any one of you. More than 3,000 now and you all know how hard that is to do. None of you did it. Oh yeah, Babe, you’ll like this. His 3,000th hit was a home run and not a cheapie either. He’s got that flair for the dramatic you used to have, without all that bravado. Yeah, he’s humble, too, which isn’t easy when you go five for five on the day you hit 3,000 and drive in the winning run to boot.

Even the other team applauded him.

Leo …? Hey, Durocher, you listening out there? You know that whole “nice guys finish last” theory you lived your life by? Jeter never heard of it. He is nice to what some people regard as a boring fault, which says more about them than him. And not just nice. He’s also respectful, hard-working, considerate, smart, diligent, reliable, consistent, classy and handsome. If he wasn’t so identified with the New York Yankees, he could pass for Minneapolis.

If he were a chef, his steaks would be succulent, his veggie omelet perfectly fluffy. If it wasn’t, he’d do it until he got it right. No charge for the misses.

There is a theory on how to live one’s life to the fullest. It used to be called the Golden Rule — do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Today, some people talk about doing the next right thing, or passing it forward and reaping the rewards. Indian religions — Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh — call it karma. Simply put, in a world in which every single thing is connected, every individual act, every deed, has a corresponding reciprocal effect. Do good things and good things will happen to you. Do bad things, etc.

Derek Jeter is Captain Karma. The exception that proves the rule. Most of us are too “sophisticated” (and self-centered) to embrace such a simple philosophy of life. Most of the time we give it lip service at best. Not Jeter. Play back any interview he ever gave after some outstanding play. “The important thing is we won.” “I just try to do the best I can for the team.” “Individual honors are nice, but the main thing is to work together, pick each other up.” “I just try to stay focused and put the bat on the ball.”

Over and over. The guy never misses a beat. It can’t be an act. Even the great Olivier strayed from the script sometimes.

Jeter has more money than Croesus and more Little Leaguers mimic him — getting set in the batter’s box or trying to master his jump throw from deep in the shortstop hole — than any other player of his time. No contest. His memorabilia is the biggest seller in sporting goods stores. People even name their kids after him — Jeter, not Derek.

And yet, as with all the tragic Greek heroes, there is a chorus sitting at the edge of the stage, just out of his spotlight, waiting for some slight slip, some chink in the Jeter armor. After all, didn’t Achilles have his? With Jeter, they say it is his age. (Makes sense to look there because if he had any flaws in his behavior, some scandal mag or blog would have found it by now, given the high-profile dating life he’s led.) They — the skeptics — say he will exhibit hubris when it comes time for him to let younger players assume his key role, in the lineup or in the field. No way Captain Karma, now 37, can keep it up, say the doubters. He is not perfect.

Maybe not. But did you catch what happened with that home run ball he slugged for hit number 3,000 — a ball immediately valued at six figures on the open market? A modest, young man from Highland Mills, N.Y., a lifetime Jeter fan, retrieved the ball and said he didn’t want any money for it. He just wanted to personally give Jeter the ball because “he earned it.”

Sounds an awful lot like good karma to me.

(With a bow to Jim Murray, simply the best.)

Bob@zestoforange.com