Category Archives: sports

The Horses Are on the Track

Nothing quite compares to the mediagasm surrounding Saratoga every summer — and it’s not unjustified. The racing season is the only world class sporting event we have around here and the whole culture surrounding it is a big deal.

Who could blame TV stations for committing huge resources to live broadcasts or newspapers for literally wrapping every edition in Saratoga coverage?

But over the weekend we saw something unusual: a piece from Times Union columnist Chris Churchill calling out the racing industry on animal abuse and doping. He says that all it would take is a documentary like Blackfish to blow some of the shine off of Saratoga. This was one of the few times a local media outlet has done anything less than a glowing story about the track and racing.

Nobody wants to spoil the party, do they — but If you’d like to see what damaging reporting about racing looks like, see the devastating series Breakdown in the New York Times.

Being imperfect, I still enjoy going to the track and spending money. For the record, I also continue to love the NFL, even though I know the truth about how it sometimes wrecks the players. I just can’t help it.

So, don’t expect to see a lot of negative stories about racing around here. Not as long as it’s front page news and there’s money to be made.

Hockey Puck

When I was a kid, I somehow ended up rooting for the Philadelphia Flyers. This was the height of the Broad Street Bullies era, the heady days between 1973 and 1976 when the team made it to the Stanley Cup finals three times and won twice.

I was such a big fan that I once staked out the Island Inn in Westbury to wait for the team as they departed for a game against the Islanders. In the lobby I got autographs from Bobby Clarke, Bernie Parent and The Hammer Dave Schultz, whose number I wore on the back of my Flyers jersey.

Over the years I lost interest in hockey, but now the game seems interesting to me again. A big part of it is TV; brilliant widescreen HD has made hockey a spectacle to watch at home, compared to the awful wide angles and invisible puck that used to dominate hockey coverage.

Watching the Rangers and Canadiens the other night reminded me of this wonderful short film based on made Roch Carrier’s iconic story The Hockey Sweater. If you have ten minutes, it’s really worth the time; it’s a story of boyhood, but also a thinly veiled commentary on the tension between Quebec and English Canada.

The Sweater by Sheldon Cohen, National Film Board of Canada

Mickey and Me

We were sitting in a box at Saratoga one fine August afternoon. I know that sounds fancy, but if you’ve ever sat in one those boxes you know it’s more cramped than glamorous. And if you’re like me you’d rather be at a picnic table with a cooler full of beer.

It was hard not to notice the activity behind us as a stream of people stopped to say hello to an older man in nearby box. We almost fell off our uncomfortable chairs when it dawned on us that it was Mickey Rooney.

Rooney was sitting alone with his racing form, about as far away from the finish line as you could get and still be in one of the “exclusive” boxes.

Now, working in TV I’d met tons of well-known people — the most famous of whom was Oprah Winfrey. But Mickey Rooney? He was a freakin’ legend. Regardless, we did our best to play it cool, acknowledging him without seeming like amateurs. We inquired with our waiter about sending over a drink, not knowing he’d knocked off the booze years before.

So we went back and forth with a little small talk about the races and such, without being intrusive. Today I would have invited him to sit at our box; it didn’t occur to me at the time that he actually might have joined us.

Eventually, Mr. Rooney let on that he had a well placed tip on one of the races. A tip? From Mickey Rooney? This we must bet, and not just our small time $2 wagers — no, at 10-1, this was more of a $20 or $30 to win sort of bet.

Naturally, we all lost money on that one.

Nothing was said about the sure thing that was not so sure. If only we could have had a preview of Mickey Rooney’s obituary we would have known that he’d visited many racetracks in his lifetime, and more often than not, made impressive contributions to the sport of kings.

So, here’s to Mickey Rooney. He never lost his taste for the ponies — or his ability to charm an audience.

Flashback: Lake Placid 1980

I don’t usually re-post things, but the Olympics have me feeling nostalgic. This post originally ran on March 1, 2010.

I saw a guy over the weekend with one of the blue and yellow parkas workers wore 30 years ago at the Olympics in Lake Placid. Hey, you were at the Olympics?

“Yes. They brought me in to fix the transportation mess with the buses.”

Oh, really? They brought me in to sell chili in one of the parking lots.

In 1980 I was a freshman at SUNY Plattsburgh. In February, they closed the school for two weeks and we all got jobs at the Olympics. Since I once served hot dogs for Harry M. Stevens at Roosevelt Raceway, I was hired to manage a food concession stand in a parking lot in Wilmington.

Not the best gig in the world — but along with my job came some true Olympic gold: accreditation that would get me in to every Olympic venue. When I wasn’t working, I was attending Olympic events.

After a few days it was clear that people were not interested in dining in the parking lot. We were consuming more food than we sold, so they eventually shut us down. I was never reassigned, but still got paid for the remainder of the Games — and I got to keep my accreditation. My job became wandering around Lake Placid watching the Olympics.

Security was practically non-existent – but it was impossible to get in to the U.S. hockey games without a ticket unless you really belonged there. I did manage to see the USSR play Sweden for the silver and bronze. That was great, but the best part was what followed: the  U.S. team came out and took the podium to be crowned Olympic champs. And like in Vancouver last night, the town went nuts.

Super, How About You?

Three things.

Terrible game. Even though I wanted to see the Seahawks win, what I was really rooting for was a dramatic and competitive contest. Thanks for ruining the Super Bowl, Denver!

I was called “old” for being dismissive of Bruno Mars. Yes, I’m old, Old enough to have seen his act done by other people — and done better. The only saving grace were the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who were hilarious.

The commercials? Can we finally put the hype to bed? There was some solid work, but nothing spectacular. I could show you twenty better spots that aired in the past year that were better than anything that ran on Sunday.

Having said that, here’s a great spot from Adobe that advertisers should think about:

Craptacular

I love the Super Bowl, but I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate hate Super Bowl halftime shows. There has never been one that I’ve ever wanted to watch, even if a band that I like is performing.

The halftime show is the crown jewel of the mind numbing excess that threatens to smother the game itself — and nothing would make me happier than to see it eliminated.

And it’s not just about hating the show — even though the music usually sucks.

A normal NFL halftime is twelve minutes long — but you can expect Super Bowl halftime to last upwards of 30 minutes. This is objectionable because all year long players get a short breather between halves; why change this for the most important game of the year?

OK, maybe that’s extreme. Perhaps we should allow some time to accommodate the eating and socializing folks like to do at halftime, so let’s compromise and say 20 minutes. BUT NO MUSIC! Instead, let’s have more analysis. More replays. More heartfelt features. Yes, make halftime more like pregame — which in my opinion can never be too long.

Speaking of the Super Bowl, I love those I’m Going to Disney World commercials as much as I hate halftime. Here’s the first one, with Phil Simms in 1987:

Hoop it Up

The area that I consider my neighborhood covers about 60 acres — and has 38 basketball hoops.

There are basketball hoops everywhere; some of them the portable type you can wheel around and others set in a footing of concrete next to driveways and along the road. And only very rarely have I ever seen anyone playing basketball.

So yes, I was curious enough about this to go through the neighborhood and count them. In my days as a Times Union blogger, some helpful reader would have inevitably commented, “Don’t you have anything better to do with your time, Madeo?” Well actually, no. No I don’t.

Anyway, we had basketball hoops when I was a kid, but let me tell you, there were a lot fewer — and those we did have were usually attached to the front of a garage, something you rarely see anymore. Maybe because of all the broken garage door windows?

There’s certainly no harm in every kid having his own hoop, but here’s the thing:  if there were less of them, maybe our suburban youts would play basketball together more often.

Of course, one could devise an amazing game with so many hoops. Imagine a contest where two teams go on a loop through the neighborhood and stop at each of the 38 basketball hoops. The team in possession of the ball gets to shoot until they make a basket or lose possession — and then it’s a race to the next hoop. By my reckoning, it would be a 1.75 mile course.

It would be a spectacle — but I suppose I’d be satisfied with just seeing a single ball being tossed up at any one of those 38 baskets.

They’re Off

Note: This originally appeared two years ago, but I thought you might enjoy it — and I’m too lazy to write something new.

Back in the TV days, I used to love shooting things at Saratoga. It was a great place to get man on the street sound because everyone was in a good mood and talkative. True, sometimes there might have been a little alcohol involved, but I assure you, only a little.

The best thing about this was you could get people to say pretty much whatever you wanted, which is golden. We’d go back and slam something like this together:

 

Sometimes people wouldn’t want to talk. Here’s what I heard all the time: “No cameras! My boss might see this and he’ll know I wasn’t really sick today!”

I’d try to explain that it would not actually be on TV for several days and his boss would never know when we taped it. No dice.

Other people at the track had even stronger objections to being videotaped. Years ago a big swrthy fellow approached me at the paddock rail. “Hey, see that table in the tent over there? If you point your f***ing camera at them one more time, I’m gonna come over here and break your arm.”

I looked over to were he was pointing and observed several well coiffed gentlemen wearing sunglasses and smoking cigars. I did not point my f***ing camera at them one more time.

Keeping Score

When my father took us to ball games at Shea Stadium we always had pretty good seats, but the ultimate was the time we sat on the press level.

This was before the age of luxury boxes, so the accomodations were not plush, but it certainly felt special. We rode up the elevator and stepped out into and exclusive hidden corridor where we nearly walked right into Mets announcer Lindsey Nelson. I’d have asked for an autograph, but I must have been blinded by his plaid sportcoat.

As it happens, we were not far from the broadcast booth where Nelson and Ralph Kiner sat, so for much of the game I was distracted by what was going on down there with the cameras and all. I’d recently been bitten by the TV bug, so all that was more fascinating than the action on the field.

My father? He was a big fan and religiously kept score in his program. He followed the action with great concentration, and fortunately, always found time to keep me primed with hot dogs and peanuts.

These days there are apps for those who wish to keep score and they tap it out on their phone — but some people still do it the old fashioned way, scratching away with a pencil and program. This from a recent story in the New York Times:

On July 4 at Citi Field, Kevin Hogan, 54, of Richmond, Va., said keeping score by hand “helps fuel my anal retentiveness.” But he also thought the system, venerable as it is, could be better.

“I just asked the vendor, how come there’s no eraser on the pencil?” he said.

The vendor replied, “Don’t make any mistakes.”

I tried keeping score a few times, but it always got in the way of my eating and drinking, so I never made it through an inning or two.