January 4, 2011
NEW YORK - Last week it was Tiger. This week it's Serena. Venus and Roger. It's always Alex. This is the place where the ball's always bouncing, along fairways, on hard courts, down the third base line.
This is place where the fans don't miss a thing, especially if Andy Roddick misses a forehand or Jerry Hairston misses a grounder.
This is the place where the headlines call teams the Bombers or the Amazin's, the Jints or Gang Green. This is the place where you can buy a fake Rolex on the street or buy the real Brooklyn Bridge in a tourist trap.
Everything goes in New York. Anything goes in New York.
The front page in the Daily News was more of a declaration: "When Khadafy comes to New York this month, we should throw him straight into prison.'' The back page head, over a picture of Hairston fumbling the grounder that ended Andy Pettitte's perfect game was ‘BAD HAIR DAY.''
Baseball matters here. Fifteen years ago, 1994, the sport had gone into suspended animation. The players called a strike in August, the owners cancelled the World Series in September. We were told symbolically, if not directly, everything we believed in was a mirage.
If they could wipe out the Series after 90-something years, then why care?
But the game survived, even flourished. We're told the McGwire-Sosa home run chase of '98 was what brought back the fans, re-established the interest, and while that's not untrue, New York also played its part.
This is where the Babe and the Iron Horse played. Where Jackie Robinson joined the majors. Where the term "Subway Series'' became part of the lexicon.
New York, with its ethnic diversity, where the kids grew up playing stickball, always was baseball country. Still is. If not at the expense of any other sport.
The Barclays golf tournament was played last weekend across New York Harbor, Liberty Island, with the State of Liberty visible from the course. The big guns -- Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington showed up -- although Heath Slocum won.
Twenty-four hours later, across the bay, a U.S. Open began. The second one in the region in two and half months. That first one was the golf Open, out on Long Island. This is the tennis Open, a rollicking two weeks of day and night competition.
Sellout after sellout, matches that begin at 11 a.m., matches, such as Andy Roddick's win over Bjorn Phau, Monday night to Tuesday morning, that end at 12:45 a.m. New Yorkers love it. If not quite as much as they love their baseball.
Roger Federer and Serena Williams, the defending champions, opened the Open on Monday afternoon, but the tabloids went with the Yankees, who were down in Baltimore.
"CLOSE BUT NO PERFECTO!'' said the Post on its back page. "Awesome Andy,'' proclaimed Newsday, alluding to Pettitte's performance. And, course, the Daily News went after Hairston, who made the error which for a time will exist in infamy.
The Yanks, the "Bronx Bombers," own this region during spring and summer. If it's not Alex Rodriguez who's being featured, it's Derek Jeter. The Mets, the Other Team, attract attention only for their foibles, and there have been plenty.
Omar Minaya is the Mets' general manager, and now he's been trashed as much for his failure to make a point clearly in interviews as for the failure of his team.
Minaya's language didn't matter when the Mets were winning, wrote Bob Raissman in the News, but now he must communicate how to correct the problems and he is incapable. A bit unfair, but this is New York where imperfection of any sort is almost sinful.
Whether you're allowing a ground ball to dribble under your glove or fumbling syntax before a microphone.
In New York, virtually or actually, there's no place to hide. From the Battery to the Bronx, the Hudson River to Queens, you're always in somebody's headlights. Or, as Roddick in the wee small hours, somebody's stadium lights.
The other night, Venus Williams was down 5-4 in the second set against Vera Dushevina after having lost the first set and was serving to stay in the match. The crowd was roaring.
"One of those great New York moments,'' said Venus, who went on to a three-set victory.
One of those New York moments of which a full explanation might be available from A-Rod or Omar Minaya, if with opposing view points.
"It must be love,'' is the promotional double-entendre slogan of the Open. Love or hate, with the attention, it must be New York, where you can hit a forehand, a home run and the jackpot at any time.