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Queens Chronicle

The US Open’s big 5-0

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Posted: Thursday, August 30, 2018 10:30 am

The world’s best tennis players gathering in Queens to compete in this country’s Grand Slam tournament makes for a magnificent sporting event. But this year, it’s extra special as the US Open is celebrating its 50th anniversary

Until 1968, the event, known then as the US National Championships, was only open to amateurs. It wasn’t until 50 years ago that the sport’s “Open Era” began — which saw professionals being allowed to participate in major tournaments — resulting in its name change.

I am not sure if it was meant to be timed with the golden anniversary of the Open, but the United States Tennis Association is debuting the new Louis Armstrong Stadium — it resembles a smaller version of Arthur Ashe Stadium and also has a retractable roof in case of rain.

In a nice touch, the USTA held its Armstrong ribbon-cutting ceremony and inaugural match during last week’s Qualifying Tournament. Michael Chang and James Blake defeated the sibling duo of Douglaston natives John and Patrick McEnroe.

As I wrote last week, the Qualifying Tournament — which is free to attend — is arguably the best sports bargain for fans around. The word apparently has gotten out, however, as the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center was almost as crowded as it is during the second week of the Open.

All those attending this year’s US Open should make it their business to catch the Ashe ’68 VR Experience at the Chase Indoor Pavilion. By putting on a virtual reality headset, you are transported to the US Open’s original Queens home, the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, where Arthur Ashe has just defeated Tom Okker to win the first US Open in 1968.

Director Rex Miller has carefully blended original footage of Ashe being interviewed by the likes of Howard Cosell and Heywood Hale Broun as well as commentary by the CBS Sports broadcasters with re-enactments that were staged recently at the West Side Tennis Club. Rising American tennis player Chris Eubanks portrays the then-25-year-old Ashe.

While at the exhibit, be sure to pay attention to the blown-up black and white photos on the walls. My favorite is that of Ashe talking to a teen attendant in the cramped West Side Tennis Club locker room who is wearing a Forest Hills High School gym shirt.

The Open has also become a favorite spot for foodies and the prices are reasonable. Try the margherita pizza at Neapolitan Express; the fish and chips at Fish Shack by David Burke; and my favorite, the Black Angus steak sandwich at Pat LaFrieda Meat Co.

The jury is very much out as to whether Dominic Smith will be the first baseman of the future for the Mets, but you have to give him credit for not getting down. Last week, Smith had to play left field because manager Mickey Callaway had run out of position players in an extra inning game.

He wound up colliding with shortstop Amed Rosario, who had called him off on a pop-up in the 13th inning. As a result, the Giants scored the winning run in a 2-1 heartbreaker for the Mets.

To his immense credit, Smith showed no signs of being the slightest bit down the following day. In fact, he was very approachable in the clubhouse and was smiling while conversing with sportswriters. The next day, Smith blasted a mammoth home run.

I am not sure about cause and effect, but the Mets bullpen pitched a lot better after the team traded closer Jeurys Familia to the team with the best baseball story of the year, the Oakland Athletics.

Callaway cites the availability of technological databases for the increase in defensive shifts against hitters.

“We divide the field into 20 sectors for hitters. It’s funny how the majority of batted balls go into just three of them,” he said during one of his pregame press conferences.

When I was growing up the only time I heard about teams employing a shift was when lefty Giants slugger Willie McCovey was in the batter’s box.

Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association teamed up this past weekend to allow players to wear uniforms that bear nicknames that they chose. Mets reliever Jerry Blevins’ jersey read “Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!”

Yes, it was a homage to longtime lowbrow talk show host and Forest Hills High School alum Jerry Springer. Blevins told me that he chose it because the Mets’ training staff always uses the line that Springer’s audience loves to scream in order to get his attention.

San Francisco Giants pitcher Dereck Rodriguez did something few players have done at Citi Field before Thursday’s matinee with the Mets.

In a very classy move, Rodriguez stepped off the field and into the alcove area behind the net down the left field line, where he made sure that every fan either got an autograph or was able to take a picture with him.

Dereck is the son of Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez.

You have to wonder if the Yankees caught the baseball injury bug from their counterparts in Queens. Slugging outfielder Aaron Judge broke his wrist after Royals pitcher Jakob Junis plunked him with a fastball. A few weeks later shortstop Didi Gregorius joined him on the disabled list after colliding with Kendrys Morales of the Toronto Blue Jays on a close play at first base.

WWE personalities Jeff Hardy, Mickie James and Curt Hawkins made a promotional appearance at Citi Field to catch batting practice and a Mets game during the last homestand.

Hardy told me that he was a shortstop on his high school baseball team back in North Carolina. He was surprised to learn that one of his wrestling heroes, the late Randy Savage, was a minor league shortstop in the Cardinals system and a onetime teammate of Keith Hernandez.

Two days earlier, WWE superstar Mike “The Miz” Mizanin was a speaker at the New York Jets Game Day Upfront in which the team announced its new partnerships — including ones with the WWE and Def Jam Recordings — as well as new concession food options for fans. They include Fat Rooster fried chicken, Korean barbecue items, more kosher food stands and healthier fare such as salads and freshly squeezed green juices.

The Jets are also trying to give some wallet relief to their fans with $3 soft drinks and popcorn as well as $5 beer and a $7 value hot dog meal.

The Miz also used the opportunity to remind the media that Wrestlemania XXXV will be taking place April 7, 2019 at MetLife Stadium.

Soccer fans will pack MetLife Stadium on Tuesday, Sept. 11, when two fierce South American rival national teams, Colombia and Argentina will meet.

Andre Ward has retired from boxing with a 32-0 record. He was at Citi Field two weeks ago to promote the revival of “The Contender,” the Mark Burnett-produced reality series about boxers who live together while they are competing against each other. A loss means elimination. Ward takes over the hosting duties from Sugar Ray Leonard while the show has shifted from NBC to premium cable network Epix which airs new episodes Fridays at 10 p.m.

Whitestone native Mike Tirico has replaced Dan Patrick on the studio team for NBC Sunday Night Football, while former Giants receiver Victor Cruz is now an NFL analyst for ESPN.

Life and style

File this one under the wonders of technology. 7-Eleven has just created a mobile phone app, 7NOW, that allows you to purchase items at the store and have them quickly delivered to your door. Yes, you no longer have to leave the house for a Slurpee fix.

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