The 2019 US Open officially started Monday at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Park but in reality things got underway the previous Monday with the qualifiers tournament.
The word has clearly gotten out about what was once a big secret in the tennis community; namely that you can watch some of the best players around the world compete in very meaningful matches with no admission charge.
The United States Tennis Association did its part as well to promote this preview week by terming it US Open Fan Week. The USTA has had legends such as Kim Clijsters, Rennae Stubbs, Jim Courier and Douglaston’s own, the inimitable John McEnroe, take part in a mixed doubles exhibition at Louis Armstrong Stadium.
The USTA also published the practice court schedules for nearly all of today’s big names and encouraged fans to come and watch. It also hired WNBC sports anchor Harry Cicma to emcee afternoon player interviews on the South Plaza stage. Cicma has long been a solid and underrated sports TV voice in this town. What you may not know is that he was a terrific college tennis player at Rutgers University.
The US Open has become a big event for foodies and every concession was open. You can’t go wrong with a hamburger at Prime Burger, a sliced Angus steak sandwich from Pat LaFrieda or the sizable shrimp and lobster salad at Fish Shack by David Burke. The prices are not outrageous by New York dining standards.
The hardest-working performer during US Open Fan Week was arguably singer Leon Bridges. He performed at Wednesday’s launch event to mark the IHG hotel chain becoming the official lodging sponsor of the US Open and again Friday for fans at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center as part of a Chase promotion.
The Players Weekend uniforms unleashed a torrent of negative reactions for reasons ranging from general aesthetics to making it impossible to read the nicknames on the jerseys. The Mets, who wore all white with oversized helmets in their weekend series with the Braves, resembled cricket players. Mets reliever Seth Lugo took it all in good stride. He chose the nickname “Quarter Rican” in honor of his 25 percent Puerto Rican heritage. “My body was meant to wear all white!” he joked.
Outfielder Michael Conforto, the Mets’ union rep, noted some of the criticisms but added that many players were happy to design their own shoes and bats as well as promoting their own sobriquets. “We did have to make sure that there weren’t corporate endorsements or trademark infringements,” he said.
Former Mets outfielders Benny Agbayani and George Theodore returned to Flushing as part of the most recent Mets alumni weekend, which is being shepherded by Amazin’s alumni affairs VP Jay Horwitz.
Agbayani, who was a key part of the 2000 team that met the Yankees in the World Series, is still as muscular as ever and is coaching baseball in his native Honolulu.
Theodore was a member of the 1973 “Ya Gotta Believe” team but his season was cut short when on July 7 he collided with centerfielder Don Hahn at Shea Stadium tracking down a long fly ball hit by Braves outfielder Ralph Garr, who circled the bases for an inside-the-park home run. It was the first one I ever witnessed in person.
“I dislocated my hip in that collision and that effectively ended my playing career. I returned to Salt Lake City and became a guidance counselor in their public school system. I retired a couple of years ago,” he told me.
Another retired former Mets player, Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Glavine, was at Citi Field as well this past weekend in his current role as a member of the Braves television team.
Many Mets fans still bitterly recall how Glavine came up small when they were counting on him the most. He gave up seven runs to the Florida Marlins in the first inning of the last game of the 2007 season which eliminated the Mets from postseason contention. After the game, Glavine caught flack for saying that it wasn’t a tragedy.
In my column that week I defended Glavine by writing that he was simply pointing out that watching your favorite team lose an important game shouldn’t be confused with something as serious as a heath scare or economic disaster occurring to you or a loved one.
When I mentioned that to him last Friday Glavine smiled and replied, “That is exactly the point that I was trying to make. In retrospect I probably should not have said that quite then!”
Getting swept by the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field this past weekend certainly took some wind out of the Mets’ playoff drive sails. It also reminded me why there was skepticism about the Amazin’s even when they were reeling off one win after another a few weeks ago.
At the Television Critics Association Summer Tour, which took place in Beverly Hills earlier in the month, I asked well-known Mets fan Jimmy Kimmel if he thought our Flushing heroes were teasing us or truly capable of a miraculous playoff run.
“Being a Mets fan has ebbs and flows — mostly ebbs. I have learned that if you don’t expect anything then you won’t be disappointed,” Kimmel replied.
Former Mets SNY field reporter Kevin Burkhardt, now a key Major League Baseball and National Football League voice for Fox Sports, pointed to the team’s incredibly poor record against teams with winning records as the key reason why he wasn’t sanguine about their chances of making the playoffs.
Seeing the Mets in Philadelphia is always fun no matter what is on the line. The Mets and Phillies, who both have had countless ups and downs this year, will be meeting Friday through Sunday at Citizens Bank Park.
While in Philadelphia be sure to check out the restaurants and clubs in Center City as well as newer attractions such as the Museum of the American Revolution and the National Museum of American Jewish History, which are both located a stone’s throw from Independence Hall.