The best gift I ever received was a soccer ball. Soccer was the first sport I actually played and loved so much. That ball was my teddy bear and it was held snug and tight in my arms. I was consumed by the game so much that I was oft reminded not to forget about my grades because they began to strangely resemble footballs.
There was this old sports almanac that I read during days when classes were suspended because of the weather. That well-thumbed book became a bible of sorts as I read and re-read what accounts I could of the New York Yankees which soon became my first favorite professional team. Going down to the Bronx many years later to regularly make a pilgrimage to baseball’s hallowed cathedral was a nice way to complete the circle.
As I grew older, I was amused no end by the howls, cheers, and jeers of a Toyota-Crispa match and a slick playing Golden State Warriors team. Years later, I would fly down to Chicago to watch the Bulls and drive up to the Meadowlands to watch the Nets just to get my hoops junkie fix.
Now grown up, I need no prodding to get into sports. I have lived and breathed it and it’s a part of my everyday life. Having lived in New York, I soaked in the Islanders and the Yankees; the Nets and the Giants. I’ve balled at West 4 and watched the cats rock the rim at Rucker. I’ve learned how to play hockey and have spent a lot of time in the penalty box (for fighting and high-sticking). I’ve paid huge sums of money to watch the visiting Arsenal and Bayern Munich football clubs. I’ve made like Roger Clemens back in the day rubbing the bronze plate of the Babe at Monument Park. I’ve been in that baseball heaven that is Cooperstown and have come full circle with the players whose lives and stats I have learned much from that well-read almanac. I’ve made Modell’s and the NBA Store on Fifth Avenue regular stops on my way home from work.
And most recently, there was this day when I couldn’t sleep a wink. Tip-off was at 12 noon and sure enough I needed the rest. Come game time, I tried to remain impassive and oblivious to the people and excitement of a basketball game. When I saw my son put on his jersey with our name neatly stenciled in the back above #12 (he’s a fan of Larry Fonacier), I was ecstatic. The final stat line was un-Fonacier-like: 0 points, 2 rebounds, 1 steal, and 2 fouls. But I was proud. Never mind that they lost. I was happy for him and his teammates because they took the defeat graciously and in stride. My other son for some reason I cannot fathom would rather mind the net than try score as many goals as his old man did. Yet I’m perfectly content to be there in the bleachers and on the sidelines cheering them on instead of trying to out-coach the coach.
On this Father’s Day, I’d like to say a heartfelt thank you to my Dad for introducing me to sports. For instilling in me the sense of fair play and giving it my all. I don’t have that soccer ball and that almanac I was given all those long years ago. But I have this, my two young sons, Matthew and Anthony, who have brought me full circle to the games I’ve always loved.