Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

An ode to Brooklyn on the night the Nets first played

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An ode to Brooklyn on the night the Nets first played
by rick olivares pic by nba/getty images

Certain places will always impose their own particular empire on their surroundings, sport their immemorial insignia in the middle of a park just as they would have done far from any human intervention. — Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way

With the jumpshot at the 11:41 mark of the first quarter, Deron Williams scored the first basket for the Brooklyn Nets and a huge cheer went up across the Barclays Center.

Two hours and 24 minutes later, Williams hit two free throws after a foul by the Toronto Raptors’ Alan Anderson for the marginal score of 107-100. And another huge cheer went up across the new building along Atlantic Avenue even if it was close to 10pm. But what a day. What a day.

Professional sports made a huge resounding splash back in Brooklyn with the debut of the Nets. The Brooklyn Cyclones have tried to hold the fort for sports in this second most populous borough of New York (after Manhattan) but they are a minor league squad (affiliated with the New York Mets) but it wasn’t enough to ease the pain of the departure of the Dodgers.

When the Dodgers left in 1957 for San Francisco, it was like the hearts  of Brooklynites and Dodgers fans everywhere were ripped out. Surely, Seattle Supersonics fans can empathize. The Lords of Flatbush were gone. And in their place remained memories. Fast fading ones.

While working on one of those “See New York” tours in the early years if the new millennium, we had what we called our “Sports History Tour” and that meant taking first-time Gothamites to places like the site of the old Hilltop Stadium where the Yankees first played (now Columbian-Presbyterian Hospital), Rucker Park (in Harlem), the “Canyon of Heroes” where the ticker tape parades were held for New York’s sports champion teams, and the old Ebbets Field where the Dodgers once played (now the Ebbets Field Apartments).

I drew up that tour with a Tibetan friend of mine named Sirene who was trying to earn money for his schooling at NYU (while I was trying to make a million bucks). Being a history buff made it easy that when talking about these spots to our clients, I got emotional at times. One time, this elderly tourist asked me how could a young buck like me know so much about the place. I spoke of my grandfather who passed down to me my love for sports and how through those ageing issues of Life magazine, Jackie Robinson, the Babe, Iron Horse, and Roy Campanella among many others lived. By the time I moved to the Empire State, I knew the histories of the various New York sports teams as much as my own Philippine history. “Not so bad for a Yankee fan,” he said as he patted by shoulder. He introduced himself as a former Dodger employee. I forget the name but it was a thrill.

While working in a pre-school in Brooklyn, a relative of the headmistress went in with a well-worn baseball cap that had the old English “B” stitched on it. “Dodgers,” I said by way of starting conversation. “There’s only one,” he emphatically joined. “Dem Bums.”

Generations had passed and New Yorkers generally either rooted for the Yankees or the Mets, the Rangers or the Islanders, the Giants or the Jets, the Knicks or the Nets. It seemed that save for the older ones no one really remembered or even cared that the Dodgers once played in Brooklyn.

Yet even if the Yankees owned New York, baseball isn’t the king. If there is any indigenous sound that is to New York it isn’t just the sound of a yellow cab honking its annoyance, the endless chatter of over a hundred languages spoke in the ultimate melting pot, or the subway trains whizzing on those ancient tracks that snake all over the city. It’s the sound of leather on concrete, asphalt, wood, or just about anywhere one can bounce a basketball.

Basketball is synonymous with New York. Are there any more famous arenas and playgrounds anywhere else?

I remember about a decade ago when Williamsburg began to be a fashionable place. Where the artists, indie musicians, and actors retreated to across the bridge and away from SoHo and Greenwich Village. Then the came the Atlantic Yards project by developer Bruce Ratner. That was soon followed by the construction of the Barclays Center and the courtship of the New Jersey Nets and eventually, the New York Islanders who are just about done with Long Island. It will also be a venue to concerts and other shows.
Hello to the Brooklyn Knight!

And just like that, the excitement is back in Brooklyn whose image has begun to take off.

My first time to alight off the subway in Flatbush (I was working in a pre-school along Nostrand Avenue where they shot a scene from the Sean Penn film, The Interpreter), the first thought that came to my mind was, “Somehow, Toto, it feels like we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Only it wasn’t funny. I then thought: “I’m gonna get jumped” as a lump in my throat developed. It was graffiti coated tenements, a decaying shell of what was once a car, and junkies walking in a daze. Other than getting off Nostrand Avenue, the only time I went anywhere in Brooklyn was in Coney Island.

But it’s different now. Real estate prices surrounding the area are skyrocketing. It means further development of the nearby Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, and Boerum Hill neighborhoods (I briefly worked for a real estate agency in Manhattan and I helped sell or rented out apartments in Brooklyn).

And now, like the Yankees and the Mets, the Giants and the Jets, the Rangers and the Isles, there’ll be a real rivalry now between the Knicks and the Nets. It’s not like the Dodgers will be back but who knows what history will be written by the Nets and the Islanders; perennially underachieving sports teams whose glory years like the Dodgers before are reserved for the spots in the cabinet along with old betamax tapes of Slap Shot, Julius Erving, and that picture of a smiling Jackie Robinson.

It’s time to create new memories.

Again the traffic lights that skim thy swift unfractioned idiom, immaculate sigh of stars,
beading thy path-condense eternity: 
and we have seen night lifted in thine arms. --- Harold Hart Crane, To Brooklyn Bridge


Brooklyn Net swingman Jerry Stackhouse is wearing #42. He is the first Brooklyn athlete to wear the number since Jackie Robinson did all those years ago. Of course, the Yankees' Mariano Rivera is still wearing it and the Bronx Bombers will retire it when Mo hangs up his cleats.

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