Let’s Go Mets! - An All-Star Hospital Visit
Dec 02, 2018Posted by james

Michael Conforto, the young Mets all-star outfielder, always prefers to lead by example. He does this on and off the field.

Michael completed the first from the time he started to play baseball. His leadership has continued during his first several years in the major leagues. Now, he is expanding the second by extending his relationship with the Mets community.

This past season, Michael visited The Cancer Center for Kids at NYU Winthrop Hospital and its Children’s Medical Center in Mineola. “Conforto Cares” is Michael’s program that raises awareness about pediatric cancer and the challenges faced by its young patients.

For a while, “Conforto Cares” regularly had hosted young patients and their families at the Mets Citi Field home. Michael, however, decided that he also wanted to visit the youngsters at their temporary home where they receive their daily treatments. This past summer, during the first of many visits, Michael distributed Mets t-shirts to the patients and family members. He also provided pop-up replicas of the Mets home-run apple. Autographs and photos, of course, were a popular feature with the kids.

Back at the ballpark, whenever the children and their families visit, Michael and the Mets string together a series of hits for a memorable day. Their guests receive a tour of the stadium and the Mets clubhouse. They learn about scoreboard operations, and this includes seeing the magic button that raises the authentic home-run apple in centerfield. The children also practice their swings in the batting practice cages. Then, it is time for lunch with Michael.

Michael’s goal is to help these children forget about the rigors of their treatments and just enjoy themselves as kids. “Conforto Cares” is a grand slam!

A Family Dedicated To Badminton
Nov 15, 2018Posted by james

Many children enjoy the same sports and other activities as their parents. A few even become as successful at it as a mom or dad.

Ethan Wu is a senior at Great Neck South High School. He excels at first singles badminton. His dad, Chibing, also was a champion player.

Chibing won the bronze medal in mixed doubles as a member of the Chinese national team during the 1989 World Badminton championships. He then coached the Spanish national team at the 1992 Olympics before moving to New York. He founded the New York City Badminton Club.

His son is just over six feet, which gives Ethan an advantage on the court. While some players may take two or three lunge steps before a hit, Ethan needs only one. But, his game is more than genetics.

Many players at this age do not put in the “thinking” about their game. They give in to the excitement of the competition and the adrenaline rush after a good shot. Many of them just want to smash the birdie each time.

Ethan is different. He remains calm. He uses his head and does not rush his game. As a freshman, he won the individual Nassau County title at second singles. Since then, he has placed second twice to the overall county champion.

There is more to the story. Another Wu, Ryan, also plays badminton. He is a couple of years behind his brother, playing second singles at the same school. Could he be better than Ethan? Time will tell. No doubt both boys bring joy to Chibing.

Keeping An Eye On What Is Important
Nov 01, 2018Posted by james

Cazenovia High School sophomore Jake Tobin was in the lead at the boys’ junior varsity cross-country race during the Auburn Invitational in upstate New York. He had about 200 meters to cover when another runner passed him.

Luke Fortner, a Fairport High School senior, is legally blind. He passed Jake as they were running up the final steep hill. The crowd was cheering for Luke when he slipped in the mud and fell.

Without hesitation, Jake, who also had been supportive of Luke’s competitive spirit, helped lift his fellow runner with the assistance of Luke’s aide. The three then crossed the finish line.

“Jake got down and lifted him up with his guide, and then helped push him up the hill,” Cazenovia cross-country coach Jason Hyatt told the local newspaper. “It was touching to see, and it will be a memory I’ll carry with me for a long time. A great example of true sportsmanship.”

Luke’s coach applauded Jake in an email to Cazenovia High School. “It was an awesome display of sportsmanship and kindness,” he wrote. “Jake deserves to be commended!!!!”

Other coaches and parents recounted that Jake spontaneously aided Luke and helped push him up the hill. “It was one of those moments that kind of makes your day,” said one parent. “Jake is a really good kid, and I’m not surprised he did it.”

Another email was sent to Cazenovia:

“Wanted to write your school to tell you how impressed I was by your XC team member today at the Auburn Invitational. He was running towards the finish when a Fairport team member passed him. The crowd was cheering for the Fairport team member due to his vision impairment. Your XC team member did not only cheer and clap for him as the student tried to run up the hill in front of him, but stopped and helped him to his feet when he slipped…wanted to commend him and his great sportsmanship he showed to his fellow competitor.”

Soon after, the story went viral and it ran around the world. Well done, Jake!

From Hoops To Hops—An Easy Layup For Maggie
Oct 15, 2018Posted by james

Maggie Timoney was a star basketball player at Iona College. A four-year standout for the Lady Gaels and a member of Iona’s Goal Club Hall of Fame, Maggie still ranks as the team’s all-time leading scorer with 1,894 career points.

As a freshman, Maggie was the 1986 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year. She then led the team in scoring in each of her next three years, averaging a program-best 16.6 points per game throughout her career. As a sophomore, she was named to the All-MAAC First Team after averaging 19.9 points a game. She also earned a spot on the conference’s Second Team during her junior year and ranks among the top five all-time in the Iona record book in half a dozen offensive categories, including ranking first in three-point field goal percentage and successful free throws.

After earning her undergraduate degree and then a master’s in business administration at Iona, Maggie entered the business world. She held sales positions, then strategic planning jobs and also distribution assignments for Heineken Ireland. She continuously moved higher within the company and, eventually, she was named CEO. She also has served as the managing director of Heineken Canada.

Maggie returned home last month when she was named CEO of Heineken USA in White Plains. She is the first woman CEO of a major U.S. beer company. According to the company’s president for its Americas region, Maggie understands the challenges and opportunities and she has the right mix of strategic vision, people leadership and grit to ignite future growth in the U.S. market.

Bet you a beer that all her skills can be traced to her basketball (and classroom) days at Iona.

An Autograph And A Cherished Memory
Oct 01, 2018Posted by james

The boy was 12 years old when his father took him to Columbia, South Carolina, to watch an exhibition game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds. The father was a Cardinals fan, because throughout the south during the 1940s the games were heard loud and clear on KMOX out of St. Louis.

The son was excited to see “Stan the Man” Musial. After the game, as Stan was boarding the team bus, the boy asked and received the outfielder’s signature, the only autograph he ever had requested from a baseball player.

The talented young infielder eventually played professionally with his favorite team (the Yankees, not the Cardinals). For a few years, he was the teammate of another Cardinals star, Enos “Country” Slaughter, when the outfielder was traded to New York.

When Enos died 16 years ago, the Slaughter family asked his former Yankees teammate to participate in the memorial service. Stan was there, too. They had become acquainted over the years from their participation in Old Timers’ Games. Following the service, the younger “old timer” mentioned the chance meeting so many years earlier in Columbia. He added that the brief moment and the autograph meant a lot to a youngster yearning to play in the big leagues. Stan was surprised to hear the story, adding that he sure was glad that he had not disappointed his now fellow “old timer.”

When the boy had become a major leaguer, he regularly recalled that special day in Columbia. He signed as many autographs as possible. To this day, his autographs showcase his best penmanship, allowing for his name to be completely readable unlike contemporary players who mostly, he said, write a letter or two followed by a squiggle. He understands that a simple signature and a brief moment with a professional athlete is a fantastic memory, especially for a young boy with major league dreams.

If you were a Yankees fan during the 1950s and 1960s, you will recognize the name of the all-star infielder. He left the game too early but did so to return to South Carolina to raise his family. That young boy, that Yankees infielder, that family man and now “old timer” is Bobby Richardson.

Life-Long Friends Work Hard For State Title
Sep 15, 2018Posted by james

Declan McDermott and Brian Reda grew up one block from each other. They were restless kids forever chasing a bouncing ball and playing all kinds of sports. Since kindergarten, they always have been on the same teams. Each knows the other’s game. They seem to have that inner connection found in twins.

Declan and Brian made Pleasantville High School in Westchester County a perennial winner in boys’ lacrosse with four consecutive Section 1 titles and then a state championship. According to their coach, the boys were serious about winning since they stepped on the field as freshmen. Their drive and motivation were endless. They were focused first on a sectional title and then their single-minded determination carried their teammates and the program to a new level.

This past season, Pleasantville was 21-1. Winning the championship was a great way to end their high school days. Both boys were named U.S. Lacrosse High School All-Americans each of the last two seasons. They also are local all-stars and co-players of the year.

Brian was the leading scorer in the Lower Hudson Valley this season, finishing with 81 goals and 41 assists. He is the program’s all-time leading scorer with 278 goals and 120 assists. A left-handed attackman with a quick release, he’s headed to Fairfield University.

Declan is an energetic midfielder who had an impact on both ends of the field. Heading to Georgetown University, he finished the season with 55 goals and 47 assists, and he is the second-leading scorer in the school’s history with 177 goals and 116 assists.

During the first few years, both players looked toward older classmates for guidance on and off the field. This past season, the younger players looked up to them. The influence that this duo had on the next generation of Pleasantville lacrosse players likely will be revealed on the field during the next handful of seasons.

Slugger Finds His Fields Of Dreams
Sep 02, 2018Posted by james

Carlos Cruz was the leading slugger on his Queens College baseball team. He then played professional ball in England. Though he never made the leap to the major leagues, Carlos found a way to remain involved in the game.

When Carlos was at college, he sold one of his gloves to a teammate for $100. With that money, he purchased additional gloves. He customized the gloves by adding extra padding and other features, and then he sold these gloves to friends. Carlos landed a human resources position at a large Long Island company when he returned from England. At the same time, he built his small baseball glove business through word of mouth. He created his own brand and sold uniforms along with the gloves. Soon after, he added wooden bats.

Carlos is from Panama City. When he arrived in Queens at 13, he was a good player and starred as a catcher for Newtown High School in Elmhurst. Now, he is starring in his business that is located in a Bronx industrial building.

From the start, Carlos understood that he could not compete with the marketing and production of larger companies. His plan was to make inroads locally through solid customer service. To accomplish this, he has relied on family. His sister helps with the bats. His wife designs uniforms. His nephews help with deliveries.

The seed for this success and for family support was planted years ago. Carlos’ mother struggled financially but she found $39.99 to purchase a glove for him at a Caldor store so he could play the game he loved. Back then as a player and now as a business owner, Carlos found his two fields of dreams.

With Vision, Football Is Just His Latest Triumph
Aug 17, 2018Posted by james

Jake Olson was born with retinoblastoma, a rare form of cancer of the retina. It destroyed his sight. It took his left eye at 10 months. At age 12, he lost sight in his right eye.

While he slowly lost his sight, Jake realized that his battle actually had “vision.” Jake had a choice. The cancer could have changed him, or he could attack life and live it on his terms. He chose the latter.

Jake became a scratch golfer. He traveled the country as a motivational speaker, delivering his first speech to Wells Fargo employees when he was 12 years old. Jake then opened a business with his college roommate, receiving special NCAA dispensation that allowed him to make money as a motivational speaker and also play college football.

Yes! That’s right! Jake played college football.

At an early age, Jack learned to confront adversity and fight. He always explains that a person must seize control and not allow life to dictate the terms. It becomes second nature. The bonus clause is that this outlook is therapeutic for Jack and for those who are close to him and the many others who hear his story.

So, do you really think snapping a football during a college game was difficult for Jake?

He began long-snapping while playing high school football in Los Angeles. His accomplishment at USC last season, when he became the first blind long snapper in college football history, captured the world through social media.

According to close acquaintances, Jake “sees” things differently than most people. For him, there is “vision” in blindness.

Jim


A Basketball Star’s Message Of Self-Assertiveness
Aug 02, 2018Posted by james

My longtime friend and teammate Vinny Sombratto and I were watching the Nassau County high school lacrosse championships a few months ago. We talked a lot about the games, the players and the overall competition of Long Island high school lacrosse. Then, out of the blue, we started talking about professional basketball.

Well, I guess that was on me! I had wondered out loud who would be considered among the top five and then the top 10 professional basketball players of all time. Vinny and I bounced around names such as Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, John Havlicek and Jerry West. Not one New York Knick was mentioned.

Soon after, a Knick player did come to mind. It wasn’t for his game, which was very good, but for what he has done since the end of his professional career. Dick Barnett won two championships with the Knicks and his number 12 jersey can be found in the Madison Square Garden rafters. He’s 81 now and he has dedicated his life to speaking with children about the importance of education and, in his words, “the limitless dimensions of human possibilities.”

After basketball, Dick earned his doctorate, opening doors that otherwise may not have opened for him. He had to adapt to new situations. A person, according to Dick, must be able to get along with people by making the adjustments necessary to function in a multicultural society.

Dick understood that there is much more to life than sports and that a sports career can and will end quickly at any level. With the arena in his rear view mirror, Dick understood that the sports sheath of protection eventually would unravel and that adjustments were necessary to face new challenges. It was time to join the rest of America and become as vulnerable to life’s daily give and take as the rest of the population.

Dick’s communication with children is not a clinic. He defines the interaction as a humanitarian effort to talk with young people about some of the issues that affect everyone. They talk about their dreams, education, economic circumstances and living a better life. Dick often refers to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when he tells the children that to live a dream a person must reach down into the inner chambers of the soul to find the ink and pen of self-assertiveness.

While Dick Barnett may not be mentioned in a conversation about professional basketball’s elite players, his message to our children about self-assertiveness ranks number one!

Sports Opened His Door To The World Of Art
Jul 15, 2018Posted by james

Mort Kunstler lives on Long Island’s north shore. He’s made his professional mark in life as an artist of American history.

Mort began drawing before the age of three. He has sketched cowboys and other characters of the Wild West. He then painted book jackets and cover art for men’s adventure magazines before moving into an advertising career to create movie posters that included The Hindenburg, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 and The Poseidon Adventure. Mort also painted historical scenes for National Geographic and other magazines before he emerged as one of the most prominent painters of American history.

A few years ago, Mort decided to retire. He was 89 at that time. But, one more project required his touch. It was a Civil War scene. The image combined the war with sports, specifically baseball, which has been a significant part of Mort’s life since childhood.

Mort grew up in Brooklyn and his uncle often brought him to Ebbets Field. He painted images of the players from the 1940-1942 teams, and the players signed his creations. At about this same time, sports began to open the doors of opportunity for this artist.

Mort first attended Brooklyn College, playing football in the fall, basketball in the winter and running track in the spring. He also was a regional star in the hurdles and javelin while also a diver on the swim team. He was the first four-letter man in the school’s history. Mort then attended UCLA on a basketball scholarship but he returned to New York before graduation after his father became ill. When he could not enter Pratt Institute due to poor high school grades, Mort’s Brooklyn College basketball coach spoke with the Pratt coach. Mort was admitted to study art.

While Mort played many different sports, he always truly loved baseball. He always wished that he had played it more often than just in pickup games during his younger days in Brooklyn. He did find a way, though, to memorialize his affection for the game in his final work of art.

Mort completed The National Game: White House, November 1862 more than a year ago. He initially thought that the setting for the Civil War-era baseball game should be a Union prison camp with Confederate prisoners playing against their Yankee guards. But, as he began the extensive research that he has incorporated into each of his historical paintings, Mort discovered a book that described soldiers who were bivouacked in Washington and played the game on the White House lawn. In his painting, with the White House in the distance, Mort features pretty women in beautiful gowns and kids who are enjoying the game. The scene suggests a life of normalcy during a hectic and cruel time in our country’s history.

No doubt that Mort probably placed himself within the historical context of the painting. Maybe he is one of the players, or maybe he is the young boy enjoying the game he has always loved.