Category Archives: Live Mike

MikeSmith

Column: There’s only one October

Next week, Major League Baseball begins its second season. Sports Editor Mike Smith can’t wait for some playoff action. Photo courtesy MLB.com

Next week, Major League Baseball begins its second season. Sports Editor Mike Smith can’t wait for some playoff action. Photo courtesy MLB.com

If you’re not absolutely tingling with anticipation for next week to arrive, I’m going to have to ask that you renounce your baseball fandom immediately.

Yes, we’re finally here. After slogging through a 162-game season, it’s playoff time once again, and I’d be hard-pressed to remember a time when there was as much baseball buzz in the area heading into October.

On one hand, you’ve got the Mets, the brash upstarts with a fearsome rotation who just clinched the NL East title for the first time in almost a decade. On the other hand, you’ve got a Yankees team that is still attempting to nail down that final win and has far surpassed expectations this year—though you wouldn’t know it judging by the grumblings of the fanbase on the airwaves of WFAN.

The Mets are preparing for a first-round showdown with the one team in the postseason that can seemingly match them ace-for-ace, as Grienke, Kershaw, and the Los Angeles Dodgers come to town, while the Yanks’ postseason fate is still technically uncertain. But even before the Bombers (likely) take the field on Tuesday night for the one-game playoff, there are so many questions that will no doubt be captivating the tri-state area.

Will Tanaka be healthy enough to pitch?

How will rookies like Luis Severino and Greg Bird fare during their first-ever postseason?

Should current Yankees rub the head of Derek Jeter for good luck in the postseason?

The Mets, too, have their own uncertainty as they head toward their first postseason since 2006. Over the last month or so, Terry Collins has employed seemingly endless permutations of lineups and defensive alignments, but will need to determine which players have earned starting spots in the NLDS. His deep pitching staff also gives him flexibility—and decisions to make.

But even if you’re not a fan of New York teams, there is so much that makes this one of the most intriguing postseason landscapes in recent years. Three teams from the NL Central will be in the mix, vying for the pennant: the long-suffering Cubs, the steady Cardinals and a Pirates team that is hoping to channel 1979 for this year’s run.

Toronto, perhaps the best team in the American League, could potentially be without its all-world shortstop.

The last AL wild card spot? That’s still up in the air with the Angels, Astros and Twins all hoping to extend their season and earn a shot at the Yankees.

For the next five weeks, each baseball game is appointment viewing. You don’t know what you’re going to see, which players are going to raise their games or who will crumble under the pressure. Even for fans like me, those without a rooting interest, there’s more than enough drama to keep me invested.

I just hope the rest of you feel the same way.

 

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MikeSmith

Column: Defending the Dark Knight

Over the last two weeks, Mets hurler Matt Harvey has been embroiled in an innings-limit controversy. Sports Editor Mike Smith thinks that protecting pitchers’ arms is a complicated issue.  Photo courtesy Wikipedia.org

Over the last two weeks, Mets hurler Matt Harvey has been embroiled in an innings-limit controversy. Sports Editor Mike Smith thinks that protecting pitchers’ arms is a complicated issue.
Photo courtesy Wikipedia.org

I’ll be completely honest with you: I don’t quite know yet where I stand on Matt Harvey.

Unless you have been hiding under a rock for the last two weeks, the saga of the Dark Knight has been unavoidable. With the surging Mets heading for their first postseason berth since 2006, the issue of Harvey and his innings limit has reared its ugly head; and Harvey’s agent, Scott Boras, has clashed with Mets’ brass about the potential overuse of the right-hander.

Harvey’s people claim that the Amazin’s were in danger of pushing Harvey past the 180-inning limit recommended by Dr. James Andrews, who performed Tommy John surgery on the ace in 2013.

The Mets, predictably, balked at that assertion.

The result has been the sort of infighting, double-talk and uncertainty that has been the Mets’ calling card over the last decade or so.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the Mets—who are still a near-lock to clinch the NL East—have struggled down the stretch, dropping back-to-back series against the Marlins and the Yankees.

Everything came to a head on Sept. 19 when Harvey, tossing a one-hitter against the Yankees, was lifted after the fifth inning and a shaky Mets’ bullpen imploded to gift the game to the Bombers.

A loss to the Yankees, precipitated by a premature Harvey exit?

That was a perfect storm for Mets fans who flooded sports talk shows the following day, demanding the front office ship the righty away as soon as possible.

Mets fans know that, given the acrimony between Harvey and the front office, it’s highly unlikely that he will resign here once he hits free agency. If that’s the case, they feel, why not push him now, while the Mets have a shot at the title.

After all, look at what happened to the Nationals when they shut down flamethrower Stephen Strasburg a few years back.

Harvey, some fans opine, is too concerned with preserving his arm—and the chance for a huge payday down the road—and his selfishness is sabotaging the Mets’ postseason chances. After all, they say, nobody ever had Tom Seaver on an innings limit.

But it’s not that simple.

In my mind, Harvey is in a tough spot. Of course he has to think about his future. He could be leaving hundreds of millions of dollars on the table if he throws caution to the wind and ends up going under the knife again. On the other hand, he has a duty to the team to help them win ballgames to the best of his ability.

The real kicker, however, is the fact that arm health is an inexact science at best. The 180-innings limit is arbitrary. He could have gone out in his first start of the season and reinjured the elbow. He could throw more than 200 innings this year and be the picture of health. We just don’t know.

What we do know, is that it’s in the best interests of both Harvey and the Mets to figure this thing out as soon as possible. They’ve got a chance to do something special this year; let’s just hope they don’t ruin a promising star in the process.

 

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NOT TO BAD

Column: Monday morning quarterbacks

Sports Editor Mike Smith spent his Sunday gorging on NFL action. After the Giants’ performance, however, he’s just about ready for hockey season. Photo courtesy nfl.com

Sports Editor Mike Smith spent his Sunday gorging on NFL action. After the Giants’ performance, however, he’s just about ready for hockey season. Photo courtesy nfl.com

In my haste to welcome in the new NFL season this year, I forgot about one of the inevitable low points brought on by my gridiron fanaticism: the Monday morning malaise.

Outside of football season, Sundays are generally lovely. Without anything to cover, the day is completely mine; I can curl up with a book, get a little writing done, maybe even hit the gym if I’m feeling ambitious.

Once September rolls around? Not so much.

This past weekend, my Sunday played out much as it will for the next 17 weeks. I met up with some friends in the morning to watch the NFL pregame shows and proceeded to spend the next 11 hours glued to the couch, laptop opened to Yahoo’s fantasy football page while the RedZone channel provided us with a constant stream of football action. By the time the Sunday night game rolled around, my eyes started to glaze over. Information overload turned me into something akin to a football zombie.

But it would have all been worth it if not for the final three minutes of the Giants-Cowboys game. That was the icing on the cake.

Now, I get it. The Giants, even if everything broke right this year, were probably not going to make the playoffs. At best, they are a 7-9 team destined to miss the playoffs for a third straight year. The least they could have done, though, was beat the rotten Cowboys in Week 1.

But with a three-point lead late in Sunday night’s game, the Giants made every mistake they possibly could have made. Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin lost their grasp on the situation on the offensive end, and then responded by melting down completely and allowing Tony Romo and his band of star-clad nogoodniks to march down the field for a game-winning touchdown.

It was absolutely brutal to watch, and knowing that Monday morning was coming made it even worse.

When other sports teams lose a game, it’s fairly easy to move past. No matter how badly the Yankees play on a Sunday, you know there’s a good chance they’ll go out the following night and put one in the win column. With football, you have all week to digest what went wrong with your team; all week to pick apart deficiencies and bad calls; and all week to envision a season so filled with futility that it makes you want to throw up your hands up in despair.

And if you’re like me, you get to work in the morning and see your editor, a die-hard Dallas fan, who can’t wait to talk about the game the night before.

I should have just called in sick.

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Mamaroneck’s Peter Matt looks upfield against Mahopac on Sept. 4. The high school football season opened up last weekend with some intriguing matchups. Photo/Mike Smith

Column: Hooray for opening day

Aside from the beginning of the sectional playoffs, there are few weekends on the scholastic football calendar that are as eagerly anticipated as Week 1. On Sept. 4, the 2015 Section I football season kicked off in earnest and after taking in a full slate of intriguing games, I simply cannot wait to see what happens this year.

Opening day is exciting in any sport, be it field hockey, soccer or lacrosse, but football, by virtue of condensing a section’s worth of games into just two days, is a unique beast. There are no staggered openings in football season, just wall-to-wall gridiron action for about 48 hours each weekend.

The fact that I can’t be everywhere, I think, is what makes football season so much fun for me from a professional standpoint. While I stand on the sidelines, furiously tweeting updates from one game, I’m also checking social media for updates on the contests I can’t attend, and scouring the newsfeeds of students, parents and fellow journalists just to find out what the heck is going on around Westchester.

And there’s always a lot going on during football season.

This past weekend was no different. The opening game of the year saw an injury to an official delay the game for 25 minutes and a fourth quarter comeback in which the visiting team scored 21 points in just four minutes.

Rye traveled to Somers later that night, only to have an electrical malfunction darken the field in the third quarter, prompting a postponement until the following morning. New Rochelle and John Jay—perhaps the top two teams in Class AA—squared off in a knockdown drag-out fight that ultimately went the Huguenots’ way after senior quarterback Greg Powell found the relatively unknown wideout Rashon McNeil for a 51-yard score late in the fourth quarter.

Obviously that’s a lot to unpack in just three games.

More important than last weekend’s results, however, are the storylines they have put in play for the rest of the year.

Can Rye’s T.J. Lavelle lead his team back to the Class A finals?

Can Eastchester continue to punish teams with its running attack?

Will the Huguenots once again be the team to beat in Class AA?

The wonderful thing about opening weekend is that it simply poses these important questions, setting the stage for the season to come. Now it’s up to each team to answer the call.

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NOT TO BAD

Column: World Series needs change

An Eastchester player throws a pitch during the District 20 Little League tournament in June. Sports Editor Mike Smith finds the Little League World Series to be compelling, but he does have a few issues with the final rounds. Photo/Mike Smith

An Eastchester player throws a pitch during the District 20 Little League tournament in June. Sports Editor Mike Smith finds the Little League World Series to be compelling, but he does have a few issues with the final rounds. Photo/Mike Smith

I hope you will forgive me for the dated, early-2000s reference, but I have to say it: the Little League World Series has jumped the shark.

For years, I’ve been an ardent supporter of the entire tournament, including the ESPN-televised portion of it, but this year certainly highlighted some of the problems the LLWS needs to address if it wants to grab my interest going forward.

First things first, they need to move the fences back at Lamade Stadium. Again.

Now, I don’t have the statistics in front of me, but in the 20 or so games played at Lamade Stadium from Aug. 20 to Aug. 30, I’d estimate that teams hit roughly a bajillion homers. And that’s a pretty conservative guess.

They’ve moved the fences back before. In 2006, field dimensions went from 205 feet to 225 feet all around. It’s a start, but it hasn’t nearly been enough. I understand that it’s tough to come up with appropriate distances for growing kids. Especially at this age-range, 11 to 13, there’s a huge discrepancy in the physical maturity of all the athletes. But in a tournament that regularly features players like Pennsylvania slugger Cole Wagner, a 5-foot-11, 160-pounder who could easily have piloted Red Land’s team van to Williamsport without any state troopers taking notice, maybe it’s time to think about another park expansion.

It’s not entirely my curmudgeonly anti-homer sentiment driving this argument either. I like dingers as much as the next guy. But the proliferation of round-trippers in this tournament brings with it a dearth of outfield play. Because most balls that cleared the infield in Williamsport have yet to return to earth, fans were robbed of the chance to watch some of the world’s best young outfielders chase down liners in the gap. There’s a lot of excitement in baseball, but with the fences so far in, we only get to see half
of it.

But even the home run conundrum pales into comparison to what I’ve begun to think of as the biggest problem in the LLWS: the coverage. In the past, I’ve written about how the raw, unbridled emotion of these World Series games was one of my favorite parts of the event. The wild celebrations, sure, but also those unscripted moments of sorrow from the kids on the losing teams. Scenes like Sean Burroughs laying face down in the outfield back in 1992 or last year’s Providence team crying as they listened to a rousing postgame speech from their coach come to mind. But this year, for some reason, I felt that the constant need to find the emotional shots bordered on voyeuristic.

During the final inning of Pennsylvania’s loss to Japan, the Red Lands team was forced to bring in catcher Kaden Peifer after it ran out of pitchers. Predictably, Peifer struggled, plating a run on a wild pitch. When the Pennsylvania coach came out to speak with him, Peifer was in tears—understandably—as he felt his team’s chances slipping away. He kept turning, but ESPN cameras kept turning with him, making sure to highlight the emotion of the moment. Despite the scene playing out between the lines, the entire thing struck me as intrusive. ESPN knows what their viewers expect from LLWS coverage, and they weren’t going to miss their money shot.

I understand that it’s a tricky dance to cover games with young athletes—I’ve taken some heat for including reaction photos in some of my high school sports coverage—but for me, including photos of teams commiserating after losses was something that added flavor to my piece, not the main focus of a worldwide multimedia conglomerate.

So, will I watch the Little League World Series next year, even if neither of these issues is addressed? Probably. When I become a parent, would I want my son to take part in this tournament? Of course I would. But there’s always room to make things better. Especially for
our kids.

Contact: sports@hometwn.com

 
NOT TO BAD

Column: Feelin’ old and tired

Sports Editor Mike Smith, top row, far right, and his baseball team battled valiantly this summer, but a championship wasn’t in the cards for the Mud Hens. After a long summer, Smith is starting to feel his age. Contributed photo

Sports Editor Mike Smith, top row, far right, and his baseball team battled valiantly this summer, but a championship wasn’t in the cards for the Mud Hens. After a long summer, Smith is starting to feel his age. Contributed photo

Over the last few years in my column, I’ve written countless pieces about the ability that rejuvenating power sports has and about the power of athletic competition to make anyone feel young again. But man, oh man, do I feel old today.

As you, dear reader, are no doubt aware, I’ve spent the last nine years of my life playing and coaching on a men’s baseball team in New York City. It has been fulfilling and rewarding, and during those precious few at-bats when I actually square up a fastball, it’s a throwback to a time when playing baseball was without a doubt the most important thing in my life.

After our 7-2 defeat during Sunday’s championship game, however, I felt every bit of my 30 years.

I think the wheels began to come off last week, during what can only be described as our “miraculous” run to our first-ever championship appearance. With a new playoff format that forced us to play four nine-inning games in less than 48 hours, it was crazy enough that my guys and I were able to leave the field—by and large—under our own power, much less with more baseball still to be played the following weekend.

Playing 36 innings of baseball in one weekend is tough enough for an 18-year-old. But for a team comprised mainly of players on the wrong side of 30 whose main source of exercise during the week is taking the stairs, not the elevator, to our desk jobs? It’s absolute lunacy.

Sure we came out of the weekend with a chance to hoist the trophy, but the cost was high. We lost three players to balky hamstrings alone, we lost our flame-throwing ace to a strained UCL, and we spent about 15 minutes in the penultimate game as our third baseman lay prone in the infield, screaming bloody murder as he tried to work through a calf muscle cramp that probably wouldn’t have been a big deal for someone half his age.

When you’re winning, you can sort of fight through those setbacks. Eventually, however, it’s going to catch up to you.

I, like most of my teammates, spent the last seven days trying to simply survive my workweek, feeling more like a desiccated, latex-clad extra on AMC’s “The Walking Dead” than a Major League star. The promise of hoisting a trophy was enough to carry us through.

Once that promise of glory is gone, however, that’s when you start to feel the nicks, bruises and aches of an entire season of baseball.

After the game, my teammates and I retired to our local bar to toast to another great year of baseball and commiserate in the latest loss. The defeat itself wasn’t that bad. We were simply beat by a better team. But taking stock of what we had left was a different situation entirely. Our left fielder, a loyal teammate for the past seven years, was heading out west to take a job in Oregon. Our center fielder, a guy I’d played with since college, let me know that he didn’t have another year left in his legs. Our longtime ace, when asked if he was coming back for another year, glanced at his elbow, smiled wanly and just shook his head.

The game catches up with all of us. Heck, even I don’t know if I’ve got one more year of baseball left in my increasingly broken down body.

I feel old right now, and tired. But I guess that’s how you’re supposed to feel at the end of a long season.

Opening Day isn’t until April. I got a lot of time to rest up.

 

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NOT TO BAD

Column: Legends of the fall

On Aug. 1, local football teams took the field at New Rochelle’s Champions Camp. The weeklong event served as an appetizer for the upcoming fall season. Photo/Mike Smith

On Aug. 1, local football teams took the field at New Rochelle’s Champions Camp. The weeklong event served as an appetizer for the upcoming fall season. Photo/Mike Smith

I’m sure the 14-year-old me would cringe if he heard me admit it, but I have to say, I can’t wait for the school year to start up again.

I love summer, I always have. When I was a kid, summer always meant no homework, no responsibilities and long, lazy days playing endless games of stickball in the street.

Of course now that I’m an adult (in theory anyway), summertime doesn’t mean quite what it used to. Sure, I’ll take the occasional trip to Jones Beach, maybe I’ll sneak out of work a little bit early on a Friday afternoon to go catch a ball game, but ultimately, the change in my day-to-day routine isn’t quite as drastic as it was 15 years ago.

As someone whose job depends heavily on the rhythm of the high school sports schedule, what I miss most during the summer months is the sense of urgency.

On Aug. 17, the 2015 fall campaign officially kicks off, as varsity players from all over the county report for their first taste of preseason workouts. But as much as players may secretly be dreading the start of two-a-day practices, for me, it’s like New Year’s Day.

On Aug. 1, I headed over to New Rochelle High School to watch a few local teams compete at the Huguenots’ annual Champions Camp, one final summer football event before the mid-August start date. Just being on the field, watching teams like New Rochelle, Harrison and Eastchester square off against one another, got me absolutely amped up for the next few months.

Within the realm of high school sports, football is a unique animal. Because it’s played just once a week and most teams, in general, have only eight or nine regular season games each year, every contest takes on more significance. I’ve been lucky enough to have seen some great games across every sport: playoff soccer nail-biters, back-and-forth sectional tennis matches and extra-inning baseball games. But on a week-to-week basis, there’s not much that can compare to football.

I saw it at Champions Camp, with every player on each team giving maximum effort on every rep, knowing full well that the work they were putting in on a 95-degree day in August could pay off if the team found itself playing in Mahopac come November.

So yeah, the summer is fine. Barbecues, sunshine and roof parties are a perfectly acceptable way to spend your time. But I’d much rather be on the sidelines, watching our young athletes go all-out on the weekends.

And really, I can’t believe that I get paid to do that.

 

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NOT TO BAD

Column: An Amazin’ week

The New York Mets had quite the week leading up to the MLB trade deadline. With buzz all around the team, Sports Editor Mike Smith can’t help but get caught up in it. Photo/Mike Smith

The New York Mets had quite the week leading up to the MLB trade deadline. With buzz all around the team, Sports Editor Mike Smith can’t help but get caught up in it. Photo/Mike Smith

I hate to admit it, but over the last week or so, I fear that I’ve turned into something of a baseball fraud.

The unwritten rules of fandom are pretty cut and dry. You get one team; that’s it. That’s the team you live and die with. But with my Red Sox all but buried for more than a month, I’ve turned into somewhat of a bandwagon fan and now find myself firmly invested in the ongoing saga of the New York Mets.

If you’re plugged in at all to the baseball scene in New York, chatter about the Mets has been unavoidable over the last few months. Between the brilliant pitching, the subpar offense and the seeming reluctance of the front office to make moves—or spend money—to better the team, this Mets’ season has had all the trappings of an engrossing soap opera since Opening Day.

The events of the last few days, however, have set the stage for what looks to be an absolutely compelling home stretch of the season.

It started with a wacky, weird and wild lead up to the trade deadline. On the night of Wednesday, July 29, word hit the street that Milwaukee’s Carlos Gomez was coming to the Mets. Gomez, who began his pro career with the Amazin’s was exactly what the team needed to bolster the offense.

But then, he wasn’t coming. The deal fell through, at least according to public opinion, because the Mets couldn’t justify spending money on the all-star.

The optics of the situation were bad—especially as beleaguered fans hammered the Wilpons—but its effect on infielder Wilmer Flores, one of the players rumored to be included in the Gomez deal, was even worse.

Flores found out during the game that the organization that signed him when he was just 16 had given up on him.

TV cameras zoomed in on Flores during that Wednesday night game and caught the sensitive youngster crying on the baseball field, a rare moment of emotion in a sports world that generally prefers its stars to be stoic.

With the deal in pieces, Flores stayed in New York, and came out on the field on Thursday, July 30 to a thunderous standing ovation from Mets fans. The following day, he gave the team a jolt with a walk-off extra innings homer. That’s a pretty big swing of emotions for any player, let alone one who is just starting to make his mark on the league.

But it wasn’t just Flores who has been through the ringer. Mets fans in general have processed a lot of feelings over the last few days.

From the Gomez deal falling apart to the last minute blockbuster trade that brought Cuban slugger Yoenis Cespedes into the fold, I saw countless Facebook posts by Mets fans who went from renouncing their fandom to suddenly finding hope that the Mets were finally contenders again.

Then the rejuvenated Mets went out and took three games from the first-place Nats over the weekend to come into Monday tied for the division lead.

Watching all this unfold, I couldn’t help but get swept up in the moment. Watching a fanbase as snakebitten as the Mets’ begin to believe again after years of mediocrity is a special thing. It reminds me of watching those Sox teams in 2003 and 2004 start to strike back against the Yankees.

I don’t know how this will end. The Mets could end up making the playoffs; they could be six games out of first in two weeks. But honestly, it doesn’t matter. Watching this team and its fans actually enjoying August baseball for a change is absolutely worth it.

As long as someone is stealing headlines from the Yankees, I’m all for it.

 

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NOT TO BAD

COLUMN: Blast(s) from the past

On July 25, Alex Rodriguez belted three home runs in a Yankee win. Even an avowed Red Sox fan like Sports Editor Mike Smith can appreciate A-Rod’s resurgence in 2015. Photo courtesy wikipedia.com

On July 25, Alex Rodriguez belted three home runs in a Yankee win. Even an avowed Red Sox fan like Sports Editor Mike Smith can appreciate A-Rod’s resurgence in 2015. Photo courtesy wikipedia.com

Maybe I’m just an easy mark, but right now, I can’t get enough of Alex Rodriguez.

Prior to the start of the baseball season, I penned a column in which I admitted that, despite my Red Sox fandom—or perhaps because of it—I was rooting for the disgraced Yankees slugger to turn back the clock this year.

Sure, my desire to see him play well this year was born mostly out of spite for the Yankees. I wanted to see the fans that had vociferously turned their backs on the repeat PED offender struggle to come to grips with rooting for him to become an important part of the organization again.

But on Saturday night, I was simply rooting for him as a baseball fan.

In the midst of what has been an amazing season for the 40-year-old, A-Rod had a truly magnificent night against the Twins this past weekend, clubbing three homers to help the Bombers rally against Minnesota.

All the steroid stuff, all the years I spent rooting against the guy, suddenly, it just didn’t matter to me. I was just happy to see him still playing at a high level.

On Sunday, the MLB Hall of Fame inducted four new members. For a fan, like me, who came of age in the 1990s, it was a particularly poignant ceremony. Three of the best pitchers of my youth, and one of the most consistent—almost boringly so—players of his generation in Craig Biggio, headed for enshrinement, felt to me, like the end of an era.

For the last few days, I’ve been watching retrospectives of the careers of these iconic players: the masterful John Smoltz, the intimidating Randy Johnson and the sublime Pedro Martinez, who just so happens to be my favorite player of all time. It was bittersweet watching them take the stage at Cooperstown, because as many great memories as those three gave me in my youth, Sunday’s induction ceremony was another reminder that their time was over.

With that being said, today is a fun time to be a baseball fan, especially a young one. There is so much up-and-coming talent in the game right now, it’s hard not to be excited. Carlos Correa is poised to be the next great American League shortstop. Mike Trout continues to do unbelievable things in the outfield. Young arms like Chris Archer, Dallas Keuchel and Chris Sale are writing their own pages in the books of baseball lore.

But every now and then, it takes an A-Rod, a man with more faults than you can count, a man reviled by as many fan bases as there are in the sport, to remind you that the past isn’t all that far in
the rearview.

For older fans, like me, somehow, that’s comforting.

 

Follow Mike on Twitter @LiveMike_Sports

 
NOT TO BAD

Column: Teeing off

Sports Editor Mike Smith prepares to tee off at Pelham Bay Golf Course on July 19. For his first time swinging the wrenches in nearly a decade, he didn’t do half bad. Contributed photo

Sports Editor Mike Smith prepares to tee off at Pelham Bay Golf Course on July 19. For his first time swinging the wrenches in nearly a decade, he didn’t do half bad. Contributed photo

Amid all the excitement surrounding the PGA Open Championship this past weekend, from the weather delays to Tiger’s drought and the emergence of amateur Paul Dunne, there’s one golf story that may have been overlooked by major media outlets: my return to the links.

On Sunday, after nearly a decade away from golf, I once again teed the ball up, eager to give the sport that bedeviled me in my youth another chance.

Given my long layoff, the results were predictably awful, but if my loop proved one thing, it’s that no matter how frustrating this sport can be, all it takes are a few good shots to make you want to come back.

Now, as far as golf goes, I was never technically “good.” But it wasn’t from lack of trying. I got into the sport around high school, and for about six years, I did my best to get out on the course whenever possible. Things really took off for me in college, where, despite living on a shoestring budget, $8 rounds at the local municipal course ensured I was out there at least once a week.

Which isn’t to say I’ve ever really improved much. Sure I could hit the irons OK, but once you put me within 30 yards of the green, I would turn into Ralph Kramden trying to smack a pincushion in his kitchen.

And after college, I just never made the time to pick up the clubs. Between my work schedule and the fact that most of my weekends in the spring and summer were taken up with my men’s baseball league, it was one of those things that just fell by the wayside.

That is, until a rare bye-week offered a few of my buddies and me the chance to hit up the Pelham Bay course on Sunday afternoon.

My friends are all decent golfers, so I was admittedly concerned when I accepted their invitation. I tried to knock off some of the rust on Friday afternoon with a quick trip to the range, which only served to reaffirm my fears that whatever golf skills I once possessed were now lost to time.

But I went out on Sunday anyway, flawed swing and all, to see what I could do.

I’d love to say I shot a 79, but mostly, I stunk.

My first two drives of the day went maybe a combined 60 yards. When I did connect with my irons, I invariably sailed shots way over the green, forcing players in the next tee box to scramble for cover, then shake their fists at me in rage.

But halfway through the round, things started to come together. My balls were flying straighter, my putts were truer, and fewer expletives were coming out of my mouth—always a good sign on
the golf course.

On the 18th and final hole, a par 4, I lined up for my last tee shot of the day and “blasted” a 290-yard drive right down the heart of the fairway. It was my best shot of the day, and despite the fact that I followed it up with an embarrassing three putt, I was positively beaming as I headed back to the clubhouse for a cold beer and some much-needed air conditioning.

Nobody in their right mind would have mistaken me for Jordan Speith or Dustin Johnson, or even someone who had the slightest bit of idea what he was doing on the course.

But after that last drive, at least to me, none of that mattered. Golf can be an aggravating game. But even for a duffer like me, there’s a lot of fun to be had.

CONTACT:  sports@hometwn.com