Sunday, April 17, 2011

NBA Playoffs: Underdog Knicks Must Change Game Against Celtics

Article first published as NBA Playoffs: Underdog Knicks Must Change Game Plan Against Celtics on Blogcritics.

In baseball there is an old adage: "Good pitching beats good hitting." That has been proven true time and again, especially in a seven game playoff series. Now the New York Knicks should go into their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Boston Celtics with this in mind: a good defense will beat a good offense. That is why the Knicks have to change their ways on the court; otherwise, the Celtics are going to win this series.

Make no mistake, coach Mike D'Antoni's team is much better than Knicks teams of the last few years. One can look to Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony as obvious reasons for that, and they have strengthened the play of Chauncey Billups and company with their presence. Still, the obvious thing one can gather since Anthony came to the Knicks is that this is an offense minded team. The problem is they are facing Kevin Garnett and the Celtics, and that solid defense is going to pose problems for them without a doubt.

The Knicks have to change their mindset starting tomorrow in that first game in Boston. With Ama're going head-to-head with Garnett, we will see a very physical match-up, and the Knicks are not at a disadvantage as they would have been a year ago. D'Antoni has got to get his players ready for a physical game - lots of contact and plenty of defending.

The Knicks have scored more points per game than the Celtics (106.5 - 96.5), and there is no disputing that superior offense, but they have also allowed more points (105.7 - 91.1) and the Celtics were number one in the league in that category. That superior defense is obviously capable of shutting down the Knicks machine. If the Apostrophe Duo - Amar'e and 'Melo - are held in check, this series will be quickly over.

Even before this series starts, we Knicks fans have to be thankful for being here. This season the games always seemed to matter (even before the Anthony trade), and that kept me watching and hopeful. Since that trade there has been a feeling of euphoria and pride as the team returned to the playoffs, but we also have to note that our bench is much weaker because of that trade, and the defense is a big question mark in this series.

Still, we are there and D'Antoni's team should know what it has to do. A good defense does shut down a good offense. Now it is up to the Knicks to change their attack plan; otherwise, they will be watching the finals at home.

Photo credits:

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Mourning A Loss on Canarsie Pier in Brooklyn

Article first published as Mourning A Loss on Canarsie Pier in Brooklyn on Blogcritics.

p>Sometimes our memories make old things seem better, but when we see what has happened to them after many years, we can only feel great loss. I still mourn the missing Twin Towers in New York, and I know my city will never look or feel the same after 9/11. I miss Shea Stadium, and I know Dodger fans who still weep for the long gone Ebbetts Field. To be a New Yorker is to deal with these losses and move on, but that doesn't mean we can't feel bad about it now and then - or sometimes forever.

Recently I had a chance to visit Canarsie Pier in Brooklyn, a place I used to go in my youth to have a good time. One of the main attractions to lure me (and many others) there was Abbracciamento's Restaurant on the Pier. This restaurant had an ideal setting right on Jamaica Bay, plenty of parking and, despite the wonderful location, the menu and the service were the reasons people came back again and again.

Sadly, upon my return I saw the old restaurant all boarded up and in a state of decay. The picture windows I remembered gleaming in sparkling lights coming off the bay were covered up, and the awnings and roof were falling apart. I haven't been down this way in over twenty years, but since I was passing I wanted to just take a look, and I felt like yet another page in the book of my life had been turned.

Abbracciamento's had a family atmosphere and was indeed run by a family: the Abbracciamento family, who still own and operate a restaurant in Queens on Woodhaven Boulevard. I recall the meals being very generous, and I always felt compelled to get a seafood dish due to the place's location. Everything I ever had there was nothing short of excellent: I recall lobster tails, stuffed flounder, and a melt in your mouth filet of sole. Of course, a side order of any kind of pasta had to be a given, and all these dishes were delicious. Desserts were sinful as well as generous, and I believe that back then everything was made on the premises the way it should be. In short, the place offered simply excellent Italian food cooked with all the right ingredients, especially love.

Now I stood there looking out over the bay and, though it was a beautiful day, I felt a storm cloud over me. It was difficult to see the torn awning flapping from the skeleton of its frame and the old circular roof disintegrating against the blue sky, almost as if the place had been mortally wounded and its carcass left to rot in the sun.

Though the sun sparkled on the water and it was a lovely spring day, I turned, started back to my car, and drove away quickly. I felt no compulsion to look back at another piece of my past lost forever.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Barry Bonds Guilty: The Home Run King Knocked Off Throne?

Article first published as Barry Bonds Guilty: The Home Run King Knocked Off Throne? on Blogcritics.

The verdict is in at Barry Bonds's perjury trial in San Francisco, California: guilty! Bonds has been found guilty of obstruction of justice, which means (if the verdict stands) that Bonds is now a convicted felon. The jury was hung on three other counts, and in all likelihood Bonds will not serve any prison time, but the damage is already done to his reputation and to his legacy.

Since the verdict was announced I have heard all sorts of wild things on TV and on talk radio here in New York, basically along the lines of the "former home run king" and that Bonds has been humiliated in court. As far as I know, Barry Bonds still retains his Home Run Crown, having hit 762 in his career, surpassing Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, and everyone else. Perhaps people do not like this, but the man still has his records and that is a fact.

For a long time people have been talking about asterisks in baseball. They talked about it when Roger Maris passed Babe Ruth's single season home run mark (when Maris had beer as his "substance abuse" and that was legal). Anytime a cherished record is threatened, we hear all the naysayers talking about asterisks, but the truth is the numbers are what they are.

I have never seen a study that proves that steroid use makes you a better hitter, pitcher, or player for that matter. If Bonds didn't have the natural talent, he would be up there with huge biceps taking hacks and missing the ball. His natural talent allowed for him to be a fine hitter; perhaps the steroids made him hit the ball farther, but wouldn't a home run still be a home run whether it just clears the fence or lands in San Francisco Bay?

Either way Barry Bonds is now ruined. He is a convicted felon, and that probably destroys his chances of getting into the Hall of Fame. Guys like Bonds and Pete Rose and Mark McGwire may have done wrong things, but their statistics do not lie: their accomplishments will stand - with or without asterisks - and it is up to future generations to make the call.

Barry Bonds looked more than sad as he left that courtroom yesterday. He looked not like he has been portrayed in the media and in living rooms and bars across this land: he didn't seem pompous but rather as a man defeated. I am sure the obstruction of justice verdict will be challenged by Bonds's lawyers, but it does not matter anymore. In the court of public opinion, Bonds has lost more than all the statistics in the world: he has lost his legacy.

The prosecution did more than win in that courtroom; they took away the man's heart. Bonds is destroyed now, and maybe he only has himself to blame, but no matter what there is a stain that is not just on Bonds but on everyone who looked the other way for too long. If Bonds is guilty, so is baseball and every fan who cheered as he rounded the bases.

Today, we do not say "the king is dead; long live the king," because in truth the kingdom is no more. That is what this verdict does, and it is a sad day for all fans of the game of baseball.

Photo Credit: AP

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Hell of Fame: Manny Ramirez "Retires" From Baseball

Article first published as Hell of Fame: Manny Ramirez "Retires" From Baseball on Blogcritics.

Word that Manny Ramirez was "retiring" from baseball (after a 1-17 start with Tampa Bay) didn't send shock waves through the land. After news leaked that he had a problem with drug testing - that could land him on 100 days suspension - Ramirez opted for the relatively easy way out.

Of course, Ramirez has never been easy to figure out, but he helped the Red Sox win two World Series titles and has been seen as one of the most talented players in the game, certainly considered by many as one of the truly gifted hitters. His potential for an explosive bat that could lead a team to the crown always seemed to outweigh his penchant for wearing out his welcome.

Just looking at his statistics - Career: 555 HR, .312 BA , 1831 RBI - the twelve-time All-Star would have seemed to have been a shoe in for the Baseball Hall of Fame but, now after this latest drug test, it is more likely his retirement will be seen as forced and the likelihood of his earning a berth in Cooperstown will be highly doubtful.

This happens as the jury in the Barry Bonds Trial deliberates his fate out in San Francisco, and this summer we have the Roger Clemens Show waiting to come to a TV screen near you. The steroid era is certainly coming into a new place in our consciousness, and is it possible that Ramirez thinks that by retiring that he sweeps the problem under the rug? The truth is he - and probably other big stars - will have their own dates in court in the future, and they have no one to blame (not the trainers, the drug dealers, Major League Baseball, the owners) but themselves.

If the whole thing were a Shakespearean play, The Steroid Era would most definitely be a tragedy, and those once highly respected and idolized are going to end up like most of the characters in Hamlet or other such plays in the end, but in this case they are being taken down by their own swords (in a sort of baseball hara-kiri). So now Manny can join a growing list in a Hell of Fame of their own creation, where something decidedly more dark than flights of angels will sing them to anything but rest.

Photo Credit:

Sunday, April 10, 2011

School Shooting in Brazil: Lack of Coverage is Appalling

Article first published as School Shooting in Brazil: Lack of Coverage is Appalling on Blogcritics.

If you have been watching the news and waiting for stories about the school shooting in Brazil, good luck. I have not seen much in the way of coverage on TV, in print, or online. The lack of coverage of this major news story is appalling to say the least, but it also clearly indicates that when something happens is just as important as where.

Ten girls and two boys between the ages of 12-15 were murdered in cold blood by a gunman identified as 23-year-old Wellington Oliveira, a former student of the Tasso da Silveira School (where the shooting took place) in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, the biggest country in South America and home to the largest number of  Catholics in the world.

The Pope spoke about the shooting and offered his support, but you would never know that from the news media here. I had to dig on Google to find that out. In fact, I was actively looking for stories about the shooting last night on television, but everything was about the President, the Congress, and the budget fiasco (otherwise known as the Good, the Bad, and the Very Ugly).

It is clear that this shooting happened at the wrong time. We are still getting reports about the nuclear crisis in Japan (and that is, of course, completely understandable), but it is almost as if this shooting never took place, and I find that to be a complete and utter disgrace. When the story is covered in print or online, it is done briefly. I'd like to see some outrage from people here, some reaction, and some call to help the victims and their families, but I have seen none of this.

I could say, "Imagine if a gunman walked into a school in the United States and did the same thing?" Of course, you would say "What about Columbine?" and we can all recall the wall-to-wall coverage that received. Similar shootings in Scotland and Russia were given heavy coverage, but the shooting in Brazil is either being overlooked or placed way to the back burner.

Any shooting in a school should be of enormous concern to people in every country in the world, but especially in an elementary school where children have been sent to what is perceived as a safe environment. A story like this should make everyone take note and stock of security and safety in their own schools.

I would hope that people in this country and other countries will reach out to the people in Brazil, offer all kinds of support to the victims and their families, and work to find ways to make sure that something like this is less likely to happen again.

The more important question remains for the media: why hasn't this story been given proper coverage? Whether it is because it happened at the wrong time or in the wrong place, it is disgraceful either way. Twelve children are dead and all the media coverage possible wouldn't bring them back, but it would honor the dead and their familes, let the world know of their story, and respect their memory. I do not think that is asking for too much.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Living the Good Life on a Dead End

Article first published as Living the Good Life on a Dead End on Blogcritics.

There are places I remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain.
           -Lennon & McCartney

In the movies there were guys known as the Dead End Kids, a group of New York street kids led by actors Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall, and they became famous in films with big stars like James Cagney and Bela Lugosi. But when I hear about "dead end" kids, I invariably think of my friends and me because we spent most of our time playing on an actual dead end street, and those were some of the best times of my life.

This street was 64th Street in an area of Queens in New York City known as Glendale, where it was like living in the Ukraine or Southern California because this was a borderline and retained aspects unique to Queens but also facets similar to Brooklyn only a few blocks away. In fact, this area had a Brooklyn zip code 11227 for many years until it was changed to a Queens code, which lumped it all together with other neighborhoods under a Flushing 113-umbrella that was not true to its culture or nature.

On either side of this street were apartment buildings on the opposing corners, rows of two family houses, and then on one side a row of one family houses, finally ending at a dead end that served as our home run fence during stick ball games, and also as a sort of protection, an insulation of the block from too much traffic that would have otherwise interrupted our games of sport year round.

The people who frequented the block were colorful characters, and my friends and I had names for them: Mr. Snoop, the Crazy Lady, Boy Tot, Big Bird, Freaky Freddy, the Gooch, and Henn the Hun to name a few.  They were part of the rich fabric, though torn or unraveling at times, that made up our lives growing up. As we played ball and interacted with them and each other, it all became an indelible part of our memories and, at least for me, is something I remember fondly now.

The street was our playing field all year round. We played stick ball, touch football (tackle when it snowed), hockey (on roller skates), handball, slap ball, stoop-ball, and anything else that we could play with or without a ball. We even spray painted bases on the "field" that we would update from time to time, and we played for hours without regard to anything else happening in the world. Perhaps that was what made this dead end so alive and infinitely appealing to us: it was a place where we could escape from almost everything and just be kids.

When I look back now, it seemed we were outside all the time in those days. Yes, this was a time before video games, and we only had six television channels (and, in my case, one TV in the house), but we did have toys and games to go home to. It was more that we liked each other's company and we (Johnny, Bob, Joe, Sal, Eddie E., Eddie Z., Tom, Charlie, Freddy Z., Danny, Pete B., Harry, Craig, myself and some guest stars through the seasons) played not just for the sake of playing but doing it together.

All of us were close to home as we played on this block, so when it was time for lunch we could dash inside for the quick sandwich and drink. We would come back outside to play the rest of the day away in the warm months. If it was a school day, we played until dinner and then had to go in and face the realities of homework, washing up, and an early bedtime. Still, I remember laying there thinking of the day we had, the crack of the bat, the laughter of my friends, and now I cherish that we had those times together.

On a recent cold March day I made a return to the place of my making - more or less - the womb of my youth. This street where I grew up was not just a collection of houses on either side of a gutter and, despite all its inadequacies, it prepared me for most of the rest of my life. It was a place of fun, of games, of laughter, and tears but, most of all, it was home.

On my return visit I saw my old house and that made me feel many things. My mother is gone now, and just looking at the door, the faded old green awning that was still there, the front step crumbling the way my Dad would have never let happen, and the gate that led down to the basement (where my friends and I had many parties in our teenage years) got me a little more than nostalgic. As I crossed the street I closed my eyes and just wished I could hear the sweet cadence of my Mom's voice calling me home for dinner.

I walked down the block and, I suppose like anyone revisiting a place from childhood, I was disappointed to see many of the houses neglected, their steps and gates in disrepair. I stopped and remembered playing on a particular stoop with my friends, and I wondered how fast the years had gone by since those days of delightful disregard for time. I recalled the old German ladies with their buckets of soap and scrub brushes, cleaning the steps of the houses that now seemed covered in dust and debris.

When I passed my friend Eddie Z.'s house, I stopped to think about him (he has been gone a few years now). I recalled sitting on his steps with his Uncle Frank - who always sat on the stoop with what seemed to be a full Pilsner glass of beer - and we talked about everything and anything. That was the beauty of it, as I think of it now; it wasn't the topic that mattered, it was the opportunity for conversation.

I went and stood on what had been our home plate and looked down the block. The once formidable homerun fence didn't seem so dauntingly far away now. Gone on the "right field" side of the block was an enormous tree, where many a long ball got tangled, lost, or stopped from its charted course. I pictured us all running around that field or sitting up against Luigi's wall to watch the game. The hollow sound of the stick ball bat dropping to the ground after a hit echoed in my ears, and I could see my younger self catching a bouncing ball but my friend Bob beating me to first in front of Mr. Hassinger's house for a base hit.

Yes it all came back to me in a warm rush on a cold day. I passed Pete B.'s house and remembered playing chess on his steps, Charlie's aunt's house where we used to hang out on the porch, Eddie E.'s house next door to the old man who used to chase us with a baseball bat, and Freddy Z. and Craig's houses at the very end of the dead end. I stood there with a cold wind whipping up the street staring at a sewer that had gobbled up more Spaldeens than Pac-man eating his dots.

I guess I couldn't expect it to be anything but different, but here I was still feeling less than elated with my visit. I started walking again but stopped and looked back over my shoulder at the old "End" sign. I realized that there was nothing to be upset about because the memories were forever, and luckily I am still in touch with most of my old friends. Now with wives and children of our own living in different places, we don't see each other everyday like we used to, but we do get together now and then and send an e-mail occasionally.

I went back up the block and stood on the corner. The stores were all different, the names and faces changed, and our painted bases had long since faded away. Still, despite the years gone by, this place is forever etched in my heart. As I prepared to leave I knew the most important thing of all: the dead end was the place where I learned about life, and for that I will always be more than grateful.

I got in my car, took a long last look at my old house, drove up the hill where we used our sleds in the snowy winters, and made my way back to the parkway for the long ride home.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Mets Mess: The Forecast for 2011 Is Cloudy With Plenty of Meatballs

Article first published as Mets Mess: The Forecast for 2011 Is Cloudy With Plenty of Meatballs on Blogcritics.

I have been a fan of the New York Mets all my life, sometimes causing myself much pain and anxiety. I can't help but to tell you the truth; just like Lady Gaga, I was born this way. I like lots of Mets fans emerged from the womb, born of the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers. With orange and blue blood coursing through my veins, I have gone through life loving the team but cursing my lot, and this season isn't going to make life any easier for any of us. Who besides me has thought that this year Flushing will not only be the name of our team's home but also what we can do with the season?

Most fans of baseball teams are excited now. Opening Day should be "Anything Can Happen Day," but this year it's a Friday for the Mets and not a Wednesday. As fans of the old Mickey Mouse Club show know, "Talent Roundup Day" was on Friday, and that is about the best description of the Mets roster this year.

Now we get the latest of the "Good News from Mets Camp" in today's paper: Jason Bay will likely land on the disabled list to start the season. Sore ribs? Man, this is enough to make a guy want Ed Kranepool to come back, even now, and take a few swings.

We have Carlos Beltran hopping along worse than Cassidy; Angel Pagan has a bad back; Jason is now in Sick Bay; Johan Santana will probably miss most or all of the year, and the starting lineup and pitching rotation have more holes in it than that piece of Swiss cheese on your ham and rye. People used to laugh about the old Mets; well pull up a chair folks and get your handkerchiefs ready, because this season is going to be a cross between a tearjerker and a knee slapper.

Sport Illustrated just came out with its Major League Baseball preview. In the article the Mets are rightly picked to finish fifth in the National League East. Hey, I'll go them one better: I'll bet they will have the worst record in the National League this year. That's right: they will be worse than the Diamondbacks, the Astros, and probably that little league team up at the park.

Hey, I'm a Mets fan, but I'm also honest. All I can say is the Mets are back home - in the basement - which is right back where they started so many years ago. So I'll watch the games, go to a few, and have no expectations. I'll yell at the bums, just like my grandfather and uncles did with the Dodgers all those years ago, but I'll never stop loving them. That's the lot of the Mets fan and I'm sort of used to it by now. Good night Basement Bertha, wherever you are!

Photo Credits:
Jason Bay -
Basement Bertha -