To be a New York sports fan means, by definition, to be forever burdened with the agony of choice. No other city has anything like the New York area’s menu of spectator sports. Two Major League Baseball teams (as well as great minor-league ball in Brooklyn, Staten Island, and nearby New Jersey). Two NFL teams. Two NBA teams (a lot of round ball fans who can’t get Knicks tickets have happily switched their allegiance to the Nets). Three—count ’em, three—NHL teams. A Major League Soccer team. The most prestigious American tennis Grand Slam event and top tennis matches year-round in Flushing Meadows. The most famous amateur boxing tournament in the world in the Golden Gloves, as well as good professional fights in nearly all weight divisions at the Garden, and, soon, at the Barclays Center. Major college football, basketball, and lacrosse. And, if you love horses, Belmont Park near the border of Queens and Hempstead and the Aqueduct near JFK in Queens.
Oh, I almost forgot. The one in Boston is older, but our marathon has more runners and more spectators.
I know I’ve left out a bunch of professional and college sports and a dozen key sporting events—golf, for instance. If that’s what floats your boat, the Barclays Tournament in Bethpage every August draws golfers like Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. But, damn, you’ve got to choose. And this is as much choice as I can handle, and I write about this stuff.
Fall here is a sports fan’s paradise. Labor Day week—when the pennant races heat up, college and pro football kick off, and the U.S. Open is in full tilt—is often called the best seven days in sports. That stands for sports fans all over the country, but it goes double for New York sports fans.
To some, like me, October is even better, with the Yankees usually fighting for the lead in the American League East, and the Giants and Jets taking on their traditional rivals (that would be the Eagles, Cowboys, and Redskins for the Giants, and New England, Buffalo, and Miami for the Jets). There’s usually a good college football game both at Yankee Stadium and across the river at Rutgers, plus the Red Bulls wrapping up their season at their state-of-the-art stadium just a PATH ride away. The NBA and NHL are in preseason, getting ready for their openers at the end of the month, and St. John’s and other colleges are preparing to tip off their basketball season.
As an added bonus: On October 20, we have one of the three or four best professional boxing matches of the year: champion Danny Garcia defending his title against Erik Morales at the Barclays Center, the first professional championship fight in Brooklyn in decades. For nothing else would I miss a game that might put the Yankees in the World Series.
There are, of course, drawbacks to being a sports fan in the New York area. The major one is that you’re going to have to . . . make choices. You’re going to have to give something up.
I know people who have no more connection to the United States Military Academy at West Point than having a father who did a two-year hitch in the Army, but they build their fall around a trip up the Palisades to tailgate at an Army football game amid the most beautiful autumn foliage in the world.
To see a Mets playoff game, I blew off the only chance I had in years to see the Giants at the Meadowlands, and when I lived in Park Slope, I put everything else off to walk five blocks from my apartment and spend the day watching the marathon.
But you always get something back, namely the exhilarating sense of freedom from having so many choices, every one of them a good one. And there’s something you have with every option: You don’t need a car. The extraordinary combination of trains, subways, and buses can get you to any of these events. Yes, you have a lot of sports choices in Southern California as well, but try getting to Dodger Stadium without spending half the day stuck in traffic.
There’s only one limit to your options: your discretionary income. But the New York area has the best Plan B for that problem as well—the best selection of sports bars with the best selection of beers anywhere in the U.S. And, trust me, there’s a sports bar for every sport we have. And many of them have enough flat screens to offer you whatever game you want to see. As Satchel Paige said, you pays your money and you takes your choice.