The Ultimate Fan
It’s hard to believe that we are coming up on two years since my father’s passing. It’s even harder to believe that it has taken me this long to write this article. Writing has definitely taken a backseat to the curve ball that is life since he left us. With Autumn officially here, all four major professional sports are going to be prevalent. So now feels like the perfect time to put into words what it meant to be raised a fan.
The stories were told constantly throughout my entire life. Hearing about how I was introduced to the Blue Seats at Madison Square Garden before I took my first step was one of the mainstays. Side note: my dad had a knack for telling the same stories over and over again. But the fact is that one of, if not the earliest memory I can recall is sitting on his bed, the day before my 4th birthday, watching Jesse Orosco strike out Marty Barrett to give the Mets their second World Series Championship. Sports were just always a part of who I was, and are a part of who I am and will be. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I was lucky enough to have gone to more Mets, Rangers, and Giants games than most kids in my school combined. It didn’t hurt that the 80’s and 90’s featured much more affordable tickets. I probably took for granted what it meant to go to a game with my dad because it happened often enough. Whenever the Notre Dame football team played at Giants Stadium, we were there. Whenever the Duke basketball team played at MSG or the Meadowlands, we were there. I have seen games in at least 28 stadiums or arenas.
Earlier, I said that my father was known for telling the same stories multiple times. But no time ever mirrored the previous one. There was always something new. That’s why I loved to hear him tell these stories. The old information would be reinforced, and just enough new information would be there to make it interesting. I loved hearing him tell his Brooklyn Dodgers stories. I heard just as many Dodger stories as I did Mets, even though the Dodgers were his hometown team for the first 9 years of his life. That’s now I knew that I wasn’t just hearing his stories, I was also hearing my grandfather’s.
Then, there’s Red. Red was a pivotal part in why my father had such a love for live sports. Red was a ticket broker. Ticket brokers were huge back in the 70’s, or at least that’s what I was told. My grandfather was Red’s accountant, and Red was their “hook-up”. You’ve probably heard of the Willis Reed game in the 1973 NBA Finals? My dad and grandfather were there with great seats. The Pete Stemkowski triple overtime goal for the Rangers against the Blackhawks in the 1971 Semifinals? You know it. The only game that Rangers fans cheered for the visiting team? Eddie Giacomin had returned to The Garden just days after being traded to Detroit. They were there chanting “Eddie! Eddie! Eddie!”
This was all because of this mysterious figure to me that was able to get them into some of the most memorable events in New York sports history. Thanks Red. And don’t get me started on the concerts, that’s not for this post.
My Forever Coach
For my dad, being a fan wasn’t just about the pros. I played baseball and hockey throughout my childhood, and still play to this day. My dad was my baseball coach from day one. He would always tell me that he started taking me to “the park with home plate” in Rochelle Park, NJ to hit me grounders when I was just two years old. My father knew all of the ins and outs when it came to the sport of baseball. He really thought like a coach.
When I got to high school, he could no longer be “coach”. That didn’t stop him from attending every single game that I played in high school, home or away. In fact, I can only recall him missing two innings of a baseball game of mine. Two innings that he never let down for the rest of his life. He left the last game of my junior season to go help a friend of his to coach a team I used to play on. I hit a walk-off home run to end the season. I drove to the field he was helping coach and told him what happened, and he broke down into tears.
Hockey, on the other hand, was completely different. Don’t get me wrong, he LOVED the game of hockey, maybe more than any other sport. Hockey was just never a game he ever played, but he was always a fan. He knew so much about the history of the sport, but he couldn’t coach any of the fundamentals of the game. Luckily, I had a wonderful uncle to help me with that. But that didn’t stop him from attending every single game that I played.
The year after I graduated high school, I started coaching my brother’s hockey team in the same street hockey league I played in. I still coach to this day, despite my brother finishing school in 2011. When I was playing, he watched me play. When I started coaching, he watched me coach. He learned how to coach from watching his son. And, to be honest, I never realized that until I started writing this paragraph. Because he would eventually just make his way over to the bench one day, and that’s where he stayed. For a good 5-6 years. The kids we coached loved him. I know why.
I am now raising a family of my own. I have two daughters, 11 and 8, who are athletes. They’re just not athletes down the same path I went down. They’re both great dancers who dance competitively at an amazing dance studio. Now if you were to tell me when I was younger that Kenny Stern would spend his weekends at a high school an hour and a half away to watch a dance competition, I would’ve called you crazy. Maybe even worse. But the same way he was a fan for me, he was for his granddaughters. The favorite title he ever held was “Pop-Pop”.
There was one competition in the Spring of 2021, just before we found out about his diagnosis. We were all still dealing with the Covid pandemic. There happened to be a limit of one parent per family who could attend. Thank goodness for live-streaming, because we were able to watch the competition together on the computer. When my oldest daughter was dancing her solo, I remember the tears of pride streaming down his face. The same tears that were there when he found out about my game-winning home run.
I learned everything I know about being a fan from him. He is why I am at every dance competition. He is why I am a “prop dad”. He is why I’m one of the loudest parents in the audience during awards. I need to be involved somehow. It’s just in my DNA. Although my two girls don’t have any interest in the sports I do, there is still a glimmer of hope for me.
My three year old son absolutely loves going to live sporting events. My dad passed away when my son was only 16 months old, so he never got to see how my son is at games. His first Ranger game was two months after he lost his grandfather. He watched all three periods intently. Whenever the Rangers scored a goal, he would tap himself on the head. That came from watching enough games with me on TV that he would see the players celebrate a goal by patting each other on the helmet. Remember how I said my father would tell stories over and over? He would have told everyone he knew about how his grandson celebrated a Ranger goal. Many times.
I am thankful to my father for many things. As you can tell, near the top of that list is how to be the best fan I can be. Whether it be for any of the pro or college teams I root for, or most importantly, the team I have at home.
Thank you dad,
Signed, your biggest fan.
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