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When I used to go to games

I haven't attended a Major League Baseball game in more than a decade.

It's been even longer for an NFL game. Longer than that for an NHL game. An NBA game? Never.

So what's my excuse as a sports fan, whose job is all about sports, whose first choice when flipping on the TV or internet is sports programming?

I guess I have a few excuses. They're actually exactly that: excuses. If I really wanted to, I'd get on that MLB website, buy some tickets and head out tomorrow. But most days, the following excuses make total sense:

Pro games have gotten way expensive, I live far from large cities, and traveling sounds less and less fun the older I get. (Every time I see one of those car signs that reads "I'd rather be hiking" or "It's always better when you're swimming," I think "I've got to get one of those that says, "I'd rather be home reading a book.'")

Obviously, I've settled down.

So, naturally, this seems like the perfect period in my life to take on the exercise that I saw on The Five Tool Collector, which is to name the best players you've seen, both in the first game you attended and all-time, in the various major sports!

What the heck, I could use the reminder.

Also, I have the added bonus of having talked to pro athletes after (or before) games, so I'll throw that in there, too.


Best player witnessed, first game

The first baseball game I saw in person was at Yankee Stadium on July 15, 1978. The Royals beat the Yankees, 8-2.

Both teams were at the top of their games during that year and the game I saw was full of notables: Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles, Hal McRae, Willie Wilson, Willie Randolph, Sparky Lyle, Mickey Rivers, Freddie Patek and Amos Otis.

But the standouts of that game come down to Reggie Jackson* and George Brett. (The actual standouts in terms of playing that game were winning pitcher Dennis Leonard, who threw a complete game, and Pete LaCock, who hit a three-run home run, the first home run I ever witnessed live. Yes, Pete LaCock!)

You can't go wrong choosing either Jackson or Brett. I'm choosing Brett. Maybe if Jackson didn't go 0-for-4 in the game I saw, things would be a little different.

Best player witnessed, all-time

Cal Ripken Jr. barely edges out Brett as the best player I've watched play a game. Their stats are quite similar but Ripken's legacy is a bit more notable (changed the very idea of the shortstop position, established the standard for longevity).

I saw Ripken the same year his rookie card came out in 1982 at Fenway Park. It remains the best game I've ever witnessed in person (Red Sox won in 10).

There were also several notables in that game. A young Wade Boggs. Dennis Eckersley, Jim Palmer, Jim Rice.

I've watched many more baseball games than I have any other sport and I still go to minor league games (they're closer). In my time, notables I've seen also include: Larry Walker, Adrian Beltre, Andy Van Slyke, Vladimir Guerrero, Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter, Eric Karros, Shawn Green, Roger Clemens, Tim Raines, Mo Vaughn, Lenny Dykstra, Bernie Williams, Jose Canseco, Willie McGee, Tony Pena, Eric Gagne, Andres Galarraga, Lee Smith and Paul O'Neill.

Best player interviewed, all-time

Sadly, the best MLB players I've interviewed, including a few Hall of Famers, had not just finished playing a game when I talked to them (or were preparing to play in a game). When I interviewed Craig Biggio, he had the day off -- which is probably why I could interview him -- and Alex Trevino started at catcher. The post-game, pre-game players I've interviewed had pretty modest careers. Probably Eric Gagne, by virtue of the records he broke, is the most notable.


Best player witnessed, first game

The first NFL game I saw was a Halloween game in Orchard Park, N.Y, in 1988. The Buffalo Bills clobbered the Green Bay Packers, 28-0.

The Packers were BAD. This was pre-Brett Favre, pre-Reggie White, pre-Lambeau Leap. The only thing people knew about the Packers at that time was they had been bad for a long time, like since the '60s bad.

So there is no one on the Packers I needed to consider for the best player of that game. The Bills, meanwhile, were gearing up for four straight Super Bowl appearances (and losses) and full of stars. Among Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed or Jim Kelly, it all depends on what part of the game you value more.

I've got to go with Kelly.

Best player witnessed, all-time

Easy one.

Although I've seen Kelly and Warren Moon, Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson, James Lofton and Donovan McNabb, the best NFL player I've watched play a game is John Elway during a Monday Night game in Buffalo. Elway's success can be matched by just a few NFL players in history.

Best player interviewed, all-time

I've had much better success interviewing stars in the NFL than in baseball, go figure. Elway wins that fight, too. I interviewed him after the Bills game in the locker room after he had gotten out of the shower wearing nothing but a towel (him, not me). Hello, ladies.


Best player witnessed, first game

I don't remember the first NHL game I saw. But I know it was in Buffalo sometime in the latter part of the 1980s.

Who knows who the opponent was (I know it wasn't Wayne Gretzky so I'm not afraid I'm missing anyone). I'll have to go with the de facto notable for the Sabres at that time, Dave Andreychuk. Solid player on some semi-solid Sabres teams.

Best player witnessed, all-time

I've seen next to no NHL games in person. The problem with attending NHL games is that they play in the stupid winter. Driving three-plus hours in the winter often becomes driving five-plus hours in the winter with several near-death experiences when you're in Upstate New York.

Back when I lived in Buffalo, my girlfriend at the time (later my wife) attended a Sabres game with me against the Quebec Nordiques (remember them?). My wife could slaughter me in this particular category because she's a Buffalo girl and was a big hockey fan as a kid and watched those great '70s Sabres team in which she saw Gil Perrault and those other guys and also who knows who on the opponent's side.

But for me, the best player I saw in that game and since was Peter Stastny, forever known as the highest scorer of the 1980s not named Gretzky.

P.S.: I cannot stress how much Sabres fans disliked the Nordiques back then. People forget those old rivalries but I'm sure some Buffalo folks don't.

Best player all-time, interviewed

Most of the hockey players I've interviewed -- and I've interviewed a lot -- were college players, several  who also played in the NHL. Probably the best was Martin St. Louis, who was playing for Vermont when I talked to him.


Best player witnessed, first game

Ha, ha! I've never seen an NBA game in person!

So why go on?

I think I should make an effort to complete the big-four sports. So I'm dipping into the colleges again, although even adding the colleges, I have little experience.

Back when the main Syracuse beat writer was on vacation, I was given the chance to cover an SU game three days before Christmas. The Orange was playing the Arizona Wildcats at the Carrier Dome. Pretty good game, huh? Lot better than Colgate.

This was the best player in that game, eventually:

He was still very good for Arizona, of course, but he ended up outshining everyone who played in that game in 1994, appearing in 878 NBA games and was a key part of the Portland teams at the turn of the century.

Best player all-time interviewed

Screw whether he was playing in a game at the time I talked to him, the best NBA player I've interviewed is David Robinson and I talked to him the toy section of a department store in the middle of the summer. I'm not going to bother looking for anyone else who will be much less accomplished than Mr. Robinson.

So, there. That's the end of that exercise.

I think one day I'll get myself off the sofa and go see another professional game or two (most likely baseball). Now that the kid is out of the house, things may start to look up in next year or two.

I'm sure that game will be baseball. Unless my daughter's boyfriend drags me to Madison Square Garden for a Knicks game (this is a large assumption but I see all the pieces fitting).

I plan to counter his offer with "but the sofa is more fun."

* Yes, I know that's the Burger King Reggie Jackson. I'm not scanning my scuffed-up '78 Topps Reggie.


Zippy Zappy said…
I don't go to most MLB/NHL/NBA games anymore because if I can't get an autograph (and neither Yankee Stadium or MSG are autograph friendly), it's a waste of time for me. Also if I want to go to a NFL team I'd need to travel to NJ.
Billy Kingsley said…
Last year you could get Cavaliers tickets for $2. Literally. The parking cost $25...I actually considered doing that, even though the Knicks, Nets and Celtics are all closer to home.

I have never attended any actual games. I don't like crowds, I do like air conditioners, I like no lines waiting for food or bathroom, and the TV offers replays and multiple angles. I am hoping to attend a Knicks and Rangers game sometime during the 2019-20 season though.
I've been a full season ticket holder to various Minor League teams for a few years now (due to moving), and have VIP tickets to the HOF Induction ceremony next weekend to watch a fellow Panamanian #42 get inducted. Autographs are easy to get at Minor League parks. I got many of the current Padres and Rockies when they were up and coming, as well as a bunch of future Astros players. Sitting at a ballpark is like sitting at home on a couch for me. Very pleasant experience. I understand the living far away part, but I only take new jobs near professional baseball teams.
Chris said…
I hope this catches on as a Blog Bat Around. It's fun to see the lists of great athletes we've witnessed. And you've got the added bonus of having met and interviewed a bunch of them.

Lol, the Packers couldn't even put up a field goal against that Bills team. They really did suck back then.
Brett Alan said…
I haven't been to a baseball game since the Mets and Tigers in 2013, and the last major sporting event I attended was a Rangers/Oilers game at MSG in 2016-17. My brother and I keep saying we'll go to a Mets game--we actually had tickets for one and a combination of work and weather problems led to us not going.

Greatest players I've ever seen in person are Mays, Jordan, and Messier. I have no idea for football--I've been to a few Jets games, so maybe Namath? But maybe I didn't go until after he retired. Saw Pele with the Cosmos, too. But I envy those who actually remember their first games--that's completely lost to the sands of time for me.
Fuji said…
My memory is terrible. Have no clue the date (or even the year) of my first MLB, NFL, or NBA game. My first NHL game was in 1991. The only reason I know that is because I went to a few games when they played at the Cow Palace.
Tony Lehman said…
I got to see Damon Stoudamire in college too -- in the 1993 NCAA Tournament, in fact. I think I'm going to have to save that for my post like this!
Bo said…
My first game was a Yankees-Royals game in 1987. George Brett, Willie Wilson and Willie Randolph were in that game too. Looking at the accounts of the game online, Brett pulled a ribcage muscle early in the game and ended up on the disabled list.
deal said…
Ron Cey batted clean up in my first game.
Angus said…
The Dodgers visit the Mets on the weekend of September 13-15. Just sayin'.
Jafronius said…
I don't remember my first MLB game sadly. I do know it was either Cubs/Cardinals or Cubs/Dodgers, both games were in the mid-80s. I have yet to go to an NFL game. I've been to 1 NHL game and 2 or 3 NBA games; I'm sure I can dig up the dates for those first ones since I would have the programs and most likely a printed recap of the game.

Is there a link for your story on your "interview" with The Admiral in a toy store? I'm intrigued!

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