The grandkids are back in school, excited in their different ways about the challenges their course loads will present in coming months. And after a year of home schooling, their social interactions will return to great delight.
They’re also pretty excited about their first experiences of organized sports—Evelyn in volleyball, Sean Liam in football. I just may be more excited than they are.
I’ve always enjoyed sports and only wish that I could still play them. But age takes its toll, and I am sidelined to be an observer.
My favorite sport is baseball, followed by soccer and ice hockey. I’m not all that interested in football, though I sure seem to watch a lot it—only because I can’t pry Geri away from the screen on Sundays, and Monday and Thursday nights. I’m not much of a fan of basketball, although for a three-year stretch in the mid-80s, I went to dozens of Lakers games because I had free tickets.
That was the golden age of Lakers b-ball, and I sat comfortably in the senate seats, smoking a cigar, and imbibing a cocktail or two. But the real joy was in watching how the team actually played. Magic Johnson was particularly interesting in displaying true teamwork. His periphery vision seemed to encompass the entire court—side-to-side, end-to-end—and he’d methodically bring the ball into play and start looking for a teammate to assist. Once he delivered the ball to the shooter, he’d charge to the goal to rebound—if necessary.
He also scored a lot of points.
And of course, watching Kareem Abdul-Jabbar play was like watching an athletic ballet. His skyhook was the stuff of legend.
Being an urban kid growing up, we played sports. Mostly baseball, on vacant lots. We’d use pieces of cardboard as bases, and since there were never more than nine or ten of us, we’d improvise rules—reinventing the game to meet our needs. Some of us would have to go home to practice the piano for half-an-hour, but when we got back to the sandlot the game was still going.
They were marathons that ended with our arms around each other’s shoulders. We’d be home before dark—sweaty, roughed-up and hungry. We’d sleep with our mitts under the pillow, the Neatsfoot oil scenting the night air.
Most of us were in Little League, a concept, on paper, that was good. Unfortunately, fathers (mostly) with over-active thyroids would diminish the experience of organized ball because they feared their son would not gain a spot on the Yankees’ roster ten years down the line. It’s what inspired me to umpire youth baseball for 14 years: keep the parents quiet and let the kids play.
But here’s the deal. While there are inherent risks of injury, the rewards I believe are worth the risk. Sports provide vital conditioning of the body, which helps to feed an active mind. A flabby body cannot support a sharp mind. There’s a balance that is there for the asking.
And team sports teach us to respect authority (the coaching staff), to recognize that hard work will lead to success, that practice approaches perfect, and that teamwork is what leads to victory.
Not that winning is the only thing. I disagree with Vince Lombardi on that score. Doing one’s best is perhaps all that is needed or should be expected.
Most of us have had careers or jobs that require a cooperative effort. Teams build cars, create movies, play music, accommodate car racing, issue newspapers and make restaurants work. In the twelve years I had my restaurant, I found that among my best employees were high school students who played team sports. It was actually a question on my rather odd employment application. (Trying to eliminate the self-centered with no respect for authority, one of the questions asked was about wearing seat belts.)
The worst employee I ever had was a server who turned his nose up at team sports and proudly announced he was a snow boarder.
Sports also have the ability to inspire each of us to do better in any given activity, and provide glimpses of stunning excellence. To watch Messi’s ball handling on the pitch, a double play on the diamond, or a wide receiver snag the football in the midst of a crowd of defenders in the end zone—those are moments of athletic prowess that few will attain.
All the more reason to keep trying.
Photo illustration by Courtney A. Liska
Chicken and Mushrooms in a White Wine Sauce
This is a no-brainer weeknight dinner that is perfectly wonderful.
4 Tbs. butter, divided
¼ cup flour
2 cups chicken stock, lukewarm
½ cup dry white wine
4 Tbs. heavy cream
1 tsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper
1 lb chicken or turkey breast, cut into chunks
8 oz. button mushrooms, sliced
Handful of finely chopped tarragon or parsley
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in large pan over medium heat. Add flour and beat hard until you have a smooth paste (called a roux). Continue to beat until roux begins to have a golden color. Take off heat and gradually add stock, whisking constantly.
Place pan back over medium heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes, whisking frequently to ensure none of the sauce burns on bottom of pan. If sauce becomes too thick, whisk in a little more stock.
Add wine and continue simmering for 10 minutes, then take off the heat and whisk in cream and lemon juice. Taste for salt and pepper.
While sauce is simmering, melt 2 tablespoons butter in large frying pan until sizzling. Add chicken and fry for a few minutes until golden. Add mushrooms and fry for another 5 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.
To serve, mix sauce with chicken and mushrooms and sprinkle with some fresh tarragon or parsley.