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Summer memories

What are your best sports adventures? Here are mine.

Posted: Tuesday July 17, 2007 12:33PM; Updated: Tuesday July 24, 2007 12:00PM
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The famous Broadway Joe was an elusive figure to at least one group of young autograph hounds.
The famous Broadway Joe was an elusive figure to at least one group of young autograph hounds.
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Don Maynard. George Sauer. Matt Snell. Emerson Boozer. Randy Rasmussen. Weeb Ewbank. Pete Lammons. Billy Joe...

Their scrawls -- 26 in all on 3x5 sheets of lined notepad paper -- dwell in my dresser drawer. They're relics of fondly-recalled summer days spent chasing the Super Bowl champion New York Jets through the parking lot of their training facility at Hofstra University on Long Island. My friends and I lived only a short bike ride away, so we often pedaled our kidly selves over to watch practice and hunt for autographs. Alas, we never got the Holy Grail. I recall Joe Namath ducking into a white convertible piloted by an attractive blonde wench and rolling off before we could attach ourselves to his famous, gimpy knees.

The best part of those afternoons may have been after the Jets cleared out and the place grew quiet. We'd scale the high chain-link fence that surrounded the AstroTurf field where the mighty Hofstra Flying Dutchmen played their home games and engage in a little four-on-four touch football on the 100-yard gridiron that was usually broiling in 90-degree heat and wilting humidity. Man, talk about sucking wind. Every other play was a bomb that went 85 yards for a touchdown. Not sure who had it worse, the receiver or the defenders. Then we had to summon the energy to scramble back to our bikes when the angry groundskeeper arrived to chase us off.

Our next stop was a small printing plant on the outskirts of Mitchell Field -- the old, rundown airbase nearby -- to scavenge in a dumpster for miniature Topps football cards. This being the Paleolithic age before collecting memorabilia became a psychotic mania with huge financial implications, we didn't mind that the cards were usually bent or softened and faded by rain. I was just happy to find that Mick Tinglehoff. (I liked the Vikings' purple uniforms.)

So, what kind of summer sports adventures did you get up to when you weren't chained to a desk and actually had lots of free time each day to roam the landscape? If you've got any good stories, send them to me and I'll run them in a future installment.

Here are two more of mine:

• Banner Day at Shea Stadium: Your very first glimpse of a Major League field is probably the lead item in life's Standard Magic file, but actually stepping on one is a close second. Amazing how immaculate and utterly vast a big league ballpark looks from down there. Each season, the Mets allowed fans to parade their homemade displays of avid support around the edge of the field between games of a doubleheader. I was a Yankees fan, but I still thrilled at joining the other paraders in the dark tunnel near the leftfield corner where we'd watch the final two innings of the first game. One year, my anticipation grew and then slowly fizzled as I clutched my bedsheet banner and my legs grew weary while the Mets and Padres slogged on into the 12th inning and beyond. That day was only slightly shorter than winter in Alaska.

• Pick-up baseball games. Virtually every morning, I'd gather with the other kids in my neighborhood and ride to one of the local ballfields, toting our Mickey Mantle bats and Curt Flood or Curt Simmons -- yes, Curt Simmons -- gloves. The Little League diamonds were prized because they were well-kept and the bases were often still out, but you had to get there early or other pick-up games would force you to make a diamond in the weedy nether reaches, with rocks or windblown paper bags as bases. If you were really lucky, you'd get the field with the dugouts and outfield fence. Actually hitting a ball over that sucker was just a dream when I was 8 or 9, but as I got older and bigger, I delighted in launching moonshots well beyond it. Natural steroids, man.

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