Sunday, April 19, 2009
The Rewards of Fandom
Though I stand by my statement that this past season (and it is exciting to refer to it as past) was not nearly the worst I've experienced as an Islanders fan, I would be foolish to admit that it wasn't a tough one. It's not exciting to see the team you like finish dead last, and to have to hear the subsequent derisive (I'm using big words so the Rangers fans don't read this) comments from fans of teams who are in the playoffs. It's not easy to sit through a season of trash talking when you don't really have a great comeback. It's not fun to receive an e-mail from Ticketmaster breathlessly urging you to "Score great Playoffs seats & cheer your team to the Stanley Cup,' which I received on Friday.
But if you can make it through all that and still stick around, you will be rewarded. I know this now, because I got my reward Friday night, when The Mediocre One and I attended game 1 of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers-Wilkes-Barre/Scranton AHL playoff series at the Nassau Coliseum (lovingly described by a drunken fan wearing a Mick Vukota jersey at the last Islanders game we went to as "like a Kiss concert in 1978").
We got to the game a little late and missed the first goal, but luckily our arrival to our third-row corner seats ($19 each!) didn't disturb anyone. This was mainly because there weren't that many people to disturb and the people behind us were the most annoying bunch of children I've ever sat near at a hockey game. Toward the end of the game, one of them revealed himself as a Rangers fan and started debating that the Rangers' legacy was more storied than the Islanders and, for a second there, it seemed like the man in the front row was going to lose it. But he kept himself in check, though he was probably tired from yelling at the guy in the Gretzky Rangers hat, who, incongruously, seemed to be a Sound Tigers---or at least a Pascal Morency--fan. That man also withstood a confrontation with Sparky.
Another top-notch fan in our section was right up against the glass. And, at several points during the game, particularly in the pre-period skates, also up against the glass was his Yankees hat. For reasons neither TMO nor I could figure out, he would press his Yankees hat against the glass, bang on the glass, and try to get players to respond. The Mediocre One first saw this behavior while I was walking on the concourse prior to the second period (and what a walk it was...just wait). He said Jon Sim was the recipient of the Yankee Treatment, and it was one of the more confusing things he's ever seen. It sounded odd to me, but the true oddness of it didn't settle in until I saw it for myself prior to the third period. The Yankees fan got a couple of guys to look over and then hit paydirt when Penguin Paul Bissonette skated by, took a look at the hat, and then seemed to get angrier as he skated away. And by the time he was on the other side of the ice, he was yelling at the Yankees fan and was visibly upset. You probably had to be there, but it was one of the funnier (and odder) things I've seen at a hockey game.
But let's get back to my reward. No, it wasn't a Sound Tiger victory (they lost 3-2 and, in fact, lost Game 2 as well and now head to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton tonight down 2-0). No, it wasn't hearing the "Sound Tiger Rowwwwwwwrrrrrrr" that is heard in Bridgeport when a Sound Tiger scores (they foolishly didn't bring that sound effect to Long Island). No, it wasn't seeing Kyle Okposo skate up close and see how strong he is on his skates (he dragged a guy almost all the way down the boards after he was checked in the offensive zone). No, my reward came as I was heading back to my seat as the second period began. The Mediocre One had decided to stay in his seat, so I was alone when I came around a bend and spotted The Man.
Yessir, last Friday night, I met Mitch Fritz.
He was taking pictures with kids as I came near (the above GQ photo was snapped after one of the kid photos, as I tried to control my excitement), and I debated just how embarrassing it would be to grab a total stranger on the concourse and ask that person to take a picture of me and Mr. Fritz. Then I realized that I had just essentially had him pose for a picture on the concourse, so how much more embarrassing could a picture with him possibly be? So I headed to what I think was a father and son, and the son obliged (I'm not sure they even knew who the other guy was, as hard as that may be to believe). After the photo, I managed to sputter out something that went like this:
Me: Man, you're, like, a hero, on our blog.
Mr. Mitch Fritz: What's that?
Me: My friends and I have a blog called the Palm Isle. It's a "Slap Shot" reference.
Mr. Mitch Fritz: Oh, cool.
Me: Yeah, and at the beginning of the season, I decided that you had the perfect chantable name.
Mr. Mitch Fritz: Yeah, I've heard that.
Me: All right, cool. Thanks. I hope you're back next year.
Mr. Mitch Fritz: Yeah, me too.
While I hope the Sound Tigers rebound and I get a chance to see them play again this year, if Friday night was the last hockey game I see this season, at least it ended on a high note.
Mitch Fritz! (Clap! Clap!) Mitch Fritz! (Clap! Clap!)