Remembering Albany’s Professional Soccer Teams

I was thinking about this a while back. When I was a teenager, around 1979 or so, Albany had no real professional sports franchises of its own. Yeah, we had the Albany Metro Mallers football team, but that was a “semi-professional” squad. There was the Albany Twilight League amateur baseball season, but how charged up can you get for a Sons of Italy / Oppenheimer Post matchup?

That’s why I was surprised when it was announced that Albany would be getting an American Soccer League franchise, the New York Eagles, for the 1979 season. At first I thought, why in the world would Pele and Rodney Marsh and the NASL come to Albany? That was before I realized that there was the North American Soccer League, with all the international stars, and the American Soccer League, which was essentially Division II.

Don’t get me wrong, the New York Eagles were fun to watch from 1979 to 1981 (they took the 1980 season off for financial reasons), and games against squads like the Cleveland Cobras, Detroit Express and New York Apollo were exciting matchups. Especially if Vogislav “Billy” Bolevic was in the lineup, the guy could score almost on will. He scored 25 goals in 1981, earning him the league’s Most Valuable Player award. The Eagles made the playoffs each of their two seasons of play, but were knocked out of the first round each time.

The other thing I learned about the Eagles was that although the franchise at the time was populated almost completely with Yugoslavian nationals, the team suddenly developed internal factions once the team started playing in Albany.  Outside of Yugoslavia, the Eagles soccer team weren’t Yugoslavians any more; they were Serbs and Croatians and Macedonians and five other ethnic nationalities. And the Serbs wouldn’t pass to the Croatians, and the Croatians would not talk to the Macedonians, etc., etc.

Years later, after the Eagles dried up and moved away, Albany had some other professional soccer franchises, including the APSL’s Albany Capitals (who I worked with during their final season, in which they made the APSL championship game), the NPSL’s New York Kick (one of several sports teams in the Knickerbocker Arena’s early years) and the USISL’s Albany Alleycats (the less said about them, the better). About the only souvenir I still have of the Eagles is an enamel logo pin, which is parked on my home computer desk.

That, and about a dozen memories of Billy Bolevic turning goaltenders into crybabies.

Road Trip: Photographing the Premier Basketball League Combine

It’s what, 8pm and I’m here at the Thruway rest stop at Sloatsburg – the first rest area after you get off of I-287 from New Jersey.  It was a long road trip and I needed to take a break, a chance to upload some photos to my flickr site and decompress for a bit.

Saturday I drove down to Rockville, Maryland, where the Premier Basketball League is holding a free agent combine for prospective new players.  In other words, pay your fee, bring your shorts, bring your shoes, and bring your game.

For those who don’t know about the PBL, it began in the 2007-2008 season as several teams that broke away from the American Basketball Association.  You’re probably thinking, “You mean the league from the 70’s with Julius Erving and the Indiana Pacers and all that?”  Not quite.  The current 21st-century ABA plays their games with a red-white-and-blue basketball, but that’s the only similarity.  The current ABA is run by an advertising executive named Joe Newman, a person so slick he could sell a remarriage proposal to Jon and Kate Gosselin.  But Joe Newman barely knows how to operate a league – at least count, over 200 franchises have joined – and folded – and the level of play in the ABA is barely above a YMCA pickup league.  Proof of this statement?  Last year, the CBA played an interleague series with the ABA – of the 42 games originally planned, the ABA could only play 14 of them, and of those, the CBA demolished the ABA 12-2 (including one game where a CBA team defeated an ABA team with a score of 172-70).

Anyways, several ABA teams that actually KNEW what they were doing and had a decent level of basketball skills, broke away from the ABA and formed their own league, the Premier Basketball League.  Now entering its third season, the league has teams that stretch throughout the Northeast, and the quality of play in the PBL is much stronger than in the ABA.  If a guy can’t get in the NBA, playing in the PBL is a viable alternative to playing in the D-League or in Europe.

This will be my third year photographing with the PBL, and I have to say that it’s a very entertaining and rewarding experience.  I’ve traveled throughout the Northeast (in the Pride of General Motors, my Pontiac 6000) and have photographed dozens of basketball games.

This season, the PBL will return several franchises that are within my driving distance, including the two-time champion Rochester Razorsharks, the Vermont Frost Heaves (those are bumps in the road when the winter thaws, so get that image of a snowman vomiting out of your mind), the Manchester (NH) Millrats, the Quebec Kebs (as in Quebecois), the Buffalo Stampede and the Halifax (NS) Rainmen.  No, I’m not driving 17 hours to Halifax, I’ll fly there at some point.  But not with United – they might break my guitar – if I actually owned one.

One of the teams joining the PBL are the two-time CBA champion Lawton-Fort Sill Cavalry, and I got a chance today to re-connect with their head coach, former Albany Patroons head coach Micheal Ray Richardson.  He flashed the 2009 CBA championship LFS Cavalry ring, and it looked like he was balancing a blinged-out manhole cover on his hand.

In case you’re curious about the Patroons’ alumni quotient in the PBL, Big John Strickland (who helped the Pats reach the championship round in 2006-07) will start his second year with the Halifax Rainmen.  And Daryl Hill, who played for Albany last season, suited up for some games with the Quebec Kebs in 08-09.

This will be the PBL’s third season, and judging from the talent pool that showed up at the combine, there are definitely some keepers on the court.  It will be very interesting to see who among the 100+ guys who showed up will make a PBL team this coming season.

In fact, here’s a slideshow of some action at the PBL Combine.  And check out, near the end of the slideshow, Micheal Ray Richardson, with a big smile on his face, posing with a prospective referee at the combine.  Anyone who saw him coach at Albany for two seasons won’t believe Micheal Ray Richardson is that close to a referee – without cursing the official out.

http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=71649

Any Verizon phone I get… better not have VZ Navigator on it

Back a few years ago, before GPS units were in every car, I relied on either MapQuest or Yahoo! Maps to plot my travel from Albany to another city.  I also owned a vintage BlackBerry – it was a 6750 phone, but it didn’t have a GPS or turn-by-turn navigation program in it.

Those two items converged one day – when my poor BlackBerry gave up the ghost.  Because I had purchased it online and used it through my Verizon Wireless carrier, rather than purchasing it directly through Verizon, Verizon would not repair the phone.  They would, however, be more than willing to sell me a new cell phone, and the two-year contract inherent thereto.

So I went to the Verizon Wireless store in Crossgates, and the customer service representative kept steering me toward the phone they were trying to push at that time.  No, it wasn’t a new BlackBerry – it was, in fact, a Motorola RAZR phone.  Yeah, the RAZR.

<SARCASM> Yippee Skippee. </SARCASM>

“The best thing about the RAZR,” the salesperson said to me, “is that you can get our brand new VZ Navigator software right on the phone.”

My ears picked up.

The VZ Navigator was Verizon’s built-in GPS software program.  You could punch in an address and the Navigator would provide turn-by-turn directions right to that doorstep.  And it would give you vocal commands – as in “TURN RIGHT ON SOUTH PEARL STREET.”

I tried it out. At the time, I was involved in a major research project that required me to travel to various towns in Pennsylvania.  And I was getting tired of trying to hold up a printed map with one hand, have one eye on the odometer to measure the miles to the intersection, and the other eye on the road in front of me (and the other hand on the steering wheel).  VZ Navigator might just be the thing I’m looking for.

====

The first time I tried the VZ Navigator, I had to go to Scranton.  No, I didn’t stop at Dunder-Mifflin and say hi to Dwight, thank you.

I got to Scranton without too much trouble – I-87 south to I-84, which picked up I-81 and then a couple of exits later, hello Scranton.

The problem I ran into was getting back from Scranton.  for some reason, the Navigator didn’t put me back on the interstate – in fact, it took me through Pennsylvania State Route 6, through Carbondale.  Which then led to about five other Pennsylvania towns I never heard of.  Before long,  I was driving through the heart of the Catskill Mountains.

And then my phone lost its signal.  Now what does that mean for me?  Well, for one thing I couldn’t make a phone call out.  But, more importantly, it also meant that there was no signal for the VZ Navigator to pick up and make sure I was going in the right direction.  In other words – I was tooling through Sullivan County without any idea of where I was going!  In fact, by the time I actually found a route to the New York State Thruway, the phone FINALLY picked up a signal, and the VZ Navigator’s synthesized voice kept repeating, “Recalculating Route… Recalculating Route…”

I called Verizon.  They told me it was an issue with early editions of VZ Navigator, and if I pressed a couple of “upload” commands on my phone, everything would be back to normal.

===

The second time I relied on Verizon’s VZ Navigator, I was in New York City with my wife Vicki.  Now if you’re not 100% familiar with driving in New York City, you need to know that half the roads in NYC are one-way streets, and the only way to REALLY get out of NYC is to either find the FDR Drive, the George Washington Bridge, the Holland Tunnel or the one sympathetic cab driver who will say to you, “Follow me,” and lead you to at least the Tappan Zee Bridge.

Well, once again I employed the services of the VZ Navigator.  Unfortunately, the VZ Navigator suddenly started sending me in several wrong directions.  “Turn left at the next intersection,” it commanded.  Unfortunately, the next intersection involved a one-way street pointing right.

“Turn right on 6th Avenue.”  How do you do that when you’re on 7th Avenue?  Where does 6th and 7th intersect?

After enough of these hijinks, I turned off the VZ Navigator and looked all over for the FDR Drive.  About an hour’s worth of parking-lot-traffic later, I got out of New York City.

Again, another call to Verizon.  Again, another “We’re working on the situation, but we’ve taken your call into account.”

===

Third time.  I went to visit my grandmother, who was at that time in a nursing home in Ossipee, New Hampshire.  Getting up to Ossipee (which is near several lakefront resort towns in upper New Hampshire) was no problem.  Getting back, however, was a nightmare.

I wanted to stay on major roads to get to the Massachusetts Turnpike; the VZ Navigator had other ideas.  Suddenly I find myself on the Franklin Pierce Highway, which is New Hampshire’s very own 100-mile long one-lane roller coaster highway.  And of course, the minute I get into Vermont – no signal.  No connection with the satellites.  And of course, no VZ Navigator to help me get un-lost.

===

After my third and final attempt to make VZ Navigator work, I once again called Verizon Wireless Customer Service.  I explained the situation, that the VZ Navigator was creating a route that would take me the wrong way on one-way streets, and that the Navigator was only useful as long as there was a solid cell phone signal, which of late I hadn’t received on that tiny little RAZR phone.

“Well, Mr. Miller, why are you using VZ Navigator for driving directions?” he asked me.

“What do you mean?” I asked, not understanding why he was questioning my use of the product.

“Well, you shouldn’t be using VZ Navigator as a driving aid.  if you’re going to use the software like that, you should go get yourself a Garmin.”

Okay… wait a minute.  Verizon Wireless Customer Service, instead of helping me fix the problem with THEIR software program, told me that I should go get a standalone GPS unit instead?  Wow.

That sound you just heard was my head exploding.  Go put “Scanners” on your Netflix queue.  You’ll see what I mean.

I complained to this guy’s supervisor.  I told him this RAZR wasn’t even qualified to do the work of a paperweight.  It was horrible, it was useless, and as for the VZ Navigator, I could get better navigational directions if I put Vicki in the back seat with a folded Jimapco map that I bought at a Pep Boys.

Eventually Verizon finally listened to me – and I was able to trade in my RAZR phone for a BlackBerry 7803e.  It was just like my old BlackBerry – I could get e-mails and send texts with a full QWERTY keyboard.  I asked if the phone had the capability to use Verizon’s VZ Navigator service.

“Sorry, sir, that phone doesn’t work with VZ Navigator,” the salesperson told me.

I immediately bought it and signed up for a two-year agreement.

A month later, I picked up a TomTom from Best Buy.  And in two years with that TomTom, I’ve never gotten lost – not once.  And unlike Verizon, I’ve never used TomTom’s brand name as a the subject of an unprintable barnyard expletive.

Helping out the Papergirl

While perusing one of my favorite “wrap up all the news and culture in the Capital District” websites, All Over Albany, I saw a report about a special art project that is currently taking place in the Capital District.  And it involves the region’s designated Papergirl.

No, not the person who drives by my house every morning and flings the Times-Union into my hedges.

Apparently this art project began a few years ago, when a woman in Berlin, Germany created an art distribution exhibit as a protest to what, at that time, were rules in Germany that equated bill postings with graffiti.  This person solicited artists to donate artworks, the artworks would be displayed in a gallery, the artwork would then be wrapped up into little tubes, and distributed – often by bicycle messenger – to anyone lucky enough to receive an artwork at random.  And at the end, a party would be held that would bring the artists and the recipients together.   More information on the project can be found at this website.

In Albany, art student Sina Hickey found the website, and thought it might be a nice idea to recreate the “Papergirl” project in our area.  Others had brought the “Papergirl” concept to their cities, and Sina wanted to give it a try as well.  So with that, she created a myspace page asking for artwork – the art needed to be rollable and hand-made (no photocopies).

So with that, I went through some of my photographs – and found several of my “fisheye” shots of the Capital Region that I took a couple of weeks ago.  I printed them out, put them in an envelope, and mailed them to the Papergirl.

Now if all goes well, and they get accepted into the Papergirl project, the photos will be part of a gallery exhibition, “Flux,” at St. Joseph’s Church in Albany.  That exhibition will run from October 9-11.  After that, all the artwork (including my photographs) will be rolled up in tubes, and Sina and her friends will bicycle around the Capital Region, handing out the artwork to anyone who walks by.

I’ll keep you updated on what happens with the artwork, as well as visiting St. Joseph’s Church to see the “Flux” gallery show.

Week 3 of the Elbo Room Trivia Tournament

Another Thursday night in the books, another round of Team Trivia over at Elbo Room, as part of their $2,500 trivia tournament.

It seems that more teams are showing up at Elbo Room; in addition to the regular squads like Mayhem (construction workers that actually went to school) and Dr. Occam’s Razor (lawyers) and The Brown Van Experience (schoolteachers), I ran into Wayne and Lindsey, who play as the two-person team “Blue Mooned.” And when I say “play,” they’re at almost every trivia game from one end of the Capital District to the other – UNO on Tuesday, Recovery Room on Wednesday, and will probably be at Duke’s Bar & Grill in Glenmont for Friday night trivia.

As for my attempts to qualify for the $2,500 payout, well, it got a little dicey this week. I was able to name which two major league baseball teams can trace their lineage back to the Washington Senators (Texas Rangers and Minnesota Twins), but could only name one of the four siblings of River Phoenix (I had Joaquim, but did not know of Rain, Liberty or Summer Phoenix). And nearly everyone wiped out on a 10-pointer about which cartoon character debuted in a film called “Mr. Duck Steps Out” (figuring it wasn’t Donald or Daffy, I skipped the question, which was smart – apparently the cartoon character was Daisy Duck).

The final question was in the category of “Before They Were Stars,’ and it’s a category I don’t often have success with. So I went with a safe bet, hoping to at least nab third place and gain some playoff points for the night.

“What R&B singer had an early hit in 1953 with the song “Mess Around”?

I got this one. It was Ray Charles.

Unfortunately, by betting a safe bet, I could not stop other teams who bet all their points – and got the answer right – from finishing above me in the point totals. So for another week, Street Academy came up empty.  In fact, Stern Fans – the team that is NOTORIOUS for betting one or two points to secure their position, actually went all-in – and for them, it worked, and they scored 5 playoff points and are now in the lead for the tournament.

But … a situation arose where three teams tied for second place. Since 3 playoff points are awarded for second place and 1 playoff point is bestowed for third, the host had to play King Solomon and split four points amont three teams, giving each squad 1.3 points for the night.

This could mean that at the end of the tournament, a team could sneak into the final round with one-third of a point over its rivals – or get locked out by being two-thirds of a point short.

So after three weeks, here are the standings, and remember – only the top eight squads get into the final round.

Elbo Room Trivia Standings – Week 3
Trivia Team Points Totals
1 Stern Fans 5 8
T-2 Big Red Machine 1.3 6.3
T-2 Mayhem 1.3 6.3
4 Woo Hoo a Go Go 3
5 Monkey Knife Fights 1.3 1.3
T-6 Touched by an Uncle 1
T-6 Overqualified and Unemployed 1

I’m not worried yet about going a second week without playoff points. However, I do need to pick up my game here. Next week, I hope to do better. It’s not a sprint … it’s a marathon … a trivia-induced marathon.

Time to get into training.  Where’s Apollo Creed when I need him?

Photo Essay: Return to Storytown U.S.A.

A long time ago, I acquired a vintage View-Master reel of some attractions at Storytown, U.S.A.  I bought the reel with the intentions of producing an article on the history of View-Master product, but that project fell through.

Still, as part of the project, I attempted to scan in the original images off the View-Master reel – which was really tough to do.  I needed to scan the images at about 3000 dots per inch, while shining a light behind each tiny little slide as the flatbed scanner’s white light scanned the picture from beneath.

Here’s the original View-Master reel from 1956:

Slide 1 - The Little Red Schoolhouse
Slide 2 - The Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe

And, after much experimentation, I was able to scan the original slides off this reel. I apologize for the quality of the images; these were designed to be viewed in those classic View-Master devices.

Slide 3 - Cinderella Pumpkin Coach in Village Square
Slide 4 - Visitors entering the Whale

One of the things to realize with regard to this View-Master reel is that there were once several different amusement parks in the Adirondacks – places like Frontier Town and Gaslight Village and the Land of Make Believe, all of which are barely memories today.

Image 5 - Wishing Well and Toy Shop
Image 6 - Feeding the Three Little Pigs
Image 7 - Storytown Chapel

Interestingly, the question for me, after scanning those images, is – are these buildings and structures still at the Great Escape, 50+ years later?

Because Storytown U.S.A. evolved over time.  It added the western-themed Ghost Town.  It added a jungle park.  It added a waterpark.  It added the Comet roller coaster and the Steamin’ Demon.  It added the Desperado Plunge and the Black Cobra.  It even added a new name (The Great Escape) – and eventually, a new ownership group (Six Flags).

But it also removed many rides over the years.  Some were relocated to other places on the park grounds, others were disassembled and left in a secret location known colloquially as the “Graveyard.”  The park also purchased several rides and structures from amusement parks that no longer exist – Freedomland and Crystal Beach and a few others come to mind.  Some of those rides are still at the Great Escape today; others are stored in this long-forgotten graveyard, hoping one day to be re-assembled and re-located in a new area of the park.

A few years ago, I found some vintage home movie slides that were part of an extensive photographic collection – my wife’s parents took zillions of photographs, and there were reels and reels of slide carousels, all neatly stacked on shelves in our basement.  I pulled some of those slides, purchased a device that converts slides into digital photographs, and saved many of those slides to a digital storage media.  Again, very few of the original buildings on the Storytown / Great Escape grounds are still in their original location, and the photograph of Ghost Town’s legendary sheriff, Wild Windy Bill McKay, is definitely young enough to actually capture the varmints rampaging through Ghost Town.  Hopefully the below slide show brings back some memories of Storytown for you.

http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=71649

I know that as the Great Escape progresses and adds new rides and new attractions, some of the classic “gentle” rides and shows aren’t there any more.  So this is a gentle request for the operators of the Great Escape.  Somewhere on the grounds, you must have some place where you can re-assemble some of the vintage buildings and gentle rides, and maybe re-create a vintage version of Storytown, circa 1950’s or 1960’s, and let us all take a trip back to those days – without having to rely on vintage photographs, long-forgotten slide and 8mm home movies – to bring back the fun we all experienced so many years ago.  This isn’t a request to take away the new rides – if I don’t go on the Comet at least 6 times in a visit, then it’s not a fun visit for me – but maybe it would be nice to ride Danny the Dragon and travel through the Tornado ride just once more.

Am I right, readers?

How the Boston Celtics’ Rick Fox became part of my honeymoon

This is definitely going to be the blog post that gets my sorry self in trouble with my wife.

But it’s a great story to tell.

I married Vicki in 1994, and we had a fantastic honeymoon week in Toronto and in Niagara Falls.  We stayed for a few nights at SkyDome’s hotel complex, and watched the Toronto Blue Jays play a baseball game at SkyDome against the Milwaukee Brewers.  We did all the touristy things that week – we rode one of the Maid of the Mist boats at Niagara Falls, we ate dinner at the revolving restaurant upon the Minolta Tower; we went through all the storefront museums on the Ontario side of the Falls, we saw Casa Loma and the Hockey Hall of Fame and lots of other fun stuff.  We even played a round of miniature golf – Vicki hit a hole in one that I swear bounced off the fairway, hit the fence that kept the golf course from the sidewalk, and ricocheted back into the cup.

But I need to take this story back to SkyDome.  See, the night we were at the game, there was a special ceremony honoring the Canadian basketball team, who would be hosting the World Basketball Championships in Toronto.  The only name I recognized at the time, among all the players on stage, was the Boston Celtics’ Rick Fox.

And if it was the Boston Celtics’ anybody, then that would interest Vicki.  My girl loves the Boston Celtics, especially Larry Bird.  Me – my basketball fandom was more aligned with the Patroons than the Celtics, but to each his own.  She was totally stoked about seeing Rick Fox at SkyDome, and didn’t even seem to mind that we were probably watching one of the last regular-season games that year (yes, 1994 was the year Major League Baseball flipped its fans the bird and canceled the World Series).

Anyways, after the game ended, Vicki suddenly starts going up and down the stands, looking for these 32-ounce souvenir SkyDome soft drink cups (each one had a little roof lid on them, just like the retractable stadium roof).  She’s grabbing cups, and she’s handing them to me to hold on to until we get back to the hotel.  Girl must have grabbed about 30 of those cups.  Memo to the Blue Jays – if you plan on having a “remember 1994” night and are looking for a decent supply of cups…

We headed back up the stadium walkway, toward the corridor that would return us to the stadium’s hotel.  I’m feeling good – I just got married, we’re honeymooning in a beautiful city, life is good, I’m carrying a bunch of plastic cups and Vicki’s camera –

“AAAAAHHH!! AAAAAAHHH!!”

“What?”

“OH MY GOD IT’S RICK FOX!! IT’S RICK FOX!!”

Sure enough, Rick Fox was talking to one of his teammates from the Canadian National Basketball Team – maybe 25 feet away from us.  We were probably the last people in the entire stadium that weren’t maintenance workers or security guards.

Rick Fox with my wife Vicki.
Rick Fox with my wife Vicki.

“CHUCK GET THE CAMERA GET THE CAMERA GET THE CAMERA!!!”

Before I knew what was happening, Vicki yanked the camera (whose lanyard is still tethered around my wrist) and starts a dead sprint over to where Rick Fox and his teammate were, dragging me (and about 30 souvenir cups) in tow.

To his credit, Rick Fox was a total gentleman throughout the whole event.  He signed whatever Vicki put in front of him, he posed for pictures with her, and she was totally stoked.  I just chatted with him for a couple of moments, asking how he felt to have Dominique Wilkins as a teammate that year.

That was 1994.

Flash forward to 1998.  I’m working on an article for Basketball Digest about how the Boston Celtics, under Rick Pitino, are a shadow of their shamrocked self.  Let’s face it.  When you’ve got Marty Conlon and Brett Szabo in your lineup, and you’re getting your heads handed to you by the Golden State Warriors, you should just leave the NBA and apply for membership to the USBL.

I went to the game at what was then the FleetCenter, while Vicki watched the game from home (my rule #1 – no family members accompany me when I’m actually working).  I get a few quotes from various players about the struggles the Celtics are going through, and even get a quotation from Rick Fox, who was still a Celtic at that time.

With enough quotations to finish the article, I shut off the tape recorder.

“Hey Rick,” I said, “Just want to thank you.  You may not know this, but four years ago when you were in Toronto, just before the World Basketball Classic, you made my wife very happy, you signed autographs and posed for pictures, you didn’t have to do that, but I wanted you to know I appreciated it.”

“No problem, man,” he said.  “Wait a minute – you said Toronto?”

I nodded.

“Oh wait, now I remember – you were with that crazy lady with all the soda cups!”

I turned beet red with embarrassment.  Luckily for me, the rest of the print media were out of the locker room, chasing Rick Pitino for quotes.

“You still married?” he asked.

“We are.”

“God bless you, man.  You still got all those soda cups?”

“Yeah, we do,” I smiled, not having the heart to elaborate that Vicki put all those soda cups in a box and stored them up in our attic.

After I finished the article and sent it off to my editors, Vicki asked me who I spoke with at the arena.

I told her I spoke with several of the Celtics, including Rick Fox.

“Did he remember seeing me on our honeymoon?”

“Yes, dear.  He specifically remembered you.  I don’t think he’ll ever forget you.”

That’s my Vicki.