MacAdam: Closing the book on 2020

ERICA MILLER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Tiz the Law and assistant trainer Robin Smullen, with groom Juan Barajas, wait for their turn to get on the Saratoga main track for a gallop on Aug. 22.

Tiz the Law and assistant trainer Robin Smullen, with groom Juan Barajas, wait for their turn to get on the Saratoga main track for a gallop on Aug. 22.

I’m still old-school enough that, for years, I’ve bought one of those spiral planner books to keep track of upcoming events, mostly for work, and write down story ideas.

My one small requirement is that it needs to have those little tabs so you can flip right to the month you want. It’s not big and fits neatly into my computer bag, but it is bigger than a cellphone.

My editor, Michael Kelly (who is new-school) . . . HATES it.

With a smoldering disdain.

I usually just toss the planners when we get to a new year, retired from service as a tool for looking forward, and not back. The 2020 edition is different. You all know why.

This planner has become a curio that I won’t necessarily save, but certainly warrants a peek through the pages to sort through all the stuff that happened, and didn’t.

So I cherry-picked an item from each month to provide a snapshot album of 2020:

January 29: “Kosack runs”

Refers to the run date for a column on Union men’s hockey player Josh Kosack, who started a community outreach program called “Kozi’s Kids” that provided free tickets for kids at Messa Rink.

“It was a great opportunity for us, because otherwise they usually wouldn’t have access to hockey games,” said Will Rivas, who chaperones Kozi’s Kids to the games as the executive director of COCOA House, a Schenectady-based community outreach group. “A lot of them don’t know anything about hockey, even the parents, so they’re all experiencing this together.

The impetus for the program came when Kosack connected with a fan at a road game the season before. The fan’s mom said in an email to me: “Who knew a high five between 2 people could create the effect it has?”

February 20: “Call Emma White”

The Duanesburg High School and Union College graduate had a terrific 2020, just for what happened in February alone, when she became a world champion in women’s track cycling team pursuit.

At just 22 years old, she and Jennifer Valente, Chloe Dygert and Lily Williams beat Great Britain for the gold medal at the Velodrome in Berlin, Germany, during UCI Track Cycling World Championships.

A month later, I was writing about how Olympic hopefuls like White, fellow Duanesburg grad Nick Gwiazdowski (wrestling) and UAlbany’s Grace Claxton (track) were putting those hopes on hold indefinitely.

March 19: “MBB NCAA Men 1st Rnd” (circled in blue, with red star next to it)

March is one of the most ink-stained months in my book, between the ECAC Hockey Tournament, men’s basketball NCAA Tournament and men’s hockey NCAA East Regional, among many other entries. The NCAA events were scheduled to be held at Times Union Center.

It’s also one of the most pandemic-stained months in the book. All canceled.

April 20: “Boston Mara”

The Boston Marathon was postponed to September and converted to a virtual option, which put Dan Larson of Queensbury in a sticky situation.

Already in elite company for the duration of his streak of Boston finishes, Larson was on the verge of hitting the magic No. 50 years in a row. Would a virtual finish count for the purposes of the streak?

It would, and did, as the 68-year-old retired physician customized his own route around Brant Lake and ran an official time of 4:38:29.

“I would say that there is still a little bit of a hollowness that you didn’t have that magical feeling of finishing and running down Boylston Street, looking for friends and meeting Jim [Forbes] for beers at the Park Plaza bar, all that stuff,” Larson said after his virtual Boston on Sept. 16. “But it was really more joyous and less hollow than I felt it would be.”

May 2: “KTY Derby” (in red, crossed out in black)

Horse racing’s Triple Crown was thrown into the mixing bowl, and out of the oven came an awkward series that began with the Belmont Stakes on June 20, followed by the Kentucky Derby on Sept. 5 and the Preakness on Oct. 3.

The May and June pages are as close to blank as it gets.

June 20: “BELMONT”

My friend Gene Kershner from The Buffalo News and I drove down to cover the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park , where the hulking shell of the New York Islanders’ new arena greeted us outside, and hand sanitizer pumps, newly installed on all floors next to the elevator doors, greeted us inside on the way up to a very sparsely populated press box.

Tiz the Law, owned by the Saratoga Springs-based Sackatoga Stable, won in convincing fashion in front of the gigantic, empty grandstand. At the finish, you could hear some snaps of whips, a couple victory whoops and not much else.

July 16: “SPA OPENING DAY” (in red)

From a sensory standpoint, there wasn’t much to separate that Belmont Stakes experience from the first race run at subdued Saratoga Race Course in 2020, a claimer with a $30,000 purse and no fans in attendance, won by a horse named Grit and Glory.

“Yeah, it’s been a tough day, walking around,” trainer Chad Brown said after the Mechanicville native’s horse, Country Grammer, won the co-feature, the Peter Pan. “I never thought I’d see that. It’s really nice to win this race, but it’s definitely a bittersweet day, when this beautiful place is empty where I grew up.”

August 8: “TRAVERS Ballerina Test Troy Waya” (in red)

More of the same, as Tiz the Law won the Travers to make himself the favorite in the Kentucky Derby.

Except this time, there was somebody on the other side of the screened-off Nelson Avenue fence who was whistling very loudly as Tiz the Law jogged back to the winner’s circle. A few days later, I was able to track down the whistler, Liza Sheker of Larchmont, who said there were about 50 fans outside the fence using makeshift means to catch a glimpse of fan favorite Tiz the Law, and serenade him and jockey Manny Franco afterward.

“That was nice, to hear the support from the people on the outside cheering and screaming for me and the horse,” Franco said. “I’m never going to forget that.”

September 10: “Marc Schultz”

Our awesome photographer Marc Schultz worked his last day before retirement, and I had the privilege of shadowing him for four hours as he made his assignment rounds. We also lost the inimitable Jeff Wilkin to retirement, in June.

“I just liked the deadline, the adrenaline surge,” Marc said. “It was the excitement. I was never a guy that could sit at a desk. I had to be out there.

“And I just like the people.”

October 15: “Mohon hoops”

I went to one of the first days of high school basketball open practice, as what is considered one of the “high risk” sports by various health officials and school associations tepidly began to prepare for a season that hadn’t even been scheduled.

Mohonasen was one of the first to give it a shot, as players were required to handle one basketball each during shooting drills and not touch anyone else’s, even if your instinct and reflex was to help a teammate chasing one that got away.

High fives? Don’t even think about it.

November 1: “Yeva/Cloutier”

By now, countless games and seasons had been canceled, an ongoing storyline, teams and leagues sputtered in fits and starts in the fall, burdened by new safety protocols and COVID positives among their ranks and those of their opponents.

You made do with what you had, and people still needed help with other non-COVID health concerns. Those weren’t going away. So Shenendehowa girls’ cross country coach Rob Cloutier devised a means of raising funds for one of his runners, Yeva Klingbeil, who suffers from a rare form of cancer.

He ran his own “Marathon for Yeva,” with donations solicited online.

“She’s excited about all this focus on her story, but she feels a little guilty, too,” Yeva’s mom, Gretchen, said. “She says, ‘Mom, there are other kids with cancer.’ But I tell her it’s a good story.”

December 31: “Lobsta AQ 3rd”

During the Saratoga meet, I wrote about Eddie and Lisa Fazzone prior to a fundraiser they held at their popular restaurant in Saratoga Springs, Eddie F’s lobster shack. Since then, I’ve added the horses they own to my watch list.

July 14 marked the one-year anniversary of the death of the Fazzones’ son Edward III at the age of 33 due to an overdose of fentanyl-laced cocaine. Their fundraiser benefitted Healing Springs Recovery Community and Outreach Center, which offers free support programs in Saratoga Springs to people recovering from substance abuse.

Lobsta ran in the third race at Aqueduct on Thursday afternoon, New Year’s Eve, and I threw a couple bucks on him, thinking any winnings could find a suitable home other than my wallet.

Lobsta finished fifth in his career debut; nevertheless, a couple bucks will make their way to Healing Springs in 2021.

I also shelled out 10 bucks on Thursday for a new planner book. For the first time, I have no idea what’s going on many of those blank pages, but 2020 commands that certain entries belong on every day.

Wear a facemask.

Take care of each other.

Categories: -The Daily Gazette, Sports

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