By Michael Lewis
Oh, how I miss it, all of it.
The journey, the scenery, the players, the coaches, all of the people.
Let’s start with the drive.
Part of it is routine, much of it is spectacular.
For the past decade, I have gone out to the East End and North Fork at least once a week to cover a sporting event, whether it be soccer, basketball, baseball, field hockey or volleyball.
These trips abruptly stopped in March, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down many businesses and sports. This sportswriter didn’t like it, but I also understood this was a health emergency that was life-and-death.
My journey begins at exit 60 on the Long Island Expressway, then on to some of the eastern reaches of Long Island, N.Y., whether it be Riverhead, Mattituck, Southold or Greenport.
The best part of the drive? On the Main Road past Riverhead, which turns into a peek of Long Island’s past, in the 21st century. It is part country, part village, part small town, part farming, always beautiful. The views only change in the four seasons.
The sights vary from roadside fruit and vegetable stands to vineyards to farms to fields of whatever crops are in season to animals (sheep, cows and horses) to just plain trees and shrubbery.
The trip from my house to Riverhead takes about a half hour, Mattituck around 45 minutes, Southold approximately 10-15 minutes more and Greenport anywhere between an hour and 10 minutes to 80 minutes, depending on the traffic. I always give myself extra time, just in case there is a surprise.
Traffic can be defined as many cars or as a slow-moving tractor on the Main Road that impedes other drivers, when there is a double yellow line.
The scenery – the leaves should be turning just about now – certainly compensates for the occasional delay.
My North Fork/East End mission usually has been to write about a high school sporting event for the Suffolk Times, Riverhead News-Review, FrontRowSoccer.com and for BigAppleSoccer.com.
Very rarely have I been disappointed, riding home with a unique story. Some were more difficult to unearth, whether it was a so-so game or difficult interviews.
Some writers and people look down upon covering high school sports, but they don’t realize how pure it is on a soccer field, baseball diamond or basketball court. Just watching the joy of a player scoring his or her first goal in soccer. Seeing a player put his or her team on their backs during a tight fourth quarter in basketball. Witnessing a pitcher throw a masterpiece on the mound of a baseball diamond.
These kids play for the fun of it, the competition. Yes, there are a handful that are Division I, blue chip performers in their sport, hoping to grab a scholarship. And then there’s that occasional athlete getting an opportunity to grab the brass ring of a professional sports contract years later.
This is from someone who has covered 13 World Cups (eight men, five women), seven Olympic soccer tournaments and all 24 MLS Cups, among many other big matches and events.
After I returned home from the 2014 World Cup, I told the Mattituck High School boys players that I enjoyed covering them over the tournament in Brazil.
I think some of them looked at me as though I had two heads. I explained that I was able to have actual conversations and interviews with them after games, in contrast to the dreaded post-match World Cup mixed zones. While in a cluster of reporters, you hoped to get a question or two in quest of the players’ words of wisdom.
My ultimate goal has been to find the best possible story, whether it was a player such as Kaan Ilgin performing some magic to set up a teammate or to score a goal on Mattituck’s 2014 Class B state championship team, Southold boys coach Andrew Sadowski somehow getting the most out of his team to make another run in the Class C state tournament or the combined Mattituck/Southold/Greenport girls team (aka MSG) winning the Suffolk County Class B crown.
Everyone has a story to tell.
This fall, there have been fewer ones to relay to the readers.
As it turns out, this weekend would have been the start of the Section XI (Suffolk County) soccer tournaments.
There was a good chance that Mattituck and Center Moriches, whose enduring rivalry goes back to the 1930s, would have tussled in the Class B boys semifinals or final. There was a good chance that the MSG girls team would be gunning for the Class B crown. And there was an excellent chance that Southold would be vying for the Class C boys title.
As we grow older, I would like to think that we appreciate the little things in life more.
Case in point: over the past decade, I have appreciated the months of September and October more. They are underrated months, even though some people have felt that they are the harbinger of colder months. But the weather, for the most part, has been pretty decent, with a thunderstorm thrown in here and there. Writers learn to bring an extra sweater, jacket, winter coat, gloves in their cars (and an umbrella in your backpack), just in case. You can always take off clothes if you’re overdressed. It is impossible to manufacture anything on the spot.
Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to run back to my car to put on a jacket this fall.
This year there haven’t been any games, tournaments or playoffs for parents, family and friends to cheer on their favorite athletes. The fall season has been moved to the spring, with the hope of the pandemic becoming less lethal in several months.
I hope so for everyone’s sake.
Guess I’ll have to wait until then to get my high school fall soccer fix.
I miss the drive, the people and the games.
Oh, how I miss it, all of it.