Lately it seems everywhere I turn I am reminded of the bond that exists between family and sports.
After the Jets' practice at Hofstra on Aug. 12, rookie QB Mark Sanchez signed a ton of autographs for fans and then met with the media on the field. There was nothing atypical about the situation, aside from a distinguished-looking gentleman in the background taking digital photos with a small camera.
This man wasn't a photographer— it was Mark's father. Nick Sanchez, a captain with the Orange Country Fire Department in Southern California and a member of the Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team, was shooting pics of his son. After he finished, I stopped and chatted with the proud dad for a moment.
Unfailingly polite, Mr. Sanchez was in town for a few days to spend some time with his son and he was set to watch his first professional game. I asked him where he would be when the Jets battled the Rams and he delivered a fascinating response.
"I don't know where I'm going to be," he said. "I'm going to find a seat somewhere in the Meadowlands far away from everything. It can be anywhere. I'm just going to pick out a single seat and take it all in."
And when his son lofted a 48-yard bomb to David Clowney on his first professional snap, you can only imagine how he felt. On Monday night, the youngest of Nick Sanchez's three sons will make his first professional start against the Baltimore Ravens in front of a nationally televised audience.
We love sports because they provide us moments that transcend time and connect people. Last week on this site, we profiled Robert Mastroddi, the Jets' senior director of facilities security, and his son, R.J. The Mastroddis are in the midst of an incredible journey right now as R.J.'s South Shore National team is representing New York in the Little League World Series. (They blitzed Mercer Island, Wash., 10-2, in front of NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg in their LLWS opener at Williamsport on Friday.)
I called Bobby last week during the Mid-Atlantic Region's preliminary round. As one would suspect, he was on a high. When I told him that it was impressive that R.J. listed his dad as his role model, there was a long emotional pause on the other end of the phone. A former office mate of mine, Bobby Mastroddi's a tough guy with a heart of gold and his two kids are always in the front of his mind. So I wasn't surprised to hear his voice crack and tears flow.
Then on Saturday, a lot of tears were shed in my family as we lost one of our own.
My uncle, Mike Rowe, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer this weekend. A retired Lieutenant Colonel who served 20 years in the Army, Uncle Mike went into a coma on Thursday and never woke up.
He loved sports. When I was an undergraduate student at the University of Maryland, he'd often invite me to Grevey's in Falls Church, Va., on Sundays. Grevey's is a Buffalo bar and Uncle Mike, who grew up outside of Buffalo and began his military career in the ROTC program at Canisius College in the city, was a member of Bills Nation.
Later on in his life, he took up golf and became pretty good at it. To this day, I'm a horrible golfer, but Uncle Mike always liked to recall the time when I got a birdie on a par-3 at the University of Maryland's course.
When I was hired with the Jets back in 2001, Uncle Mike told me that he took graduate courses at Alabama and narrowly missed Joe Namath in Tuscaloosa. But Uncle Mike's loyalties strictly remained with the Bills and I understood.
Despite being diagnosed with this deadly cancer back in December, undergoing rigorous chemotherapy treatments throughout the spring and facing debilitating pain that resulted in a lot of drugs to make life bearable, he felt good enough a couple of weeks ago to invite my parents over to watch the History of the Buffalo Bills DVD.
Having served both in Vietnam and Korea, Mike Rowe will eventually be laid to rest next to his fellow comrades at Arlington National Cemetery, which is about a stone's throw from the house where he died. He is survived by his wife, Maryann, his four kids — Colleen, Kelly, Timothy and Patrick — and five grandchildren.
"Mike was one of those rare professionals who understood and lived the life of an officer and a gentleman," said Michael D. O'Brien, vice president/general manager of gun systems for General Dynamics Corporation. "He was a model for a lot of us and always did what he committed to do. I believe heaven has a new 'Redleg' [a person who is field artillery because Civil War-era artillery soldiers had red strips on their pants legs] reporting for duty!"
If he were still with us in three weeks, Uncle Mike would be excited to watch that Bills-Patriots matchup on Monday Night Football. Before the Jets open their season in Houston, I can't wait to hear Bobby talk about RJ's World Series experience. And if Mark Sanchez gets the start against the Texans, it will surely be another magical moment in store for his father, Nick Sanchez.
Behind all our games and for every individual, there are family stories for the participants and the spectators. It is what bonds all of us.