Saturday’s List of 13: Random thoughts, mostly about Las Vegas

13) My favorite dinner place in Las Vegas is Battitsta’s, a hole-in-the-wall place behind the Cromwell and next to Bally’s. Very good Italian place; old school, with checked tablecloths and an older guy who walks around playing the accordion.

Runner up place to eat is the Mirage, where they have the Carnegie Deli, with the biggest sandwiches ever. I order extra bread and make two sandwiches out of it.

Another good restaurant is in the Stratosphere, but I can’t remember the name of it; it is an Italian place downstairs and it is really good- lighting is dark and reminds you of scenes in different movies.

12) If you like basketball, Las Vegas is a fun place to live; UNLV hoops are lot of fun to go to; they’re having a resurgent year this season- little disappointed the public hasn’t caught on to them that much yet, but part of that is how well the new hockey team is doing.

11) In July, NBA Summer League is at UNLV for a good part of the month; for $30, you can sit in an air conditioned arena all day long and watch guys try to make the NBA.

Later in July, the best high school players in the western US play in tournaments all over Las Vegas. All the college coaches you see on TV all winter are there at one time or another— lot of good basketball.

10) Then in March, the WCC, WAC, Mountain West and Pac-12 all have their conference tournaments in Las Vegas. Lot of good action to choose from.

9) There is a Pinball Museum on Flamingo Road; you can go in and play these old-time pinball machines for a quarter. its a quirky fun way to spend a couple of hours.

8) There is a never a shortage of shows, concerts to go to in Las Vegas; plus the Golden Knights have 41 home games a year now. Jewel is playing at the Wynn in late March; Donnie and Marie play in Vegas all the time. Carrot Top has his comedy act there all the time. Lot of stuff going on.

7) Best sportsbook in Las Vegas is definitely the Westgate, where I stayed the last 11 days; huge place, good bar, three food options, just by the sports book and tremendous TV screens to watch almost anything you want. On NFL Sundays, the Westgate opens their theater to show NFL games.

6) The Neon Museum downtown has a lot of old neon signs from old casinos that don’t exist anymore; its an oddly cool piece of history, especially at dusk, when they light some of the signs.

5) They play AAA baseball at Cashman Field downtown in the spring/summer; this will be the last year for the Mets’ AAA team in Las Vegas. They’re also building a new ballpark out in the northwest section of town, up in Summerlin. No word on whose AAA team will move in, with the Mets’ team moving to Syracuse in 2019.

4) One thing about the Las Vegas airport; people arriving at the airport most always look happier than people flying out of Las Vegas.

3) Had a 3.5-hour layover in Baltimore’s airport Friday night, which would’ve been lot more palatable if they had decent WiFi there. They do have Chick-fil-A though and Chick-fil-A is tremendous.

2) St Bonaventure 77, Rhode Island 74— Rams’ 16-game winning streak is over. Bonnies have won eight games in a row.

1) I’m back in my palatial suburban estate after 11 days in the desert; Las Vegas is great fun to visit- there was a magic convention at my hotel while I was there (no, things didn’t keep disappearing) and I went to a UNLV game (NHL tickets are too expensive since the Knights are doing so well). A full 11 days of fun, plus I missed a snowstorm. Worth it!!!!

Friday’s Den: Ranking the months of the year…….

12) January— Keep in mind that I live in upstate New York, where the weather sucks from Thanksgiving to St Patrick’s Day. January is a long, cold month; conference games in college basketball are the thing that makes it tolerable; that and the NFL playoffs.

11) February— Same as January, only three days shorter; there is something about watching golf on TV that makes you feel warmer. Super Bowl is in February and college hoop and baseball is starting in Florida and Arizona.

10) December— Today, the sun sets at 4:22; next week, the days start getting longer, but this is a long, cold, dark month. Most of the good pre-conference college basketball games are November games— Saturdays are the best basketball days in December. Christmas, bowl games and the NFL help December’s rating, but not a lot.

9) November— Steep drop-off after October; it snows sometime in November- I don’t like snow. This is a better college basketball month than December, since Thanksgiving Week is one of the best sports weeks of the year. When I was working for New York State, I had three days off in November— days off were a good thing. Now I have every day off.

8) May— 20 or so years ago, I coached Little League, which seems like a shaky decision now. Practice every weekday, couple of games a week. Kids were fine; the parents? Not so much. Nowadays, social media would make Little League easier. Could just have a Twitter page and post if practices/games were rained out. Back then? Every rainout was 12 phone calls.

7) June— I got married in June; despite that, it gets a middle-of-pack ranking because of the great weather and six hours of baseball every day.

When I was a kid, June was the best month, with school ending for the year. Little did I know back that the teachers were probably more anxious for the school year to end than we were.

6) July— If you really like the NBA, I would strongly recommend you go to Las Vegas one year and go to the NBA Summer League at UNLV. For $28 or $30 for a full day, you can watch 3-4 games, and rub elbows with NBA owners, coaches, players— lot of them are there.

Later in July, AAU basketball invades Las Vegas, with lot of tournaments— almost all the college coaches show up at events at either Cashman Center or Bishop Gorman HS or the convention center.

5) August— Here in the Albany area, August is the best social month of the year, with the horse racing in Saratoga and concerts at Saratoga Performing Arts Center and nice weather every day. Baseball’s pennant races are going on and the college football magazines are out.

4) April— Baseball season starts, the Final Four takes place and I almost always spend ten days in Las Vegas every April. Watching the Final Four in Vegas is something you should do; great fun.

Couple years ago, was sitting next to a guy who had lot of money on Villanova/under in the national title game. When Paige hits the jumper for North Carolina, the guy slumps; his under bet is a loser, but when Villanova wins at the buzzer, he was damn glad to get out of there with a split. Didn’t ask how much, but seemed like he had a lot of money riding on it.

3) October— Baseball playoffs, football is in full swing, college basketball magazines come out and I almost always spend some time in the desert.

Few years ago, I’m sitting in the theater at the Westgate Hotel in Las Vegas, watching the NFL; they have the best set-up, all the games up on a screen, with the audio up on one main game. There are betting windows in the back, food off to the left.

I’m talking to this guy who is wearing a Cardinals’ jersey; all of a sudden it dawns on me that this guy is betting thousands of dollars on the games. Serious money and he doesn’t seem like he is stressed out at all. Good guy, but I would’ve been having a nervous breakdown.

Las Vegas is the big leagues when it comes to that stuff; I forget that sometimes.

2) March— Best month of year for college basketball, spring training baseball on TV every day, the weather is getting better. Still snows sometimes, but March is usually excellent.

1) September— When I was a kid, there was September/January were by far the worst months of the year. Nothing worse than the first day of school every year, but now, September is still really a summer month, and football starts during the baseball pennant races.

I went to private grade school, but then to public high school, where 9th grade was in a building by itself. I was painfully shy, and had never ridden a school bus before; my 8th grade class had 24 kids, my 9th grade class had 730 kids. Will never forget how terrified I was those first few days of 9th grade changing classes and having a locker for the first time.

Everything turned out fine, but boy I hated September back then; it never would’ve made it above #11 on my ranking back then.

Monday’s List of 13: Coaches in movies I’ve enjoyed watching

This isn’t a ranking, just a numbered list of coaches in TV/movies that I’ve seen………

13) Ken Howard, The White Shadow— One of my all-time favorite TV shows, Ken Howard did a great job of portraying Coach Reeves, a former NBA player who becomes a high school coach in Los Angeles. He patterned Coach Reeves after his HS coach; Carver High’s uniforms are even the same colors of the school he went to, Manhasset HS on Long Island.

12) Gene Hackman, Hoosiers— He wins the state title and gets the girl (Barbara Hershey) in the end, but for the love of God, why didn’t he know enough to give Jimmy Chitwood the ball at the end of games? Even the drunk assistant coach (Dennis Hopper) knew enough to get Jimmy the ball.

11) Al Pacino, Any Given Sunday— Most people remember the “Life is a Game of Inches” speech before the last game, but what he said to Jamie Foxx at the dinner in his house earlier in the movie “You’re a goddamn QUARTERBACK!!!!” was the better speech, to me. This movie was made in 1999, but the divide between old-school thinking and modern analytics is in play, even back then.

10) Emilio Estevez, The Mighty Ducks— Mostly a goofy movie, but the underlying theme of a former star player coaching against the guy who coached him was interesting. Having players play catch at practice with raw eggs instead of hockey pucks was a curious coaching technique.

9) GD Spradlin, One on One— This is an underrated movie and also fairly old now, but Robby Benson was a hot-shot high school basketball star who was mostly in over his head when he went to play college ball at a bigtime school. This movie was filmed at Colorado State, which still plays in the same arena. Coach Smith was played by GD Spradlin, who also played Tom Landry in North Dallas Forty; if he such a great coach, why did he recruit Henry Steele (Benson), a flashy, small guard who couldn’t guard anyone?

8) Tom Hanks, A League of Their Own— Hanks was a great player who is now a crude drunk who wasn’t healthy enough to be in the service during the war, so he coaches a girls’ baseball team with Madonna and Geena Davis on it. A guy could do worse. When Hanks was a kid (in real life), he was a vendor at the Oakland Coliseum; this was a pretty good movie, but my friend Dennis kills me every time I say that.

7) Wilford Brimley, The Natural— Pop Fisher is manager of the New York Knights; all he does is complain about bad his team is, but when Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) shows up to play for the Knights, he won’t give him a chance to play, until Hobbs puts on a prodigious display in batting practice. This movie was filmed in Buffalo, in the stadium where the Bills played before Rich Stadium was built.

6) Jon Voight, Varsity Blues— Whoever made this movie had a high school coach they really hated; lot of unrealistic behavior by Voight’s character, the legendary football coach Bud Kilmer. He berates players, doesn’t give his best running back the ball near the goal line (the kid cites racist motives for that) and just seems like a miserable human. Eventually the players quit on him, but not before going to a strip club for an all-nighter on the night before a game, like that would ever happen.

5) JK Simmons, For the Love of the Game— Simmons is manager of the Detroit Tigers whose best pitcher is fading star Billy Chapel (Kevin Costner). Simmons is a Tiger fan in real life– he played the part well. Simmons is a great actor who plays a music teacher in the disturbing movie Whiplash– he pushes his students unmercifully, trying to get them to reach their potential.

4) Nick Nolte, Blue Chips— Nolte spent lot of time around Bob Knight’s Indiana teams prepping for this role, so you see lot of Knight’s antics, and the climactic game for Western U is against the Hoosiers (in scenes filmed in a high school gym in Indiana). Nolte gets the role down well; he coaches against Rick Pitino, Knight and George Raveling in games, recruits against Jerry Tarkanian and Jim Boeheim.

3) James Gammon, Major League— Mr Gammon passed away seven years ago; he had such a great voice that one of the truck companies still uses his voice for their commercials. He plays Lou Brown, manager of the Cleveland Indians, who leads a rag-tag bunch of players to the AL pennant. He later wound up as Don Johnson’s father in the TV series Nash Bridges.

2) Gabe Kaplan, Fast Break— I love this movie. Kaplan is the manager of a New York City deli who takes a chance and becomes the coach at obscure college in Nevada; he doesn’t get a big contract ($60 for every win) until he beats Nevada State– he has to beat the Nevada State coach in pool just to get them on their schedule. Cadwallader University– Bernard King was one of his players, another player turned out to be a girl. This movie should be on TV somewhere (NBA Network?) every now and then.

1) Billy Bob Thornton, Friday Night Lights— I think this is the best representation of a coach I’ve ever seen on TV or in the movies. The movie is from a book that is based on a true story about Permian HS in west Texas, where high school football is a religion. Thornton has the coach thing down pat; his speeches before a game and at halftime are realistic and not over-the-top. Tremendous acting job.