No “Cap” on Pondexter’s Abilities On or Off The Court

By Jason Klein

Originally Written For IN New York Magazine – 7/25/11

Cappie Pondexter is a dominating force in the WNBA.  In just her sixth season in the league, the scrappy New York Liberty Guard has one of the most lethal jump shots in the league, and is among the leaders in most statistical categories.  The superstar baller has already won two championships (2007, 2009) and one Finals MVP Award (2007), and was recently nominated by ESPN for the 2011 ESPY Award honoring the best player in the WNBA.

Pondexter Drives To The Hoop at MSG/Getty Images

At 28 years old, the former Rutgers University standout is in the prime of her professional career and showing no signs of slowing down.  As a celebrity athlete in New York City, she seemingly has the world at her fingertips.  However, that doesn’t stop her from looking forward and thinking about what’s next.

“I’m preparing for my future after basketball,” says Pondexter.  While I’m playing in the WNBA, I can use that platform to help build awareness for my company.

The company she speaks of is 4Season Style Management, a full-service consulting firm that specializes in helping clients develop their public image.  Pondexter started the company in 2010, acting on a lifelong fascination with fashion trends and personal style development.

According to Pondexter, 4Season Style Management helps clients with everything from wardrobe selection, hair and makeup to website and logo design, ultimately creating a personal brand.

It all starts with a simple 30-minute introductory phone consultation and the creation of a “Style Profile” to nail down specific shopping habits, personal sizing and existing wardrobe trends.  Each individual client enjoys the same personal attention to ensure a custom evaluation and plan of attack.

Although such detailed care can be rather time consuming, Pondexter takes great pride in her ability to find a balance with her busy schedule on the court.

“I am very involved in the day-to-day operations,” says Pondexter.  “Whether it’s researching new designers, assisting with customer service, or reaching out to our clients, I make sure I take a hands on approach.”

Perhaps, running a company is a natural fit for such a competitive person like Pondexter, used to performing in front of thousands under the scorching lights of Madison Square Garden.

“There are a lot of similarities between the two,” admits Pondexter.  “In basketball, and in business, you have to have a game plan.  In both situations, I want to win and I strive to be the best.  I push my team, and my clients, to be the best they can be.”

With that sort of passion and preparation, Pondexter will continue to succeed, and always stay ready for what’s next.

For a complete look at some of New York’s most successful athlete/entrepreneurs, check out Jason Klein’s full article in the August 2011 Issue of IN New York Magazine.

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Lockout Casts Bizarre Shadow over NFL Draft

By Jason Klein

Originally Written For IN New York Magazine – 5/2/11

This weekend’s NFL Draft was more awkward than Prince William and Kate’s Royal Kiss.  Both were public spectacles with millions of viewers, and both just seemed a little weird.

With the ugly Lockout serving as a backdrop, all eyes were on New York City as the NFL kicked off its 2011 Draft on Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall.  Traditionally a positive celebration of the league’s bright future, this year’s Draft was marred by greed and uncertainty.

Commissioner Goodell at NFL Draft/Getty Images

When negotiations failed to reach a new collective bargaining agreement in mid-March, the NFL owners locked out its players, effectively ceasing operation of the nation’s most popular sport.  Since that point, owners and players have not been allowed to communicate with each other, negotiate contracts, sign free agents, execute trades, or prepare for the upcoming season in any capacity.  Players who showed up to team facilities have been turned away by security.

Yet, strangely enough, the show went on as scheduled Thursday at Radio City…sort of.  As expected, NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell stepped to the podium to announce that the Carolina Panthers, owners of the first overall selection, were “on the clock.”  Typically greeted with cheers, frustrated fans instead booed and bombarded him with “we want football” chants.  He acknowledged the crowd’s pleas with a Tweet:

“I agree with the fans here at Radio City,” he posted on Twitter Thursday night.  “We want football.  I’m with you, I get it.”

Does he, though?  Football fans can only hope so.  The longer the NFL is doing battle in the courtroom instead of on the gridiron, the greater the possibility that the upcoming 2011 season could be in jeopardy – a disaster the owners and players should seek to avoid at all costs.

That grim possibility seemed to be ignored at the draft.  Commissioner Goodell was all smiles – though it seemed like he was just going through the motions – as he ceremoniously welcomed each collegiate prospect into the same player’s union he is currently battling in court.  Very odd.

Welcome to the NFL!  Now you’re locked out!  Go home!

Radio City Music Hall/Getty Images

Should the owners and players come to an agreement in time to salvage the 2011 season in its entirety, fans will forgive and forget.  However, if this dispute lingers through the summer, cancelling games, the NFL could start to lose its loyal fan base.

It’s potentially a Royal mess.

Under the circumstances, it might seem awkward, but it’s time to kiss and make up.

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Bald Vinny Leads Roll Call, Passionate Bleacher Creatures

By Jason Klein 

Originally Written ForIN New York Magazine – 4/12/11

Bald Vinny comes to play every night.

A staple within the hallowed walls of Yankee Stadium, like pinstripes and Sinatra, “Bald” Vinny Milano can be seen, and definitely heard, sitting in section 203 during every home game in the Bronx.  It’s obvious that Milano is a passionate and dedicated Yankees fan.  He is also the most prominent member of the Yankee Stadium Bleacher Creatures.

Although Milano is not the official leader of the Bleacher Creatures – that distinction goes to Tina “The Queen Bee” Lewis, a regular in the bleachers since 1983 – he became known as the face of the Creatures in 2005 after being featured on the YES Network’s “Ultimate Roadtrip.”

Just another day at the office for Bald Vinny

With his cult-like following comes a unique responsibility.  Prior to the first pitch of every home game, Milano rallies the rest of the creatures to their feet, and works them into a pinstriped frenzy.  As the first pitch crosses home plate, Milano gazes into centerfield, through his signature Oakley sunglasses, cups his hands around his mouth, and goes to work.

“Yooooooooo…Curtis!”

The Roll Call is underway.

Starting with the Centerfielder – Curtis Granderson has the honor in 2011 – Milano and the rest of the Creatures work their way around the Yankees defense, chanting the player’s name until they receive acknowledgement (typically a waive) from the player.

“Brett Gard-ner…Brett Gard-ner…”

A tradition in the Bronx since 1997, the Roll Call only takes place during home games.  According to Milano, “it disrespects the other team” if done on the road.  It’s also extremely difficult to rally enough troops to be heard while in enemy territory – not something the Creatures struggle with on East 161st Street and River Avenue.

“The Bleacher Creatures are the heart, soul, and passion of Yankee Stadium,” says Milano.  We represent the most dedicated and passionate of Yankees fans, and we always show up in full force to do whatever we can to help the team win.”

“Swish-er…Swish-er…”

According to Milano, the Bleacher Creatures are a different breed of fan.  They believe their proactive approach to cheering benefits the Yankees on the field.  With the Bronx Bombers in contention for a World Series almost every year, it’s difficult to argue with the results.

“Most baseball fans around the country only cheer when something happens,” says Milano.  “Yankees fans cheer in order to make something happen.  In the bleachers, it’s our job to make noise when there needs to be noise.  We are always the first on our feet when we need a big hit.  We’ll do whatever we can to give our team an advantage.”

“Mark Teix-eira…Mark Teix-eira…”

However, for Milano, it’s not just about peanuts and Cracker Jack at the old ballgame.  Attending every single home game as a fan is a time-consuming task in itself – he’s missed only 7 games since 2004.   For Milano, it’s also his livelihood.

Before and after each game, Milano is stationed on River Avenue, selling official Bleacher Creature T-Shirts, a business he developed in 2001.  In essence, he’s truly just doing his job everyday at the Stadium, getting to enjoy a ball game during his lunch break

“Rob-in-son…Rob-in-son…”

He often gets the question, “how do I become a Bleacher Creature?”  According to Milano, there are only three simple rules to follow.  First, a fan must willingly choose to sit in the bleachers.  An everlasting passion for the Yankees is the second requirement.  Finally, complete dedication is necessary.  Milano is quick to point out that it’s easy to sit in the bleachers for a few games each year and claim to be one of them.  That just won’t cut it.

“[Bleacher Creatures] attend 40-50 home games a year,” says Milano.  “It’s about being there in person and supporting your team, day in and day out.

“Der-ek Jet-er…Der-ek Jet-er…”

Perhaps no one was as consistently devoted to supporting the Yankees as Freddy Schuman, the legendary super fan, better known as “Freddy Sez.” Schuman would walk around Yankee Stadium each night with a frying pan, urging fans to hit it with a spoon for luck.  Schuman passed away in October 2010, during yet another Yankees postseason run, perhaps leaving Milano as the “next generation” face of the Yankees fan.

“That’s incredibly flattering to hear,” says Milano.  “Freddy was such an iconic presence.  I remember him when I was a kid.  His longevity is really admirable.”

“A-Rod…A-Rod…”

Rather than compare himself to someone like Schuman, Milano remains humble, just happy to be associated with a great group of fans, and the premier franchise in professional sports.

“I’m proud that I get to represent the creatures, and I appreciate all the support I’ve gotten from Yankees fans,” he says.  “I’ve gotten to live out quite a few ‘Yankees fantasies’ over the years and I enjoy sharing those experiences with other fans.”

He gets to do just that, when he shows up to play, every night.

To view Bald Vinny’s Line of Bleacher Creature Apparel, visit www.baldvinny.com

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First Pitch

By Jason Klein 

Originally Written For IN New York Magazine – 3/31/11

Time for a fresh start.

A pen rests peacefully on the desk, nestled next to a clean, white, crisp piece of paper.  Together, they will transcribe history.

There are no guidelines or limitations for what’s about to be written.  No guarantees either.  Only hope.

Time to pick up the pen and script a new beginning.

The 2011 Season Starts Today

It’s Opening Day.

Regarded as a pseudo National holiday, the celebration grants all 30 Major League Baseball Clubs a clean slate, and takes place today, and tomorrow, within stadiums across the country.  It’s one of the most anticipated events on the sports calendar.  After a miserably long, cold winter here in the New York area, baseball fans are eager to trade in their snow shovels for Louisville Sluggers and get cracking!

Legendary Yankees Centerfielder, Joe DiMaggio, once said, “You look forward to it like a birthday party when you’re a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen.”

“Joltin’ Joe” couldn’t have spoken truer words.

Everyone’s a kid on Opening Day.  Children of all ages play hooky from school, and work, properly commemorating the day and basking in its excitement.  It’s an opportunity, as a fan, to believe in the impossible.  Today, everyone’s in first place, and everyone has a chance to achieve greatness.

Even the Mets.

In Queens, Opening Day 2011 is truly the dawn of a new era.  New Manager, Terry Collins and General Manager, Sandy Alderson, replace Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya, respectively.  New leadership and focus at the top will help a team that looked lost much of 2010.

The 2011 Mets are looking to improve on a paltry 79-83 record, good for 4th place in the National League East last year.  They will have their hands full in a very difficult division.  For the Mets to capture the flag, they will have to go through their long-time rivals, the Atlanta Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies – a team stacked with the most dominant pitching staff in the sport.  If the Phillies were playing poker, they’d confidently go “all in” with their four aces, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, and the newly re-acquired, Cliff Lee.

A successful 2011 season for the Mets will depend on their ability to stay healthy.  Johan Santana, the jewel of the pitching staff, is already in danger of missing the entire season as he recovers from elbow surgery.  Question marks in the outfield could cause problems as well.  Carlos Beltran continues to battle the same knee problems that plagued his 2010 and Jason Bay pulled a rib cage muscle this week, an injury that could send him to the Disabled List to start the season.

The Mets Hope Bay Stays Healthy This Year

If key members of their offense can spend more time in the lineup than the infirmary, this club could contend.  They will have no trouble scoring runs with stars like Jose Reyes and David Wright at the top of their order again this year.  Add a healthy Beltran and Bay to the mix, and the Mets could potentially compete.

Across the river, in the Bronx, a new season brings the same expectations: an October date with the jeweler.  That’s when the Yankees hope to be fitted for World Series rings commemorating another championship, the 28th in franchise history.

Like the Mets, the Bronx Bombers will have no trouble scoring runs in 2011.  Superstars like Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano round out the heart of a devastating lineup and will do most of the damage for the Yankees.  Expect a big offensive year from Curtis Granderson as well, as he looks to rebound from a subpar inaugural season in pinstripes.

The face of the franchise, Derek Jeter, will also try to improve upon a statistically poor offensive 2010 season.  Now 36 years-old, The Captain will look to silence critics by still producing at a superstar level. Jeter will make history this summer, becoming the first Yankee to collect 3,000 hits in pinstripes.  He enters the season only 74 hits shy of the mark –he should get there by mid-June.

The key to the entire Yankees season is an unlikely one: A.J. Burnett.  With Andy Pettitte’s retirement, and Cliff Lee’s decision to take his talents to Philly instead of the Bronx, Burnett’s shoulders might get sore carrying the added expectations.  CC Sabathia will be solid at the top of the rotation, as usual, but he’ll need help.  Burnett must carry his weight and turn the page on a disastrous 2010 season, recapturing the magic on the mound that helped bring the Yankees a Title in 2009.

Should the train go off the track early on, look for General Manager, Brian Cashman, to make some moves and shore up the rotation before the trading deadline.  With two stud catching prospects in Jesus Montero and Austin Romine, the Yanks might have the chips to land a top starter via trade.  Promoting the young, and highly regarded pitching prospect, Manuel Banuelos, is another option.

Derek Jeter Will Reach The 3,000 Hit Milestone in 2011

The acquisition of Rafael Soriano should compliment the legendary, Mariano Rivera, joining forces to form a dominant backend of the bullpen.  With those two, the Yankees will certainly have no problem finishing games.

Before they can finish though, everyone has to start.  It begins this afternoon, in the Bronx, with the Yankees and Tigers.  It continues tomorrow night with the Mets and Marlins in Miami.  Time to pick up the pen and begin documenting history.

It’s a fresh start.  It’s Opening Day.

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