This week’s column in the Star deals with the sports-crush, that unisex obsession with certain sports figures that leads an otherwise rational grown-up to hang a poster on their wall or bid for bobbleheads on Ebay. My enduring sports-crush is ex-Yankee and Olympic gold medalist Tino Martinez. Who is yours?

I recently attended a gathering during which the Olympics were discussed while generous amounts of wine were consumed. One mid-60ish man, in a speech he likely regretted upon sober reflection, shared with the group his personal theories about women and sports.

“It is my belief,” he explained, “that women do not dream about sports. They think about sports when they are awake, but they never play in their sleep.

“Sports,” he continued despite best efforts to stop him, “are not hard-wired into the female subconscious the way they are in men, who have dreamed about throwing a touchdown or hitting a home run since boyhood.”

I found myself wishing that this discussion had taken place during a meeting of the Women’s Sports Foundation, where Billie Jean King could have placed this man in a headlock while sharing with him some of her favorite female sports dreams.

I freely admit that I have never dreamed about playing sports, my athletic achievements being limited to a first-place win, by default, of Brookview Elementary School’s hula-hoop contest, third-grade division. But I have had a recurring sports dream for years, and here it is:

It is 2001 and I’m in the stands at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. I have completed my favorite activity at the ballpark, which is to stand up and shout out the name “Tony” and see how many guys turn around (lots). Bright beams of golden Yankee sunlight reflect off beads of sweat on the powerful, glistening forearms of first baseman Tino Martinez, temporarily blinding me, so I do not see the fly ball he has popped in my direction until it is too late. His ball hits me squarely between the eyes, rendering me unconscious, but I do not die — although if I were to die, this would be my preferred scenario.

I awaken in the hospital. The aforementioned Yankee sunlight now streams through the window of my room, which is filled with flowers from Boss Steinbrenner. I am younger, thinner, and exist in a flatteringly blurry haze, wearing a fluffy pink peignoir from which my still-perky bosoms are tastefully but undeniably spilling forth. Tino stands over my bed, peering down intently, holding my hand as I regain consciousness. He is concerned.

“Poor baby,” says Tino, tenderly. The rest of the lineup, still in their pinstripes, agree. “You really took one for the team,” observes captain Derek Jeter, diplomatically neglecting to note the giant welt in the middle of my forehead. But Tino sees it, and feels remorse. A manly tear trickles down his tan cheek and onto mine.

At this point, I am usually awakened from my dream state by the sensation of a drop of moisture on my cheek. It is a dollop of drool from my cat or a glob of spit off the tongue of my dog. They are both in my bed, peering down intently, hoping I’ll rise and unleash the morning feeding frenzy.

I realize that this is not on par with the sports dreams Billie Jean probably experiences, in which the fuzz on her tennis ball barely grazes the top of the net as she wins another Wimbledon title. But Tino will always be the man of my sports dreams and my enduring sports crush. I never tired of watching him play. I could always spot him just by his gait and his stance and by the way the hair was trimmed on the back of his neck. And when — during his last season — his hitting suddenly caught fire, I received congratulatory calls from my friends as if the achievement had been my own.

Tino never embarrassed me; he never was caught in a scandal or had his photo taken with strippers or starred in his own reality show. It was grand to spot him again recently at Old-Timers’ Day, smiling with his family, a bit thicker through the middle, but still exceedingly sports crush–worthy.

It is my belief that the sports crush is hardwired into the psyche of both sexes equally. There is nothing lustful about it; many a straight man has gone all gooey-eyed while telling me tales of Mickey Mantle, gushing about his flaxen hair and wide grin and his rippling physique as he strode to the plate. And scores of fans of both sexes had sports crushes on Chris Evert (but please don’t mention that to Billie Jean).

A frequently forgotten Tino fact is that he won a gold medal at the 1988 Summer Olympics. I wonder which athletes will emerge as signature sports crushes during this year’s Olympic Games. Perhaps, like Mark Spitz or Peggy Fleming or Greg Louganis, they will inspire men and women alike to dream about sports.

Or perhaps, like Bruce Jenner, they will inspire something else entirely.


I am living out this column in real time, with many hopelessly unflattering vacation photos being snapped while I carouse in the South of France.  This is why I only take vacations every six years or so.  Here is today’s column in the Star

Regular readers of this column may be curious to learn the answers to certain questions about me, such as: “What’s the matter with that woman?” and “Is she nuts?”

The manner of my madness may be found in a scene from the movie “Hannah and Her Sisters.” A neurotic producer, played by Woody Allen, is told by his doctor that he is not, as he feared, in danger of imminent death by brain tumor. He bursts joyfully out of the hospital and literally bounces along the street, making it almost halfway down the block before he suddenly stops short, a new negative thought halting happiness in its tracks.

I am similarly prone to hitting the pause button on unbridled enthusiasm. It happened recently when I was told that I won some awards for writing. I was jubilant, thrilled, honored. Someone noticed — I’m not just scribbling in obscurity for a handful of readers who accidentally scan a few lines while using the newspaper to line the litterbox. My joy lasted for precisely as long as it took to learn that winning meant facing one of my greatest fears: having my picture taken.

Nothing curdles my blood like a camera, which adds 20 pounds to my figure and twice as many years to my kisser. Plus, I am quite simply the least photogenic human ever to roll off the assembly line. It was always thus. I remember chubby childhood photos, followed by the freakish Lost Years of braces and headgear. I made some headway in high school, but from prom onward things steadily declined, fluctuating from unflattering to disfigured, particularly when bathing suits were involved. I became the Garbo of my group, shunning the lens like a silent film star wishing her fans would remember only her celluloid-preserved glory days.

This photo-fright frequently nullifies what would otherwise be happy news. I am planning my first real vacation in many years, invited to a friend’s party on the French Riviera followed by a week at another friend’s house in Provence. My reaction to this glamorous opportunity? Jubilation, just up to the moment I remembered I needed a new passport photo.

Worried that I might procrastinate and miss the plane, I tarted myself up and rushed off to face the firing squad. The enthusiastic photographer assured me that my best foot was finally forward. When I revealed the results to a friend, her reaction was telling: “Don’t worry; no one will see it unless you get arrested or kidnapped by pirates.”

I could receive a phone call tomorrow from George Clooney offering to take me as his date to the Oscars so that we could have time together to discuss my visiting his villa in Lake Como (where I would be writing the screenplay for his latest movie), and my only thought would be whether I could possibly wear a bag over my head while walking down the red carpet.

I know that I am not alone in this. The world is divided between those with good camera karma and those without. For the photogenic, every day is a Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover shoot. Their hair is always brushed and their tummies are always tucked and their heads are thrown back as they laugh with exuberant confidence. The rest of us face a future filled with photos taken with our eyes closed or with five chins or with jiggling upper arm flaps and jowls we never knew we had.

Of course, history’s cruelest joke on us was the invention of the ubiquitous smartphone, which snaps digital photos without warning. No longer constrained by the cost of film processing, would-be photojournalists capture endless candid shots, instantly post them on the Internet, and store them unedited in the iClouds where they will no doubt survive the extinction of Planet Earth.

Worse still is that iPhone button I keep accidentally engaging that captures my own image. More than once I’ve been startled by the screen, wondering what scary she-devil is glaring back at me. Surely the geniuses in Cupertino can invent an attractiveness app or a lens that makes us all look thinner and younger? Forget Instagram; that would be worth a billion dollars.

Meanwhile, I’ve come to terms with having a driver’s license photo that looks like I’ve suffered a stroke, causing the right side of my face to be noticeably lower and duller than the left. If you don’t believe me, I’ll show it to you. Or perhaps you’ll see it on TV or in the newspapers and magazines in the event I’m ever arrested or kidnapped by pirates.