On the first day of summer, June 20 this year, many of us will get the chance again to shake our old friends’ hands, take off our masks, sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” bathe in the sunshine, summon the hot dog vendor, the beer vendor or both, hi-five our neighbor when Jacob deGrom strikes out another overmatched batter or when Aaron Judge sends one of those deadened baseballs into orbit.
We missed our old friend dearly. COVID-19 robbed us of Summer 2020, cruelly turned it into the Summer of Our Discontent, tragically robbed some of us of our friends or family members.
Sports served as a salve of sorts to our emotional wounds — they usually do, even if we were forced to watch from afar.
No season is meant for baseball and football games and tennis matches to be played in empty stadiums, basketball and hockey games to be contested in empty arenas.
Now, thankfully, summer welcomes us with open arms, with open stadiums, and we race joyously into its warm embrace.
What the New York area and New Yorkers can look forward to in the glorious Sports Summer of 2021:
July 2-4: Subway Series at Yankee Stadium
The Mets will likely still be in first place in the NL East, while the Yankees will be the more desperate outfit, looking up at the Rays and Red Sox. Delicious potential Big Apple matchups: deGrom versus Judge … Gerrit Cole versus Pete Alonso …Edwin Diaz versus Judge … Aroldis Chapman versus Alonso. Nice to have you back, Bleacher Creatures. Nice to have The Judge’s Chambers filled again. Plenty to get Steve Cohen fired up for a tweetstorm.
July 11-13: MLB draft in Denver
Southpaw hurler Al Leiter was the 50th pick by the Yankees of the 1984 MLB draft at the Garden. His son Jack — a bright, mature, driven, 6-foot-1, 205-pound right-hander from Vanderbilt (drafted in the 20th round of the 2019 draft by the Yankees before choosing to go to college), is in the mix, with shortstops Marcelo Mayer and Khalil Watson and right-hander Jackson Jobe to be the first pick of the 2021 MLB draft by the Pirates.
The Mets have the 10th pick, the Yankees have the 20th. The Mets selected outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong with the 20th pick in 2020. The Yankees made catcher Austin Wells the 28th pick. Former Yankees first-round picks on current roster: Judge (32, 2013). Former Mets first-round picks on current roster: Brandon Nimmo (13, 2011), Dom Smith (11, 2013), Michael Conforto (10, 2014) and David Peterson (20, 2017).
July 13: MLB All-Star Game in Denver
Barring a reoccurrence of his golden right arm issues, the prospect of deGrom starting for the NL and firing his triple-digit gas at Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Shohei Ohtani and Judge is tantalizing. Mike Trout (calf) is unlikely to play, but Ronald Acuna Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr. will be representing the NL. MLB moved the Midsummer Classic from Atlanta to Denver after a series of voter-restriction laws were passed in Georgia.
July 15-18: Red Sox at Yankees
Just because the Bombers have developed a hatred for the Rays doesn’t mean they have forgotten how to hate the Red Sox, right Aaron “Bleeping” Boone? And Boston did sweep a three-game series in The Bronx in early June. No one expected the Sawx to be in a hot division race, maybe except beloved 2018 World Series champion manager Alex Cora. Alex Verdugo is fun to watch, just not fun to play against.
July 23-Aug. 8: Tokyo Olympics
Postponed in 2020, the Games still harbor COVID-19 concerns. Among tri-state competitors: fencers Curtis McDowald (Jamaica, Queens), Nicole Ross (New York City), Race Imboden (Brooklyn by way of Tampa) and Daryl Homer (St. John’s); Charlotte Buck (Nyack, N.Y.), Kristine O’Brien (Massapequa Park, L.I.) and Olivia Coffey (Watkins Glen, N.Y.) in Rowing; Alexis Sablone (Brooklyn) in Skateboarding; and Juan Liu (New York City) in Table Tennis.
July 27: Jets/Giants training camps open
The official start of Joe Judge’s second season and Robert Saleh’s first. Fans will be welcomed back four days later for practice.
July 29: NBA draft
Barclays Center hosts the first NBA draft to be held in July since the inaugural Basketball Association of America (BAA) 1947 draft — when Clifton McNeeley of Texas Wesleyan was the first pick of the Pittsburgh Ironmen, and the Knicks selected Wataru Misaka, a Japanese-American point guard out of Utah who became the first person of color to play in modern professional basketball, even if he lasted just three games.
This year, the Knicks own the 19th and 21st picks, but no lottery pick this time thanks to Tom Thibodeau. Point guard Rod Strickland was the Knicks’ 19th pick in 1988. Kenny Payne (76ers) was the 19th pick a year later. Walter McCarty was the Knicks’ 19th pick in 1996. Tiny Archibald (Cincinnati Royals) was the 19th pick in 1970.
Cade Cunningham (Oklahoma State) is the favorite to be the first overall pick, by the Rockets — with Evan Mobley (USC), Jalen Green (G-League) and Jalen Suggs (Gonzaga) rounding out the marquee prospects.
July 30: MLB trade deadline
Could Yankees GM Brian Cashman actually be a seller for the first time in five years and only second time in his pinstriped career? Or will the Yankees, in need of a left-handed bat, wake up and target the likes of Adam Frazier or Ketel Marte or Joey Gallo and remain under the $210 million luxury tax? And with murky timetables for the returns of Luis Severino and Corey Kluber, and the struggles of Jamison Taillon, might Jose Berrios be a target?
Aug. 2: NBA free agency
Thibodeau passes the baton to execs Leon Rose, Scott Perry and, of course, World Wide Wes — who will have a projected $53.2 million in cap space. The biggest fish would be Kawhi Leonard, and there isn’t a Knicks fans asking: “Kawhi not?” Culture and defense alone didn’t get the Knicks past the opening round of the playoffs. But that’s likely a pipe dream. If Derrick Rose doesn’t stay, more reasonable point guard targets would include Lonzo Ball, Kyle Lowry, Mike Conley and … 37-year-old Chris Paul?
Aug. 14: Jets vs. Giants
Daniel Jones and Sam Darnold each threw five passes in the 2019 preseason opener (Eli Manning even threw one). Giants fans will be eager to watch Danny Dimes as he begins his pivotal third season, while Jets fans can’t wait to check out their new franchise quarterback, Zach Wilson. Giants receiver Kenny Golladay probably won’t play much, but eyes will be peeled for Giants first-round draft pick receiver Kadarius Toney and Jets second-round receiver Elijah Moore, who flashed more than Toney over the spring. Saquon Barkley? He’ll be in the final stages of rehabbing his torn ACL.
Oh, you can tailgate to your heart’s content again.
Aug. 17-18: Red Sox at Yankees
Will Chris Sale be back from Tommy John surgery after two years away and change the complexion of the AL East race for the Sawx?
Aug. 21: NYCFC at Red Bulls
These teams don’t like each other. Neither do their fan bases. The Red Bulls’ Caden Clark will excite Red Bull Stadium, while Jesus Medina and Valentin Castellano are NYCFC’s top scorers.
Aug. 25: Phoenix Mercury at New York Liberty
Watch Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney lead a much-improved Liberty, squad gunning for its first playoff berth since 2017. The return of former Liberty leading scorer Kia Nurse, following her trade to Phoenix, which netted Natasha Howard for the Liberty, is worth the visit to Barclays Center.
Aug. 30-Sept. 12: U.S. Open
It’s a safe bet that the great Novak Djokovic won’t be swatting a ball in anger after accidentally hitting a line judge in the throat and being disqualified from his fourth-round match last year for ball abuse. Djokovic’s French Open win leaves him one shy of tying Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for a record 20 Grand Slams.
Defending men’s champion Dominic Thiem aims for his second U. S. Open crown while Naomi Osaka, who revealed after withdrawing from the French Open that she had suffered bouts of depression and anxiety, and then withdrew from Wimbledon, will hopefully be prepared to serve for her third Open title.
Sept. 8: Derek Jeter Hall of Fame induction
The Captain should have joined Mariano Rivera as the only men to receive 100 percent of the Baseball Writers Association of America vote, but one member decided to ignore Jeter’s five World Series rings and 14 All-Star games. So 99.7 percent of the vote makes him No. 2. The other inductees in Cooperstown, N.Y., are Larry Walker, Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller.
Sept 10-12: Subway Series II at Citi Field
It will be highly emotional for everyone on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Perhaps Luis Severino and Corey Kluber will be back before the series for the Yankees. Citi Field has become a hostile place for visitors, but Yankees fans will be there in force, because they always are.
Sept. 12: Broncos at Giants
Fingers crossed that Saquon Barkley will be ready. Can the Giants’ offensive line keep Von Miller and Bradley Chubb off Daniel Jones? The last thing Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham wants is Aaron Rodgers to be traded from Green Bay and under center for Denver offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.
Sept. 19: Patriots at Jets
Zach Wilson’s home debut … against Bill Belichick. Gulp.