On Saturday, August 18, I had the great opportunity to spend an afternoon and evening with New York Sports Tours taking part in their entire program. It was an amazing experience.
The following serves as an overview of my New York Sports Tours adventure.
The New York Sports Tour experience begins when the participants gather to meet the luxury van and hosts on Vanderbilt Avenue, just north of Grand Central Station. I was immediately impressed by the fact that, even though we arrived early, the van was already there waiting for us to arrive. We were met by our host, Mr. Kevin O'Keefe who greeted all of the participants with a warm smile and handshake. It was readily apparent that Mr. O'Keefe is a person who enjoys his work and the joy of providing a unique and special experience for his guests.
After taking our seats on the luxury van, we were provided with a bottle of cold water and then in an instant, the tour was ready to begin - everything working like a well-oiled machine. Promptness was a key part of the experience. Mr. O'Keefe began by introducing the other hosts including the technician, the driver, and the special guest narrator, Gary Sussman who had, for many years, been the public address announcer for the New Jersey Nets. I was amazed that for this venture even the narrator on the van was a New York Sports personality.
The tour itself took place in the van as we drove along the streets of mid-town Manhattan. I was glad that the van had comfortable seats as I knew we'd be together in this moving museum for the better part of the next three hours.
One of the things that impressed me from the start was the fact that this was not just a tour about sports. Instead, this was a tour that told about the city of New York and American history as well. In fact, the first location that was pointed out was the spot where Nathan Hale was captured by the British during the American Revolution. Hale, who was immortalized with his departing words, "I regret that I have but one life to give to my country," was hanged for being a spy. It was fascinating to be that close to history, and as someone who loves sports, but also the history of our country (I was a history teacher, after all) I was pleased that the bigger picture of how sports ties into culture and past events was not overlooked. This was a complete experience that truly became a learning opportunity.
The planning that went into the tour is amazing. I never knew there was so much sports history in mid-town Manhattan. It seemed, at times, that every building had a story. It was rare that we'd travel a city block without sites being pointed out to us that told fascinating stories related to New York sports. The hosts seemed to know everything!
The way that the information and content was delivered helped to make the tour unique and very special. In short, the information was delivered in three distinct manners:
First, as noted, there was our host, Kevin O'Keefe. Mr. O'Keefe was positioned in a chair facing the tour participants. Our interaction with him was direct. He made eye-contact. He spoke to us individually. He brought a personal approach to the experience. At times, Mr. O'Keefe pointed to sites outside the windows of the van. At other times, he would direct our attention to the large video monitor where maps, period photographs, drawings, and movies were displayed. These enhanced the stories he told. Mr. O'Keefe used all of this interactively which, again, brought life to the experience. In addition to all of this, Mr. O'Keefe supplemented the information with unique and rare historical items and memorabilia for the participants to hold, touch, or even read (In the case of some authentic programs and sports guides). This is an approach that is extremely rare. In many museums, the guest are discouraged from even coming too close to a painting or historical item. On a New York Sports Tour, the participants actually get to hold the items. This is a difference that is ground-breaking. When one actually interacts with the historical item, the history and the stories about that item become even more real.
Second, as also noted, there was Gary Sussman. If Kevin O'Keefe was the "play-by-play" man, then Mr. Sussman was the "color commentator." Using his own knowledge and extensive notes, Mr. Sussman provided additional background to add to the stories. In short, he brought more color to the overall picture. Mr. Sussman spoke over a microphone through the van's speaker system, and as such, listening to Mr. Sussman made this participant almost feel as if he was inside the making of a documentary. The delivery, tone, and amount of information provided this way was perfect. I also appreciated how well Mr. O'Keefe and Mr. Sussman interacted and complemented each other's work. It was a great balance.
Third, a whole series of detailed and quite fascinating documentaries have been professionally produced for the tours and shown at appropriate times on the video screen. These documentaries are primarily narrated by New York sports legend Mary Carillo. Each documentary is engaging. Each tells a compelling story. The participants are brought in to the experience by this use of video. The video also serves to enhance the riding experience in the van. In order to travel the streets of Manhattan during the day, there is (of course) a lot of time spent in congestion, sitting at traffic lights, and such. The videos took this participant's eyes from the road and allowed him to focus on something new and different. Because of this, the rider was, in a way, taken out of the van, and brought to another place. It's touches like this that make the New York Sports Tour so different from anything else this reviewer has ever experienced.
I believe this three-fold mix works perfectly for this venue. One sees, learns, and takes in the New York Sports experience in a multitude of ways. The balance of all this is just right. In short, it works. It works tremendously well.
As for the information on the tour itself... there are really no adequate words to describe it all. As I noted above, there is more history in this area of Manhattan than I never knew existed. I began by taking some notes of facts I wished to remember. I stopped after a time because the information was all-consuming. What impressed me here was, although I care most about baseball (of course), information and stories were told about seemingly every sport. I was overwhelmed by how much I don't know. Learning is fun - and this entire experience was all about learning. The stores ran the gamut from the four major sports (baseball, football, basketball, and hockey) to the Olympics, horse racing, roller derby, golf, boxing, swimming, tennis, and so much more. We learned about legends like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Namath, Pele, Frank Gifford, Willis Reed, Babe Didrikson, Pele, Vince Lombardi...and so many more. The tour also gave information on how professional leagues were created and how they became popular. Interesting tie-ins to popular culture such as games (Monopoly), toys (the Erector Set), movies (Marilyn Monroe), and television commercials were also an integral part of the experience. Thorough, fascinating, complete, and extremely well-done would be accurate descriptors of the overall experience. There was so much to learn, and so much that I missed, that I'd like to take the tour again and again to learn it all.
In addition to all of this, because of the fact that city traffic is what city traffic is, since the tour is actually just the sharing of information, it's not "packaged" in any way. When a detour caused us to have to take an unanticipated turn, the hosts rolled right right along and immediately picked-up with new stories about the blocks of the city were were sent to. One doesn't get an experience like this anywhere else. This aspect made the tour even more appealing.
Once the tour comes to a close, the participants are delightfully full of information. The participants are then told of some additional interactive videos that are available only on the tour's web page that are accessible through a special code provided on the tour itself. In this manner, the experience can continue even when the participants return home.
But, even though the tour of the streets was complete, the experience was far from over. The final part of the tour, the dinner, was actually (if one can imagine) a bigger highlight.
At the conclusion of the driving tour, participants who register for the "Full Experience" are then invited to dinner with a New York sports personality at Keens Steakhouse . Our event afforded us the honor and privilege of enjoying special time with Marty Appel. Mr. Appel has been involved with the New York Yankees in various capacities since the late 1960's. He has been their Public Relations Director, the Executive Producer for the WPIX television games, and more. Mr. Appel is also an author who has published extensively on baseball and specifically, the New York Yankees.
The beauty of this experience was that Mr. Appel was a most gracious and affable host. He talked with all of the participants. He shared stories. He was kind, thoughtful, and respectful. Mr. Appel did not put on "airs." He asked us to call him Marty. There were times when he asked about each of us taking an interest in our lives and experiences. Because of his kind manner, Mr. Appel immediately became almost like dear friend sitting down to a nice dinner with us. We laughed, talked, and shared memories. Of course, Mr. Appel was able to delight us with stories about Yankees legends and less-known players. He seemed to enjoy the questions we asked. He spoke from the heart and from his vast experiences. I am sure I was not alone in hoping that the dinner would last well into the night. The feedback I have read from all of the dinner experiences with these tours has been universally positive, and I am certain that all of the tour participants have had great hosts, but I am not sure that any could have had a host as wonderful as Marty Appel. This, alone, would have been a great experience. That this occurred after such an in-depth and interesting tour made the whole afternoon and evening one that was positive beyond words.
Keens, the restaurant host, was also tremendous. The atmosphere and food is legendary. We were provided with a special menu that allowed for a wide selection of great dishes. Those who know me can assume correctly that I ordered the hamburger. The mutton chops, a house specialty, were raved about by those who ordered them. Keens is a New York landmark with a great history all of its own. It is the perfect location from which to conclude this experience.
All-in-all, New York Sports Tours is a first-class program. It is a must-do for all New York sports fans. There is enough to interest and entertain the casual fan and even more to delight the fan who thinks he or she knows everything. (A hint - you don't.) I give the entire program an A+. It was that good. I consider myself very fortunate, indeed, to have had this opportunity.
I highly, and without reservation, recommend New York Sports Tours. It is a can't-miss wonderful experience. The Best. A+!