"Let's Go Jay! " Interviewing Mets Maven Jay Horwitz
You may not know his name, but you likely know his team. Clifton resident Jay Horwitz is Vice President of Media Relations for the New York Mets, an organization he’s been with since 1980. Prior to that, he was the Sports Information Director for Fairleigh Dickinson University and for New York University, where he’s a proud alumnus. Jay was born on V-J (Victory over Japan Day) near Yankee Stadium. His parents were huge New York Giants fans (both football and baseball) and Jay grew up idolizing Willie Mays. Father Milton ran a girls’ coat factory and mother Gertrude “took great care of me.” His father died in 1970, his mother in 1990.
The family moved to Clifton when Jay was a young child. He attended School One, Christopher Columbus Middle School, and Clifton High School, part of the first graduating class at the new building in 1963. Born with one functioning eye, Jay described himself as not particularly athletic but as a favor to Jay’s dad Milton, whose coats were sold at the store, a local business owner let him play second base for Epstein’s store-sponsored Little League Team. He laughed about his lack of athletic skills, saying that he “bunted a lot” and played second base because, “with only one working eye, you can’t see a ball hit to the outfield.” The one time he hit a “screaming line drive” during a game at Main Memorial Park, he stumbled so badly and ran so slowly that he ended up getting thrown out at first base!
Jay was 13 when he received a glass eye and while some children teased him, his mother reassured him. Jay developed a strong sense of self thanks to his parents, as well as a sense of humor and resilience that would come in handy in his long and storied career with the Mets. He said that growing up with a disability made him more sensitive to those with issues and to this day, he will go out of his way to help others.
As a youngster, Jay skated on the pond in Nash Park when it froze, bowled at the various alleys in town, and hung out with friends. Some of their favorite hangout spots included such legendary places as the Hot Grill (“two all the way!”), the Famous Midtown Grill, and fried bologna sandwiches with French fries at the Village Deli. Fond memories include going to Clifton football games during the glory days of the early 60s and watching legendary coaches like Joe Grecco, who led the team to state championships. Jay enjoyed the Thanksgiving football games played against rivals Garfield and Passaic. Even though he was not athletic, Jay was a student manager of many of the sports teams at Clifton High School. In fact, he noted that he had more stripes (four) on his sweater than the football team’s starting quarterback!
Jay attended NYU where his ambition early on was to become a press secretary to a politician like Bobby Kennedy. But life takes quirky turns and plans happen for a reason- Jay was soon recruited by Fairleigh Dickinson University for the sports information department and that changed the course of his career. Jay continued to follow the baseball Giants, but when he was contacted in 1980 by the New York Mets, he didn’t hesitate to take the job working in their Public Relations Department. “I’ve been a Mets fan ever since!” he laughed. Still, he said, he was star-struck when he finally met childhood idol. Willie Mays.
Jay wrote a book in 2020 called Mr. Met: How a Sports-Mad Kid from Jersey Became Like Family To Generations of Big Leaguers with a foreword by former Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom. He wrote about growing up in town and how Clifton shaped his life. His decision to write the book was influenced by admiration for his assistant, Mets PR Director Shannon Forde, who lost her battle with breast cancer at 44 years old. The book has countless anecdotes about the glory years of the mid-80s, as well as some not-so-glorious times, all written with humor and a love for the game. It took him and co-author Steve Kettman about a year to finish.
Jay has received numerous awards including the Fishel Award, given to the top media relations person in baseball. In 2006, he earned the Thurmon Munson Award for his dedication and excellence within the media relations community. The Mets named the CitiField Press Box the “Jay Horwitz Press Box.” Earlier this month, Jay was honored with the NY Mets Hall of Fame Achievement Award. During his thank you speech, he laughed about his early not-so-athletic abilities saying, “I only wish my parents, Milton and Gertrude, could be here with me. Who’d have thought?”
In a recent interview with the Clifton Times Jay, now 77 years old, spoke fondly of growing up in Clifton. While he’s lost touch with some friends, mostly as a result of a job that had him on the road traveling with the Mets for so many months a year for most of his career, he still has many friends in town. They include the Anzaldi brothers, Mayor Ray Grabowski, as well as Health Department Officer John Biegel among others. “Great guys!” he said. “Great friends!”
Asked about any teachers who influenced him, Jay immediately named two: Joyce Eslinger, a 6th-grade teacher who came to his home during his convalescence from eye surgery and Peter LoRe, history teacher and guidance counselor. He added that he assumed they had likely passed by now, but said if someone reading this story knows either of them, he’d like them to know that they influenced Jay with their kindness, encouragement, and faith in him. He also mentioned Rabbi Eugene Markovitz of the Clifton Jewish Center as a role model for kindness, compassion, and perseverance.
As we wrapped up, Jay was asked the one question that always seems to pop up when talking Clifton – pizza! He said he discovered Bruno’s not too long ago and found their pizza to be excellent, with a great staff. It was a lovely afternoon talking baseball, Mustang Band, and Clifton athletics (he misses the Thanksgiving football games) - old and new Clifton. Even if you’re not a Mets or baseball fan, time with Jay will include plenty of great conversation, warm reminiscing, and fun discussions on Clifton food.