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On Monday evening in Milwaukee, the Mets defeated the Brewers 7-2 and with the victory, guaranteed their first post season appearance in six years. Max Scherzer, returning from the Injured List, was brilliant, retiring all 18 batters he faced with apparent little effort. If not for wanting to limit the number of pitches, he may have been on his way to a perfect game. He had to settle for two-thirds of one and his 200th Major League victory. The Mets broke the ice in a scoreless game in the 4th inning. Pete Alonso connected with a 3-run homer, his 36th of the season. In the 6th, back-to-back triples by Brandon Nimmo and Francisco Lindor followed by a double from “cult hero” Daniel Vogelbach made it 5-0. After Scherzer left the game in the 6th, the Brewers plated two on a two-run homer by Rowdy Tellez. But any thought of a Brewers’ comeback was put to rest in the 8th, when the Mets tacked on two more, thanks to RBI singles by Tyler Naquin and Tomas Nido. After the game, the Mets celebrated in subdued fashion. Rather than the usual oft-repeated champaign spray madhouse in the locker room, players were seen holding flutes of bubbly, more like receiving Prosecco while heading into the cocktail hour of a wedding reception. Clearly, they knew that more and bigger celebrations lay ahead, but nevertheless acknowledged a significant achievement. What has been the difference this year’s success story, as opposed to other recent years? The answer is manager Buck Showalter. His old-school, no-nonsense approach is exactly what this young team needed. Combined with adding veterans like Scherzer and infielder Eduardo Escobar, professionalism has returned while still allowing the team to shine with individuality and personality within those bounds. An example of that is Edwin Diaz's 9th inning anthem of Narco by Timmy Trumpet which heralds in victories. Gone are players giving thumbs-down gestures to fans or stuffed ponies in the dugout for riding after non-consequential home runs. Having an owner Steve Cohen that actually cares about the team’s success other than the financial bottom line also helps. The Mets still hope to win the National League’s Eastern Division. May that be the next celebration with several more to follow. Stay tuned! Continue reading
Posted Sep 20, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
On Sunday July 24, I made the trip to Cooperstown to be part of the induction ceremony of this year’s class to the Baseball Hall of Fame. I was there to watch Gil Hodges, who I wrote about in January, be inducted posthumously. In addition to Gil, there were six other former baseball players being honored: three posthumously - Minnie Miñoso, Bud Fowler and Buck O’Neil – and three others who were present – Jim Kaat, Tony Olivia and David Ortiz aka Big Papi. If you are a baseball fan, but have never attended the induction ceremony, it is celebration of the best baseball can offer. Fifty-thousand or so travel many miles to be part of the festivities. The huge, open field of the Clark Sports Center, located about a 15 minute walk south of the village’s Main Street, is dotted with lawn chairs, umbrellas, tents, signs, and uniforms of many teams. This year, there were plenty of flags from the Dominican Republic, the native land of Big Papi, being waved proudly from those of Dominican heritage. The field is already crowded when I arrive at 11:30, two hours before the scheduled start time of the ceremony. I put my folding chair down on an open spot near the center but pretty far back from the stage. When I return from a quick walk to get water, I’ve been surrounded. To my left are three chairs with those seated wearing a Mets, Yankees and Red Sox jersey, respectively. I commented that this is a great mix. The Mets fan said that they have a fourth person with them, a Phillies fan, but he forgot a chair. To their left are a large group of Dominicans. They are having an animated conservation, talking loudly, smiling and laughing, and enjoying some really big cigars, whose smell reminded me of my youth at Shea Stadium. To my right are five people who quietly sat there with a large cooler of Coronas. My only judgement on them was that they had no idea who Tommie Agee was, but I refrained from telling them to go on YouTube to watch Game 3 of the 1969 World Series. The ceremony gets underway on time with the usual welcome to Cooperstown by Jane Forbes Clark, Chair of the Hall of Fame and introduction of today’s master of ceremonies, Brian Kenny from the MLB Network. He noted that due to bad storms forecast for later in the afternoon, some usual features, like video montages for each for the inductees shown on the huge screen and across the live televised feed, would be omitted to get the crowd out of there before the thunderstorms arrived. It was greatly appreciated; the ceremony still lasted three hours. And it was a good call; the ceremony was over at 4:30pm and Cooperstown was drenched by 5:15pm. Then comes what can only be described as a living “Field of Dreams” moment. The previously-inducted Hall of Famers are introduced one by one – a... Continue reading
Posted Jul 30, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
On Sunday evening, longtime Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman and 1969 Mets manager Gil Hodges was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame. It has been a long journey for a player who retired in 1963 when his aging knees could no longer hold up. When Hodges retired, he had set a record of 370 home runs by a National League right-handed hitter and was 10th on the all-time home run list. His 14 career grand slams ranked first in the National League. He was an all-star eight times, won three Gold Gloves for best defensive first baseman in the first three years that the Gold Glove awards were given out, and was only second to teammate Duke Snyder in most Dodger offensive records. But baseball’s greatest honor, a place in the Hall of Fame, eluded him. As time went on, his accomplishments were diluted, replaced by others who exceeded him in performance and advanced statistics that diminish a human into a Stratomatic playing card. In Brooklyn, he was a fan favorite and a quiet leader in the clubhouse. He lived with his wife Joan and his family in Flatbush year-round. Legend says he was the only “Brooklyn Bum” who was never booed, adopted as one of their own. Even after a horrible end to the 1952 season, when he went hitless in 26 World Series at bats, and a slow start in 1953, the community’s answer was to pray for him, later the title of a 2006 book by Thomas Oliphant. So did prayer alone get him in this time? According to the rules set by the Hall of Fame, “voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” Pay close attention to the last four criteria, none of which can be captured by any amount of advanced analytics. Mets broadcaster Howie Rose was one of the first to note that it is a person’s complete resume that should be weighted. Many players from the 1969 Mets went on record saying that if it wasn’t for Gil’s leadership as manager, none would have been World Series champs. But it may have been longtime Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully who went to bat for Gil’s induction, offering this high praise: “Gil stood out as not only one of the game’s finest first basemen but also as a great American and an exemplary human being, someone who many of us were in awe of because of his spiritual strength. I often heard Dodgers players refer to Gil as a “saint.” I am too young to have ever seen Gil play. I knew he was an original Met and hit their very first home run during their first game in 1962. I certainly remember him as a manager who provided an eleven-year old a great summer and fall in 1969. But I did have a mom who saw him play at Ebbets Field, so I knew he was special. And... Continue reading
Posted Dec 7, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
With Covid seating restrictions lifted and life attempting to get back to normal, it was time to visit a ballpark. On Saturday June 26, I did just that as the Mets hosted the Phillies at Citi Field. Excluding the 2020 season when no fans were allowed to attend games, I’ve been to at least one Mets home game each year since 1966, a streak I’m very happy to have. Joining me at the game was my personal color commentator Susan, our son Andrew, who travelled from Brooklyn, and two of his friends, Eion and Tommy, both Red Sox fans who also delight in Yankee defeats. In other words, we had the perfect team to be sitting in the first row of Section 415, directly above home plate. And on this day, the Mets’ starting pitcher was Jacob deGrom, who is having a season like no other has had. Coming into the game, his Earned Run Average (ERA) was an unheard of 0.50 and he had driven in more runs as a hitter than he has given up as a pitcher. On this particular day, deGrom was a mere mortal on the mound, giving up 2 runs on only 3 hits and striking out 5 in six innings of work. His ERA “jumped” to 0.69. To put this in perspective, Bob Gibson’s 1968 ERA was 1.12, the lowest in modern history. deGrom did collect another hit at the plate, going 1 for 2, and raising his batting average to .414. Incredible – the highest in the lineup. deGrom left with the Mets trailing 2-1, but the Mets tied it up on Kevin Pillar’s homer in the 7th. The Phillies took the lead in the 9th, benefiting from a hit by pitch, a stolen base, a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly. Would our trip be a total loss? Not this year. Phillies pitcher Hector Neris gave it all right back, with the help of 3rd baseman Luke Williams, who allowed Mets’ pinch hitter Travis Blankenhorn to reach first base on an error. That was followed by a walk by Billy McKinney and a base hit for Pillar, loading the bases for Luis Guillorme, who also walked, forcing in Blankenhorn and tying the game. After a Francisco Lindor strikeout, Michael Conforto, just recently back from the Injured List, hit a fly ball to center field. Odubel Herrera’s arm was no match for the speedy McKinney who slid head first, well ahead of the ball, to give the Mets a 4-3 victory, and row 1 in section 415 something to celebrate. It’s really too bad that the woman, who bought the largest bucket of popcorn in history and was sitting to our left, had departed early, but I digress. Our entourage took celebratory selfies and departed for the stairs, joining in a chorus of Let’s Go Mets as we headed outside. Baseball clearly is changing, making way for a younger fan. It is evident in its marketing – most pictures of players show... Continue reading
Posted Jun 28, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
RALPH FASANELLA (1914 - 1997) | Sandlot Game Thursday was the most glorious day on the calendar, one filled with childlike dreams and unmatched optimism. No, I’m not referring to April Fool’s Day, but Major League Baseball’s Opening Day. Never mind that there was wet snow falling most of the day at my house. The sun would be shining somewhere. What I did not count on was a Covid outbreak among Washington Nationals ballplayers cancelling the Mets first game of the season, and as I write this, it was just announced that the entire weekend series is cancelled. So on Thursday, I settled for a few innings of the Blue Jays – Yankees game which lasted three hours and thirty minutes, tied 2-2 after nine innings. The 10th inning then showcased Major League Baseball’s latest game “enhancement” – putting a runner at 2nd base to encourage scoring and forcing a quicker ending. The Blue Jays scored in the top of the 10th; the Yankees did not in the bottom frame. This enhancement might be nice in youth sports where parents can get home earlier, but it has no place in professional sports. But I digress and this leads me to my main topic. Since its establishment in 1876, the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs has had nine players in the lineup. In one half of an inning, nine players are in the field. In the other half, those nine players take a turn batting. This repeats for nine innings, or if tied after nine, to extra innings. In the 1950s and 60s, the National League was seen as more exciting than its junior counterpart, the American League, formed in 1901. With sagging attendance in the late 1960s, American League owners sought a way to boost fan appeal. Ideas like yellow baseballs were ruled out. The Oakland Athletics owner Charlie Finley introduced bright colored uniforms for pizazz. But his biggest proposal, one that other American League owners agreed with, was the idea that pitchers, not being the best hitters, should be replaced in the lineup with someone else. That tenth person would be known as the Designated Hitter, or DH. In 1973, the Yankees’ Ron Bloomberg had the distinction of being the first major league player to bat multiple times in a game while never having to put on a glove. Since then, the two leagues played by different rules and whether you love or loathe the DH still is as heated as any political discussion. Much has happened in the nearly 50 years since the DH’s introduction. In 1976, players were granted the right to free agency, boosting salaries by exponential proportions. The leagues added teams several times, to the current 15 teams in both leagues. In 1994, playoffs were expanded to allow more teams to participate in the post season. Interleague baseball was introduced in 1997. And in 2000, the National and American Leagues, as legal entities, were dissolved. And during this past winter, Major League Baseball exercised... Continue reading
Posted Apr 3, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
The Super Bowl is over and it's almost time for baseball. Spring training is starting; pitchers and catchers reported today. You wouldn’t know that looking out my window seeing at least a foot of snow covering the ground. And half of the country is freezing. But I digress since I am involved in a baseball-related activity: going through my baseball card collection. Like many my age, I started collecting in my youth during the mid-1960s, starting at age 7. The cards had been stored safely in my childhood home and for the last 30 years dutifully kept in shoe boxes within plastic bins in my basement. And they probably would have been left alone but for another event in my house. In a nearby area of the basement, I noticed an amount of water had accumulated on the floor. I had no idea where it came from, but quickly realized in horror that a small plastic tube that drained furnace condensation had come loose right above our record album collection. Drip, drip, drip. And the leak, apparently, had been going on for a while. Yes, record albums were ruined, even though they were kept in hard shell cartons. It turns out that there were tiny little holes on the tops and bottoms of these cartons; the perfect conduit for a drip from above. The vinyl is fine – mostly - but the jackets didn’t make it. About 100 album jackets met this fate. I was not about let that get to my baseball card collection. I am happy to report that the cards are in good shape and unharmed. Some were shuffled around, but I managed to get them sorted back together by year. My main collection is from 1965 through 1969. By 1970, I apparently wasn’t into as much. I’m not sure why, but I guess is my interests moved elsewhere, to walkie talkies, radio and electronic nerdy stuff. The great players of the mid and late 1960s are in the collection: Aaron, Banks, Clemente, Mantle and a very young Reggie Jackson. But mostly, there are many not so famous ones. Topps, the card manufacturer, always guessed who the rookie stars for each team would be for the upcoming season. There were two faces on the front of the card. Most times they missed but other times they hit the jackpot, with at least one becoming a star, maybe even a Hall of Famer, and if you were really lucky, two would become big names. Jerry Koosman and Nolan Ryan were paired for the 1968 Rookie Stars card and is in my collection. When I started collecting, I remember being offered a bunch of cards from older kids on my street. But these cards were from the 1950s – who would want them? Yes, it was very bad decision on my part. Another bad decision was to use my Dymo Labelmaker to cover the team name if a player was traded and perhaps using a magic marker to black... Continue reading
Posted Feb 18, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
The COVID-19 outbreak has delayed the 2020 baseball season that was scheduled to start on March 26. While baseball should be the least of our worries, it reminded me that the baseball season used to start in April, and March was reserved for Spring Training. Fifty years ago this week, I was in Florida for a family vacation, our first real vacation. Our destination was Vero Beach, the spring training home of the Dodgers. I attended two games, the first on Easter Sunday March 29 and the second the next night, a 7pm start. Holman Stadium in Vero Beach had been the Dodgers’ home since the Brooklyn days, and the complex was nicknamed Dodgertown. It was beautiful; all open and accessible to fans. That night the Dodgers would lose to the Yankees 11-4. I think that was the final score since my mother gave up scoring after the 8th inning. I still have the scorecard and program, safely stored with my baseball memories and there is a lot to unpack from this night. As I noted, the stadium was an open design. There was no roof over any seats. There was no outfield fence, only a grass berm lined with tall palm trees. There were no dugouts, either; the players sat on a bench separated from the fans by a short fence. Before the game, my father walked with me to behind the Dodgers bench and asked their longtime manager Walter Alston for an autograph. Walt was the manager for the Dodgers only World Series title in Brooklyn, and he repeated in Los Angeles in 1959 and 1963. He said sure and I got it. I can guarantee you that today it would be impossible to do that. I was pretty excited. But then I had my eyes on a bigger price. Our seats for the evening were to the left of the press box behind home plate, and again given the simple nature of Holman Stadium, consisted of little more than two long tables with a very high roof covering the sportswriters, broadcasters and electronics. We all noticed another longtime Dodgers icon Vin Scully sitting in the press box, sitting on the right side of the press table. With my mother's encouragement, I very nicely walked over and asked Mr. Scully for an autograph. He could not have been nicer. Of course, he said yes to the request. He asked me my name; I said Gregory (no nickname if my mother was nearby). Vin asked me where I was from, and I said Poughkeepsie. “I know where Poughkeepsie is”, he replied. That made me feel special. I told him that I liked the NBC gameshow he was hosting at the time - It Takes Two. He thanked me. What I didn’t know was that it had been cancelled, but the remaining episodes were still airing. I don’t think he held that against me. I thanked him for the autograph and off I went back to my seat. It was... Continue reading
Posted Mar 31, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
After the Mets completed a three game sweep of the Indians, I was excited for a huge series against the National League East's leading team, the Atlanta Braves. The Mets were nine games back of the Braves, only eight if you counted losses, and my blind optimism said that a weekend sweep would move them to six games out, five in the loss column. At about 7pm Friday night, I bid my better half farewell and headed to the basement TV for the opening pitch. Major League Baseball had declared this "Player's Weekend", where players got to choose any name, preferably nicknames, for the back of their jerseys. OK, this is not my cup of tea, but whatever. I still picture "He Hate Me" on the back of a uniform from the failed summer XFL football league. What I didn't expect was to so see my Mets, not in their familiar white jerseys with blue pinstripes and orange trim, but in an all white outfit, including white hats, and unreadable white numbers and names. They looked like an American version of cricketers or a squad of Good Humor men. When they came to the plate with brilliant white batting helmets (rather than blue), they looked like characters out of Woody Allen's Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex. If you have seen the movie, you know the scene. Meanwhile, the Braves were dressed in total black. The pants looked like dress pants and could have easily been paired with a roman collar. It was that bad, and took me a good 5 innings to calm down in an attempt to enjoy baseball. I should add that I did yell upstairs to Susan to check out the Mets game, prompting the same horrified reaction to a drum barrel of bleach gone mad. If I had to put on these uniforms, my nickname would have been "Deez Unis Suk". While Twitter was bashing the uniforms, Jacob deGrom was pitching a fantastic game, piling up strikeouts including his 200th of the season in the middle of striking out eight in a row, two short of Tom Seaver's record of ten. Meanwhile, Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz also was cruising along, allowing a lone hit. Then in the 6th inning, Mets' tormentor Freddie Freeman knocked a single into center scoring Ozzie Albies to give the Braves a 1-0 lead. In the bottom of the 6th, deGrom took matters into his own hands with an opposite field home run to tie the game. This is why I'm not a fan of the designated hitter; you don't get moments like this in the American League. deGrom left after 7 innings, giving up only one run and striking out 13. From there, it was a battle of the bullpens, and with neither team scoring in the 8th and 9th, it was on to extra innings. The Braves had a great scoring opportunity in the 10th, but struggling Mets reliever Edwin Diaz struck out Ronald Ocuna, Jr and... Continue reading
Posted Aug 27, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
On Saturday, I spent the morning saying goodbye to an Albany institution: the Playdium bowling center in the city's Pine Hills neighborhood. The Playdium has been there since 1940 but the valuable land on which it sits has been sold to make way for apartments; the building will be torn down. There was an auction to sell off everything inside: bar fixtures, signs, TVs, kitchen items, and a telephone booth to name a few. For two dollars, you could take home a bowling pin. I bought five. There were some hardcore auction folks there to scoop up the bargains, like dishes, glasses and stools, but many more were there, like myself, to pay our respect: ex-college students who remember going there for inexpensive recreation, parents showing their children where they spent their Saturday mornings in youth leagues, and older folks who just had to stop by one last time and reminisce. I bowled in my office's Thursday night league for ten years. I hadn't been inside the Playdium in 20 years. It didn't take long for nostalgia to kick in as I walked around. Most of the lanes had already been stripped, machinery exposed and pins missing. The sanctity of the foul line was gone. The lanes that were still intact stood as the final soldiers on sentry duty. The seating area was still there. So I sat down behind lanes 27 and 28, looking around and thinking back to Thursday nights in the late 80s and 90s. My league, the PSC Mixed, was an assortment of co-workers, their spouses and a few special guests. Bowling abilities varied, but we were mostly there for fun. Several of the higher average bowlers - Eddie, Jeff, Dick and Craig and a few others - would give a dollar to whomever had the highest game of the evening. By the end of the season, I think we all broke even. One of the spouses who joined in that fun was Bill. His wife had worked at the PSC. Bill was a jovial guy, smiling and always telling stories. Everyone seemed to know him. As a teen in the 1940s, in the days before the lanes were automated, Bill worked at the Playdium as a pinboy, setting pins in between frames. Bill would tell about getting an extra two bits when a guy, wanting to impress his date but perhaps lacking bowling abilities, would have Bill, hidden above the lane backdrop, throw an extra pin towards the deck as the ball hit the pins, guaranteeing a strike. He also told us about the secret door in the back of the lanes. Since most of the pinboys were underage, state labor officials would make surprise inspections. Someone at the front desk would send a signal to the pinboys whenever the inspectors would show up, and the boys would flee out the secret door and scurry down Park Street. My favorite Bill story was the time he told us he was shooting pool at the Lamp... Continue reading
Posted Apr 17, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Today's opening day of the 2018 baseball season, usually a day of eternal optimism, had a shadow of melancholy with the passing of the great Rusty Staub. Rusty is the only player to have achieved 500 hits with four different teams - Houston, Montreal, Detroit and the Mets. I'll talk about his time with my team and my favorite memories. He played for the Mets from 1972 through 1975, when he wore number four, and 1981 through 1985, when he wore number ten. I attended my first Opening Day in 1974. My friend had secured front row tickets along the right field line on the field level at Shea Stadium. I was bundled in a parka, gloves and a knit hat that day. The game time temperature was thirty-seven degrees. It was the day the Mets raised their pennant for winning the 1973 National League championship series. Rusty was playing right field, and we hollered at him most of the game as he trotted in and out between innings. He never acknowledged us; ballplayers usually don't. But it was nice to be that close to him as he traversed the field. I have a blurry black and white photo of number 4 passing by. I'll jump ahead to his final year, 1985. When the Mets reacquired Rusty, he was older, somewhat heavier, and mostly used for pinch hitting. He was really good at it. In 1983, he set a season record for runs batted in as a pinch hitter. On this night in 1985, the Mets were trailing in the bottom of the 9th inning. Rusty was sent up to pinch hit. The crowd buzzed with excitement as Rusty connected with a pitch and the ball was heading for the stands in right field, where we were sitting. At the last second, the ball curved foul, just to our left and the crowd let out a collective groan. However, on the very next pitch, the ball didn't hook foul, landing in the Mets bullpen. Tie game! Shea erupted in jubilation as Rusty rounded the bases. The Mets would go on to lose that game in extra innings, but that moment - Rusty's moment - is one of my favorite memories at Shea. I often thought that if I ever met Rusty, I would share that memory. There are other memories. I remember when they acquired him in April 1972 for four minor league players, his World Series heroics in 1973 while playing in the frigid October New York City night air in short sleeves and a bum shoulder, the absurdity of trading him to Detroit for Mickey Lolich after the 1975 season, and his return in 1981, immortalized in one line of the song Talkin' Baseball by Terry Cashman. After baseball, Rusty had restaurants - two in Manhattan at one time, and his BBQ ribs were excellent. And he spent a few years in the Mets' broadcast booth calling games. His charitable work for the families of fallen police and... Continue reading
Posted Mar 29, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
The 2017 baseball regular season has come to an end. For the Mets, it was over sometime around mid May. A lethal combination of injuries, over hyped expectations, and just plain awful play lead to their demise. But there was always the promise of September. Back in baseball's simpler times, when there were two divisions rather than three, and only four teams made the "postseason", as opposed to today's ten, September was the month for teams out of contention to showcase their minor league talent - the stars of the future. Teams also played for pride. Finishing in fourth place was better than fifth, so let's give it a go. Or a team could play spoiler - defeating a team in contention for the playoffs. And as a fan, I enjoyed seeing the young prospects showcased on the main stage while these consolation prizes appeased me. There was something gentle and serene as the shadows in left field lengthened. Winter was coming, yet fans were being given a gift - to see the promise of next season. Darryl Strawberry A great example was in 1983. The Mets were about to finish with a losing record for the sixth consecutive year yet you could tell something was about to change. The team had called up this kid from southern California, Darryl Strawberry, in May, and he looked pretty good. In June, they traded two young players to the Cardinals for Keith Hernandez. He was the real thing. And in September, the team called up this young pitcher who had attended Yale, Ron Darling. He seemed good, too. That season ended on a happy note. Rusty Staub, always popular in New York especially among redheads, had set a record for consecutive pinch hits (eight) earlier in the season. And he was within reach of the single season record of pinch hit runs batted in (RBI). The final day of the 1983 season was a double header, due to a rainout on the previous Friday. My family was gathered around the TV, watching the games as if the World Series was at stake, or more probably holding on to the last vestige of summer. Late in the afternoon, Rusty strolled to the plate in his pinch hitting role as the Mets trailed 4-3 in the bottom of the 9th. He promptly doubled, driving in two runs and winning the game on the final at-bat. He had tied the record at 25. We were excited. The team was excited. They had won six of their final seven games. Spring of 1984 - hurry up and arrive. The Mets would go on to have seven consecutive winning seasons. Unfortunately, little of that optimism was felt this September. When it was clear that the Mets were destined for a losing lesson with no chance to make the expanded playoffs, mangement sold off many of its established stars, like Curtis Granderson, Neil Walker, and Jay Bruce, getting little of value in return. But they did have some... Continue reading
Posted Oct 3, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
This year's annual pilgrimage to see the Mets - my 52nd consecutive year in doing so - was a spur of the moment affair. A combination of a good weather forecast, no other plans, and 50 percent off the face value of "Excelsior Level" seats in the shade contributed to the impromptu decision. After a lunch of those magical ShakeShack burgers and fries, my wife, son, and I were in our seats in time for the first pitch. The game started out promising. Mets starter Rafael Montero retired the first three Philadelphia Phillies batters. Those pretty much were the Mets highlights. After that, a series of poor defense, untimely hitting, and unhelpful bullpen relief resulted in a 7-1 Phillies victory, with the Mets limited to three hits, one of which was a TJ Rivera homer to avoid a shutout. I can say that I witnessed the Phillies' catcher Andrew Knapp score from second base on a wild pitch. So there is that. Or the Mets hitting into a bizarre double play when the Phillies' center fielder Aaron Altherr dove for a ball, juggled on his body as he rolled over, and managed to not let the ball hit the ground, fooling the Mets baserunner Jay Bruce and doubling him off first base. Plus I saw Knapp at it again when he beat Mets relief pitcher Chase Bradford in a footrace to first base in what I thought would be the third out in an inning, only to open up the flood gates for three more runs. I can safely say this game ranks in my Top 10 worst games attended ever. Mind you, I can't name the other nine, but I know this one is on the list, ranking high on the uninspired chart. (Hey, if you are a Phillies fan, you most likely have a different view and I tip my cap.) So that leaves some random observations about the rest of day to share. I'm not sure if this applies to all of Major League Baseball, but Mets management believes that fans need to be entertained in between innings. I call it the two minute barrage. Three "hosts" entertain the crowd on the big TV screen that sits in center field. There are contests to guess this or that, people-powered car races on the outfield warning track, and not one, but two tee shirt tosses. I expect this stuff at the minor league park ten minutes from my house; I don't expect it in Queens, at least not with the frequency that they do it. They usually play Piano Man in the 8th inning so everyone can sing along, but I guess they didn't want to add to the day's depressing atmosphere. And the biggest shock is that when it's time for the 7th inning stretch, a long-standing baseball tradition, no one gets out of their seats until instructed to do so. This is when my wife sees the veins in my head bulge. Over the last fifteen... Continue reading
Posted Jul 8, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
On Thursday, the Mets and Yankees completed the annual battle for New York; the Subway Series. In baseball's golden years, this meant two New York teams (Yankees, Dodgers or Giants) meeting in the World Series. But now, the term is attached to the regular season meeting between the Mets and Yankees. This year marks the 20th season of interleague play in baseball and I must admit the Mets-Yankees meeting is losing its luster, at least to me. The four game series - two at Citi Field and two at the new Yankee Stadium were split, with each team winning one at each other's ballpark. The games were long; the thrills few. Other than a strange scene in the final game where Mets pitcher Hansel Robles accused the Yankees' Mark Teixera of "stealing signs" (signaling the type of pitch about to be delivered to his teammates), and a half-hearted, bench emptying moment, the series was not all that memorable. For one thing, the Yankees, prior to the series, traded a number of star players for future prospects. I can't recall in my lifetime the Yankees waiving the white flag in early August. Meanwhile, since the All Star break, the Mets haven't been able to win two games in a row, yet believe they still have a shot at post season play. When interleague play started in 1997, I was against it. The purest in me is strong. And while I'm still not thrilled by it, I do admit to having vivid memories of those initial Mets-Yankees meetings, both on and off the field. I'll share three of them. In that first year, I attended the rubber game at Yankee Stadium with my wife, Susan, who at the time was "great with child." Our son would be born several weeks later. Several other folks that I worked with were also there, a mix of Met and Yankee fans. We arrived from Manhattan on the number 4 train and entered a packed house on a weekday afternoon. Missing work to attend a game is one of life's great joys, even for me if it was in the Bronx. I hadn't been in Yankee Stadium in over 20 years and this was a great atmosphere. Fans were chanting, trying to out yell each other. One of my work colleagues, a Met fan some might think of imposing stature, was particularly vocal, so much so that a fan several rows ahead stood up and turned around, in an act of intimidation. His quest for silence was quickly aborted however when my colleague also stood up and conveyed "are you talking to me?" without saying a word. Priceless. On the field, the Mets had tied in the 8th on a run scoring balk, caused by a dancing Steve Bieser who disrupted Yankee starter (and former Met) David Cone. Unfortunately, this was the extent of the Mets offense that day. The Yankees won the game in the bottom of the 9th. The final score was Yankees 2... Continue reading
Posted Aug 8, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Steven Wrenn on deck! photo (c) Greg Pattenaude There is something very patriotic about seeing baseball on the 4th of July. And even if you are not a big baseball fan, a visit to minor league park is worth the trip. I am lucky to have a team less than fifteen minutes from my home. My wife and I have made it a point to attend the July 4 game at Joseph Bruno Stadium in Troy, NY as our celebration of independence. For less than $11, you can sit four rows behind the on-deck circle and get to see talented ballplayers hoping to make the big leagues someday. Will it be Daz Cameron, son of former major leaguer Mike Cameron? How about Steven Wrenn, who's father, Steve, played minor league ball in the late 1960s? For many of the players, fresh out of college, this league is their first professional gig; they are getting paid to play baseball. The reality, however, is that very few will make it to the majors, let alone move up another rung in the minor league system. In the fifteen seasons of the Tri City Valleycats, 44 players have made it to the majors, players such as Dallas Keuchel, the 2015 American League Cy Young Award winner and Ben Zobrist, who last year played for the World Champion Royals and this season is with the first place Cubs. I always keep score at these games, then store the program in the basement. In a few years, I'll pull out the scorecard to see if any of the names made it. Sadly, there are many disappointing scorecards. The "Joe", the area nickname for the ballpark, hosted the 2008 New York Penn League All Star game, which I attended. The only names I recognized from my scorecard that night were the d'Arneau brothers, Travis, who plays for the Mets, and Chase, who is with the Braves. But on this night - July 4th, 2016, none of that matters; the Valleycats are playing the State College Spikes, an affiliate of the St Louis Cardinals. And it's a perfect night for baseball and post game fireworks. Not too many firework venues offer a comfortable chair, hot dogs for $2.50 and a cup holder for adult libations. Southpaw, the Valley Cats Mascot In tonight's game, runs were scored early, with the Spikes leading most of the night. Of course, in a minor league park, the game serves as filler for what happens in between innings, when various promotions are rolled out on the field. There is Southpaw, the Valleycats' mascot, racing a 10 year old boy around the bases. Southpaw always seems to lose by a step or two. Then there is a game of musical chairs, with an obnoxious chicken (well, someone in a chicken suit), who cheats and always wins, becoming the park villain in the process and a great reminder to go get some tenders or a "spiedie" at the concession stand. And finally, there is the... Continue reading
Posted Jul 11, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
I always enjoyed taking a day off from work in June to attend a Mets afternoon game. The schedule maker hasn't been as kind in recent years in making this event possible. And even though I'm now retired, it's still special when one of these opportunities pops up, like it did yesterday: the Mets versus the defending World Champions Kansas City Royals. And so I went, with wife, son and his friend by my side. After all, the lyrics to Meet the Mets tell me to "bring the kiddies; bring the wife". For what it's worth, the last time I saw the Royals was 40 years ago at Yankee Stadium, when young George Brett was making his mark and the road uniforms were powder-puff blue. But that game is a tale for another time. The weather in Queens was nearly perfect, maybe a bit hot in the sun. But a gentle breeze and a parade of puffy cumulus clouds kept the sun at bay until our seats were shaded for the afternoon thanks to the small roof at the top of the ballpark. We sat directly above home plate, in the upper deck, although the marketing department for the Mets prefer we call it "the Promenade". The view nearly matched the same one I had 50 years ago for my first game at Shea, as I wrote about several weeks back. The game was good, featuring starting pitchers Danny Duffy, a southpaw, for the Royals and Noah Syndergaard aka "Thor" for the Mets. The breeze provided a good showcase for Thor's long locks. It was a back and forth affair with the Mets taking the lead in the 4th, the Royals scoring 2 in the top of 5th, the Mets answering with 2 in the bottom of the 5th, the Royals tying it in the 6th, and the Mets going ahead for good in the bottom of the 6th on the first home run of Matt Reynolds' career. Mets closer Jeurys Familia nailed down the victory with a 1-2-3 9th inning, his 24th save in as many tries this season. Three years ago, I saw Familia in his visit to Troy (NY) to pitch one inning for the Brooklyn Cyclones against the Tri City Valleycats, whose stadium is 15 minutes from our home. I always remind folks that this was the turning point of his career. Well, at least in my mind it was. Despite rush hour traffic that turned a normal three hour trip home into a nearly five-hour marathon, we declared the day a success and hope that the Mets season is back on track. I have one other thought to share. Citi Field now has been the Mets home for eight seasons. I'm still getting used to it. There is a lot to like: wide concourses, wide aisles, wide seats, and lots of places to get food. We have sat in various sections and levels, seeing games from various angles. The last two games have been in... Continue reading
Posted Jun 23, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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Jun 20, 2016