May 24th, 2011

Fred:  (Excuse the intimacy, but you’ve been part of my life for over thirty years.)

Speak.  Please.  Say something like this, which Ken Davidoff drafted for you:

“I’d like to wholeheartedly apologize to Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, David Wright and the rest of this 2011 Mets team that I foolishly disparaged during our April 20 loss to the Houston Astros.

We dropped to 5-13 that night, and my frustration reached a boil. I care so much about the team, and that night, in the company of Jeffrey Toobin I recklessly and inarticulately took the club to task. I neglected to remember the old baseball adage that ‘It’s a marathon, not a sprint,’ and the spirited way our players, manager and coaches have performed since that night confirms the truth of that wisdom.

I let the team down. They deserved far better from their leader. I will be addressing them Tuesday in Chicago to personally apologize to them and offer my support.

And from now on, rest assured, I’ll think twice before I speak.”

Say it like you mean it, like it’s your words and sentiments, and like you didn’t have to wait for the world to point out to you that you should say something like this.   Don’t tell the world that the Mets are handling this internally.  Why would you think that would make us feel confident?

The Wilpons Are Selling the Mets

May 23rd, 2011

That is the only conceivable explanation for the things Fred Wilpon said to Jeff Toobin in the New Yorker profile that appeared online this morning.

You don’t say to any reporter, let alone to one as respected as Toobin, that Reyes has all sorts of things wrong with him, that Wright is a really good kid, a very good player, but not a superstar, and that it was a mistake to sign Beltran.  You don’t say that the team you own is shitty.  These are the things you say when you reach the end of the line, when you expect nothing from the future, when you no longer care about what you’ve always cared about, and when you no longer care about the people to whom you owe what you have.  

These are words for the last act of a tragedy.  They have no place in a world that will continue.

By lowering the value of Reyes, Wright, Beltran, and the team of which he is trying to sell 49%, Wilpon has betrayed everyone in sight:  the players, his wonderful new administration, and the fans, some of whom have now lived and died with this team for half a century.  We all deserve an apology.  But we deserve more than that.  We deserve an exit that doesn’t make anything worse than it already is.

Wilpon would have gained so much if he could have ended this all with class.  I have to admit that for nearly all of the time he owned the team I liked him and admired him.  I liked his story.  I liked the fact that he grew up in pretty much the same place and pretty much the same conditions as my parents.  I liked his enthusiasm and the dignity and competence he showed for many years, owning the Mets so much more quietly than Steinbrenner owned the Yankees.  I didn’t like some of his notable moments of cluelessness, like his apparent erasure of the Mets from the original Citi Field.  But I figured that it was part of the natural narcissism of a billionaire.  It was just a matter of self-involved stadium design.  I guess when you own something, you might start thinking that you are the only one who counts.  I hate that, of course, because I prefer to think that people who own ball teams are just taking care of them for the rest of us.  But I can see why they might not view it in that way.  For me, the freakiest section of Toobin’s article was learning that when Wilpon first met with the architects hired to design the new stadium, they were, according to Wilpon, just saying “blah blah blah” and he had to lean forward and tell them that “this is how this is going to work.”  When you start acting in this way, you have become King Lear and you deserve what happens to you.  That’s probably the moment you should retire, or at least stop thinking about your dynasty.    

Well, he stayed too long.  And I feel for him.  He made a common mistake and as he knows, it was not the only mistake he made in his life.  Nor was it the worst.  I am heartbroken by what I have read in the New Yorker.  But I am not heartbroken for Fred Wilpon.  I am heartbroken for the Mets and for their fans.  We deserved more than this final clueless arrogance. 

Watching a game with Wilpon, Toobin describes how the Astros  put three runs up on the board in the second inning, and Wilpon says to him “We’re snakebitten, baby,” as if the disasters of the past four and a half years had something to do with snakes or stars.

They didn’t, but it turns out that we are snakebitten.  We’ve been bitten by a snake.

What Now?

May 20th, 2011

One of the hardest things about being a fan blogger is that every once in a while you feel a need to pose as a sportswriter.  You feel that you need to talk about how you feel the team is going to do, how a certain player is going to play.  And yet, like other fans, all you know is what you read in the papers and on the Internet, and what you hear on the radio and TV.  I guess people who read a blog want to know what someone who writes a blog thinks about what is going to happen.  A blogger owes it to readers to tell them.  But when I write this kind of stuff, I feel like a fraud, because I not only know no more than my readers, I know less than a lot of them.  I am within my comfort zone writing about my impressions of the ballpark and my idea of the eternal qualities of Mets fandom.  But me, a sportswriter?  An analyst?  Who am I kidding?    I wonder if real sportswriters ever feel such moments of self-doubt.  Probably not.  They know so much, which is why their predictions are usually right. 

Sportswriters were unanimous a month ago about the Mets being done for this year.  When is the fire sale going to begin?  What a disaster!  What an abused fan base!  How can a NY baseball franchise have allowed itself to become irrelevant? 

Things are different now.  But nobody knows how different.  We’re at that moment where people who have been ranting and raving suddenly have to stop in mid-rant and wonder if they should shut up, or if they should just pause for a few moments before they go on. 

I would like to point out that if the Mets play as well as they have over their past 25 games, they will win 98 games.  I don’t know what to do with that fact any more than you do.

The first question that comes to my mind is why couldn’t the Mets play during the rest of the season as well as they’ve played over the past 25 games?  You might say, well, it’s because the Buffalo Mets are not really as good as they’ve been looking lately.  Perhaps not, but what if one or two of them (say Gee and Turner) really are pretty good, and what if Wright, Bay, and Dickey return to form?  And what if  Davis, Reyes, and Beltran keep playing as they are and Pelfrey, Niese, Capuano, K-Rod, and Isringhausen stay close to what they have been lately?  Wouldn’t we then be thinking about winning 110 games?  Of course not, but we would be talking about a pretty large margin for error, for a team we’d be glad to see win 90.

Teams that win tend to be of two kinds:  really good teams (e.g. the ‘86 Mets) and .500 teams for which a lot of things have broken right (e.g. the ‘69 Mets).   Could this scorned, battered, and very improbable team possibly belong in the latter category?  Could we be in the early stages of something no one anticipated and no one even anticipates now?

One of the things that should not be true, but seems to me to be true, is that Subway Series tend to come when the Mets are at particularly interesting and pivotal moments in their season.  It is my impression, and  it may just be an impression (notice that I am not looking it up), that how the Mets have performed in recent years in Subway Series has some impact on how they perform in the few weeks afterward.  What if the Mets win two out of three from the Yankees this weekend and are at the .500 mark, after having been given up for dead when they lost 13 of their first 18 games?

What then?

More Sports, More Testosterone

May 11th, 2011


I read today in several places that SportsNet New York (SNY) is launching a new series of ads under the banner “More Sports. More Testosterone.” This campaign was developed by a New York ad agency called Ogilvy & Mather. The ads, which I assume will be humorous, will show how watching SNY will increase your testosterone levels. The bright bulbs who conceived this campaign even did some research. One of Ogilvy and Mather’s creative directors said “We googled ‘watching sports and testosterone’ and found a study from the University of Utah that actually validated our positioning.”   Validated their positioning.  Ooh.  Listen to them.

I have more than enough testosterone. Seriously, if you look up the scientific signs of having enough testosterone, I have them all. I have male pattern baldness, a hairy chest, (and at this point in my life a hairy back), and a big full beard. I got it, baby, I got it.

So what do I think about this new SNY campaign suggesting that if I watch enough SNY I’ll get even more testosterone? What do you think I think? You see I also have these things underneath my bald spot called brain cells.

What are they thinking? What are they thinking? Who comes up with an idea that will immediately alienate and possibly offend 51% of their potential audience? Are they aware that there are women who are sports fans and Mets fans? Do they even understand how offensive this is even to men? Do they think that when we men listen to SNY announcers like Gary Cohen, Ron Darling, and Keith Hernandez, or analysts like Bobby Ojeda and Kevin Burkhardt, that we are listening with our hormones and our primitive fish brains? Have they heard these guys? Do they think that just because some of us fans have a Y chromosome, we don’t also have mammalian brains with complex emotions, and crazy new features like imagination and memory?

Rather than spending their whole research budget on googling “sports and testosterone,” these potatoes should have done some research about who the Mets are. They should have done some research about the kinds of personalities who are left in the diminished fan base. To root for the Mets at this point, you practically have to be maternal. All that is left is people who can love and forgive, who can cry and be loyal long after all rational reasons for loyalty have faded away. This isn’t a team, and SNY isn’t a station for chest-beaters who want to sink their incisors into the raw meat of the kill. Everybody like that is already over at the YES network. Testosterone doesn’t do Mets fans any good. Estrogen might.

I get so disillusioned when I read a story like this. Seriously, I sometimes wonder if there is a point when even I will finally have had enough. The Mets have so much to build upon. They have one of the richest cultures of any baseball team. So, in this time of transition, when they could be cultivating that richness, reaching out to the fascinating men and women who are their diehards, what do they do? They turn to an expensive ad agency that comes up with the idea that to succeed they need to re-position themselves as if they were Spike TV. You know what, guys? If you ever Spik-ify Mets announcing and programming, if you continue to not appreciate the fact that you have first-place fans following a last-place team, you’re going to lose me, and everybody else who is not going to be amused by lame commercials about SNY spiking your testosterone. And if you lose us, you’re not going to have millions of horny, muscular, young, demographically desirable men watching your TV station. If you lose us, you’re going to have nothing.

You Can Believe

April 28th, 2011

It would be too much to say that you’ve got to believe.

But it is no longer an absurd proposition.

I believe.  Wouldn’t it be something?  In this, of all years.

I know it was the Nationals and the Astros.  I know we now have to face more formidable teams.

But this is why I say I believe.  I neither know nor expect.  Faith is what it is.

But in this case we also have some empirical reason for faith.  We have what sure looks like a productive lineup, a reliable starting pitching staff, and reliable relievers.  

Wouldn’t it be great if the people who dumped on them in the press when they were 5-13 were to not merely say that the Mets have surprised them.   Wouldn’t it be great if they admitted that they were foolish to bury the Mets on the basis of one-tenth of the season, that they were craven and cynical, making a story that wasn’t a story because they had to try to sell newspapers?

That’s as likely to happen as Donald Trump is likely to admit that he was a cynical and stupid fool for trying to exploit the non-story of Obama’s birth certificate. 

We can’t expect much of them.

But maybe, friends, we can start to expect something from the Mets.


I have some readings at some local libraries coming up this spring.  I put on a pretty good show.  Please stop by and be sure to say hello. 

May 5, 7 pm:  Mineola Public Library, Mineola, NY

June 16, 7 pm, Tappan Public Library, Tappan, NY

June 21, 7 pm, Syosset Public Library, Syosset, NY

Restoring the Bond (With Some Suggestions)

April 21st, 2011

In my interview with Gary Cohen that is the Foreword to my book The Last Days of Shea, Gary says that the New York Mets “have a unique bond with their fans … The relationship never was just about wins and losses.  This sense may have been lost a little bit in the last few years, but I think that for most of their history, the Mets held on to their fan base in spite of their lack of success and I think that speaks volumes about the unique relationship that the Mets have had with their fans.”  Trying to put his finger on what makes the bond between the Mets and their fans unique, Gary refers to the “wackiness” and “quirkiness” of the franchise and its history.  He refers to the creativity of fans who, starting back in the sixties, “found a way to celebrate their team and root for their team in a way that had never really been seen or heard before.”  The Mets, Gary says, appeal to “a different kind of fan, a different kind of person,” someone who “revels in the amusing minutiae,… the features of the game that for an average major league baseball team either get shuffled aside or lost in the crowd of statistics or championships.” 

I agree completely with Gary and I think he puts his finger on something the Mets, and all Mets fans need to think about right now.  Is there still a unique bond between the Mets and Mets fans?  If so, how can it be preserved?  If not, how can it be restored?  If it still exists or if we can get it back, will it be enough to get us through this year?

I think the bond still exists.  I went to the game last night (Wednesday, 4/20) and sat once again in absurdly affordable field boxes purchased on StubHub.  In the middle of the worst start in decades and the worst home start ever, the crowd was festive and hopeful.  It wasn’t big, but it wasn’t contemptibly small.  Citi Field was not a valley of despair.  The crowd may not have had great expectations, but people were enjoying being at a ballgame, and they were fervently hoping that the Mets would surprise them and begin to turn things around.  We appreciated R.A. Dickey’s gutsy performance, Reyes’s four hits, Murphy’s homer, and while we were shocked and dismayed by the nutty bunting and running that deprived the Mets of a win they probably should have had, we weren’t following the score of the Yankee game or cursing and wailing.    We endured what needed to be endured until tomorrow when the return of Jason Bay might provide something new to pay attention to.  Like me, a lot of Mets fans haven’t even given up on this team yet.  It’s April 21.  I don’t think the Mets are going to win one-ninth of their home games.  I don’t think they’re going to end the season with a team E.R.A. of five and a half.  When Pelfrey and Niese settle down, as Dickey appears to be doing, you’re going to be looking at a very different team.  It is April 21.  There may not be much of a reason to expect that the Mets will contend this year, but I still think it’s too early to say that there’s no reason to pay attention to them. 

The papers tell us that because the team not going anywhere, the fans no longer want to have anything to do with them.  I think that’s wrong.  They cite all sorts of attendance horror stories to prove their point.  Bob Klapisch said the other day that stadium was empty on Tuesday night and the few fans who  showed up were either “brave or masochistic, Spartans or fools.”  My oh my.  I guess it’s really really hard to understand what kind of person roots for a baseball team that isn’t playing well. 

The kind of person who roots for a team that isn’t playing well is the kind of person who has a bond with the team. 

You know, at one point during the last year of Shea, I happened to be touring the Citi Field exhibit when some Mets executives were having a meeting in the conference room they had their behind glass.  I listened as well as I could as I waited for my tour to begin.  I couldn’t make out much of what was said.  But I did hear someone say that the Mets were a brand and the team on the field was a product.  Somebody got sent to business school to come back talking like that. 

What this person was saying, though, makes some sense.  Although I wish we lived in a world where the Mets were a public foundation like the library or the opera, a collection of artists paid well to perform a beautiful sport at a very high level as part of a non-profit organization devoted to enriching the lives of the people of the New York metropolitan area, that’s not the world we live in.  In the world we live in, too many people are convinced that what I just wished for is communism and what we have now is better.  So be it. 

If we’re going to have owners and big profits, the Mets are a brand.  Brands thrive by selling products that people want to buy (see I know that even without going to business school).  People buy the product either because it is better than other products or because people have developed a loyalty to the brand.  My recommendation to the Mets is that they acknowledge that since the Mets are not likely to be better than other teams anytime soon, they should devote their energies to improving fan loyalty to the brand. 

How can they improve fan loyalty?  Well, they can shake things up and surprise everybody.  They should take to heart what Gary Cohen says and they should figure out how it can work for them.  To some degree they may already understand this.  My ticket from last night says that they’ll play hard for the diehards.  Fine.  Play hard.  That would be good.  The fact of the matter is that you’re not likely to attract new fans until you’re really good again.  In the meantime, make real nice to the diehards.  They’re all you’ve got and you need to remind them of the reasons why they should be loyal to you. 

Restore and cherish the bond. 

You can do this by listening to diehard bloggers like Steve Keane, Greg Prince, and Caryn Rose and bring back Banner Day.  You’ll have doubleheaders this season.  You have no idea how many tears you’ll bring to the eyes of how many diehards if they get to see people carrying sheets of Mets love around the ballpark between games of a doubleheader.  And don’t just bring back Banner Day, bring back banners.  Designate some areas where people can hang stuff.  Get something going where people can compete, in wit, and art, and cleverness, to declare their over-the-top Spartan or foolish love for the New York Mets.

While you’re at it, bring back Old Timers Day.  You did a great job bringing back all those old-timers for the last day at Shea.  Make something like this a regular thing.  Cherish the history.

Here’s another idea:  Let everyone into the sections behind the dugouts during batting practice.  It worked at Shea.  I’m told it still works at Fenway.  We’ll all be gone an hour before the game.  We’re not going to damage the fancy seats.  Who do you think we are, the ’86 Mets?  If you do this, you may bring something back that we had at Shea:  a sense that the team is approachable, accessible, a sense of intimacy that will win the loyalty of fans and may even help the players.

Okay, now here’s a really revolutionary suggestion:  Open up the lower level to everybody in the stadium after the fifth inning.  Try it.  You have nothing to lose.  It will win you good will and headlines.  It will change the unpleasant atmosphere that can now exist at the stadium when there is a small crowd and the guards still guard the empty lower seats like they were Fort Knox.  A change in this policy will create the impression that you are populists, rewarding your diehards.  You might even consider finding a way to open up to the ordinary public the seats that are now in what I call the Black Hole, you know, the seats where a smattering of very rich people sit behind a couple of returning Afghan War vets.  I know that these seats are only accessible from the Delta Club and the Championship Club and all that, but after the fifth inning, you can let people into the doors of the clubs and have guides directing them to the great seats, making sure that nobody touches anything.  Seriously.  You will actually benefit from creating a sense that you want the people to storm the Bastille.  You want people to treat Citi Field as if it is theirs.  It’s our Mets.  We the people.  The diehards. 

If you want another idea, how about getting some creative types involved over at SNY, and even at Citi Field itself.  Did you know that there are Mets poets, artists, musicians, filmmakers, memoirists and serious writers?  Did you know that a lot of seriously cool and famous people root for the Mets?   Do you know that many of us are in tune with the quirkiness and wackiness Gary Cohen was talking about?  Did you ever think of the fact that in addition to giving the Mets some populist cred, you could also give the Mets some cultural cred, the kind of thing that looks really good to certain levels of the press?   Think about what Jimmy Breslin’s New York magazine articles (the basis for the great book Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?) did for the early ‘60s Mets.  Have stuff on SNY that people wouldn’t expect.  If people start thinking that there’s something cool and classy about rooting for the Mets, it will be harder for the unimaginative hacks in the mainstream press to treat us with contempt.   

Think about this seriously.  None of the usual PR will work with a team like this.  You need, as MBA types like to say, to think outside the box … or at least outside the luxury boxes.

All brand loyalty depends upon some kind of hype.  Remember that it was all hype to begin with.  The idea of the lovable even if lousy New York Mets got started because the press was so charmed and intrigued by Stengel, a few folks with some banners, and the unusual number of eccentrics and colorful cast-offs on the early team.  They wrote about it and everybody got into it.  The Mets got the reputation of being more interesting than the Yankees, more of the people’s team.  Their fans got the reputation of being more passionate and creative.  All of this was fun.  And the Mets need to be fun again.  They need the organization to encourage the fun, to cultivate the fan culture.  We’ve got an interesting team to root for this year, for all that it has gotten off to a lousy start.  While we’re waiting for what glory may come in the future, make us feel at home, make us feel appreciated, make us feel special.  You can do it.  And can I ask one more thing?  If the Mets ever become so good that every seat in the small stadium is sold out, please don’t forget us and please don’t milk us for all we’re worth.  You never know when you may need us again.

My Personal Opening Day

April 11th, 2011

My personal home opener was the third home game of the season, the Sunday game, where Chris Young pitched seven innings of one-hit ball.  For the first time in many years, I wasn’t able to make it to the home opener.  But of course, I managed to convince myself that this would be better.  I’d get to see what the real season would be like.

I arrived an hour and a half before game time and was gratified to see all the tailgate parties in the parking lot.  The disappointments of the past few years have not been enough to eradicate this appealing culture of grilling sausages, beer, and friendship.  I remember parties that looked and smelled exactly like these back in the sixties.  They used to have them out the back of real, gigantic station wagons with wooden sides.  People with nerdy glasses and checked shirts, or kerchiefs over their hair, used to sit on very fragile-looking metal and plastic lounge chairs.  The chairs are sturdier now, the cars are sleeker, the people are a bit bigger and the stadium is a bit smaller.  But it’s all the same.  And it is gratifying to see and smell all the Mets love as you cross the asphalt ocean with the parties like little boats.

For a while, I looked around for my family’s brick, but for some reason, I couldn’t find it.  It was near the Rusty Staub poster.  Did they move the posters?  This is a mystery.  I couldn’t do my usual brick touch before the game, and so of course I got superstitiously worried.  Then I told myself to stop being worried because I am not superstitious.  

I walked into the rotunda and everything looked the same.  In the museum, it seemed to me that they had a few more pieces of memorabilia: hats, bats, balls with tags asserting that this is the real hat, bat, ball that plays a part in one of your memories.  I went into the bookstore and once again politely asked if they had a section where they sell books about the Mets because I have a friend who’s a big reader and likes reading books about the Mets and I’ve heard that there are some good ones.  I get the usual smile and the usual offer of the yearbook and promise of the press guide.

I walk out of the store and run into Greg Prince, the man I consider (and I know this won’t offend anyone) the pre-eminent Mets blogger.  He tells me that this is his 500th game.  I don’t know what it was for me.  But this is one of the things that makes Greg Greg.  He knows this, and has a record of it.  We walk through the stadium, trying to get a sense of the crowd.  It strikes me as a nice crowd, a relaxed crowd, a chill crowd.  There isn’t much of a sense of urgency and I try to sort out whether or not I think that is a good thing.  It’s good for people who have limited expectations, but I know that there is sometimes a point at which limited expectations, if proven justified, turn into poison.  Greg and I, on a tip from Steve Keane, head to check out the new New York deli on the food concourse.  Jewish guys from New York who like to eat, we consider ourselves experts, and we have limited expectations.  Hand-sliced, lean, and soaked for a long time in exactly the right spices, the pastrami sandwich is unexpectedly superb.  So is the mushy, evocative knish.  Oh may this please be a season of such bounty, with things exceeding limited expectations!  Standing up at one of the tables, we have a fine lunch and fine baseball talk as what looks like a big crowd swarms around us.  It’s not a sell-out.  But people are coming to see the Mets.  We’re coming, they’re coming, everybody’s coming down. 

After lunch, we find our separate seats.  Greg is in the Promenade and I’m in a Field Box.  Our tickets cost the same very limited amount of money, because I bought mine on StubHub.  In a big, friendly section of the field boxes just past third base, I settle in to enjoy my personal home opener, to note the changes, to get a sense of the universal spirit circulating through a stadium that is slowly starting to feel more like home to me.  I get a text message on my phone from my daughter who tells me she is listening to the game.  I am very happy.

My original sense that the crowd is chill and in a pretty good mood is reconfirmed in the first few innings.  The only National anyone is taking any trouble to boo is Jayson Werth.  It’s a little disconcerting to see a pitcher as tall as a basketball player, or Nosferatu or Alexander Nevsky, on the mound for the Mets, but I really enjoy watching Chris Young pitch.  When a guy that big is in control, he really looks in control.  All the Nats seem to be able to do is hit foul balls or big pop-ups.  And in the meantime, the Mets are being the good Mets.  Reyes is asserting his right to get on base anytime or anyway he chooses.  Wright is knocking him home.  Ike is looking like he is absolutely for real.  They still don’t score as many runs as they should.  They are still the Mets after all.  But they build the nice little lead that always used to be enough for Jerry Koosman in 1968, and with the way Chris Young is pitching, I feel, and we feel, that things will be all right.

And so the game goes on, relatively swiftly, 3-1  for a long time.  I get to pay attention to the new between-innings activity-commercials.  They look pretty lame to me this year.  They still have the eternally popular Kiss Cam and the always loudly acknowledged returning veterans thing.  But most of the new activities are really boring.  It’s supposed to matter to us what the price of something is at a wholesale store?  We’re supposed to get excited by a kid grabbing as many Topps baseball cards as he can in like, two seconds?  We’re supposed to care that some kid threw a ball at 47 mph?  That’s supposed to want to make us go to Hershey Park?  As Steve Somers would say, what is this?

At its peak (why do half the people come late to a ballgame?  I never understood that.)  it looks like there are 30,000 people in the ballpark.  That’s good enough.  The stadium hardly looks pitiful, just as the Mets don’t look pitiable.  Young comes out after seven innings, having given up only one hit.  But we don’t want to push it, and D.J. Carrasco has been terrific lately.  And so Carrasco comes in and gives up two runs.  The mood changes. 

Don’t lose this game, we’re all saying to the Mets.  Lose other games if you have to, but don’t lose this one.  The Mets have started 4-4.  They’ve looked good and bad.  They’re about where we expect but we don’t yet have a sense of the direction in which they’re moving.  This is the game that feels as if it is telling us what the season will be like.  I know it’s completely irrational, but I find myself feeling about this game the way I feel about a scratch-off lottery ticket.  I rub, and hope, and am finding out more, the more I rub.  This is the ninth game.  Have we scratched off enough to know what we have?

Carrasco is booed by the crowd I thought was so chill.  He’s been so good for us so far, but he’s getting booed for this.  I know these boos.  They’re situation boos, not personal boos.  They don’t mean:  go away and don’t come back.  They mean:  Oh, I am so sick and sorrowful.  This kind can turn into cheers if something good happens.  Nothing good happens.  Buchholz comes in, then Byrdak, later Boyer.  We don’t see Beato.  This is kind of dreamlike.  We have a bullpen consisting of one guy who beats up his girlfriend’s father, one guy who throws as hard as Koufax but nobody really knows if he’s going to be any good, and four guys I don’t really know whose names begin with “B.”  And they screw up the game for the gigantic, brilliant starter. 

Is this going to be a funny season, I wonder?  A dream-like season?  I look up at the scoreboard at one point and note that none of the nine Mets are hitting in the .200s.  That’s weird.  Never saw that before. I notice that David Wright has the longest last name in the lineup.  Speaking of dreamlike, the Nationals bring in some guy named Laynce Nix.  Who’s he going to lance, who’s he going to nix?  What kind of a comic book name is that?  And also speaking of dreams, who is this extremely familiar figure by the dugout we cheer for as he steps to the plate to pinch hit and redeem the game for us in the bottom of the ninth inning.  Where have we seen him before?  Where have we seen this exact situation before?  Everybody gets to their feet.  A guy a few rows ahead, who looks as if he has had a few too many beers, stands up and, as he’s been doing all afternoon, leads our section in a loud chant of “Lets Go Mets!” that doesn’t need anything from the prompters on the scoreboard.  Beltran grounds out.  I suddenly realize that this is his seventh season with the Mets.  People don’t boo.  They can’t.  He hit two home runs yesterday.

The game goes into extra innings.  In the bottom of the tenth, Reyes, Harris, and Wright are coming to the plate.  That should do it.  Two guys who have been around now for eight and nine years and have been supposed to bring us all the way.  And one guy between them whose catch of what should have been a David Wright triple took away one of our division titles, and who knows maybe even our third World Championship.  It doesn’t happen, though.

This game is too close.  All tie games, I suppose, are too close, but here I could really feel the closeness.  I felt as if I could really understand how little difference there is between victory and defeat in a single game.  But the problem was that I couldn’t shake my sense that this was the pivot of the season.  Somehow I felt, although I didn’t believe, that this was the turning point.  If they win this game, they have a chance this season.  If they lose it, they don’t.  That’s bullshit.  But I couldn’t help but think it.  I closed my eyes and rocked from side to side, hoping and hoping, my version of praying.  In the meantime, all around me, from the ninth inning on, people were leaving.  Where were they going?  What were they late for?  How vital was it to them that they be someplace else for the next half hour or hour?  Why do so many people leave tie games in the ninth or tenth inning?  The guy who kept standing up leading us in cheer was gone.  Why?  Did he not really care as much as he seemed to care?

The Nationals score one run.  No matter.  One run is nothing.  Makes it more exciting.  Then Laynce Nix hits a three-run homer.  Nix.  Can’t believe it.  Everyone, it seems, stands up and heads for the parking lot.  I’m stunned, like everyone else.  And bitter and sad.  But I also don’t understand the people leaving the stadium.  Have they never seen the Mets score four runs in an inning before?  Do they consider this impossible?  Man, I remember when the Mets stunk to high heaven back in the early ‘80s and they were losing to the mighty Dodgers by something like six runs and in the bottom of the ninth they scored something like seven runs.  I remember how that felt.  We’ve had moments like that.  Several of them over the past fifty years.  Why would anyone want to miss the chance, however small, to see something like that? 

I know what I’ll do, I think.  I’m going to go over to the field boxes on the other side of the stadium, the ones closer to the Mets dugout.  That will give me a sense of how the Mets are taking this, as a team, as people.  And if we get one of our miracle moments, I will be there with them.  Me and the no more than one thousand people who are left in this stadium that earlier this afternoon held  thirty thousand.  I get up from my seat and run to the concourse, hoping not to miss any of the bottom of the eleventh.  This was the most dreamlike moment of the afternoon.  As I walked briskly down the concourse, past the big area where the concourse feeds into the Robinson rotunda, I was walking through an end-of-the-game crowd, a the-game-is-over crowd.  There was nothing in the crowd I saw that would have let you know that the game was not in fact over. 

I get to the first base field boxes, which are empty except for the few rows right down behind the Mets’ dugout.  I start heading to a bank of empty seats.  A white-haired guy in a green jacket calls after me, “Hey!  Hey!”  I’m startled, since we were well past the point at which the guys and green jackets would be or should be enforcing seating rules.  The guy can see for himself that I’m one of the last people left in the stadium.  Anyway, I go back up to him, smile, and hand him my ticket, which has an outrageous price printed on it, and a distinguished list of eateries and clubs to which I am entitled to be admitted.  I say: “I just want to see what the last half-inning look like from this side.  I have seats in the same kind of section on the other side of the stadium.” 

The man in the green jacket looks at my ticket.  And then, with the look and voice that cops use with juvenile delinquents, he says to me, “So go back there and sit in them.”

My Opening Day is Tomorrow

April 9th, 2011

A regular reader e-mailed me to ask me when my annual Opening Day piece will appear.  Unfortunately, this year, for the first time in ten years, I wasn’t able to make it to the home opener because I was part of this terrific program up at Wesleyan, http://newsletter.blogs.wesleyan.edu/2011/03/23/cuban-emigre-red-sox-hero-tiant-to-speak-at-2011-americas-forum/ where I got a chance to hang out with Luis Tiant, and with two terrific sports documentary filmmakers, Jonathan Hock and Michael Zimbalist, who made these two fine films that everyone should know about:

 http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Son-Havana-Carlton-Fisk/dp/B003DTMPFS and


My personal home opener is tomorrow, Sunday, April 10.  I’ll be in a $70 seat I bought for considerably less than $70 in section 126, row 20, seat 21.   On Monday, I hope to share my impressions of what I hope will be a big crowd watching a good ballgame.   If you’re there too, I hope to see you, and I hope we both won’t be too conspicuous, sitting in seats, watching the ballgame.

Nothing is More Predictable Than This

April 2nd, 2011

1.  It’s opening day!  I’m so excited.

2.  Oh no, we lost, we’re going to be bad.  (Don’t worry, it’s just one game.)

3.  Yay!  We won!  We’re going to be good.  (Don’t get too excited, it’s just one game.)

4.  Talk, talk, in the press and on the blogs and forum.  Say the stuff above.

5.  Watch or listen to the second game.  Repeat above.

6.  Scream.

My 50th Opening Day

April 1st, 2011

This is my 50th Mets opening day.  Almost 49 years ago, I got home from school, ran upstairs to my room, turned on my family’s portable radio, with its nubbly tan plastic skin, got my mitt, plunked down in my desk chair and listened to Bob Murphy, Lindsey Nelson, and Ralph Kiner broadcast the last few innings of a game in St. Louis.  By the time I was settled in to enjoy the very first baseball game I ever listened to, the Mets were already getting clobbered.  I don’t remember being disappointed.  I don’t remember Charlie Neal going three for four.  I do remember how cool it was to be listening to a baseball game and I remember how my mitt smelled.

The mitt was a ceremonial object.  A seven year old would understand the need for it.  An eleven year old would laugh and ask what I was expecting to catch.  The nubbly surface of the radio, the mysterious smell of the mitt, and the three distinct voices in the radio became immediate anchors of my universe.  In my mind, I often go back to that room and feel the skin of the radio, smell the mitt, and hear the voices.  The physical room still exists, but it is not the same.  When I go back to it, I see it is filled with what was in it when I went off to college in 1972.  And over in the corner is a pad on which I’d change my daughter’s diaper when I’d bring her to visit her grandparents in 1991. 

When I was seven, I had no concrete sense that there could even be such a thing as fifty years.  I knew there had been cavemen and dinosaurs.  I knew my parents were in their thirties, and my grandparents were in their sixties.  That is all I knew about time.

I knew that baseball had been around for a long time and that the Mets hadn’t.  I already loved the Mets.  I had the impression that they had been created for me, more or less, so that I wouldn’t have to root for the Yankees, which was apparently not a good thing to do.  I didn’t have this sense literally, but I didn’t need to have a literal sense of this to believe it.  I was seven.  I was anxious to fit into places in the world where there was room for me.  I liked the voices of Murphy, Nelson, and Kiner.  I was ready to follow the Mets as if I was a baby duck.  Although the Mets were losing, the voices of the announcers implied that it was still good and right to feel enthusiasm and hope.  Baby ducks like to hear that.  I am, after all these years, a far more complex being than I was on that spring afternoon forty-nine years ago.  But today, on the first day of the baseball season, you’d never know it.

I’ve been full of simple hope on the first day of every baseball season I can remember.  That doesn’t mean I expect to win every year.  The only years I can remember expecting to win big were 1987, 1989, and 2002, and so obviously it is good to not expect to win big.  I am certainly not expecting to win this year.  I don’t trust the durability of Beltran or Bay and I don’t have any idea of what to think of that bullpen.  If my life depended upon making a prediction that was within 5 games of the Mets’ final win total, the number I would pick would be 78.  If everything happens the way I would hope it would happen, or if unexpected things come out of the blue as they did in 1969, 1984, or 1997, I think they could make the playoffs.  That’s true every year.  And you will hear this spurious observation repeated thousands of times by hundreds of people for the next several days.

For many reasons, I dread this year.  Although I like the sort of stadium I remember from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s: windy and open, a place where you can hear individual cheering voices, I know that this is an idiosyncratic enthusiasm.  I know that even if the Mets do well, you are not likely to see a full stadium until next year.  I know what all the vultures and hyenas will make of the quiet.   I know what will happen if the Mets are as irrelevant as they have been for the past two seasons.  I feel how all the financial stuff that should be behind the scenes has spilled out of the wings and onto the stage and all anyone can do is laugh and point to it as the actors try to do the play.  Oh, how sick of it I am.  I know that a perfect storm of baseball misery is possible.  It is more than possible.

But I dare to believe.  I think of how the Giants played the Rangers in the World Series last year, and thanks to the Internet, I can cheerfully read the articles that were published last year at the start of April.  It is good to be a baseball fan.  It is good to enjoy a sport no one can predict or understand.  And you know what?  It is also and always good to not have to root for a team that hawks its tickets with the line “A Proud Tradition!  A Legendary History!”  A legendary history!  My God.  How about legendary copy-editors?  And legendary baseball announcing. 

All baseball is legendary, I guess.  For each of us, baseball is a personal myth.  We Mets fans are now at the point in the myth where we are wandering in Sinai, or heading westward from Troy, or wondering what is going to happen now that our hope has been extinguished on orders from Pilate. 

On this wintry day, at the beginning of April, on my 50th opening day, I am scanning the horizon for signs of hope.  And wondering where my old mitt is.  And my radio.

A Matter of Control

February 27th, 2011

“I’m just trying to go out and control what I can control.”  David Wright, when questioned about the current problems of the Mets organization, The New York Times, February 27, 2011

What can I control?  I can’t control where I focus my attention.  I can’t ignore the articles in the paper.  I can’t ignore the radio.  I can’t ignore my fellow bloggers.  I can’t ignore the sense of deep unease that grows in me as baseball, one of my favorite things, returns. 

 I also can’t control the way in which yesterday’s telecast reminded me of a day in March of 1963, when as I was getting my hair cut, someone turned on the radio in the barber shop and Bob Murphy greeted all of us  from “Al Lang field in sunny St. Petersburg, Florida!”  This has always been the day the world comes back into focus, the day the winds smell differently, the day you start noticing that it isn’t dark at 5:30. 

I’m excited about this season.  I really am.  I’ve been excited about this season since the last one ended.  Alderson and Collins seem wonderful.  What fun it is to think that the team goes bowling!  Reyes, Beltran, and Bay are healthy.  There are all these strong new arms and bright and handsome new players.  There is nothing not to get excited about.  I know people aren’t buying tickets.  But if you know anything about baseball attendance patterns, you know that an exciting and winning young team is probably not going to start affecting ticket sales until next year.   It’ll be fine for us diehards to have Citi Field to ourselves this year.  We always make such a cozy company.  I look at the pictures and spring training diaries my Facebook friends and blogger buddies have already begun to send from Port St. Lucie and I wish I was there with them, I wish it was just us feeling happy and hopeful about a bunch of fine guys on a baseball team.

But I can’t just relax and enjoy myself.  To the real world, and to the rest of the world, the Mets aren’t just the talented champions of a loyal community.  They aren’t just one of the things that holds together life, and time, and family.   They are a very complicated  and undoubtedly very serious news story I am thoroughly sick of.  But can’t choose to ignore. 

Why is there money?  I know that’s the sort of stupid question I used to ask when I was an adolescent, but the older I get, the more I want to ask it.  I read an article in the paper yesterday about how movie studios don’t make well-directed and well-written movies not because people won’t come out to see them but because the people who go to see badly-directed and badly-written movies spend more at the concession counter and that’s where theatres make their profit.  And so all these great films that would enrich people’s lives now and in the future don’t get made because of something having to do with the profitability of popcorn.   All sorts of  valuable things that were funded with just a little money from the government are now no longer going to be funded because the people who make the most money have figured out how to keep even more money for themselves than they have ever had in the past.  The world’s economy is thrown into a tailspin because of stupid games that should be illegal that jerks on Wall Street invented to make themselves as much money as they could possibly stuff into their stinking orifices.   Money makes possible such absurdities as the Mets saying that they’ve been playing at Digital Domain Park ever since it opened in 1988. 

I am filled with so much anger now about so many things that are going wrong because of stuff that happens because of money.  I don’t understand anything about what people who have money do with money and neither does hardly anyone else.  We have no control.  Yet we must suffer the consequences of what we can’t control.

Baseball, the great pleasure, the game of joy and beauty, should give us a rest from our anger.  It should soothe our wounds and allow us, for a few hours at a time, to forget our helplessness.  Right now, it isn’t happening.


I’ll be giving a reading at the Tappan Library in Tappan, NY on Thursday, March 3, at 7 pm.  For info, click here.

Gearing Up

February 4th, 2011

I’ve been on blogging hiatus for two months, but I am planning to return to blogging as soon as the Mets show up in St. Lucie.  This year is going to be a major turning point in Mets history, no matter what happens, and I am going to have to be there with them.

It’s not as if there hasn’t been a lot of Mets news lately.  It’s just that I don’t know what to say about the news there’s been.   Do you? 

Three items of information:

1)  If you’re a Hofstra alum, you might be interested in this event on Wednesday, 2/9, at 6:30 pm at Morton’s The Steakhouse in Stamford, CT.   I’ll be the speaker.

2)   The DVD of Billy Joel’s great film, The Last Play at Shea is going to be officially released on Tuesday, 2/8.

3)  If you’ve always wanted to read my first book, Mets Fan, but thought it was too expensive, it is now available for $9.99 on Google E-Books and can be read on most digital readers.  You can order it here.

Eleven days until Pitchers and Catchers.  In spite of all the tsuris, I can’t wait!