Archive for April, 2007

What, Me Worry?

Thursday, April 26th, 2007

No, I’m not going to worry because a very young rookie fifth starter is having trouble finding his stride.  There are so many options.  He could find his stride.  He could be sent down for more seasoning and one of the other young pitchers doing so well in New Orleans can come up.  The Mets can afford to be patient. 

Look at it this way.  In the 2-1 victory on Tuesday night, the first four men in the lineup got 1 hit.  In the Wednesday afternoon Pelfrey meltdown, they rebounded and got 8 hits.

As I said, a million ways to win. 

 

A Million Ways to Win

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

I am beginning to develop a hopeful suspicion that this is a great team, not merely the very good team I thought it was when the season began.  I may eat my words of course, but I will stick my neck out here.  I am normally pretty cautious about using the word “great,” but the Mets are making me bold.  I had a sense that Reyes would continue to get better.  I had a sense that Beltran would remain as good as he was last year.  I did not expect the starting pitching to be anywhere near this good.  I am beginning to feel very good about the bullpen.  But the main thing that gives me a sense that this team is great is seeing that it has so many ways to win a ballgame.  If something is not working, something else will.  If the middle of the order is dead, the bottom of the order will hit like champions.  If Reyes and Beltran, carrying the team, have an off-night, if the first four men in the lineup are 1 for 14, Damion Easley will hit a pinch home run and Endy Chavez will lay down a dramatic drag bunt to win the game.  Green and Alou cannot possibly hit as well as they’ve hit so far.  But by the time they come down to earth, Delgado and Wright will have returned to form.  The Mets look good and feel good.  You saw how they mobbed each other when they won tonight.  There are no petty resentments and conflicts as there are on the Yankees.  There is calm and cool and enthusiasm and generous talent spread all around.

Sign of Things to Come?

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

No, I’m not writing about bullpen problems.  Yeah, we have them, but they are not going to sink this team.  Nor am I going to make a great big deal about losing two series to the Braves.  The Braves are a good team, and I’ve already been expecting a real pennant race in the NL East.  The players on our team don’t remember 1999 and 2000 (except Tom Glavine).  There is no jinx.  We can’t be psyched out.  We still have a better team.  We have an incredible team.  It is April.

What I’m thinking about is this:  the Mets sold out a 56,000 seat stadium for two games against the Braves IN APRIL!  Put two and two together. 

 

Through the First Tenth

Sunday, April 22nd, 2007

Through the first tenth of the season:

The Mets have scored 97 runs and given up 47 runs, the highest and lowest totals in the league in both categories.  No team in history has ever come close to scoring twice as many runs as they’ve given up.

The Mets have the highest team batting average and the lowest team E.R.A. in the league.  They’ve certainly never ended a season with the best numbers in the league in both of these two categories.

A Met now leads the league in batting average, rbis, runs, triples, and stolen bases.  Three of the five players in the National League with the highest batting average are Mets.

4 Mets starting pitchers have at least 2 wins one tenth of the way through the season.  4 Mets pitchers therefore project to win at least 20 games,  Obviously that won’t happen, but it is very rare for 4 starting pitchers to have at least 2 wins one tenth of the way through the season. 

If the season ended today, Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes would be the two strongest MVP candidates. 
 

No-Hitters and Hitting Streaks

Thursday, April 19th, 2007

What do Warren Spahn, Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Jim Bibby, Bret Saberhagen, Al Leiter, Kenny Rogers, Hideo Nomo, David Cone, Dwight Gooden have in common?  They’ve all pitched for the Mets and they’ve all pitched no-hitters.  How many no-hitters have these pitchers pitched?  18.  How many have they pitched for the Mets?  0.

By my count, from the Wikipedia “No-Hitters” site, there have been 114 no-hitters since opening day in 1962.  Any random team that has been playing since 1962 should be expected to have had 5 or 6 no-hitters since 1962 (there are 30 teams now, but there were only 20 in 1962 and the number crept up slowly).  A team that has had the pitchers the Mets have had, pitching in the stadium they have had, should probably have been expected to have pitched at least 10.  How many no-hitters have Mets pitchers pitched?  You know the answer.  John Maine is the latest to have come reasonably close. 

I love freaky baseball facts like this.  I wonder how long the drought can last.  It will be fun, for anywhere from the next few days to the next half century, to wonder when the drought will finally end.

David Wright hit in his 25th consecutive game last night, to break the Mets team record.  Hubie Brooks hit in 24 consecutive games in 1984 and Mike Piazza tied his record in 1999.  Consecutive game streaks spread over two different seasons are a bit of a bummer, since this is a statistic that commemorates momentum and spreading the streak out over two seasons doesn’t give you the sense of momentum that you should have.  The point is particularly lost in this case since David had a disappointing postseason.  Still, he broke the record and it will really be something if he can start getting up into historic territory, which isn’t that far away.  Wouldn’t it be fun if he hit in 45 straight games got ahead of Pete Rose?

Whenever somebody breaks a record, it makes you think of the guys who previously held it.   We all remember Piazza, of course, but it is nice to be reminded of Hubie Brooks.  Hubie was an enormously popular player for the Mets, a terrific clutch hitter, and the best third baseman we had had up to that point.  He and Mookie Wilson were the home grown everyday players who started to give us some hope in the early ‘80’s.  He was a classy guy, a jazz enthusiast, and a real gentleman.  Ralph Kiner called him Mookie throughout an entire Kiner’s Korner and he didn’t embarrass Ralph by correcting him. 

Younger fans may wonder what happened to Hubie if he was so good and if he is remembered so fondly.  What happened was that he was sacrificed.  He got to be on our wonderful breakout 1984 team, but then he was sent to Montreal in the trade that brought us Gary Carter.  That kind of thing happens to some really good guys (think of Xavier Nady), and there really isn’t much you can say when the trade works out, or brings you the missing piece.  Hubie was sacrificed so that we could have Carter.  I’m glad the trade was made, but I was sad to see him go.  He did come back briefly to the Mets in the early ‘90s, but who remembers the early ‘90s?  Anyway, thanks to David for reminding us of Hubie. 


 

 

For Shea on its 43rd Birthday

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

    

I’ve found out from my fellow bloggers that today is the 43rd birthday of Shea stadium.  I’m going to cry.  I’ve learned that someone who calls himself Kingman (now there’s a Mets fan for you!) has set up a new site that is devoted to Shea love, which has to be one of the most obscure and powerful of human emotions.  Please check out www.loge13.com/ an informative and well-written site devoted to helping us through what will be a long, bitter, sad, and sweet deathwatch for this place that will always be with us. 

If you haven’t already read it, please check out my own tribute to Shea on my book’s website:

http://www.metsfanbook.com/ForShea.html 

Shea lovers might also enjoy these other pieces of mine.  Each is filled with love for the old place and suspicion and at times downright hostility for the new one:

 http://www.flushinguniversity.com/moxie/columns/citifield-rising.shtml

http://danabrand.com/blog/2007/04/11/going-to-shea-on-opening-day/

http://danabrand.com/blog/2006/11/06/45000-seats-is-not-big-enough/

 

The First Two Weeks

Monday, April 16th, 2007

The first two weeks of the 2007 baseball season have been unusual.  The start of any season is unusual.  So is the end of a season, so are any two weeks in the early, middle, or late part of a season.  This is one of the things about baseball.  No clump of games is typical of anything.  Even the most consistent players or teams cannot be expected to play at a certain predictable level over a stretch of two weeks.  You remember how Keith Hernandez played?  He always ended up the season with roughly comparable numbers.  But over any stretch of 11 or 12 games, you could see him hitting anything between .150 and .450.  A consistent player or team has a consistent ratio of streaks to slumps.  It’s not as if they play at a set level, without streaks or slumps.

The Mets, as I write this, are 7-4.  They have won about exactly as many games as you would expect of them at this point.  At this rate, they’d win 103.  They probably won’t win that many, but if they were 6-5, that would project to 89 wins.  So, yes, seven out of eleven is a rate that you could expect to be typical.  They’re even playing above the level one might have expected of them because nine of the eleven games they’ve played have been against much better than average teams.

They are doing unusually well in terms of batting average (.279) but their slugging percentage is only .399.  Last year, the team batting average was .264, but the team slugging percentage was .445, second best in the National League.  So, in spite of those eleven run blowouts, you can see their power slump as some kind of funny-looking team batting slump.  In their first 11 games, the Mets have only hit 6 home runs.  At this rate, they won’t hit 100.  Last year, they hit 200.  Delgado, Wright, Alou, and Valentin have hit a combined total of 0 home runs.  Carlos Beltran leads the team with two home runs, and he hit them both in the same game.  You have to assume that this power drought will not last.

The team E.R.A. of 2.69 is not going to stay that low, obviously.  But although we never really have a clear sense of it, since we tend to compare our pitching with previous Mets pitching staffs, our pitching really is a lot better than other teams’ pitching.  The power will come back and the pitching will not be quite as good as it’s been.  We’re going to be okay.  This is a fine team. 

The real question facing us is the question of just how good Atlanta and Florida really are.  The Phillies are going to be in there.  I think we all know that, even if they’re off to a bad start.  But there are some signs that Atlanta and Florida could be more formidable than we thought they would be.  We didn’t think much about it last year, but Atlanta, not the Mets, had the best offensive team in the National League in 2006.  If they can just get a little bit of pitching, they will be something to worry about.  Florida has real pitching potential.  Their offense cannot possibly stay as good as it’s been, but what if it stays good?  It’ll be an interesting season, but of course it is too early to tell anything.

It is too early to tell anything.  Right now, it looks as if Mike Jacobs and Kaz Matsui would make one hell of a right side of an infield.  And Steve Trachsel has pitched just fine. 

I guess we might have a pennant race in the NL East.  And I wouldn’t trade my team for any of the other ones.
 

Older Opening Day Memories

Sunday, April 15th, 2007

In this opening portion of the season, I find that younger fans are sometimes curious about what it was like to go to Opening Days in the past.  Did we have postcard lotteries, or did we have to keep speed-dialing until we got through to phone sales?  Was it necessary to show up at the stadium with a sleeping bag to wait on line all night?  Well I went to six Opening Days in a row in the late 70’s and early ‘80’s and here’s what it was like.

First you’d find out when the game was scheduled to be played.  Then you’d get yourself to the stadium before the game began.  Then you’d stand in line in front of some windows for a short period of time.  When you got to the window, you’d ask for a seat in the Upper Deck.  The man behind the grate would take a very small amount of money from you and he’d give you … your Opening Day ticket.  Then you’d enter the stadium and go and sit in the seat printed on the ticket until the end of the first inning.  Then you’d take the escalators downstairs to the Loge or Field Box Level and pick out your real seat.  If anyone did show up with tickets to your seat, either you or they would sit somewhere else nearby.  There was plenty of room.  This was a great system.  Maybe some day they’ll bring it back.
 

The late ‘70s and early ‘80s were some of the worst years in Mets history.  M. Donald Grant, who ran the team for the daughter and very bizarre granddaughters of Joan Payson, was insisting that players like Tom Seaver did not deserve to be paid more than the 2007 equivalent of one million dollars a year.  He felt it was un-American.  Most other owners disagreed.  Grant wouldn’t pay his players market value and he wouldn’t enter the free-agent market.  We therefore ended up, for seven years straight, with one of the worst teams in baseball.

Because we were so bad, and the Yankees were quite good at the time, all of the bandwagoners headed off to the Bronx.  Hardly anyone showed up for Opening Day.  The Mets had opening day crowds that filled less than half the stadium.  But, as anyone who went to those opening days can tell you, there was something truly wonderful about being in the stands back then.  Imagine being in Shea stadium when every single person in very single seat is as true blue-and-orange as you are.  That can never happen to a popular team.  Only the crazies were left.  We all loved to be crazy together. 

On one of those opening days, I remember, the De Roulet granddaughters (yes that was their name, one of them was even named Bebe, pronounced BAY-BAY as in French for “baby”) introduced a new team mascot, a mule named (oh who thought this up?!) Met-Al which was supposed to make you think of the Mets as having “mettle.”  Who uses a word like “mettle” in the twentieth century?  Who could think that what the Mets needed was more “mettle?”  Who could think that what the Mets needed was a mule named “Met-Al” as a mascot?  The only metal the Mets needed from these people was their gold, which they weren’t coming up with.  Anyway, it’s opening day, and the De Roulet girls proudly ride down the right field line in a carriage drawn by this mule, as 15,000 of the purest possible Mets fans try to hide under their seats with embarrassment.
 

Years later, I learned that those wild and crazy De Roulet girls had been doing you-know-what with some of the Mets players.  If you had told me that, as I was watching them in their beribboned carriage ride down the right field line behind that mule, I would have fallen out of my seat and laughed until I was dead.  Who knows whether we won that game?  Who knows what happened to that poor mule? 

But one of those Opening Days in that dark period stands out more than any other for me.  In some ways, it may be my best opening day memory.  It was 1983.  Doubleday and Wilpon had acquired the team and Frank Cashen was running it.  There was a sense that things might finally begin to change.  Tom Seaver had had a bad year in 1982 and the Reds decided he was washed up.  The Mets acquired him and almost 50,000 people, probably the largest crowd since 1976, filled the stadium to see him make his return in a Mets uniform, pitching once again as our ace on Opening Day. First, the other members of the team were announced and then the public address announcer intoned: “And pitching, for the New York Mets, Number 41, Tom …”  I remember the roar of the crowd as we saw “41” jogging in from the bullpen.  I remember how the sound just rose to the skies and grew and grew.  It was full-throated, joyful, and loving.  Tom Terrific was back with us.

With the obtuseness you’d expect of the Mets PR people in that era, the theme song from “Welcome Back, Kotter” began to blare from the stadium sound system, almost drowning out the spontaneous crowd sound.  It was a moment that seems to me in retrospect to stand for all that is involved in being a Mets fan.  We were cheering for the return of the greatest hero in Mets history, our only home-grown hall-of-famer.  And in the wild enthusiasm of our cheers, we were crying too, for those six lost years, when he was mostly great, but wasn’t pitching for us. 

Well, he was back, and he pitched a beautiful game too.  He didn’t give up any runs, though when he was taken out in the late innings, the Mets hadn’t scored any either.  The Mets did win, though.  I think Doug Sisk got the win.  That was to become the story of the year.  Seaver pitched well all year, but we didn’t score any runs for him.  And then, at the end of the year, he wasn’t protected in the free-agent compensation draft, and the memory of his homecoming was ruined by Mets management, just as his whole career with the Mets had been ruined by Mets management.

That sums it up.  The Mets are the stupidity that gave away Seaver in 1977 and the cluelessness that lost him again after the 1983 season.  But the Mets are also the sterling excellence of this extraordinary pitcher.  And most importantly, the Mets are that community of crazy fans who filled Shea with hope, happiness, and the uncontainable and unforgettable sound that welcomed Tom Seaver home on that cold April afternoon twenty-four years ago.

Twilight Zone Music (a little self-indulgence)

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

 

 In 1969, I turned 15.  If you had asked me at that time who my greatest heroes were, the list would certainly have included Art Garfunkel, Jerry Koosman, and Kurt Vonnegut.

So, in the distant future, on April 11,2007, I go to Mets Opening Night at Shea with my 15-year old daughter and Art Garfunkel sings the Star Spangled Banner and Jerry Koosman throws out the first pitch.  All on the day that Kurt Vonnegut dies at the age of 84.

I’d love to go back in time and tell myself.

“Memory Brushes the Same Years.”  Simon and Garfunkel, 1970.

 

Going to Shea on Opening Day

Wednesday, April 11th, 2007

 It’s 10:15 am on April 9, 2007.  It’s Queens morning sunlight, that bright gleaming sunlight that seems just off the ocean.  I get my first glimpse of Shea from the Whitestone Expressway.  It is so big.  So permanent-looking, like the Roman Coliseum.  And it won’t be there two years from now, when I am driving on this same road.  I will have to summon its bulk in my imagination.  How can something as big as that disappear?  How do I feel about all this?  Don’t ask.

I am getting off at my usual Northern Boulevard exit, wondering what the parking situation is going to be.  I see the cranes.  Right up against Shea.  I see why they’re called cranes.  They have the same sloping grace as the birds.  They seem etched against the morning sky.  I follow the signs, which take me to a lot on the shore of the bay.  The lot is filled with bundled people hopping from foot to foot, holding beers, eating hamburgers, in clusters of friends and relatives.  Three hours before the game.  I park somewhere where I won’t have to worry about a hibachi. 

I get out of my car and walk towards the place I should be able to walk under the expressway.  I enjoy the smells of the burgers, dogs, and thick sausages.  I enjoy all of these happy people in the windy cold.  I can’t imagine all of my friends or family getting together in this way around folding tables neatly piled with chips and ketchup and condiments.  Somehow, I wish I could.  I feel very alone.  But I feel I am with all of these people.  I too love the names and numbers they wear on their backs.  I love the smell of their grilling meat.

I cross under the expressway right where there are the old futuristic bus shelters left over the 1964 Fair.  They are so beautiful.  They look like white birds of the future poised to take flight.  In 1964 nobody paid much attention to them.  Nobody pays any attention to them now.  But they have outlasted the Fair and now they will outlast Shea.  I wonder how many people walking past them even know what they are.
 

I walk under the Expressway.  I am near Gate A.  I get as close as I can to the big walled-in construction site.  They are working today.  Nothing stops, not even out of respect.  I see towers built out of slabs of concrete.  Their tops are secured with orange metal beams.  There are yellow scaffolds and wooden railings.  Slowly and carefully, like dinosaur robots, the big cranes feed things to men on the tops of the towers.  Big Shea, right nearby, is doing whatever it’s been doing for the last forty-three years. 

Along the rim of the stadium, I see and hear the wheezing trailers, see the parked news vans with their big dishes.  There are the ambulances at the ready, the traffic barriers soaked in the deepest Mets blue.  There is the “7” train snaking along its elevated tracks.  There is Mr. Met posing for pictures with fans.  He swings his arms with that genial swagger he’s always had.  He’s accompanied by a group of young people in Pepsi t-shirts with their names on the back.  Are they his handlers, his bodyguards, his entourage?  Herb and Danielle and the rest just stand around and smile at the big man.  Everybody is happy to see him.  A guy walks by in a jester hat, with a t-shirt that says “No. 1 Yankee Hater.”  All kinds of people are entering the gates of the stadium now.  There are families and groups of friends and single guys in bulging jackets and glasses and ski caps who look as if they might be that Jerome who always calls Steve Somers.

Inside the stadium, I pass the long line of people waiting to get allowed into the team store.  I walk right down to the field and sit in a cushioned seat, from which I see Omar Minaya, working the crowd.  That man is so cool.  He’s so handsome and charismatic.  He looks as pleased to be here as Mr. Met.  People are as happy to see him as they are to see Mr. Met.  He’s as famous as Mr. Met.  But he offers a very different impression.  Mr. Met lets you know that you will always be a Mets fan, that you have no choice, that you are a simple being.  Omar shows you that finally, finally, the people who are in charge know what the hell they’re doing.  The dumb loyalty you’ve always had to Mr. Met is finally going to be rewarded.

Jeff Wilpon is out there too, shyly following Omar.  He always looks kind of sweet and pitiful to me.  I wonder if you’ll ever see the command on his face you see on the face of his father.  It’s so funny to see all the construction, to see all the people around their grills, to feel all this concentrated emotion of millions, and to look at these two men just thirty feet from me and to think that they are at the center of it. 
Batting practice, always a weirdly uneventful event, is finally over, and it is time to leave this portion of the stadium where I never sit, where there are plaques with names on seats that make you feel a little as if you’re in a cemetery.  I go up to the Loge where I normally sit and see their big new wall of computer-fake pictures of Citifield.  I see a mysterious little clubhouse labeled “Citifield” with a doorman and a big leather sofa and flat screens and buffet tables.  I go to Section 9, hoping to get my usual kosher hot dog with sauerkraut and my knish, and standing in the empty space, I smack my forehead remembering that it is still Passover.  So I get some Nathan’s franks that taste nothing like the Nathan’s franks I remember from the Coney Island of my childhood.  There are no knishes and you can’t even get sauerkraut to put on your hot dog.  Why is the food so lousy at Shea, in the greatest food city in the world?  It had better be different in that new little yuppie stadium they’re building.  That’s all I’ve got to say.

I go up the escalators with my little box of food, my open Diet Pepsi bottle wedged between my not-warm-enough pretzel and my “Nathan’s” franks.  I find section 4 in the Upper Deck and climb all the way up to my seat in row Q, to the pounding rhythms of the Jefferson Starship’s “We Built This City on Rock and Roll.”  I wonder why they play this.  We’re not playing San Francisco.  Do they know that there was recently a survey that named this the worst song of all time?  Obviously not.  So I’m carrying this lousy lunch to eat to this lousy music to my seat which may be the worst I’ve ever sat in at a game.  It is freezing cold.  This is a real Shea experience.  There is a perfect storm of misery here.  And I am so happy I can hardly contain myself.

From so high up, I really get a perspective on the construction site.   You see how many towers there are.  One of them, with its orange supports off, looks like something medieval, something knights would shoot arrows out of.  You see the network of saffron girders connecting the towers.  You see the ground that has been buried in obscurity under the asphalt of the parking lot for four decades but will someday be the field.  You see what seems to be the milling about of the workers, you see how the rhythm of busy construction site seems to be set by the slow grand motion of the cranes.  The thing that is surprising is how close the new stadium is to the one in which we are sitting waiting for a game.  It is right up against it.  Crowding it.  Almost aggressively.  Next year, that big blank space to the left of the scoreboard will be filled with the new stadium.  Shea will feel closed in.

The Opening Day ceremonies begin as the Copiague and Lindenhurst high school marching bands, looking like toy soldiers, start coming out of the centerfield fence.  They play what we can recognize way high up as “Meet the Mets” and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and so we clap and cheer in appreciation.  When they’re done, some Mets start sprinting into center field, their uniforms so white and bright against the green waffle pattern of the field.  Then Howie Rose in a suit, behind home plate, and up on the Diamond Vision, looking disconcertingly like Tony Blair, starts announcing the Phillies.  We begin by lustily booing their video coordinator and their assistant clubhouse manager until we realize that we need to start conserving our boos for the real Phillies, who actually seem to enjoy the boos we finally give them, and doff their caps to us.  Then we start cheering wildly for the Mets personnel, with a bit of hesitation about the visiting clubhouse manager.  Hojo gets a hearty welcome back and everything that is said about the real Mets is drowned out in a continuous cascade of cheering.  Some cadets in white from the Merchant Marine Academy march in like a centipede looking really spooky, carrying a big flag.  Michael Amante gives us an exceptionally histrionic Star Spangled Banner, his pant legs fluttering in the wind.   After a couple of minutes waiting for an announced fly over, two fighter jets anticlimactically zoom over the stadium.  Keith throws out the first ball.  Hojo catches it.  Us older folk get sentimental.  The new New York Mets take the field.  And Jimmy Rollins leads off the game, grounding out to the delight of everyone assembled. 

The game is interesting and exciting although it is kind of hard to watch.  It is fricking freezing and all of us were prepared for that, so we’re all bundled up like the Michelin man, taking up a lot of space.  Plus, we’re bouncing up and down to keep warm, so the stands are filled with bouncing muffled people rubbing against each other.  I think of getting peanuts but I decide not to.  Everyone who eats anything is bumping into everybody around them.  John Maine doesn’t look like he has very much, but he is avoiding disasters.  He leaves before 5 innings are over.  The game is close.  We could win it or we could lose it.  The crowd is psyched, but its enthusiasm isn’t exactly confident.  They lead, then we lead, then they tie it, then we go ahead again.  Then there is a perfect sour silence when Ryan Howard hits a three-run home run off of Ambiorix Burgos. 

Not happy.  Time is running out.  It’s still fun to be at Opening Day.  Not much is new between innings or in Shea itself.  There is a big Dunkin Donut coffee cup in the visiting bullpen.  That’s it except for all of looming chaotic newness visible beyond the scoreboard.  As the game unwinds nervously, you can’t help watching what continues in what is now the afternoon light.   What a view.  What a mess.  Expressways crossing grasslands with grey rivers.  Big brick apartment houses looking like broad-shouldered robots with little square heads.  Piles of dirt and other stuff.  Chop shops.  U-haul.  The graceful green tower like a ghost from another age.  Our view.  Our mess.  What will we see from the new stands?  The seats will be wider and so we won’t rub against each other on cold April afternoons.  Will we see anything? 

We are scared in the eighth.  Until Jimmy Rollins, afraid of Jose, makes his error.  The heavens open.  What is like a seven-run inning?!  When eleven men come to the plate?!  The runs just come and come and we all stand and cheer and clap for all that remains of the game.  This is a good opening day.  Filled with happy omens.  We are no longer worried about Philadelphia.  We only fear Atlanta.  That makes no sense, after one week.  But that’s how we feel.  How good this team is!  People like Jose Valentin and Carlos Delgado slump and then they do this.  We think of Wright as slumping but he has a 19-game hitting streak.  This team will always have life.  It will always do well.  And it won’t always be this cold.

Then there is the traditional and ceremonial victory romp down the ramps.  We sing “Jim-my Rah-llins!”  “Jim-my Rah-lins!”  We showed him all right.  We showed the Phillie Phanatic who is now dangled from the ramps in a noose.   Strangers slap each others hands.  We do the Jose chant.  And ‘Lets Go Mets.”  We evaluate the Yankees and the Phillies in exactly the same way.  We see the afternoon gleam on the cars in the parking lot.  We see the skyscrapers of Manhattan, grey and purplish, off to the west. 

I walk all the way back to my car in a piercing wind off the water.  The smoky picnics pick up where they left off hours ago.  I join a long slow line to leave the lot, and open my window several times to slap the gloved hands of my happy, cheering, stumbling friends. 

           

Tomorrow is Opening Day

Monday, April 9th, 2007

Tomorrow is Opening Day.  I’m going to be there.  I want to get there early, to see the stadium and the season wake up.  I want to see the big thing come to life in the April chill.  It will be sunny and windy tomorrow.  The story continues.
 

Our team looks wonderful, but we are in second place.  We could have been 6-0, but we aren’t.  We’re in second place.  That is not a big deal.  It is not a big issue.  But tomorrow will be important.  You don’t want to lose three in a row after winning four in a row.  You don’t want to give Philly hope.  But they’ll be dangerous.  They’ve started the season in humiliating fashion, especially considering the way Rollins shot his mouth off.
 

The last time I was at Shea, Maine was pitching.  It was the sixth game of the NLCS.  What a beautiful game that was.  It will be good to have him back.  He was the man and he will be the man.  The last pitch thrown in the stadium was Adam Wainwright’s astonishing curve ball.  You remember how it dropped.  Like your heart and your soul.  It was up and it fell.  I don’t blame Carlos Beltran.  I wouldn’t have swung at it either.  But I will always feel that pitch and know that pitch.  And you will too, if you are reading these words.
 

This is a historic moment for Mets fans.  This is the home opener of a season I’ll bet we’ll remember long after the big beloved stadium is dust.   Every seat will be filled.  Every throat will be open.  The future that is rising in the far end of the parking lot knows everything about what will happen this year.   But we don’t. 

Amazing Facts, Amazing Mets

Friday, April 6th, 2007

 

[This piece was originally published on Flushing University on March 28.  To see my latest Thursday column on that site, please click on the Flushing University banner to the right.] 

Every year, I buy the Sports Encyclopedia of Baseball. I love it. It is a rich and beautiful reservoir of facts. I can spend hours reading it, and it never takes me more than a few minutes to find something I didn’t know, something that genuinely surprises me, about the history of baseball, or about the Mets and their place in the history of baseball. 

Here, let me show you. If someone asked you which player who ever played for the Mets had the highest lifetime slugging percentage, who would you say? My first guess would be Willie Mays. Willie does in fact have an extremely high lifetime slugging percentage of .557. But it’s not Willie. Piazza would be my next guess. His lifetime slugging percentage is .551. So, it isn’t Mike. Who am I forgetting? Oh, wait. What about Duke Snider? The Duke’s lifetime slugging percentage was .540. Very impressive, but it’s not him either. So, who is it? It’s Carlos Delgado, whose lifetime slugging percentage currently stands at .558. 

Higher than Willie. Higher than Mike. Higher than Mickey Mantle and Henry Aaron. I knew Delgado was a great hitter but I never would have guessed that his slugging percentage was higher than all of these current and future first-ballot Hall-of-Famers. But there it is. Look at the list yourself. Did you know that? See, this is why the Sports Encyclopedia of Baseball is so great. You could learn this amazing fact in far less than an average bathroom session. 

Or how about this. Jose Reyes is 23 years old and he has hit a total of 40 triples, 17 in each of the past few years. Okay, let’s say that he were to average 15 triples a year for the next 12 years and end up with that as his final total. That would give him a lifetime total of 220 triples and that’s the most conservative estimate you could make. A less conservative estimate would give him an average of 17 triples per year for each of the next 15 years. That would mean he’d end up with 295 triples. If he holds up well, and even plays until he’s 40, Jose Reyes can easily clear 300 triples. So it is fair to say that barring any disastrous injury or personal collapse, Jose Reyes will almost certainly end up with between 220 and 320 triples. Where does that put him on the list of all-time leaders? You don’t have any idea, do you? Nobody pays attention to triples as a lifetime statistic. Well, look at the list of the 52 players who have hit more than 150 triples. Almost all of them are from the deadball era, before 1920, when the ball was bigger and deader, didn’t ricochet off the wall as well, was harder to throw with the same velocity (not to mention the fact that the old stadiums had all these far away nooks and crannies for a ball to get lost in). 

There are only two players on the whole list who have played since the Second World War: Roberto Clemente, who had a lifetime total of 166, and Stan Musial, the modern leader, with 177! There are only five others who have played since 1920 and the leader of this group is Paul Waner, who hit 190 triples between 1926 and 1945. So there is no question, no question at all, that Jose Reyes will become the first ballplayer of the post-1920 era to hit 200 triples. He has a shot at passing Musial before he’s 30. Does he have any chance at passing any of the titans of the prehistoric baseball era? Well, he does. 223 will take him past Tris Speaker, 252 past Honus Wagner, and if he can get to 298, which is not at all out of reach, he’ll have as many as Ty Cobb, who is second on the all-time list to Sam Crawford, the all-time triples king, who had 312 triples in a career that stretched from 1899 to 1917. Jose Reyes, our Jose, is going to be the best triple man of all-time and you can only appreciate the magnitude of what he is likely to achieve by prowling around this wonderful encyclopedia. 

There are lots of other things you can learn. You can learn that in 1963, Eddie Kranepool had 14 rbis in 273 at-bats for the Mets. That has got to be a record of some kind, an rbi every 20 at-bats. Oh wait, it’s not, at least not for the Mets. Tommie Agee, in 1968, had 17 rbis in 368 at-bats. Do you realize that no Met ever drove in 100 runs until Rusty Staub did in 1975, in their fourteenth season? And no Met would do it again for ten years, when Gary Carter drove in 100 in 1985? 

You know already, don’t you, that if Steve Trachsel had won one more game last year, he would have tied for the league lead in wins? You know that the Mets have had a lot of hard-throwing pitching staffs over the years, including 6 of the top 66 staffs in terms of strikeouts by a team. But would you have guessed that the six Mets teams with the most strikeouts per season were, in order: 1990, 2001, 1999, 2000, 2006, and 1971? Do you remember how the 1969 Mets pitched 28 complete game shutouts, tied for second in the modern era with the 1964 Dodgers and bested only by the 1968 Cardinals who had 30? Do you remember that the only Met to be best in the league in anything during the dark era after 1977 was Craig Swan, who had the best E.R.A. in the league and didn’t win 10 games? He shouldn’t complain though. Do you realize that in 1963, Mets pitcher Roger Craig had an E.R.A. of 3.78, not that much worse than Bob Gibson’s 3.39. Gibson won 18 games and lost 9. Craig won 5 games and lost …24. 

You may think you know a lot about baseball, but this book shows you how much you don’t know. You keep coming face to face with how wrong your memories are, as you face documentary proof of the fact that two players you remember playing at the same time did not in fact play at the same time. It is a humbling experience. In a good way. This is the truth. And as fans and as geeks we will spend all too much of our lives trying to know as many little pieces of this great big truth as we possibly can. And I’ll bet you that no matter how much I study this book, things will never reach the point where it takes me more than 10 minutes to find out something I couldn’t even have guessed.