Archive for April, 2008

Don’t Boo

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

So Delgado was cheered when he came to the plate yesterday.  Take that, Mike and the Mad Dog.  (They shrug and move on to the next molehill they can try to turn into a mountain so that people bored on highways will sit through interminable commercials.)

Let’s keep it up.  Let’s rise to the occasion.  What wearies me most about all this talk of the fans’ right to boo, etc. is the often unchallenged assertion that this is a “what have you done for me lately” town, that New Yorkers demand a lot all the time and are not happy unless they get the best results all the time. 

This is a lie and a slander.   New Yorkers are not like this.  Mets Fans are not like this.  I know a lot of people think that this crap is true, and if the booing keeps up, a lot more will come to believe it.  But this isn’t us.  That aspect of New York, which admittedly does exist in certain places in the financial district or in corporate Midtown, has been symbolically represented by the Steinbrenner years over at the other stadium in town.

The Mets represent the other spirit of New York and they always have.  We are still the people who cheered the team all through the sixties, when the product on the field was often laughable.  We stuck with our team through the great years of 1969-76, when there were some horrendous slumps, by Jones, Agee, Gentry, Clendenon, McGraw, even Seaver in ‘74.  Many of us remained loyal and cheered the team from 1977-83 when there was nothing much to cheer about.  The booers discovered their power when they started hounding Doug Sisk in 1985.  And if it hadn’t been for them, Sisk might have found his way back and we might have won the pennant in 1985.  The Mets tradition is loyalty and hope against all odds.  It’s the other New York.  It’s the spirit of my grandparents when they stepped off the boat, were checked for lice and eye disease, and were sent penniless into the sweatshops of the Lower East Side.  It’s the spirit of your ancestors.  It’s cheering people when they’re down.  It’s helping your friend back up.  The booers belong in the boardrooms, cutting peoples’ jobs to make a stock more profitable. 

I mean this and I feel it.  But I feel sympathy for the booers too.  I know where they’re coming from.  I know what they’ve been through.  People aren’t booing now because they’re New Yorkers.  They’re booing because we’ve all just been through hell and we’re not over it yet.  It’s a temporary thing.  But we have to make it a very temporary thing.  Because if we don’t stop it now, it could ruin this season.

I’m going to the game today.  Field Box section 228G, seat 1, wearing a t-shirt saying “It’s Outta Here.”  Stop by and say hi.  And if the crowd starts to boo, join me and stand and clap and cheer.  We outnumber them.  Let’s show the world that we’re with the Mets and not against them.

 

 

THE CURTAIN CALL CONTROVERSY !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

 

You know, sometimes I feel as if I’m living in a lunatic asylum.

Was that a condescending remark?  Did I INSULT all Mets fans and even all Americans?  Don’t read the blog!

No, I mean it.  A presidential candidate makes a thoughtful observation in private about the fact that people, in hard economic times, tend to cling to their religion and the customs of their culture, and rather than trying to understand his perfectly plausible point, the media and his political opponents insist that what he actually did was INSULT religion itself and the whole working class and everything they do and believe.

Lest anyone think I am being politically partisan let me also make clear that I don’t think it is a big deal if a former First Lady, visiting what has recently been a war zone, exaggerates the degree to which she was in danger.  I’ll go further.  I don’t really think it is fair to suggest that the Republican nominee, in pointing out that an American military presence might be necessary for many decades in Iraq was actually suggesting that we should expect to be fighting a war in Iraq for 100 years.

The lunacy is everywhere now.  Any moderately complex or debatable statement or gesture made by a presidential candidate is immediately turned into an INSULT, a LIE, or an embarrassing GAFFE. 

Maybe this state of affairs makes sense in politics because political rivals are supposed to distort each other in order to get ahead of each other.  Networks and newspapers need to distort in order to keep everyone interested in the horse race that determines ad prices.

But couldn’t we possibly keep this crap out of baseball?  Isn’t baseball interesting enough?  I guess not.

Carlos Delgado finally breaks out of his slump and hits two home runs in one game.  This is a cause for celebration.  And so this complex and intelligent man gets back to the dugout, and even though the crowd wants a curtain call, he determines that the situation does not call for it.  He’s never been a big curtain call guy.  He points out that he’s only done it twice, one time when he hit 4 home runs in a game.  He carefully and respectfully explains his high standards for the gesture.  He points out that it was only a solo home run in the seventh inning, not a game winner, not a grand slam.  And he knows and we know that he’s still only hitting .205.  I agree with Steve Somers and Eddie Coleman that he should still have taken the curtain call.  By not taking it, he made not taking it the story of the day, rather than the two home runs.  Obama, Clinton, and McCain should have also avoided making the statements they made because look at all the trouble they have created for themselves.

But doesn’t Carlos Delgado have the right to make his decision, and to have his explanation taken seriously?  Do we really need to spend an entire day debating about whether Carlos Delgado INSULTED us, when there is nothing in the man’s character or past performance that would suggest that he would have wanted to INSULT us?

Will somebody please wake me up when this election and this baseball season is over?  I don’t know how much more of this I can take.

I’ll be Right Back

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

I’m away on vacation this week, which is why I haven’t followed up on my opening day post.  I’ll be back on Monday, April 21 and I don’t think anything about this season will be determined by then.  I want to thank all of the wonderful people who read my blog, and who’ve come up to me at events, or e-mailed me to tell me how much they enjoy it.  The book also continues to sell very well.  I would like to mention that, if anyone is comfortable doing this sort of thing, I can always use reviews on the Amazon site.  It does help sales of a book if people hear about how other like-minded readers have enjoyed it.  So, if you have the time or interest, you are welcome to go to my Amazon booksite and leave a comment under “Customer Reviews.”  Thank you.  And see you again soon.  Keep the Mets on track while I’m gone and don’t boo.  Not yet.  No matter what they do.

The Last Home Opener at Shea

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

It’s 8:30 am on April 8, 2008 and I begin my drive down to the last home opener at Shea Stadium.  It’s also the home opener of the 2008 season.  These are two separate events, even though they are the same baseball game.  I am grim and nostalgic about the first, fearful and desperately hopeful about the second.  I know that I will see Citifield today for the first time close up.  I am bracing for that.  It’s a bright morning.  It’s cold and I am not feeling the enthusiasm that all of these new beginnings call for. 

I turn on WCBS-AM 880 to get the news, weather, and traffic.  They are having a little sequence about the last home opener at Shea.  The reporter asks one of the construction workers, a Mets fan, about his best memory of Shea.  “Some girl,” the construction worker says.  “Did it work out?” the reporter asks.  “Yeah,” the construction worker says with a kind of chuckle.  That’s it.  I think of how I should be mad that that’s all they have about this very big event in the lives of so many people.  But then I think of how this interview kind of sums it up.  Who knows what happened to that guy?  Maybe he married the girl, maybe they had dinner, maybe they spent a wild night in bed with each other.  What means the most to us about Shea Stadium is what has happened to us there:  what has happened over 44 years to tens of millions of people who’ve come to spend a few hours looking for something more than what life usually gives them.  Is it any wonder that people have such a particular love for stadiums, and for amusement parks, and for bars and restaurants and all these other places where things have happened that aren’t the things that just happen at work?

I turn off my ignition in parking lot C around 10 am.  So many people are here, eating hamburgers and sausages and drinking beer at ten in the morning.  People are playing catch just for the symbolism of it.  There is, as always, wind off the bay, and party tents shake and banners flutter.  Here is Citifield.  And there is Shea.  Both of them are together now, side by side, for one year.  Shea is so tall, all sharp blue angles and curves, all silly and funny and tacky.  Citifield is short, broad, and graceful, classical columns and arches.  It is a lovely thing, I admit sadly to myself.  It is even prettier than I thought it was going to be. 

I walk all the way around the two stadiums.  Shea looks as it always does.  It looks as if it has no idea that it is not going to be there forever.  Citifield looks exactly like pictures I’ve seen of Ebbetts Field.  It looks as if it should be on a street corner in Brooklyn in the ‘40s or ‘50’s.  It doesn’t really belong on this windy plain off Flushing Bay.  But it is here because Ebbetts Field meant a lot to someone.   This is what stadiums are.  They are things that, by containing our lives, become part of what we are.  And when they die, they live only in our memories, like dead people.  Unless we own a baseball team.  Then we can bring the dead back to life.  If I owned the Mets twenty years from now, would I rebuild Shea in the parking lot of Citifield?  No, I wouldn’t.  But I guess I’d want to.

So there is the new thing, with slender arches like waves.  It looks like the Baths of Caracalla.  Look at the keystones on top of the waves.  Look at how where the waves end, a stately colonnade continues the march and the movement.  Here is beauty.  Here is architecture.  And there behind it is my big old friend Shea.  In his stupid clown costume.  What taste in clothes my big moron friend has!  Who let him in the building?  Oh how embarrassing it is to be related to someone like him.  How do I explain him?  Did he even have an architect?

I’m sorry.  I am loyal to Shea unto death.  And when I finally get into the stadium and see that Citifield is only as tall as Shea up to the top of the mezzanine, I am angry as I have been angry for two years.  Citifield is too small.  It is.  I don’t want to hear what the accountants have figured out about profitability.  So they hired good accountants.  They also hired good architects.  The goddamn thing is beautiful.  I haven’t changed my mind about it.  But it is beautiful.  And my new ambivalence does not make me feel any better.

I go inside and do my Shea things.  I stand on the field level and look around.  The arches overlook the apple.  I get my hot dogs and knish and find my seat and sit and have lunch with my sister Stefanie.  We talk and watch the goings on.  There’s the New Milford High School Marching Band.  There’s a ceremony to honor the Shea family who will now no longer have a stadium named after them and there is a very good little documentary narrated by Gary Cohen on the Diamond Vision about how William Shea forced Major League Baseball into expanding by threatening to found a new league and had a stadium named after him for his efforts.   The teams are introduced and as always, the Phillies clubhouse staff takes the brunt of the booing by being announced before the players.  Jimmy Rollins gets it because Mets fans still can’t get over him saying that the Phillies (the Phillies!) would be the team to beat in the NL East in 2007.  I think we should just shut up about that already.  “Friend of the Mets Michael Amante” gets to sing the Opening Day National Anthem AGAIN.   And then some super duper Hornets or something wow us by flying over the stadium (Stefanie says to me “Yeah, like what Shea stadium needs is a flyover.”)   The game begins.  The crowd is into it.  Fists pump into the air when Oliver Perez ends the first half inning with a strikeout.

Delgado hits a long home run and is now a fan favorite.  The season will be different.  We will be redeemed.  You feel the hunger of the crowd for a great season.  How glorious it is to be at the ballgame.  How perfectly Perez is pitching.  From my seat in the Mezzanine, far back in the cold dark shade under the Upper Deck, I watch as flatbeds of blue cotton candy float over the field and the boxes so bright in the early spring sunlight.  I’m at the game.  The last home opener at Shea.  The beginning of a bright new season of memories, hope, and redemption.

The game is good and the crowd is happy.  And then it all turns bad, just as the home opener suddenly did last year.  And then you feel once again that feeling from last year.  That sense that a three run lead by the opposing team is simply insurmountable.  Oh you cheer and clap when the Mets come up.  But although you don’t join the stream of people leaving between the eighth and ninth innings, you know that it is just not going to happen.  The crowd is not filled with the despair you saw at the end of last season.  But as we fall behind, it feels sullen, glum, hopeful, and fearful.  It is a hard year already.  We don’t lose hope over three ugly losses.  But we’ve got something around our neck,  something as big and as awkward as the blue and orange horseshoe of flowers presented to Willie Randolph by the Shea family at the start of the game.

What will get the yoke off?  Jose Reyes flies out deep to end the game.  The last home opener is over.  The season is just beginning.

Please come meet me and see me talk about and read from my book Mets Fan on Thursday, April 10 at 7 pm at the Hillside Library in New Hyde Park, Long Island.  I know there’s a game on, but I believe I can offer a more reliable guarantee of entertainment.

 

This piece is simultaneously posted on the great blog, Mike’s Mets.

 

Pedro Martinez

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

 [From my book, Mets Fan]

I like to think that Pedro Martinez was always destined to be a Met.  The way he pitches has always reminded me of Tom Seaver.  He has power and variety and perfect placement.  He has more innings pitched than hits and walks combined.  Once he gets past the first inning, and knows what is working, he seems to be in an iron groove.  No one can touch him until he tires.
 
When he came to us in 2005, Pedro pitched an absolutely typical Seaver season.  An E.R.A. below 3.  More than 200 strikeouts.  A 15-8 record that should have been something like 20-6 but wasn’t because this was the .500 level Mets.  There was the same adaptability as Seaver had, the same rock-steady intelligence.  There was the same noble competence and patience.
 

But if Pedro pitched like Tom Seaver, his personality was more like Tug McGraw’s.  Pedro is a thoughtful eccentric.  A philanthropist and a gardener, a joker in a jacket, you have to love him.  When the “Vote for Pedro” shirts started to appear at Shea, I thought it was terrific.  Pedro could have come out of the world of Napoleon Dynamite.  He seems to be entirely sane and just a little bit crazy.  Ebullient in the dugout, he is almost grim on the mound.  He stares at the catcher with something that looks disconcertingly like sadness and regret.  But he is just concentrating.  And he knows exactly what he is doing. 
 

Fate washed Pedro up onto other shores, but when he came to us, it seemed as if he was the one destined to lead us out of our early millennial rut.  Didn’t the coming of Pedro prove that Omar was real?  Wasn’t it a sign of Omar’s grace and power?  Now that Omar had brought Pedro to lead us, wouldn’t everything be different? 
 

Everything was immediately different.  In 2005, we felt, behind Pedro, as if we might soon be champions again.  Though the team, in 2005, wasn’t worthy of him, he never complained.  He was patient and content to inspire others to be worthy of him.  In part thanks to Pedro, Carlos Delgado agreed to join us in 2006.  Carlos Beltran would eventually become more comfortable.  Jose Reyes would grow into a superstar.  Maybe these things had nothing to do with Pedro, but he seemed to be involved with them somehow.  Pedro changed what we expected of the Mets.
 

The 2006 season began as well as it possibly could have for Pedro Martinez.  Without the 95 mph fastball he once had, he became one of the smartest, most surprising, most unsettling pitchers I have ever seen a batter face.  He spent the first half of the 2006 season waving away the opposition, removing all obstacles, clearing a path to the championship.  By the time Pedro faltered in midseason, the team knew where it was going and how it would get there.  Pedro went on the disabled list for a while, and we waited patiently for him to come back.  Let him rest up good, we thought, we don’t need him now, but we’ll really need him in the postseason. 
 

When Pedro came back, he was mysteriously not any good any more.  When it became clear that there was actually something wrong with him, we learned, at first, that he had torn a calf muscle.  But then we learned that he needed rotator cuff surgery, and that he would not be coming back to us until late in the 2007 season.  Who really knew what he would be able to do then, after shoulder surgery in his late thirties? 
 

I don’t want Pedro Martinez to remain what he is now:  a transitional figure separating two Mets eras.  I want him to be a great Met.  I want him to be part of our eternal rotation, with Seaver, Koosman, Matlack, Gooden, Darling, Fernandez, Ojeda, Cone, and Leiter.  I want to see him win a game for us in the World Series.  I want to see him coming down off the mound, pointing to the sky and giving thanks.   I want him to enter the Promised Land with the rest of us. 
 

And Two Games

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008

And two games don’t really tell you anything either.

The First Game of the 2008 Season

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

Opening Day, as we all know, tells you a great deal about what the season will be like.  It tells you a lot about the team you’ve put out on the field.  From yesterday’s game, it sure looks as if Johan Santana is going to give us what we’ve paid for.  We’ve got plenty of offense, (five doubles!) with Wright and Beltran picking up right where they left off.  Jose Reyes looked as if he is offensively right back on track, and it also looks as if we’ve got a potent tail end of the lineup with Church and Pagan.  I have to admit, though, that I’m a little worried about Delgado and Schneider.  They sure didn’t show much at the plate yesterday.  But we may not need them as badly if we’ve got that bullpen.  How about that bullpen?  Our bullpen wasn’t so good last year, but from what I saw yesterday, it appears that we’re solid in that department again.  I got a real sense, watching them I the dugout, that the team is loose, confident and hungry.  They played solid baseball.  Willie managed well.  Maybe I ought to raise my predicted total of 95 wins.  Looks like we’ve got a great team off to a great start, a team that will wipe away our memory of last year’s historic collapse. 

Sigh.

You’d have to be an idiot to write what I wrote above.  But face it, on Opening Day, every fan is an idiot.

Opening Day, alas, tells you no more about what a season will be like than any game you could pick at random out of a season.  It tells you less, in fact, because at least on Opening Day, you have your ace on a mound, and if you’re a good team, you’re probably playing a not-so-good team.  Sure Santana looked good, but if he had pitched badly, would that mean he wasn’t good?  I hope Jose is back on track, but you know that it will be weeks before we know whether he is or not.  I’m hopeful about Church and Pagan and sure there are reasons to worry about Delgado and Schneider.  But one game is one game is one game.  If somebody told you that game 100 of the season was really going to show you what this team is like, wouldn’t you think that they had lost their mind?  I don’t have to tell you that we don’t know anything yet about how the bullpen will perform.  You spent a few hours watching the Mets yesterday and you don’t know squat.  And yet you may very well have read what I wrote at the top of the post and thought, “Yes indeed.  That’s what I think too.”

Opening Day is an interesting illusion.  So much has built up inside of you.  You are so anxious and so curious about what this season will bring that your eyes feel like microscopes.  Here is your sample.  Bring all of your interpretive powers to bear on this artifact as if it’s a rock from Mars.  What does it say?  What does it tell you?  You’re so anxious to know something concrete about the Mets 2008 season that you throw all caution to the wind.  You believe because you saw something good, just as you would be shaken if the Marlins had blown the Mets out of the water, just as they have once or twice, in your scalded memory. 

We don’t know anything.  But take heart.  You had no idea at any point last season how the Mets season was going to turn out.  You didn’t even know after 161 games.  
 

WESTCHESTER FANS!

This is just a note to tell you that I have two Westchester “events” this week.  At 7:30 pm on Wednesday, April 2, I’ll be giving a talk and a reading at the Chappaqua Library and at 9 pm on Friday, April 4, I will be the guest on John Vorperian’s great baseball interview show, Beyond the Game, on White Plains Cable TV channel 76.