Archive for September, 2009

A Few More Media Notes

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Just a note to let you know that:

1)  On Monday, September 28, I will be the featured guest on “The Cheap Seats,” broadcast at 7:30 pm on WNYU-FM, 89.1.

2)  On Tuesday, September 29, I will be giving a reading from “The Last Days of Shea” at 7 pm at the Newtown Public Library in Newtown, CT.

3)  On Saturday, October 3, I will be at the big end-of-the-year, Pitch In For a Good Cause, Gary, Keith, and Ron Main Event at Citi Field.   I hope to see and meet many of you there. 

4)  On Sunday, October 4, at 6 pm, I will be, along with Matt Cerrone and Mike Silva, one of the featured guests on the Second Anniversary Show of Seven Train to Shea.

5)  On Monday, October 5 at 8:10 am, I’ll share my thoughts about the end of the Mets season on Morning Wakeup Call with Mitch Merman on WRHU-FM, 88.7. 

If anybody is waiting for my blog piece about my most recent trip to Citi Field, I assure you it is coming.  I had a very busy weekend, but you are going to see this in the next few days. 

There’s still excitement left in this season.  Will we win 70?  Follow all the drama right here.

This Is How Bad It’s Gotten

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

This is how bad it’s gotten.  Last night (9/23), I didn’t watch or listen to the Mets game because it was my birthday and my wife took me out to dinner.  It is, right now, 3:10 on 9/24 and it was only 5 minutes ago that I realized that I did not know how last night’s Mets game turned out.  I don’t think I have ever gone as late as 3:10 into the next day before I made an effort to find out what happened in a Mets game I missed the night before.  This is a record.  And a disturbing one. 

I had an interesting time going to the game on Tuesday night.  I will blog about that very soon.  In the meantime, you can hear me interviewed tonight (9/24) at 9 pm on Pro Baseball Central with Steve Keane and Joe McDonald.  I will, of course, be talking about my new book, The Last Days of Shea:  Delight and Despair in the Life of a Mets Fan.  

You can, if you like, see a five-minute video of me reading from my book at this link.

And you can see a ten-minute interview with me about the book at this link.

My Birthday Party

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

25 by you.

Tomorrow, September 23, is my birthday.   To mark the occasion, I am printing here a portion of a chapter from my new book, The Last Days of Shea, called ”My Birthday Party.”   It is about my birthday, two years ago, when I had a book launch for Mets Fan and saw, for the first time, signs that the Mets internet community existed in real space and time.    Speaking of real space and time, I’m going to Citi Field tonight (9/22).   I promise to post a piece about my experience. 

… On September 23, 2007, I celebrated my 53rd birthday and for the first time since I was 13, I had a birthday party.  But it wasn’t just a birthday party.  It was a book launch.  I had written a book called Mets Fan  and I was throwing a party to promote it at a little bohemian joint on Avenue A in the East Village called Mo Pitkin’s House of Satisfaction.  A reader of the blog which I had set up to promote my book, was an investor in the place and he recommended it for the book launch party.  It turned out to be perfect for the occasion.   A book launch party has always been a fantasy of mine, a part of my dream of myself as a writer and not just a professor.  I had always imagined that they were glamorous affairs, either glittery or funky.  We were obviously going to go for funky here.  But they don’t really have book launch parties any more, certainly not for obscure little books by nobodies like my Mets Fan.  They’re things of the past, things from the days before the corporate acquisition of publishing houses, things from the days when the world, irrationally, had more on its mind than making money. 

They also don’t really have funky and cheap little joints in the East Village any more.  Yet Mo Pitkin’s was trying to be the kind of mythical place where hip, offbeat and not very rich people could gather and eat comfort food and hear great music and watch performance art.  It was a dream of the Hartman brothers, Phil and Jesse, big Mets fans who had founded the Two Boots pizza empire.  Mo Pitkin’s would be out of business by the end of the year.  It just seemed to me to be appropriate that we were having the kind of party they don’t have any more in the kind of place they don’t have any more, to celebrate a book about being a baseball fan in ways that didn’t fit what baseball is now any more.  The whole thing was an exercise, on every level, of wistful yet idealistic romanticism.  It was perfect for a 53rd birthday.  It was perfect for an aging professor who was trying to re-invent himself, before it was too late, as the writer he had dreamed of being every since he was 15.

I had invited my friends and colleagues and blog readers and my fellow bloggers to the party.  And of course my family was there including my mother Helen, who had made it up the one flight of stairs with considerable difficulty and my father-in-law Charlie who was bravely going out into the world less than two months after losing his wife.  My sisters, Jennifer and Stefanie, my wife, Sheila, and my daughter Sonia were there.  Sonia wore a cool, hip new dress and had gotten a bohemian gamine haircut, thinking that she was going to a big literary event in Greenwich Village.   A lot of people came.  I was particularly moved by the turnout of fellow bloggers.  There was Steve Keane, of the Eddie Kranepool Society, Mike Steffanos of Mikes Mets,   Kathy Foronjy was there, who had made a documentary film about Mets fans called Mathematically Alive, which I hadn’t seen yet but which turned out to be just like Mets Fan in spirit.  There was MetsGrrl and there were three women bloggers Zoe Rice, Taryn Cooper, and Steffie Kaplan, and who called themselves the Joan Whitney Paysons after the woman who was the Mets’ first owner.  I knew my friends, family, and colleagues, of course, but I had never met any of the Mets people in person before.  I felt like a kid in a cartoon whose imaginary friends have come to life.  Sure I knew that people I knew from the Internet really existed, but you’re never really sure, you know what I mean?   For all I knew, these people were inside the worn laptop with the F8 key missing on which I had written my book, and on which I composed my blog and my website.   

Everyone was so nice and so supportive.  Everybody made me feel as if I had done something worth doing.  Everybody made me feel as if we were all in this together, trying to build an alternate world of blogs, podcasts, and films about the Mets; an alternate world in which the hopes and dreams of millions and the joys and sorrows of fandom, were treated with respect.  For that one afternoon, the Mets did not exist simply to soak up irritating condescension from Mike and the Mad Dog.  They were part of a family that included many fine, generous, and imaginative people.  

All through the afternoon, as we ate Two Boots pizza, drank, and talked, people kept track of the game that was being played in Florida.  The Mets finally won, 7-6, on a David Wright home run in the eleventh.  The Phillies had lost, 5-3, to the Nationals.  We were two and a half games up with seven more to play.  The Phillies had six more games to play.  If we could win 4 of our 7 games, the Phillies would have to win all 6 of theirs to tie us.  If we only won 3, they would have to win all 6 of their games to beat us.  If we won 2 and lost 5, they would have to go 5-1 to beat us.  We were okay.  Everyone in the assembled company felt good.  When the game was over, I read a few pieces from my book to my fellow Mets fans.   

You know, in the end, I am convinced that the most amazing thing about the New York Mets is not the inconsistent baseball franchise by that name.  It is the millions of people who continue to root for them, through years of frustration and disappointment, even though they are geographically entitled to root for the most successful of all baseball franchises.  We fans had been dangling over a precipice ever since the Mets had dropped those four games in Philadelphia.  Now we could breathe just a little bit easier.  We could rest.  We would find out soon enough how we would remember this strange moment in Mets history.  Whatever happened, though, I knew that I would never forget my 53rd birthday.  I knew I would never forget my sense of wonder at how I was celebrating my 53rd birthday.  I would never have imagined any of this on my 50th birthday.  Life was full of surprises.  All life is is surprises.  It is one thing that might have been different after another thing that might have been different.  That’s what it is.

Some Media Notes

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

1)  If you’d like to see me reading a few paragraphs from The Last Days of Shea in person, please check out this Youtube link produced by Hofstra’s Department of Public Relations.   If you’ve got more time, the Chappaqua Library did a video of me reading from Mets Fan.  You can see that here.

2)  If you’d like to meet me and other Mets “celebrity” authors in person, I will be attending the Amazin Tuesdays program at 7 pm on September 15 at Two Boots Tavern at 384 Grand St.

2)  If you are a night owl, you can listen to me on the morning of September 16 at some point after 1 am on the nationally syndicated Joey Reynolds show.  If you are not a night owl, you can listen later to the archived broadcast on this link.

3)  If you want to hear a detailed discussion of my book, please listen to Mike Silva’s New York Baseball Digest radio show and podcast at 6 pm on September 17.  Mike and I are going to have an hour-long “fireside” chat (without the fire) about the book.  Mike is a terrific interviewer and I am really looking forward to this.  You can listen to our chat, in real time or afterwards, here.

Emotions and Lack Thereof

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

This is the first September since 2004 in which no significant Mets games are being played.  But, like other Mets seasons in which we’ve had no chance of making it to the playoffs, the September of 2004 offered some baseball pleasures.  We had some interesting new guys on the team named Wright, Reyes, Valent, Seo, and Keppinger.  There was stuff to pay attention to, stuff to hope for.

There haven’t been any pleasures this September and, like many other Mets fans, I’ve experienced something unfamiliar.  I am watching the Mets win and lose (mostly lose) without any emotion.  This has never happened to me before.  I feel like a person who has lost his sense of smell or taste.  I feel a numbness.

The Mets fall behind and I expect them to stay there.  I have no expectation or hope that they will catch up and so I am not really upset when they don’t.  The Mets get ahead and I wait for them to fall behind. I wish they would stay ahead but I am certainly not surprised when they don’t and I am not terribly sad when they don’t.

I do look eagerly for signs that Pelfrey won’t do a job on himself, or or that Angel Pagan will develop some baseball sense, or that Daniel Murphy will show us that he is worth our time and trouble.  But I also have the sense that whatever happens in the next couple of weeks isn’t likely to tell us much about our prospects for next year.  It’s not like previous bad years, when we were getting first exciting looks at September call-ups.  Nothing ever happens that gives me an excuse to experience the very mild pleasure of September-wait-till-next-year dreaming.

There are no pleasures.  There is only limbo.  A grey hazy blank present in which one cannot see a horizon.  The Marlins sweep us, challenging for the division title, after smashing our dreams like a piece of china for two consecutive seasons.  It happens.  We can’t and don’t stop it.  This is our hour of lead.

And then, yesterday, after the usual drill of blowing the lead, settling into the quartz contentment of far behind, we come back and win it in Philly.  We beat the Phillies in their own home park, to everyone’s astonishment, even ours.  It doesn’t feel spectacular, because we were so numb we weren’t even hoping for it.  But it happened, as David Wright suddenly knew exactly where the baseball was and where it had to be struck.  I knew in a flash, when the ball left the pitcher’s hand, that he was going to hit the second one.  But I could never prove it.  It wasn’t a hope. I wasn’t hoping. But I knew it.  I suddenly remembered what it was like to win a game with a home run, driven with assurance by David Wright into the left field stands. I felt emotion.   But I am still trying to figure out what my emotion was.

*****

Check out my just-published book:  The Last Days of Shea:  Delight and Despair in the Life of a Mets Fan and please come meet me at the last Amazin’ Tuesday, 7 pm on September 15 at Two Books Tavern, 384 Grand St. on the Lower East Side, hosted by Greg Prince and Jon Springer, with guest readers Jeff Pearlman and John Coppinger.  And if any of you are night owls, I’ll be on the Joey Reynolds Show on the morning (1 am to 5 am, not sure when) of September 16.  I’m also the featured guest on New York Baseball Digest on September 17 from 6 to 7.

Why Is This Season a Disaster?

Monday, September 7th, 2009

disaster by you.

The biggest question about the 2009 season is why is this season being perceived as a disaster and not a misfortune?

It is a misfortune, isn’t it? No team in my memory has ever been hit as badly by injuries as this one. If it weren’t for the injuries, we’d at least be contending for the Wild Card, wouldn’t we? If the team was as healthy as it was last year, and if the performance level of the players was roughly the same, the addition of Frankie Rodriguez would be enough to push our win total up into the 90s, wouldn’t it?

Well, maybe.

There are those that say that a good major league organization has enough depth that it can compensate for injuries, even a rash of injuries as catastrophic as this one. To these people I say that if fewer players were injured, and we had gotten the fill-in performances we’ve gotten from Angel Pagan, Gary Sheffield, Livan Hernandez, Cory Sullivan, Alex Cora, and Omir Santos, we would have been quite happy with each of them. We are unhappy with the Met’s depth not because the Mets weren’t deep enough, but because nothing can make a whole team of worthy subs look as good as a real team. We may not have as many first-rate almost ready young players as we should, but that’s not why this particular season has been a disaster.

This season has been a disaster because in the midst of our catastrophic misfortune, we lost our faith. Having lost our faith, we were unwilling to cut the team any slack. We don’t feel badly for the Mets. We are unhappy with them. An enormous core of us remains loyal to the franchise. But we are in a moment of crisis, because we are floundering in our efforts to imagine what we are remaining loyal to. For the moment, we are unsure about what the Mets are. Things will not be right again until the Mets address this problem with intelligence and imagination, and not just with good baseball sense. We need to see signs that the Mets have enough intelligence, imagination, and good baseball sense to pull us through this difficult moment. This is where we can help them. We will not help them by being blandly and blindly supportive. We will also not help them by jumping the gun and making assumptions we don’t have enough evidence to make. We must make our voices heard. We must give them a chance and we must help them restore our faith in them.

Part of our loss of faith has to do with the straightforward issue of having a roster of players capable of getting to the playoffs. I continue to have faith that the vaunted core (Wright, Reyes, Beltran) is sound. I know that many are beginning to doubt that Reyes is all we thought he was, but I think it is more accurate to look at Reyes as a Strawberry-type player: a first-rate major leaguer who may or may not acquire, in his youth, the maturity to achieve his historic potential. Even if some doubts have crept in, I think most Mets fans still have faith in this core. Where most of us have lost faith is in the guys who were supposed to be our rotation. Pelfrey’s slump, Maine’s fragility, and Ollie’s many mysteries have left us with a starting rotation of Johan Santana and four players to be named later. No one can win a pennant with this. Of course, we could win over 100 games if Pelfrey, Maine, and Perez could ever pitch all together as each of them at certain points have pitched. But this is nothing to count on. As everybody knows, to even have a dream of contention, the Mets will have to purchase a bat who can replace Delgado’s and a starting pitcher who is not mainly imaginary.

Another loss of faith has been at the level of manager and general manager. Jerry Manuel, with his wit and intelligence, won us over last year by doing more with the team than Willie Randolph was able to do. The sloppiness of the Mets’ play this year, however, has made us wonder if he was, last year, simply the lucky beneficiary of the remarkable runs of Pelfrey and Delgado. Omar squandered years of good will, for no purpose, in the most embarrassing news conference I have ever seen anyone give. While there aren’t enough reasons, I think, for anyone to blame this season’s misfortunes on Manuel or Minaya, there simply aren’t enough Mets fans who feel that either of them needs to stay. We’ve lost faith in them. And the ownership must therefore know that getting rid of them would be a relatively easy (and inexpensive) way of making it look as if they are addressing the team’s problems.

I think it is fair to say, as a fact, not as a judgement, that the fans have lost faith in the baseball skills and capacities of the ownership and higher levels of management. I have been, over the years, a supporter and an admirer of the Wilpons as the owners of the Mets. I have never considered them cheap, I have never wanted owners like George Steinbrenner, and I have felt that they have made the right moves in three separate periods (the 80s, the late ‘90s, and the mid ‘00s) to bring the team back from the dead (I can’t determine to what degree they could be blamed for the team having died in the first place). But many, many, probably most fans have lost faith in the Wilpons. They must restore our faith or they must sell the team. Right now, fans doubt that the Wilpons have the money necessary to provide what the Mets need to compete with the Phillies next year. All economies are being interpreted as signs that the Wilpons are broke because of the Madoff swindle. I myself doubt that they are broke and I believe that the Mets are capable of paying for themselves if enough is invested in them. I am not making any judgements about the Wilpon’s solvency until I see what they actually do in the offseason. If they are broke, I beg them to sell the team. If they are not, I ask them to put their money on the table.

This brings me to what I consider to be a crucially important yet somewhat intangible reason for the widespread loss of faith in the Mets. I believe that the transition to Citi Field has prompted an identity crisis that needs to be addressed as much as the problems created by the weakness and uncertainty of the current roster. I think that a crucial, reason why Mets fans are so unwilling to cut the team, management, or ownership any slack is that there is a widespread unhappiness with the experience of the new stadium.

Even those of us who stubbornly adored Shea were looking forward to the new stadium. It has not been worth the wait. We were promised that we would be closer to the field and that we would have better sightlines. For those of us who are unwilling to pay more than double to see a game at Citi Field than we paid to see a game at Shea, the sightlines are worse and we are further from the field. We were promised a stadium that was a beautiful piece of architecture. The architecture is beautiful. We got to see how beautiful it was last year as it was being built. Once you put up immense and particularly unattractive ads everywhere you possibly can, however, the stadium’s beauty is lost. Shea, at least, had its sublimity. You saw the stadium and you saw the neon sculptures as you approached. Your spirit was lifted. When I approach Citi Field from any direction, I cannot avoid a disappointing sense that it looks like crap, that it is a little lovely stadium buried under a pile of ugly billboards. My spirit isn’t lifted. I am kind of embarrassed.

The worst thing about Citi Field, and the most trying for the faith of a longtime fan, are the many opportunities it affords for being excluded and even humiliated. It seems, at points, as if every few feet you run into people whose job is to tell you that you cannot freely walk past them. I find it humiliating to not be able to go to the vast, virtually empty area behind the dugouts to watch the players up close in batting practice the way I did for more than four decades at Shea. I hate having to plead to no avail with the men in the green jackets, just doing their job, to just get in there and take a picture or two. I hate the fact that all of the stadium below the Promenade Level and behind the infield (hey, that’s where I always used to sit at Shea! In an affordable seat with a great view of the field!) is turned over to luxury boxes and clubs for the rich. I hate seeing the emptiness of the best seats in the house, waiting there for the crowds of people, who never materialized, who were projected to be both rich enough and dumb enough to spend more than $200 for a ticket to see a baseball game. Citi Field leaves a bad taste in my mouth and the superior food from the Shake Shack and Blue Smoke and Catch of the Day is not enough to get it out.

Citi Field must also leave a bad taste in the mouths of the many middle-class people who paid more than they wanted to pay for a season ticket and who justified the expenditure to themselves by thinking that they would be able to resell the tickets they would not use. They can’t resell their tickets. They must take a big loss, in this economy. They cannot be happy. And those of us who look ahead to the period when the Mets will be good again, and season tickets holders will be able to sell their seats on the secondary market, are not happy with the stadium’s unforgivably tiny capacity. 

Add to this that most Mets fans are still unhappy with the fact that in the three or so years they had to plan and design the new stadium, the Mets organization did not figure out how to present the place as the home of a proud and storied team that had been in existence since 1962. They did not anticipate the attachment that millions had to the heritage and history of that team even though their profits were dependent on the actual existence of those millions. They seem to have thought that the money would come as long as there was “good product” on the field. They did not understand the magnitude of what they were entrusted with. They did not understand the scope and scale of their responsibility. They didn’t even get a few display cases together. They didn’t even take the trouble to set up the Mets’ measly Hall of Fame. And they do not yet deserve any credit for having belatedly stuck up a few pictures without captions that appear to be nothing more than Nikon ads. I will resist the tendency I have to go on and on about my astonishment at this degree of obtuseness. But I will say that for a very significant number of Mets fans, this insensitivity has generated a great deal of bad will. In combination with the high ticket prices and the disappointments of the stadium and the season, it is a contributing factor to the fact that many Mets fans have lost their faith in the team.

The Wilpons can salvage much of this situation by looking us in the eye and listening to our voices. They can invest in another powerful hitter and another reliable pitcher. They can make Citi Field feel more like the home of the Mets. They can make it into a repository of our proud traditions, a place people can be fond of, a place where old timers can teach kids about what they have inherited. They can make the stadium more fan-friendly and less exclusive. They can stop telling us over and over how fan-friendly and wonderful they think it is.  They can let us back into the area behind the dugouts for batting practice. They can let us into the club areas with a reservation. When somebody says that it would be nice to see an Old-Timer’s Day again, or a Banner Day, they can have somebody thoughtful and interested saying, “well, let’s look into that, fans might enjoy it.” The face and style of this franchise need to change. The organization should not behave like a bunch of corporate board members. They should behave like passionate fans, anxious to serve a loyal public.

Right now, Mets fans are unhappy because they don’t know who the Mets are. They don’t like what they see. They don’t recognize anything. Yet they are sticking with the team because they have no place else to go. Let the rebuilding of the Mets begin. Let’s get out of the woods and find our way back home. There is a lot of work to do. And the work that needs to be done is a lot more complicated than signing a few checks.

*******

Check out my just-published book:  The Last Days of Shea:  Delight and Despair in the Life of a Mets Fan