Friday, December 12, 2008

Cultivating An Image

Why are Yankee fans so upset with the idea that they "buy" championships? I understand the media (some of it, the honest portion anyway) has a running commentary on how the Yankees often overspend for their talent while their less scrupulous counterparts write purple-prosed odes to Jeter's intangibles as the real reasons the Yankees win.

Now that the team has donated nearly one quarter of a billion (with a "b") dollars towards two players who are only going to play at most for 40% of the season a year after nickel-and-diming Wang last offseason, well, can words really do justice?

And let's look at their investments:

C.C. Sabathia:

8 seasons, 117-73, 3.66 ERA (121 ERA+), a Cy Young and a 2.66 K/BB ratio. And he's only 28.

Of course, he's also nearly 300 pounds, has a thrown over 500+ innings the last two years, and in the postseason has a 1-3 record, a 7.92 ERA, a 2.200 WHIP, and his K/BB ratio is 1.09. If they're expecting the ace that shoved the Brewers into the playoffs and then gave up five runs in less than four innings once they got there, well, let's just say the AL East is not the NL Central.

Plus, he's got the option of bailing on the contract in three years if he's healthy and overperforming. If he's neither, then he gets to collect those checks for four more years.

Good luck with that one.

A.J. Burnett:

The good: He led the AL in K's last year pitching in a very tough division.

The bad: Two letters: D.L.

If he's healthy, with the run support he's going to get, a 20 win season is not only possible but likely. If he isn't, at $82.5 million over five years, he might be the sequel to Carl Pavano.

All in all, it's been a big week for the New York teams, as the Mets signed K-Rod to a surprisingly reasonable 3 year/$37 million deal. Considering the ink dedicated to the nonsense "saves" record he broke, I thought he would be the one to get the absurd contract, but I think he'll fit in well with the Mets because of the change of location and leagues. And getting Putz as a setup show that Minaya clearly knows the problem is trying to fix it.

Joe Gordon played for the Yankees during the 40s. He was probably the best 2B in the American League at the time. He died before I was born. He's just now been given his much deserved plaque in Cooperstown.

Why the time-lapse? Karma?

Maybe, aside from the obvious taint of playing in pinstripes, Gordon won the 1942 AL MVP award over Ted Williams, who not only won the triple crown but also led the league in runs, slugging, OBA, and walks. Gorden led the league in grounding into double plays and strikeouts! Good for a pitcher maybe but not for someone playing at the top of the diamond. Had he refused the award the way Hugo Wieslander did the 1912 decathalon gold maybe - who am I kidding? He was a Yankee. He probably thought he deserved it.

Speaking of MVPs and second baseman...Dustin Pedroia gives the Sox their first since Mo Vaughn, which is to the award what Marisa Tomei is the Oscars, only the baseball urban myth is true. Granted, there should have been at least two (by my math) since, but who is counting?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Rob Neyer: Wrong!

All due respect to Mr. Neyer, Dustin deserved that MVP, and I'm going to show why using the same statistics Neyer himself uses to make his point.

1. OPS - Pedroia's average this season was .869, Mauer's was .864, playing in 11 fewer games.

2. More than BA - Yes, Mauer had fewer K's, but grounded into more DP. Yes, Pedroia had fewer walks, but his slugging average was 42 points higher. Mauer led the league in BA and SF, Pedroia led the league in runs, hits, and doubles.

3. Awards - Both won gold gloves, both won silver bats.

4. Neyer is one of Jim Rice's harshest critics when it comes to whether or not he belongs in Cooperstown. A point he hammers home is the difference between Rice's home/road numbers. He also insists Ron Santo deseres a plaque, despite some of his splits being worse than Rice's, but that's another story. (And for the record, I think they both belong in the Hall, for the record).

So, let's look at Pedrioa's road numbers (BA/OBA/SLG) and the difference with his home numbers: .309 (-35) / .359 (-34) / .468 (-51)

Now, Mauer's: .295 (-67) / .394 (-38) / .387 (-130)

Monday, November 17, 2008

If I Voted...

I'm certainly not one to insist that writers are foolish as a whole, but sometimes they do appear to get caught up not on a player's overall statistics, but on a single, shining number that they use to support their justification for giving awards to not quite as deserving players.

Though I won't say Timmy L. didn't consideration for the Cy Young, I will say he wasn't the best pitcher in the NL.

I say with as much certainty as possible given the limited access I have to their thought processes, but a consistent error leads me to a relatively easy conclusion.

Regarding the NL Cy Young voting, the top three finishers

3. Johan Santana 2.53 ERA, 234.3 IP, 206 K/63 BB, 1.148 WHIP
2. Brandon Webb 3.30 ERA, 226.7 IP, 183 K/65 BB, 1.196 WHIP
1. Tim Lincecum 2.62 ERA, 227.0 IP, 265 K/84 BB, 1.172 WHIP

Lest anyone think I've mixed up Webb and Santana, I didn't. Despite having a lower ERA and WHIP while throwing more innings, Santana actually finished behind Webb in the voting.

I bring this up because I think it explains why Santana didn't win the Cy Young.

Let's look at the pitcher's W-L records in relation to their teams:

3. Johan Santana 16-7, 0.696 W% (Team W% .549)
2. Brandon Webb 22-7, 0.759 W% (Team W% .506)
1. Tim Lincecum 18-5, 0.783 W% (Team W% .450)

So, not only did Lincecum win a greater percentage of his games, but he won at a rate much higher than the team he pitcher for.

Looking only at the above numbers, Santana appears to have taken advantage of his team's performance to pad his win total, as he won only 147% better than the Mets compared to Webb and Lincecum's 253% and 333% better than their teams.

I'm convinced that most writers did just that, as there is no other form of reasoning I can think of to explain why Webb received more points than Santana. Not only did both their teams not make the playoffs, but Webb's D-Backs were out before Santana's Mets, who hung on until being eliminated on the final day of the season.

Lincecum had more K's and wins, but Santana threw more innings with a better ERA and WHIP.

Santana threw 21 games in which he gave up 2 runs or fewer over at least 6.0 innings.
Lincecum threw 20 games in which he gave up 2 runs or fewer over at least 6.0 innings.

In 34 starts, the Mets were 22-12 with Santana on the hill.
In 34 starts, the Giants were 22-12 with Lincecum on the hill.

Santana went at least 6.0 innings in 31 of his starts.
Lincecum went at least 6.0 innings in 29 of his starts.

They were both terrific pitchers, but there is one breakdown that, in my opinion, seals it for Santana.

In games where he received either an L or ND, Santana had an ERA of 3.01 over 116.2 IP.
In games where he received either an L or ND, Lincecum had an ERA of 4.01 over 98.2 IP.

On the other hand, the writers clearly knew what they were doing in giving Albert Pujols the MVP.

I just hope the AL writers (who got it right in giving Cliff Lee the Cy Young) don't make a similarly stupid mistake and give the AL MVP to not-Pedroia.

We'll see tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

It's Sunny In Philadelphia

Congrats to the Phils, 2008 World Series Champions.

Let's see, this decade has seen the White Sox, Phils, and Red Sox (twice) overcome their sad pasts and win as many, collectively, in the last five years as they had in the previous fifty.

The Yankees remain stuck at 26.

Joe Queenan, Phils fan and poison penman, once noted that the odd site of a Yankees fan with a sign reading, "The Yankees Deserve A 27th Championship!"

I hope you didn't hurt yourself falling off you chair laughing.

I still hate the Yankees, and the Red Sox are no Yankees, and I'm happy to share the wealth.

That's why I'm voting for Obama.

PS - Let's not forget that Brian Ca$hmoney took Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle from the Phils for four players who have accounted for exactly 22 total innings of major league ball.

And the Phils are the ones flying a flag next year.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

World Series Trivia, Reposting Of The Season Awards, and Why I'm A Huge Phillies Fan (For The Next Week)

First off, congrats to the Rays, a great team that beat a very good one. The Sox looked down for the count in game 5, but forcing a Game 7 against a better team after being hampered by injuries during both the regular and post seasons is quite a feat.

Just to note: Only four Red Sox players played in over 120 games this season: Jason Varitek, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Kevin Youkilis. The Rays had eight.

The Rays main rotation started 153 games, the Sox starting five managed 134.

This is not to diminish the Rays accomplishment, but with all the talk about Yankee injuries and how that kept them from the postseason, people seem to have forgotten how banged up the Sox roster was this year.

And they still pushed the Rays to the limit.

So, in honor of the 100th Best-Of-Seven World Series, wrap your mind and search engines around these questions:

1) What was the first team to clean sweep (no ties) a World Series? Hint: It wasn't the Red Sox.

2) What was the first team to win back-to-back World Series titles?

3) What was the first team to win a Game 7 (in a best-of-seven series)?

4) What makes the 1969 Mets trophy unique?

5) 13 times an AL team has swept the fall classic. The Yankees have done it eight times. What was the first non-Yankee AL team to do so?

But, now that the season is over for everyone but Philadelphians and Tampa Bay residents, it's time to hand out the awards:

AL MVP - First off, the AL MVP favorite among the reasonably intelligent is Boston's own sawed-off 2B, Dustin "The Destroya" Pedroia. He's most likely going to get the silver with his .325 average, but he's going to lead the league in runs, hits, and doubles. After Manny Ramirez was traded, Pedroia hit .374/.425/.635 in the month of August, with 33 runs and 20 RBI in 26 games. Despite being 5'9", he actually hit clean-up for five games, slugging 1.222 with 7 RBI. Throw in his defense up the middle and the myriad of injuries that the Sox suffered this season and it's hard to argue. Granted, it's been a slow year for the MVP in the AL, with the big candidates underperforming on non-contenders or being hampered by injuries, and you could make a case that Kevin Youkilis has been a better offensive player. But it terms of value to a team, few players have made greater contributions than Pedroia.

1. Dustin Pedroia
2. Justin Morneau
3. Josh Hamilton

Note: Had Carlos Quentin not broken his wrist with his bat, the White Sox win the division walking away and he's porbably the MVP.

The NL is much easier: Albert Pujols. I hope Manny gets the votes he deserves: zero. Any value he's contributed to the Dodgers is negated by what he took away in Boston.

1. Albert Pujols
2. Albert Pujols
3. David Wright

AL Cy Young goes to Cliff Lee. Hallady has been great as usual, and is probably the best AL pitcher of the decade, but Lee just edges him this season. Hallady has thrown more innings, but he's also played with a better defense behind him and allowed over twice as many unearned runs as Lee.

1. Cliff Lee
2. Roy Halladay
3. Jon Lester

The NL is a bit trickier, but I'd throw my vote for Johan Santana, and here's why: Tim Lincecum has had a great year, but he's also played in the weakest division in baseball. He threw 74 of his 227 innings (33%) against the Padres and Diamondbacks, teams that rate 15th/13th in BA, 16th/8th in OBA, and 14th/8th in SLG, respectively, in the National League. Against the Rockies, the team with the best offensive stats in the division, he's got a 4.28 ERA over 37 innings. Santana, on the other hand, while not playing in a division that much stronger, has put up terrific numbers against the Mets chief rivals: the Phillies (2.97 over 36.1 innings) and Marlins (1.96 over 23 innings). Santana has a lower ERA over more innings, and while he has fewer strikeouts, Nolan Ryan had more K's than Tom Seaver. Were it not for Johan, the Mets wouldn't have been upset on the last day of the season because they'd have been out of the race long before this week rolled around. He threw more innings, had a better ERA, he deserves his third Cy Young.

1. Johan Santana
2. Tim Lincecum
3. Cole Hamels

AL Fireman should go to the Twins' Joe Nathan, though K-Rod might get it because of his saves, which is a mirage of a record if there ever was one. Brad Lidge is probably going to get it in the NL, and he deserves it.

Rookies: Evan Longoria in the AL and Geovany Soto in the NL.

For true baseball fans, the season's still not over, and I am temporarily a diehand Phanatic.

Why? Because, the Phils had fans, I don't know, last year maybe?

Hell, I know for a fact they had fans in April.

The Rays? They have people who pay to watch the team score "points." The type who think home plate is "fourth base." The kind who still have the tag on their B.J. Upton jersey and who, before August, thought Evan Longoria was Eva's sister.

Phils fans have had a long-suffering history, full of bitter disapointments and blowing sure-fire chances at success. They've endured Mitch Williams in 1993, the collpase of 1964, the underachieving late-70s squads, and living with the fact that they used to boo Mike Schmidt. They are kinsmen in the woeful franchise club, foul-mouthed, drunk, angry men young and old striving to be redeemed from the sins of their fathers and grandfathers.

Terry Francona used to be the Phillies manager.

Charlie Manuel's mother just passed away, what type of insensative, deliberate Buchanan-voting frontrunner can't get behind that?

The kind who live in Florida.

Bill Cosby is a Phillies fan. Joe Queenan is a Phillies fan. Gerald Early is a Phillies fan. Dwight Schrute, I'm sure, is a Phillies fan and you just know Charlie Kelly is.

And for this week, I am a Phillies fan.

Also, who doesn't want to see a team that just gave Cory Lidle and Bobby Abreu to the Yankees win it all two years later? Great job Cashmoney!

Go Sox, in '09.

But until then, go Phils.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Happy Yankee Elimination Day!!! (My Tongue Is In My Cheek)

Unlike Christmas, it doesn't just seem like it comes earlier every year.

9/23/08, 9:56 EST, the Red Sox beat the Indians (and Cliff Lee!) to officially put the nail through that uncharming concrete box in the Bronx.

But I must give the devil his due, as the organization handled the last game with a touch of class not usually seen from the team with 26 championships. That's right, the Yankees have 26 championships. It's not a well known fact, but it's true. 26. When I went to the Stadium last May I had to ask an usher how many they'd won because I had no idea nor were there any signs informing me that the Yankees won 26 championships. Twenty-six. None this century, but who's counting, right?

Yogi Berra's always a cutup and dispensed some wonderful, Zen-like wisdom. Even my grandfather, who hated the Yankees when they had Babe Ruth, always spoke fondly of the other number 8.

Also, they were smart enough not to invite Roger Clemens. What did you spend that silver on, Rog? Oh, right, it was in the Mitchell Report.

But, it must be said that I'm a sucker for history, and I'm glad I was able to see Yankee Stadium and Shea before the call of wrecking ball, so in tribute to the dying structure, I'll revisit the top ten moments in the history of Yankee Stadium and five from Shea (half as old, half as many).

Yankee Stadium

10. May 5th, 2000: Martinez v. Clemens

A classic pitcher's duel, with Pedro and Roger matching zeroes for eight straight innings until Nixon unknots the tie in the ninth with a two-run blast. Pedro finishes his shutout. Roger would become more famous later that season for throwing more than baseballs.

9. October 2nd, 1963 : The Jewish Kid Fans 15

After watching his performance in game one of the World Series, Casey Stengel is said to have declared, "Nevermind Walter Johnson, that Jewish kid is the best I've ever seen." Or something like it. The start of what would be one of only two World Series in which the Yankees could not win a game. Yankee fans later boo Roger Maris, as was the style of the time.

8. August 31, 2004: Tribe Wins By Three TDs

Some say this Yankee team didn't have heart. They were right, and come October we found out just how much.

7. October 10th, 1980 : Faster Going Out

Rich Gossage tries to blow one by Royal's 3B George Brett and ends up getting whiplash watching the ball sail into the stands. Brett's homer gives the Royals a 4-2 lead they would not relinquish and brings Kansas City's AL club their first pennant. After winning back-to-back titles in '77 and '78, the Yankees were beginning what was to become their longest drought (17 years) without any of those 26 championships. Yes, twenty-six.

6. August 4th, 1985 : Terrific Indeed

The greatest New York pitcher since Mathewson threw for McGraw's Giants wins number 300 in the Bronx with the White Sox. Overflowing with Mets fans, Stadium-related violence drops remarkably, only to rise again the next day. Remains the only game in Yankee Stadium history in which none of the crowd was charged with assault and battery.

5. October 9th, 1960: Wait 'Til Pittsburgh

The overmatched Pirates show the Yankees that heart and determination are more valuable than greenies. Vern Law and Roy Face hold the Yankees to two runs (after scoring 26 in the previous two games), setting up the magnificent game seven in Steel Town with Maz's famous home run. Mickey Mantle cries on the plane back to the Apple because he didn't want to live in a world where the Yankees only had 18 World Series Championships. That's right, 18.

4. October 3rd, 1956: Everything's Perfect

Don Larson throws the only perfect game in World Series history. In an unrelated matter, umpire Babe Pinelli is later declared legally blind.

3. October 25th, 2003: Beckett Turns Summer To Fall

Josh Beckett, probably only 13 or so at the time, throws shutout to end the Series as the Yankees let slip that elusive 27th World Series Championship. Free agent deluxe Jason Giambi drives in only one run the entire Series and later apologizes for something, but couldn't say what. I say it was his performance here.

2. October 19th, 2004: ALCS Game 6

Down three games to none, the Red Sox, riding the back of the all natural David Ortiz, win two in Fenway and force the LCS back to the Bronx. There, Curt Schilling, pitching with a bloody red sock, stymies the Yankee batters for seven innings before Arroyo and Foulke close it out, with some help from A-Rod. A little known fact about this game is that Rodriguez later complained to the umpires about "entrapment," insisting that previous violations of the rules by the Yankees went unpunished in the postseason (e.g., 1996 ALCS game 1, 1999 ALCS game 4) leading him to believe he would also go unpunished for similar offenses. Thankfully, his complaints fell on deaf ears.

1. October 20th, 2004: ALCS Game 7

Baseball's first reverse sweep. Ever.

William A. Shea Municipal Stadium

5. October 17th, 1999: Grand Slam Single

Robin Ventura's titular blast forces the LCS back to Atlanta, where the Mets might have had a reverse sweep of their own had Kenny Rogers not pitched with such clean hands.

4. October 10th, 1973: You Gotta Believe!

Tom Terrific and Tug pitch the Mets past the Big Red Machine and into their first fall classic since the Miracle of '69.

3. August 20th, 1985: Doc

Twenty-year-old ace Dwight Gooden strikes out 16 Giants en route to his Triple Crown sophomore campaign. My mother doesn't follow baseball with the dedication that my father and brother do, but ask her and she'll be able to tell you why they called him Doc.

2. October 27th, 1986: A Mets' Town

Game 7, as one of the great teams in baseball history brings a second title to Queens. Game 6? I don't know what you're talking about.

1. October 16th, 1969: Talent, Not A Miracle

After eight years in the cellar, the Mets climb out and stun the powerhouse Baltimore Orioles.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Four Hours In Phili, All At The Ballpark

When it comes to the Phillies, there are two ways to look at it:

1) As Tom Petty reminded us, even the losers get lucky sometimes, and no team has ended more games with that moniker than the City of Brotherly Love's beloved baseball team. Over one hundred years and just five pennants to show for it. The Yankees have won that many in the last ten years. Or...

2) But there it flies. 1980, the Phillies beat a better Royals team and finally bring a diamond championship to Philadelphia. While some writers have referred to this as a bit of a false spring, as the team hasn't won any since, they've certainly been more competitive since, winning pennants in 1983 and 1993. Since '79, only the Cardinals and Braves have won more, and the Braves have as many championships to show for it. And at least they don't have the honor of being the worst team to ever not lose a World Series, which would be the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals.

No, I don't like the Cardinals, and you will hear more about that next week. But first, let me tell you how I ended up passing through Phili for a game.

My father has brain damage. Not severe enough to warrant constant supervision, but he has no depth perception, suffers from periodic, intense headaches, and cannot fly on airplanes. He technically can, but should the cabin depressurize (they are called accidents because they're unplanned) then he could die. As a result, he always travels by train or car. Andre Dubus wrote that flying is not true traveling, it is merely a change of location. My father, a New Englander like Dubus later became, seems to appreciate the gradual alterations in landscape that accompany an earthbound journey. Much like the cadence of seasonal changes that is an alien concept this far West, but which he always speaks of fondly. In Los Angeles county, there is no hot or cold. Days are merely warmer or cooler than the day before.

So when my uncle got a nice deal on a house in Cape Cod for a week, he was kind enough to invite my family (myself, mother, father, brother, sis-in-law) along. Because of this, my parents had to drive. Because my father would be spending the summer in Connecticut with his family, I went to help my mother on the trip back. Because my cousin Casey (my uncle's son) has a writer's appreciation for leisurely travel, he came on the trip to the Cape, after which he would catch a plane to Spain. The travel agent misunderstood his requests to fly out of "New York" and instead booked a flight out of "Newark."

That's another story entirely. Suffice it to say that for years I've heard and seen endless jokes made at the expense of the Garden State. I now fully understand and encourage said jokes.

My mother's friend Gina lives in Virginia-near-D.C with her boyfriend and her children, so we stopped by for a visit on our way up the coast. A pleasant, short stay, and I discovered that evening that the Phillies would be playing the Mets the next afternoon. This would allow us the opportunity to catch a game and still get to Connecticut that evening.
My cousin had decided he would spend game time with a friend he knew in the area, allowing us to purchase only three tickets. However, a basic misunderstanding of geography and fear of taking public transportation left him alone in the parking lot of Citizen's Bank Ballpark. As a result, we were forced to scalp a ticket outside, which I happily accepted. I'd have to sit by myself but the seat was much closer to the field. It had started to drizzle as we parked, so we quickly made our way inside.

An entrepreneurial fellow was standing in the parking lot selling t-shirts that featured a young man urinating on Terrell Owens, which had his name printed underneath his visage lest the uninformed not know who was the intended object of ridicule. My cousin, who doens't follow football, asked who T.O. was, and I explained that he used to play for the Eagles. He then asked why they had a picture of him on a T-shirt with-I explained that he had left the team on bad terms. He then inquired further as to why they were selling football related shirts at a baseball game. I told him to ask my mom, who had the year before gone to the City of Brotherly Love on a business trip. She explained to him how...attached Philidelphians are to the Eagles.

While I'd heard terrible, terrible things about the Vet, actually, horror stories is probably the correct term, the Cit was a refreshing amalgam of the old-fashioned ballpark mode with modern amenities and spacing, akin to Oriole Park at Camden Yards and (I've been told) PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
Steve "Lefty" Carlton

Also, the Phillies appear, like the other NL team across the state, to pay proper homage to the team's finest. I was not able, alas, to get a picture of the Mike Schmidt statue, which was on the other side of the Park and we wanted to beat the traffic. Ah well, now I have an excuse to go back, as I've never eaten New York pizza or a Phili cheese steak. Plus they now have a Robin Roberts statue.

Richie Ashburn, "The Nebraska Comet"

I was walking, quickly, to my section I heard a groaning coming from the field. I'd glimpsed the score on the stroll through Ashburn Alley and imagined the Mets had scored again when I turned the corner to go into my seat only to find myself facing everyone in the area scrambling to get out of the rain that was now pouring onto the field.

The thoughtful gentleman at the front of the line kindly turned me around and shoved me back through the passageway, where I saw the occupants of the other areas spilling out and crowding the concourse. Being at the front of the line allowed me to make a beeline for the nearest concession stand so I could grab a dog and a coke.

That task accomplished and with time to kill and rain to avoid, I wandered around the area, signing up for a credit card and getting a Phillies shirt (It was that or a towel), buying a copy of the DVD set of the 1980 championship team, which featured a pair of documentaries as well as the complete broadcast of game 5 of the NLCS vs. the Astros and game 6 of the World Series against the Royals. Also, a postcard for a near-Phili native at the office. So I have my tray with the food, the DVDs and the shirt when I hear a high vibrating wail, sounding similar to air-raid sirens in the movies. I looked to my left, and there he was, the Phili Phanatic, riding through the concourse on an ATV and blaring the siren attached to the handlebars as the people cleared a path for him.

Wow. A sighting of the Phanatic, one of the holy trinity of baseball mascots, along with Mr. Met and the San Diego Chicken.

The camera was in my pocket, and as I fumbled to get it out without spilling anything from my tray in the packed walkway and turn it on and then just as I got it ready he was round the corner.

D'oh! I was lucky to get this shot of him atop the dugout, trying to in vain to rally the Phillies to a comeback.

Eventually the crowd began meandering back to their seats, so I followed. Luckily, I grabbed a large handful of napkins at the condiments table, a trait inherited from my father, who reminded me when I was young it was better to have too many napkins than not enough. I was able to use most of them to wipe off my seat, now coated with water from the summer shower. I sat down and immediately snapped the above picture.

The seat was terrific, here's a better picture, taken after the clouds had rolled away.

I nice afternoon at the yard, and a welcome break after spending three days on the road. The Mets won, 5-4, as Wagner got the save to a chorus of boos, which were loud but not quite as angry as I expected. I imagine that might have been because of the prominant number of New Yorkers (or maybe Mets fans who live in Philadelphia?) in the crowd.
I've seen the Mets six times in my life (twice in Los Angeles, twice in Phoenix, once here and another at Shea) and they've never lost. Coincidence?

On the trip back home, after Newark, we stopped at Busch Stadium and saw the Cardinals, a team that, as a Red Sox fan and Cubs sympathizer, are the National League version of the Yankees.

Speaking of which, remember the "Got Rings?" t-shirt sad Yankee fans wear? Well, St. Louis has their own version, laughing at the Cubs and their lack of success. I think this tells you all you need to know about Cardinal fans.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Ballad Of A Sad Fan

"Something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mr Jones?"
-Bob Dylan,

Greetings! I'm back from my whirlwind trip through the Midwest, going from the minor metropolis of Chicago to the barren beauty of Montana and the Dakotas. I'm just thankful, very thankful, that I didn't visit during the winter. I've been told it gets a little chilly.

But, more importantly, I'm now over the halfway point, having visited 16 of the 30 standing ballparks. Of course, next year I'll be back down to 14 when they tear down Yankee Stadium and Shea, but that just gives me an excuse to go back to New York. I still haven't been to the Museum of Modern Art or the Brooklyn Botanical Garden or, shame of shames, eaten a slice of pizza in the Big Apple. My first visit to New York, I ate at TGI Friday's in Times Square (there is something of an excuse for this, but it's a long story and it's too late to type). Not the most cultured of people but I'm getting there.

But, back to the ballparks. I didn't get to see the Red Sox win (they lost to the White Sox, as Buerhle threw a gem while Lester had some bad breaks) but I did get to see the next best thing: a Yankee loss.

Yes, the Yankees, the pinstriped pretenders, fell further into the cellar (did you know that J.R.R. Tolkien, a philologist of note aside from writing The Lord Of The Rings, said that the most beautiful phrase in English is "cellar door." That has nothing to do with baseball but I thought I'd mention it), being shutout by Glen Perkins and Joe Nathan. I was mildly disappointed that Perkins didn't get the chance to finish his shutout, but was pleasantly surprised by the turkey sandwich I bought behind section 132, which was excellent. Not just ballpark excellent, but excellent, period. Vendors sell food outside the Dome before the game, and patrons gather in front to eat, drink and be merry. Because the Twins were playing the Yankees, there was the usual collection of displaced New Yorkers and eager front-runners who don't know what a borough is, let alone which one houses Yankee Stadium. The kind who comment on how the Yankees won because they scored more "points" than the other team. You know the type. Here's a picture of one:

Note the "Got Rings?" t-shirt. Now, for those who don't know, this was a rather pathetic attempt at damage control after the disaster that was the 2004 ALCS. Translated, it reads "Sure, the Yankees choked away a three game lead in the postseason, something that had never happened in the one hundred year history of the playoffs. That they did it against their arch rival and lost the last two games at home only makes it worse. But, the Yankees have won 26 titles in those 100 years, twenty of which I wasn't even alive for, so, yeah."

I don't recall the exact wording, but that's basically it, with the little addendum, "It won't be 86 years before our next one!"

I was tempted, really tempted, to ask him if he was aware that 1) the Red Sox now had seven rings, so if you're going to bring that up you should at least have the right number and 2) it wasn't 86 years between the sixth and seventh? I was dissuaded from doing this by my sense of kindness and sympathy for such a poor, misinformed soul.

Plus, he was bigger than me.

But all seriousness aside, that the Yankee fans have resorted to such near-pathetic means of ripping into the Red Sox shows we've obviously gotten under their skin. I wonder if anyone is making a new edition of the shirt with seven rings? I hope not, that really would be pathetic.

To their credit, I didn't see any of those "Welcome To New York Johnny [Damon]" shirts, which promises on the back "Where titles come more often than every 86 years."

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Briefly, From Chicago

I'd been housesitting, and now I'm on vacation, in Chicago, where I'll be seeing the Cubs play the Pirates in approximately four hours.  Pics, hopefully, to come.  Also of my father's recent trip to Shea Stadium.  I didn't go, true, but he had the mental composure to not leave his disposable camera on the train.  We'll have to see, however, how they develop.

I'm here for Lollapalooza, which was at Grant Park, where it was hot and humid, overcrowded but surprisingly not overpriced (relatively speaking), and the sound system was shot to hell during the Black Keys' set.

Also, whoever thought Cat Power the ideal performer to play in a parking lot at four in the afternoon needs to actually listen to the records.  Honestly, surrounded by similarly sweating and smelly people who'd been there probably since noon and have drank way too much beer already is not my ideal concert going experience for music so austere.  You just can't mosh to "Lived In Bars."

The Raconteurs, on the other hand, were the perfect band to perform as the sun sunk into the skyline.  There first album wasn't what I hoped, though "Steady, As She Goes" is a great single, but they really got it together for Consolers Of The Lonely.  Anyone who wishes they made records like they used to ought to check it out.

A regional supergroup, White is easily the brightest star, and sucked every ounce of anticipation from the crowd.  Taking center stage, he played with his back to the audience until his vocal part came, at which point he turned around and unleashed that hellhound wail of his. You could feel the tension break across the crowd like an electric current.  It might read contrived and cliched, I was there and it was anything but.  Hell of a show.

Cubs on Sunday, White Sox on Friday, maybe Grahm's first baseball game, Red v. White.  We'll have to see how he behaves on game day.  If the schedule holds, it'll be Lester vs. Buehrle, a pair of 6-2 lefties.  I'll hopefully write some more about the matchup, but today, it's off to the cozy confines.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Like A Virus

The handsome young gentleman in the above picture is my nephew, Grahm. We call him Grahmy.

My brother has decided to allow the majority of the important child-rearing decisions to my sister-in-law. Except one. An extremely important one. Grahm will carry on the tradition of following the Boston Red Sox, like his father, and his father's father, and even his father's father's father, the son of Lithuanian immigrants who passed away in December knowing the family name would be four generations entrenched in America and that the flag would fly over Fenway. He was born with the Red Sox as champions (1915) and died the same way.

He was old enough to remember a Red Sox team before Ted Williams. He saw Teddy Ballgame and Yaz and Jim Rice. He didn't think much of Manny, though. He didn't like players who didn't hustle.

His favorite player on the current squad was Kevin Youkilis, based on reports (I don't know how true) that he's part Lithuanian and also his nose to grindstone playing style.

Grandpa had polio, and his left leg was noticably thinner than his right. He made up for this by working out his upper body, eventually becoming a lifeguard and teaching CPR to enlisted Navy personnel during WWII. His leg had prohibited him from enlisting, so he served in whatever way he could.

He worked as a master tool and die maker, taking only three sick days in a forty-six year career. He worked as a bartender at the local Lithuanian social club, though he never drank himself. He loved raspberries. As in soda, cookies, sherbert, straight out of the carton. Didn't matter.

Oh, and he loved Grahm and the Red Sox.

Here he is with my father (left), my brother (right) and Grahm.

Grahm had a long day, though Grandpa didn't mind. I heard him whispering to Grahm, "You won't remember me, but I'll never forget you." We showed him the hat from the first picture, which caused him to chuckle and offer, "Yup, you gotta start early."

My father stayed behind and watched the rest of the LCS with him, and he kept singing the praises of Youk, pointing his finger, firm and crooked with age, at the TV and repeating, "That's how you play the game."

He died two months later, at ease with the cycles of this world, gently waiting for what lay ahead. But no matter the company or conversation, my father said he'd always shift it back to Grahm. He had other great-grandchildren, but Grahmy was going to carry on the family name.

His love of the Red Sox, however, is up to us.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Fenway Park (6/21/06)

"Hope deferred maketh the heart sick:
but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life"

-Proverbs 13:12

Remember where you were on October 21st, 2004?

I do.

The day after the Red Sox completed The Reverse Sweep, I was in a Barnes & Noble in Phoenix.

I was meeting with someone to talk about housesitting, and he'd been held up at work, leaving me with about an hour to kill. There weren't any good used bookstores in the area, so I went to B&N to browse and kill some time. Because it was raining, I was wearing my Red Sox hoodie, which I'd purchased in Boston the previous June on my way to Ireland and, living in Arizona, didn't have much opportunity to wear it during the summer.

I was paying for my magazine when the clerk commented about my choice of clothing,
"I see you're wearing that tonight."

"Of course. It's really coming down out there."

She laughed politely and responded, "No, the Red Sox. After last night."

I assured her that I had been following the Red Sox since I was knee high to a grasshopper. My little league bat, which I still have, was a Pudge Fisk model, and explained that my father was from Connecticut and despite growing up in Dodger country, was unabashedly and unrepentantly a followed of the Old Towne Team. Then she told me that her nephew had signed with the team and was playing in one of their farm clubs.

She couldn't be any more specific than saying it was in Florida. I asked his name and she told me, "Jon Lester. No 'H.'"

I thanked her for my change and made a mental note to look that up, which I did when I got to a computer.

Jon Lester: 20 years old, from Tacoma, WA, no college attended, played rookie ball the previous two seasons, left-handed, pitching for Sarosota. Hmmm. I'd never paid much attention to the Sox minor league teams any deeper than AAA, so I thought this a good opportunity to follow a player through the bushes and see where he ended up. I'd read in Bill James' Abstract that southpaws tended to develop slower than righties, so it could be four or five years before he hit the majors.

So I stuck his name in the back of my mind, Tim Wakefield was pitching game one.

My family and I were on vacation in Cape Cod in June of 2006 and we weren't getting this close to Fenway without taking in a game. Looking over the schedule, I saw the Sox were playing the Nationals. Not exactly a huge draw, so maybe we'd catch a break on the price.

While they're weren't as high as the seats for the next week's Met series, including the return of Pedro Martinez, they weren't cheap either. Still, it was Fenway and these were the Red Sox.

The starting pitchers for the series were: Kyle Synder (ehhhhh), Tim Wakefield (seen him twice), and Jon Lester.

Jon Lester?

I'd been following as well as I could from 2700 miles away his progress through the minors and watched as he'd won his first major league game in Atlanta a few days before, so the choice was simple: We were going to see Jon Lester pitch.

Here's how he did:

A fine showing, especially for a 22-year-old lefty who hadn't quite ironed out his control issues. Granted, it was the Nationals, but with the exception of Ryan Zimmerman, who'd gone hitless, every starting National had struck out. Not to mention that the game itself was a lot of fun. Sox won, 9 - 3, and I got to see my first ever Fenway grand slam, as Big Papi smacked one off the camera shade in center (see below), after which my brother, who was watching the game from work, called me and responded to my "Hello" with "You asshole!"

Ha ha ha.

But we did buy him a Jonathan Papelbon jersey-shirt (a fireman for our fireman, get it?) and got this picture of him hanging out in the bullpen during the game:

My sister-in-law, a baseball agnostic whose upbringing included two Cubs fan grandparents and a mother who prefers the White Sox, also noted that Jon Lester was "cute."

Granted, not the way I'd try to introduce someone to baseball but hey, you gotta start somewhere.

For those who don't know, Lester was diagnosed with Anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a treatable form of cancer, in August of the 2006 season. As the Sox fell from contention that September, a fall that included a disastorous five-game sweep in Fenway at the hands of the Yankees, the season ended softly, fading into the Pats' attempt to get back to the Super Bowl. Lester's diagnosis, after losing my grandmother to cancer the year before, but baseball on the backburner, and I felt worse about Lester's condition than the fact that the Yankees won the division again. I settled into the end of September thinking, "Wait til next year." When my brother told me that December that he and his fiance were expecting, well, I had something extra to look forward to.

Nearly two years later, Lester has beaten cancer and changed his number. Oh, and he won the deciding game of the World Series, threw a no-hitter, and on Thursday pitched a shut-out in Yankee stadium. There was talk over the off-season of trading Lester plus some other prospects to the Twins for Johan Santana. Rumors are that John Farrell, the Sox pitching coach, was in the winter meetings, pounding the table and insisting that they didn't want to trade Lester away. NoMass, a Sox-hating, Met-disliking site that can be funny on occasion, made this comment about the rumors, writing that they wouldn't "trade Phil Hughes straight up for that combination of players [Lester, Crisp, Masterson, Lowrie]."

Though they're rather generous in their criticism of Brian Cashman, let's look out how that trade would have worked out had such a swap taken place, and let's just deal with the pitchers:

Lester: 7-3, 117.7 IP, 3.21 ERA, 1.309 WHIP, 76 K/41 BB, 1 No Hitter
Masterson: 4-2, 48 IP, 3.75 ERA, 1.250 WHIP, 37 K/26 BB


Phil Hughes: 0-4, 22 IP, 9.00 ERA, 2.136 WHIP, 13 K/13 BB

Granted, the season isn't over yet, and I'm willing to bet that Hughes' career is far from done, but it isn't a stretch to say Lester and Masterson are surprising quite a few people with their numbers this year. Hughes is as well, though not in the same way.

My brother drafted Jon Lester in the fantasy baseball league we're in. As he works sometimes 48 hours straight, I told him I'd give him a hand as he might not have access to a computer on account of his job. While I am in second-to-last place, I would like to note he drafted Tim Lincecum on my advice.

He also drafted Lester, a move I advised him against, as I reminded him his stamina might be an issue, and as lefty's are traditional wild to begin with, he might need another year to fully recover from the cancer and treatment.

After some mediocre starts to begin the season, I was ready to remind him I told him so.

Now, he's reminding me that he's the one in first place.


Still, I couldn't be happier about losing, not the least because the league is purely about bragging rights.

And I can always brag that I saw Lester strike out ten Nationals in Fenway Park.

He's got no comeback for that one.

Also, this link is, I think, an appropriate one.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Miscellaneous, All Having To Do With Baseball

-Kudos to Dave, Mets Guy In Michigan, for being prompt is sending the pictured DVD set of the "essential" games in Shea stadium history. As I was away housesitting the week of the delivery (and even after) I wasn't able to get to them as quickly. They were, however, worth the wait.

For the uninitiated, those are:

Tom Seaver's Ten-inning victory over the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles gave the Miracle Mets a 3-1 advantage they wouldn't let slip as the brought New York it's first non-Yankee Series since the Bums finally won it all in '55.

Game 3 of the '86 NLCS, where Dykstra's walk-off gave a Mets a come from behind victory. Considering the collection of circumstances that postseason, with Mike Scott sandpaper split-finger awaiting for Game 7, the Mets may well have a dodged a bullet by winning the series in game six, a 16 inning marathon that, unfortunately, was in the Astrodome and not available for this set.

Game 6. I don't think any further commentary is needed. I forced my sis-in-law to watch the last half-inning as a means of demonstrating what we mean when we say it isn't over until it's over.

Game 5 of the NLCS vs. Atlanta. Though famous for the "grand slam single" that ended the game, it shouldn't be forgotten that this was a hell of a pitchers' duel, going fifteen innings and using as many arms in the process. This game was an important point in my history as a baseball fan as it was around this time I stopped blaming Mookie Wilson (and all things Met) for ruining my childhood. Really, the Braves and the Yankees in the Series? The only thing to root for was injuries. Lots of them.

September 21st, 2001. First game in New York after the 9/11 attacks.

May 19th, 2006: Push and pull interleague game against the other team from New York. David Wright's walk-off single against Rivera gives the game to the team from Queens, unknotting the 6-6 tie.

Some Mets, and baseball, fans may rightfully complain about the lack of games from the '73 "You Gotta Believe!" Mets or from Doc Goodin's truly amazing '85 season. But, that's what second volumes are all about. This collection does offer some terrific games from Flushing's finest. If that's what you want, you'll get it. Guaranteed.

-Let's give the devil his due.

Curt Schilling's career may be kaput, and while I'm not too worried about the Sox rotation with Lester coming along nicely and Materson showing himself to be a more than capable spot starter, it is for sad and fitting that his last game was in a World Series. Let's look at his postseason numbers:

133.1 IP 120 K 25 BB 2.23 ERA 0.978 WHIP 11 W 2 L

The phrase is money, and that's what he was during the postseason.

He called into Gambo & Ashe, the Valley's afternoon sports guys, on Monday and, when asked if he was a Hall of Famer, replied "No." Insisting that he played with Hall of Famers, like Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and Jeff Bagwell in Houston, and that he wasn't one of them.

All due respect to Schilling, Jayson Stark, the aforementioned devil, whose book I was none too pleased with (see previous post) offered a wonderfully succient assesment of Schilling's career, hitting both the cons (only 216 wins) and pros.

Here's a link:

Were his whole book like this, I'd endorse it almost as much as I do the Shea DVDs.

-Entertainment Weekly released a list of the 100 "Classic" movies from the last twenty-five years or so. The entire list isn't worth picking over, but there were two omissions I was shocked by. The first is Richard Linklater's Slacker, which pretty much jumpstarted the DIY indie film movement of the early/mid 90s. The second is truly shocking: Bull Durham. The best baseball, maybe even sports, movie ever isn't on the list? I can understand not including Major League or maybe Field Of Dreams, but no Bull Durham? That's like listing 100 classic albums and leaving off Raising Hell or Back In Black because some people don't like rap or heavy metal.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Jayson Stark - 'The Stark Truth'

Stark's writing is solid and smooth throughout, and his love of baseball is evident on every page. In a few of the examples, he does an excellent job of showing why certain players are overrated (Dave Winfield, Phil Rizzuto) while others receive less than the praise they deserve (Frank Robinson, Barry Larkin).

For Dave Winfield, he manages to tastefully break down his career numbers to show that despite the stats he accumulated throughout his career, he never had a monster season in which he dominated the league in major offensive categories the way players like Jim Rice or Joe Medwick, despite having lesser career numbers, were able to do.

Unfortunately, taking the title into consideration, he is too often given to stating his opinion rather than offering objective analysis. If you're going to use numbers, for crying out loud, use all the numbers available, not just the ones you deem important (read: prove his case). Less an examination of the factors that over and under rate the players, he cherry picks numbers and offers them as proof positive of their status for far too many of the other players, and in some glorious instances, assigns the overrated and underrated labels to players who are overpaid, had disappointing careers, or who had intangibles that helped their teams win, or not.If you want his opinion, and much of these ratings are that, you'll be happy with this book. For those looking for a more consistent, statistical breakdown of players, you'll have to look elsewhere.

I'll use two examples that, I think, illustrate what's wrong with his analysis.

Stark's logic when talking about every purple prosemen's favorite object of affection, Derek Jeter, is simple: he doesn't use any.Jeter is listed as the second most underrated shortstop in history, behind only Barry Larkin. An insult when you consider how truly underrated Larkin is. But let's get to Stark's arguments:His basic declaration is that "There are elements of greatness that numbers can't quantify." (138) While the rest of the book contains Stark using those "numbers" to do just that, Jeter, it seems, is a special case. He dismisses the Doe-Eyed Short Stop’s critics for pointing out things like zone rating and OPS to explain why Jeter isn't say, worth 20 million a year or deserving of his own cologne, gold gloves, and his own personal announcer on Fox to fawn over his intangibles. Those aren't important, declares Stark, because he lives for the Big Moment, and he has proof: Jeter has hit over .400 in eight postseason series!

Hmmm, does Derek show a sense of clutchness by hitting .455 in the 1999 ALDS, where the Yankees swept a Rangers team that scored exactly one run over the course of three games? OK, then what to make of the 2001 World Series, in which Cap'n Intangibles went 4 for 27 (that's a .148 average, which, if my math is right, is not over .400). Though in Mr. Stark's defense, I'm sure he will argue those were all clutch outs, because they forced his team to try all the harder.

But it gets even odder when one reads Stark's dismantling of the career of Steve Garvey. Garvey certainly was an overrated player in his day, but now? Who is calling for his admission into Cooperstown?

What has this to do with Derek Jeter? Well, after insisting that only Red Sox fans and computers don't appreciate Derek Jeter, he then, computer-like, breaks down Garvey's career to show he wasn't as great as people thought he was. Why, well, aside from not having a great OPS (like Jeter) in relation to the praise heaped on him, Garvey won gold gloves he didn't deserve (like, say, Derek Jeter?) and is overrated for his postseason accomplishments. Of course, Garvey, in a time before the Wild Card, played on five pennant winners, won two LCS MVPs, and has a better OPS in the postseason than Jeter (0.911 to 0.846).

While Garvey and Jeter have a lot in common, both as players and are well known for their tawdry personal lives, it should be noted Garvey’s teams never blew a three game lead in the postseason. Sad to say, Jeter cannot make the same claim.

Stark also claims that Craig Nettles is overrated. Why? Well, there appears to be group of Yankee fans that think he belongs in Cooperstown. Some Yankee fans will insist that Ron Guidry, Jim Lerytz, and even Don Larsen belong in the Hall, though they aren't on the list. Why is Nettles overrated? Well, he wasn't as good a fielder as Brooks Robinson, which we know because Brooksie had a better zone rating, though I remember Stark previously mentioning how sometimes "numbers" like zone rating can't quantify greatness. But that's not important. No, Nettles wasn't as good a fielder as Robinson, but he does lead the position in HRs by an American Leaguer (390). But, that number loses luster with examination.

His BA is a rather mediocre .248, and during his tenure with the Yankees, his BA/SLG/OPS were 30/90/100 points higher at home than on the road. So, Yankee Stadium inflated his numbers and made him appear to be a better hitter than he was. Fair enough.But then, in the underrated section on 3B, he proclaims Ron Santo as the most underrated third sacker of all time. Now, let's ignore the fact that I can't think of a major baseball writer who hasn't written an article on how much a travesty it is that "underrated" Ron Santo is still paying his way into Cooperstown and look at the numbers. Ron didn't play in Yankee Stadium, with its short, inviting right field porch. He did play in the cozy confines of Wrigley, and let's see how his home/away numbers stack up.

Believe it or not, they're actually worse than Nettle's. At Wrigley, Santo's BA/SLG/OPS was 39/116/157 points higher, respectively, than when he was on the road. Stark gives four reasons why he thinks Santo isn't in the Hall of Fame. Those huge splits and relative brevity of his career are not among them. In fact, he never even mentions the Santo's short career (just 12 full seasons) nor the HUGE gaps in numbers when he wasn't playing in the North End of the Windy City.For the record, I think Santo belongs in Cooperstown, though I think him a borderline-at-best case. Still, this selective application of stats brings the read down as Stark presents a view that completely ignores genuine arguments for the way they’re currently rated.

Stark, in his defense, does comment on the difficultly of defining the titular terms, but there has to be some consistency or the books becomes just a collection of player data, strung together haphazardly wi

Why are J.D. Drew and Barry Zito overrated because of their salaries if Jason Giambi or Chan Ho Park don’t warrant a similar spot? Why does Darryl Strawberry’s disappointing career make him the third most overrated right fielder in history, but Raul Mondesi or Jim Lefebvre (who won the ROY over Joe Morgan) don’t appear anywhere in the book? And since the title infers history, why are so many of the players from the last fifty years?

Stark’s book hinges on an undeniably intriguing idea, but it reads as if he didn’t put the effort into making the content live up to the title’s billing.

Caveat empor.

Friday, June 13, 2008

New York, I Love You But You're Freaking Me Out

Note: My thought processes sometime scatters like buckshot, and I left my disposable camera on the 6 train. D'oh! Thus, all visual memories of Shea remain irretrievably stored in my mind. As for Yankee Stadium, who cares? Rent Pride Of The Yankees if you want to see what it looks like.

Since 1964, the New York Metropolitans have called home one William A. Shea Municipal Stadium, a locale I've heard described as an "inaccessible, doleful mule trough." Really? I didn't think it was bad at all. The park, while clearly built in the style of the time, reminds me a bit of Chavez Ravine, a semi-traditional stadium that has a charm of its own, a degree of history you can't fashion with concrete and steel, with ghosts that haunt and harass. You think I'll ever forget what happened down the first base line? Granted, I didn't care for the ride out of Manhattan on the subway, next to some kid with purple hair, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids...

Actually, being from Los Angeles, where public transportation is as alien a concept as bad weather, I enjoyed riding on the subways around New York. If I may quote Chesterton, "Chaos is dull; because in chaos the train might indeed go anywhere, to Baker Street or to Baghdad. But man is a magician, and his whole magic is in this, that he does say Victoria, and lo! it is Victoria." Indeed. I stepped on the 6 train and lo and behold found myself in Queens.

But back to the ballpark. William A. Shea Municipal Stadium opened in 1964, with the Mets a two-year-old consolation prize for New Yorkers who lost their Giants and Dodgers to California. A slave to the tradition (or that's what I've been told), home plate was planted to face north-east, leaving the large centerfield opening to face into Queens rather than towards a more majestic view of the Manhattan skyline. The Mets do have a giant "Home Run" apple in the outfield that pops out after a Met hits one out. I have to admit, that is pretty cool. And lot less noisy than the fireworks at Comiskey* The apple will not be moving across the street as they're getting a new one. Thus tradition is formed.

Because this would most likely be our only trip to Shea, my brother and I wanted to do something special, so we got tickets to see the Mets play the Yankees. According to the ticket, the seats were worth about $32. According to Stubhub, they were worth $88. And those were the cheap ones! I'm reminded of St. Augustine's tale of the pirate confronting Alexander the Great, "You have a navy, and are an admiral. I have a boat and am a pirate." You stand in front of the stadium and sell tickets, you're a scalper. You sell them over the Internet, you're just a good capitalist.

But there is no price on memories, especially good ones, so I paid, unrepentantly, and went to the game. The Yankees scored in the top of the first, but Reyes, long before his sad September collapse, singled to start the bottom of the inning, promptly stole second, and moved to third on an infield single that hit Yankees' pitcher Darrell Rasner in the hand, knocking him out of the game. He then scored on a sac fly by Carlos Beltran. I'd seen Reyes on TV but it wasn't until I was in the stands that I saw how fast he is. Next up was David Wright, who hit what would be his first homer of the day. The Mets were ahead and never looked back, eventually winning 10 - 7. In the 3rd, Wright hit another home run, this one to deep center, completely leaving the stadium and bouncing into the construction site of the new field. I later found out that Mets announcer Howie Rose jokingly referred to it as the "first home run" hit in Citi Field. The Mets had an 8-3 lead at the top of the eighth, but the Yankees made a game of it, scoring four in the last two frames and having the tying run strike out to end the game.

Shea, as I mentioned, lacks the quirky qualities of a Fenway or Wrigley, but doesn't have the traditional feel of a Camden Yards. It sits, for now, alone with Dodger Stadium as a big, professional ballpark. It's the crowd that gives the Stadium its flavor. Though I have to admit, it could stand to add a few more restrooms.

But what surprised me most of all was the banter in the crowds. Though mainly Mets fans, Yankee fans had made the trip from around the Apple to see the game, and though some ribbing and name-calling was heard, it was surprisingly subdued, with none of the malice I was expecting from New Yorkers. At the time, the Mets were (so it seemed) safely in first place while the Yankees were 10 games behind the surging Red Sox, whom my brother and I had seen two nights prior beat the Tigers in what is called "the Hinske game." The moniker derives from Eric Hinske, a backup outfielder that making a spectacular, run-saving catch before hitting a two out, two run homer to give the Sox the lead. Our seats in the bleachers were such that we didn't actually see him make the play, but saw the replay on the screen behind us. We cheered though, when word spread through the stands that he'd caught the ball. Same with his home run.

The Mets game was on Saturday. Sunday was spent around the city. Monday, we had tickets to the Yankees/Red Sox at Yankee Stadium, which is accurately described as a "drab concrete box." First, though, we'd had to move from our Manhattan hotel to one in Queens, as we were leaving from La Guardia the next morning. We subwayed back to the city and spent the afternoon at a diner (I had an egg cream) and the Museum of Natural History (the dinosaurs, wow!) before going to the Stadium. I opted for neutral observer attire, wearing a brown coat and a Dr. Seuss tee that had "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish" written on it. I was hoping for colorful eccentric, hoping to blend with the crowd. My brother wore a white tee with a Pabst Blue Ribbon hoodie and a Red Sox cap. This was, it turns out, a big mistake.

There were three thousand ejections from the Stadium that night, a fact we later heard from our parents, who were watching the game on ESPN. My brother and I saw too many fights to remember, as the beer and fists were flying throughout our section the further we got into the game. I was keeping score in my notebook, and was reminded by the large gentleman sitting two rows down and one row over every time the Yankees scored that I should "put that in your !@#$% book." He also seemed to think my name was "cough sufferer," or some variation thereof.

It was during the top of the sixth that I found my right sleeve (our seats were on the end of the row) spattered with beer while the woman directly behind me was absolutely soaked. It was then, while the Red Sox were up, that a huge brawl began further up the tier, and the two teens began to cheer on the slugfest. A woman, late 40s/early 50s, told them to sit down so that she could watch the game.

"Suck on this lady." Was the reply, with the appropriate body language. When said lady began to chastise them, I could only think to myself of what our mother would do to us today if my brother and I offered a similar retort to such a reasonable request.

Before I could consider the ramifications, a woman stood up next to the youths and said, "Don't you talk to my sons that way!"

It was around this time that they stopped selling alcohol.

I've been to rivalry games before. Cards/Cubs in Wrigley, which is polite, passive-aggressive Midwestern frustration. Red Sox/Yankees at Fenway, with completely justifiable loathing of the visiting team. Dodgers/Angels at Dodger Stadium, with the mild commitment of Southern Californians, who know no matter the outcome, they're going to the beach when the game ends.

This, I was genuinely afraid of what the crowd would do when denied their one obvious pleasure with Yankees looking at first place ten games away before school was out. My brother and I decided that during the seventh inning stretch, we'd casually make our way to the exits, not only to escape the further potential for an "incident," but also spare us having to hear "Cotton-Eyed Joe." Of all the parks I've visited in my travels, we'd never left a game early no matter the score.

Start spreading the news, though, because we were getting the hell out of there.

*My sis-in-law's family is from the South Side. They all call U.S. Cellular Field "New Comisky." Thus, so shall I.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Single Step

Liam, nice to meet you.

I love baseball, I like to travel, thus an obsession was formed.

I've been to 14 of the standing ballparks currently in use.

Of course, next year it will be only 12, as the Yankees and Mets are moving. After that the Twins, and I haven't been to Oakland. But no matter, doors close and windows open. I liked New York, which I've been told is the greatest if you can get someone to pay the rent.

As an English major, I scribble by nature, and have a lot of cheap notebooks with my thoughts on the parks. I'm trying to fashion them into something whole, inspired by the (fast) growth of my nephew, who will be turning 1 this August.

Idle hands and all.

So, hopefully soon I'll be able to get some pictures and words up of my ballpark adventures.

And anything else I feel like commenting on.

Like LCD Soundsystem's 'The Sound Of Silver.' Which I still can't get enough of. Or his '45:33,' which my nephew seems to really like. Part of it anyway.

Or Cormac McCarthy, one of my favorite writers.

Or how hot it is in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area, where I reside. Or Los Angeles county, where I'm from.