Wednesday, April 23, 2014

How to Be a Met Fan In Philadelphia -- 2014 Edition

The Mets are going to Philadelphia next week, but only for 2 games, before moving on to the 1993 expansion teams, Denver and Miami.

Not that long ago, the Philadelphia Phillies played at Veterans Stadium, a concrete oval (officially, they called its shape an "octorad," which sounds like a made-up word), which seated 62,382 fans for baseball in its final years. Granted, about a third of these seats, 20,000 or so, were in the outfield and well back of the action. But with a few exceptions, during the regular season you could show up at the Vet’s ticket window at 7:00 at night, Monday through Saturday, or at 1:00 on a Sunday, and buy pretty much as many seats as you could afford.

It’s a different world at Citizens Bank Park, which opened in 2004. It’s not a multipurpose facility, it’s a baseball-specific stadium. Every seat has sufficient width, legroom and alignment to view a game in comfort. Behind you will be concession stands that are plentiful and varied, restrooms that are clean and not beset by noxious fumes, and no 2-inning-long lines at either. In front of you are informative and attractive scoreboards and a nice, natural-grass field, instead of the hideous lime-green carpet at the Vet.

(It was often called the worst in the NFL. I don’t know if it was the worst in baseball, though: Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium and Houston’s Astrodome had artificial fields that looked even worse to me.) Depending on where you sit, you might even get a good view of the skyline of Center City Philadelphia.

But because “The Bank” is a nice park, and also because the Phillies have been contenders pretty much since it opened, its seats go pretty quickly. So I’m beginning this guide by saying...

Before You Go. You should get your ticket(s) in advance. I’m not kidding about this: Although the Phillies aren't doing well lately, and scalpers are plentiful around the South Philly sports complex, for all 4 major sports, don’t even think of patronizing the scalpers while wearing opposing-team gear, especially if it’s the Mets. Or the Los Angeles Dodgers. Or the St. Louis Cardinals. (The Phils have unpleasant histories with those teams as well, although the one with the cross-State Pittsburgh Pirates seems to have fizzled out, as the Pirates have been crap since 1993.)

Philadelphia is just down the road, so it's in the Eastern Time Zone, and you don't have to worry about fiddling with various timepieces. And the weather will be almost identical to what you'd have on the same day in New York. Still, check the combined website for the Philadelphia newspapers, the Inquirer and the Daily News, before you head out. For the moment, it looks like, for next Tuesday and Wednesday, temperatures in Philly will be in the mid-60s in daylight, and the high 40s at night when the games will be played, so you should bring a jacket.

Tickets. Citizens Bank Park seats 43,651 fans. The Phillies averaged 37,190 last year, in a bad year. This year, with 9 home games under their belt, in chilly April weather, including some afternoon games while kids are in school, and off to a bad start, they're still averaging 29,076. So, yes, order your tickets ahead of time.

Infield 100 sections will be $80, Baseline 100s will be $60, Outfield 100s will be $43, Infield 200s and 300s will be $43, Outfield 200s will be $34, Outfield 300s will be $32, Infield 400s will be $34, and Outfield 400s will be $23. Get a “Power Ticket” for an additional $10, and you’ll receive a $10 credit toward food or merchandise.

Getting There. It’s 99 miles from Times Square in Manhattan to City Hall in Center City Philadelphia, and 111 miles from Citi Field to Citizens Bank Park. (Yes, they both have names of banks slapped on them, and the names are very similar. Don’t be confused, especially since Citi’s dominant logo color is blue and Citizens Bank’s is green, although the parks’ seats reverse those colors, green in Flushing and blue in South Philly.)

This is close enough that a typical Met fan could leave his house, drive to the Citi Field parking lot, meet up with friends, head down to CBP, watch a game, head back to Citi Field, pick up his car, and drive home, all within 10 hours. But it’s also close enough that you could spend an entire day in Philadelphia, and, hopefully, you’ve already done this. Having done so many times myself, I can tell you that it’s well worth it.

If you are driving, you’ll need to get on the New Jersey Turnpike. If you’re not “doing the city,” but just going to the game, take the Turnpike’s Exit 3 to NJ Route 168, which forms part of the Black Horse Pike, to Interstate 295. (The Black Horse Pike later becomes NJ Route 42, US Route 322 and US Route 40, going into Atlantic City. Not to be confused with the White Horse Pike, US Route 30, which also terminates in A.C.)

Take I-295 to Exit 26, which will get you onto Interstate 76 and the Walt Whitman Bridge into Philly. Signs for the ballpark will soon follow, and the park is at 11th Street and Pattison Avenue (though the mailing address is "1 Citizens Bank Way").

From anywhere in New York City, allow 2½ hours for the actual drive, though from North Jersey you might need only 2, and from Central Jersey an hour and a half might suffice. But you’ll need at least another half-hour to negotiate the last mile or so, including the parking lot itself.

If you don’t want to drive, there are other options, but the best one is the train. Philadelphia is too close to fly, just as flying from New York (from JFK, LaGuardia or Newark) to Boston, Baltimore and Washington, once you factor in fooling around with everything you gotta do at each airport, doesn’t really save you much time compared to driving, the bus or the train.

And I strongly recommend not taking the bus. If you do, once you see Philadelphia’s Greyhound terminal, at 10th & Filbert Streets in Center City, the nation’s 2nd-busiest behind New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal, you’ll say to yourself, “I never thought I’d say this to myself, but thank God for Port Authority!” The Philly terminal is a disgrace. I don’t know how many people are in Atlantic City on an average summer day, when both the beaches and the casinos are full (I'm guessing about half a million, or one-third the size of Philly), but it has a permanent population of 40,000 people, compared to the 1.6 million of Philadelphia, and it has a bus station of roughly equal size and far greater cleanliness than Philly’s.

If you do want to take Greyhound, it’s about 2 hours and 10 minutes each way, and $32 round-trip (as little as $12 on advance purchase!), and buses leave Port Authority just about every hour on the hour.

If you can afford Amtrak, and that will be $106 round-trip, it takes about an hour and a half to get from Penn Station in Midtown Manhattan to the 30th Street Station at 30th & Market Streets, just across the Schuylkill River from Center City. Unlike the dull post-1963 Penn Station, this building is an Art Deco masterpiece from 1933, and is the former corporate headquarters of the Pennsylvania Railroad. (Ironically, it never had the official name “Pennsylvania Station” or “Penn Station.”) You might recognize its interior from the Eddie Murphy film Trading Places. (If you can’t afford Amtrak, or if you can but you’d rather save money, I’ll get to what to do in a minute.)

From 30th Street Station, you can take a cab that will go down I-76, the Schuylkill Expressway, to I-95, the Delaware Expressway, to South Broad Street to the Sports Complex. I would advise against this, though: When I did this for a Yankees-Phillies Interleague game at the Vet in 1999, it was $15. It’s probably $25 now.

Instead, you’ll need to take the subway, which, like Philly’s commuter-rail and bus systems, is run by SEPTA, the SouthEastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. You might recognize their “S” logo from Trading Places, and the bus that hits Tommy Morrison at the end of Rocky V. You’ll have to exit 30th Street Station and cross 30th Street itself to get into the 30th St. station on the Market-Frankford Line.

Philadelphia and Toronto are the only 2 cities left on the North American continent, as far as I know, that still use tokens rather than farecards (or "MetroCards" as New York's MTA calls them) or tickets for their subways. One ride on a SEPTA subway train is $2.25, cheaper than New York's, but they don’t sell single tokens at booths. They come in packs of 2, 5 and 10, and these packs are damn hard to open. Two cost $3.60; five are $9.00, and a ten-pack costs $18.00. They are also available for bulk purchase.

From 30th Street, take the Market-Frankford Line to 15th Street (that's just one stop), where you’ll transfer to the Broad Street Line at City Hall Station. Being a Met fan, you’ll notice that the MFL’s standard color is blue, while the BSL’s is orange. Blue and orange. Don’t think that means they want to make Met fans feel at home, though.

From City Hall, if you’re lucky, you’ll get an express train that will make just 2 stops, Walnut-Locust and AT&T (formerly "Pattison" -- yes, they sold naming rights to one of their most important subway stations). But you’ll want to save your luck for the game itself, so don’t be too disappointed if you get a local, which will make 7 stops: Walnut-Locust, Lombard-South, Ellsworth-Federal, Tasker-Morris, Oregon, Snyder and AT&T. The local should take about 10 minutes, the express perhaps 7 minutes.

If you don’t want to take Amtrak, your other rail option is local. At Penn Station, you can buy a combined New Jersey Transit/SEPTA ticket to get to Center City Philadelphia. Take NJT’s Northeast Corridor Line out of Penn Station to the Trenton Transit Center. This station recently completed a renovation that has already turned it from an absolute hole (it was so bad, it made Philly’s bus station look like Grand Central) into a modern multimodal transport facility. At Trenton, transfer to the SEPTA R7 train that will terminate at Chestnut Hill East. Because there will be a lot more stops than there are on Amtrak (especially the SEPTA part), it will take 2 hours and 40 minutes, but you’ll spend $31 round-trip, about what you'd spend on a same-day purchase on Greyhound, and less than a third of what you’d be likely to spend on Amtrak.

And if you are riding NJT and SEPTA, you’ll still get to 30th Street Station, but you’ll need to bypass it and keep going to the next stop, Suburban Station at 17th Street & John F. Kennedy Blvd. (which is what Filbert Street is called west of Broad Street). Getting off there, a pedestrian concourse will lead you to the City Hall station on the Broad Street Line, and then just take that to Pattison.

The subway’s cars are fairly recent, and don’t rattle much, although they can be unpleasant on the way back from the game, especially if it’s a football game and they’re rammed with about 100 Eagles fans who’ve spent the game sweating and boozing and are still loaded for bear for anyone from outside the Delaware Valley. It’s highly unlikely anyone will give you anything more than a little bit of verbal on the subway ride into the Sports Complex, while they might give a little more gusto to the verbal on the ride back. But despite Philly sports fans’ reputation, this will not be the equivalent of the London Underground on a Saturday afternoon in the 1980s: They might tell you that your team sucks (even if your team is ahead of theirs in the standings), but that’s about the worst you’ll get.

Once In the City. Philadelphia is a Greek word meaning "brotherly love," a name given to it by its founder, William Penn, in 1683. So the city is nicknamed "The City of Brotherly Love." The actions and words of its sports fans suggest that this is ridculous. Giants coach Bill Parcells was once caught on an NFL Films production, during a game with the Eagles at the Vet, saying to Lawrence Taylor, "You know, Lawrence, they call this 'the City of Brotherly Love,' but it's really a banana republic." And Emmitt Smith, who played for that other team Eagles fans love to hate, the Dallas Cowboys, also questioned the name: "They don't got no love for no brothers."

On a map, it might look like Penn Square, surrounding City Hall, is the centerpoint, but this is just geographic, and only half-refers to addresses. Market Street is the difference between the north-south numbering on the numbered Streets. But the Delaware River is the start for the east-west streets, with Front Street taking the place of 1st Street. Broad Street, which intersects with Market at City Hall/Penn Square, takes the place of 14th Street.

In the Colonial and Revolutionary periods, Philadelphia was the largest city in America, before being overtaken by New York. As recently as 1970, it had about 2 million people. But "white flight" after the 1964 North Philadelphia riot led to the population dropping to just over 1.5 million in 2000. It has inched back upward since then. The metro area as a whole -- southeastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey and most of Delaware -- is about 7 million, making it the 6th-largest in the country, behind New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and Boston.

The sales tax is 6 percent in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (Massachusetts, Virginia and Kentucky are also "commowealths" in their official State names), 8 percent within the City of Philadelphia.

Going In. Coming out of the AT&T subway station, you’ll walk down Pattison Avenue, with a parking lot on the former site of Veterans Stadium to your left, and the site of the Spectrum, the 1967-1996 76ers & Flyers arena, to your right.

Further to your right is the successor to the Spectrum, the Wells Fargo Center. This building is 18 years old and is now under its 5th name. It was built on the site of John F. Kennedy Stadium, formerly Municipal Stadium, a 105,000-seat structure that hosted all kinds of events, from the Army-Navy Game to heavyweight title fights (Gene Tunney taking the title away from Jack Dempsey in 1926 and Rocky Marciano doing the same to Jersey Joe Walcott in 1952), from the occasional Eagles game that was too big for Shibe Park in the 1940s and ’50s to the U.S. half of Live Aid in 1985. And it hosted the Phils’ victory celebration in 1980, with its huge capacity coming in handy. By that point, it was crumbling, and it surprised no one when it was demolished to make way for the new arena.

Continuing on Pattison Avenue until 11th Street, Citizens Bank Park will be on your left, and the new home of the Eagles, Lincoln Financial Field (a.k.a. The Linc), will be on your right. CBP has 6 statues, 4 of them outside. A statue of old-time Athletics owner-manager Connie Mack that was first placed outside the stadium named for him, and later moved to the Vet, now stands outside the 3rd base stands. One of 1970s-80s Phillies slugger Mike Schmidt is outside the 3rd base gate. One of 1950s Phils ace Robin Roberts is outside the 1st base gate. And one of 1970s-80s Phils ace Steve Carlton is at the left field gate. I'll get to the two that are inside shortly.

Don’t be fooled by the map: Philadelphia International Airport is 4 miles from the Sports Complex, so you won’t get rattled by plane after plane after plane going overhead, like in Flushing Meadow.

Inside the park, concourses are wide and well-lit, a big departure from the Vet (as Citi Field’s are from Shea Stadium). Escalators are safe and nearly always work, as opposed to the Vet, which did not have escalators, only seemingly-endless ramps. Getting to your seat should be easy.

The park faces north, and buildings such as the Comcast Center (tallest building in Pennsylvania), One Liberty Place (tallest between New York and Chicago when it was completed in 1987), Two Liberty Place and City Hall (tallest in the world from 1901 to 1908) can be seen from seats behind home plate. The field, thankfully, is natural grass. Outfield distances are as follows: Left-field pole, 329; left-center, 374; deepest part of the park, left of dead center, 409; center, 401; right-center, 369; right-field pole, 330.

The longest home run at Shibe Park/Connie Mack Stadium isn't clear, as Jimmie Foxx (A's) and Dick Allen (Phillies) regularly launched drives over the double-decked bleachers in left field. Mickey Mantle also hit a couple of blasts over it, most notably in April 1953, a month in which he also crushed them out of the old parks in Washington (the alleged 565-footer) and St. Louis. Foxx and Lou Gehrig each hit a drive out to Shibe's distant center field corner, 447 feet away from home plate.

In spite of epic blasts by Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski (including hitting the replica of the Liberty Bell on the upper deck in 1972, leading to that area of seating being nicknamed the Bull Ring), the longest home run at the Vet was hit by Pittsburgh's Willie Stargell, in 1971, well over 500 feet, into the 600 Level. Which is only fair, because, while "Pops" had the longest homer at several stadiums, Luzinski had the longest at his home park, Three Rivers, in 1979. Ryan Howard, with a 505-foot blast in 2007, currently has the longest home run at Citizens Bank Park.

Food. From Old Original Bookbinder's (125 Walnut Street at 2nd, now closed) and Le Bec Fin (1523 Walnut at 16th) to the Reading Terminal Market (Philly's "South Street Seaport" at 51 N. 12th St at Filbert) to the South Philly cheesesteak giants Pat’s, Geno’s and Tony Luke’s, Philly is a great food city and don’t you ever forget it. The variety of food available at Citizens Bank Park is unbelievable. Little of it is healthy (no surprise there), but all of it is good.

Some of the best is at the outfield concourse known as Ashburn Alley, named for Richie "Whitey" Ashburn, the 1950s center fielder and longtime broadcaster (and original 1962 Met center fielder), whose statue is in the Alley beyond straightaway center field. In left field is Harry the K’s, a bar named for Ashburn’s former broadcast partner, the late Harry Kalas. A statue of Kalas, microphone in hand, is outside.

In right field is Bull’s BBQ, named for 1970s slugger Greg Luzinski, a takeoff on the Boog Powell concept at Baltimore’s Camden Yards, right down to the Bull himself often being there to pose for pictures with fans. And Luzinski’s stuff is better than Boog’s. Seriously: I've tried them both, and while Boog's is good, it's a little too spicy for my taste; as for Bull's, as my girl Rachael Ray would say, “Yum-O.”

Ashburn Alley also includes outlets of Tony Luke’s cheesesteaks, and another South Philly legend, Chickie’s & Pete’s. This is a seafood restaurant – or, should I say, “Dis is a fish joint” – famous for its “crab fries.” Turns out, it’s just French fries with Old Bay seasoning mix, not fries with crabmeat. They’re okay, nothing special; unlike Bull's BBQ (or Shake Shack), you shouldn't go out of your way to get some. Chickie’s & Pete’s has a restaurant near the Sports Complex at 1526 Packer Avenue; one on the Black Horse Pike in Egg Harbor near Atlantic City; one on the Wildwood Boardwalk; and one at Arm & Hammer Park, home of the Trenton Thunder, a Yankee farm team.

Team History Displays. Next to Ashburn’s statue is a display of every Phillie that has made the All-Star Team at each position -- as far as I know, this is a feature no other MLB team has at its park. Behind the Alley are their championship pennants: The 1980 and 2008 World Championships (red with white numbers); the 1915, 1950, 1983, 1993 and 2009 National League Pennants (blue with white numbers); and the 1976, 1977, 1978, 2007, 2010 and 2011 NL Eastern Division titles (white with blue numbers).

On the wall holding up these pennants are the Phils' retired numbers. In addition to the Number 42 retired for all of baseball for Jackie Robinson, they are: 1, Richie Ashburn; 14, 1960s pitcher Jim Bunning; 20, Mike Schmidt; 32, Steve Carlton; and 36, Robin Roberts. They also have "P" designations for pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander, who played before uniform numbers were worn, and for 1930s slugger Chuck Klein, who changed numbers so many times it wasn't worth retiring a single number for him.

Along the Alley is the Philadelphia Baseball Wall of Fame. The Phillies used to honor one ex-Phillie and one ex-Athletic every season, with the exception of 1983, which was the Phils’ 100th Anniversary season. That year, they polled the fans for their Centennial Team, and posted a plaque with the winners on it. When they left the Vet, the A’s plaques were taken to a museum dedicated to the memory of the A’s, while each year still sees the induction of a new Phils hero.

Despite Ashburn having played his last season with the expansion Mets, the honoree most Met fans will be interested in is Tug McGraw, Met reliever in the 1969 and 1973 World Series, and the man who closed out so many games for the Phils, including the clinching Game 6 of the 1980 World Series. But “Ya gotta believe” that no Met fan will be interested in seeing Juan Samuel’s plaque on this wall.

As yet, Lenny Dykstra, whom the Mets foolishly traded for Samuel in 1989, has not been honored. Since "Nails" is now a convicted felon, and is now in prison for up to 3 years, his induction is not likely to come anytime soon. But, just as some members of the '86 Mets have been honored in the Mets Hall of Fame, so, too, are some of the '93 "Macho Row" Phils honored.  The honorees are as follows:

From the 19th Century: Left fielder Ed Delahanty, right fielder Sam Thompson and center fielder Billy Hamilton.

From the early 20th Century: Right fielder Sherry Magee.

From the 1915 Pennant: Alexander and right fielder Clifford "Gavvy" Cravath.

From the 1920s, '30s and '40s: Klein and center fielder Cy Williams.

From the 1950 "Whiz Kids" Pennant: Roberts, Ashburn, left fielder Del Ennis, 2nd baseman Granville "Granny" Hamner, pitcher Curt Simmons, and 3rd baseman Willie "Puddin' Head" Jones.

From the 1964 near-miss: Bunning, pitcher Chris Short, 3rd/1st baseman Dick "Don't call me Richie!" Allen, right fielder Johnny Callison, 2nd baseman Tony Taylor, and broadcaster Ashburn.

From the 1980 World Champions: Carlton, Schmidt, Luzinski, McGraw, manager Dallas Green (who was also a pitcher on the '64 team), general manager Paul Owens, shortstop Larry Bowa, center fielder Garry Maddox, catcher Bob Boone, infielder John Vuckovich (later a longtime coach), and broadcasters Ashburn and Harry Kalas.

From the 1983 Pennant: Manager/GM Owens, Carlton, Schmidt, McGraw, Maddox, 2nd baseman Juan Samuel, and broadcasters Ashburn and Kalas.

From the 1993 Pennant: Catcher Darren Daulton, 1st baseman John Kruk, pitcher Curt Schilling, and broadcasters Ashburn and Kalas.

From the interregnum between the 1993 and 2008 Pennants: Catcher Mike Lieberthal and broadcaster Kalas.

Kalas, who died early the next season, is the only person yet honored from the 2008 title. Although he, like Kalas, has received the Baseball Hall of Fame's Ford Frick Award, Byrum "By" Saam has not been elected to the Philadelphia Baseball Wall of Fame. Bill Campbell, who also broadcast for the Phils, has received the broadcaster's award for the Basketball Hall of Fame.

On the other side of this wall is a history of the Phils’ former home fields: Recreation Park, 1883 to 1886; National League Park, 1887 to 1894 when it burned down; Baker Bowl, built on the site of National League Park in 1895 and abandoned in 1938; Shibe Park, built for the A’s in 1909, the Phils moved in during the 1938 season, renamed Connie Mack Stadium in 1952, the A’s left after 1954 and the Phils did so after 1970; and Veterans Stadium, 1971 to 2003.

Stuff. The Phillies love to sell team-themed merchandise, from DVDs (including team histories and a tribute to Ashburn) to books to caps to jerseys to autographed balls. They sell stuffed Phanatic dolls and children's books with the Phanatic as the protagonist, written by Phanatic portrayer Tom Burgoyne, who succeeded original Phanatic Dave Raymond (who wore the outfit from 1978 to 1993). There's even a takeoff on the "build-a-bear" theme, "Build Your Own Phanatic." I don't think I've ever seen so much team merchandise available per square foot at any stadium or arena I’ve ever visited.

As yet, there is no Essential Games of the Philadelphia Phillies or Essential Games of Veterans Stadium DVD. But there are some terrific books written about the Phillies -- some favorable, such as You Can't Lose 'Em All: The Year the Phillies Finally Won the World Series (Frank Fitzpatrick's book about the 1980 team); some not so favorable, such as The Fall of the 1977 Phillies: How a Baseball Team's Collapse Sank a City's Spirit (Mitchell Nathanson's Philly answer to The Bronx Is Burning).

During the Game. This is not Veterans Stadium. You can wear your Met gear at CBP without fear of drunken bums physically hassling you. And you don’t have to worry about them making fun of your less-traditional Met gear (such as orange caps or black jerseys). If they do, just remind them that the Phillies' uniforms haven’t always been classy red-pinstripe jobs.  (The 76ers have had some whacked-out togs as well, and don’t even get me started on the Flyers’ 1980s duds. Seriously, long pants for hockey?)

The Mets and Phillies have hardly ever both been good at the same time. This is a good thing, considering the proximity of the two cities. Giants vs. Eagles has been very nasty at times. (The one Eagles game I ever saw at the Vet was the 2001 season finale, when a furious Giant comeback fell just short and the Eagles won the NFC East. It was Christmas/New Year’s week, it was about zero degrees, and the only hot things were the coffee, the hot chocolate, and the tempers.) The Flyers have had hard rivalries with all 3 New York Tri-State Area hockey teams: In the 1970s and ‘80s, Rangers-Flyers was always good for a punch-up, either on the ice or in the stands, Garden or Spectrum; the Islanders beat the Flyers to win their first Stanley Cup in 1980 (do not mention the name of referee Leon Stickle to a Philadelphian), and fans of the Devils and Flyers have been going at it hammer and tongs pretty much since the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals. (I don’t think Ron Hextall has seen that 65-foot wobbler off the stick of Claude Lemieux yet.)

But the Mets and Phillies? I saw the matchup twice at the Vet, and on neither occasion did I see anybody get rough with anybody else. (And on neither occasion did the Mets win -- in fact, in both games they blew a lead.) Of the 5 seasons with the most combined wins for the Mets and Phils, 3 were 2006, ’07 and ’08. The top 2 were 1986, when the Mets won 108 and the Phils 86; and 1976, when the Phils won 101 and the Mets 86. To this day, 2008 is the only season in which both teams won as many as 88, and only 8 times in their 51 years of joint existence have both teams even finished above .500 – 4 of those, half, from 2005 to 2008. And 1986 and 2006 are the only seasons in which the Mets and Phils have finished 1st and 2nd, in that order; and 2007 and 2008 are the only times it was the other way around. While the Yankees and the Philadelphia Athletics had a real rivalry in the first half of the 20th Century, especially from 1927 to 1932, Mets vs. Phillies simply hasn't been of the same caliber.

So, unlike the hatred that exists between Philly fans and the New York Giants (football edition), the Dallas Cowboys, the Boston Celtics, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the New York-area hockey teams (but not between the 76ers and Knicks or Nets), Mets-Phils is still a recent thing in terms of a rivalry. As a result, while I can’t guarantee anything, you will probably be safe.

Except, maybe, from the Phillie Phanatic. He might come into your section and razz you a bit, but, since he’s supposed to be silent, it’ll be limited to gestures. Nothing obscene, of course, since he’s supposed to be there to entertain kids. But he might blow the kazoo streamer that serves as his “tongue” out of his nose and hit you with it. Usually, though, there’s an usher nearby in case the Phanatic makes a mistake and does it too hard. (This wouldn’t be unprecedented, though: For this and other reasons, he is the most-sued mascot in sports history.)

During the 7th inning stretch, after “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” is played, the Phanatic and two young lady ushers will jump up onto the roof of the Phils’ dugout and dance to some song or other. In the 1980s and early ‘90s, it was usually “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry. Now they mix the songs up, and it could be anything from the 1950s up to the present day. The Phanatic usually stays on the dugout roof for the entire bottom of the 7th, and gets back on in the top of the 9th (if the Phils are winning) or the bottom (if they're losing or tied).

If a Phillie hits a home run, the big white Liberty Bell replica over right-center field will light up, and sway from side to side as it “tolls,” complete with sound effects, while fireworks (something Philly knows a bit about) shoot off from the roof. This will also happen at the end of the game if the Phillies win. This bell replaces the one that used to hang from the outfield roof of the Vet, and before that from the Vet’s mezzanine until Luzinski hit it with a home run. (I wonder if it cracked on impact?)

An interesting feature is included in the out-of-town scoreboard: Minor-league games. A running score is kept of the Phils’ farm teams, some of which are not that far away: The Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs in Allentown, the Double-A Reading Phillies, and the Single-A Lakewood BlueClaws near the Jersey Shore. As far as I know, the Yankees and the Mets have never done this, despite each having, since 2001, a farm team actually in The City (the Staten Island Yankees and the Brooklyn Cyclones).

After the Game. Philadelphia is a city of 1.6 million people, so be aware that it's a big city, with all the difficulties of big cities as well as many of the perks of them. Especially at night, the risk of Phils fans getting rough increases, as they’ve had time to drink, but not by much. If it were an Eagles or Flyers game, you might have to worry, but probably not after a Phillies game. After all, just because they like to call CBP “the National League’s answer to Fenway Park” (it isn’t, Wrigley Field is), doesn’t mean that they’ll act like the drunken boors of Kenmore Square.

What you should do at the end of the game depends on what time it is and how you got there. Except for non-ESPN Sundays, the occasional Thursday afternoon “Businessperson’s Special,” and rain-forced day/night doubleheaders, all Phillies home games are night games.

If you took the train(s) down, you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting back onto the subway, and to Suburban Station, in time to catch the 10:45 PM SEPTA R7 back to Trenton, which will allow you to get the 12:10 AM NJ Transit train back to New York, arriving at Penn Station at 1:35 AM. If for whatever reason (extra innings, you stopped somewhere along the way, something else) you end up missing this train, there will be another an hour later, but that will be the last train of the night.

If you drove down, and you want to stop off for a late dinner and/or drinks (except, of course, for the designated driver), the nearby Holiday Inn at 9th Street & Packer Avenue has a bar that is co-owned by former Eagles quarterback, now ESPN pundit, Ron Jaworski. As I mentioned earlier, the original outlet of Chickie’s & Pete’s is at 15th & Packer. Right next to it is a celebrated joint, named, appropriately enough, Celebre Pizzeria.

(The legend is true: Richie Ashburn and his broadcast partners, Harry Kalas, Chris Wheeler and Andy Musser mentioned their great-tasting pizzas on the air so often that, since Phils broadcasts were then sponsored by a pizzeria chain, they couldn’t mention Celebre’s anymore. So, just as Ashburn’s New York counterpart, Phil Rizzuto, liked to mention birthdays and food, especially Italian food, on the air, “Whitey” rattled off a few birthday wishes, and said, “And I’d like to wish a Happy Birthday to the Celebre’s twins, Plain and Pepperoni! Say, Wheels, how old are Plain and Pepperoni?” And Wheeler said, “About 20 minutes, I hope!” Sure enough, 20 minutes later, the delivery was made.)

There is one place I know of in Philadelphia that caters to New York fans: The Tavern on Broad, at 200 S. Broad Street at Walnut, seems to be the headquarters of the local Giants fan club.

Sidelights. If you drove down, or you came by train early on Saturday and have the whole day to yourself before a 7:05 gametime, in addition to the other stadiums and arenas at the Sports Complex, there are lots of interesting locations for you to check out.  Remember that, although the city's centerpoint is technically Broad & Market Streets, where City Hall is, the numbering of north-south streets starts at the Delaware River, so that Broad takes the place of 14th Street.

* Deliverance Evangelistic Church. This was the site of Shibe Park, renamed Connie Mack Stadium in 1952. This is where the A's played from 1909 to 1954, the Phils from 1938 to 1970, and the Eagles from 1944 to 1957. The Frankford Yellow Jackets sometimes used it in the 1920s, winning the 1926 NFL Championship. The Eagles played and won the 1948 NFL Championship Game there, beating the Chicago Cardinals 7-0 in a snowstorm, and also won the NFL title in '49 (though the title game was played in Los Angeles against the Rams). The A's played World Series there in 1910, '11, '12, '13, '14, '29, '30 and '31, and the Phils (against the Yanks) in '50.

Be advised, though, that this is North Philly, and the church is easily the nicest building for several blocks around. Across the street is Dobbins Tech, a high school known for its great basketball program. (Remember the story of Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble? They went to Dobbins. So did Dawn Staley.) 21st Street & Lehigh Avenue. By subway, use the North Philadelphia station on the Broad Street Line, and walk 7 blocks west on Lehigh.

* Site of Baker Bowl. This was where the Phils played from 1887 to 1938, and the Eagles from 1933 to 1943 (though sometimes moving to Municipal Stadium, the one renamed for JFK). The Phils won one Pennant there, in 1915. Southwest corner of Broad Street and Lehigh Avenue, 8 blocks east of the Connie Mack Stadium site. Same subway stop as Shibe/Connie Mack. The A's original home, Columbia Park, is at 29th Street & Columbia Avenue, but I wouldn't recommend going there. If you're going to any of these, do it in daylight.

* The Palestra. Built in 1927, this is the arena aptly nicknamed the Cathedral of Basketball. It even has stained-glass windows. (I swear, I am not making that up.) The home gymnasium of the University of Pennsylvania (or just "Penn"), it also hosts some games of Philly's informal "Big 5" basketball programs when they play each other: Penn, Temple, La Salle, St. Joseph's and Villanova.

Penn, a member of the Ivy League, has one of the nicest college campuses anywhere, but do not be fooled by its Ivyness: In Philadelphia, even the Ivy Leaguers are tough. 235 South 33rd Street. Take the "Subway-Surface Line" trolley, either the Number 11, 13, 34 or 36, to the 33rd Street stop.

Philadelphia has hosted 2 NCAA Final Fours, both at the Spectrum, both won by Indiana: 1976 and 1981. 'Nova has made it 4 times: 1939, 1971, 1985 and 2009. La Salle made it in back-to-back years, 1954 and 1955. Temple made it in 1956 and 1958, although never under legendary coach John Chaney. St. Joe's made it in 1961, and just missed in 2004. Penn made it in 1979, under future Detroit Pistons coach Chuck Daly. Temple won the NIT in 1938, but the only Philly-based National Champions under the NCAA banner (which began in 1939) are La Salle in 1954 and 'Nova in 1985.

* Franklin Field, right next to the Palestra. The oldest continuously-used college football site, Penn has played here since 1895 (which is also when the Penn Relay Carnival, the nation's premier track-and-field event, began), and in the current stadium since 1922. That year, it supposedly hosted the first football game ever broadcast on radio (a claim the University of Pittsburgh disputes), and in 1939 it supposedly hosted the first football game ever televised (a claim New York’s Columbia University disputes). The amazing building in the west end zone is the University administration building.

The stadium is in surprisingly good shape (must be all those Penn/Wharton Business School grads donating), although the playing field has been artificial turf since 1969. The Eagles played here from 1958 to 1970, including their last NFL Championship, December 26, 1960, beating the Green Bay Packers in a thriller, 17-13. Half a century. Penn’s football team has been considerably more successful, having won 14 Ivy League titles since the league was formally founded in 1955. Same trolley stop as the Palestra.

* Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine. This was the site of the Philadelphia Civic Center, including the Convention Hall, where Franklin D. Roosevelt was nominated for President in 1936, and both Harry Truman and Thomas E. Dewey were nominated in 1948 – that year’s Republican Convention being the first televised convention. The Beatles played here on September 2, 1964. (They also played JFK Stadium on August 16, 1966, but did not play in Philly on their 1965 North American tour.) Pope John Paul II said Mass here, and the Philadelphia Warriors played here from 1952 to 1962, when they moved to San Francisco (and now the "Golden State Warriors" play in Oakland), and the 76ers from 1963 to 1967 when the Spectrum opened.

So many Philly area greats played here, in high school, college and the pros, but you need know one name -- pardon the pun -- above all others: Wilt Chamberlain. I saw a concert here in 1989, and the acoustics were phenomenal, with a horseshoe of seats and a stage at one end, much like Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City and the building once known as the Baltimore Civic Center.

Built in 1931, it was demolished in 2005 to make way for an addition to the University of Pennsylvania Hospital. 34th Street & Civic Center Boulevard. Same stop as the Palestra and Franklin Field, which are a block away.

* Spike's Trophies. When the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society closed its facility in the northern suburb of Hatboro, they moved their operations, and the plaques honoring A's greats that used to be on the concourse wall at the Vet, to this store near Northeast Philadelphia Airport. 2701 Grant Avenue at Ashton Road. Market-Frankford Line to Frankford Transportation Center, then transfer to Number 50 Bus.

Philadelphia is home to Independence National Historic Park, including Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. The Visitor's Center is at 6th & Market Streets: At this complex, there will be people there to advise you on what to do. 5th Street on the Market Street Line.

The President's House -- that's as formal a name as it had -- was where George Washington (1790-97) and John Adams (1797-1800) lived while Philadelphia was the national capital before Washington, D.C.. It was demolished in 1832. When digging to build the new Liberty Bell Center, the house's foundation was found, and somebody must've asked, "Why didn't anybody think of this before?" So, an exhibit has been set up, at 530 Market Street at 6th. The new Liberty Bell Center is between it and Independence Hall (Chestnut Street between 5th and 6th). Be advised that since 9/11 -- and since the movie National Treasure -- they're understandably a bit finicky about security there.

The oldest surviving Presidential residence (chosen specifically for the President, not counting homes like Mount Vernon or Monticello) is the Germantown White House, which still stands at 5442 Germantown Avenue. SEPTA R7 to Germantown, then 3 blocks down Armat Street and a left on Germantown Avenue. Definitely not safe at night.

Philadelphia's answer to the Museum of Natural History is the University of Pennsylvania Museum, at 33rd & South Streets, across from Franklin Field. (Same trolley stop.) Their answer to the Hayden Planetarium -- and a better one -- is the Franklin Institute, which is also the national memorial to Big Ben, the man who, more than any man made any city in the Western Hemisphere, made Philadelphia. 20th Street & Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Number 76 bus. 76, get it? The bus is nicknamed "The Ben FrankLine."

At the other end of the Parkway, at 25th and Spring Garden Streets, is Philly's answer to the Metropolitan, the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Rocky Balboa statue is here, and it doesn't cost anything except sweat to run up the steps.

Not surprising for a city of its size, Philadelphia has had a few TV shows set there, but not many actually filmed there. Boy Meets World was filmed entirely at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. Neither does It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia film in Philly -- and it is NOT always sunny there. Nor did Thirtysomething film there. Nor did Body of Proof. And, being a cartoon, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids didn't have to "film" anywhere. The 1960s flashback series American Dreams did some filming under the Market Street Elevated Line, but most of it was filmed in L.A. The films Philadelphia, The Philadelphia Story and The Philadelphia Experiment had a few Philly locations put in, but all filming was done in Southern California.

Probably the best-known film set in the city is Trading Places -- except a lot of it was filmed in and around New York! The New York Chamber of Commerce Building (65 Liberty Street) and the Seventh Regiment Armory (643 Park Avenue) stood in for the Heritage Club, and Mill Neck Manor for the Deaf on Long Island stood in for the Duke Brothers' estate. And, of course, the climactic scene was set at the New York Mercantile Exchange, at 4 World Trade Center, which was at destroyed in the 9/11 attacks. Locations in the film that were absolutely in Philly were: 30th Street Station; Duke & Duke, at Fidelity Bank at 135 S. Broad Street, 2 blocks south of City Hall; and Lewis Winthorpe's residence, with exterior shots at 2014 Delancey Place at 20th Street, near Rittenhouse Square, which is where Eddie Murphy pretended to be a blind, legless Vietnam veteran. (Private residence -- walk down there if you like, but leave the residents alone.)

*

So, to sum up, I would definitely recommend to any baseball fan, even a Met fan, that they take in a Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park. I think it's the best of the 1992-present "retro ballparks" -- even if the home fans aren't always nice.

I’d tell you to have fun, but, since you’re Met fans, facing Philly fans, I’ll say, instead, “Try not to get yourself or anybody else killed.”

Tanaka Dazzles Sox, Pujols Hits 500th Homer

Yankee Fans have been saying that Masahiro Tanaka has been the find of the season so far.

Red Sox fans have been saying that he hasn't faced a good team yet.

I guess he still hasn't. But he has faced the Red Sox.

He pitched into the 8th inning last night, the opening of a 3-game series at Fenway Park, and with the exception of 2 solo homers in the 4th inning -- one by David Ortiz, the big fat lying cheating bastard, and one by Mike Napoli -- he was dazzling. Dellin Betances went the rest of the way. Totals for Yankee pitching on the night: 9 innings, 3 runs, 9 hits, no walks, 9 strikeouts.

Again, Yankee pitching keeping the walk total low. I could get used to this.

And did the Yankees once again turn Fenway into a pinball machine? Indeed, they did. Only one home run was hit, by Carlos Beltran (in the 8th, his 5th), but it was one of 15 hits by the Bronx Bombers. Brian McCann had 3. Jacoby Ellsbury (booed like hell in his first game back in Boston, although the Sox put a nice tribute video on their board before the game), Derek Jeter (also booed like hell), Beltran, Ichiro Suzuki and Brian Roberts each got 2 hits. Alfonso Soriano and Mark Teixeira each got one. Jeter, Beltran and Ellsbury each had 2 RBIs.

The only Yankee starter who didn't get a hit was 3rd baseman Yangervis Solarte, going 0-for-5 with 3 strikeouts, but he made a nice play in the field.

Yankees 9, Red Sox 3. WP: Tanaka (3-0). No save. LP: Jon Lester (2-3).

With the win, the Yankees go to 12-8 on the season, leading the American League Eastern Division, a game ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays, 2 ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays, 2 1/2 ahead of the Baltimore Orioles, and 3 1/2 ahead of the Sox.

The Yankees' winning percentage is an even .600. If they continue at that pace, they'll win 97 games.

Currently, the best record in baseball belongs to the Milwaukee Brewers, 15-6, .714. The worst belongs to the Arizona Diamondbacks, 5-18, .217.

*

Playing for the Whatever They're Calling Themselves This Season Angels of Anaheim, Albert Pujols hit his 499th and 500th career home runs last night, at Nationals Park in Washington -- a rare historical moment for one of baseball's newest ballparks. The Angels beat the Nationals, 5-2.

Here's how the all-time home run list looks at the moment, with every player with at least 400. Players currently on an MLB team's active roster (not including A-Rod) are in bold. Players who are known to have been caught using performance-enhancing drugs are in italics. (Some of the others listed here may be suspected, but suspicion is not evidence, let alone proof.)

Barry Bonds 762
Hank Aaron 755
Babe Ruth 714
Willie Mays 660
Alex Rodriguez 654
Ken Griffey Jr. 630
Jim Thome 612
Sammy Sosa 609
Frank Robinson 586
Mark McGwire 583
Harmon Killebrew 573
Rafael Palmeiro 569
Reggie Jackson 563
Manny Ramirez 555
Mike Schmidt 548
Mickey Mantle 536
Jimmie Foxx 534
Ted Williams 521
Willie McCovey 521
Frank Thomas 521
Eddie Mathews 512
Ernie Banks 512
Mel Ott 511
Gary Sheffield 509
Eddie Murray 504
Albert Pujols 500
Lou Gehrig 493
Fred McGriff 493
Stan Musial 475
Willie Stargell 475
Carlos Delgado 473
Chipper Jones 468
Dave Winfield 465
Jose Canseco 462
Carl Yastrzemski 452
Jeff Bagwell 449
Vladimir Guerrero 449
Adam Dunn 443
Dave Kingman 442
Andre Dawson 438
Jason Giambi 438 (Yes, he's still playing)
David Ortiz 435
Paul Konerko 434
Juan Gonzalez 434
Andruw Jones 434
Cal Ripken 431
Mike Piazza 427 (Like I said, suspicion is not evidence)
Billy Williams 426
Darrell Evans 414
Alfonso Soriano 410
Duke Snider 407

500: 26, but no more than 20 did so honestly. 1 is active (2 if you count A-Rod).
400: 51, but no more than 41 did so honestly. 6 are active (7 if you count A-Rod).

We are supposed to presume that Pujols got to 500 without using PEDs. We are also supposed to forget that Ortiz got to 435 with them.

Monday, April 21, 2014

What Has Happened to Curtis Granderson?


As I type this, at around 7:30 PM on April 21, Curtis Granderson has just struck out for the Mets. Again. This time, against Tyler Lyons of the St. Louis Cardinals. (Tyler Lyons? There's another ballplayer whose name makes him sound like a soap opera character.)

Looks like that game-winning 14th-inning hit yesterday, against the Atlanta Braves, was just a blip.

It would be bad enough if his batting average were only .219, but that's his on-base percentage. His batting average is .125. His OPS+ is 30.

To give you an idea: For his career, those numbers are, respectively: .338, .259, and 115.

Can you imagine the social media storm in Pinstripedom if he was doing the same thing for the Yankees? Brian Cashman would get roasted.

He's not old: Last month, the Chicagoan outfielder turned 33. A 3-time All-Star, he should have 4 to 7 good seasons left.

This may be the hitting equivalent of "Steve Blass Disease." In 1970, '71 and '72, Steve Blass was a terrific pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, helping them reach the postseason all 3 times. This included pitching a complete-game victory in Game 7 of the 1971 World Series.

But in 1973, just 31 years old, he totally collapsed. Couldn't find the plate with a map. He played his last big-league game in April 1974, got sent down to the minor leagues, got released in spring training 1975, and never appeared in another professional game.

There was no clear explanation. He was examined by a doctor, and no injury was found. No illness was found, either. He wasn't drinking heavily. He wasn't using drugs. He wasn't going through a difficulty in his personal life: His marriage wasn't falling apart, he wasn't having an affair, he didn't have a sick child. He wasn't dealing with depression or any other psychological difficulty. True, teammate Roberto Clemente had been killed in a plane crash in the off-season, which saddened the entire Pirate organization, but no other Pirate player had such a downturn in his on-field performance. So the loss of a teammate and friend didn't explain it, either.

To this day, no one knows why Blass suddenly lost his mound control. Whatever it was, he was fine afterward: He went into business, made a little money, then joined the Pirates' broadcast team. He's become a beloved figure among Pirate fans. But no one, not even he, has a viable explanation for what happened. And today, when a player (especially a pitcher) suddenly loses the talent that got him to big-league stardom, it's called "Steve Blass Disease."

Curtis Granderson's OPS+'s for his 9 full seasons in the major leagues: 114, 98, 135, 124, 102, 108, 142, 115 and 97. Some variance, and he did drop 18 points between 2012 and '13, and 45 points between 2011 and '13. But he was hurt for most of '13, which explains that, and there was no reason to think he couldn't bounce back. He doesn't seem to be hurt now. Maybe there's an injury we don't know about yet.

His home run totals since 2006: 19, 23, 22, 30, 24, 41, 43, 7 -- again, the last total explained by his being injured most of 2013. No one expected him to top 40, or even 30, home runs hitting in pitching-friendly Citi Field, compared to being a lefthanded hitter aiming for the right-field short porch at Yankee Stadium II. Still, he has just 1 homer in the first 3 weeks of the season, a pace for 9, about half of what could be expected, one-third of what could be hoped for.

As I pointed out, Citi Field is a pitcher's park. But that doesn't explain why his offensive stats have gone down as much as they have.

The Mets signed the Grandy Man for 4 years, for a total of $60 million. The Mets were the only team willing to give him a guaranteed 4th season in a new contract, which would take him through 2017, when he would be 36 years old. Now, still 33, he's looking like every bit the Flushing free-agent bust that Mo Vaughn and Jason Bay were.

This past December 10, at baseball's winter meetings at Disney World, Granderson said, "A lot of the people I’ve met in New York have always said true New Yorkers are Mets fans. So I’m excited to get a chance to see them all out there."

Now, he didn't say, himself, "True New Yorkers are Mets fans." He used "weasel words": "A lot of the people I've met in New York have always said... " This is like when Fox News says, "Some people say that President Obama (is doing, or has done, something bad)."

Still, it wouldn't be hard for a Yankee Fan to say that his words, however he used them, are coming back to haunt him.

I've said many times that I don't believe in ghosts, curses or jinxes... except when it comes to sports. Maybe this is karma for the Grandy Man.

Who can take a baseball
miss it with a bat
see his stats go down
and reputation going splat?
The Grandy Man.
Whoa, the Grandy Man can.
The Grandy Man can
'cause he left the team we love
and now he is no good.

And true New Yorkers now think he stinks.

It doesn't seem fair. His backhanded swipe at the Yankees aside, he seems like a good guy. He was never a disciplinary problem as a Yankee. An occasional disappointment, yes; but a good guy, and frequently a good player, occasionally a very good player. And after he retires, I'll be happy to welcome him back on Old-Timers' Day, although he didn't win a Pennant in his 4 seasons in Pinstripes. (He did get to 2 ALCS, but he tended to disappear at the plate in the postseason.)

As I type this, shortly after 8:00, he's come to the plate again, and been hit by a pitch. That raises his on-base percentage for the 2014 season to .230, although is batting average remains .125.

*

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series begins: 1, tomorrow night, at 7:10 PM, at Fenway Park.

Days until the Red Bulls play again: 2, this Wednesday night, at 7:30 PM, home to the Houston Dynamo. (I omitted this game from my last countdown feature. It's possible it was rescheduled and I hadn't adjusted it.)

Days until Arsenal play again: 7, next Monday afternoon at 3:00 (8:00 PM, London time), home to North-East giants Newcastle United. Yesterday, they won 3-0 over East Yorkshire club Hull City, the same team that they will play in the FA Cup Final next month. Arsenal can still finish in 4th place in the Premier League, thus qualifying for the qualifying round of the 2014-15 UEFA Champions League; with Manchester City slipping up with yesterday draw to North-East club Sunderland, Arsenal have a shot at finishing 3rd, thus qualifying for the Champions League without needing the qualifying round.

Days until the FA Cup Final, Arsenal vs. Hull City, at the new Wembley Stadium in London: 26, on Saturday, May 17. Under 4 weeks.

Days until the U.S. national soccer team plays again: 36, on Tuesday, May 27, at 10:00 PM Eastern Time, against former Soviet "republic" Azerbaijan, in one of the last events that will be held at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Just 5 weeks. This will be the first of 3 warmup matches for the World Cup, also facing Turkey at Red Bull Arena and Nigeria in Jacksonville.

Days until the Red Bulls next play a "derby": 47, on Saturday, June 7, 7:30 PM, vs. the New England Revolution, at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.

Days until the 2014 World Cup in Brazil: 52, on Thursday, June 12. A little over 7 weeks.

Days until the Arsenal-Red Bulls match at Red Bull Arena: 96, on Saturday, July 26. A little over 3 months.

Days until the next North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham: Unknown. The next season's schedule, or "fixture list," usually comes out on the 2nd Friday in June. The new season usually begins on the 3rd Saturday in August, but derbies are rarely held that early in the season -- this season's September 1 match was unusually early. That opener will most likely be on August 16, which would be 117 days, but don't count on it being a derby.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 131, on Saturday, August 30, away to Washington State, at CenturyLink Field, home of the NFL Champion Seattle Seahawks. A little over 4 months.

Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: Unknown, as the schedule has yet to be released. Most likely, it will be on the 2nd Friday night in September. If so, that will be September 12, therefore 144 days.

Days until Rutgers makes its Big Ten Conference debut: 145 days, on Saturday, September 13, time to be determined, against old enemy Penn State.

Days until Derek Jeter's last regular-season game (barring injury): 160, on Sunday, September 28, against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. A little over 5 months.

Days until the Devils play again: Unknown, as the Devils did not make the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the 2014-15 NHL schedule hasn't been released yet. The most likely date is the first Friday in October, which would be October 3. That's 165 days.

Days until the Devils next play a local rival: Unknown, as per the previous answer. Most likely, though, the Devils won't play either the Rangers, the Islanders or the Flyers as their season opener, or their home opener.

Days until Game 7 of the 2014 World Series -- the absolute latest you can ever again see Derek Jeter in a competitive game: 191, on Wednesday, October 29. Less than 7 months, and no more Jeter -- not as an active player, anyway.

Days until the next East Brunswick vs. Old Bridge Thanksgiving game: 220, on Thursday morning, November 27, 10:00 AM. A little over 7 months.

Days until New York City FC make their Major League Soccer debut: Unknown, but a new MLS season usually begins on the 2nd Saturday in March, which would be March 14, 2015. That's 327 days. Under 11 months. Whether it will be a home game, and thus at the new Yankee Stadium, is yet to be determined.

Days until the New York Islanders' last game at the Nassau Coliseum: Unknown, but an NHL regular season usually ends on the 2nd Sunday in April, which would be April 12, 2015. That's 356 days. Just under 1 full year.

Days until the Islanders' first home game at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn: Unknown, but an NHL regular season usually begins on the 1st Friday in October, which would be October 2, 2015. That's 529 days. That's a under 18 months. Or, to put it another way, "529 Sleeps Till Brooklyn." Until then, they're just a Small Club In Hempstead.

Days until the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: 714, on Friday, August 5, 2016. Less than 29 months.

Pitching Is Not a Hard Subject to Grasp, Unless You're Joe Girardi


Pitching is not a hard concept to grasp. If a pitcher is pitching well, and shows no sign of fatigue, you leave him in, and let him continue to do his job. If he's not doing well, get him out sooner, rather than later.
No, pitching is not a hard concept to grasp. Unless you're Yankee manager Joe Girardi, and you trust your binder rather than your eyes and your instincts.

*
On Friday night, after winning the first game of a 4-game series against the 2014 Tampa Bay Rays -- otherwise known as the 2018 Montreal Expos -- Girardi sent Hiroki Kuroda out to start the second game. For 5 innings, this was a great decision, buoyed by a 4-run 2nd inning, highlighted by a bases-loaded double by Scott Sizemore. Kuroda allowed 2 runs in the bottom of the 4th, but with 1 out in the bottom of the 6th, the Yankees still led, 4-2.

Then Kuroda allowed singles to Matt Joyce and Evan Longoria. Girardi consulted his Binder Full of Strategies, and sent pitching coach Larry Rothschild out to talk to Kuroda. (Ironically, when the opposition first entered the league in 1998, as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Rothschild was their manager. Let's just say that, like many other pitching coaches turned managers before him, as a manager, he made a good pitching coach.) At first, it seemed to work, as Kuroda got a 2nd out.
But then, Wil Myers singled home Joyce, to make it 4-3. That was enough for Girardi, who replaced Kuroda with David Phelps, who has not exactly inspired in this new season. (Nor did he for most of last season.) Phelps did get the last out of the 6th, and when the Yankees scored in the top of the 7th, to lead 5-3, it looked like Girardi had made the right decision.

But Yunel Escobar led off the bottom of the 7th with a hit, and Ryan Hanigan hit a liner back to the box, which hit Phelps in the ribs. It rebounded to Kelly Johnson, playing 1st base for the injured Mark Teixeira, and Johnson got it and touched 1st for the out, but Escobar advanced to 2nd. If Girardi made a mistake by pulling Kuroda too soon, he now compounded it by doing the same with Phelps. It was a panic move, because Phelps was fine. (He didn't pitch in Saturday's game, but he did pitch yesterday.)
Girardi brought in Matt Thornton. Thornton is a good young pitcher, but he wasn't properly prepared to be brought in, and he allowed a hit that loaded the bases. Then Girardi panicked again, and apparently the binder said, "You know what I said a moment ago? Forget it, I'm an idiot, but trust me now: Bring in Adam Warren." Girardi did. Result? RBI single, walk, 2-RBI single. Tie game.

As they would say in English soccer, "Four-nil, and we fucked it up." Also, "Five-two, and we fucked it up."

No, we didn't fuck it up. Girardi fucked it up.

Warren got the last out, and the first 2 in the 8th, but allowed a double and a homer to make it 7-5 Rays.

Girardi then brought in Cesar Cabral. Cabral is 25, so he's not a kid, although he is still, officially, a rookie. But he put on one of the worst Yankee pitching performances you'll ever see -- I hope! He faced 6 batters, and retired exactly none.
He allowed a single to Ben Zobrist. He threw a wild pitch to Brandon Guyer, advancing Zobrist to 2nd. He gave up a single to Guyer, scoring Zobrist. He hit Longoria with a pitch. He went to a 3-0 count on James Loney before hitting him with a pitch, loading the bases. Rothschild went out to calm him down. This had all the effectiveness of a one-legged man at a butt-kicking contest. Cabral allowed a single to Myers, scoring Guyer and Longoria. Then, with his 23rd and final pitch, he reloaded the bases by hitting Logan Forsythe.

If that last one was intentional, it was probably because Logan Forsythe has the nerve to walk around with the name of a soap-opera character.
I don't think it was intentional, because Cabral's control wasn't that good. He was thrown out of the game -- which is understandable, given that he'd faced 6 batters and hit 3 of them. It's not that he's a headhunter: It's that his control was so bad, he could very well hurt somebody out there.
Shortly after the game ended, the Yankees announced that Cabral had been designated for assignment. Wow, that was fast. Almost as if George Steinbrenner was still alive and pulling the strings. If that had kind of pitching crapfest had happened in the 1980s, there would have been a phone call from Steinbrenner's box to a taxi company to pick Cabral up, and another from the box to the Tampa airport, to have George's personal plane fly Cabral directly to Columbus, do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

But here's what I want to know: Why didn't Girardi take Cabral out sooner -- for example, after the second straight hit batter? Did he not have Shawn Kelley already warming up? He could have told the umpire, "I think my pitcher's control is off because he's hurt." According to the rules, this would allow a manager to give the pitcher he's got, and/or the pitcher he wants to bring in, as many warmup tosses as he needs before play can resume. Girardi would have had control of the situation. For all his flaws, and he had them as a manager as well as in his personal life, Billy Martin would have known this rule, and would have taken advantage of it. Don't break the rules, use the rules.

Kelley got the last out in the 8th, but the damage was done. Rays 11, Yankees 5. WP: Jake McGee (1-0). No save. LP: Warren (0-1, although this one was more Girardi's fault than that of any of his pitchers).

*
Saturday's game was the Yankees' worst in a long, long time. That's in terms of on-field performance, if not in terms of damaging injuries, although starting pitcher Ivan Nova did get hurt, and is now rumored to need Tommy John surgery, which means he'd be out for the rest of this season.

The Yankees got only 1 run on 3 hits, so it wouldn't have mattered if Nova had been fine, and only allowed 2 runs. But he wasn't fine. He allowed a run in the 2nd, 3 in the 3rd, and 2 in the 4th. So it was already 6-0 when he began the 5th.

A Zobrist single and a Joyce double began the bottom of the 5th. Only then, after Nova had already allowed 6 runs in 4+ innings, did Girardi suspect an injury, and remove Nova. If he'd removed him sooner, both the injury and the defeat could have been less severe.

By the time Matt Daley, whom Girardi brought in, was done, it was 14-1. Even backup infielder Dean Anna pitched an inning, allowing 2 runs, for the final of 16-1. That's right, sixteen to one. Paging William Jennings Bryan.

WP: Chris Archer (2-1). LP: Nova (2-2).

*
Yesterday's game may not have been a "must-win" for the Yankees -- it's difficult to argue that any MLB game played in April is a "must-win" -- but the Yankees needed to get momentum back on their side.

The Yankees scored a run in the top of the 4th. Alfonso Soriano led off with a double. Teixeira, returning from the Disabled List, hit a fly to right that advanced Soriano to 3rd. Yangervis Solarte lined out to 2nd, and Sori couldn't score. But Brett Gardner doubled to right, to score him.
As for the pitching. As Bob Seger would say, Call me a relic, call me what you will, say I'm old-fashioned, say I'm over the hill. But, in my opinion, it does not take 5 pitchers to hold a good team to 1 run over 9 innings.

But it's not my opinion that holds sway in these cases, it's Joe Girardi's. Vidal Nuno was penciled in as the Sunday starter, so that both Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda would be fully-rested to go against the Red Sox at Fenway this week. Nuno has been shaky so far this season, and hasn't really been a starter. Girardi gave him 5 innings, and he made the most of them: No runs, 3 hits, 2 walks, 6 strikeouts.
Phelps pitched the 6th, and into the 7th. He didn't allow a baserunner. Girardi should have kept him in longer, but he didn't. Did he know the game was going to go to extra innings? Of course not. Should he have been aware of the possibility, and not gone all willy-nilly with the bullpen? Of course yes.

He brought Thornton in, and 2 men got on. He replaced Thornton with Warren, and Warren allowed the tying run and loaded the bases, before getting out of the jam.
Warren pitched the 8th, and Girardi brought Kelley in for the 9th, to send the game to extra innings. Kelley also pitched a scoreless 10th.
 
The Yankees went 1-2-3 in the 10th, and wasted a Derek Jeter single in the 11th. Solarte led off the 12th with a walk -- and, as we've seen, those leadoff walks can be very productive (or dangerous, depending on which side of it you're on). Gardner grounded into a forceout, so now he was on 1st with 1 out. Brian Roberts lined out, and it looked like the Yankees would waste another chance.
But Brian McCann singled Gardner over to 3rd. Jacoby Ellsbury was intentionally walked, loading the bases but also setting up an inning-ending play at any base. Except Anna, not pitching this time, fouled off 3 pitches before drawing a go-ahead walk. Beltran and Soriano followed with singles, to make it 5-1 Yankees. Preston Claiborne kept the Rays off the board in the 11th and the 12th.
 
WP: Claiborne (1-0). LP: Heath Bell (0-1).
*
So the Yankees split 4 away to Tampa Bay. Not a bad result. The aggregate score was ugly, but then, this isn't Champions League soccer, is it? As the Yankees themselves found out in the 1960 World Series, to their horror, it's not how many runs you score in the series, it's how many games you win. (The Yanks outscored the Pittsburgh Pirates 55-27 but lost 4 games to 3.)

With the Red Sox losing their annual 11:05 AM-starting Patriots Day game today (they always start it early to reduce traffic, as the Boston Marathon usually finishes up by the end of the game), with 23 weeks to go in the regular season, the AL East standings look like this going into tonight's games (which do not include the Yankees, as they're shipping up to Boston tonight):

TEAMWLGBMN
NEW YORK1180.0N/A
Toronto1091.0143
Baltimore991.5144
Tampa Bay9102.0142
Boston9112.5141

"MN" is Magic Number: To eliminate the AL East teams, any number of Yankee wins and Red Sox losses adding up to 141, and the Sox can't win the Division; it's 142 for the Rays, 143 for the Jays and 144 for the O's, who've played 1 fewer game than the Yanks and Rays, who've played a game fewer than the Sox.

As for Nova's injury: He had an MRI last night, and it "has revealed a partial tear of ulnar collateral ligament of his right elbow." He's gone on the DL. According to Sweeny Murti of WFAN, he hasn't yet been told how long he'll be out, or what surgery is required, if any.

The starting pitchers for the series at Fenway are listed as follows:

* Tomorrow night, first pitch scheduled for 7:10 PM: Tanaka vs. Jon Lester.

* Wednesday night, 7:10: Pineda vs. John Lackey.

* Thursday night, 7:10: CC Sabathia vs. Felix Doubront.

This will be the biggest test yet in a Yankee uniform for both Tanaka and Pineda. They're off to very good starts. May it continue.

And may Girardi not find a way to mess it up. Because pitching is not a hard subject to grasp.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Triple Your Pleasure, Triple Your Fun


The Yankees beat the Tampa Bay Rays last night, in the opener of a 4-game series at the White Elephant. That's the important thing.

That a triple play was turned, and that Yangervis Solarte hit his first major league home run, are nice bonuses, but hardly necessary.

It doesn't matter how the game is won, as long as it is -- within the rules of the game, of course. After all, we don't want to be so desperate for victory that we'll cheat like that lot up I-95.

*

The joke is that CC Sabathia pitches better when he's fat than when he seems to have lost weight. Well, he must've eaten some Cuban-style sandwiches down in Tampa, because he was pitching like the CC of 2007-09. He went 7 innings, allowed 2 runs, only 1 earned, on 7 hits and 2 walks, with 6 strikeouts.

Let the Big Dog eat!

And the Yankees broke out the lumber. In addition to Solarte opening his account (as they would say if he were a soccer player scoring his first goal for the club), Alfonso Soriano hit his 4th home run of the season, and Brian McCann, an injury concern going in, hit his 3rd.

Sadly, John Sterling muffed the call. Instead of saying, "Yangervis provides service!" Or "He's Solar-te powered!" he went with "Never nervous, Yangervis!"

"Never Nervous" was a nickname bestowed upon basketball center Pervis Ellison, the freshman who led the University of Louisville to the National Championship in 1986. But injuries plagued his pro career, and Danny Ainge nicknamed him "Out of Service Pervis." (The native of Savannah, Georgia is now 47, and coaches basketball in South Jersey.)

Then, Sterling made it even worse. Perhaps not knowing that Domenico Modugno's 1958 worldwide smash "Volare" has been appropriated for songs about soccer players, he sang, "Solarte, whoa-oh! Solarte, whoa-oh-oh-oh!"

Johnny Sterling, he's a dork!
Worst broadcaster in New York!
Da-dah, da-dah! Da-dah, da-dah!

At any rate, the most talked-about play of the evening came in the bottom of the 2nd. Evan Longoria led off with a double to center. Then Wil Myers worked CC for a walk. So, 1st and 2nd, nobody out. The Yankees were leading 4-0, but CC has already had a couple of starts blighted by onebadinningitis, and there was concern that this might be another. One bad inning can ruin your whole day.

The batter was Sean Rodriguez. He hit a line shot to Solarte, who ran over to tag 3rd base for a force play. One out. Solarte threw to Brian Roberts, who stepped on 2nd for another force. Two out. Roberts then threw to Scott Sizemore, covering 1st. Three out. Triple play.

The final was Yankees 10, Rays 2. WP: Sabathia (2-2). No SV, although Dellin Betances pitched 2 scoreless innings in relief of CC. LP: Rays ace David Price (2-1).

Oh yeah, the Rays got over 28,000 fans last night. I'm guessing the 20,000 were rooting for the Yankees, and the 8,000 were rooting for the Rays.

The series continues tonight, with Hiroki Kuroda pitching against former Baltimore ace Erik Bedard. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 PM.

7:10? Which means the game will end around quarter after 10? No wonder nobody goes to Rays' games: For all those retirees, it's past their bedtime!
 
 


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Fun, Yankees Play Two, Don't Allow a Run

A rainout on Tuesday forced a day-night, separate admission Interleague doubleheader between the Yankees and Chicago Cubs yesterday.

Some clubs wouldn't like that. Some clubs shake it off and win anyway.

In the first game, Masahiro Tanaka took the hill for the Pinstripes, and he was masterful again. He went 8 innings, allowing only 2 hits and 1 walk, no runs. All of which is more important than the admittedly nice 10 strikeouts.

It's only been 3 starts, but he's got a 2.05 ERA, a 0.77 WHIP, an opponents' batting average of just .185, and 28 strikeouts against only 2 walks. As they say on ESPN Baseball Tonight, "That's not just filthy: That's nasty." It's too soon to say, "He's been worth every penny," but it is definitely time to say, "So far, so good." And he's only 25. This is no seasoned veteran, pitching like one, giving the Yankees one more good season before the decline starts (as some fools would now be saying about CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda). This guy could get better.

"Ah, but Mike," you say, "what about runs? Pitching may be 75 percent of baseball, but you gotta get that other 25 percent." This is true.

Fortunately, the Yankees got it. With 1 out in the 1st, Carlos Beltran hit one out, his 4th home run of the season. In the 4th, Brian McCann singled with 1 out, Yangervis Solarte drew a walk, Kelly Johnson hit an infield single to load the bases, and Dean Anna got McCann home with a sacrifice fly. Brett Gardner led off the 5th with a ground-rule double, Beltran moved him over to 3rd on a groundout, and Jacoby Ellsbury scored him with another groundout.

Yankees 3, Cubs 0. Apparently, Joe Girardi (who grew up in Illinois as a Cub fan and played for the Cubs) figured, "We're playing a National League team, so let's play NL-style small ball. It worked so often for Joe Torre." And it got runs for Tanaka (WP, 2-0) and Shawn Kelley (SV, 4), to beat Jason Hammel (LP, 2-1).

*

In the nightcap, the rebirth of Michael Pineda continued, and this time there was no flap about any gunk on his hand from the Yankee-hating, Red Sox-loving media. Good thing, because, even without that stuff, whatever it was, Pineda was filthy and nasty on the mound last night. He went 6 innings, allowed 4 hits and 1 walk.

Only 3 strikeouts, but unless you're the guy who brings the signs for a "K Corner," who cares? A pitcher is supposed to be effective. If he's also spectacular, that's a bonus. The Yankee record for strikeouts in a season is only 248, set by Ron Guidry in 1978. The previous record was 240 by Jack Chesbro, and that was all the way back in 1904. Is the 248 Ks what we remember about Guidry '78? No. We remember the 18 Ks in a game in June, where the fans started the tradition of standing and clapping with 2 strikes. We remember the 3 2-hit shutouts he pitched in September. We remember him winning 25 games, losing only 3, including winning 16 when the Yankees had lost their previous game. And we remember that 16th/25th: Some people call it the Bucky Dent Game, I call it the Boston Tie Party, and Red Sox fans call it something unprintable.

The point is, Tanaka got the job done in the afternoon, and Pineda got the job done in the evening, and I don't care how they got their outs: They got those outs.

The Yankees didn't score a run in the 1st this time, but they mirrored the opener by getting single runs in the 4th, on singles by Scott Sizemore, J.R. Murphy and Gardner; and in the 5th, on singles by Alfonso Soriano, Solarte and Sizemore.

David Phelps got into trouble in the 7th inning, but pitched out of it. Matt Thornton pitched well in the 8th. Adam Warren got into trouble in the 9th, but got out of it.

Yankees 2, Cubs 0. WP: Pineda (2-1). SV: Warren (1). LP: Travis Wood (0-1, no relation to ex-Cub and ex-Yankee Kerry Wood).

In this first season after Mariano Rivera, 4 different pitchers have recorded saves: Kelley has 4, the currently injured David Robertson 2, and Phelps and Warren 1 each. Whatever works.

*

The Yankees now lead Toronto by half a game, Baltimore by a game and a half, Tampa Bay by 2, and Boston by 3. They begin a 7-game roadtrip to Tampa and Boston: The most loathsome ballpark (as Luke Skywalker would say, "What a piece of junk!"), then the most loathsome fans (as Obi-Wan Kenobi would say, "Fenway Park. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy").

Here are the pitching matchups for the Tampa Bay series:

Tonight, 7:00: CC Sabathia vs. David Price. Theoretically, that's ace vs. ace, although the way CC has pitched the last year or so, it's hard to say that he's the ace anymore. Hopefully, he can still be a Pennant-quality starter.

Tomorrow night, 7:00: Kuroda vs. Erik Bedard.

Saturday night, 7:00: Ivan Nova vs. Chris Archer. Nova needs to bounce back from getting shellacked in his last start. Although, between Nova and Vidal Nuno, each of whom allowed 14 runs in that game, that was the only game the Yankees have really had awful pitching so far.

Sunday afternoon, 1:30: Cesar Ramos goes for the Rays, while the Yankees are, for the moment, undecided. It would be too soon to throw Tanaka, as he'd be going on 3 days' rest due to the Tuesday rainout, and Pineda would also be going on 3 days' rest. Better to save both of them for The Scum on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. Although, having gone 6 innings yesterday, Girardi may attempt to be mindful of Pineda's 2-year comeback, and throw him for 5, or even 4 innings, on Sunday, and then make everybody available out of the pen. But that would make Pineda unavailable for the Boston series. We'll see.

*

Days until Arsenal play again: 3, this Sunday morning, 9:05 AM U.S. Eastern Time, away to Hull City, the same team that they will play in the FA Cup Final. With Arsenal's win over fellow Londoners West Ham United this past Tuesday, and Everton, "the other team in Liverpool," losing yesterday to Crystal Palace, yet another London team, Arsenal can still finish in 4th place in the Premier League, thus qualifying for the qualifying round of the 2014-15 UEFA Champions League; with Manchester City slipping up with yesterday draw to North-East club Sunderland, Arsenal have a shot at finishing 3rd, thus qualifying for the Champions League without needing the qualifying round.

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series begins: 6, this coming Tuesday, at 7:00 PM (well, 7:07 or so), at Fenway Park.

Days until the Red Bulls play again: 9, a week from this Saturday, 7:30 PM, away to the Columbus Crew. Last night, they finally got there first win of the season, in 7th tries, winning a "derby" against the Philadelphia Union, 2-0 at home at Red Bull Arena.

Days until the FA Cup Final, Arsenal vs. Hull City, at the new Wembley Stadium in London: 30, on Saturday, May 17. Exactly 1 month.

Days until the U.S. national soccer team plays again: 40, on Tuesday, May 27, at 10:00 PM Eastern Time, against former Soviet "republic" Azerbaijan, in one of the last events that will be held at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. This will be the first of 3 warmup matches for the World Cup, also facing Turkey at Red Bull Arena and Nigeria in Jacksonville.

Days until the Red Bulls next play a "derby": 51, on Saturday, June 7, 7:30 PM, vs. the New England Revolution, at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.

Days until the 2014 World Cup in Brazil: 56, on Thursday, June 12. Just 8 weeks.

Days until the Arsenal-Red Bulls match at Red Bull Arena: 100, on Saturday, July 26. A little over 3 months.

Days until the next North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham: Unknown. The next season's schedule, or "fixture list," usually comes out on the 2nd Friday in June. The new season usually begins on the 3rd Saturday in August, but derbies are rarely held that early in the season -- this season's September 1 match was unusually early. That opener will most likely be on August 16, which would be 121 days, but don't count on it being a derby.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 135, on Saturday, August 30, away to Washington State, at CenturyLink Field, home of the NFL Champion Seattle Seahawks. A little over 4 5 months.

Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: Unknown, as the schedule has yet to be released. Most likely, it will be on the 2nd Friday night in September. If so, that will be September 12, therefore 148 days.

Days until Rutgers makes its Big Ten Conference debut: 149 days, on Saturday, September 13, time to be determined, against old enemy Penn State.

Days until Derek Jeter's last regular-season game (barring injury): 164, on Sunday, September 28, against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. A little over 5 months.
Days until the Devils play again: Unknown, as the Devils did not make the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the 2014-15 NHL schedule hasn't been released yet. The most likely date is the first Friday in October, which would be October 3. That's 169 days.

Days until the Devils next play a local rival: Unknown, as per the previous answer. Most likely, though, the Devils won't play either the Rangers, the Islanders or the Flyers as their season opener, or their home opener.

Days until Game 7 of the 2014 World Series -- the absolute latest you can ever again see Derek Jeter in a competitive game: 195, on Wednesday, October 29. Less than 7 months, and no more Jeter -- not as an active player, anyway.

Days until the next East Brunswick vs. Old Bridge Thanksgiving game: 224, on Thursday morning, November 27, 10:00 AM. A little over 7 months.

Days until the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: 718, on Friday, August 5, 2016. Less than 29 months.