Sunday, May 31, 2009

Meet Citi Field... But Will You Meet the Mets?

I made my first visit to Pity Field -- excuse me, Citi Field -- on Friday night. The Mets won, 2-1 in 11 innings, over the Florida Marlins. Mike Pelfrey pitched very well, but the Mets just didn't hit for him. Omir Santos, the new catcher, homered in the 5th and singled home the winning run in the 11th. Not a bad game, although a bit of a frustrating one, especially since I had to choose between rooting for the Mets or rooting for a Miami team. Ew.

Now that that's out of the way...

The ballpark itself is great. Looks good, good layout, good views, very good food. And, unlike the Phillies, who took three months to clear away the rubble from Veterans Stadium in 2004, the spot where Shea Stadium stood is now a fully-functioning parking lot, which a ballpark badly needs. The bathrooms were awful at Shea, but at Citi Field they were plentiful and suitable for occupancy.

Everybody who worked there was helpful, although they have had a few weeks to try, as opposed to my first visit to the new Yankee Stadium, where I was in attendance at the 4th game, and even the longtime Yankee ushers, themselves used to the old yard, were still a little unsure. Surely, by now, they're familiar enough to be helpful. The Citi Field employees were fantastic.

I have to say this about one of Citi Field's signature features: Shake Shack is good. Not sure why Met fans made such a big deal about it, but as a Yankee Fan, I didn't know it existed until Met fans started talking about it in connection with Citi Field. It took me an entire inning to get to the front of the line -- naturally, the 5th, when Santos hit the home run -- and I had flashbacks to visits to Great Adventure. But once I got there, the service was good, and the food?

The burger was small, but pretty good. The black-and-white? To paraphrase John Travolta from the film Pulp Fiction, I don't know if it's worth $6.50 ($5.25 at their original location in Madison Square Park), but it's a great freakin' milkshake. Even Daniel-Day Lewis would like that milkshake. He'd drink it up!

Food and parking were two areas in which the Mets always had an edge on the Yankees. The parking issue doesn't effect me. But the food at Citi Field is first-class. The food at the new Yankee Stadium? It's good but not particularly special. The Mets still have the edge there.

I have two complaints with the park. One, the Mets couldn't do anything about: Once they decided to build across from Shea, and to not have a fully-enclosed stadium, no dome, then it was set in stone that the airplanes would remain a problem. In fact, I think it may even be worse.

But there was another problem that the Mets can do something about: They seem to ignore their own history.

After the Mets won the 1986 World Series, they placed notations of that and their 1969 World Series wins on the outfield wall at Shea. By the 1990s, they had four "pennants" on the wall in the right-field corner, also including their 1973 Pennant and their 1988 Division Title. Once won, they added notations for their 1999 "NL Wild Card & Division Series Winners," their 2000 Pennant and their 2006 Division Title. But at Citi Field, the only signs of their success are the flags in right field, and if there's not enough wind to blow them out to their full length, you'd never know that they'd won four Pennants (something half the teams in Major League Baseball, 15 out of 30, haven't done) and two World Series (13 out of 30 haven't done it).

In the right-field corner, where you can look into the visitng team's bullpen (with a pretty good screen to make sure you can't throw anything at the relievers), the Shea "pennants" are on display, and so is the old Home Run Apple. I have to admit, they look a lot smaller close-up. But a lot of Met fans desperately wanted to save that apple, and it has been saved, and they like to get their picture taken next to it. The new apple, in center field, looks about as big as the old one looked.

But that's about it. The retired number signs are in the left-field corner, as they were at Shea. But hardly any reference to Met history, which is quite colorful (and I don't just mean blue and orange), and has had some, to borrow a word, Amazin' moments. At Shea, at the outside edge of the right-field stands, there was a large mural of the 1969 World Series; in left, 1986. Shea had some reflections of its history. But Citi Field? There's the exterior, which purposely resembles Ebbets Field. And there's the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, which is a terrific tribute to the most important athlete in American history. But... but... but...

To paraphrase Mark Twain... Dear reader, suppose you knew nothing about baseball history. And suppose that you were a Met fan. But I repeat myself.

If you knew nothing about the Mets -- say, if you were Britain's Prince Harry, who visited New York this weekend, as did the much more baseball-familiar President and Mrs. Obama -- you could spend 11 innings at Citi Field, and you'd never know that the Mets gave New York the Miracle of '69, Tom Terrific, the Black Cat Game, the "Ya Gotta Believe!" Pennant of '73, Darryl's tape-measure blasts, Doctor K, Dykstra's Playoff walkoff, Game Six (the Mookie-Buckner one, not the Fisk one), Ventura's Grand Slam Single of '99, and, of course, the 2000 Pennant accompanied by "Who Let the Dogs Out?"

In the 8th inning, the Mets dropped "Sweet Caroline" -- allowing the Red Sox to continue playing a song by New Yorker Neil Diamond, rendering them even more ridiculous -- for the original 1962 theme song, "Meet the Mets." Much more appropriate.

But as far as a first-time visitor to a Met game could see, you'd have no way of knowing this wasn't an expansion team. You'd never know this was a team approaching its 50th Anniversary.

The Mets used to be good about celebrating themselves, particularly when they became a hype machine from 1984 to 1990 or so. They'll never match the Yankees for history and achievement, but they don't have to. They have enough great moments to celebrate. They don't have to have a "Monument Park" (as I suggested in a previous Musing), but at Shea they had banners with photos from their past lining the concourse. Why not bring those back? They have a team Hall of Fame, why not have a display of it with the pennants and the old Apple?

At the new Yankee Stadium, the Yankees celebrate the Yankees. At Citi Field, the Mets celebrate baseball. Nothing wrong with that, but if you're going to "Meet the Mets" -- whether it's for the 1st time or the 1,001st time -- shouldn't you have a feeling for what the Mets have been and are?

UPDATE: In 2010, the Mets dedicated a team Hall of Fame to the right of the home plate entrance. So they corrected this major oversight.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Fun Is Back in The Bronx

Happy Birthday to my favorite athlete of all time, Mr. Reginald Martinez Jackson. Impossible... Reggie can't be 63 years old! To give you an idea of how old that is, that's the age that Mickey Mantle was when he died, and Mickey was a player who started in black-and-white film.

It really does stun me how much time has gone by. Reggie's 1977 World Series heroics are now as far back in time as Joe DiMaggio's feats were in 1977. That is stunning to me. It is also stunning to realize that I am now older than Lou Gehrig and Thurman Munson lived to be.

I guess I'll really start to feel it when the 1976-81 Yankees start dying of old age. Thurman was killed in a plane crash, Catfish Hunter developed, of all things, Lou Gehrig's Disease, and Jim Spencer died of a heart attack when not especially old. But most of the major players from that team are still around, and many of them are still actively involved in baseball in some form or another.

But let's get back to the present. It's getting to be pretty good.

I don't know if any team has ever swept a three-game series with walkoff hits in every game. Melky Cabrera's single in the 9th on Friday night. Alex Rodriguez's homer in the 11th yesterday. Johnny Damon's homer in the 10th today.

Mark Teixeira has benefited from A-Rod's protection and made a fabulous play at first to save 2 runs in the 8th today. And we got good pitching in all three games. And the Minnesota Twins are a good team, too.

If the Mets had gotten something like this, their fans would be in full "We're taking over New York!" mode over it. (Hell, some of the Flushing Heathen think they already have taken over. Idiots -- if Red Sox fans don't mind me using that term on Met fans!)

My favorite game from the weekend was the Friday nighter. Going from a tie to a win in extra innings is great. Going from losing to having won in one swing in the bottom of the 9th, even if it's a "mere" single, especially when it's by a guy who was almost run out of town (Melky, not A-Rod) but has come back to deliver big-time, is more satisfying. Especially since it made the A-Rod and Damon walkoffs less surprising. But no less enjoyable.

Right now, the Yankees are playing like the 2006 Mets were said to play. Except the 2006 Mets had Aaron Heilmann and Billy Wagner. The 2009 Yankees have Mariano Rivera, and even a slightly diminished Rivera is still the best closer in the game.

That the Yankees have considerably loosened up breaks one of the biggest criticisms of the team, that they were too uptight, too "corporate." Maybe it's Damon's former Boston "idiotness" rubbing off on them. Maybe it's Teixeira proving that the early criticism didn't faze him. Maybe it's the new blood on the mound, the Initial Boys, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. (Still not sure why Sabathia dropped the periods.) Maybe it's Melky rediscovering what Kevin Costner taught us in Bull Durham: "This is a fun game. Let's have some fun, damn it!"

In the Subway Squawkers blog, Squawker Lisa tempered her usual good writing with continued gushing over A-Rod and yet another criticism of Derek Jeter, saying that Captain Clutch talks in a "Peanuts Teacher Monotone." You know: "Wha-WHA, wha-WHA, wha-WHA-wha-wha-WHA!"

I have to admit, she's right. Aside from the way he plays baseball, he's actually fairly dull. At least, when he's not dating a gorgeous actress. (Megan Fox has left Brian Austin Green. How long before she shows up at some Meatpacking District club with Derek?) But Derek can talk any way he wants,as long as he still helps the Yankees' opponents say, "Auuuugh! I can't stand it! My stomach hurts! I'm depressed, Linus!" As well as the aforementioned, "Good grief!"

It's just as well. Anyone who hates the Yankees should be addressed as, "You blockhead!"

(UPDATE: Fox and Green got back together, got married, and had 2 kids... before splitting up again.)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

I Still Don't Like A-Rod; Chuck Daly, 1930-2009

I was in New York today, and considered going to the Yankee game. But the weather made me decide against it.

The Yankees had a 3-2 lead over the Minnesota Twins, in the top of the 8th, and soon it was 4-3 Twins, thanks to Phil Coke-and-no-smile, blowing a nice start by Joba Chamberlain. But they tied it up in the bottom of the 8th, and went to the 11th.

I didn't actually hear the end, but it probably sounded something like this. Mr. Sterling?

"Theeee pitch, it's swung on! And there it goes! Deep to center field! It is high! It is far! It is GONE! BALLGAME OVER! YANKEES WIN! THEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE YANKEES WIN! It's an AAAAAAAA-BOMB! from AAAAAAAA-ROD!"

Oh, spare me. I'm happy about the win, but did it have to be Alex Roid-riguez who hit it?

I wonder if Michael Kay got that tingling feeling up his leg.

Once again, attendance was about 45,000. Seems just about every seat in the new Yankee Stadium (yeah, I typed it, but it still made my skin crawl) has been sold for every game so far -- except for the $2,500 seats! Excuse me, the $1,250 seats. They're still empty!

Even more than Dodger Stadium nearly half a century ago, it's the House That Greed Built. It's truly impressive, but it's not a park for the fans, and it still doesn't feel like Yankee Stadium. It's like a holodeck simulation of the old, pre-1976 renovation Yankee Stadium on Star Trek.

"Baseball is more than a game of strength. It's... it's about faith. And... it's about courage. And... it's about heart!"
-- Captain Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks), Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Of course, this is the same actor who stood on the Brooklyn Bridge, built in 1883, and, in a commercial for IBM filmed incongruously in black-and-white, said, first quizzically, then angrily, like a man who had been totally stiffed by what "the future" turned out to be, "It's the year 2000. Where are the flying cars? I was promised flying cars!"

Ah, the year 2000. Yankees over Mets. And the country was prosperous and safe under a trusted government good times. And A-Rod was in Seattle, taking steroids and never bothering Yankee Fans at all.

Had I known then that the future would include losing a World Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks, losing another to the Florida Marlins, losing an ALCS to the Red Sox, losing two Playoff series to the Whatever They're Calling Themselves This Year Angels of Anaheim, another to the Detroit Tigers and another to the Cleveland Indians, losing the only Yankee Stadium I'd ever known (I guess that was inevitable due to George Steinbrenner truly loving money more than winning), and watching the Red Sox win two World Series... and the Yankee name being sullied by steroiders Alex Rodriguez and Roger Clemens -- and, to a lesser extent, Gary Sheffield and Jason Giambi -- I might've preferred to build a holodeck simulation of 2000 to endlessly repeat.

And had I known that, nine years later, I still wouldn't be called "Daddy" or "Husband," I might've jumped off the World Trade Center. While I still could.

Of course, I now know that I'm called "Michael" -- not yet "Uncle," let alone the name I've chosen for myself in the title for this blog -- by the 2 best little girls a man could ever have for nieces, and that the Bush years are over and the Obama years are underway, I guess the future is looking up.

I've never liked Alex Rodriguez -- despite having been in the ballpark for his 500th * career home run, and I don't think I ever will. I've never trusted A-Rod in a clutch situation -- despite having been in the ballpark for his walkoff grand slam against Baltimore in 2007 -- and I don't think I ever will.

Yeah, thanks for the walkoff win today, Alex. Now do it again in October, you useless twat.

Yeah, I'm still reading those blogs out of the British Isles, about the game we call soccer and they call "football." Today, Arsenal finally got their act together and held Manchester United scoreless for 93 minutes, but didn't score, either, and the tie was all ManUre needed to clinch their 18th League title, tying Liverpool for the most all-time, and their 3rd straight. Bastards.

And congatulations to Rachel. No, not my niece, but Rachel Alexandra, the horse that, today, became the first filly since 1924 to win the Preakness Stakes. And to jockey Calvin Borel, who'd won the Kentucky Derby aboard 50-1 longshot Mine That Bird -- winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown on different horses. I don't think that's ever happened before.

*

Chuck Daly died a week ago. Born July 20, 1930 in St. Mary's, western Pennsylvania, Charles Jerome Daly played basketball at Pennsylvania's Bloomsburg University, served in the Korean War, coached high school ball in the groundhog town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, and assisted Vic Bubas on 3 Final Four teams at Duke University in the 1960s.

He then got the head coaching jobs at Boston College and then the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, whom he led to 4 straight Ivy League titles and the Elite Eight in 1972 -- the last Ivy League coach to get a team that far.

Chuck was an assistant on the Philadelphia 76ers team that reached the NBA Finals in 1980, coached the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1981-82, and then built the Detroit Pistons' "Motor City Bad Boys" that won the 1989 and 1990 NBA Championships. For winning those 2 titles, the Pistons retired their Number 2 for him, even though he never wore a professional basketball uniform.

He then left the Pistons, and coached the U.S. "Dream Team" at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. He coached the Nets in the 1993 and 1994 seasons, and made them better than they'd been at any time since coming into the NBA. He closed his coaching career in 1997 to 1999 with the Orlando Magic.

He died of pancreatic cancer on May 9. He was 78. He is in the Basketball Hall of Fame, and in 1996, he was named to the NBA's 50th Anniversary 10 Greatest Coaches.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

When It Rains, It Pours; Jack Kemp, 1935-2009

I always get a thrill when I see the tarp getting taken off the field to end a rain delay. But last night they should have left it on.

Plate umpire Jerry Meals served a nice meal to Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester: A strike zone the size of The Bronx. And he gave Yankee starter Phil Hughes a strike zone the size of a nickel. Hughes said, "I couldn't throw to where the strike zone was" -- not "I couldn't throw to the strike zone." He knew. And manager Joe Girardi rightly argued, and got thrown out of the game.

Jorge Posada, off to a relief-inducing great start, hurt his hamstring. You know hamstrings: The most easily re-injured part of a baseball player's body.

Alfredo Aceves became the latest Yankee reliever to not get the job done.

And while Mark Teixeira hit 2 homers -- the 1st completing back-to-backs with Johnny Damon -- and looked like he was getting out of his slump, the Yanks again couldn't complete a comeback against that prick Jonathan Papelbon. Red Sox 6, Yankees 4. Now 0-4 against The Scum this season. (Yes, the Sox are The Scum, not the Mets.)

I know the reasoning behind trying to get the game in: A few times in the last few years, once resulting in that five-game series at Fenway in August 2006 that the Yanks ended up sweeping, early rainouts have led to day-night doubleheaders between the rivals. Those are a good way to seriously deplete pitching staffs, and both wanted to avoid it.

But last night's game never should have been played. Just about everything that could have gone wrong for the Yankees did.

Mickey Rivers, the center fielder of the late 1970s dynasty, said, "Ain't no sense in worrying about things you got control over, 'cause if you got control, ain't no sense worrying. And there ain't no sense in worrying about things you got no control over, 'cause if you got no control, ain't no sense worrying."

I'm going to take a wild guess and say Mick the Quick didn't see last night's game, because the Yankees had no control, either over the Red Sox or the umpires.

And it's raining again as I type this. Another disaster?

Am I being overly dramatic? Can any loss to the Red Sox in April be a "disaster"? Uh, yes. Any loss to the Red Sox is a disaster.

Time for a little disaster relief. Shred the Sox!

*

Jack Kemp died this week. Born on July 13, 1935 in Los Angeles, he was a high school classmate of trumpeter and music producer Herb Alpert and future big-league pitcher Larry Sherry. He went to that city's Occidental College. (As did, briefly, a man who actually did go on to become President: Barack Obama.)

The Pittsburgh Steelers signed him in 1957, but cut him after the season. He was not the only quarterback cut by the Steelers in that decade: They also had, and cut, Johnny Unitas and Len Dawson. This is not a recommended way to run a football team.

Kemp was signed by the Giants, but never got into a game in 1958, sitting on the bench for every game, including their NFL Championship Game loss to the Baltimore Colts. He spent the 1959 season with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League.

The American Football League gave him his chance. In their founding year of 1960, he was signed by his hometown team, the Los Angeles Chargers. They moved to San Diego in 1961, and he remained with them through 1962. Then came his big change: The Buffalo Bills traded for him. In 1964 and 1965, he led the Bills to the AFL Championship -- each time, beating the Chargers in the Championship Game.

He remained with the Bills through the AFL's final year, 1969. He often joked, "I sustained 11 concussions while playing football. Nothing left to do but to go into politics!"

He also said, "Pro football gave me a good perspective: When I entered the political arena, I had already been booed, cheered, cut, sold, traded and hung in effigy."

Although he has never been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he has been elected to the Bills' Wall of Fame and the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.

*

In 1970, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from a district centered on Buffalo. He held that seat for 18 years, and became known as a conservative Republican seeking tax cuts, restrictions on abortion, and a decidedly anti-Communist foreign policy. He and Senator William Roth of Delaware submitted the Kemp-Roth Bill, a.k.a. "the Reagan Tax Cut," that President Ronald Reagan signed into law in 1981.

But he differed from the rising Reagan wing of the party by embracing civil rights and legal immigration. Urban Enterprise Zones, city shopping districts where the local sales tax was cut in half to aid poor people to afford to buy things, were his idea, proposed in 1980, passed by Congress, and signed into law by President Jimmy Carter.

It may well be that his background, having gone to a mostly-Jewish high school and played alongside black players, made him, in his own words, a "bleeding-heart conservative." The joke was that, "Jack Kemp has showered with more black people than the other Republican Presidential candidates have met."

He did have 2 drawbacks, but he had enough of a sense of humor to joke about them. One was a perceived ego: "People say I'm arrogant. But I know better!" The other was a tendency to talk too much: In his 1996 debate with Al Gore, he was told he had 90 seconds to answer a question, and he said, "I can't clear my throat in 90 seconds!"

With his oft-cited good looks, his charm, his ability to win over what had been a Democratic district, and even his initials -- Jack French Kemp became known as "the Republican JFK" -- he was seen by many as the ideal successor to Reagan in the 1988 election. And he did run, but he finished 3rd in Republican delegates behind Vice President George Bush (we had no reason to use the "H.W." initials at the time) and Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole.

Bush won the election, and named Kemp to be Secretary of Housing & Urban Development. "HUD" had been beset by scandal in the Reagan Administration, and Kemp won plaudits for cleaning the Department up. When Bill Clinton defeated Bush in 1992, a lot of conservatives hoped Kemp would run against him in 1996.

He didn't, but when Dole got the nomination, he chose Kemp to be the Vice Presidential nominee. As fate would have it, the Convention was in San Diego. And Dole was proud of his plan for a 15 percent across-the-board tax cut -- 15 having been Kemp's uniform number with the Chargers and Bills. They had a rally outside the San Diego Convention Center, wearing Chargers jerseys, Dole with Number 96, Kemp with Number 15.


The pair had been at odds before, with Dole a deficit hawk and Kemp a tax-cutter, and had, as I said, been primary competitors in 1988. But they smoothed over their differences (Dole, so often ridiculously cited as "not a true conservative," needed the kind of people who would have preferred that the Dole-Kemp ticket be the other way around), and campaigned hard. Kemp held his own in his debate with incumbent Vice President Al Gore, and it certainly wasn't his fault that Clinton-Gore overwhelmingly beat Dole-Kemp.

He enthusiastically endorsed George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, and John McCain in 2008, but never ran for office again after 1996. Nor did the younger Bush, in spite of his admiration for him, appoint him to any post in his Administration. He was, however, regarded as an elder statesman of conservatism.

Jack married Joanne Main, his college sweetheart, and they were married for 51 years. They had 4 children: 2 sons, Jeff and Jimmy, both of whom followed their father as professional quarterbacks; and 2 daughters, Jennifer and Judith.

Jack developed cancer last year, and passed away 3 days ago. He was 73.