Monday, August 30, 2010

The Nieces and Thierry Henry

Quite a weekend. First I saw the New York Red Bulls defeat the San Jose Earthquakes 2-0 at Red Bull Arena on Saturday night. Then, on Sunday night, a party of 7 that included me and my nieces Ashley and Rachel took the girls to their first real baseball game, postponed from an earlier rainout, in which the Somerset Patriots of Bridgewater, New Jersey hosted and defeated the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs of Waldorf, Maryland, 5-2.

Dane Richards scored the first Red Bulls goal, assisted by the legendary Thierry Henry. Richards returned the favor, assisting Henry on the second.

I never got to see Mickey Mantle hit a home run, or Johnny Unitas throw a touchdown pass, or (except on TV) Guy Lafleur blaze a slapshot into the net. And I only know Walt (Clyde) Frazier as a broadcaster. Tonight, I was in the building, just 50 or so feet away, and I saw Thierry Henry score a goal.

Because I have never left the North American continent, this was a hard thing to ever see in person. When the New York Football Challenge happened over a 4-day stretch last month, I wasn't able to see the first game, in which Henry scored against Tottenham Hotspur (something he enjoyed doing when he played for Arsenal, Spurs' arch-rivals), because something came up at the last minute. And while Henry did have an assist in the Sunday game, which I did see, against another English side, Manchester City, he did not score.

This time he did, and all the DVD highlights came to life. He did all the familiar moves. Especially that Gallic shrug of his shoulders, as if to say, "This game, it is easy."

Then the game turned into an Arsenal match: Some louse (I'm not using the word I would like to use, as the girls may read this well before they're old enough to read that word) hacked him down in the 86th minute, and he was injured.

He got up, and was subbed, but the Red Bulls have to go to defending MLS Champion Real Salt Lake next week, and I wouldn't even risk him in a game they're almost sure to lose anyway. Let him rest for the big meet-and-greet the following Saturday against the Colorado Rapids.

*

The Patriots game had almost everything. No fight, and no beanballs, although there was one player hit by a pitch that appeared to be completely accidental. There were 3 home runs, 2 but the Pats and 1 by the Crabs. There was some good pitching, including by Bill Pulsipher, the former "Generation K" pitcher who blew out his elbow with the Mets, who went 6 strong for the Patriots. There was some sensational fielding, and the Pats' 3rd baseman, Jeff Nettles, was responsible for some of that -- to be expected, as he's the son of Graig Nettles, a sensational 3rd baseman and a Yankee teammate of Pats manager Sparky Lyle. But the Crabs' 3rd baseman, Patrick Osborn, and their shortstop, Travis Garcia, were even more amazing.

And the game was still in doubt until the end: Although the Patriots had a 5-2 lead in the 9th, the Crabs got the tying runs on base and the potential winning run to the plate, but the Pats got out of it.

Rachel, who's really into music, was very excited about singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the 7th-inning stretch. (Because of the pregame ceremonies, they played "God Bless America" then instead of before "Take Me Out.") She did great.

She was also excited about living out a certain part of the song. She really wanted us to "Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack." We never saw a peanut vendor, but a vendor did come bearing Cracker Jack packs. $5.75? That's a lot of money for Cracker Jacks. (I remember being shocked in 1996 when I saw a vendor with a cereal-box sized box of them, at $4.00. This $5.75 bag, 14 years later, was smaller.)

And guess what? Rachel doesn't like them! Rachel doesn't like Cracker Jacks! Ashley sure does, though. They may be twins, but they're not only not identical, but they're very different in some ways. Anyway, it's hard to get disillusioned when you're 3, and I think Rachel's gotten over it already. As she herself would say, "It's okay, it's okay."

The Blue Crabs, based on a peninsula of Maryland near the Potomac River, south of Washington, D.C., have a name, logo and uniforms that are suspiciously close to those of the Lakewood BlueClaws, here in New Jersey.

After the game, as they do every Sunday, the Pats had a kids-run-the-bases event. I held Rachel's hand, and my sister (their mother) held Ashley's hand, and we ran around the bases at a professional baseball stadium.

This would not have been possible for me at the same age. That would have been 1973, and there were no minor-league teams in New Jersey then, and there's no way my parents would have let that happen in New York City. Not at Shea Stadium in Queens, and certainly not at Yankee Stadium in The Bronx, then in its final pre-renovation season. Not in 1973, and if you saw the U.S. version of the TV show Life On Mars, or the ESPN miniseries The Bronx Is Burning, set in 1976-77, let me tell you that they got just about everything about the urban jungle New York then was right. At the time, the Yankees let fans onto the field to exit the Stadium through an outfield gate, allowing them to see the Monuments that were then in center field, but the orange-jacketed, orange-capped ushers kept fans off the infield.

Besides, big-league teams usually don't do "kids run the bases," although I did see it done in my one game at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Some minor-league teams do a "seniors run the bases," although when I suggested this to my parents, now in their 60s, they laughed off the idea.

Ashley had a good time. Rachel absolutely loved it. She seems to get it: While Ashley enjoyed the experience, Rachel seems to revel in baseball. She's already seen more of it at that age than I had at twice that (6). She understands the difference between "safe" and "out." She understands the difference between "fair" and "foul." And when I explained to her why one fly ball was a home run and another was not, she seemed to understand that, too.

I'd like to say that the ran around the bases was one of the great joys of my life. The truth is, I was so worried about making sure Rachel didn't trip and fall, and possibly get trampled by another kid (or, worse, a grownup), that I couldn't soak in the moment. And let me tell you: When you're 40 years old, and have made a few trips up and down the steps to get to the concession stands and the restroom, 90 feet between bases seems like a lot longer. I was exhausted!

Then again, how much longer is 90 feet when you're the size of a 3-year-old?

But those 3-year-olds have so much heart. A few big-league athletes, in a number of sports, could learn from them.

*

I am not a fan of the Somerset Patriots, for reasons I will not get into here. But they ran everything very well, from their salute to veterans before the game to the kids run the bases afterwards. I wish they had warned us beforehand that there was going to be gunfire -- they had an Iwo Jima survivor on hand, and they re-enacted the Marines' storming of the beaches and the iconic photo of the raising of the flag on Mount Suribachi, and then fired a salute coupled with "Taps" when the ceremony ended -- but, other than that, it was first-class all the way.

I wish they had better food, though. I can say the same about their rivals, the Newark Bears. You'd think a city as ethnically (and thus gastonomically) diverse as Newark would have more concession options. Both independent-league teams are way behind the major-league-affiliated Trenton Thunder and Lakewood BlueClaws in this regard.

*

The other day, the Met-fan blogger Metstradamus mused (he also uses the word "Musings" in his blog title) about Jeff Francoeur, whose early-season heroics have collapsed to the point where he's a liability at the plate, and whose usual choice of country songs as walk-up music have been replaced by the current Number 1 song in America, "Love the Way You Lie" by Eminem and Rihanna.

http://www.metstradamusblog.com/2010-articles/august/a-picture-is-worth-a-few-words-a-song-is-worthless.html

Actually, Eminem is a step up for Rihanna, if not for Francoeur. At least Eminem only SINGS about committing domestic violence, unlike Rihanna's ex Chris Brown.

But, regardless of whether Eminem's character in the song is apologizing for his own domestic abuse, or for the stuff that other Eminem characters have done, or for something Eminem may have done in his real life, or helping Rihanna deal with her real life, or is, in fact, an apologist for such abuse (in which case Eminem would have crossed an even worse line than Chris Brown, though I doubt this is what he's doing), Francoeur is an idiot.

Francoeur is an idiot for choosing this song, especially so soon after teammate Francisco Rodriguez's arrest for assaulting his girlfriend's father.

The Mets need to dump Francoeur, who began the season as such a feel-good story. He's not the only one they need to dump, and he's not the worst offender. That would be general manager Omar Minaya, who has pissed off more of his own team's fans than perhaps any MLB executive since... well, since George Steinbrenner in 1990.

To get this back on a lighthearted note: When can we classify what the Mets do to their fans as "domestic abuse"? Bring your kiddies, and bring your wife, the state will come and lock you up for your life!

*

The Chicago White Sox have claimed Manny Ramirez off waivers from the Los Angeles Dodgers. The L.A. Bums gave up on the former Indians and Red Sox slugger with the scuzzy hair and the steroid past, and now the Pale Hose have him. Well, that's one way to get him to change his socks!

Stephen Strasburg has a torn elbow ligament. After just 12 major league games, 68 innings pitched (5-3, 2.91 ERA 141 ERA+, 1.074 WHIP), the season's phenom is probably going to have Tommy John surgery, and we probably won't see him pitch again until Opening Day 2012.

So much for the Washington Nationals making a run at respectability in 2011. Look at the bright side, D.C. area fans: Unlike 1972 through 2004, you HAVE a team, however difficult it may be to watch them. The alternative is worse. If you've forgotten already, ask the 22,000 fans who came to watch the Montreal Expos every home game in 1994.

*

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 2, this Thursday night, at home at Rutgers Stadium, against Norfolk State University.

Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: 11.

Days until the first regular-season Giants game at the new Meadowlands Stadium: 13. Under 2 weeks.

Days until the first regular-season Jets game at the new Meadowlands Stadium: 14.

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series begins: 24, Friday, September 24, at Yankee Stadium II.

Days until the Devils play hockey again: 38, on Friday, October 8, at home at the Prudential Center in Newark, against the Dallas Stars.

Days until Rutgers and Army play the first college football game at the new Meadowlands Stadium: 47.

Days until the Devils play another local rival: 54, on Sunday, October 24, at Madison Square Garden against The Scum. Just 2 months. Then the Rags come to the Prudential on Friday, November 5. The first game of the season against the Islanders is on Friday, November 26, the day after Thanksgiving, at the Nassau Coliseum, followed the next day by the first game of the season against the defending Eastern Conference Champion Philadelphia Flyers, at The Rock.

Days until the next North London Derby: 82, Sunday, November 21, at New Highbury. Under 3 months.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 86.

Days until Derek Jeter collects his 3,000th career hit: 262 (estimated).

Days until the Rutgers-Army football game at Yankee Stadium: 438.

Days until the last Nets game in New Jersey: 593 (estimated).

Days until the 2012 Olympics begin in London: 696.

Days until Alex Rodriguez collects his 3,000th career hit: 779 (estimated).

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 700th career home run: 1,049 (estimated).

Days until Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands: 1,248.

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 756th career home run to surpass all-time leader Hank Aaron: 1,712 (estimated).

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 763rd career home run to become as close to a "real" all-time leader as we are likely to have: 1,736 (estimated).

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