Friday, March 31, 2006

Choose new Shea's name carefully

Now that we have some idea of what the new Mets stadium is going to look like, we can fixate on what it’s going to be called.

After all, stadium names are important and run from perfect to "Honey, cover the eyes of the children." The name becomes an important part of a team’s identity. And even if the new title is going to go to the highest corporate bidder, there should be some rules so we don’t get stuck with some atrocity, examples of which we shall discuss later on.

One of my favorite bloggers,, has started the debate with a poll listing nine suggestions. I encourage you the check out his site and start voting. Here are his suggestions, and how the voting fared as I typed this.

Ashburn Stadium (1 percent): I don’t like this one. Richie played just one year then hung ’em up.

Payson Field (2 percent): Joan Payson was a pioneer and doesn’t seem to get enough recognition. But you could have made a better case for slapping her name on the first stadium.

Wilpon Field (3 percent): Not bad. It’s better than Skill Sets Stadium.

New Shea Stadium (7 percent): I see the traditionalists are voting. It’s just not gonna happen.

The Ballpark in Queens (8 percent): This would distinguish it from that Outhouse in the Bronx.

Jackie Robinson Stadium (11 percent): No argument from me. Jackie’s one of my heroes. But naming stadium after other teams’ stars might not gain broad acceptance.

Shea Stadium (13 percent): It’s got a very familiar ring to it.

Gil Hodges Stadium (17 percent): It’s never a bad idea to salute Gil, and it would serve as a tribute to his former team, at least the Brooklyn-based version of it.

...and the leading vote-getter so far:

Derek Jeter Sucks (39 percent): Lone Star is clearly thinking outside the box here. But I can’t find fault with it. It makes a very bold statement, and does so with a little bit of attitude. Jeter does suck. Yet we’re the only ones who seem to realize it. The Yankee hype machine has everyone thinking the guy is going to Cooperstown. Why not stake a claim for truth in sports? The Yankees have always been button-down, corporate America. The Mets have been the team with the attitude and edge.

So now we know what the fans want. But we must grasp reality. The name is going to go to the highest bidder. Let’s establish some ground rules for the team to use when it decides which pile of cash it is going to accept.

The Reds got lucky with a great corporate name that doesn't seem like one.

The Reds got lucky with Great American Ballpark, at least with the name. But there aren’t too many other corporations with names that work so well.

And there have been a number of out-and-out disasters in recent years. Take that place where the Astros play. It started as Enron Park, which was hastily changed after the scandal. It had a generic name for a short while before it became Minute Maid Field, which is just embarrassing — though not as embarrassing as "Yankee Stadium."

The Astros' ballpark started as Enron and is now named after juice - and the game is juiced up enough as it is.

We can learn a lot from the mistakes of others. So Wilpons, start taking notes:

1) Pick a company that we think might be around in a couple years, or at least not start merging all over the place. Look at the fiasco in San Francisco, which started as Pac Bell Park, became SBC Park and now goes by AT&T Park. The place has had three names during its six-year existence. Contrast that to, say, Wrigley Field, which has had the same name for 80 years. The Diamondbacks are on their second stadium name, and the Marlins on their third.

2) Don’t name the stadium after a dumbass. The Braves could have named their stadium after Hank Aaron, an all-American hero. Instead it was named after Ted Turner, a guy who married Jane Fonda and kept doing other goofy things like thinking he could manage a game. No wonder they can’t get people to show up to playoff games.

3) Keep it short and simple. Busch Stadium, Tropicana Field, Coors Field, Miller Park, Safeco Field. All easy to say and remember. U.S. Cellular Field — not so good. And besides, no one is ever going to call it that.
The park formally known as Comiskey.

4) No names that will tick everyone off. Naming rights cost millions of dollars, right? So why is KeySpan, a utility, shelling out big bucks when it is supposed to be keeping my monthly bill lower. It’s one thing when some corporation is buying names. You can choose not to buy their products. But I shouldn’t be forced to subsidize the natural gas company’s publicity efforts.

There you go. Now if we can get Chase Bank to change its name to Derek Jeter Sucks and buy the naming rights...

This just in:

I read this suggestion in article, and it came from a Mets fan. The best potential buyer of the name rights: Met Life, the insurance company.

Yes! Met Life Park!!! Could it be any better?

Actually, the only thing that would be better would be to convince the company to buy the naming rights to another new yard in the works -- the one in the Bronx.

Oh, to see the Yankees played in a place called Met Life Park would be so glorious that I'm considering taking up a collection to help the company along.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Chipper Jones, squirrels and the hopes of spring

One of the joys of living in suburbia is that furry little forest friends sometimes make their way into the backyard for us to observe and enjoy.

The downside is that their friends — the varmints — think they, too, are entitled to the same privileges. This has sparked an epic battle.

It all started when I bought a little bird feeder that attached to pole mounted on the railing on my deck. It was fun to watch cardinals, blue jays and other baseball team mascots fly in for a treat.

That lasted until the squirrels and their larger sidekicks, raccoons, discovered the feeder. They would belly up the feeder and completely drain the thing.

It was like bringing a plate of chocolate chip cookies down to the Mets dugout, see David Wright smacking his lips while reaching for the plate then watching Chipper "Freaking" Jones run up, grab the plate and tear into the stack like the Cookie Monster wearing an offensive Indian logo.

Our first efforts at deterring the plunders were not productive. My ever-vigilant daughter would report when a squirrel was stuffing his cheeks and I’d run to the sliding door yelling about how bad things would happen should they not scram.

Then I discovered new ammunition: "Pepper Treat" by Wild Bird Products. It’s bird seed liberally dusted with ultra-hot cayenne pepper powder.

According to the company, birds can’t taste the fiery spice. Squirrels and other mammals can, however, and one bite would send then tearing off into the woods never to darken my feeder again.

Chipper, the cookie-thieving Met-killer.

I filled the feeder then stood in hiding at my kitchen window.

Before long a little gray squirrel jumped up from the rail to the feeder and started eating like it was sample day at Costco. It only took a few seconds. The thief jumped away then started running around in circles on my deck before scampering off into the woods, probably searching for a glass of water to cool the fire.

Meanwhile, I was inside doing the patented "Yes! Yes!" dance declaring victory over all varmints except moles, whom I remain locked in another epic battle.

The Reagan-era mantra of peace through strength has kept the plunderers at bay for several years now, allowing me to get all worked up about other intruders, mainly the woodchuck that took up residence under our sunroom. I even became cocky, mixing in less expensive seed with the pepper-laced seed in a big Rubbermaid bin to spread it out a little.

But revenge for the squirrels came this week.

Usually I scoop the seed with a plastic cup then pour it into the feeder. But it’s time to replenish the supply, and I tried pouring what was left in the bin right into the feeder. Sadly, all the cayenne power that accumulated at the bottom of the bin over the years was coming out, too, especially when I was banging the sides to shake loose the last seeds at the bottom.

Then it happened.

A gust of wind.

It blew the cayenne pepper powder.

Right into my face.


Damn, that hurt.

I started running around on the deck trying to wipe my face, blindly trying to make it down the stairs, through the garage and into the kitchen so I could stick my face under the faucet and turn the water on full blast. It took a while for the pain to stop.

My Dad, a retired police officer, once told me that pepper spray was more effective than a night stick because perps would practically beg to be taken into custody after a good dose to the face. I now have no doubt this is true.

And I’m certain, that had I not been yelling so loud, I would have heard uncontrolled snickering coming from the woods.

The moral here as Opening Day approaches is that we think we can defeat the seemingly unbeatable, be they squirrels or the Braves. Occasionally, we may even get one over on them. But in the end we wind up screaming, trying to wash away the pain.

The beauty of being a Mets fan, of course, is that we shall keep trying.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Matsui-less Team Japan takes WBC crown

"Godzilla" before he was shunned for turning Yankee.

Is there any doubt why Team Japan won the first World Baseball Classic?

I imagine the conversation went like this:

Hideki Matsui: "Hey! Sign me up! I’m ready to play!"

Whoever decides the roster in Japan: "No thanks."

HM: "What do you mean ‘No thanks?’ I’m Hideki Matsui! Remember me? The one called ‘Godzilla?’"

WDTRIJ: "Oh we know who you are. A Yankee. That makes you more like Godzuki or other lesser monsters. And we’re trying to avoid the stench of Yankee scum on our otherwise fine team."

Considering the utter failure of a team that included Derek F. Jeter, SlapRod, and Bat-Chucker, it looks like it was a pretty good strategy.

Of course, at least they answered his call. When the phone number belonging to our own Kazuo Matsui appeared on the caller ID, those guys ran for cover.

The Mets have had a steady stream of Japanese players, none of whom were included on the Team Japan roster. We’ve had Tsuyoshi Shinjo, Satoru Komiyami, Masato Yoshii, Hideo Nomo and Takashi Kashiwada.

None of those guys had Yankee taint, so can only assumed they were asked not to play because, well, they sucked. That speaks volumes about our ability to scout Japanese players.

I started getting interested in Japanese ball after reading Warren Cromarte’s book “Slugging it Out in Japan.” It’s a good read and tells just how differently the game is approached and played overseas. Except for the part about them using the showers as urninals, it was pretty fascinating.

I was able to buy caps for the Hanshin Tigers and Yomiuri Giants — who are like the Yankess without the scum — but wanted to find more stuff. This was before the Internet made ordering such things easy. I wrote to each of the teams asking for a souvenir catalog and instructions on how to purchase things from the US.

he best response came from the Giants, who said they were unable to sell me anything but sent an envelope full of cool things.

First was a team schedule. I’m pretty sure that’s Godzilla himself picture on the back, long before he sold his soul. Another item was a neat New Year’s Day post card.

But the most fun was a little envelope with the team mascot and Japanese writing. I had no clue what it was since my Japanese is somewhat rusty. Rusty as in non-existant.

But I opened it up and there was a piece of paper with writing in English (Yes!) that said: "This is a kind of fortune that is distributed with 100 yen to the team members, sports writers and so on when Tokoyo Dome is full with 56,000 fans."

Sports writers getting paid when the dome is full? I've been in press boxes. I know sports writers. They like free stuff. But in the U.S. they're limited to food, food, more food, media guides and stacks of statistics distributed by interns, at least when they're not dispensing food.

If word of this gets out, we might see a lot more coverage of Japanese baseball!
In Other Words:
Speaking of Japanese baseball, former Mets manager Bobby Valentine has a blog about life in the Japanese leagues. It's a fun read, as you can imagine. It's at Bobby's Way.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Curt Schilling's a stand-up guy -- unless he's knocking you down

But since neither of those two teams was the Mets, the door is left open just a crack to criticize Schilling when he does something really stupid — like last week.

Sock Boy capped off an otherwise fine spring training appearance against the Pirates by skulling outfielder Mike Duffy. Hey, it happens. And we’ve been known to cheer headhunting, especially when the recipient plays most of his games in Atlanta or is named Jeter.

Duffy suffered a mild concussion, which I guess is impressive because I didn’t think Schill had enough gas left to inflict a bruise, especially in mid-March.

But then Schilling was quoted in news reports with this blast directed at his victim: "Bottom line is that ball should not have hit him. You've got to be able to get out of the way of that pitch."

Way to duck responsibility, Curt!

Let’s see. Ball was in Schilling’s hand. Schilling threw the ball. Thrown balls in such situations are expected to land in the general vicinity of the area directly above home plate. Duffy’s bean was somewhat northwest of home plate, outside the generally accepted located of pitches.

So it appears to me the responsibility should fall of Schilling, not Duffy.

Duffy, apparently before he caused Schilling to bean him.

However, Curt’s creativity opens a whole new approach to responsibility denial. Consider how it might apply to the following individuals:

Vince Coleman: "It’s not my fault that kids got hurt when I threw those firecrackers. When you see an idiot with an explosive device, you have to be able to get out of the way.

Barry Bonds: "It’s not my fault I (allegedly) took steroids. The people who were giving all that love to Mark McGwire instead of me are to blame."

Roger Clemens: "It’s not my fault I threw the bat. I thought it was the ball."

Oh wait, Clemens actually said that. Maybe Schilling was just trying to follow in Rocket’s footsteps.

If Schilling had said something like "Hey, I feel bad it happened. I hope he recovers." he'd be a hero, or at the very least a decent guy.

But we've seen Curt fold up before. He was outspoken on the steroid issue until he butt was hauled before Congress -- when he suddenly developed amnesia.

Friday, March 10, 2006

How about a Team USA we can cheer for?

I’m as patriotic as the next guy.

Maybe even a little more. I proudly fly the flag outside my home. "Stars and Stripes Forever" is in heavy rotation on the iPod. I even forced Tony to endure a cool Mary Lou Retton poster on the dorm wall in the 1980s.

But I confess I’m having a hard time pulling for Team USA in the World Baseball classic.

A friend over at raised the issue of rooting for Yankee poster boy Derek F. Jeter, who is on Team USA. I told him the only thing he should be rooting for in that situation is for some minor-leaguer on Team Mexico to bonk a high hard one off the emblem on Jeter’s batting helmet.

Then I started looking down Team USA’s line-up. If we started skulling everyone in that group who has committed an atrocity against the Mets, we’d be walking in runs all game!

Who set that roster? It’s a virtual Who’s Who of Evil People and Mets Slayers. I’m surprised they didn’t lure Mike Scoscia and Jamie Qualls out of retirement to complete the cast!

Here’s a rundown of the rogues’ gallery and some possible people who should have been asked instead — upstanding citizens who would represent A) the Good Old US of A and B) The Mets, a group that we could actually root for and still feel good about it in the morning.

Villain: Roger Clemens
Bat-Chucker’s list of sins against the Mets and all of humanity has been recounted multiple times in this blog. The recent revelation that his son took him deep in a recent spring training scrimmage — and the fact that he proceeded to throw at his own kid’s noggin in retaliation for the blast — shows that Clemens is unfit.

Replacement: Tom Glavine
This is easy. Substitute one Hall of Famer for another one. Glavine’s younger, had a stellar second half and would never try to hurt his children.

Villain: Chipper "Bleeping" Jones
I proudly state that I am a personal jinx for Larry Boy. We saw him in a game in Cincinnati a few years and he made the third out every time he came to the plate. Then last year we witnessed him take the collar in a game in Pittsburgh. Sadly, I was not at any of the games in 1998 when the Hooters Customer Of The Year launched those bombs against the Mets and knocked them out of the wild card and claiming an undeserved MVP in the process. Naming his daughter Shea was a shameless — and failed — attempt to earn brownie points.

Replacement: David Wright
It’s criminal that Wright isn’t on the team. The ESPN Magazine cover announces his presence to the rest of the country with authority.

Villain: Derek "Bleeping" Jeter
Since the Yankee hype machine actually has people thinking this stiff is going to Cooperstown, it’s no surprise that he’s on the team. But since even the players on Team South Africa know how to slide — unlike Jeremy Giambi — they’ll be no glorious moments for Jeter in the WBC.
Rey and Robin

Replacement: Rey Ordonez
You laugh. But Rey-Rey is a newly naturalized American citizen. And he has more Gold Gloves than Jeter. Look it up.

Villain: Alex Rodriguez
"Slappy" couldn’t even decide which team he was going to play for. Of course, I can’t blame him because this is pretty vile company and goodness knows he hangs around with enough slimeballs during the season, given his home stadium. But no player who admittedly hits like a dog in the playoffs should be representing the US.

Replacement: Robin Ventura.
Oh, sure. Technically Ventura is retired. But so is Clemens — several times over. And Ventura’s already represented the US rather proudly, winning a gold medal.

Villain: Al Leiter
Al. We like you. But believe us when we tell you this. It’s over. It’s bad enough that you crossed back to the dark side. Walk away from the WBC, walk away from the Skanks. We have a jersey waiting for you in Port St. Lucie to help coach Mike Pelfrey and the gang.

Replacement: Billy Wagner
I know, I know. Wagner was on the roster than backed away. Can you blame him, given the kind of vermin he’d be associating with? Flush the roster of the unsavory elements and Billy can come back and not feel tainted by the whole experience.

Villain: Johnny "Benedict" Damon
Anybody who would willingly go from the Red Sox to the Yankees cannot be trusted. As a member of Team USA he’ll probably run off and join Team Taliban by the end of the tournament.

Replacement: Preston Wilson
Mookie’s a little old at this point. But if we can’t have Mookie, we can have the next best thing, and that would be his son.

Villain: Ken Griffey Jr.
Junior made the fatal mistake of rejecting a trade to the Mets when he was still decent. Since then, his career has crashed more often than Billy Joel after a party in the Hamptons. We don’t need that kind of karma on Team USA.

Replacement: Frank Thomas
I like Frank. I don’t think he gets enough love. I realize they can’t put him in the outfield. But we all know that Junior’s going to come up lame at some point, so we might has well put Frank on the roster. We already know that he can hang around the dugout and cheer on his teammates. Hard to dispute that White Sox championship.

Villain: Chase Utely
Freaking Chase just killed the Mets last year in those September games when everything was on the line. He was under the delusion that he could get an undeserved MVP that way. Hey, worked for Chippper.

Replacement: Edgardo Alfonzo
Hold on, I know there are issues. For one thing, he was born in Venezuela. But he has as much right to play for Team USA as Mike Piazza has to play for Team Italia. And since we’re assembling the rest of the 2000 Mets infield, we might as go all the way.

Now there’s a Team USA that we can all cheer for — and one that might actually beat that powerhouse from Canada.

In other words...

One year ago.

Mets Guy in Michigan turned 1 on March 11. I had no idea whether I could keep it going a month, much less a year. But I’m grateful to all the folks who have stopped by to share a couple minutes of their time.

Readership has picked up in recent months. Here are a number of posts from those early months that I thought some newcomers might enjoy:

March 21: Pop Shortell, Dave Winfield and Richard Nixon

March 28: Birthdays and Opening Day

May 9: Help! There's a Dead Cubs Fan in My Lap!

May 20: Wiffle Balls and the Meaning of Life

June 1: The Major-Leaguer, the Actor and the Truth

June 10: Frank Thomas and the Magical Misty Night at Tiger Stadium

June 21: Every Signature Tells a Story: Tom Seaver

Aug. 9: The Forces That Heal: Tom Seaver's 300th Win

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Every Signature Tells a Story: Joe Carter, A Nice Guy

Does all this talk about surly ‘ole Barry Bonds have you down?

I offer the antidote: Joe Carter.

Carter quietly turned 46 on the day that revelations broke that Bonds was allegedly juicing more than a Tropicana factory.

Carter will always be remembered for his Oct. 23, 1993 three-run, ninth-inning blast off Mitch Williams to crown the Toronto Blue Jays as World Series champs. He and Bill Mazeroski have the only two Series-ending walk-off homers.

The sheer joy on Carter’s face as he jumped around the bases is tonic for even the foulest Bonds press conference.

But when I think about Joe I think back to a day in 1987, a baseball card show in Trumbull, Conn.

Julie and I were engaged, and back then she would tag along to some of these things – as long as I would then go with her to a fabric store.

Our main goal was to meet Duke Snider and have him sign my Mets book and Hall of Fame ball. Duke’s a friendly guy. We admired his huge Hall of Fame ring, and he nicely commented on Julie’s engagement ring.

But sitting at a table all by himself was Joe Carter. It was odd that he was there in the first place, since he then played for Cleveland and had no New York or Boston ties whatsoever.

I was familiar with Carter because I had just drafted him for my rotisserie league team. He led the American League in rbi the year before.

I felt bad for him, sitting there with no customers. So Julie and I walked over and started chatting. He welcomed us with a big smile and strong handshake and we had a nice conversation about how his season was going and how he liked playing for the Indians.

From that point on, anytime Carter’s name was mentioned in the household, it was followed by “what a nice guy.”

Carter went on to have a solid career that falls just short of Cooperstown. He hit .259 with 396 homers, 1,445 rbi and 2,184 hits over 16 years.

His last game came at the end of the 1998 season, when his Giants and Cubs had a one-game playoff to determine the wild card.

Cub fans, never ones to be particularly warming to visiting players, showed Carter great respect by giving him a standing ovation when he came to bat in the ninth inning, knowing that it would be the last of his career.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Mets in the Rear View Mirror

This shot from the Dallas Green era shows how close the fans get at Vero Beach.

Just because Robin effortlessly jumps into the Batmobile at the start of every episode doesn’t mean you can do it, too.

This is a lesson I once learned the hard way trying to leap into my sister’s brand new Mazda Miata convertible. It was an expensive mistake that is now family lore.

So it was a supreme act of sisterly love when Jennifer trusted me to drive her new car up to Vero Beach to see the Mets and the Dodgers in a spring training game in 1997.

Before the kids were in school, I would visit my folks in Florida each March, where they would spoil me wildly by sending me to spring training games for a week straight.

The Mets are about 40 minutes north of their home, and the Dodgers are not far from the Mets.

And Dodgertown should be a national shrine to all that is good in the game. Spring training, while still pretty laid back, is nevertheless becoming big business, with stadiums getting larger and tickets harder to come by.

But the Dodgers’ complex in Vero Beach is like the yard that time forgot. It’s almost like going to see major leaguers in a municipal park.

There are no dugouts to speak of, just a couple of benches. And a short chain-link fence is all that separates players from the fans.

I’ve attended several games at Dodgertown, but the 1997 visit stands out.

Getting there was a challenge. Jen’s new Civic had a standard transmission, and I had not used a stick shift in years. I knew driving on I-95 wouldn’t be a problem, but I think I stalled it at several traffic lights before I got there.

Buying just one ticket just before game time, I was able to get a seat right behind the Mets dugout. Sitting across the aisle was then team co-owner Fred Wilpon, He noticed that I was wearing the new white cap the team was unveiling that year – and quickly discarded – and was happy to autograph my Mets book.

The game was a glorious rout, with the Mets scoring 5 runs in the first inning on their way to a 20-7 victory.

The Mets that year were in transition. John Olerud and Edgardo Alfonzo were in place, but so were Carlos Baerga and Alex Ochoa.

It was also the spring of Howard Johnson’s comeback attempt. It soon became apparent that Hojo was done, so spring became sort of an extended curtain call for him.

Johnson had not done well after leaving the Mets 1993, playing for the Rockies and the Cubs before catching on as a minor league coach for the Devil Rays in 1996.

He hit just .129 with a homer that spring, but got warm ovations from Mets fans whenever he batted. It was a proper send-off, and he deserved one.

As the Mets continued to add runs, the stands thinned out a little and I crept all the way down to the row behind the Mets bench.

Howard Johnson got a lot of love, but few hits in his comeback attempt.

It’s always fun to hear what actually happens in the dugout, though I suspect the players on their best behavior at Vero because the fans are literally right behind them.

It was interesting that Rey Ordonez was paying practically no attention to the game, but was instead focused on a young Latina sitting in the first row. Rey was very interested in her, and she was definitely NOT interested in him. Rey-Rey actually had a decent game, hitting two doubles and stealing a base, proving that he could be good when he wanted to be. Maybe the Mets should have stationed hard-to-impress girls behind the dugout for all their games.

The excitement came after the game. Parking at Dodgertown is spread out on sandy and grassy fields around the complex, and it takes a little time to get out and back to the main roads.

The stop and go driving was testing my ability with the stick shift, especially after the stalling issues on the way there. I was waiting in line at a four-way stop sign when I noticed a mini-van had pulled up behind me – a mini-van full of Mets!

Apparently Vero is so close that players had the option of driving their own cars, and changing back into street clothes back at St. Lucie.

Edgardo Alfonzo celebrates after a home run.

I could see HoJo in the passenger seat, but couldn’t make out who was driving.

Talk about pressure! Stalling in front of Mets players would not be impressive, and I could feel my pulse racing as I gently eased up on the clutch and the gas, inching up to the stop sign.

I managed to pull it off without stalling, and even mustered a cool wave as the mini-van passed me on the main road that takes you back to I-95.