Friday, June 30, 2006

The real reason we got swept.

Mets fans, we have to reveal an ugly reality: We threw the Red Sox series.

I’m convinced. And here’s why.

Our division is wrapped up. We’re up by 11 games, the Phils are throwing in the towel, the Marlins are kids, the Braves finally suck and the Nationals remembered that they used to be the Expos.

The second half of the season is going to be like spring training, where everybody plays to keep from getting rusty but avoids getting hurt. Except for David Wright and Carlos Beltran, who have to pad their stats for the MVP battle.

Meanwhile, the Yanks are in second place, four games out. And until midnight strikes for the Tigers or Ozzie Guillen talks his team into the tank, the wild card is coming from the Central Division. That means the Yanks finish in second place. And if they are in second, they’re not going to the playoffs.

We all know that a best-case scenario is the Mets in the playoffs, and Yankees sitting outside weeping on the curb with Mystique and Aura working the corners for new suitors.

A Yankee-free postseason would be a beautiful thing. Tim McCarver won’t be able to prattle on about Derek F. Jeter and his "intangibles." And think of how we’ll be sparing the casts of all those Fox sitcoms from having to make a trip to the Bronx to be seen in the front row for those thinly-masked promos.

What can we do to make this reality? Two things.

One is to beat the stuffing out of the Yanks this weekend at the their dumpy stadium in the Bronx. Considering that we were a Billy Wagner meltdown away from sweeping their sorry and saggy asses the last time we played them, I’m reasonably confident this will happen.

The other? That would be helping the team ahead of them in the standings.

The Skanks were playing the demoralized Braves, starting Tuesday at 3.5 games behind the Red Sox. Since the Braves are sitting around trying to figure out who will be their one shamed representative at the All-Star Game, the Yankees figured to take the series, which they did, winning two of three.

If we had swept the Sox — which we were fully capable of doing — we would have let the Yanks pick up two games. The only possible alternative was to hand the Chowds all three games.

Frankly, I was worried we were making it too obvious, especially Pedro on Wednesday. And Lastings must have been miffed after Willie told him to botch those balls hit to the outfield.

I figure we took one for the team. Sure, it stings for a while. But it’s better in the long run for everyone.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Our new foe? Pirates fans

Mets fans, we have a new enemy.

Not the Braves. Certainly a menace of the past, but now they are 15 games out, tied for last and dealing with the desired defection of Mr. Brave, John Smoltz, who apparently wants out of town now that team won’t be around to choke in the playoffs.

Not the Yankees. They’ve become like that scene in the Holy Grail where they guy pushes the cart of stiffs through the streets.

"Bring out your disabled!"
Bernie Williams: "I’m not disabled!"
"Yes you are."
BW "I’m getting better!"
"You’re not fooling anyone, get on the cart!"

Heck, the Yanks barely beat the Braves this week.

No. Our new enemy is the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates and their fans.

Normally, I don’t worry much about the ‘Rats. They pose no threat to anyone. I love their stadium and think their sleeveless uniforms are pretty sweet. And they made Mickey Mantle cry all the way home in 1960, which nearly earns them a lifetime pass in my book.

But now the team is messing with the Mets chances in the World Series, and that’s when I get ticked off.

How so?

Follow my logic.

The team apparently found a way to get its fans all riled up and voting for their favorite players to start in the All-Star Game.

Shortstop Jack Wilson — hitting .266 with seven homers — is coming out of nowhere to slide in behind Jose Reyes. This would be a travesty should this scrub pass our stud.

Second baseman Jose Castillo and his robust .277 stick is in third place and gaining rapidly on Craig Biggio and Chase Utley.

Third baseman Freddy Sanchez, with just four bombs, is fourth place and climbing, though it would take a miracle for him to displace our man David Wright.

In the outfield, near-Met Jason Bay somehow climbed atop Carlos Beltran, though Beltran is still in line to get the start.

Albert Pujols won’t be passed at first by anyone, much less a Pirate, and Paul Lo Duca maintains a lead over Mike Piazza at catcher.

Look, we don’t want a bunch of Pirate stiffs clogging up the All-Star Game lineup. We want to win this game. For several reasons.

First, we don’t want to have to endure another round of column from Yankee apologists like Tom Verducci going on and on about how he thinks the American League is superior. Verducci usually has some condescending All-Star rant. I remember one that ripped Milwaukee — the city, not the team — for daring to exist in a place like the Midwest that doesn’t meet Tommy’s approval.

Verducci’s still reeling from having to say nice things about Jose Reyes in a column last week, and even in that he felt the need to branch off into a Don Mattingly-Rickey Henderson lovefest because, well, you can't praise a Met without making sure the Yankees get their due.

But most importantly, the winning league gets the home field advantage in the World Series.

We plan to be in the World Series.

Our record in previous World Series: 1 win (1986) with home advantage, 1 win (1969) and two losses (1973, 2000) without home advantage.

I can understand the Pirates fans. When their team is as bad as it is, the best thing they have to look forward to is their hometown players going 0 for 2 in an All-Star Game before being replaced by someone who deserves to be there.

But there are bigger issues at work, and we don’t want a bunch sucky Pirates tampering with our plans to hoist a World Series trophy in a Shea clubhouse come October.

All-Star voting ends tonight! Get busy.

In other words...

Check out this sweet banner made for me by Transplantedmetsfan. I'll add it to the top of the page...when i can figure out how do it. If anyone knows how, please shoot me a line!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Big hits at the ballpark -- even without a game

Fifth Third Park, home to baseball, concerts and an occasional adventure.

Baseball stadiums tend to make lousy concert halls.

It’s that whole square peg thing, of using something for a purpose other then the one it was created for.

But the billing of TobyMac and MercyMe was to great to pass up, and my son and I headed off to Fifth Third Ballpark, home of the Single-A West Michigan Whitecaps. And it was one of those adventure-filled nights that you just don’t see coming.

The strangeness started as we walked across the parking lot. We saved $5 by parking in the commuter lot across the street from the stadium. I know, I know. But I’d rather spend that $5 at the concert on CDs or something.

Anyway, a parking lot separates the stadium from A.J’s, a mini-golf and go-cart kind of place. We were following a group of guys who apparently were killing time playing skee-ball and air hockey, not really paying any attention to them.

But a guy heard us talking, turned around and asked if we were going to the concert. I thought that it was odd, since there wasn’t a game that night. He said the centerfield gates were closed, and that we’d have to walk around to the front entrance.

"That’s the band right there," he said.

And sure enough, there were several tour buses parked in fronts of the gates where we normally enter. File this information away for later.

Inside, we saw that they had the stage set up right on second base, and the dirt and infield grass covered with plastic, with folding chairs set on top.

We bought tickets for seats in the stands — Andrew worried that he wouldn’t be able to see if we were in a flat place — and seemed pretty far from the action. There was a wide gap between the foul lines where the infield chairs stopped and the stands began. And the sound was pretty rough, too.

Which is not to say that we did not enjoy TobyMac, a Christian rapper/rocker who puts on a great show and has long been one of our favorites.

My son is at that age where he finds me embarrassing, so any dancing or singing is met with great eye-rolling and distancing, lest someone think we are related.

MercyMe started playing and, again, there seemed to be sound problems. It just wasn’t loud enough for my liking. And it definitely wasn’t loud enough to drown out the bored kid and even-more bored mom sitting behind us.

Now, this is one of my pet peeves. Adults, I’ve noticed, don’t behave well at concerts. Nothing is worse than plunking down good money for a show and have people chatting in your ear the entire time. Granted, for a Kiss concert that’s not going to be an issue, since you can scream in your neighbor’s ear and they still won’t hear it.

But for some of the mellower acts, it can be really distracting.

I also noticed that the ushers long stopped caring if people left the stands for the more expensive seats on the infield.

So when the bored ones were no longer deterred by my glares, we decided to move down — and ended up at the very foot of the stage. Andrew was dead center, and I stayed off to the side, at the foot of guitarist Mike Scheuchzer, since there were no other adults in the center and I had already embarrassed my son enough.

Volume isn’t an issue when the PA system is 10 feet away and MercyMe's new album really rocks. I was really getting into it, especially during "No More, No Less," my favorite song on the new CD.

At the end of the show, Andrew asked a roadie for one of the set lists, a paper with the order of songs that bands tape on the floor of the stage so they know what to play. He’s got a pretty good collection of these by now, and loves to get them autographed.

We saw some of the band members lingering with people behind the stage, but were not coming out to sign autographs, as a lot of the Christian bands do.

As we were heading toward the exits through stands, we could see the band members walking across the outfield to the centerfield gates.

Andrew, remembering our encounter on our way in to the show, said "We know where they’re going!" and made a bee-line for the area near the buses.

And sure enough, rounding the corner came the guys from MercyMe, spread out a little as they walked. I stepped way back, and reminded Andrew to be polite when he asked them to sign his set list.

And the band members were happy to sign, which made his day.

Then I noticed Scheuchzer, the guitarist, walking toward me with Barry Graul, the band’s other guitarist.

"This guy was singing every word," he said, pointing to me as they got close.

"Yup, I saw him!" Graul said. "It’s nice when we see that people know the new songs."

We were having a nice chat about the new CD, and how it’s got a harder edge than some of the previous albums and how some earlier songs that are mellow on the discs get a little crunchier in concert.

They both shook my hand and thanked me for being a fan.

Andrew’s eyes were as big as saucers. Cool rock stars wanted to talk to his old man? Sometimes Dad is somewhat cool after all.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Watching Donnell get tossed

Is it me, or does it seem like umpires are tossing people out of games more frequently?

It appears that people are getting ejected for calling balls and strikes several times a week, either one of the Mets or a player on the losing team.

I got to see an ejection — and all that goes with it — when I watched a game from the photo bin at Silver Stadium in Rochester, N.Y. in 1990. It’s the same game where I helped the Famous Chicken his act.

The bin was just a section of the dugout, the closest I’ve been to a game in progress. It was the best baseball education I’ve ever had.

One thing I didn’t realize until that experience was that players ride the umpires the entire game. Endlessly. Everything the men in blue did, from running up the first base line to get a better view of a play to sweeping off home plate, was met with catcalls. I’m sure they are used to it, and probably shut it all out.

This particular incident involved Donnell Nixon, who might have been a little cocky because he had already spent some time in the majors. Or he wasn’t particularly bright. It was probably a factor of the two.

Donnell took a called third strike and didn’t like it.

"I want you to swing at that ball, Donnell," the umpire said after Nixon beefed.

Donnell was still steaming as he walked back to the dugout, and yelled "Wake the f--- up!"

"What did you say?" the ump responded, taking off his mask and taking a few steps toward the player. Now, I have no doubt that the umpire heard every word the first time. So did everyone sitting in the box seats between the dugout and home plate.

Maybe it was a test to see how dumb Nixon was. If so, he failed because it repeated the line, possibly louder than the first time.

The ump then said, "You’re out of here!" and made that pointing to the seats gesture.

At this point everyone in the dugout was standing and yelling, along with the boos cascading from the stands. I got the impression it was token outrage from the players. Everyone knew he was going to get tossed as soon as he repeated the F-bomb.

The tunnel to the clubhouse was next to the photo bin, where I spent the game, reveling in the proximity. An inning or two after the ejected, I was startled by a voice coming from behind me.

"Thanks a lot!"

It was Nixon, standing in the entrance to the tunnel. Banned from the bench after the ejection, it was as close to the field he was allowed to get.

Nixon had to say it a couple times to get the umpire’s attention. I moved as far to the side of the bin as I could to make sure people knew it wasn’t me doing the yelling. I didn’t want to get tossed, too. After the inning was over, the umpire took a couple steps toward the dugout.

"No Donnell, that you for the paperwork. Like I needed that."

It was pretty cool to see up close — and almost as entertaining as the the Famous Chicken.

I got the impression that the incident wasn’t the first time Nixon showed poor judgment. And the Orioles apparently tired of his act pretty quickly.

Nixon played parts of four seasons in the majors, one with Seattle and two with San Francisco. But he lasted just eight games with the Orioles, hitting .250 with 2 rbi in 20 at-bats.

If you’re curious, legendary Giants manager John McGraw holds the record for career ejections with 131, and in a season, with 13 in 1905.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Use strategy when casting your All-Star ballot

One of our precious rights as Americans is to stand up and vote for people to represent us in important places like government and the All-Star Game. We must exercise that right.

Don’t go listening to whining sportswriters who say that fans should be stripped of their vote because they don’t know enough about the game. That’s elitist nonsense.

And besides, sportswriters are the ones who gave ARod the MVP last year, and who denied Tom Seaver of at least two Cy Youngs that should be hanging on his wall.

Great thought must go into filling out your All-Star ballot. It’s not something simple, like, I don’t know, picking players with the best stats.

No, there is great strategy at work. And there are two goals that override all others. First and foremost, elect as many Mets as possible. Second, keep Yankees off team.

This means that occasionally we have to cast a defensive vote and elect someone who might not be especially worthy. I didn't say this would be easy.

So here’s my ballot.

American League
First base: David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox

Might as well start with a controversial one. Ortiz is a designated hitter. I don’t know the last time he played in the field. I don’t know if he even has a glove. The shame of it is that a deserving player like Paul Konerko of the White Sox can’t get our vote. But Ortiz is leading in the balloting, and Yankee Jason Giambi is right behind him. Explain to me how Bonds is booed and Jason Grimsley is banished, yet Giambi — who spoke of steroid use in leaked grand jury testimony — could be the starting first baseman in the All-Star Game. Not if we have anything to say about it.

Second base: Mark Loretta, Boston Red Sox

In a just world, Robinson Cano would be dodging "Dizzy Bat Race" contestants between innings at Columbus Clippers games. But because he plays in the Bronx, misguided people think he should be the starting second baseman in the All-Star Game. I’m not saying Mark Loretta is going to make anyone forget Ryne Sandberg. But he’s second in the balloting right now, and is our best chance to purge this Yankee.

Shortstop: Miguel Tejada, Baltimore Orioles

The fact that Yankee fans think Derek Jeter is a great player proves they are silly. The fact that they’ve convinced other voters that this stiff is going to Cooperstown makes them dangerous. Jeter’s atop the balloting, and it’s going to be tough to topple him. About the best we can hope for is that he’ll get the start and expose himself as a fraud on a national stage. Either that, or he’ll catch a routine infield fly, run thirty feet, dive into the cast of The OC sitting in the front row and have Joe Buck carry on for the remainder of the game about his "intangibles." Is it just me, or does anyone else think it’s a little strange that the casts of all these Fox shows just happen to be hanging out together at all these big games that Fox broadcasts? If enough of us vote for Tejada, a worthy candidate in second place, we can avoid this whole nightmare.

Third base: Mike Lowell, Boston Red Sox

Stinking ARod’s way ahead of him, so we need to rally around the resurgent Mike Lowell. After years of toiling for the Marlins, Lowell is discovering what it’s like to appear in games where fans out-number empty seats. ARod and his weak-ass .277 stick is, at best, the fourth-best third baseman in his division, and Met castoff Ty Wiggington is gaining on him. Look it up.

Catcher: Ivan Rodriguez

It appears that the Red Sox fans hate the Yankees nearly as much as we do, because Jason Varitek is leading in the balloting right now. But Pudge Rodriguez is gaining, and the Tigers deserve at least some respect. Both are ahead of chinless Jorge Posada, which is my main concern.

Outfield: Vlad Guerrero, Los Angeles Angels; Manny Ramirez, Boston Red Sox; Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners

Geurrero and Suzuki are certainly worthy. Ramirez is great pick because, remember, we’re pulling for the National League so we can get home-field advantage in the World Series. ManRam barely concentrates in games that mean something. In an All-Star Game he’ll be more interested in chatting with the cast of That ‘70s Show, conveniently sitting in the first row, and our boys can slap hit after hit to left until Ozzie Guillen goes nuts and pulls him. Vlad and Manny are up in the voting. Sadly, the traitor Damon is third, for now.

Speaking of Ozzie, isn’t it nice that he’ll have a say in picking the reserves. Torre clearly abused this responsibility, taking every Yankee middle reliever, fourth outfielder and pretzel vendor with him to past All-Star Games.

Now for the good guys.

National League

First base: Carlos Delgado, New York Mets

Look, it’s not our fault that Albert Pujols can’t stay healthy. I would have voted for him, I swear. But since he’s on the shelf, Delgado is the best man for the job. Carlos, thanks to Al Leiter and a knucklehead agent, spent last year as Lowell’s teammate in Miami. Can you imagine his reaction on Opening Day in New York?

Carlos: "Hey, check it out! There are people in the seats."
Willie Randolph: "Yeah, they bought tickets and everything."
Carlos Beltran: "Sometimes they boo."
Kaz Matsui: "Sometimes they boo a lot."

Second base: Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies

Speaking of Kaz, we no longer have a dog in this fight. The guy we have listed on the ballot is now in Colorado Springs. Look at this as an opportunity. When some baseball snob looks down his nose and says "All you do is vote for Mets." You can say, "That is so wrong," point to your ballot and show your vote for Utley. The guy seems to kill the Mets every time, so he must be good.

Shortstop: Jose Reyes, New York Mets

Cardinal fans are well-meaning and very nice folks. But they’re loyal to a fault. David Eckstein is leading in the balloting. He’s a nice player and all. But he’s blocking Jose Reyes, clearly the best player. Did you know Jose has already walked as many times this year as he did all of last year? And he’s leading the majors in stolen bases.

Third base: David Wright, New York Mets

In the future, Wright for third base will be such an automatic selection that it won’t even appear on the ballot. Why waste all that time counting meaningless ballots? Our man overtook Scott Rolen to take the lead, and he’s not letting go until he retires.

Catcher: Paul Lo Duca, New York Mets

I love Mike Piazza. We all do. But Mike’s start in last year’s All-Star Game in Detroit was his curtain call. he even got to play drums with Alter Bridge before the Home Run Derby. Lo Duca has followed Piazza with the Dodgers, Marlins and the Mets, and now it’s time for him to assume Mike’s mantle as starting catcher in the All-Star Game

Outfield: Carlos Beltran, New York Mets; Jason Bay, Pittsburgh Pirates; Lastings Milledge, New York Mets (write-in)

Beltran started last year, and his recent march toward the MVP award makes his selection a no-brainer. He’s among the three leaders so far.

But I have issues with the others. We know for a fact that Andruw Jones would rather take a walk than swing at the ball, and in an All-Star Game I want to see some action. Ken Griffey Jr. is next, but do we really expect him to not be on the disabled list by early July? And Alfonso Soriano, who is in fourth, doesn’t even want to play in the outfield, as we all know from his little poutfest during spring training.

So nix those guys. Pittsburgh is the host. Throw them a bone and vote for Jason Bay, a former Mets farmhand who is recovering from his embarrassment in last year's Home Run Derby. And Lastings Milledge arrived too late to make the ballot, but he’s deserving. Or at least he has the potential to someday be deserving. I'm not going to split hairs. Besides there is always the chance that fans looking to get a high-five as he runs out to the field will trample the cast of Prison Break, conveniently sitting in the front row.

You are allowed to vote 25 times per e-mail address. Don’t be a slacker. You don’t want to be the one responsible if Jeter is out there basking in glory because he beat Tejada by 25 votes.

In other words...

My wife was watching the end of Wednesday's Mets-Phillies game and commented that she liked the hair in the new outfielder and asked who he was. Then I showed her this site, and now she proclaims Lastings Milledge to be her new favorite player.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Time stand still

”Time Stand Still” is one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite bands, Rush.

It was leaping from the iPod on my way home yesterday, and I had not realized how long it has been since I last heard it.

The message is perfect:

"Time stand still
I'm not looking back
But I want to look around me now
Time stand still
See more of the people and the places that surround me now
Freeze this moment a little bit longer
Make each sensation a little bit stronger
Experience slips away"

Neil Peart isn’t saying he wants to go back and fix the mistakes of the past, and he’s not saying he can’t wait for tomorrow. He’s saying look at what we have today. Enjoy it, appreciate it, be thankful for it and celebrate it.

And look at our Mets.

After a four-game sweep of the NL West-leading Diamondbacks, we have the best record in the National League, and are one win shy of the best record in baseball.

Two weeks ago the back end of our rotation was a patchworked disaster. This weekend new acquisition Orlando Hernandez tossed a three-hitter. And not to be outdone, fellow Cuban defector Alay Soler threw a two-hitter.

At the front of the rotation, Tom Glavine’s nine wins are tied for tops in baseball, and Pedro on Sunday finally got some support – 15 runs worth.

Leadoff hitter Jose Reyes is tied for the major league lead in stolen bases.

Third baseman David Wright is third in the league in batting average -- and is just two points behind the leader – and seems to thrive in clutch situations. If he’s not starting the All-Star Game, it’s because Cardinals fans are stuffing the ballot.

Centerfielder Carlos Beltran is playing like the guy we thought we were getting when we signed him to that massive contract last year, and is among the league leaders in runs batted in and home runs.

Carlos Delgado, who carried the club in April and May, came out of his June funk by seemingly using Diamondback pitchers for batting practice.

Lastings Milledge appears intent on proving that not trading him was the best decision the Mets made last winter. It seems like he’s getting extra-base hits in every game.

We sit six games atop in the standings. The Braves, who always seem to break our hearts, are 10 games back.

Heck, even the Yankees are slumping, getting swept by Oakland this weekend and trailing the Red Sox in the standings and have the Blue Jays charging up behind them. And, of course, one of the players on their 1999 and 2000 championship teams is talking to the feds about alleged use of human growth hormone and has named names. Yes, he was on the team that beat us in the 2000 World Series.

"Summer's going fast, nights growing colder
Children growing up, old friends growing older
Freeze this moment a little bit longer
Make each impression a little bit stronger."

All of the things I just listed are true today. Tomorrow, I’m not so sure. We’ve been through rough times. Today is a good day. Revel in it. Enjoy it.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The World Cup and wisdom teeth

I was pretty excited about covering the World Cup in 1994.

At least that 's what my oral surgeon said.

What is hyped as the biggest sporting event in the world came to the Detroit area, with three games to be played at the Pontiac Silverdome. My editors at the Flint Journal allowed me — succumbed to my begging, actually — to be a part of the coverage. One of the fun parts about being a reporter is that we get to see exciting things up close, and I thought this would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Not that I’m a soccer guy by any stretch. In fact, it’s safe to say that I was a full-fledged soccer mocker. Growing up in Massapequa in the 1970s, it seemed the sport was shoved down our throats. And there was a whole elitist thing going, about how it was the world’s sport and we silly Americans don’t get it and need to get on board. Most of these people were new Yankee fans who knew a thing or two about jumping on bandwagons.

But reporters are curious beings and I wanted to see what the fuss was all about.

A couple weeks before the first game, I had to go through a special screening to get a press credential that, for it’s time, were over the top. By today’s standards it was like boarding a flight to Atlanta.

Then I was able to attend a press conference where we were able to see the special grass that was grown outside on octagon-shaped trays in California then trucked to Michigan and installed in the Silverdome, where the Lions lost a lot of games on plastic turf.

We also were allowed to see the FIFA trophy up close. It was underwhelming.

Then I had to get my wisdom teeth yanked out. I’d never had a procedure like that before, and the only thing I remember was the oral surgeon putting some kind of tube over my nose and my saying that the gas that was supposed to knock me out wasn’t working — and several hours later waking up in my bed with my wife saying "Ick, change your gauze." I had no idea how I got there.

So I was still kind of sore when the big day arrived. The United States was playing Switzerland in the opening round game, and the hometown team was considered great underdogs.

We had actual sports guys covering the action on the field. My job was to write about everything else going on. And the fans from Switzerland were completely out of control. The Silverdome parking lot was an explosion of red and white, with singing and dancing, painted faces and flags.

People were walking around with cow bells, and I don’t mean Blue-Oyster-Cult-it-needs-more-cowbell cowbells. These things were massive. Somewhere is Switzerland, bovines were stealthily moving throughout their countryside because their bells were in Pontiac.

I looked for Swiss people who spoke English, and found one guy who didn’t mind talking to an obvious soccer novice. He spoke about the strengths and weaknesses of both teams, then leaned forward and spoke softly.

"Now I have a prediction for you. But I warn you, you might not like it."

"OK, let me hear it."

"Switzerland 4, U.S. 1" he said, then stood straight up with his chest puffed out, clearly expecting me to launch into a tirade. I’m sure he was disappointed that I didn’t.

I admired their fanaticism and patriotic fervor, which was a stark contrast to the Americans in the crowd.

I moved inside for the game, and the Swiss-induced bedlam continued, with more singing and chanting.

I’ve always thought soccer was pretty boring. A colleague at the paper wrote that it’s played on a field the size of Rhode Island with goals bigger than an airplane hangar, and people still can’t seem to score more than a point or two. And all that is true. But it was amazing to see the way the players could send the ball way downfield, floating like it was a beach ball, and make it stop on a dime.

Predictably, there were only two goals. Georges Bregy of Switzerland scored first, and Eric Wynalda of the U.S. later. Sadly, I missed them both, having picked a bad time to use the men’s room and grab a Diet Coke.

But a 1-1 tie was considered a sizable victory for the U.S., and I got caught up in World Cup fever, staying up late to watch some games, and even buying a U.S. jersey.

There's no way I’d attend another soccer game, but this was a fun way to dabble in a lesser sport for a short while.

But I'd love to be able to take some of the Swiss fans to see a Mets playoff game and let them see what real excitement is!

A week later I was back at the oral surgeon to get my stitches out, and he asked if I had a good time at the World Cup game.

"How’d you know I went to that?" I asked. "Did you see my stories?"

"No," he responded with a smile. "While you were knocked out, you kept repeating over and over, ‘I’m covering the World Cup next week.’"

Apparently I tried to drive home, too.

In other words...

Bob's insider information is always fascinating, but his take on the New York media and how little stories become big stories is must reading! You can find him at

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Casting out Mets demons on 6/6/06

As I’m sure you have all heard, today’s numerical date is 6/6/06. Or, when you want to manufacture a media event, you can say 6/6/6 or 666, the mark of the beast.

There’s a town here in Michigan named Hell that’s getting all excited about the event, which is misguided because I’d been to Detroit. And if there’s a town deserving of the name Hell...well, I won’t go there.

But I say we should make good use of this day. Instead of fearing the demons, let’s cast them out and allow them to haunt us no more. Open the closet door and let the skeletons free. Away with them all!

Naturally, there are rules about being a demon. You can’t just not play well. Mel Rojas was a bad pitcher, but not a demon. Goodness knows the Mets have endured a lot of players who just sucked. Nor is a person a demon because they were traded for someone who turned out to be much better. It’s not Jim Fergosi’s fault he was traded for Nolan Ryan.

We’re talking about the kind of players to piss away their skills, or who do things to hurt the team, our fellow fans or the city. Here are Mets demons. Cast them out today, and they shall haunt us no more. Let them go.

1) Timo Perez: Admit it, you still wake up in the middle of the night and yell "Run, Timo! Run, dammit!" It’s true that had Timoniel turned on the jets on the Zeile fence-bouncer, we probably would have taken Game One of the 2000 World Series, and who knows what would have happened after that. We certainly would have been spared bitter Tim McCarver’s weepy "This could be Paul O’Neill’s last game at Yankee Stadium" lines that we heard throughout Game Two. Timo still sucks, batting a robust .200 on the Cards’ roster.

2) Bobby Bonilla: Playing cards in the clubhouse with Rickey Henderson as the 1999 NLCS came crashing down was only the last shameful act of his Mets tenure. Being stupid enough to bite on Bob Klapisch’s bait was bad. Note to Bobby Bo: When known Yankee hacks are known to be writing books about the Mets, you can expect it to be critical. Don’t give them material.

3) Vince Coleman: The problem with those early 1990s teams wasn’t that they didn’t have money, it’s that they spent it on the wrong players. Like Vince Coleman. The speedy outfielder made his reputation by slapping hits on the Busch Stadium turf and stealing second and third. His greatest heist was the contract from the Mets, who should have known Vice wasn’t the brightest guy after he got run over by the mechanical tarp before the 1987 World Series. Once with the Mets, the delusional Vince blamed the Shea groundskeepers, saying their soft basepaths were keeping him out of the Hall of Fame. Then he hurt Doc Gooden’s shoulder with a golf club. And finally, he somehow thought it was a good idea to toss fireworks at little kids.

4) Kenny "Bleeping" Rogers: Game Six, 1999 NCLS. Bases loaded. Andruw Jones standing at the plate. Not swinging. Didn’t have to.

5) Richie Hebner: Hebner watched a lot of Mets baseball games in 1979. Sadly, he watched them from third base, where he drew scorn for his pronounced indifference, waving at balls hit his way.

6) Doc and Straw: The saddest part is that what was was so amazing that we’ll always wonder what could have been.

7) Gregg Jefferies: The most prized prospect in the 1980s, Jefferies got us all excited with his 1988 call-up. But Gregg was apparently wound a little too tight, throwing tantrums after making outs and errors. And since fielding was an issue, he threw a lot of tantrums. Not all of it was his fault, there was no way he could live up to the hype. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk, either.

8) M. Donald Grant: Here’s the big one. Do you praise M. Donald for the 1969 championship and 1973 pennant, or do you bemoan the man who banished Tom Seaver and let the team fall into shambles? Grant was an old-school baseball man. He gets points for being the one opposing vote on the New York Giants Board of Directors when the team moved to San Francisco. But the game clearly passed him by. He mishandled a spring training incident with Cleon Jones and banished the Jets to Jersey. Oh wait, the guy traded Tom Seaver because he didn’t want to pay him and traumatized my formative years. It will be 29 years next week, and I’m still bitter. That makes him a demon.

Away with you demons! And let you never haunt us again! And we’ll shall fear this day no more.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Mariano's cleats and a long drive with WFAN

This week I was on an assignment that sent me on a long drive to a small town in northern Michigan. I wouldn’t get home until well after midnight, but that was fine with me – I knew it would be one of those rare occasions I’d get to listen to WFAN.

Yup, radios here in the Midwest can pick up the Mets’ 50,000-watt flagship station, but only when the conditions are just right.

It’s got to be a crystal-clear night and you have to be far from any city where a crowded dial can turn 660-AM to static.

Thursday was cloudless, and my journey home from Gaylord took me through remote places like Grayling, Lake City and Cadillac. Note to Kiss fans: Yes, that Cadillac.

Loaded up with enough Diet Coke to keep me awake and on the road, I prepared to revel in the glory of New York accents and news of my first-place Mets for most of my three-hour trip.

Instead I was forced to hear about Mariano Rivera’s spikes.

Yes, that was the day that the Yankee closer somehow hurt his back tying his shoes. That injury prevented the Cyborg from taking the bump in the last inning in the series finale against Detroit.

And with Kyle Farnesworth dealing his hittable heat, the Tigers mounted a rally, pushed two runs across the plate for a walk-off win and avoided a sweep.

It also was the day that Gary “I didn’t know they were steroids” Sheffield went back on the disabled list and is likely headed for season-ending surgery.

If I can’t hear about a Mets victory, then the next best thing is hearing despondent Yankee fans whine. I heard more angst coming over their airwaves than I did at the middle school youth group lock-in I chaperoned the next night.

How does an athlete – especially one whose action is limited to one inning every couple nights – get hurt tying his shoe, one caller wondered.

Where was Jeter, the great Yankee captain, asked another? Derek F. Jeter was on the bench, nursing his own injury.

“Those shouldn’t be NYs on the Yankees caps, they should be Red Crosses,” opined on-air personality Steve Somers.

Plus, he commented, The Big Unit has been getting rocked and there would be no help from Roger Clemens, who opted to stay home in Houston rather than return to the scene of his bat-chucking.

Perhaps, Somers wondered, the Yankees are getting a little too old and brittle, and the farm system was a little thin, which is why a well-past-his-prime Terrance Long was called up from Columbus to patrol the ground once manned by Mantle and Maris.

Somers was then bereted by a caller named Carlos from the Bronx, accusing the host of having a Mets bias. Apparently Mike & the Mad Dog and their Yankee-lovin’ don’t phase Carlos as much as someone suggesting that a $194 million payroll is misspent on players whose best days are behind them.

Perhaps Yankee fans can't handle the truth?

As for my story, you might have heard about the case of mistaken identity involving two college students involved in a crash that killed five people in April. One was pronounced dead at the scene, the other airlifted to a hospital.

One was buried in Gaylord a month ago, the other recovering in a Grand Rapids hospital, surrounded by family.

Except, as it turned out, it’s the wrong family.

If you want to read something inspiring, here is a blog that was created by the family of the dead student who was presumed to be alive, and has since been updated by both families. They are remarkable people.

In other words:

If you’d like to learn a little more about the guy typing this, Greg of Faith and Fear in Flushing interviewed me for the Crane Pool Forum. You can find it about mid-way down on this entry: this entry.

If you liked the post about the Scott Kazmir trade, you’ll like this: An entire blog about the deal.