Monday, July 31, 2006

Sweeping a series, watching ads and correcting ballots

So I was kicking back in the baseball room on Sunday, enjoying a rare opportunity to catch our Mets on television.

An early afternoon thunderstorm washed out any chance of yard work, creating an opportunity for a truly guilt-free viewing of what was probably the best Mets sweep of the Braves since the 1969 playoffs.

Then came the commercial of the guy in the sports bar getting his shipment of Albert Pujols stuff to tack on the wall, with the other assorted pieces of memorabilia griping about who was better or had it tougher, with the bobble heads chiming in with an amen at the end.

It was kind of cute the first time; less so the second. But the freaking TBS seemed to run that ad every time there was a break in the action, and by the 20th time or so I hated it more than those horrid alternate caps the Braves wear with their lame red jerseys.

The ads, of course, are for MLB’s new Hometown Heroes promotion. We’re instructed to go to and vote for our team’s most outstanding player of all time.

Clearly, this is just another one of those sponsor-driven disaster-in-waiting that MLB tends to get itself involved in. Remember all the controversy when the All-Century Team was named and Pete Rose was elected? Whatever good feelings existed were squashed when Jim Gray tried to beat a confession out of Pete.

By the way, Pete’s listed on this ballot, too.

Since I tend to do what I’m told, I went online and dialed up the ballot. After snickering at the five candidates Devil Rays fans had to choose from, I switched over to the National League side to see which Mets were named.

My vote was a foregone conclusion, since I tend to write in Tom Seaver’s name when I vote in City Commission elections, much less on a ballot where he’s actually named.

But I wanted to see who all was there for the fans that don’t have basement shrines. And those choices are: Mike Piazza, Darryl Strawberry, Tug McGraw and John Franco.
Huh? Who’s picking this list, Chipper Jones?

I figure this should be a list of the top five players ever to play for the Mets. And if that’s the case, this falls way short.

Let’s go down the list.

1) Tom Seaver: An obvious choice, so qualms here.

2) Mike Piazza: Again, no argument about the greatest-hitting catcher ever.

3) Darryl Strawberry: Our troubled friend is certainly our best-ever slugger, at least until Carlos Beltran and David Wright gets a couple more years in New York under their belts.

4) Tug McGraw: Hmmm. This is where things get questionable. I like Tug. My cat’s name is Tug. Tug was a wonderful personality and his “You Gotta Believe” cry resonates through Shea to this day. But he is not one of our top five players of all time. And I mean no disrespect. He might be in the top 15, and deserves a spot in the Mets Hall of Fame. But if I’m limited to five, he falls short.

5) John Franco: No, no, no! Franco represents the ugly 1990s, the decade of shame and angst. He had already lost the closer’s job when the team went to the Series in 2000. And unlike Piazza, his departure was not pretty. Franco also deserves a spot in the Mets Hall of Fame, and I’ve advocated retiring No. 31 as a combined tribute with Piazza. But there’s no way he gets a spot on this list.

OK, you ask. If I strike the two closers, who do I add?

Here are the candidates:

1) Keith Hernandez: The arrival of Mex in 1983 was one of the turning points in the history of the franchise. I’d argue that he was more import to those mid-1980s teams than Strawberry

2) Gary Carter: Kid sealed the deal, pushing the team over to top – the upbeat ying to Mex’s dour yang.

3) Jerry Koosman: Kooz was a heck of a pitcher who would have been the ace for any team without a pitcher named Seaver on the roster.

4) Dwight Gooden: Can the 1986 team be over-represented here? The tragedy is that Doc’s demons kept him out of Cooperstown and kept him from being a no-brainer for the list. But you could say the same things about Straw, and he’s there.

5) Willie Mays: I know Say Hey is among the Giants’ top 5 and should win the balloting there. But I just like remembering that Mays was a Met, and join with my friend Greg Prince in calling for his No. 24 to be retired at Shea.

Decision time! I’m picking Hernandez and Koosman. That gives the nod toward the leader of the 1980s and pitcher who, like McGraw, was a key part of the 1969 champs and 1973 pennant-winners, but was the better pitcher.

Doc gets squeezed out by the baggage, and Carter, in a just world, gets tapped to be the Expos representative.

In other words.

What a shame about Cory Lidle. He had a nice little career going there. But now that he's been traded to the Yankees we know bad things will happen to him. Lidle, of course, started with the Mets in 1997, going 7-2 with a 3.53 ERA before being snapped by the Diamondbacks in the expansion draft.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Bobble heads, chocolate milk and the wrath

I should have seen the trouble coming. When you incur the wrath of the baseball gods, bad things are going to happen.

One of my personal rules is that you go to a baseball game to enjoy baseball, not for the sole purpose of getting some promotional giveaway. If you happen to get something cool for going to that particular game, it’s like a special treat.

And there is nothing worse than the guy who buys a ticket, gets his promotional item, then turns and heads home with no interest in the game.

Well, I have some bobble heads in the baseball room, and I was excited to see that the local West Michigan Whitecaps (Single-A Midwest League, Tigers) were planning to give away Joel Zumaya bobbles on Tuesday.

Zumaya, of course, is the Tigers rookie flamethrower who spent time in Grand Rapids in 2004, one of the better prospects to come through.

I have a weakness for bobble heads. I marked this date down months ago and planned to attend the game.

But it’s been a busy week. A relative is coming from out of town and I wanted to make sure the house looks its best. And the Mets were making a rare Michigan television appearance since they were playing the lowly Cubs.

Too busy to go the game, I thought to myself, hoping that the bobble heads would eventually end up in the ‘Caps gift shop, like the Brandon Inge and Jeff Weaver versions did a few seasons back.

Then my newspaper ran a photo of the bobbles. Zumaya was in a neat pitching pose, and was in his classy Whitecaps uniform. This was too much to pass up, but I really had to do more cleaning and grocery shopping before the guests arrive.

I pass Fifth Third Park on the way home, and hatched a sinister plan. I parked in the free commuter lot across from the stadium, bought a $5 lawn seat ticket and got on line a half hour before the gates opened at 6 p.m.

I planned to get the bobble head, turn and leave without the temptation of going into the yard.

All the while I stood on line, I felt sleazy and guilty, knowing this was a wrong thing – probably the same way a Yankee fan must feel every day.

I was about the tenth person on line, which was a good thing because there were only 1,000 bobbles to be distributed and there are three gates in the stadium.

The appointed hour arrived; I walked in and happily accepted my Zumaya – and free program. The Whitecaps rock!

Then the guilt struck. I couldn’t turn and leave. I felt like one of those freaks that used to buy 10 tickets to the Beanie Baby days, not stay for the game and rush home to put the darned things on eBay. I hate those people, and was never shy about expressing that opinion.

I made a quick loop of the stadium, used the restroom then slinked out the back gate, hoping no one would comment. It’s a good thing I arrived early, because the Zumayas were gone and it was only 6:10 pm.

Deep down I knew this was wrong, and that there would likely be consequences.

And sure enough, I arrived home to find that my 9-year-old had spilled chocolate milk on the living room carpet -- a whole glass of chocolate milk, on the tan carpet.

How big was this spill? The NesQuick Bunny and all his relations could have used it a watering hole.

The skipper of the Exxon Valdez would have said, “My spill was bad, but this thing is incredible.”

ARod would have come in and said “And I thought I was having a bad week.”

A Michigan Convention and Visitors Bureau representative would have said, “Oh look, another Great Lake! And it’s less brown than Lake Erie.”

“I hope you like that bobble head,” I said to myself. “Because the baseball gods have spoken and you shall suffer.”

So rather than quickly completing the remaining jobs and settling in to watch the Mets in comfort, I broke out our little Green Machine cleaner and went to work. Alas, that tool is small spills. This disaster called for something professional: The Rug Doctor, which I rent from Lowe’s.

So I did get to watch the Mets as I dragged the Rug Doctor back and forth over the spot, sloshing buckets of hot water and detergent across the house.

The machine does a good job, but it’s louder than a Kiss concert. This is good because it drowns out the horrid Cubs announcers. And it also drowned out the foul things I was yelling when Carlos Zambrano took Tom Glavine deep. Apparently the wrath extends the Mets as well.

So now the carpet is clean, the Rug Doctor is rinsed out and ready to back to Lowe’s, groceries purchased from the never-closing Meijer store and the Joel Zumaya bobble head is on a shelf in the baseball room, forever serving as a reminder that you don’t break the baseball fan rules.

In other words...

Back in May I grew weary of the whining over the Kazmir trade and spelled out my belief that horrible trade is the reason we're in first place today. Well, Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post just last week came up with a very similar conclusion. Luckily, Bob Sikes of Getting Paid to Watch called him on it in this post.

Thank you, Bob, for the kind words and for having my back!

If you've never read Bob's blog, he was an assistant trainer for the Mets and witnessed some amazin' things and offers incredible views of behind the scenes activities and shows us the human side of the game.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Tasting history in Philly

The gang took in a doubleheader at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia last year, and before the game we gazed upon a truly historic site.

Oh, we went to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, too. But I’m talking about Pat’s King of Steaks, a southside eatery where the infamous Philly Cheesesteak sandwich was invented.

It was an awesome experience, recalled this weekend when I read that Harry Olivieri, 90, who founded the shop with his older brother Pat, passed away.

We're talking about a legendary food-city linkage here, like poppy seed bagels and the homeland. Here in Michigan, they try to claim a "coney dog," in greasy spoons they call "coney islands" with lower case letters for reasons I can't understand. It's basically a nasty hot dog with nasty chili sauce, cheese and onions piled on top.

I've tried to explain to people here that nothing like that is served anywhere on Coney Island, lest you want to see it again on the second drop of the Cyclone. They give me blank stares and insist I'm wrong. Hey, I tried.

But we were excited about getting an authentic taste of Philly on our road trip.

Pat’s was not easy to find, tucked in kind of a gritty neighborhood of shops and row houses. It’s on an island in the intersection where 9th Street crosses Wharton and Passyunk avenues.

The exterior does nothing to alert you to the glories within. It’s two-story brick building with white awning on most of the sides, and the strong aroma of sizzling beef and onions wafting in all directors. There might have been an actual grease cloud hovering overhead, hence the awning.

It was understated, at least compared to the giant Geno’s restaurant with the huge, colorful illuminated cheesesteak sign down the block. Geno’s is a tourist trap, we were told. Pat’s is the real deal.

The line was long, but moved along quickly. The placed pretty much served cheese steak and little else, but there were a lot of variations. You needed to say "wit" if you wanted onions, and there were assorted cheeses and other add-ons.

You moved along until you got to a window, where you encountered a guy who was all East Coast attitude. I loved it. The conversation did not start with "Welcome to Pat’s, what can I get you?" You were expected to order and order quickly — there were instructions printed on the wall — then move along to the other window, where you placed your order for drinks and fries, in case you didn’t get enough grease.

The space between was filled with a large, steaming window that separated you from the grill. It offered a view of dozens of thin steak strips sizzling in what seemed like three inches of juices and grease.

The wall above the window was lined with black and white photos of celebrities who dined on cheesesteak, and on the floor in front of the drink window was a slate reading that Sylvester Stallone stood on that spot while he filmed a scene in "Rocky."

I picked up my sandwich — plain with provolone, "wit-out," playing it safe — and then confronted a metal serving cabinet with all different kinds of peppers and sauce. Some of these peppers were round and the size of golf balls. I don’t know how you could possibly put them on a roll, and goodness knows how hot they would be.

We then grabbed one of the round tables and after posing for assorted photos, took out first bites.

It was amazing. Like nothing I have ever had. So good that I wanted another, but figured that might not be wise considering that we were headed to a doubleheader.

Then just over our shoulder there was a commotion. A woman at the window claimed she gave the attitude guy a $20, and he only gave her change for a $10.

This got louder and louder, and the cashier wasn’t budging, ending with "LOOK LADY, I DON’T MAKE MISTAKES. Move along, I got sandwiches to sell."

Needless to say, that’s become one of our catch phrases. I don't think she got her $10 back.

It was all-attitude, all-Philly. Everything made sense. I could understand why these people booed Santa Claus and cheered as Michael Irvin lay sprawled motionless on the turf.

It’s like trying to describe Nathan’s at Coney Island to the Michiganders who have never been.

Later on at the ballpark, we encountered numerous stands selling Philly cheesesteaks. I was tempted, especially after there were no, um, consequences from the experience earlier in the day.

But I figured there is no way anything sold at the stadium could come close to Pat’s.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Christmas in July: ARod is cursed

ARod’s toast.

As if the booing, the flopping in the playoffs, the shirtless activity in Central Park weren’t enough. Now the Yankee’s third-baseman is facing the curse.

I was almost giddy when I learned this week that Hallmark has selected ARod to be this year’s baseball player ornament.

First, it was $15 that I didn’t have to spend, because there’s now way I’m going to put a Yankee on my Christmas tree.

But the other reality is that the vast majority of the players tapped by Hallmark for ornaments in its “Day at the Ballpark” series have suffered mightily.

I have about 25 baseball ornaments. Long-time readers know what that’s code for. Truth is my baseball ornaments were taking over the family Christmas tree. One year my wife decided to get them out of sight by buying me a small artificial tree for the baseball room in the basement.

And at first it was pretty cool that Hallmark made reasonably realistic-looking ornaments of players that are about the size of the old Starting Lineup figures.

Then I started seeing a disturbing trend. Here are the players and the events that followed, most of them bad. I think there's a curse. Decide for yourself.

1996: Nolan Ryan

The series started out with Ryan, a safe, reasonable choice. But there was an obvious faux pas. The ornament depicted The Express as a Ranger, where he is best remembered for giving Robin Ventura noogies, instead of with the Mets, where he won his only championship.

1997: Hank Aaron

Also safe. Who wouldn’t want Hammering Hank ushering in the holidays? I hang this one front and center on my tree.

1998: Cal Ripken Jr.

And here’s where the curse kicks in. The Iron Man, of course, set the consecutive games record several years before this ornament was released. The next season? Ripken goes from playing in 161 games in 1998 to just 86 in 1999.

1999: Ken Griffey Jr.

It was hard not to love Junior in his Mariners days. Sadly, two months after Christmas, Junior browbeat the M’s into shipping him to the Cincinnati Reds.

2000: Ken Griffey Jr.

After the whole trade debacle, Hallmark asked for a mulligan and issued another Griffey ornament. It was actually the same pose, but with a new paint job. A bad one, in fact. It showed a solid red jersey with only a sleeve patch to indicate it was in fact a Reds uniform. And, of course, Junior has never been the same.

2000 Mark McGwire

This was he first two-ornament year. Hey, why mess with one player’s career when you can trash two? McGwire was hurt for much of 2000, but still hit .305 with 32 jacks and was rewarded with an ornament. The next season a broken-down Mac gimped with a .187 stick and 29 homers and four years later showed up before Congress all weepy and looking like a deflated balloon from the Macy’s parade.

2001 Mickey Mantle

After the double jinx of 2000, Hallmark played it safe by picking a player whose career couldn’t possibly be hurt. Heck, they picked a player who’s life couldn’t be ravaged by the curse – one who was dead for six years. Not that it appears on my tree.

2001 Sammy Sosa

Sammy hit 64 homers in 2001, and then showed up on Christmas trees. He had one more decent season before going from King of the Windy City to corking bats, ticking off teammates and getting run out of town. Next thing you know, Sammy, who seemed to speak English well enough in his assorted television ads, needed a translator to say practically nothing when hauled before Congress.

2002 George Brett

Brett, a clean-cut and respected guy, was already in the Hall of Fame when Hallmark decided to test the curse and make him an ornament. Truth be told, a guy like Brett was needed to off-set the horrible karma from the other guy selected for that year.

2002 Derek F. Jeter

Derek “Bleeping” Jeter. Why would somebody want this over-rated slacker on their Christmas tree? Hello? The holidays are supposed to be a happy time. How am I supposed to be wishing people peace on Earth and goodwill toward man with Mister Freaking Yankee dangling from an evergreen branch? Bad move. I refused to buy this one. I don’t put Yankees on my tree. On the plus side, Jeter has been cursed and the Yankees have not won a World Series since Hallmark cast him in plastic.

2003 Ted Williams

After the whole Jeter fiasco, Hallmark must have decided that it needed to salvage the whole line of ornaments. And why not the Splendid Splinter? He was one of the best players of all time, though a little crusty in his later years. And he had died the year before, so there was nothing embarrassing that could happen. Except, of course, when it was revealed that his goofy son talked Dad into lopping off his head and freezing his body after death, and having the rest of the family going to court to reclaim the body.

2003 Jason Giambi

Oh, if that wasn’t enough, the second guy selected was soon to be linked to a steroid scandal. Did Hallmark learn from Jeter? Apparently not. Look, when you dance with the Yankees, bad things are going to happen.

2004 Willie Mays

Ahhh. Here we go. The Say Hey Kid. No ‘roids, no goofy family members. It’s all good. Except, of course, that the former Met is for some reason depicted as playing for some other team.

2004 Barry Bonds

Well, Barry’s life pretty much went to hell after Hallmark dropped this baby. He barely played the season after the ornament was released, and we all know what’s happened since. Hmmm. With Bonds, Sosa, Giambi and McGwire, you could have a little theme tree working.

2005 Albert Pujols

I thought Hallmark was starting to learn from its past mistakes, and picked a squeaky clean player from a great baseball city. And Albert looked like he was going to survive until going down earlier this season for three weeks. He’s bouncing back nicely, a valiant effort to break the curse.

2006 Alex Rodriguez

Needless to say, I won’t be buying this one. But I wasn’t sad to see him selected knowing the carnage that is to follow. It was kind of like, well, a Christmas present in July.

Now if we can only stop Hallmark from discovering David Wright, we'll be in good shape.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Visiting the Rangers' former owner -- at least his house.

When a president steps out of the door of Air Force One and waves, there's no one but media types to wave to. But it looks good.

Given that the Mets had an extended All-Star break this year, I decided to take some quality time with the family and head to Washington D.C.

It’s both a vacation and an educational experience for the kids. We were in awe at Daniel Chester French’s statue in the Lincoln Memorial and fought back tears reading notes left at the base of the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial.

It also was pretty emotional seeing the Declaration of Independence and Constitution for the first time. A historian during Ken Burn’s epic documentary stated than in 2,000 years, the United States will be remembered for three things: that Constitution, baseball and jazz. I don’t know about the jazz, but I’m certain he’s correct about the other two.

Plus, I’m a bit of a presidential junkie. OK, a big presidential junkie. I have portraits of Theodore Roosevelt hanging in my living room. So I wasted no time in lining the kids up in front of the nice house owned by the former Texas Rangers owner for some photos. And one of the highlights was when our tourmobile had to pull over to allow the owner himself to pass by in his motorcade.

Seeing a sitting U.S. president is always a big thrill, and one of the joys of my job is that I get to do that from time to time.

It’s also pretty fascinating to learn all the things that go into a staging a presidential visit, and hear about some of the funny inside baseball stuff.

Flint's airport was part of my beat when Bill Clinton came to town to make a speech in 1993. I was determined to be a part of our coverage in some way, and camped out at the airport to cover the arrival. We call these assignments “death watch,” because there won’t any news unless something horrible happens – and you want to be there just in case. Not that we want such things to happen.

Any reporter who plans to get anywhere a president has to jump through some hoops, which includes a criminal background check.

Then we had to arrive at the airport extra early, and lay our equipment on the ground so bomb-sniffing dogs can check them out. Not a big deal for my pad and pens, but it was a hassle for the television types, which is fine with me.

The airport had a flat bed truck on the apron for us to stand on and get a view of the Clinton walking down the steps. And here’s something you might not know. Those concrete areas near the gates at an airport are not called the tarmac. The airport workers told me that a tarmac is actually a form of crushed stone used by the military to create temporary landing strips in remote areas. The proper name, they insisted, is apron, which just isn’t as much fun to say. But I digress.

The airport administrator said the preparations actually started days prior to the arrival. The night before, three huge cargo planes arrived. One had the president’s entire motorcade; another had three of those green and white helicopters you see the president boarding on the White House lawn. And the other carried massive amounts of communications equipment and goodness knows what else.

And there are multiple sets of these things. When a president visits multiple places in a day, the sets leap frog each other.

And for the entire time the president was on the ground in, an entire emergency room crew was on standby in an area hospital, scrubbed and ready to go.

So I was out there on the flatbed truck with the television types, and the area was is blocked off with those metal construction barricades with the blinking orange lights that they used before the orange barrels you see today.

My heart was racing when Air Force One came down out of the sky. It’s an impressive plane. A second one followed, because there is a spare for everything.

The media types who travel with the president deplaned first, and they all crowded around the base of stairs that pulled up to the door near the front. I tried getting down from the flatbed to join that group. A stern agent shook his head, and said, “Nice try, though.”

Then Clinton and Hillary stepped out of the doors and started waving. This was entirely for the cameras, because there was nobody there to wave to. The agents weren’t thrilled about having credentialed media types within view, much less someone the president might actually want to wave to.

The motorcade then sped up to the foot of the stairs, and off went the president.

Every road to U of M – Flint, where he was speaking, was blocked off.

We were left on the flatbed to cool our heels and admire the plane. The airport director told me to look at the roof of every building I could see – and there were sharpshooters.

Less than an hour later the motorcade reappeared. Police cars were in the lead. Then there was a black SUV, which came to a halt and a team of agents who looked armed to the teeth jumped out. When the doors opened I could see that the doors were lined with gun racks. The thing was a rolling armory.

Clinton emerged, climbed the steps, turned and waved good-bye – again, to no one but the cameras, giving them the photo they needed.

It took a little while to get the national media types back on the plane, then the jet engines started getting louder. It appeared that the 747 was going to make a sharp right turn, with us facing the rear of the jet.

A Secret Service assigned to stand near us turned and casually said, “You might want to hold on to something. It’s going to be a little windy.”

That was an understatement. I’m sure he knew it.

I ended up kneeling on the edge of the flatbed, holding to the edge for dear life. The metal barricades with the blinking lights went flying. Television photogs were trying to hold on to their equipment, and the “on-air personalities,” well, they needed more hairspray. I’m surprised all of us stayed atop the truck. It was that strong.

And off went Clinton, and I presume the three cargo jets with the choppers, motorcade and equipment followed him later in the day or headed to his next location. It was astonishing to me the amount of preparation and expense that went into a visit that lasted about as much time as takes Steve Trachsel to pitch two innings.

I thought about that day as the motorcade passed the tourmobile, with motorcycle cops in the lead, followed by the black SUV – and this time I could see the agents with very big guns in their laps – followed by several black vehicles and more police officers.

The tour guide was blasé, but I still found it fascinating.

DC baseball notes:

We drove base RFK Stadium, which does not look like a good place to watch a baseball game, at least from the outside. But at least there appeared to be parking. The Washington Post had a story about the proposed new stadium and how there would be 9,000 parking spaces, some of them very far flung.

We stayed in a place about halfway between Washington and Baltimore. But Nationals gear accounted for at least 80 percent of the baseball stuff at the Model’s near the hotel. Got myself a couple cool caps!

There were Orioles t-shirts marked down to $5. I presume that was because the names “Sosa” and “Palmiero” were printed on the backs.

Thomas Boswell of the Post is a joy to read. And the local media had much praise for the trade with the Reds – and predict it is setting up several others to me mmade by the Nats in the coming two weeks.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

All-Star Game was all Wright -- until Hoffman blew it!

Well, we can’t say the Mets are to blame for that All-Star Game loss.

Until Trevor Hoffman coughed up that ninth-inning triple to Michael Young, the game went from being a showcase for baseball’s best to the David Wright coming-out party.

And Carlos Beltran did the Mets proud, too. He probably would have been MVP for his exploits.

But until the top of the ninth, it was all Wright, all the time. Fox dwelled on Wright as if he was taking on the American League all by himself.

First, we had his line drive blast to tie the score in the bottom of the second. That led to that funny bio segment, and even a little highlight clip at the top of the seventh.

And of course, his dad exposed the sordid tale of his high school food fight and the one-day in-school suspension.

Heck, Wright was even part of the Pepcid Complete double play of the day, not that I ever want to hear that bit of corporate placement again.

How much buzz was there around our third-baseman? Albert Puljos -- the best player in the game -- made an awesome bare-handed play, and Tim McCarver used it to talk about Wright’s bare-handed, over-the-shoulder grab from last year.

Beltran had a great game, too. He played all nine innings, had a double, hit, stolen base and run scored, and might have had another hit, but Gary Matthews Jr. made a nifty grab. He then legged out a base after a bobble in the bottom of the ninth and got himself in scoring position. Too bad the non-Met slackers on the rest of the team couldn’t come through.

Our other starter, catcher Paul Lo Duca didn’t do much in the game, going 0 for 2 and hitting into a double play. But his real role in Pittsburgh was serving up meatballs to Wright in the Home Run Derby the night before.

Alas, the real most valuable player for the AL might be Mike Jacobs because he spiked Jose Reyes on Friday, knocking him out of the lineup. Had another Met been in there, who know what would have happened?


Brad Penny picked up popularity points a plenty with that up-and-in toss to Derek F. Jeter. A couple more inches and he’d have earned a shrine in the baseball room!

Speaking of Jeter, what a miserable night for him at the plate with two Ks, then grounding out to Wright.

And ARod might be better off that that offer of a career in the beverage distribution industry, doing nothing all night. I’m sure Ozzie Guillen couldn’t wait get both of those Yankee stiffs out of the game.

Freddy Sanchez got big air to snare Mark Loretta’s line drive to get out of the fifth inning. He must be trying to curry favor with Mets fans after we declared Bucs players and fans as enemies after their ballot-stuffing. All is forgiven.

It was nice to see blustery Guillen wiping away tears during the ceremony honoring his hero, Roberto Clemente.


Alfonso Soriano remembered somewhere between third and home that he used to be a Yankee and got himself nailed at the plate, depriving Beltran of an RBI.

What was that horrible “Head, Shoulders Knees and Toes” thing with Vlad Guerrero?

The introductions lacked some of the sparks of the previous years. No walking out with kids, no fireworks and dramatic entrances. Guess they had to save time so we could watch the contest winner hit balls off a tee. When did the All-Star Game go minor league? Is the Taco Bell dizzy bat race next?

Wouldn't it have been nice if Fox explained that the RCW monogram on the sweatbands all the players were wearing were for Clemente, whose full name is Roberto Clemente Walker?

Will Bumbling Bud Selig ever get one of those mid-game ceremonies right? I know he tries hard, but did you see him get caught in his microphone wire stepping up to the podium. And it was nice that Vera Clemente was on the field, but why did they leave his two sons in the stands?

And the saddest announcement of the night? Fox announced it locked up broadcasts of the World Series and All-Star Game for the next seven years. As Joe Buck, sitting with McCarver, said, “You’re stuck with us."

Stuck is right.

One more David Wright item:

This was posted on a Mets listserv I belong to. The poster didn’t list the source, so I can’t confirm, nor do I know to whom I give credit. My apologies there. But it's just too good to pass up.

MIA-Rod in Pittsburgh

The Mets beat the Yankees 1-0 Sunday, at least in the hearts of some disappointed fans.

The Amazins' David Wright and Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez were scheduled to host an All-Star Game party in Pittsburgh for the Major League Baseball Web site,

Wright, starting at third tonight for the National League, made it despite a raft of obstacles, including his plane being grounded (oil leak) and his car breaking down (flat tire) a mile from the event. He ended up jogging the rest of the way, making it in time to celebrate with sportsmen like Freddy Sanchez, Ryan Howard, Goose Gossage and NFL Hall of Famer Jim Kelly.

But despite already being in town, A-Rod was a no-show. The Bronx Bomber dined at Morton's steakhouse with his wife, Cynthia, and opted to hit the town with fellow Yankee and American League starter Derek Jeter instead, partying at the nightclub Diesel.

Event organizers were livid. "He never even called to apologize,"
complained a source.

A-Rod's camp claims there was a miscommunication. "Maybe he had been invited. But they did not have permission to use his name on the invite. He didn't know that he was down to be the host of the party," a pal of the slugger insists.

I post this not so much to wail on A-Rod, tough that is always fun. I'm sure those guys get pulled in every direction by every sponsor.

But how about Wright running a mile to get to the event?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Mets in the All-Star game? Typically a mid-summer bummer

The 1986 NL team was stacked with Mets, but it didn't turn out well.

I love the All-Star game. I dare say it’s my favorite game of the year to watch.

It’s awesome to see all those great players in one place, and my favorite part is when the players are introduced. It’s especially fun to see our Mets representatives get their due.

But the sad truth is that Mets players tend not to do especially well in this national spotlight.
Of we’ve had some spots of success.

Jon Matlack was the winning pitcher and co-MVP of the 1975 game. Lee Mazzilli had a big home run in the 1979 game. Tug McGraw won the 1972 game, and Sid Fernandez claimed a save in 1987. Dwight Gooden striking out the side as a rookie will be an all-time memory.

But it goes downhill in a hurry.

The 1986 game in Houston was supposed to be a celebration, and our four starters took the field in fancy white spikes. But Doc took the loss, Keith Hernandez was 0-4 and Gary Carter was 0-3.

Only Darryl Strawberry, with 1 hit in 2 at-bats, and Sid Fernandez, with a 3-strikeout inning, allowed us to leave the Astrodome with out heads held sort of high. Almost, becase the MVP was a pre-bat-chucking Bat Chucker, haunting us even then!

The 2003 game at New Comiskey Park was a complete disaster, and our player didn’t even make it into the game. Armando Benitez, who probably would have been voted least-popular Met that year by fans, was somehow tapped to be our sole representative, making it pretty rough to cheer.

How much did we dislike Armando at that point? It was his last appearance as a Met – shipped to the Yankees, of all teams, for a trio of stiffs named Jason Anderson, Anderson Garcia and Ryan “Anderson” Bicondoa.

Mike Piazza appeared in six games as a Met, hitting a horrible .154 over those games. Sadly, that uncharacteristic weak stick is among the leaders of our multiple-game players.

Carter won an All-Star game MVP while on the Expos, but hit .143 in his three appearances as a Met. Still, that’s better than Keith Hernandez’ .125 in three games.

Jerry Grote was hitless in his two games, and Edgardo Alfonzo was hitless in two at-bats in 2000.

Slugger Todd Hundley? Not in 1996, when it was 0-1 in his one game. He was named to another team, but was hurt.

Dave Kingman and Willie Mays have very little in common, other than that they were both hitless as Mets in All-Star Games.

Even our hero, Tom Seaver, fell short of his studly standards in the last two of his six appearances as a Met. He gave up three runs in the 1975 game, though he was redeemed by teammate Matlack.

But before you bail on the Mid-Summer Classic, here are some positive things. David Cone, Bobby Jones, John Franco, Tom Glavine and Frank Viola pitched shutout innings t innings.

Lance Johnson was a surprise starter in 1996 and ended up playing almost the entire game, getting three hits in four at-bats, including a double.

Cleon Jones made the most of his one game, getting 2 hits in 4 at-bats in 1969.

Bud Harrelson, our light-hitting shortstop, pounded a robust .400 over the 1970 and 1971 games.

I was optimistic that out six players named to this year’s team would help the Mets redeem the short-comings of the past. Then Pedro’s hip went sore, Jose Reyes got spiked and Glavine pitched on Sunday.

Maybe David Wright’s impressive performance in the Home Run Derby is a sign of good things to come. And I’m pretty sure he won’t go Benitez and end up on the Yankees by the end of the week.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Finally I'm fashionable

It appears that my wardrobe is suddenly fashionable, possibly for the first time in my life.

You have to understand that I'm not the most adventuresome dresser. We had a discussion in the office that my many khaki Dockers were the type O blood of men's clothes because they go with everything -- at least all the dark-colored polo shirts I wear. I wore a shirt with a pattern one day and the newsroom was abuzz.

But according to the New York Post, my outside-of-work wardrobe, assorted Metswear, is now hot, hot, hot. Mets merchandise is now among baseball’s best-sellers. And David Wright has bumped off Derek F. Jeter as the most popular player for T-shirts and jerseys.

This shouldn’t be a complete surprise. The Mets have long had the best-looking uniforms in the game, just ahead of the Cardinals and Dodgers.

But I suspect this means a lot of demoralized, bandwagon-jumping Yankee fans are realizing that life is better on the Queens side of the street. Or maybe they’re trying to infiltrate.

I’ve long been a jersey-lover, and I mean the apparel, not the state. And Mets gear always maintained a large presence in my closet.

Now that I have a baseball room, I have a special rack to display my jerseys. I’ve searched for both authentic and game-worn, when I can find and afford them -- and I don't spend a lot of money on these things. I stay away from the cheesy replicas on principle.

I get them from various sources; including a family-owned business that always have a booth at the National Sports Collectors Convention. You know the jerseys are legit because they have all almost all the players, including the scrubs and coaches. And I favor the srcubs and coaches because they’re affordable and they’re more likely to fit me, since I only buy jerseys I can wear.
Here are my favorites, at least the ones from our beloved team.

1) 1969 Mitchell & Ness Tom Seaver home flannel. (Authentic replica)
This was an anniversary present, and it was expensive, but before these things got stupid expensive. I wear it on special occasions. When you are with my company for 10 years, they shoot a photo of you and make a little plastic cut-out that is displayed in the cafeteria. To prevent them from all looking the same, you’re supposed to be doing something that shows who you are or what you do. Naturally, I’m wearing the Seaver jersey and holding a big red apple.

2) 1991 Barry Lyons warm-up.
This is kind of a strange thing. It’s a pull-over with a short zipper. The player’s name is stitched into the back, but the number is on the sleeve. The classic NY logo is on the chest. And for some reason, there are pockets sewed into the sides.

3) 1986 home (authentic replica)
I don’t know if there is still a Gerry Cosby store on Long Island, but it was jersey Mecca when I was a kid. This was my first real jersey, and Mom sewed the 1986 patch properly on the racing stripe. I proudly wore this when I was attending the University of Missouri at the height of the Mets-Cards rivalry. And I was wearing it when I proposed to my wife. Would she have said yes if I was wearing a cheesey replica instead? We'll never know.

4) 1992 Eddie Murray home (authentic replica)
It is the button-down version of the racing stripe jersey. And I was thrilled when Mets acquired the surly slugger because I could finally put my own name on a jersey. I have the 1993 version, too, with the disastrous addition of the tail under the team name. Now that Metstradamus has labeled it “the wardrobe of failure” I don’t wear it much.

5) 1997 Mel Rojas road batting practice
I got this from the team store, and there’s two reasons I can’t wear it much. The first is that it’s autographed, which makes it hard to wash without ruining the autograph. The second is that it’s Mel Rojas instead of Cookie, who I like. It’s a weird jersey, made of a satin mesh that seems too thin. And the letters are gray on a blue jersey, so they don’t stand out much.

6) 1997 Rick Trlicek home batting practice jersey
I like this one better. Trlicek had cups of coffee with the team in 1996 and 1997. The high number makes me think this one is from spring training. The home version is just so much brighter than the road BP jersey, and Trlicek, while not especially successful, is no Mel Rojas.

7) 1999 Mercury Mets “Turn Ahead the Clock” Night (authentic replica)
For one infamous night, most teams wore futuristic versions of their uniforms. Some were awesome. The Mets versions were not. Other teams had bright colors and their logos blown up to cover almost all the chests. For reasons unknown, the Mets decided to become the Mercury Mets, with a silver symbol for the planet taking the place of the NY on the cap, and a black and gray jersey featuring the symbol floating above the planet’s surface. It’s so horrible...that it’s kind of cool.

8) 1993 Bobby Bonilla road (Authentic replica)
Kind of a double whammy here. It represents both the wardrobe of failure and the player who personified the era. But I found it on clearance at the outlet store for Manny’s Baseball Land in Florida, which was like Cosby’s South but with much, much cheaper stuff and sales clerks that were actually nice. I was wearing it to a spring training game one night, and it turned out I was sitting a row in front of Shawn Abner – he was trying to make a comeback – and some other Mets minor-leaguers. Abner was mocking me for wearing a Bonilla jersey, and we all got to talking and had a nice conversation throughout the game. At one point Abner, who was loud and kind of obnoxious, went to get more beer and one of the other players said to me, “Can you believe the Mets wasted a No. 1 pick in the nation on that goofball?”

9) 2001 Robin Ventura alternate road (Authentic replica)
Found this one really cheap on eBay. It’s my one black Mets jersey. Ventura was such a classy guy, and it’s my souvenir of those magical 1999 and 2000 seasons.

10) 2005 Pedro Martinez All-Star game batting practice jersey (Authentic replica)
This was on clearance because, as you know, Pedro was selected for the team but didn’t go to the game. I love the All-Star Game, and this one in Detroit so I was able to hang out at the FanFest all day and check out the action around the yard and clean up on some last-minute souvenirs.

I have several more, but these are the favorites. And they even go with khaki Dockers.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Confessions of a fireworks fanatic

My backyard show is not this big, but I can dream!

I’m not sure if it still this way today, but fireworks were illegal when I was growing up in Massapequa Park.

Of course, that didn’t mean they were not everywhere. People choosing to break such laws only had to buy them from a car trunk in Chinatown.

We frowned on such things. So there was much horror when we arrived in Michigan and discovered in our first July here that fireworks are quite legal. You can find them in every supermarket or in tents set up in every gas station parking lot.

I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked, given the state’s love affair with hunting, the Detroit Lions and other dangerous and otherwise frowned on activities.

I openly feared the fireworks. I thought just walking past the massive displays at the Meijer stores was risking blowing off a limb.

I felt this way for every one of my first 13 years in the state.

Then three years ago, I’m not sure what came over me. Maybe it was a mini-midlife crisis, or being despondent that the Mets being out of race at that point.

What ever it was, I somehow managed to slip one of the $12 packages of fireworks into my shopping cart. And with relatives shaking their heads in disbelief, we set them off in the backyard that Independence Day.

We weren’t especially good at it. I’d set the firework on a piece of wood, touch the fuse with a barbecue lighter and run like hell for cover, admiring the sparks from a safe distance before dousing the smoldering shell with a garden hose. My relatives were forced to sit on the deck choking back smoke.

We finished the day with limbs and eyes intact. And the monster is out of the cage.

Only certain kinds of fireworks are legal here, mostly the colorful stuff that can’t leave the ground. No bottle rockets or serious explosives like M-80s. And they all have names that make me suspect that people with only a fleeting knowledge of English came up with them – names like “Whistling Gator,” “Peach Flowers in Spring,” “Fireworks Friendships” and “Piccolo Pete.”

So with the usual restraint, we now have a multi-media show that involves the iPod hooked up to speakers booming out patriotic songs – kind of. Do you know what Grand Funk Railroad, Neil Diamond, Def Leppard, and Night Ranger all have in common? Yes! All have songs with “America” in the title! And now my neighbors know that, too!

I was figuring it’s just a matter of time before Kiss asks be to be the pyrotechnic director for it's next tour. But my wife has kept me reigned in. I’m only allowed to touch the massive boxes at Costco.