Thursday, June 28, 2007

Congrats to Frank Thomas, a glorious non-Met

Frank Thomas is my favorite player never to wear a Mets uniform. So naturally I've been closely watching his march to 500 career home runs.

That milestone was obtained this afternoon against the Twins -- and without any of the suspicion that surrounds certain other sluggers.

Here's an early post about an encounter with Frank at Tiger Stadium. It's one of my favorite stories. Enjoy!
Of course, we mean no slight to the original Frank Thomas, a fine Met who held the team's home run record for years.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

They built it, we came

I’m not a movie guy by any stretch. I go to the theater two or three times a year, and that’s typically to bring the kids to something they want to see.

So you wouldn’t think I’d be excited about checking out a movie set, much less one from a film shot nearly 20 years ago.

But I got weepy stepping on to the baseball field carved from the cornfields outside of Dyersville, Iowa last weekend.

“Field of Dreams” is more than brilliant. In my mind, it’s perfect.

I love the story, I love the cast, I love the music and I love the message. I don’t just get choked up watching the DVD, I get teary watching the special features.

It’s the rare movie that improves on the book, and W.P. Kinsella’s “Shoeless Joe” is excellent.

It’s not that I can relate totally to farmer Ray Kinsella, other than the love of baseball. My dad lives far away but we’re still close and he’s the first person I call for advice on anything and everything. And we always played catch.

I love how W.P. Kinsella weaves fact and fiction. A lot of people know that Archibald "Moonlight" Graham was a real player who played in one game and never got to bat.

But I only recently learned that all the things said about him in the movie, that he was a doctor who quietly made sure children had shoes and glasses, also was true. The obituary they read in the movie was the actual story that ran when he died. The only thing they fudged was the year he died.

And I love that when the younger Archie arrived at the field and saw the ghost players, he didn’t just find Hall of Famers, but Gil Hodges and Smoky Joe Wood, a pitcher who was fantastic until blowing out his arm.

My mother-in-law, who spoils me wildly, knows I feel this way about the movie and included a stop at the movie site as part of our adventures in Northeast Iowa with our extended family.

My football-loving brother-in-law watched the film for the first time just before the trip, and my 5-year-old nephew set the mood by whispering “If you build it, he will come” behind me throughout early legs of our trip.

Dyersville is about 25 miles outside of Dubuque, and the field is about three miles northeast of the small town. As we got close I could anticipate the turns in the road based on the trail of headlights in the final scene.

“Ray, people will come, Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway, not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. "Of course, we won't mind if you have a look around," you'll say. "It's only twenty dollars per person." They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it; for it is money they have and peace they lack.”

I had a lump in my throat when the white farmhouse came into view and we turned into the driveway.

Actually, we turned into the second driveway. There are two. The ballfield straddles two properties, and I’ve read that the neighbors don’t get along.

So the family that has the house and most of the field has a souvenir stand off to the side. And the family that owns left and centerfield operates a small store on the other side.

You’d think sensible people would be able to work this out. Not wanting to take sides, I bought things from both stands, including a vial of dirt from the field, proving I am a total sucker.

After posing for photos in the classic Faith and Fear in Flushing t-shirt, we ran out to the field. I stood in shallow centerfield turning slowly to absorb as much as I could.

It’s all there, like in the movie. The small set of bleachers, the backstop, the white house with the wraparound porch and hanging swing.

The only thing that struck me as being very different was that a utility wire hung low over the field. I don’t know if that was removed for the film or whether they just shot around it.

Another group of pilgrims was there, and a guy was lying on his back in centerfield moving like he was making snow angels. We all experience things in different ways.

My relatives said corn should be knee high by the Fourth of July This being Father’s Day, I knew it would be nowhere near as tall as in the movie. But we still marched the entire group out there for some photos.

Another visitor offered to snap a shot of our entire family on the bleachers, then took another one from a different angle as if we were looking out to the field. It was nice that other people were enjoying the adventure, too.

"Not everyone can see them."

“And they'll walk out to the bleachers, and sit in shirt-sleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game, and it'll be as if they'd dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick, they'll have to brush them away from their faces.”

We then recreated some of the scene’s from the movie. My daughter pretended to be Karen, the daughter who fell from the bleachers and was choking on her hot dog until Doc Graham crossed over.

"She'll be turning handsprings before you know it."

My 15-year-old reluctantly had to break out the “Hey Dad, Do you want to have a catch?” line.

We then had all sorts of fun throwing the ball around, hitting and running the bases. For some reason, first and second base were concrete and third was a traditional bag.

Being Father’s Day, I stepped on the mound and left a message for Dad with my cell phone.

We stocked up on t-shirts, bobble heads, mugs, post cards and other necessary items before heading back to Dubuque.

I’ve stood in centerfield at Tiger Stadium, Wrigley Field and Comerica Park, and wandered around foul territory at several other yards, including Shea.

And I realize that unlike those other cathedrals, no real baseball was ever played in Dyersville. But it was still special. In fact, it was…perfect.

"Hey were good!"

“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again. Ohhhhhhhh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.”

In other words...

If you'd like to read our other adventures in Iowa, you can check out my work blog at Head of the Class. We also toured Galena, Ill. which stood in for Chisolm, Minn. in the movie.

Friday, June 15, 2007

30 years after the infamous day

That the best way to describe how I felt 30 years ago Friday, June 15, 1977 — known in Mets circles as the Midnight Massacre.

Complete and total betrayal.

I was 13 at the time, seventh-grade turning into eighth. My little world revolved around the Mets, and specifically, Tom Seaver.

It seems silly today. We know so much more about the athletes as people that we know better than to consider them role models. Well, except for David Wright.

But back then I was all Mets, all the time. I had the Seaver posters, the puzzles, the Mets T-shirts with the heat-transfer 41 on the back. The autographed photos from when I met a bunch of players at an appearance at the Sunrise Mall hung on my wall like trophies

The autographed photo Seaver himself sent me was — who are we kidding — is a treasured heirloom, along with the baseball card I sent him, figuring he’d like to have one. He signed that and sent it back, too.

When the kids in my class grew their hair long, I wanted mine to be only as long as Seaver’s.

You know that I am loyal to an absolute fault. Once I’m on your side, I see only the good and will defend to the death.

You also know that people say I’m unabashedly optimistic. My glass isn’t just half full, it’s half full and I’m sure there’s a lot more where that came from.

I like to think that those traits serve me well, most of the time. But when I crash, I crash hard. And I crashed hard June 15, 1977.

Most of the kids in my school had turned Yankee by that point. The team had been to the World Series in 1976 and had jumped heavily into the free-agent pool with Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson. Even their stadium was like new, thanks to the Mets’ hospitality for two seasons.

I would have no part of it. You don’t change teams, and, most of all, you don’t go Yankee.

Junior high-schoolers, of course, are a sensitive lot. I took all kinds of abuse for my blind loyalty.

I can’t say I closely followed the business side of baseball at 13. I remember being aware of the grumbling between Seaver and the front office. I assumed they’d work things out because, well, they all worked for the Mets and only good people would run the Mets.

I remember the commotion over Seaver’s June 12 complete game victory over the Astros and the speculation that it might be his last game as a Met. I remember dismissing that notion entirely. Surely, they’re not going to trade Tom Seaver. He’s Tom Seaver! Who could they possibly get who is better than Tom Seaver?

And I remember lying on the floor watching the 11 p.m. Channel 7 news on June 15 with my grandmother, listening in complete and utter horror, then slamming my hands on the carpet.

When you are 13, the world is a small place. I did not see the big picture. I saw the part that pertained only to me, and I took this very personally.

How could they do this to me? I’ve defended these people, taking all kinds of abuse. And this is how I get treated? You trade my hero for one guy I’m aware of — Pat Zachry — and three others who I don’t even know exist? This hurt, and it hurt bad.

The next day I read about the other trades the Mets pulled off that night, sending Dave Kingman to the Padres for Bobby Valentine and Paul Siebert and Mike Phillips to the Cardinals for Joel Youngblood.

But I was already numb. It’s like backing over the squirrel you just ran over, as if it could inflict more damage.

As an aside, the fact that I could be this distraught over a baseball trade is proof at how good I actually had it and how little I actually had to worry about in life. Thank you, Mom and Dad.

It took a long time to recover. I tried to anoint Pat Zachry as my new favorite player, adopting No. 40 as my new number on anything I had that had a number. But as the Mets also learned, Pat Zachry was no replacement for Tom Seaver.

I even started wearing caps without any team affiliation, tired of the abuse from Yankee fans as their team went on to win back-to-back championships. I was actually ashamed of my Mets.

I later learned about the role Daily News columnist Dick Young played in getting Seaver traded. He became the designated villain, since my blind loyalty prevented me from fully blaming the team. Proving that I can’t let go of a good grudge, when Young died in 1987 I laminated his obit and hung it on the fridge — and didn’t even have the excuse of being 13.

The years have brought wisdom. I see that Seaver was better off with the Reds, who were coming off a World Series win.

And I now know that the people running the Mets after the death of Mrs. Payson — mostly Chairman M. Donald Grant — were too old-school to handle the sport’s new realities.

I started getting a clue. Even in my blind loyalty, I could see that having a real donkey as the team’s mascot and trotting him out before games was a bad, bad idea and showed me that these people had no idea what they were doing.

But it’s a tough lesson for a 13-year-old.

I kind of got over it. I healed a lot when Seaver was brought back by the new regime in 1983, and even more in 1985 when the whole family got to witness his 300th win.

My son has never embraced a team or a player like I did when I was his age. Sometimes I’m disappointed, but when I think of a day like the one 30 years ago on Friday, I realize it’s probably for the best.

I know the game has changed and players tend to move around more than they used to. But whenever a Barry Zito or Pedro Martinez signs a big-money deal with a new team, I wonder if there are 13-year-olds out there who just lost their hero.

Monday, June 11, 2007

A great day with the Mets -- unless you look at the scoreboard

If the final score was all that mattered, then Sunday’s trip to see the Mets in Detroit was a disaster.

But seeing the Mets in a regular season game in person for the first time this century and sharing the day with my 10-year-old baseball buddy daughter made the day special no matter what the scoreboard said.

Caroline wore her new Mets t-shirt purchased just for the occasion, and after much debate I opted for the classic Faith and Fear in Flushing t-shirt as the foundation for my black Robin Ventura road jersey.

I know, I know. I’m opposed to the black alternate uniforms. But my cousin Tim recently said he breaks his alt out when he needs to feel like a bad ass, and after Saturday’s loss I figured we’d need to look a little tough while cruising “The D.”

Caroline and I arrived at Comerica Park about 20 minutes before the gates opened because, well, I’m trying to raise her properly and getting there for batting practice is just the right thing to do.

We did have time to pose in front of the Tiger statue in front of the
ballpark. A family offered to take the shot for us despite our obvious allegiance. I wasn’t too surprised because it’s rare to see the Tigers faithful pile on opposing fans. I suspect that’s because the team was so bad for so long that the fans have forgotten how to be cocky.

Once inside, Caroline had a deal. She collects those flattened pennies, and learned from the official penny collector website that there were two machines inside Comerica. (Apparently there is one at Shea outside the pro shop, if the Web site is correct) The plan was to hit the machine by the carousel first, then let me hang out down by the Mets dugout. We’d hit the second machine at the gift shop when the Tigers came back out.

She was excited to quickly crank out four pennies, and I was pumped to see John Maine and Pedro Feliciano hanging out on the dugout steps. Jorge Sosa popped out, too, and even signed my Mets book.

Before long, there were other people dressed in Metsware lining the rail, all with a neat story. One guy snapping photos was from Northern Jersey and travels on business. He was able to prolong his stay in the area in order to see the Mets. Another was born in the Bronx and now lives in a Detroit suburb and brought his young son to see his team.

A couple in black t-shirts were holding signs that I thought were shaped like bats. One said “Welcome back, Jose” and the other said “Pink Panther.” I confess that I didn’t understand the signs.

“Jose Valentin has the best mustache in baseball,” the guy said. Apparently what I thought was a bat was actually facial hair. How does one judge a 'scache? What's a good one?

Usually it’s pretty lonely to be a Mets fan out here. There was much bonding.

Soon all the pitchers came out for stretching and sprints, led by El Duque. The whole team seemed kind of flat. Not a lot of joking or smiling. Virtually all of them completely ignored the fans. I know the autograph pests are drag, but they could at least look over and wave. Only Shawn Green responded, saying his injured foot felt good.

It was exciting to see all the guys in person as they stepped into the cage. David Wright launched fine batting practice bombs.

We completed our penny-squishing mission, grabbed some snacks and found our seats in the upper deck.

Concession prices at Comerica are just insulting. There’s crazy, ballpark crazy, then Comerica. An Icee goes for $4, and water – water! – is $3.75.

Up in section 215, a guy with a Mets t-shirt and Mets watch sat with his family, and a loud Mets fan sat two rows back. It’s one thing to cheer for your team, but I think this guy was trying to incite the low-key Tigers people.

I sat next to a nice guy from Ohio who roots for the Tigers but said he likes the Mets and hates the Yankees. I deemed him suitable for conversation after he revealed this information. Turns out he’s a Board of Education member, so we enjoyed chatting about school issues and how Tom Glavine expands the strike zone.

Speaking of Glavine, I thought we were well on our way after Wright’s three-run jack deep into the right field stands. But it was clear Glavine didn’t have his stuff.

The Tigers went ahead in the third and never looked back. The middle of the order knocked Glavine out and beat the snot out of Aaron Sele, who makes me long for the return of Darren Oliver.

Meanwhile, the Mets were doing nothing right. While still down by just one, we had Easley on third with one out and Delgado at the plate. I explained to Caroline that it was almost certain we’d tie the game. All Delgado had to do was put the ball in play. I told her the only thing that wouldn’t help was if he struck out – which he promptly did.

Another freaky thing was that Comerica Park has suddenly become home to seagulls. I have no idea why, and I've never see it that way before. But they were all over field and pretty fearless, too.

It was 10-3 in the top of the sixth, and Jim Leyland pulled starter Andrew Miller, presumably because the game was in hand. But as my school board member row-mate knew, the Tigers have a backdraft bullpen and no lead is safe.

And it was pretty sweet when Carlos Gomez launched our second three-run bomb of the game. The bottom third of our lineup – all of which were in spitting distance of the Mendoza line – had collectively sucked to that point, and after that point, too.

All through the Tigers scoring and Mets sucking, Caroline and I had fun flagging down the cotton candy and frozen lemonade vendors and teaching her to keep score. I also ran into a former colleague from the Flint Journal and we enjoyed catching up and marveling at how big our kids have become.

The final was 15-7. I can’t say I was stunned that they lost. I went back to my records – I’m enough of a geek to keep track of these things – and was stunned to find out I haven’t witnessed a regular season Mets win since bleeping 1991! How long ago was it? Dwight Gooden was the winning pitcher.

My streak of shame:

6/10/2007 Tigers 15, Mets 7
4/5/1999 Marlins 6, Mets 2
6/30/1997 Tigers 14, Mets 0
9/24/1995 Marlins 4, Mets 3
7/26/1995 Cardinals 3, Mets 2
7/21/1991 Mets 9, Dodgers 4

Derek F. Jeter was still at bleeping Central High School in Kalamazoo only dreaming about taunting us when I last witnessed a Mets win.

Yes, there were a bunch of spring training wins in there, but we’re talking regular season. Truth be told, I haven’t even seen a spring training win since 2001.

I’m either a jinx, unlucky or need to get to more games to improve the odds. Amazingly, I’ll have another chance this year because Will has invited me to see the Mets and the Cubs at Wrigley on Aug. 4.

I’ll be thrilled to see the Mets – but they might not be as thrilled to see me!

In other words...
If you think I'm tough on Derek F. Jeter, wait until you read this great post from the Toronto baseball guys, who has compiled 100 reasons to hate Jeter, which is a good start. Great job, guys! My favorite line: "What do you call a slow roller to Derek Jeter's left?" "Single up the middle!"

Friday, June 08, 2007

A sad streak ends this weekend

I haven’t seen our Mets play in a regular season game since 1999, which was Opening Day in Miami.

I’m not proud of that seven-year hiatus. But the team doesn’t come to Michigan often and my attempts to get to places where they do hang out — Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis or Cincinnati — have been foiled for one reason or another.

So I’ve been counting the years until the Mets’ inter-league schedule to rotated to the American League Central, and for that rotation to include a stop in Detroit.

Of course, I thought I’d be seeing our team in Detroit when my folks surprised me with a glorious early Christmas present — a ticket to World Series Game One — last October. But we know what happened. (Grumble grumble Heilman grumble grumble Molina SWING CARLOS! AAAARRRRRGHHHHH)

I’ll be at Comerica Park bright and early Sunday morning boldly proclaiming Mets fandom. I do not fear the wrath of Tigers fans. They are a humbled lot.

I was there last time the Mets were in town, too, and things did not end well.

On the plus side, the June 30, 1997 game was in Tiger Stadium, a worthy setting for such an event. That was the first year of inter-league play and it was so strange to see the Mets in that stadium.

Remember, 1997 was the Mets’ first winning season since 1990. The Tigers have stunk since I arrived in the state that year, and continued to do so until last season. I expected our boys to slide into town, launch some bombs into the short right field porch and head out of "The D" with at least two victories and probably three. Of course, these were the Butch Huskey-Carlos Baerga-era Mets and I should have known better.

My son — a day shy of his fifth birthday — and I got to the yard early, but that goes without saying. It was a tradition of sorts to yell "Cookie!" at then-coach Cookie Rojas, and we were in the front row watching batting practice when Rojas walked by on the field. In purely a reflex reaction, I yelled "Coooookkkkiiiieeeee."

I expected a wave, but Rojas started walking right for us and offered to sign something. I pulled a ball out of my backpack and we had a nice short chat.

And that was the high point of the night.

The Tigers scored two in the bottom of the first on a Bobby Higginson homer. He’d have two more by the end of the game.

Mark Clark surrendered eight runs in 5.1 innings. Someone named Joe Crawford — whom I have no recollection of whatsoever — gave up four more in 1.2 innings and Takashi Kashiwada finished the night by allowing two more.

That’s 14 runs if you’re counting. Only one would have been enough, since we didn’t score any.

So I left the ballpark a little more quietly than I entered. But I did buy a cool cap commemorating the series.

Shockingly, the Tigers won the other two games that weekend, and I took some serious ribbing at work. And I dished out some serious ribbing in 2004 when the Tigers came to Shea and we swept their striped butts.

Just shy of 10 years later, I’m heading back to see the Tigers and the Mets, this time with my daughter, who has become my score-keeping baseball buddy.

I was able to see two spring training games this year, but Sunday will be my first chance to see Reyes, Wright, Delgado and Beltran in a game that counts!

Naturally, there will be a full report Sunday night.

More lessons on the mighty river.

Kayak Version 2.0 is a wonderful thing, and twice now I’ve been able to take it out on the Grand River.

Last night I was headed up river and saw a sheriff’s deputy on a Wave Runner headed the other way.

It’s a wide river, and he slowed down as he passed and waved. I assumed he slowed s0 he wouldn’t create a wake that might topple me.

About an hour later I was heading back to the launch area noticed that he was loading the Wave Runner on his trailer.

I remembered being chastised by Connecticut Sister in this space a couple weeks ago for not having a life vest. She said it was the law, and I had an inkling that she might be right, especially since she quoted the law and provided a link and everything.

But I dismissed this advice, especially since I haven’t seen anyone else wearing one.

I saw the deputy and the trailer and thought, "Wouldn’t it be funny if he gave me grief for not having the life vest." Not funny as in "ha-ha," but funny as in "It would suck to have to admit she was right."

I decided not to take the chance and float down river a little, then work my way back to the launch.

I returned a little bit later, and while the Wave Runner was up on the trailer, the cruiser was still there.

It was getting late and thought it was silly to worry, so I paddled up to the launch and not-so-gracefully extracted myself and started walking back to the car.

The deputy, who was doing some paperwork, started making small talk.

"You have a nice ride?" he asked.

"Sure did!"

"You went in the right direction. I was really choppy down the other way," he said.

"Yeah, the wind seemed to be picking up. But it was nice going up river. Have a good night."
Then it happened.

"Hey, you’ve got a jacket, right?" he asked. And he asked this in a way that made me believe that the only correct answer was "Yes."

I’ve watched NYPD Blue. I know the only thing to do at this point is lawyer up. Running probably wouldn’t have worked, especially since I was carrying a kayak and wearing water shoes.

I had a right to remain silent. I tried to remain calm. Then I lied.

"Yes," I replied. "Yes, I do." Jon Lovitz was more convincing.

"OK, because I noticed that you weren’t wearing it when I passed you."
"Oh yeah!" which is non-committal, avoiding a second lie, yet not confessing.

"OK, have a good night."

I took this to mean, "I know you’re lying, since you’re not wearing this vest and there’s barely enough room in the kayak to store a water bottle much less a life vest. So consider this a friendly warning and get your soggy butt to Dunham’s tomorrow and get yourself properly equipped. If I catch you on the river without at life vest again, you’re headed to the hotel with the striped sunshine. And listen to your sister."

Needless to say, I am now properly vested.

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Hallmark curse is real, keep D-Wright off my Christmas tree

Hallmark will probably announce its choice for this year’s baseball ornament, and I’m crossing my fingers it won’t be Carlos Beltran, David Wright or Jose Reyes.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see any of our stars dangling from an evergreen branch on my baseball room Christmas tree.

But as I pointed out last year, the award is cursed. Almost everyone depicted has seen their careers go down in flames shortly after Hallmark unveiled their pose in plastic.

Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Ken Griffey Jr. – all of them fell to pieces or suddenly came under an unsavory cloud.

Not even the dead were safe. The Ted Williams ornament was announced, and next thing we knew the Splendid Splinter’s presumed temporary resting place in the only cold place in Arizona was revealed and all kinds of controversy broke out.

Last summer I predicted Alex Rodriguez was doomed after Hallmark offered him up. Let’s see if the curse held true:

-- The former steady fielder soon could have been called ClankRod after an ugly spate of errors.

-- He got called out in the press by Jason Giambi for his lack of leadership and performance. That’s like being criticized by Ashlee Simpson for lip-synching. Nevertheless, Alex’s teammates and manager didn’t exactly come to his defense.

-- He slipped into a prolonged batting slump that became so bad that Manager Joe Torre batted him eighth in some post-season games. That’s probably the first time a reigning Most Valuable Player viewed the scenery from that far down in the line-up, but it earned him a neat new nickname: 8-Rod.

-- In the off-season it was revealed that 8-Rod might actually use an escape clause to get out of his record-setting contract after the season just to get the heck away from the Bronx. There’s something like $80 million left on the table he could potentially walk away from to sign with a team that might not bat him eighth.

-- During spring training Alex felt the need to announce that he and Derek F. Jeter aren’t best buddies. Now, there’s no shame in that. We’re talking about Derek F. Jeter here. Thank goodness he has some standards. But players typically don’t hold press conferences to tell which teammates they consider friends and the Jeter-lovin’ Yankee apologists that pass for the New York media pounced.

-- Rodriguez has a monster April. Sadly or him, the calendar flipped and then MayRod slipped back to Earth and he could no longer carry the gimpy, elderly Yankees on his back. The team slipped to sections of the AL East standings typically reserved for teams with bad names and bad uniforms like the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

-- Alex decides he's in Little League again, and as a Blue Jay player went after a pop-up, the highest-paid player in baseball yelled, "Ha!" or "Got it!" or "Jeter is over-rated," depending on who you want to believe, to distract the player. The Jays were ticked, and Manager Joe Torre yet again didn't quite come to his star's defense.

-- Then last week happened. Alex might have been a slumper, a clanker and a whiner, but he’s always been squeaky clean. Then the New York Post trailed him leaving assorted establishments in Toronto with a young lady who didn’t appear to be Mrs. 8-Rod.

This might have been a family friend, a relative, Yankees front office employee, Ontario Province tour guide, pizza delivery person, body guard…we don’t know. But Alex’s response was “I don’t comment on my personal life.” That non-denial prompted the Post to bestow a new nickname: StrayRod.

Now, I don’t care who Alex spends his time with and one can debate whether it was proper for the Post to have photogs tracking ballplayers away from the stadium. But it’s safe to say it’s not the kind of attention an image-conscious ballplayer wants to attract.

In short, since Hallmark released the ARod ornament his career and life has crashed and burned.

So David, Jose and Carlos: Don’t return a phone call to anybody from Hallmark!

My past as wall art

My son’s exploration into classic rock continues.

I came across my old concert tourbooks while cleaning out the basement and thought my 14-year-old might want to check them out since he’s been filling his iPod with rock from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

Then I saw him measuring an AC/DC book and found out he was liked it so much he wanted to look for a frame to hang it on his wall.

Heck, they make frames for album covers, and they were on sale this week. So we headed back into the basement and pulled out the boxes of LPs not seen since we bought a CD player years ago.

I told him he could pick what he wanted, and I would not try to influence him. It was fun pulling out the colorful old sleeves, each one a memory. And we pretended the Wham! album wasn’t there.

Here’s the six he picked:

1) Moving Pictures, Rush. Probably my favorite album cover, which just happens to be on my favorite album. I used lyrics from “Tom Sawyer” on my campaign posters when I ran for treasurer in my junior year. Neat play on words, too, with the front showing workers moving pictures into a museum, and the back showing a film crew making a motion picture of the activity.

2) Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin. The first Zep disc of course has the famous shot of the exploding Hindenberg. Aircraft disasters aren’t my idea of wall art, but I can’t deny the album is classic. It’s also a reminder that bad things happen in New Jersey.

3) Rocket to Russia, Ramones. The first and third Ramones album covers are pretty much identical, with a black and white photo of the band in all of its ripped-jean, leather jacketed glory. He’s been wearing my already ragged Ramones t-shirt for about a year, so I wasn’t surprised by this choice.

4) Ghost in the Machine, The Police. This was a surprise, since I know he’s been listening to “Message in a Bottle” from Regatta de Blanc, and I thought he’d pick that one. Regatta has a better cover, too, but he seemed to like this one better.

5) Paranoid, Black Sabbath. So ugly, so 1970s. And so confusing, too, with a blurry, cartoonish warrior jumping out of the woods at night. I recently read that the band wanted to name the album, “War Pigs” after one of the other songs, and that would make a little more sense. But it’s not like a lot of things related to Sabbath make too much sense. I noticed that the title song is rapidly moving up the play count ranking on iTunes and I’m not playing it.

6) For Those About to Rock, AC/DC. The band’s follow-up to Back in Black was not especially strong, but my son liked the copper-colored cover with the cannon. Probably his weakest selection, but then again he didn’t have to purge the memory of the Madison Square Garden concert and Angus Young’s extended solo and mooning.

I kept my promise not to push any personal favorites, though I did offer up “The Wall,” and Twisted Sister’s “Come Out and Play” only to be rejected. And I didn’t even try to suggest “Destroyer” or “Rock and Roll Over,” two absolute classics!

Thank you, Mike!

You'll notice some changes in the format. I finally figured out how to best use to awesome logo designed for me by my friend Mike at Tales of a Transplanted Mets Fan. What you're seeing is downtwown Grand Rapids, with the tall building being the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. And of course, Shea Stadium.