Monday, July 21, 2008

It feels -- amazing!

So, yeah, Aaron Heilman and I are tight now. I'm a good luck charm for his team. We were hanging out before the game in Cincy.

I left some baggage behind in Cincinnati. But it wasn't easy.

One of the highlights of summer is the annual Executive Game. The site, like the Expos, Pilots and Senators, has passed into history. But our tradition of gathering at a ballpark each summer lives on.

The board voted to go to Yankee Stadium this summer -- of course I objected -- but we couldn't get tickets. After a moderate amount of pleading, the rest of the group relented and we returned to Cincinnati to see the Mets and the Reds.

As you all know, the Streak of Shame has been following me like Jacob Marley's chains, growing over 17 years through nine cities.

I thought for sure it would have ended with the Shea homecoming last month, but it was not to be. Certainly it would end with my best friends in the Queen City. It just had to. Here is the report of our adventures.

We started at Scott's house with a cook-out and Wii bowling, then headed off to the yard despite the reluctance from the others to enter my Vue as long as the Mets flag was attached to the window. But when you're the designated driver you can get away with such things.

The Great American Ballpark isn't much to look at outside, but is filled with nice touches once you get closer.

There were a fair number of Mets fans there. And I have say that the Reds fans are a respectful lot. It's not like we are subtle in our affiliation. Other than my companions -- and a lame Yankee fan you'll read about later -- no one game me a hard time for proudly showing Mets colors.

Naturally, we had to pay a visit to the brick. Scott wanted to make sure it looked its best!

The Reds do an exceptional job with their history. This is Frank Robinson batting, Ernie Lombardi catching and Scott making the out call.

The Reds inducted three players and an executive into their Hall of Fame before the game. Here's Johnny Bench, Will's hero, prior to the ceremony.

That's Barry Larking giving his acceptance speech, which was longer than if Mike Hargrove had batted against Steve Trachsel. People were still riled about it the next day. But it's nice that Barry feels the love for his Nike rep.

I like the boat in centerfield. The river is just over the wall, and the boat is a neat focal point. The smokestacks belch smoke and fireworks for all kinds of highlights, not just home runs.

Montgomery Inn ribs are a Cincinnati culinary delight. They don't sell ribs at the ballpark, but they do offer pulled pork sandwiches with chips and sauce on the side for dipping. And, of course, there was a fine selection of brats. The largest ones in the photo are the "Big Klu," named after the slugger. I didn't dare.

Ceremony and dinner completed, we settled in for the game.

I liked our chances. Oliver Perez had been throwing well, and the Reds were offering up Josh Fogg, which I thought was very nice of them.

David Wright scored on an error in the first, and the Reds followed when Ken Griffey Jr. drove in Fogg in the third. D-Wright took us back on top with a monster blast in the fourth, and the Reds tied it up in the bottom of the inning. Then the home team went ahead when Edwin Encarnacion walked then moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on a hit by David Ross.

In the seventh, the Mets had one out and bases loaded, with Wright and Carlos Beltran coming up. And best of all, the Reds had turned the game over to the bullpen, which my buddies said usually results in a win for the opposition.

Wright worked the count to 3-2, and took a called third strike.

Beltran worked the count to 3-2, and took a called third strike. I don't think he swung at a pitch the entire at-bat.

I buried my head in my hands because I knew specter of the streak was rising up. This is the kind of thing that happens when I am in the crowd. After 17 years, I know the signs.

Pedro Feliciano and Aaron Heilman proceeded to allow four runs, each one another heavy link in my chain. The guys stopped chanting "1991" because they knew how much this was hurting. I also decided to attend the Sunday game. I didn't want the streak hanging over my head through another off-season, and this was one more chance.

We traditionally pose for a photo with the scoreboard after Executive Games. My buddies were thrilled to see their team win. I was happy because there is nothing bad about getting together with good friends and watching baseball, especially when the Mets are involved.

And as much as I am used to Mets losing, this one hurt more than the others. The streak had become too oppressive. It was getting in the way, dominating the thoughts.

Like all good Queen City residents, Scott directed us to Skyline for is famous spaghetti topped with chili and cheese. Will had the "five way," which adds onions and beans. Skyline is to chili what White Castle is to hamburgers, but that's not a bad thing. It's just not what an outsider would expect.

The next morning I headed over to the ballpark for one more attempt at streak-busting. It was the third time I've seen the Mets on back-to-back days outside of spring training.

None of my buddies could attend, but I don't mind going to games by myself once in a while. As you know, I'm kind of quirky and like to explore every inch of a ballpark, and on days like this I don't have to worry about testing the patience of my companions.

Walking to the ballpark from the garage, I found a bagel store. I took this to be a good sign, and bought two poppy seed bagels to take into the ballpark. I was looking to karma. No more Cincinnati food. Bagels are New York.

Naturally, I looked for tributes to Tom Seaver to find inspiration for the streak-breaking attempt. This photo was on an interactive pitching display.

The Reds even do a nice job with their gift shop. The giant World Series trophy is a shirt rack.

The Reds haven't retired Pete Rose's number since he's not allowed to attend the ceremony. So the Rose Garden is a subtle tribute. This is placed where the Riverfront Stadium outfield used to be, and there is a white rose bush that marks the spot where Rose's record-breaking hit first bounced.

The Reds do a lot of things you wouldn't expect to see at a major-league stadium. This was a parade of youth baseball teams. They also had kids run out to the positions to greet the Reds, something you usually see in the minor leagues.

The Reds did a nice job with artwork around the stadium. These murals of the original team and the Big Red Machine are mosaics. But just about everywhere you look, there is something interesting.

I walked down to the dugout area where some of the Mets were soft-tossing. Aaron Hielman came over to talk to a friend and started signing autographs. I didn't have my Mets book with me, but offered up my program, which he signed in the notes section.

Hielman didn't mention the streak, and I didn't mention Yadier Molina. I decided having a Met player endorse my scorecard was a good thing and moved along after thanking him.

There was an exhibition of guys playing with early rules and uniforms that was interesting for a awhile. But I would rather have had more batting practice.

I don't think I've ever seen a Reds Seaver t-shirt like this one. The kid gets props, especially since he probably wasn't born when Tom was still playing.

I enjoyed watching Johan Santana stretch and play catch and the rest of the pitchers shag flies. But I had to deal with another stinking Yankee fan. I was leaning against the wall in right field when a woman in a Yankees World Series came up to me and started talking.

As you know, I don't converse with Yankee fans. But I was trying to be on my best behavior, lest I blow the fine karma that was brewing.

Yankee fan: "So, are you from New York?"

Me: "Yes, Massapequa Park. Where are you from?"

YF: "Middle Island."

Me: "Where in the middle of the island?"

YF: "No, Middle Island is the name of the town."

Me: "I've never heard of that." (Note, I now know it's out near Port Jefferson. Must be a hot bed of Yankee freaks.)

Then she dropped this bomb out of nowhere: "Must be hard being a Mets fan."

Me: "No, it's not."

YF: "Yankee fans have had a lot more to cheer about."

See, this is why I don't talk to these people. They're nothing but trouble and have bad t-shirts. There is no talking sense in to them. I decided she was sent to test and taunt me and wreck the karma. I politely pointed out Johan Santana when she asked to see him and walked away before she started expounding on the virtues of Kevin Maas.

I settled into my seat just beyond third base, noticing there were a fair number of Mets fans scattered around me. It's good to know who might have your back if things get ugly.

Jose Reyes started the game with a single, moved to second on a wild pitch, stole third and scored on a Carlos Beltran hit. That's going to raise some optimism.

But then Adam Dunn, the Reds' all-or-nothing slugger, had one of his "all" moments and crushed a ball into the bleachers.

But then the Mets added two runs in the second on a Ramon Castro blast, and even another when Reyes legged out a triple and scored on a Wright sac fly.

With the Mets up 4-1, I started wondering if this would finally be the day. But I also know what happens when I think that way.

And the Reds responded by tying the game with three runs in the bottom of the fourth, and going ahead with a Brandon Phillips shot in the sixth. Phillips killed the Mets with his bat and glove all series.

Will called to offer moral support. He was listening to the game while driving back to Chicago, and knew I must be distraught after the Mets gave away the lead.

He was correct.

This is the point that the Mets usually roll over and play dead. That six-hour drive home was going to seem even longer.

But Wright led off the seventh with a walk and stole second, coming home on a Carlos Delgado single. Tie game! That was a moment of cautious optimism, because I've seen our bullpen implode.

Duaner Sanchez shut down the Reds for two innings, but a series of Reds relievers did the same to the Mets. Carlos Beltran, he of the non-swing at-bats that ended the 2006 playoffs and killed the game the night before, got a hit, stole second -- then got nailed trying to steal third. Oh yeah, that's the kind of thing that happens during the streak.

The game went to extra innings -- a first for the streak. Never before had the Mets come so close. This was either going to be a burst of glory or devastating smack upside the head. At this moment, I would not have been surprised to see Derek F. Jeter himself step out of the Reds dugout on loan from the vile Yankees for day, imported just to deliver the fatal blow.

Seeing Robinson Cancel, our pudgy third-string catcher and pinch-hitter of last resort, come to the plate did not inspire confidence. But he lashed a double, surprising everyone -- probably including Cancel.

Man on second, no outs and the top of the order coming up. I know Tug said, "Ya gotta believe," and I was starting to.

I turned to a Mets fan sitting in the row behind me.

"You know, I haven't seen them win in 17 years."

"I've never seem them win outside of Shea," he replied. "And that's including games in Montreal."

Two long-suffering fans, both looking to end streaks? As this was all happening, the sky was getting darker and darker. I thought I heard distant thunder.

Jose Reyes dropped down a sac bunt to get Cancel to third, but instead used his speed and beat the throw. I was really believing now, and was jumping for joy when Encarnacion threw away a Argenis Reyes grounder allowing Cancel to score. Mets were up 6-5.

Cancel has already scored the go-ahead run, and Reyes here is on third before he added the insurance run with a mad dash home, barely beating a strong throw from Ken Griffey.

Wagner came in to shut the door, and as we know all too well, he is not always up to the task.

My heart was racing, and after the first two strikeouts I was walking in circles in the aisle. And when Jay Bruce swung at the breeze, I felt this enormous release.

What's this? Dejected Reds fans, the Mets celebrating -- a Mets victory after all these years! It was hard to believe I was able to take a photo between all the weeping, jumping, cell phone-answering and high-fiving.

The chain was cut, left for the cleaning crew among the peanut shells and Pepsi cups.

A jinx? Not me! I just saw the Mets come from behind to beat one of the best pitchers in the league and move into a tie for first place.

In fact, as one of the Crane Pool friends pointed out, I have a one-game winning streak!


JLC 1863 said...

Congrats Dave. Keep that winning streak alive!!! 1 - 0!!


peteski said...

GREAT job.