Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I resolve to be a better Mets fan in 2010

Tonight the ball drops – both in New York and here in Grand Rapids – marking the end of a year that I’m really not all that sad to see go.

A new year marks a new opportunity to take stock in what we as Mets fans think, do and go about our business.

We Mets fans survived 2009, and it was rough. We can get 2010 off to a great start by changing some of our behaviors to cleanse away the stench of the last decade and embrace this shiny new one.

It’s a tradition to use this day to make resolutions. Here are my ten resolutions for 2010 Mets fans. Please hold me accountable.

1) I resolve to not freak out every time another team signs another team signs a player the Mets didn’t particularly want, and think that the other team’s general manager is smarter or better than Omar.

OK, the Giants signed Mark DeRosa. He’s kind of old and hurt, and there really wasn’t a position for him on the Mets. So we really shouldn’t get all worked up worrying that Omar missed out on a guy we shouldn’t be chasing in the first place.

2) I resolve not to get all worried when a free agent the Mets are after has not been signed by a deadline set by New York Daily News sports columnists.

Opening Day is in April. It’s a good idea to have Jason Bay and people like him in uniform by that date, and maybe even a little earlier. But just because the News shows a back page photo of a crying child in a Mets cap in December does not mean that Bay will never sign, or that the season that starts four months from now already is a lost cause.

3) I resolve to not whine and get upset every time Bob Klapisch writes a column taking cheap shots at the Mets.

As reporters, we are always amazed when people purchase pit bulls, make them pets, give them names like “Diablo,” and then are shocked when the pit bull eats the neighbor children.

Pit bulls eat children. It’s in their nature. It’s what they do. They don’t stop being pit bulls because you make them a pet.

Bob Klapisch is a known Mets hater. He will not change. He cannot change. I must stop reading his columns and being shocked when he does what he does.

4) I resolve to not complain about the lack of Mets history and colors on display at the Mets' ballpark.

I’m pretty sure the Mets are the ones playing at Citi Field. It’s not that hard to figure out, especially when I see Oliver Perez is on the mound and he’s given up five walks by the third inning.

So I don’t need blue and orange trim in the mens room to remind me I’m in the right ballpark or posters of Tom Seaver to remind he played for the Mets, because I have a lot of those in the basement baseball room. I don’t have a live-sized Tom Seaver statue in the basement, however. Hint, hint.

5) I resolve to not complain when Derek Jeter gets undeserved praise for doing things people on my coed softball team are able to do -- without much fanfare.

Well, who are we kidding.

6) I resolve only to complain about things Derek Jeter actually does or says, as opposed to super-powers assigned to him.

That’s a little more realistic.

7) I resolve not to get drawn into nasty arguments with Phillies fans.

Hey, they’re a rough, disagreeable lot. Make no mistake. They like to fight and wear mean-spirited t-shirts.

We need to show Phillies fans compassion. It must be difficult to root for the most losing team in the history of professional sports. Let them yell and boast about their three division titles.

But we must not engage them, unless they say bad things about David Wright or question Jose Reyes’ health or make implications about Daniel Murphy’s fielding or take issue with K-Rod’s save celebrations or make snide remarks about the orange button on our caps or the drop shadows on the jerseys or suggest that Johan Santana is not the best pitcher in baseball or call attention to Carlos Beltran’s big mole.

If any of those things happen, the gloves are off, understandably so.

8) I resolve not to panic when a Mets player goes on the disabled list.

OK, when they ALL go on the disabled list, it’s a cause for concern. But 2009 can’t really happen again, can it?

9) I resolve not to hate Curtis Granderson now that he’s a Yankee.

Curtis is still a really nice guy who cares for the community. Now he’s just a nice, caring guy in a really ugly uniform with overrated teammates and fawning columnists.

10) Speaking of uniforms, I resolve not to get suckered in and buy the ugly new batting practice cap just because Major League Baseball decides it can get fans to buy more caps by changing the design every two years.

I am SO sticking with this one. Unless there’s a good sale on or if I somehow get the new jersey and need to cap to match. But I standing firm and I mean it.

There! I shouldn't have too much trouble sticking with those simple resolutions.

May your 2010 be filled with happiness and health, filled with a summer of celebrations!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A nephew's discovery ends a Mets memorabilia hunt that started years before he was born

My nephew Zach gave me the coolest thing for Christmas – a complete set of 1994 pre-paid phone cards saluting the 1969 Mets.

You have to realize that I like quirky, oddball Mets collectibles. Back when there were big card shows, I’d look for a dealer – I think his store was called something like “Wizards of Odd” – who carried all kinds of off-the-beaten path collectibles.

There were baseball cards on every table, but this was the place to go to see the Tom Seaver lunch bags and super balls.

I love the items that were available only one or two years, then replaced by another product attempting to be the next Starting Lineup figures or other in-demand collectible.

They can instantly bring me back to a specific point in time, and fun because they usually were limited – and soon forgotten by all but folks like me.

Phone cards fall right into that category. Baseball cards were hot, hot, hot, and only so many companies had the license to produce them.

This led to a whole industry of unauthorized cards, which usually inspired Will and I to stand in front of a dealer’s table and openly mock his illegal merchandise. The “Cardboard Crusaders” had little patience for such nonsense and were not shy, given the moral authority offered by our weekly column in the Flint Journal.

But there were other ambitious businesses that searched for new ways to sell items that were kind of like baseball cards, but not really.

Pre-paid phone cards appeared in the mid-1990s. They were plastic cards with photos on the front. But instead of statistics on the back, there were instructions to call certain phone numbers, enter a PIN that was concealed under a scratch-off section, and call a number of your choice for a pre-determined amount of time.

This particular set commemorated the 25th anniversary of the 1969 Mets championship team, using paintings by Ron Lewis, which appeared on postcards and other items tied to the anniversary.

They were licensed by The Miracle of 1969 Enterprises, a group formed by the 29 surviving players and the widows of Gil Hodges and Rube Walker to market the anniversary.

According to a 1993 New York Times article, Art Shamsky organized the group with a goal of each earning a profit of $18,000 – the share each earned by beating the Orioles in the World Series.

Some of the proceeds also were targeted for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and the whole enterprise was blessed by the Mets and Major League Baseball.

I have no idea how much they ended up making, but I remember seeing the logo on all kinds of products.

What I like about the 32-card phone card set is that it includes everyone on the team, including Hodges and coaches Walker, Yogi Berra, Joe Pignatano and Eddie Yost.

It’s not to difficult to find items commemorating Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan, or even stars like Jerry Koosman. But you don’t often see something saluting Bobby Pfeil and Jack DiLauro.

There’s also a card with the anniversary logo and a special album to keep them all together.

I’d guess these were pretty easy to find back in the New York area, but I was out in Michigan for the anniversary. I’ve stumbled across individual cards at some of the big shows, but never the whole set.

Not that Zach realizes any of that. But he knows Uncle Dave likes the Mets and has a whole room dedicated to Mets stuff. He discovered the set at a coin shop at his home near Peoria, and was excited to add something really cool to his uncle’s Baseball Room – ending a search that started eight years before he was born. Good stuff.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

OK, raise your hand if you're ready to turn the page on this year. One, two.. OK, everybody.

But Christmas is a time to forget all that, remember all the many ways that the Lord blesses us and look forward to the promise of the future that started with the events in the manger.

God bless us everyone! And a very merrry Christmas to you and your families.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Baseball Place No. 77: St. Louis Walk of Fame; No. 77A: Busch Stadium walkway

One of the reasons St. Louis is such a nice city is that downtown is very “walkable.”

I was in town in 2008 for a conference, and got up early each morning just so I could take long walks to see the dawn light reflecting off the glorious Arch and the ballpark, then later to Union Station.

Josh Pahigian takes us to the city’s Loop neighborhood for place No. 77 in his “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out” for the St. Louis Walk of Fame.

It’s another place with questionable baseball ties, since only 11 of the 116 people honored have ties to the game.

The list includes people you’d expect, people who either played for the Cardinals like Bob Gibson and Lou Brock or are from the city, like former Mets Manager Yogi Berra.

I found a more baseball-related walk of fame on one of my morning strolls. That would be:

Baseball Place No. 77A: Sidewalk around Busch Stadium.

The Cardinals, it should be noted, tend to do things properly. They don’t just have a fan walk, where fans can purchase beloved bricks with their names. The Cards use those bricks to surround stones that tell stories about great players and events.

I couldn’t help but get sucked in, reading the stones and learning things with each step.

Two Mets, one stone: Fernando Tatis gets some love for his two grannies off Chan Ho Park.
This one has some accuracy issues in the headline. Carlton baffled most of the Mets that night, but not Ron Swoboda, who hit two home runs, leading Carlton with 19 Ks but one L for the night. Just shows you how magical those 1969 Mets were in September.
The new Busch overlaps with the previous stadium, and the walkway shows some of the landmarks, such as where the outfield wall.
Walking around the front of the stadium and you see statues of great Cardinals and Cool Papa Bell that used to be at the previous Busch. It seems a little odd that they're small, but that makes them pretty accessible, too. They're easy to see and photograph.
The greatest Cardinal of them all, Stan Musial, always had the largest statue at Busch. Now he gets his own plaza on the walkway.

The mighty Mississippi is just a couple blocks from the ballpark, and this shoot of the moon and the Arch is my favorite from the morning walks.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Baseball place No. 76: National College Baseball Hall of Fame; 76A: Museum of the Gulf Coast and the short Mets career of Chuck McElroy

Chuck McElroy’s Met career didn’t amount to too much. But at least he can say he was traded for Jesse Orosco. Not that Jesse…well, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

The point is that McElroy’s Mets career was sadly overlooked in the display of his career at the Museum of the Gulf Coast that I saw in October in Port Arthur, Texas.

Josh Pahigian takes us to a different Texas museum, the National College Baseball Hall of Fame, as place No. 76 in his “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

Actually, the museum I went to might be bigger. The college baseball hall is an exhibit in a library at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, though Josh reports there are plans to expand into a separate building.

Lubbock is a long way from Beaumont, where I spent a week helping my mother-in-law and her sister. After dropping them off at an appointment, I was happily sent to explore the area’s many museums.

The Museum of the Gulf Coast looked pretty interesting, and Port Arthur was close enough for me to get there, make a quick tour and get back in time.

I passed what I can only assume to be the world’s largest oil refinery before arriving at a costal town that looked like it had been absolutely devastated by Hurricane Rita. In fact, the museum was one of the only buildings that appeared to be standing and open in what was a downtown area.

I got the impression that the museum doesn’t get too many visitors, largely because the person collecting admission told me far, far more than I ever wanted to know. Port Arthur in a nutshell: Indians, oil and Janis Joplin.
This is a replica of Janis Joplin's car. The original is at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I made quick work of the Indians and the oil and proceeded straight to the famous people of Port Arthur section, which was pretty big considered the town didn’t seem all that big.

The music section had a large display for Joplin – even selling bricks from her original home in the gift shop for $25 – and the Big Bopper, who died in the plane crash with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens.

Then I moved into the sports section. Former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson gets big treatment. Former Jets DB Gus “Hound Dog” Hollomon gets to show off one of his helmets and a jersey that looks kind of like a onesy.

Then I found the baseball players. Actually, Rangers owner Tom “I over paid for a juiced ARod” Hicks gets a bust and jerseys from the Rangers and Dallas Stars.

Then I saw Angels pitcher Ben Weber’s jersey and even Xavier Hernandez’s rainbow-sleeved Astros jersey – excellent – and Yankees cap – ick. I averted my eyes when I saw that, like I did when I saw the section about the Indians being cannibals.

But sharing the display was some of McElroy’s gear, including one of his Phillies’ jerseys.

Alas, nothing with the proud orange and blue Chuck wore for 15 games in 1999.

McElroy came over in the trade with the Rockies with Darryl Hamilton for Rigo Beltran, Brian McRae and minor-leaguer Thomas Johnson.

Hamilton was a great pick-up. McElroy pitched 13.1 innings, giving up 12 hits and 8 walks, with 5 runs for a 3.38 ERA. He didn’t have any wins or saves, but no losses, either.

About the best thing you can say about his tenure is that he was traded for Jesse Orosco. Sadly, it wasn’t the young, strapping Orosco who came from the Twins and went on to pile up 107 saves, third-most in the Mets history.

Instead, it was a 43-year-old Jesse, coming over from the Orioles. Orosco never made to a second tour with the Mets, though, traded in mid-spring training for Super Joe McEwing – who was a pretty good pickup for the Mets of 2000.

That’s stuff the fine residents of Port Arthur deserved to know.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Baseball place No. 75: Distant Replays; and No. 75A: Gerry Cosby's and the first real jersey

Back in the day, you couldn’t go buy a baseball jersey at any strip mall or place an order for any team at

It took a special store to have such things.

Josh Pahagian takes us to a jersey store, Distant Replays in Atlanta, as place No. 75 in his “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

Sounds like a neat place, full of retro shirts, caps and jerseys. They have a nice Web site, too. But I’ve never been to the store.

But it reminded me of another store that, when I was younger, almost seemed as good as a trip to Cooperstown.

Alternative Place No. 75A: Gerry Cosby’s in Westbury, N.Y.

I love baseball jerseys about as much as the game itself. I’ve always paid close attention to what players were wearing, taking notice of every slight change and patch. The uniforms worn on the fronts of baseball cards were studied just as closely as the statistics on the back.

Growing up in the 1970s, there weren’t many places where kids could obtain something that looked like a real baseball jersey. Obtaining the real thing was beyond comprehension, of course.

And I had my assortment of Mets t-shirts, sometimes with SEAVER 41 emblazoned with iron-on letters across the back.

Then I heard that polyester versions of the jerseys in kids’ sizes were for sale. Naturally, I became somewhat obsessed with this, and my parents knew about Cosby’s.

I remember the first time we went to the store, which seemed to be filled mostly with hockey equipment. But there was a section of shelves filled with replica jerseys.

And the best part was that the store didn’t just have the Mets, which were the obvious and automatic first purchase. But there seemed to be all the teams. This was a slice of baseball heaven, right there in Westbury.

I remember making the clerk pull down shirt after shirt, building a pile of polyester on the glass-topped counter for me to touch and ponder.

And in that glass were the real deal, actual authentic jerseys. I was amazed that a person could buy such a thing.

Needless to say, my birthday and Christmas want lists for the next years were to be filled right there at Cosby’s.

Before long, I had acquired the Dodgers and Padres, Expos and Phillies, Giants and, best of all, a rainbow-striped Astros replica.

Kids in school didn’t get it. I remember one classmate looking at me in total disbelief and disgust, saying, “Why are you wearing an Astros jersey?”

The answer, of course, is that if you can come into possession of an Astros rainbow jersey, you wear it proudly. Duh.

In 1984 I received what might still be considered the best Christmas gift ever. Naturally, it came from Cosby’s.

I remember exactly where I was sitting in my parents’ den when I opened the box containing a real, live Mets home jersey, the pull-over with the racing stripes.

It was magical. And it was almost incomprehensible that I could own the very same jersey the Mets wear on the field.
We added the anniversary patch in 1986.

Naturally, this jersey was constantly and considered suitable attire or any occasion – including proposing to my wife. True!

I’ve collected many other major and minor league jerseys since, both authentic and game-worn. There was a time when they were semi-affordable, especially if I could find a good sale. Those days have passed.

And we went back to Cosby’s for several years because they could customize jerseys with the proper letters and numbers. Let’s just say there must have been much celebrating at Cosby’s when the Mets obtained Eddie Murray.

The first and most-special jersey no longer fits, but I was proud to pass it down to my son, who wore it to his first home Mets game when we went to Citi Field last year. It’s treats it with the respect a family heirloom deserves.

I believe the Cosby’s in Westbury is long gone, and I recently learned that the Madison Square Garden store has moved. The company’s Web site indicates it still sells all sorts of equipment.

I can’t tell if it still sells jerseys, but I hope so.