Sunday, March 28, 2010

Maple Street Press' 2010 Mets Annual not something to fear

It is, quite possibly, the most frightening thing I’ve seen – at least since we pulled out that Rusty Staub Hostess card a couple months ago.

Right there on pages 42 and 43 of the Maple Street Press’ 2010 Mets Annual is a chart showing the 2009 season day-by-day, depicting in blood red the days each player spent on the disabled list.

There’s more blood red on those pages than in your typical Jason movie, and by July the Mets season was just as predictable.

Movie: Camp counselors go off for nookie, Jason arrives, carnage.

Season: Mets player steps on field, carnage.

Luckily the 2010 Mets Annual is a lot more than a recap, because here’s where the Mets and Jason part ways – and I don’t mean the new acquisition, Jason Bay. There were about a dozen Jason flics, and I never want to see a sequel to the Mets 2009 disaster.

Full disclosure here. I’m partial to Jason Fry’s stunningly awesome look at a dozen Mets bloggers. Mostly – but not entirely -- because I’m one of the dozen writers Jason profiled.
Hmmm, another Jason, but this one wears a Mets cap instead of a hockey mask.

It’s fun to learn more about the Mets blogging family, because as Dana Brand of Mets Fan Blog told Jason, “The Mets seem to attract stubbornly individualistic, somewhat unusual people.”


Jason introduces us to Eric Simon of Amazing Avenue, Dana Brand of Mets Fan Book , Steve Keane of the Eddie Kranepool Society, Matthew Cerrone of Metsblog, Caryn Rose of Mets Grrl, Shannon Shark of Mets Police the mysterious person of Mets Walk-offs, Mike Steffanos of Mike's Mets, John Coppinger of Metstradamus, Taryn Cooper of My Summer Family, and, of course, his effort with writing partner Greg Prince, Faith and Fear in Flushing, Faith and Fear in Flushing.

Speaking of Greg, he offers a look at the near-glorious 2000 team that went all the way to the World Series. Hard to believe it’s been a decade since we started waking up in a cold sweat yelling, “Run, Timo, you knucklehead,” and “Watch out, Mikey! Clemens is homicidal!”
Jason Vorhees, not Jason Bay. Or is it Roger Clemens?

Greg’s book “Faith and Fear in Flushing” was published last season, and fellow authors Matthew Silverman and Jon Springer also are represented in the Annual.

The Annual isn’t quite a book, and it’s sturdier than a magazine. Plus, it’s packed with resource material like stats and schedules, something I will refer to throughout the season.

I like how there are also extensive sections on the minor leagues, so if Jason reappears and assorted Mets end up on the disabled list, we can be familiar with the guys who might come up from the farm to take their places.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Place No. 82: Joe DiMaggio's boat; and 82A: Scott Kamieniecki's apartment

I’ve got another beef with Josh Pahigian.

Recreational watercraft belonging to dead Yankees does not make for a baseball place.

Yet, here we are in Martinez, Calif. with a boat that once belonged to Joe DiMaggio as place No. 82 in his “101 Baseball Place to See Before You Strike Out.”

Note that we’re skipping over place No. 81 for now.

Apparently of you go to the Martinez Marina, you’ll see on a platform a powerboat named “Joltin’ Joe” that was given to the ballplayer on the day he retired in 1949.

Josh writes that DiMaggio used the boat a few times then gave it to his brother Vince, who then passed it along to a cousin.

You won’t be surprised to know that I not only have not seen a boat that DiMaggio sorta kinda had, but have no intentions of doing so.

This is not to say there have not been encounters with Yankees. I submit to you:

Place No. 82A: Scott Kamieniecki’s apartment.

Here’s another tale from the archives.

In hindsight, It’s probably better that I didn’t realize the guy living right above us was Yankees pitcher Scott Kamieniecki.

My wife and I had just moved into a different apartment in our sprawling complex, landing a better unit with two bedrooms and a washer and dryer. It had only two floors, and four units – two upstairs and two down -- shared a little foyer and an outside door.

I claimed the extra bedroom as my first “baseball room,” a place to hang the glorious life-sized posters of Tom Seaver and Frank Thomas, the Mets pennants and yearbooks I’d collected since childhood and other stuff.

In the six years we lived in apartments, I can’t say we really got to know any of the neighbors other than a “good morning” when we passed, only sometimes not even knowing their names.

So it wasn’t much of shock that I didn’t really formally meet the new family that moved upstairs in the fall of 1992. The guy had one of those nasty halo harnesses you wear after a neck injury, and he had a wife and young child. I saw them a couple times as we passed in and out, even once in Meijer, which is a big store here in the Midwest.

My wife helped the woman carry some boxes up the stairs once, and said she introduced herself. The woman said, “We’re only here until our house is done being built” and closed the door on her.

My colleagues in the Flint Journal’s sports department did a good job keeping track of local athletes in the pros, and Flint’s got a lot of them. Kamieniecki was from Mount Clemens, which is closer to Detroit than Flint. But his wife was from Grand Blanc, the Flint suburb where we lived.

My friends at the local baseball card store stayed on top of such things, too. Dave “Pop” Zittel was a retired school administrator who was active with sports programs and opened the store with his brother as a hobby. He knew everyone, and told me Kamieniecki was moving into the area. And we had read that he was having some kind of neck surgery during the off-season.

But I never thought that the guy living upstairs might be the Yankees pitcher. And we barely took notice when the family moved out after a short time. People moved in and out all the time.A new family moved in, and one day they placed a letter atop of the mailbox in the foyer, and wrote on the envelope “Please forward to Scott Kamieniecki” and the address.

Finally, all the dots were connected … neck surgery … building a house … wife from the area … A MAJOR LEAGUE PITCHER IS LIVING RIGHT ABOVE ME! Or, more accurately, was living above me.

My wife said, “Oh yeah, when I helped the woman with the box I saw all kinds of bags with the Yankees logo on them.”

“And you neglected to tell me this why?” I asked.

“Well, when the woman closed the door on me, I thought ‘That’s not very nice' and forgot all about the bags.”

I was crushed. The guy was living right upstairs from my baseball room.

Looking back, I realize this could have gone one of two ways:

Scenario one: Me and Scott become tight buddies, he comes downstairs to hang out and tells funny stories about Rickey Henderson while I throw some brats on the Weber. Then he teaches me a devastating change-up so I can finally beat Will at Wiffle Ball. When the Bombers pull into Detroit during the season he sets us up with tickets behind home plate.

Scenario two: Overcome at having a Major League ballplayer live upstairs, I’m reduced to a shaking, pointing mass whenever I see my new neighbor, who humors me once by accepting a tour of the baseball room and deeply regrets it when I retell the story of Reggie Jackson and the Hall of Fame ball for the third time. From that point on, Scott tiptoes past my door and up the stairs every time he enters the building to avoid making contact.

Yup, I think we know which one of those paths we would have walked down.

Kamieniecki, who still lives near Flint, had a nice career in the majors, pitching 10 years with a 53-49 record and 4.52 ERA. He was with the Yanks from 1991 to 1996, spent some time with Baltimore from 1997 to 1990 and split 2000 with the Indians and Braves.

And let’s just say I’ve made it a point to thoroughly get to know any and all new neighbors – just in case.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Going green with the Mets on St. Patrick's Day

Kevin McReynolds and Jeff McKnight were among the Mets in green when I arrived at Dodgertown in 1994.

The Mets have had six Patricks in their 48 years.

Pat Tabler didn't drive in too many runs, much less snakes, in his short stint in 1990. We made the playoffs in both 1999 and 2000, the two years of Pat Mahomes' tenure.

And poor Pat Zachry was supposed to take the place of a Franchise when he arrived as part of the trade for Tom Seaver. I was too distraught to tell if he had any saintly powers.

And, as Chris O'Dorso points out below, Pat Howell, Pat Strange and current Met Pat Misch are also on the list, though I shamefully forgot them.

I caught the Mets on St. Patrick's Day twice, though one was a rain-shortened game in Melbourne.

The other, 1n 1994 at Vero Beach against the Dodgers, was more promising. At least it seemed so at the time.

The Mets were in transition. Dwight Gooden and Kevin McReynolds were still around. Todd Hundley and Bret Saberhagen were there. But so were folks like Mauro Gozzo and Ryan Thompson.

Dallas Green, second from the right, was at the helm.

After the disaster of 1993, when the team finished below the expasnion Marlins, the Mets were looking to rebound.

The team had pulled up to third place with a 55-58 record before the disaster that was the labor battle shut down the season.
Glenn Davis didn't make it north with the Mets, and took Mike Piazza a couple years to get there.

But they sure seemed to turn the corner, and even came back with the proper attire, dumping the big, fat tail that intruded under the team name on the front of the jersey.

And that was a reason to celebrate.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Baseball Place No. 80: Massive Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum; Place 80A: Massive Cleveland Stadium

It must have seemed strange for the 1958 Dodgers to go from their beautiful and intimate Ebbets Field – which was kind of like Citi Field without the majesty of the home run apple – to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The stadium, home to two Olympics and a lot football, was retrofitted for baseball so the Dodgers had a place to play while their palace at Chavez Ravine was under construction.

Josh Pahigan takes us there for place No. 80 in his “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

I was in L.A. for a conference in 2003, and a little time to sneak in visits to Dodger Stadium and Angels Stadium, but didn’t get to the coliseum.

Sounds like people went to Dodgers games in those days to see major league baseball without actually getting close to much baseball, since many of the seats were ridiculously far away from the action.

Other things were too close, like the leftfield fence. The wall was just 251 feet from home plate – or 30 feet closer than the fence on my softball field. Of course, I’d like to have the 42-foot-tall fence that Dodger pitchers had when I take the hill, since my slow-pitch arcs occasionally arc back over by head and land on the adjoining field.

That happened to Dodger pitchers, too. There was talk of adding a second fence 80 feet beyond the first, and balls that dropped between the two would count as ground rule doubles, but it never happened.

Despite the quirks, the team drew nearly 93,000 fans to 1959 World Series games, a record that still stands.

I did enjoy a game in the stadium that previously held that mark, at 86,288 fans. That would be:

Place 80A: Cleveland Stadium

Cleveland was the last stop of the epic baseball road trip of 1989. Rick, Mark and I watched the Red Sox and Blue Jays at SkyDome on June 30, and the plan was to make the fairly short trip through Niagara Falls and to Ohio with plenty of time for fun.

Alas, we were unaware that July 1 is Canada Day. And apparently Canadians celebrate by packing as many cars as they can on the 403 because we spent much of the day stuck in traffic. After several hours of inching along, we started to fear that we would not get to the game in Cleveland on time.

We got there just in time, frazzled, on each other’s nerves and out of film. I set off on my own to do some exploring.

Cleveland Stadium was ready for baseball by 1932, and was massive. The centerfield fence was 470 feet from home until owner Bill Veeck created an inner-fence to cut down the distance.

Veeck, a known bad ass, actually moved fences in and out depending on whether his team would benefit until the American League banned the practice.

The old stadium was one of the most derided in the game when we arrived. It was old, and so huge that even a nice-sized crowd left the place looking half-empty. It didn’t help that the Indians were horrible and had been for years.

We did get a close-up view of former Mets hero Jesse Orosco, who was then on the Indians and appearing in a pre-game autograph booth for several hundred children.

Wondering around the stadium, I heard the unmistakable boom-boom-boom of a bass drum coming from the outer reaches of the ballpark. Bing a National League fan, I was not familiar with John Adams, a super fan who brings his drum and pounds away to inspire the team.

The sound echoed throughout the stadium, and I wandered out to meet Adams, sitting in a section he pretty much had to himself, with the drum propped in the seat in front of them.

We watched the game together, and he converted me. I described the scene in my story about the trip for the Bridgeport Post.

“People say a lot of bad things about this stadium, but they’re wrong,” he said, drumstick in hand, waiting for the next Tribe hit.

“First of all, there are plenty of great seats. This place seats more than 70,000, so I know I’ll never have any trouble getting a ticket.

“Now I know a lot of people say, ‘Yeah, but there are columns that block the view,’” he said, pointing the drumstick at the upper deck. “But that’s bull and I’ll tell you why. Let’s say there are 10,000 seats that in some way block a portion of the field. Even better, for the sake of argument, let’s say there are 20,000. That still leaves 50,000 seats with an unobstructed view. And 50,000 seats are more than Wrigley Field has in the entire ballpark.”

Adams was cut off when Indians star Joe Carter, one of our favorite non-Mets, launched a two-run homer, sending Adams into a drum-pounding frenzy.

The game was a good one, with Mark McGwire and Dave Henderson – another of our favorite non-Mets – starting for Oakland, and Rickey Henderson delivering a broken-bat pinch single to drive in the winning runs.

Adams sold me on the park. It was comfortable, and a great contrast from our previous day at the brand new SkyDome. It became one of my favorites.

The Indians moved to their new park, Jacobs Field, in 1994 and the Browns left for Baltimore after the 1995 season.

That left the massive stadium without a tenant and a date with the wrecking ball. Pieces of the stadium were dumped into Lake Erie to form a reef for fishermen.

Not every piece. Will was living in Columbus at the time, and called with some news. The Indians were selling seats for a reasonable price. He was making the trip to Cleveland to get one, and wanted to know if I wanted one, too. Actually, he knew I wanted one. That was a rhetorical question.

He said workers directed him to drive right into the stadium, where they loaded two yellow seats into his car. Andrew and I made the trip down soon after, a wonderful reunion. And today, the seat from Cleveland Stadium is one of the centerpieces of the basement baseball room.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Place No. 79: AT&T Bricktown Ballpark; 79A: Roger Dean Stadium

Sometimes a ballpark is created to revitalize a neighborhood, and other times the ballpark comes first, hoping to spur development.

Josh Pahigian takes us to the former for place No. 79 in his “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.” AT&T Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City is the home of the Pacific Coast League’s RedHawks.

Sounds like a nice place. The closest I’ve been to Oklahoma City is Wichita, Kan. while covering some of the court appearances following the bombing.

Josh once again dwells on Mickey Mantle, forcing us to continue to question his cred as a Red Sox fan. But he also describes statues of former Met Warren Spahn and Will’s man Johnny Bench.

Josh says the ballpark, which opened in 1998, revitalized a part of Oklahoma City that had fallen into decay.

But I’m reminded of another ballpark that opened that year that was intended to create a neighborhood, rather than restore one.

Alternative place No. 79A; Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter, Fla.

I’ve seen three minor-league games at Roger Dean, and four spring training games, but truth is I’ve been to the park a lot more often than that. It’s practically my baseball home away from home.

The yard, also an attractive brick stadium, opened as the spring training home for the St. Louis Cardinals and the Montreal Expos, as well as Florida State League’s Jupiter Hammerheads.

The Expos later moved north to Melbourne, replaced by the Marlins, giving them a spring site about 90 minutes from their usual digs. The Palm Beach Cardinals, also of the FSL, joined the action not much later, creating what I’m suspecting is the only complex used by two separate major and minor league operations. Also strange that two teams in the same park have different city names, especially since Palm Beach is about 20 minutes away.

The ballpark is a classic example of what my Dad calls the “If you build it, they will come” theory of Florida development. It’s the centerpiece of Abacoa which turned miles and miles of scrub pines and little else into neighborhoods, a Florida Atlantic University campus and a host of other operations.

The area directly surrounding the park is filled with shops and restaurants, and it’s always fun to walk around after a game.

My folks live about five miles away, so we seem to find a reason to pop over to the stadium every time I’m in town. Sometimes we’re just checking out the gift shop, other times we’re walking around the back fields watching practice.
Tim Teufel and Dan Murray watching their St. Lucie Mets players at an FSL game in 2008.

This has led to multiple adventures, of course. Twice, my Dad and I were walking outside the park only to have foul balls clear the roof and bounce in front of us, including last year, when the Marlins were taking batting practice.

Walking around the back fields one time the Cardinals were in action, and we found Dennis Eckerlsey throwing batting practice to minor leaguers.

Another year we were allowed to enter the stadium when major leaguers were practicing and Mark McGwire was taking grounders at first base with John Mabry. Someone I believed to be then Cards GM Walt Jocketty saw my son sitting in the front row and walked over and gave him a ball.

And one time during a spring game, I saw a guy who looked like Bruce Hornsby sitting with his sons. You have to understand that I’m a big Hornsby fan, and I’ve had the chance to chat with him at a couple events before. He’s really friendly and accessible to fans.

Of course, both times were at places where I was sure it was him – performances and CD signing events.

But this was a guy wearing a Cardinals cap who looked like Bruce, and sounded like Bruce when I could listen without being intrusive. I don’t have too many random celebrity sightings. None, actually, unless you count Ed Koch in a New York restaurant while he was mayor.

After several innings of watching and wondering, I noticed the guy get up and head toward a concession stand. I followed, since it was time for a Diet Coke and chatting with someone in line seems less intrusive that interrupting them watching a game.

After pausing for a moment or two, I made eye contact and got bold. “Excuse me,” I asked. “Are you Bruce Hornsby?”

He smiled and said, “Yes,” and told him I was a big fan. He shook my hand and chatted for a little bit. He’s friends with Tony LaRussa, who invited him and his boys out to see a game.

We’re heading down to Florida again next month, and with two teams sharing Roger Dean, there’s always a game to see. But I don’t think we’ll be bumping into another rock star.