Friday, December 30, 2011

Mets ornament of the day: Dropping a big ball in hopes of a better year

I'm not a big New Year's Eve person. But I'm eagerly celebrating the end of 2011.

This has not been a good year. At the risk of tempting fate, I'm very happy to be throwing out the 2011 calendar in hopes that 2012 won't be as bad.

I'm not saying that we are not blessed as a whole, or that there have not been some good times during the past 12 months.

Manny Acosta, Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran sure provided a highlight. I learned a lot about marching bands. And I was able to visit some very interesting places for work, like New Orleans.

But we also suffered some tremendous losses, not even counting Jose Reyes.

I'm optimistic by nature, so there will be genuine celebrating as the giant ball drops in Times Square. I think we will do better in 2012.

And speaking of giant balls, I love this Shea Stadium ornament. While I've seen other ornaments depicting miniature versions of the ballparks, I've never seen this particular design for other teams.

Shea was a happy place for me, a magical place even during the dark times. The horrors of the late 1970s gave way to the glories of Tom's return, Doc and Darryl's emergence, Keith and Gary's arrival and the thrills of 1986.

The years with Jeff Torborg and Dallas Green at the helm melted into Bobby Valentine guiding Mike Piazza and grand slam singles and Subway Series.

Even the short-lived Howe era blossomed with David Wright and Reyes and Pedro and Beltran and a division title.

We work through the setbacks because we know that with hard work and a little luck, all will be good again. The challenges make the successes all the more enjoyable.

May 2012 bring you peace and happiness. It's time.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Mets ornaments of the day: The best present ever

I opened some wonderful Christmas gifts this year and in the past, but there is one that stands above all others.

You have to understand that I've always loved baseball uniforms. Stores didn't start selling polyester replicas until I was in high school. They were not as close as to the authentic versions as you see today. Everything was polyester, and all the lettering was screen-printed. No buttons, as all the replicas were pull-overs.

I remember running to one of the department stores in the Sunrise Mall – it might have been Gertz – and finding the Astros rainbow replica.

There were no Mets replicas there, but I was thrilled to get a shirt from any team other than the Yankees. I remember a classmate asking, dismissively, why I was wearing an Astros jersey. But I loved all baseball uniforms, and would even get the matching mesh-backed, adjustable caps to go with them. These were prized possessions.

The mall supply exhausted quickly – I'm surprised the store carried them at all – but my parents knew about Gerry Cosby's store in Westbury. It was an amazing place, even though it seemed to be filled mostly with hockey equipment.

But I remember one shelf with the polyester replicas, which soon was to be the source of birthday and Christmas lists. Before long I had acquired the Giants, Phillies, Dodgers, Expos and Padres and, finally, the Mets.

But I the highlight of a Cosby's visit was seeing the authentic jerseys, stored under glass like the treasures they were. It was inconceivable that a mere mortal could walk around in the exact same jersey worn by Major League Baseball players. It was even a thrill to see them up close, looking at how the lettering was stitched on.

These polyester shirts were an essential part of my wardrobe, along with the three-quarter-sleeved, baseball-styled concert shirts purchased by guys with duffel bags hiding from the police in the Nassau Coliseum parking lot after the shows. Find a photograph of me from that era, and I likely will be wearing one or the other.

But one year, I'm pretty sure it was 1985, I unwrapped a box, lifted off the lid and set my eyes on the most beautiful thing it's ever seen. An authentic, pull-over Mets jersey with the new blue-and-orange racing stripes. The Real Thing.

It was just like the one Tom Seaver wore in his homecoming season, and that Dwight Gooden had worn that season. A magical thing – and perhaps the best Christmas present ever.

Naturally, I have a several Mets jersey ornaments. Though none have the 1980s racing stripes, they bring back memories of that special present.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Mets ornament of the day: Johan Santana and the rare benefit of being a Michigan Mets fan

There are very few benefits to being a Mets fan in Michigan.

It's nice when the Mets come to Detroit to play the Tigers at Comerica Park because most of the Detroit fans are crowded around the Tigers dugout before and after the game. With less competition, I was able to have nice experiences with Chip Hale and Scott Hairston before the game.

And after the game, Manny Acosta famously looked up, saw my Mets jersey and threw me the ball use to record the final out.

But the other benefit came two years ago when Hallmark issued a Johan Santana ornament.

The designation was disastrous for Santana, of course. He was victimized by the Hallmark curse, as we all knew he would.

But my Michigan location was perfect for snagging leftover Santana ornaments at post-holiday prices. Apparently there wasn't much demand for Johan, because I found several at half-off in the days after Christmas.

But then I hit the jackpot. I was in Kohl's in early January, walked past what was left of the Christmas display and saw ornaments were 90 percent off. And, there were a pile of Santanas, apparently unloved by most other Michiganers but beloved by one in particular.

I cleaned the shelves. Friends and relatives back in the Homeland who were shut out soon found Santanas in their mailboxes. They were a little late for that Christmas, but the next year's trees sure looked better!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Mets ornament of the day: Some of the best aren't found in a store

Mets ornaments are special for different reasons.

Some are hard to find. Some are linked to specific events. Some pay tribute to individual players.

And others are special because of the person who made them.

The baseball room Christmas tree is, of course, a great source of pride and family discussion. My daughter Caroline usually helps me set it up and decorate it.

Caroline also is pretty creative, crafting all kinds of things out of duct tape, paper and anything else she gets her hands on. She's very good.

Years ago, when she was just starting down the crafting road, she surprised me by making an ornament for the Mets tree. Ice cream sticks in majestic royal blue and magnificent orange, gingerly glued to resemble the coolest Mets snowflake. Or maybe a star.

I'm not entirely sure. But it always will be special, hanging in a place of honor in the front of the tree.

I'm in Illinois celebrating with family this year. Wishing you and your family a very merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Mets ornament of the day: David Wright, who is NOT going to the Phillies

Some silly Phillies fans are spreading ugly Twitter rumors that the Mets are going to trade David Wright to their goofy little team.

Silly Phillies fans.

The team would have to throw in Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, that bell they broke and a Pat's King of Steaks stand to go alongside the Shake Shack for us to even begin the conversation.

For one thing, nothing good comes of a trade with Philadelphia. Look at the track record. Over the years we've given them Tug McGraw, Roger McDowell and Lenny Dykstra. And what did we get back? Mac Scarce and Juan Samuel. (I'm not counting John Stearns and Del Unser. Work with me.)

And for another, we've already given the Phillies a pair of division titles. Handed them to the team on a platter.

I know it's better to give than to receive. But it's time the Phillies started sending something useful our way.

One thing they're not getting is my sweet David Wright ornament. It's another Forever Collectibles ornament, which means it looks nothing like David Wright. But it's still pretty cool. And it's not headed to Philadelphia.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Mets ornament of the day: Jerry Manuel giving Santa the bunt sign

Jose Reyes got a lot of gruff for bunting in his last Mets at-bat, believing he wanted to snag one more base hit then scamper off to greener pastures with a batting title added to his resume.

Not true. I think Jose was paying tribute to former manager Jerry Manuel.

Manuel was known for his devotion to bunting. This made his managing pretty predictable.

Man on first with no outs? Jerry was in the dugout frantically giving the bunt sign. Actually, it seemed to get to the point that of there were men on any base, and an out total of less than two, Jerry would call for the bunt.

The toughest part for fans was not no Mets played seemed to be all that good at bunting. You'd think with all that practice, the players could practically lay one down the third base line with their eyes closed.

Actually, I'm almost convinced that Mike Pelfrey really did go up there with his eyes closed. It would explain a lot.

Oh well. Despite managing on autopilot, Jerry seemed like a nice guy and he had cool glasses. Plus, he'll go down in history as the guy who managed the first game at Citi Field.

So this ornament, showing Santa attempting to lay down a bunt, is my reminder of the Manuel era.

Mets ornament of the day: Santa needs to get his treadmill fixed

This has been a year of challenges, and among the latest is that the family treadmill is broken.

This frustrating because it is not all that old, and it's been a staple of my effort to first lose weight and then to keep it off.

The replacement part costs nearly as much as a new machine, so I dragged my wife and daughter to four sporting goods stores one night this week.

This, after checking all the local YMCAs and other fitness places to see about a short-term membership so I could keep running until the thing is fixed or replaced. I'll save you a trip. They only want year-long commitments. No, they are not moved by broken treadmill sob stories.

If it sounds like the treadmill is an obsession, well, you are correct.

The reason is that I don't ever want to look like the guy in this ornament again – and I don't mean the white beard or ugly shorts.

OK, I was never in the Santa zone, but I was too big and it's a place I don't ever want to go back to.

Now, our dangling and reclining Santa has other issues. What's with the jersey? We all wear our Mets jerseys proudly, even those of us never to be mistaken for a player. But the lettering is way too low. Even the chubbiest of Mets fans would not call attention to the Mo Vaughn-esque belly by stretching the team name over it.

Santa's cap is pretty cool, though.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mets ornament of the day: Mike Piazza, a really big star

Mike Piazza wasn't “The Franchise,” because there can be only one. But when we start compling a list of the best players to wear the Mets uniform, he's certainly near the top.

Note that such a list would have to be limited to guys who played for the Mets in their prime. There is absolutely no shame in boasting that Willie Mays, Warren Spahn, Duke Snider, Richie Ashburn and Yogi Berra all looked splendid in their classic Mets uniforms even though their performances were not up to their career highs.

Piazza was the face of the team during its resurgent Valentine era, probably better know as the Piazza era.

And despite his stellar performance, Piazza seemed to be forever dodging beanballs and bat shards from the likes of Roger Clemens.

And, as the biggest star, Piazza gets the biggest ornament on the Mets tree. This thing is huge. Too, huge, actually. It requires a tree branch seeminly as thick as Piazza's biceps to keep it hanging.

I'm pretty sure that this was a mold created for a bobble head and adapted for ornament use.

Alas, even though the designers had all that room to work with, the bobber-ornament has only a slight resemblance to our slugger. Nice detail on the shoes, though.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mets ornament of the day: Spring training and other Florida memories

It's getting close to the point that I've seen the Mets play in Florida as many times as I've seen them play in New York.

My parents thoughtfully moved to Florida in the early 1990s, selecting a spot about 40 miles from the Mets spring home in Port St. Lucie. And the Cardinals later moved their shared spring home to Jupiter, right near the parental homestead.

This has led to some pretty sweet adventures, too, like a front row seat to watching Jose Reyes play in a rehab assignment for the St. Lucie Mets in Jupiter.

I've sat in the stands with former No. 1 pick Shawn Abner and several Mets prospects, sat right behind the open dugout at Vero Beach to hear all the team chatter, enjoyed several green-clad St. Patrick's Days.

Spring games had afford me opportunities to talk to Mets owners, broadcasters, managers and players from Hall of Famers to guys hoping to make the team – and some of their parents, too.

Some of the Florida adventures extend beyond spring training. I've seen the Mets and Marlins play in Miami several times, including celebrating one Opening Day.

The sunshine state being the host for so many Mets memories that I hang this cool sand dollar ornament near the top of the baseball room tree each year.

There's an art festival that runs along Ocean Blvd., that's fun because there is usually some pretty strange-looking art, some pretty strange-looking people and arepas, which are a glorious Florida treat involving corn bread and cheese.

One year I stumbled across a table with these cool handmade ornaments, buying one with the proud Mets logo and one with the then-new Marlins logo.

They're big, and a little goofy. But a sand dollar never looked so good, and it's a reminder of all the fun times spent with the Mets in Florida.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mets ornament of the day: 1988, so close

Well, I fell just short of obtaining something recently. I was so certain, so close. It had to happen.

Except that it didn't.

I remember feeling this way exactly once before.

I was so sure the Mets were going to the 1988 World Series, and that they'd win it. It was in the bag.

The 1986 championship season was followed by a year devastated by injuries. But the 1988 Mets were incredible. Dominating. The team finished 100-62, a full 15 games ahead of the second-place Pirates.

David Cone went an insane 20 and 3 with a 2.22 ERA. Darryl Strawberry should have won the MVP, with 39 homers and 101 RBI.

And the team headed off to the playoffs to play the Los Angeles Dodgers, a team they'd defeated in all but one game. The playoffs were a formality.

Except that Bob Ojeda had an accident with a hedge clipper, future Met Orel Hershiser was playing out of his mind and Mike Scioscia earned “Bleeping” as a middle name. And like that, it was gone.

I keep the ornament on the tree as a reminder that a division championship is something to celebrate. And, it's a reminder to never, ever think that anything is a sure thing. As a very, very wise former Mets player, coach and manager once said, “It's not over 'til it's over.”

Friday, December 16, 2011

Mets ornament of the day: Mets nutcracker not needed for peanuts

I've been spending a great deal of time in Lansing, Mich., lately covering activity in and around the state Capitol.

You know the expression about laws and sausage-making. Well, I like to see the process. I've enjoyed my new assignment.

One of the best parts of downtown Lansing is a magical place called The Peanut Store, located on Washington Square a block from the Capitol.

The aroma wafts throughout the block. Inside, it's like a step back in time. There are Mr. Peanut souvenirs on the wall that I think have been for sale for decades.

And right near the register is a drawer overing a tumbler keeping unsalted peanuts warm. I usually walk out with a massive, $5 bag of warm peanuts to bring back to the bureau or all the way back to colleagues in Grand Rapids.

The bag gets lighter along the way, I must confess. But I get to be a hero.
The shop sells other kinds of nuts, too. But I'm not going into a place called The Peanut Store to buy cashews or some candy.

I don't need a nutcracker to open peanuts, but the Mets nutcracker reminds me of the store – but without the awesome aroma.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mets ornament of the day: There was no question about Johan Santana in 2008

Lots of talk about Johan Santana being a “question mark” for the upcoming season. I'm not sure what kind of punctuation mark he'd get for 2011, considering he missed the entire season.

Well, he'll always be in mid-season form on the Christmas tree.

I have a several Santanas on the tree, and one is more interesting than the others. The face could be anyone from Jay Hook to Pat Misch, as Forever Collectibles rarely seems to invest the effort in making the subject of the ornament actually look like the person it is depicting.

But check out one of the other details on the figure: The 2008 Shea Stadium final season patch.

That's pretty cool. The only time I've seen Santana pitch for the Mets was during that farewell season. Cousin Tim and my parents had the idea to make an epic journey to Shea for one last game, and we watched one of the Subway Series games.

More on that in later posts. But I'll always remember watching Santana that day.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mets ornament of the day: David Wright, Pedro and a soon-to-be-jinxed Santa

The Mets had their annual Christmas party today. This has known to be a jinx to the player wearing the Santa suit, and know to be a very good day when Anna Benson showed up in her now infamous elf costume.

So today we have a Forever Collectibles version of what the day is like, with Mets players David Wright and Pedro Martinez posing with Santa.

Is this a since-departed teammate posing as Santa, or the read deal? We just don't know. He does seem to friendly enough with both players.

This St. Nick is dressed for the occasion, ditching his traditional red coat for his black Mets alternative jersey. And David is ready for action, wearing his glove.

This was the first of a series of “Celebration” ornaments from Forever, though the rest ditched Santa in favor of a third player. Or given the history of bad things happening to Mets who played the role at the party, perhaps everyone just thought it was safer to leave the costume behind.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mets ornament of the day: Shea Stadium, a little askew

No Mets tree would be complete without at least one tribute to Shea Stadium.

Like the beloved ballpark, my ornament is a little off. The Mets logo that is supposed to help the ornament hang straight.

This one is a little askew, but so was Shea. That's the way I'm rationalized this one, which wasn't quite pictured this way in the photo on eBay. Fighting with eBay vendors on a fairly inexpensive item just isn't worth the time and effort.

But there is much to like about this ornament, especially considering the size. The level of detail is fairly impressive. Note the neon players on the walls, the ticket booths along the entrances and the outfield scoreboard and video boards. Not too bad.

I picture this dangling from a branch and I can just imagine Swoboda stretched out in right, Buddy and Pete mixing it up, Ray Knight stomping on home as the the little roller famously gets by Buckner.

Look closely, and you see Robin Ventura mobbed before he can get to second base, Mike Piazza tugging at the heart with his healing blast and Tom returning home, bowing on the mound to thank the fans.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Mets ornament of the day: Citi Field

I love baseball stadiums.

Lets' face it, with very few exceptions, a hockey rink is a hockey rink, and I think it's safe to say the same goes for the other lesser sports.

But a baseball stadium is different. It can have an impact on the game itself, with green monsters, short porches, Tal's Hills, bricks and ivy and deafening Metrodomes.

The ballpark can be a point of pride, like Camden Yards and Dodger Stadium, taking on legendary status. Or they can evoke shame, like the Tropicana Dome in St. Petersburg.

I think Mets fans were hoping for pride when Citi Field opened in 2009, and were disappointed that the team lavished so much attention on Jackie Robinson and so little on the team's own former stars. It was like going to Grandma's house and seeing photos of the neighbor kids on the mantle.

The team seems to have made up for it with an amazing Hall of Fame and other touches, none of which are easily viewed in this ornament. It's got some other issues, too. Unlike other stadium ornaments that have a team logo on which to extend a hook, this one has the loop in the middle of the field, and it just doesn't hang well – hence the photograph on the table.

But the park is still new, and I'm sure a better ornament will arrive soon.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Mets ornament of the day: Pedro Martinez, quirky and fun

I read Thursday that Pedro Martinez has retired.

I confess that this surprised me, because I thought Pedro Martinez has already retired. I mistakenly came to this conclusion because Pedro hasn't pitched since he lost two games against the vile team that must not be named in the 2009 World Series for another team that must not be named.

To be honest, I had blotted that entire World Series from my memory. I pretend it was canceled, just like the 1994 Series, but for a better reason.

I prefer to remember Pedro from his days as a Met, making each start an event even when it was apparent towards the end that his physical gifts were fleeting. If only he'd stayed healthy in 2006. I might have been able to add a World Champions ornament to the tree.

But I do have an unusual Pedro Martinez ornament. I found it online, and I've never found anything like it.

Detail issues abound, like the road wordmark on a white home uniform. But the manufacturer managed to work in Pedro's necklace.

Not complaining, mind you. It's quirky and fun, just like Pedro.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Mets ornament of the day: Reminder of a simpler time

Not every Mets ornament has to be a fancy, mass-produced affair.

We lived in Connecticut for three years, which was nice because it's close enough to the homeland that we could still go to Mets games and find Mets items in stores mixed in with the Red Sox gear and stuff for the other team that will not be mentioned during the nice holiday season.

Our Christmas tree was fairly bare in those days, as we were slowly acquiring ornaments along with can openers and other essential items. My wife made several felt ornaments that I still love because they remind me of those years when we were just starting out.

We liked to visit weekend art shows in Milford, which is a very nice place on Connecticut's south shore not too far from Bridgeport, which is, well, also a place on the south shore.

I found this ornament at one of the art shows. Obviously homemade. But that's part of the charm. And it brings me right back to a happy, simpler time.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Mets ornament of the day: Jose Reyes in happier times

It's going to be a little crowded on the back of the tree in the baseball room, because Jose was a popular ornament subject.

In going through the loss of Reyes to the Marlins – a rival I confess to not openly hating – I quickly moved through the denial, anger and bargaining stages and went straight to depression.

But we can't have a blue Christmas. Oh, maybe a blue and orange Christmas. The second of the Forever Collectibles Reyes ornaments takes us to a happier place, where Jose is frolicking at Shea with hamstrings unstrained and that platinum smile lightening up a Flushing night.

On the other hand, this ornament looks even less like Reyes than the black jersey version. We can pretend that this one is actually Mike Cameron, Darryl Hamilton, Bruce Boisclair or any of the other 800-plus players to wear a Mets uniform.

Tomorrow we'll be able to move along to the acceptance stage and write about a less-traumatic ornament.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Mets ornament of the day: Jose Reyes, headed to the back of the tree

Well, guess who is going to be hanging in the back of the tree this year.

Forever Collectibles had several years making larger ornaments of individual players, none of which drew even a passing resemblance of the player intended to be depicted.

I suspect this is like that first year of Starting Lineup figures, where the company had about five poses and five heads – “Slap the white guy with mustache head on the batting figure and call it 'Howard Johnson.'”

I'm not complaining too much, because Forever sometimes got some details right, like uniform patches.

The company made several Jose Reyes ornaments, and I chose this one one for today. The soon-to-be-dispatched black jersey fits the mood and is symbolic of the mourning period we're all entering now that Jose is Miami bound.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Mets ornament of the day: The elusive Mr. Met

It started innocently, with a Mets ornament or two mixed in with our others on the Christmas tree.

But then I started expanding, tracing Tom Seaver's career in ornaments and adding Hallmark decorations featuring baseball players.

Several years later, when we had our first house, my wife surprised me with an artificial tree for the baseball room – a special tree to fill be with baseball ornaments.

Naturally, I have rules. Space on the baseball tree is limited, so each ornament has to be special. Ordinary glass balls with a team logo don't cut it. I like ornament that can take us to a time or place, tied to a memory.

So we'll come out of November hibernation and put the post card tour on hold to spend the December taking a tour of the tree, hopefully one a day through the end of the month.

Most of these are store-bought, found here and there. But some of the favorites were discovered at art shows and craft fairs – or created by my kids.

So let's start with Mr. Met, on of several created by Forever Collectibles, which produces work of varying quality.

I like this one. And I have to confess that I've never met Mr. Met. The best mascot ever just wasn't around in the 1970s and 1980s when I was living in New York and Connecticut and getting to games regularly.

I had hoped for an encounter when visiting Shea in 2008's farewell season and the following year at Citi Field. Alas, we only were able to view Mr. Met from afar.

So, until we can make it back to see the Mets at home, Mr. Met on the tree remains as close as we can get.