Jun 16

Baseball As A Bond On Father’s Day

Was channel surfing on the car radio Saturday when the numbers stopped on the New York Mets game. I thought I’d stick around for a quick listen to Howie Rose and Josh Lewin for a couple of reasons.

First, they are good, and secondly I thought I’d do my part to boost their ratings. What else are friends for?

I forget the context it was mentioned, but Howie brought up the now-demolished Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Josh called it, “The Mistake on the Lake.” Constructed on the shores of Lake Erie, the one-time home of the Indians and Browns – and built in the long-forgotten hope of Cleveland one day hosting the Olympics – like so many others exists only in film clips and memories.

Howie mentioned his disdain for the Stadium and asked how anybody could like the place. To anybody who once shivered watching the Browns in December or Indians in April, or battled the monstrous bugs, or sat behind a pillar, or smelt the stench of the beer and urine-soaked concourses, I surely understand.

But, I said “once.’’

For me, and thousands like me, there were countless trips and Cleveland Stadium became a second home. When Howie mentioned it I couldn’t help think of my father, who on this special day, is only with me in my distracted and rushing thoughts.

My father instilled in me my love of baseball and sense of fair play. He was my Little League coach and my teams weren’t that good, but win or lose, after each game we’d go for ice cream. And, whether you were good or not, on my father’s team you always played and everybody batted. No exceptions. Only now do I understand why we lost so many games late because some kid I’ve long since forgotten muffed a pop up or struck out.

The first day of practice was for preparing the field. You brought shovels and rakes, not bats and gloves that day.

Baseball was it in my house. Dad rushed home to coach the games, and on the nights we didn’t play we’d watch the Indians. I loved watching those games with him. Somehow, it was better in black-and-white long before the days of instant replay and high-def.

However, serious bonding was done at Cleveland Stadium. I still have the box score from the first game he took me to, won 5-0 by the Indians over Baltimore. I came to see Rocky Colavito, but Chuck Hinton homered.

We’d go several times each summer, and he always brought along a group of my friends for my birthday. I’ll never forget when he took my brother and me out of school for Opening Day. He said we’d remember that more than anything they’d teach us that day in school.

He was right, as he often was, but I didn’t give him that much.

I remember a lot of the games, including the time we had standing room tickets to watch the Browns beat Dallas in the playoffs. Dale Lindsey ran back an interception for a touchdown. What I remember most was looking up at him as he shivered just because I wanted to be there.

When I got older and covered the Indians, I treated him. Then, years later, the best time I had with him in my adult life was when he spent a week with me in spring training. Sadly, we did it once. But, that week in Florida was planted in Cleveland Stadium decades earlier.

The Stadium wasn’t glamorous, but it was mine. Just as Shea Stadium was Howie’s place of worship, so to speak. In these days of Citi Field and retro stadiums, there are countless of baseball fans like us weaned in dumpy ballparks.

Gone are Tiger Stadium; Memorial Stadium in Baltimore; the old Yankee Stadium; RFK in Washington; Metropolitan Stadium in Minnesota; Crosley Field; and Forbes Field. And, we haven’t even gotten to Ebbets Field or the Polo Grounds.

Those are sacred places of Tom Seaver and Mickey Mantle; of Al Kaline and Brooks Robinson; of Harmon Killebrew and Pete Rose; of Ralph Kiner and Willie Mays.

Some of those stadiums are now dust, or covered in concrete and built over by apartment complexes and shopping malls. Some of the players are also gone.

They remain in our consciousness in large part because our fathers told us about them while sitting in cramped aisles between innings and pitching changes. Those were the days before non-stop video and blaring audio, sometimes between batters. The lull in the action is the beauty of the sport, which those who run this game worrying about the added five minutes will never understand.

My father and I were close then, but drifted apart as I grew older. We differed politically and I rebelled about a lot of things, as most teenagers do.

I don’t recall if we ever played catch in the yard after he stopped coaching and I went to high school. Maybe we did, but honestly, I don’t think so. However, when things were the coldest between us, we always had baseball and World War II history to talk about.

There were times, even if I knew the answers, I’d ask questions just to hear him talk. Even manufactured conversation is better than silence. He’s gone now and there’s so much more I’d like to tell him if I had the chance I will never get.

If I were smart enough then as reflective as I am now, perhaps we would have thrown the ball around a lot more.

Apr 09

Is Daniel Murphy Becoming A Power Threat?

They are hot, so as Crash Davis said you don’t mess with a streak. This is not a time for the Mets to be making wholesale changes, but there are things they could consider.

The Mets don’t have the multitude of power options that say, Ben & Jerry’s has ice cream choices, but Daniel Murphy appears to becoming one.

MURPHY: Hitting like one of the big dogs.

MURPHY: Hitting like one of the big dogs.

Lately, he has been driving the ball for power; something I always thought he was capable of doing. Through seven games he has eight hits, with five going for extra bases – two homers, two doubles and a triple. He encored his five RBI weekend against the Marlins with two doubles last night in Philadelphia.

Apparently, his strained intercostal muscle isn’t an issue, or is it?

Terry Collins suggested in trying to protect his injury Murphy has fallen into the good habit of staying within himself. He’s focusing on the pitch with the intent of driving it up the middle and going to the opposite field.

Consequently, his swing is shorter and compact. He’s not overthinking to the point of trying to pull the ball or guessing pitches.

“It’s made me do is focus on work I was able to put in during the off-season, and even the work that I’ve done in past years,’’ Murphy told reporters in Philadelphia, “I get a little bit older in this game, it doesn’t have to be perfect.’’

Power comes from strength and bat speed. Murphy is strong, and coupling that with sound fundamentals quickens his bat.

Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn and Ichiro Suzuki aren’t power hitters, but fundamentally strong. I’ve seen Boggs drive ball after ball into the seats during batting practice. He always said he could hit for power if he wanted to.

I believe Murphy can be the same way. He’s the most patient of the Mets’ hitters. For whatever reason why Murphy is driving the ball, it makes one wonder about his optimum place is in the batting order.

His patience and on-base percentage suggests he could be a leadoff hitter. For those saying he’s not fast, you’d be right, but he’s fast enough. Remember, Pete Rose wasn’t fast, but simply one of the best leadoff hitters in history.

He’s currently second for the purpose of working the count to enable the leadoff hitter a chance to run. Only trouble is the Mets have used four leadoff hitters already. Who is running?

“I continue to think [Murphy] is going to be a very, very good offensive force,’’ Collins told reporters in Philadelphia, “to the point where it’s going to be a question whether he has to continue hitting second or you’ve got to put him in the middle of the lineup someplace.’’

Ideally, a team’s best hitter – defined as the combination of power and average – bats third, but that’s David Wright’s spot. However, should Murphy continue to stroke the ball while Ike Davis keeps struggling, why not move him to third and drop Wright and Davis one slot into the order?

This lengthens the order to the point where Lucas Duda could be batting seventh, which doesn’t make the bottom third a black hole.

They are winning so keep a pat hand. This is just a suggestion to tuck away for later.

ON DECK: Tonight’s starter Dillon Gee and game preview.

Please follow me on Twitter. @jdelcos

 

Mar 26

Saluting The 1973 Mets; The Start Of A Series

mays

MAYS: ENDURING IMAGE OF A FORGOTTEN TEAM

The Mets have made four World Series appearances, with each of those seasons and Octobers giving us cherished memories.

But, only one – the nearly forgotten 1973 team, with the still memorable rallying cry of “Ya Gotta Believe,’’ – identifies with the tumultuous ride this franchise has been on since its birth as the replacement child for the kids New York really loved – the Dodgers and Giants.

Think of it, the Mets’ colors are Giant orange and Dodger blue. The early rivals, before realignment with divisions, were against the teams that fled, namely because the wounds were still fresh.

Ah, c’mon, we don’t have to think that much. Let’s not go forty years to analyze. Go back only four when the owner of this team was criticized for honoring his beloved Dodgers at the opening of Citi Field – complete with the Jackie Robinson rotunda – more than his own team.

The Summer of 69 was special in that it was the first. It was the summer of Vietnam, the year after the race riots than burned numerous cities in America, including nearby Newark, and, the close of the decade seeing a man walk on the moon.

Countless times that summer, the improbability of the Mets’ drive to the World Series was compared to the moon landing. They were the Miracle Mets, but often overlooked in that season was dominant pitching, and dominant pitching usually wins.

That team doesn’t totally identity with the franchise because of how close it was to its birth. Seven years after first pitch in the Polo Grounds and the Mets are champions? That stuff only happens in the movies, and while it was a special, sometimes the ride is still hard to believe. Then again, there are some who still can’t believe man walked on the moon.

The 1986 champions did not identify with the franchise’s personality in that it was brash, bold and overwhelming, hardly descriptors fitting the Mets. During the season it bullied the National League. Only in the playoffs and its two Game Sixes, did it show the comeback, gritty nature associated with the franchise.

The 2000 team lost to the Yankees in the “Subway Series,’’ which was a marketing salute to a past that existed before the Mets were even a gleam William Shea’s eye. Wasn’t the whole build up of that World Series just a love-fest for what baseball was in the Fifties, the Golden Age of the sport in New York?

Remember, that was age that didn’t include the Mets and the Yankees won.

The World Series run that most identifies with this franchise’s nature was the gritty season of 1973. The Mets, as usual, were underdogs to Pittsburgh and St. Louis in the division, to Cincinnati in the NLCS, and Oakland in the World Series.

When the Mets won they’ve had good pitching. Tom Seaver was still here and joined by Jon Matlack, but they didn’t have a 20-game winner that season. They also didn’t have a .300 hitter and were at the bottom in runs scored. Save the 1986 monster and a few subsequent seasons with the Darryl Strawberry-Keith Hernandez-Gary Carter core, the Mets have rarely been a masher franchise. That’s just not them.

They were in last place as late as August 26. Then came the free-for-all pennant race in September, with the Mets getting a disputed call that enabled them outlast the Pirates, Cardinals and Cubs. The Mets won the win the division with a muddied 82-79 record, the worst in baseball history for a division winner.

For the number of teams involved, it was one of the more compelling pennant races in history, but lost in the mediocrity of the combatants. The still new divisional alignment required another step, which was the expected slaughter at the hands of the Big Red Machine, which was on its own historic run.

The Mets brawled their way through the NLCS with the enduring image being Bud Harrelson going after Pete Rose on a play at second. The Mets rallied to beat the Reds and hung tough against Oakland with their arms, those on the mound and Rusty Staub’s dangling at his side.

It was a season that showed the improbable, yet resilient nature that has been the Mets. The record typifies the franchise, which has lost more than it has won in fifty years. At 3885-4237, there has been more frustration than glory. The irony is it was managed by a man, Yogi Berra, whose career was all about winning.

From start to finish, the 1973 season most typifies the ride of this franchise than any of the other pennant winners. The 1973 team tells the story, with its collection of non-descript players joined by its best player and an iconic star on his last legs. The 1973 team overachieved, which has been a Mets’ signature, but left us unsatisfied and wanting more, feelings all Mets’ fans know so well.

The story of the Mets is captured in two images.

There’s the unabashed joy of Jesse Orosco in 1986 after striking out Marty Barrett to end the World Series as champions. There’s also the pain and anguish of Willie Mays – somebody else’s star – on his knees, pleading for a call in the 1973 Series.

Now, which picture best symbolizes fifty years of Mets’ baseball?

Thoughts from Joe D.

John, I’m very excited to be working with you again on another new Mets feature. I loved the 1973 season, and as I look at the image we have on the top of this post, I can’t but notice how symbolic it is of our plight during 51 years of Mets baseball. Next week, we’ll retell the tale of how the slogan “Ya Gotta Believe” first came about. All you newbies out there pay attention.

This season me and Joe DeCaro of Metsmerized Online will be collaborating on this new feature saluting the 1973 Mets.  Both on MMO and here on New York Mets Report, each week we will highlight a game, event or player profile commemorating that unforgettable season. Hope you enjoy.

Mar 12

Chipper Jones Rejects Yankees

I was very glad to see Chipper Jones reject the Yankees’ overtures for a comeback. It’s not that I wouldn’t want to see Jones have a change of heart, but not with the Yankees … not with anybody else but the Braves.

CHIPPER: Turns down Yankees

CHIPPER: Turns down Yankees

I’ve always admired players to begin and end it with the same team. That ‘s what I want to see for David Wright. It’s one of the things I liked about Cal Ripken, Don Mattingly and Derek Jeter.

It’s rare these days for a player to retire with the same team he began his career with. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that way with Pete Rose, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.

The Yankees’ stream of injuries prompted WFAN to run a poll of retired players fans wanted to come back with the Yankees. Ripken was on the list. I wonder if it is more a sign of respect or just not being realistic.

Incidentally, Wright is enjoying his time at the WBC, but I can’t but wonder if his time would have been better off had he stayed in Port St. Lucie.

Think of it for a moment, he’s going to be the captain of this team, so it stands to reason his presence would be beneficial to the younger players in camp.

 

 

Mar 02

Mets Matters: Johan Santana Doubtful For Opening Day; Lucas Duda Breaks Out

It is not surprising that GM Sandy Alderson indicated today it is “less and less likely,’’ Johan Santana

would be ready for Opening Day.

mets mattersAlderson attributed that to Santana not being in good shape when he reported to spring training because he didn’t go through his normal off-season routine after extensive rehabbing the previous two winters.

“From my standpoint, his arm is fine, as far as we know,’’ Alderson told reporters. “Was he ready to pitch when he came into camp? No. Even he may have been a little surprised by that.

“So that leaves us where we are today. And where we are today is getting him ready to pitch as soon as we possibly can. We haven’t rule out Opening Day, although given when we think he might get on the mound, it becomes less and less likely. We haven’t given up on that notion yet. And we’ll see where it takes us.’’

The Mets are kidding themselves in thinking Santana has a chance to make the Opening Day start because he hasn’t thrown off the mound since Feb. 19.

Jonathan Niese will start if Santana opens the season on the disabled list. In that scenario, ESPN reports the earliest Santana could start would be the sixth game of the season.

Also expected to open the season on the disabled list is closer Frank Francisco, meaning Bobby Parnell will get that opportunity.

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