May 27

Jon Niese Tries To Get It Right Against Yankees

The Mets did it right in how they honor the veterans this Memorial Day. If Major League Baseball doesn’t do it already – and I believe they might – all veterans should be allowed free admission to any regular season game they choose.

It is only a small way of saying thanks and showing respect for those who gave this country so much. Personally, I think any family who lost a member in a war should have tax-exempt status. They have already given more than their fair share.

NIESE: Tries to get it back tonight.

NIESE: Tries to get it back tonight.

But, that’s just me.

Growing up, Memorial Day meant parades, picnics and softball games. Today, I know it means a lot more.

Baseball is a Memorial Day tradition, especially the doubleheader. They don’t do them anymore because the owners want the two gates. However, on this day, and maybe also on July 4, I wish Major League Baseball would go back and honor not only the veterans, but all fans who have supported it for years, to give us back the traditional doubleheader.

So many of baseball’s great traditions have faded, from the uniqueness of the Opening Days in Cincinnati and Washington, to Sunday doubleheaders, to the diminishing of the All-Star Game and to interleague play.

Baseball has always been part of the fabric of our country – James Earl Jones’ Field of Dreams speech – and that includes the traditional holiday doubleheaders.

Just once, can’t the commissioner of this sport and its owners do something right for its fans and give us back the holiday doubleheader?

Of course, that wouldn’t work with Mets-Yankees, a gimmick that might be losing its steam. If both teams were competitive it could be different, but there are plenty of tickets available for the two Citi Field games against the Yankees.

The Mets won Sunday night to snap their third losing streak of the season of at least five games.

And, it is just May.

The Mets have Jon Niese and Matt Harvey going against the Yankees, which is their best. Niese is going through an awful stretch. The Opening Day starter and de facto ace with Johan Santana done, Niese won two of his first three starts, but it took him six starts before he won his third game.

Niese is on pace to pitch 186.1 innings, but for that workload he’ll go 10-17 with a 4.80 ERA.  Currently, hitters are batting .270 off him.

Harvey’s projected numbers are off the charts, but how long will it continue?

And, once he falters, who picks up the slack?

 

 

May 26

From One Miserable Week To Another For Mets

It was a rough week for your Mets and the upcoming week doesn’t figure to get any easier.

Whatever good feelings developed at Wrigley Field quickly evaporated when they returned home to be swept by Cincinnati. They followed that with losing their first two against the Braves, with once again Dillon Gee running into that one buzz saw inning that shredded him. They conclude their series at Citi Field with Atlanta today behind 0-5 Shaun Marcum on the mound.

No, he’s not one to inspire Matt Harvey-like confidence.

If there was a Game of the Week, it was Harvey’s no-decision Wednesday, in which they took him off the hook to keep him unbeaten.

The Met most in focus this week was Ike Davis, whose .148 average has him on the verge of being sent to Triple-A Las Vegas since before the Pittsburgh series. Davis can’t hit the high heat or low-and-slow breaking pitches. He’s lost at the plate and carried his funk out to the field.

Pitchers on this level give no quarter, and despite Davis’ proclamation he needs to learn to hit on this level, it is obvious this isn’t the place, not with quality arms against him and the cascading boos. That the Mets have waited this long is indication of their thin minor league system and lack of faith in those players down below.

The Mets escape the National League this week for the Subway Series, this time under the new format of two games each in Citi Field and Yankee Stadium. The Yankees are always a formidable obstacle for the Mets, but despite a bulk of their multi-million dollar talent on the disabled list, the Yankees are sizzling. It is sobering the Yankees’ minor leaguers and retreads are better than the Mets’ starters.

Jon Niese and Harvey start Monday and Tuesday, respectively, at Citi Field, where tickets – and plenty of them – are available. They can also be had at Yankee Stadium, an indication the interleague gimmick is cooling.

Interleague play has never appealed to me, but since it isn’t going away, this is a better Mets-Yankees format. Have the games dominate the week and be done with them. Four games are right while six is too many.

Everywhere he goes in his farewell tour Future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera visits with a selected group of fans and honored by the opposition. When the Yankees were in Cleveland, the home of Rock ‘n Roll, the Indians presented him a framed gold record of “Enter Sandman’’ his take-the-mound music as a gift. The Mets presented Chipper Jones with artwork of Shea Stadium.

The Mets will honor Rivera on Tuesday.

Noted for breaking bats with his fierce cutter, one of the best gift ideas I heard speculated was to presented him an autographed cracked bat from the opposition. It is such a novel idea.

I hope he gets one from David Wright. It is piling on, but I can’t help it, he won’t get one from Davis as that would mean making contact.

Yes, yes, that’s cruel. However, there is an element of truth to it, right?

The week ends in Miami for a series against the anonymous Marlins, whose lone reason for watching, Giancarlo Stanton, was injured when the teams last played.

Niese and Harvey are scheduled to go Saturday and Sunday.

Then comes June, but the good news is they can’t swoon any more than they already have.

Can they?

May 07

Robin Ventura Returns To Face Mets

One of the players I most enjoyed covering was Robin Ventura for those two years he played for the Yankees. In that clubhouse full of stars and egos, Ventura was a voice of calm, reason and humorous relief.

VENTURA: In town tonight.

VENTURA: In town tonight.

I enjoyed stopping by his locker to shoot the breeze for a minute or two, talking about things other than baseball. Very smart, clever and possessing an insight on numerous issues. When there was the inevitable blow up or moment of absurdity, Ventura was always there to put it into perspective with a quip as short and hard-hitting as his swing.

Once I asked him about his fight with Nolan Ryan, and his response was he knew he had made a mistake halfway out to the mound, but couldn’t turn around. You’ll even notice in the video he slowed down.

Was it an embarrassing moment? Yes, but years later he handled it with humor. He even joined with Ryan to autograph photos of the brawl.

When I covered the Orioles and he was with the White Sox, I’d make time to go over to his clubhouse for a few moments. He was accessible to anybody who would take the time to ask a question.

I am sure there will be a lot of questions for Ventura pre-game tonight when he brings his White Sox into town. There will be rehashing about his time with the Mets and Yankees, about being in New York during September 11 and what he remembers about Mike Piazza’s homer the first game back in the city.

He’ll also get a question or four about his grand-slam single against the Braves in the 1999 playoffs.

That night is one of the greatest team displays of enthusiasm outside of winning a championship I have ever seen. That, and I suppose, the Piazza post 9-11 homer. Both were amazing to watch.

Ventura wasn’t a five-tool player, but was consistent and clutch. With a runner in scoring position you wanted him at the plate because he’d usually make contact.

Ventura was a .267 lifetime hitter and only once hit over .300, that being .301 in 1999, his first season with the Mets. Considering his 66-game hitting streak in college, I always wondered if he thought he should have hit for a higher average. He also hit 32 homers with a career-high 120 RBI in his first year with the Mets.

What the Mets wouldn’t give for a player with that production now.

Ventura had three solid years with the Mets, who, during that span had arguably one of the best defensive infields in history. Few balls got by Ventura, Rey Ordonez, Edgardo Alfonzo and John Olerud.

Both Olerud and Ventura would later play for the Yankees. When they left the Yankees, I believed I’d see both again managing in a major league dugout. I’m still waiting on Olerud.

Apr 17

Classy Gesture By Yankees

Give the Yankees credit, when they want to put on a show few do it better.

CLASSY GESTURE

CLASSY GESTURE

There was a moment of silence prior to the game – also one for former Giants player Pat Summerall – but a note of peace and unity on the scoreboard in honor of those killed and injured in Monday’s terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon.

It has become a cliche in troubled times to say tragedy goes beyond the rivalry, but it is true. Just as Boston and the nation supported New York after the September 11 attacks, the nation and New York has come to give its emotional support to Boston.

I flipped over to the Yankees game last night because I wanted to hear the Fenway Park anthem “Sweet Caroline,” sung at Yankee Stadium. Normally, it would sound out of place, as it did when the Mets played it several years ago. But last night, it felt normal, if not right. It was a great gesture that only could have worked at Yankee Stadium because of the nature of that rivalry.

It was heartwarming to hear and read about the reactions of Bostonians to “Sweet Caroline,” last night. It brought a good feeling while bad emotions were swirling.

Apr 16

Reflections Before Mets Play In The Snow

Just because the Mets haven’t played since Saturday, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things to talk about in baseball and the sporting world.

Supporting Boston …

Who isn’t disgusted with what happened yesterday at the Boston Marathon? I’ve had my computer bag searched so many times I’ve lost track. Deep down I couldn’t believe the cowards would attack a sporting event. That’s changed, and as with the travel industry, probably forever.

TRAGEDY IN BOSTON (Tweet from Evan Hill)

TRAGEDY IN BOSTON (Tweet from Evan Hill)

Many Boston athletes announced prayers, good wishes and an intent to donate money almost immediately. That’s not surprising, because for all the heat athletes get for operating in a vacuum, most of them are very aware, and willing, to donate their efforts to the communities in which they play.

Among my first thoughts in watching the horrible video, were flashbacks to September 11. I was covering the Yankees at the time and remember how they and the Mets responded.

I remember a sign in Chicago that simply read: “Hate the Yankees, but love New York.’’ I also remember Bobby Valentine managing relief efforts in the parking lot at Shea Stadium.

Of course, who doesn’t remember Mike Piazza’s homer against the Braves in the first sporting event in New York after the attacks.

Boston supported New York after 9/11, and New York should do the same for Boston. Donate blood to the Red Cross earmarked for Boston. Wear a Celtics T-Shirt and Red Sox some time this week, which is a simple acknowledgement of what our fellow Americans are experiencing.

Root against the Red Sox, but love Boston. It is a tremendous city.

Go after Alex Rodriguez

Mets fans should be grateful their team didn’t sign Rodriguez after the 2000 season. They should be happy he is the Yankees’ problem.

Rodriguez admitted using steroids, but only for a three-year period in Texas. That was difficult to believe then, and impossible now.

To me, that Rodriguez attempted to buy the documents from Biogenesis containing his name is as damning as a positive test.

Ryan Braun got off on a technicality and Major League Baseball was embarrassed and has come across as vindictive. Enter Biogenesis, which also has Braun’s name, and an ugly scenario has unfolded.

If Major League Baseball is serious about cleaning up its PED problem, it has to be doubly cautious as to not get stung on a technicality again. And, if they have the evidence, they need to go after him hard.

For the money MLB has made, Bud Selig’s legacy is the steroid scandal. The cheaters are being snubbed at the Hall of Fame entrance, but MLB needs to place an asterisk next the names of the cheaters in the record books.

Doing that, plus working with the Players Association on more severe punishment is a start. That is, if it is really serious.

Eight games not enough …

A common complaint of umpires is not taking into consideration the game circumstances when ejecting pitchers and managers after bean ball incidents.

That should also apply to players in meting out suspensions after rushing the mall.

First of all, Zack Greinke was not throwing at Carlos Quentin last week. Quentin has a tendency of leaning out over the plate and will get plunked. A pitcher does not throw at a hitter on a 3-and-2 count in a close game.

No way was Greinke throwing at Quentin. At least, no one with a sense of an understanding of the game, which Quentin obviously does not. Eight games is not nearly enough. His suspension should last as long as Greinke is injured an unable to pitch.

The weather outside is frightful …

It is currently 34 degrees in Denver with a wind chill of 25. There is a 50 percent chance of rain and 30 percent chance of snow for tonight.

Yet, they will attempt to play the summer game.

There is no way Major League Baseball could have forecast the severity of this weather in Denver, but it should have been aware of the likelihood of it being nasty.

A point I brought up last week bears repeating, and that is April should be reserved for divisional play where make up games can be easily rescheduled as part of double-headers later in the season.

Non-divisional games, like the Yankees in Cleveland and the Mets this week, and interleague games such as the Mets in Denver, is pushing the envelope in the wrong direction.