11th and Washington

11th and Washington: August 2007

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Home Run Apple: A solution

There's no denying that Shea Stadium is a drab, uninspiring piece of sports architecture, a run-down 43-year-old stadium that leaves little room for improvement. The bright orange seats in the field level and the layers of paint cannot hide the fact that the home of the Mets was build in 1964 as a multipurpose facility that has become obsolete in these high-tech and lucrative times.

The team has done what it can (except in the area of in-game music, where the CD catalog seems to reach only up to about 1987), but it can do no more. In a little more than a season -- and a mere 97 regular-season games (and hopefully the full allotment of postseason tilts) -- Shea Stadium will host its final game, and a gleaming new state-of-the-art ballpark (in the truest sense of the word) will open just to the east of Shea's site.

Everything about the ballpark will be new, including the surrounding chop shops and garages, which will eventually be bought (or seized), torn down, and replaced with housing, offices, retail space, restaurants and a hotel. Though not in time for Opening Day 2009, Citi Field's surroundings will soon join the ballpark as a gleaming Queens treasure.

And so, as a devout Mets fan and a student, historian and lover of the great game of baseball, I think it would be wrong to move iconic Home Run Apple from Shea Stadium to the Citi Field outfield.

Hear me out.

The Citi Field drawings show an apple of some sort in the outfield, but the team has so far balked at declaring whether it would be the same old -- the operative word here -- homemade version or a new one. One online group wants to preserve the original apple in the new ballpark. I'm all for preserving it, just not within the walls of Citi Field.

Instead, the Mets should install beyond the outfield wall whatever shiny new apple they feel fits the character of the new ballpark. The original Home Run Apple should stay exactly where it is.


It can be removed while Shea is demolished around it, but once the old stadium is gone, put the apple back in its place. It's exact place, or six feet from it. A look at the final image of Citi Field on the Mets homepage -- the image entitled "Site Plan" -- shows Citi Field's placement in relation to Shea. A close look at the diagonal orange line that represents the current scoreboard shows that its left edge reaches to the sidewalk outside Citi Field. The apple currently rests near that edge of the scoreboard, if a little bit in front of it. Put the apple there, on the sidewalk.

Preserving it in this way should allow everyone to have their apple and eat it too. The Mets can have their new mechanism in their new ballpark. The fans who love the old thing can see it every time they come to Citi Field -- whether there's a home run or not. They can walk right up to it, touch it, stand by it and have their pictures taken. They can look out across what will be a parking lot and imagine Shea Stadium's home plate some 380 feet away.

I'm a big fan of historical sites, of visiting a landmark or a site where important, watershed moments took place. In locations where neglect or decay have forced demolition of the old structures, I stand in the spot and imagine what was. To see the apple in its original location would provide a lasting memory of Shea, of the mountain of seats that rose to the sky and provided a hurdle for the planes taking off from La Guardia. It would leave a piece of the past behind, a reminder of the stadium that used to stand there.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

These are the fans of the Mets

Overheard outside Shea Stadium while I waited for a friend before going inside:

Mother to boy, presumably at his first game:
"No, it's not air-conditioned. It's outside."

Woman on the phone, explaining where she was standing:
"It's between Gates C and D -- cat and David."

Certainly a big-time Mets fan who will no doubt become that old woman bundled up in her Mets blanket with her Mets jacket on wearing the Mets hat she knitted herself who is shown on Fox's coverage of the 2030 World Series, as she pointed out the Mets and visiting players will call window:
"We saw Joe McEwing's parents picking up their tickets there one day."

My thoughts:

1.) Oh, sweet, naive child.

2.) Why "cat and David"? Is "dog" not the logical pairing with "cat"? And she didn't say it this way once, she said it two or three times.

3.) This was your dyed-in-the-wool, hardcore Mets fan from Long Island. She said this with an air of superiority, a sense of accomplishment and in the tone of voice that says, "I'm saying this because it's impressive and import and you should be impressed."

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Talkin' Barroid

I was impressed with the sampling of various columns I read following Bonds' milestone. Most acknowledged the record while putting it into the context of the rumors and suspicions.

MLB.com's Mike Bauman:
Barry Bonds' record may be a tribute to something else. Therein rests the problem. The vast weight of evidence, some of it admittedly circumstantial, suggests his usage of performance-enhancing substances. This is, of course, unfortunate. He was going to the Hall of Fame when he weighed 190 pounds, before his body underwent a transformation in what amounted to early middle age.
Michael Witte speculates that Bonds' elbow armor has helped him a great deal:
For years, sportswriters remarked that his massive "protective" gear – unequaled in all of baseball -- permits Bonds to lean over the plate without fear of being hit by a pitch. Thus situated, Bonds can handle the outside pitch (where most pitchers live) unusually well. This is unfair advantage enough, but no longer controversial. However, it is only one of at least seven (largely unexplored) advantages conferred by the apparatus.
ESPN.com's Gene Wojciechowski:
There was a time, regardless of how you felt about Bonds, when you couldn't ignore the width and breadth of his talent. Those were during his days with the Pittsburgh Pirates and early in his Giants career. Now you can't ignore the width and breadth of his cap size.
ESPN.com's Tim Kurkjian:
It is true that if Bonds were clean, but still a disagreeable or disrespectful guy, a lot of people still would have preferred that he hadn't broken Aaron's record. Rickey Henderson wasn't exactly embraced when he broke Lou Brock's record for career stolen bases, then held the third base bag above his head and exclaimed, "Today, I am the greatest."
Various ESPN analysts:
You can trust your eyes in baseball. An error is an error. A missed bunt attempt is just that. What you see is, well, what you see. A pitcher who is throwing 88 mph at the end of one season and is magically hitting 98 on the gun the next spring? That's just not humanly possible, at least not without some form of help. Same goes for home run hitters, and Bonds tops this list.
ESPN's Buster Olney:
After the game, Bonds was asked whether his home run record is tainted, and he answered bluntly. "This record is not tainted at all," he said. "At all. Period." That is what he believes. Either way, the word "steroids" is going to appear in the first two paragraphs of Bonds' obituary -- fairly or not, whether you like it or not.
SI.com's Jon Heyman, who has said he will vote for Bonds on his Hall of Fame ballot in five or six years:
Perhaps one day baseball or the feds will catch up to Bonds. But if they do, it won't be in time to save Aaron's record, or baseball from an all-time record that deserves an asterisk but will never get one.
SI.com's John Donovan:
And now, we are left to reflect on the man, the moment and the significance of it all. Bonds has millions of fans, as his selection to this year's All-Star game indicates. His supporters are vocal and relentless. But there are millions of fans today, too, that are completely, radically disgusted at baseball and at the idea of Bonds, of all people, holding this important record. They call him a cheat. They call him a disgrace. They call this whole thing a sham.
CBS Sportsline's Scott Miller, who punctuates each mention of Bonds:
What once was the most cherished record in all of sports lost its luster at 8:51 PT on Tuesday night, Aug. 7, when Bonds* blasted the home run that had never been hit in 100-plus years of major league history, career No. 756, on a full-count, fifth-inning fastball from Washington pitcher Mike Bacsik.
Sportsline's Gregg Doyel bashes all of baseball, so he's not that nice a guy, but you could tell that from his doofy headshot:
Bonds is an accused steroid user and convicted jerk whose record will be acknowledged warily by some and not at all by others, none of which seems right. He joined on Tuesday night a long list of perceived bad guys -- scumbags and racists, cheaters and gamblers -- atop baseball's most cherished individual lists. Bonds doesn't stick out. He fits in.
Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal:
In the rush to revisionist history, some will try to sweeten this lemon of a moment. But with the notable exception of weepy Giants owner Peter Magowan, most were left feeling predictably ambivalent, cheering with the mute button on.

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The steroids era reaches its climax

The fans of San Francisco can have their little moment. Good for them, being all cheery and adulatory when Barry Bonds sent his tainted home run into the AT&T Park bleachers. At least someone was happy.

I know there's supposed to be a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, but considering the facts as we know them and the glaring omission of any kind of evidence from Bonds to prove that he never took steroids -- simply rehashing, "I've never failed a drug test," only works for the last few years, not the "record" 73 season -- we certainly cannot simply dismiss any rumors or accusations regarding Bonds' mysterious marked improvement as he got older. Remember: Bonds admitted he took steroids, but he claimed he didn't know what they were. That's like believing George Bush started the war in Iraq without knowing there was oil there. Why would Bonds, who is supposedly so diligent with his training and workout schedule and so careful and controlling with his body and his health, take something he wasn't completely familiar with? That just doesn't make sense to me. And let's not forget that baseball still has no test for HGH, though it does ban the drug.

But all those suspicions aside, the fact that Bonds "broke" the record in front of his home fans is good for baseball. The record was going to be broken, so it certainly helps the sport's image to have it accomplished in front of the friendly home crowd, instead of in Atlanta, Dodger Stadium or New York, where the opposition would've surely been heard. I'm not happy it had to happen, but I'd resigned myself to it at the end of last season, when he put together a strong final two months and showed he was clearly healthy -- enough -- to get there. At least it happened in the middle of the night, when I was asleep, my phone off and the text message from MLB.com undelivered. I only found out this morning, when I turned on my computer.

I saw the photographs and watched the video clip, and it's a shame that Bonds has to be so brash and arrogant about it. Hank Aaron was humble, no doubt in part because of the threats and backlash he received, and while Bonds is clearly not anywhere near Aaron's stature in terms of class, reverence and humility, it would have been nice to see him hit the ball and watch it soar into the seats while he jogged around the bases. Instead, he stood at the plate, raised his arms, and upon touching home plate, gave an exaggerated two-fingered point to the sky. A salute to dad, no doubt, but a simple gesture still would've gotten the point across.

Baseball got what it deserved, too. "Commissioner" Bud Selig refused to be in attendance, sending two representatives instead and releasing a brief statement following the game. For a sport that ignored whatever evidence and warning signs it had while steroid use expanded out of control through the 90s, it deserves to have its most cherished record held under such suspicion. The commissioner and the owners could've taken action sooner, the players association could have policed itself sooner, so now whatever light they're perceived in is the result of their own inaction. They can clear themselves over time, but for now, that's the way it is.

With this home run comes relief. No more Bonds Watch, no more Pedro Gomez reports on the Giants' left fielder sitting out day games after night games. No more Giants games as circus, no more daily press conferences to avoid -- or at least they'll be less prevalent and easier to avoid. Each home run now is rather insignificant, another notch on a tainted record and merely one more added to the eventual benchmark that will be surpassed by Alex Rodriguez, then Albert Pujols and then Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder or some fresh-faced minor leaguer we've yet to realize is the heir to the home run king's crown.

Now we get to spend three weeks wondering if the Giants will try to get something for Bonds, to slide him through waivers and deal him to a contending team before the Sept. 1 postseason roster deadline. Surely no team will claim him to block the deal and risk assuming so much money for a controversial and aged slugger, so it's possible. It's just not likely. I don't see it happening, but it's fun to speculate nonetheless.

The ball Bonds hit landed in a crowded section of bleachers at AT&T Park, where it ended up in the hands of a Mets fan literally passing through town. That puts a smile on my face and some symmetry to the moment, considering the Giants' roots in New York City. I'm not quite sure why a Mets fan on his way to Australia who apparently went to the game on a whim during his layover was bringing his Jose Reyes jersey to the Southern Hemisphere in winter, but I guess that's part of his regular wardrobe. At least he has as much right to the ball as Bonds does hitting it.

But it's only just for now.

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