11th and Washington

11th and Washington: April 2008

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Shea Goodbye: 67 to go

I knew something was up at 1:05, when Oliver Perez still hadn't warmed up for a 1:10 first pitch. Moments later, the announcement came: A water main break cut off water flow to Shea. So the game is being delayed because the field is too DRY.

The game is now set for a 1:50 start -- and I wonder when these groups of school kids have to leave. They may only see an hour, and then there won't be as much screeching in the upper deck, or the annoying packs clogging up the concourses.

Unfortunately, I'm losing my sun over the top lip of the stadium and any light breeze makes it colder -- almost too cold. Damn me for ignoring my First Rule of Going to Shea: It will be 5-10 degrees colder there than it feels at home.

This one got ugly fast, so there's not much to say. Damn Bucs.

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Shea Goodbye: 70 to go

I'm always wary when going to Shea Stadium with the Braves in town. I tend to get my hopes up -- This is the day. Today, they'll turn it around and bury those punks. -- only to have Tim Hudson throw a one-hitter through seven, or some such dominance. Had I attended last night's game, I probably would've felt the tide turning during the three-run-on-four-straight-walks third inning ... only to have Mike Pelfrey piss it all away in one at-bat to Kelly Johnson.

And so as I dragged myself out of bed this morning to check the weather and the ticket situation, I half-hoped for an ominous forecast of rain, or a single ticket in the far reaches of the upper reserved, indicating very little chance of using the courtesy pass this afternoon. But the Weather Channel told me that any precipitation for the day had already passed through, and Mets.com told me that I could have two tickets in the orange field-level seats if I wanted to pay $167.

But things started looking up as we made our way from the house. Casey and I went our separate ways at Secaucus, where she took the Northeast Corridor line to Trenton and I awaited the next Penn Station-bound train. Mine happened to be a train of the new double-decker cars -- a first for me heading into the city, or on a weekend -- and as I sat down on the left-hand side of the train, facing the platform on which Casey had been standing, I saw she too had the luxury of two-story cars, and would get to enjoy it five times as long as I would for my 10-minute trans-Hudson traverse.

My train luck didn't transfer with me to the E, which went local through Queens instead of the much more efficient express, but I got to Roosevelt Ave. with enough time to walk from the back of the platform to the front to ride the first car of the 7 the final six stops to Shea, getting some nice photos of the blue ballpark as we approached.

My comped seat, as usual, was way up in the upper reserved, but row B, which does make a difference. And once there, I scanned the starting lineups for each team -- my smile growing ever wider as I went through the Braves' lineup and over to the Mets. No Yunel Escobar, the talented young Atlanta shortstop. No Chipper Jones, the long-time villain in the Mets' battle against evil. And on the Mets' side, no Luis Castillo, the 32-year-old slap-hitting second baseman with two bad knees and a fat, four-year contract that the Mets should already be regretting with every downward chop at a fastball and each four-hopper to second base with runners in scoring position. Carlos Delgado was still in the lineup, but at least he drove in a run in this game ... albeit on a dribbler up the first-base line that Mark Teixeira probably should've let roll foul, or charged harder for a play at the plate. (And later, on the throw Tex did make home, he was given an out by the home-plate umpire, even though it looked like Angel Pagan slid in safely before Brian McCann got the tag down.)

It was nice to see the Mets bunch their hits together in the third inning for a four-run rally, but some insurance would've been nicer. On Friday night, when Jair Jurrjens lost his cool with the umpire's strike zone and walked four in a row, he provided all the Mets' runs in a 6-3 loss. They had two hits at that point, too, and I later found out that that's all they'd get for the game. Though they managed a few more hits after their only run-scoring frame today, they're going to have to put up more crooked numbers on the scoreboard if they want to put together any kind of winning streak.

Hopefully, they'll find some magic against John Smoltz tomorrow. The chances aren't good, but perhaps they're due. They're due for a six- or seven-game winning streak (the Pirates arrive for three beginning Monday, and then the Mets head to Arizona, where they've had great success the past three years; though with the D-backs' solid pitching staff, I'd be happy starting off with one win and going from there). The Phillies have been fattening up on weak pitching (the Pirates) and child-like ballparks (particularly their own), and the Marlins are playing over their heads. If the Mets can keep the Braves down and start another four-game winning streak on Philadelphia when the next series starts, the division lead will come back to them. But first they've got to start hitting.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Shea Goodbye: 73 to go

Thoughts and scenes from Game No. 8 at Shea...

The Mets had a moment of silence for the fan who fell from an escalator after yesterday's game, though they didn't say that he died. "Heartfelt condolences" and "prayers" went out to the man's family regarding the "tragedy." I also noticed a small bouquet of carnations left beside a Loge level escalator in right field, though the accident occurred on a left-field escalator.

Fans aren't giving John Maine much leeway. Two walks, a hit-and-run single and one run so far in the first have the boo birds singing. Twelve of 17 pitches have been balls. Retiring Lastings Milledge helped.

Security just called three teens down from the top row of the upper deck to question them in the tunnel about pot. "Which one of you has weed?" one asked, getting in their faces. One punk raised his arms and said, "Search me." Hope none of them have it, or he just sold out his buddies. In the meantime, Maine retired Austin Kearns to end the inning.

Ryan Church took Matt Chico deep. Who said he couldn't hit lefties? Way to victimize your former team, Churchy.

Chico fouled one off in the fourth that went into the field level and hit a Nathan's hot dog box that the vendor was holding on his head. He loved that moment.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Shea Goodbye: 75 to go

I'm not going to be able to post after every game, so I won't bother trying. But when I can, I'll continue the Shea Stadium countdown.

What we're left with after this weekend is a deflating loss to the Brewers -- a deflating series, losing two out of three after an uplifting two out of three taken from the Phillies. Winning Friday's game was nice, running the winning streak to three games, but losing Jose Reyes with a tight hamstring -- and then missing him for Saturday's and Sunday's games -- certainly hurt. It's too early, and the Mets have been too inconsistent, to say that Reyes' absence cost them in the two remaining games, particularly when Johan Santana gave up a couple of home runs Saturday and Oliver Perez and Jorge Sosa could not retain the lead the Mets had built after three innings on Sunday.

I don't mind Prince Fielder or even Rickie Weeks beating you with long balls, but Gabe Kapler? Gabe Kapler?? The guy was a Class A manager in 2007, and he's the slugging face of the Brewers' two wins in this series? Championship teams don't let that happen.

The Nationals are in town on Tuesday, providing another chance to win a series from the bottom half of the National League. Though Washington just snapped its nine-game losing streak. My plan this week is to go to Wednesday's game, then hit Thursday's Astros-Phillies matinee. There are a couple of other options both days, including some minor league matchups with first pitch schedule for noon or earlier. So many choices.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Shea Goodbye: 78 to go

Couldn't watch this one because I was at my friend Dave's wedding rehearsal dinner -- this, the guy who planned his wedding for the same week as the Mets' home opener and thus couldn't go on Tuesday, snapping his streak at nine -- but we high-fived when I got the final score text message. Watching Baseball Tonight now, and though Aaron Heilman continued to struggle, it was nice to see the rest of the bullpen come through, especially Scott Schoeneweis against Chase Utley. That was a big out right there, and if we can trust him in key situations, that's a bonus.

Jose Reyes was the key, not just because he doubled with two outs in the 12th and made a deft slide to score the winning run on Angel Pagan's single that followed. (No, I don't know if he actually touched the plate, but I don't know that he didn't, either. And I don't know that he was tagged, so I can't say that the umpire had the call wrong.) But Reyes also stole his first base in 23 games, according to ESPN, and that's what the Mets need from him -- getting on base, creating runs, and stealing bags. As they say about power hitters when they step to the plate, that they're already in scoring position, so it goes with Reyes once he reaches: he's in scoring position. If he's on first base, he can score on a double. Or he can steal second to put himself in scoring position. His success is key to the Mets', so it's glad to see him coming around.

But what's with Steve Berthume on Baseball Tonight? During every highlight, he's mentioning any player who once donned a Mets uniform by prefacing his name with "former Mets great," no matter who the player is -- including Xavier Nady (less than a year in Queens) and Chad Bradford (a decent but nothing-special middle reliever). Was his year at SNY unpleasant?

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Shea Goodbye: 79 to go

Aaaaaaand ... breathe ...

Now that feels better.

Glad to see the Mets show some patience and hold off on swinging at pitches thrown nowhere near the strikezone. Kyle Kendrick -- who's soft-tosser Paul Byrd, only 15 years younger (and without the control) -- should not be beating top teams with patient hitters, and the Mets didn't let him do it to them. They needed this. They needed a win to get the Phillies out of their heads. And they needed Mike Pelfrey to build some confidence and have a solid start to his 2008 campaign.

There are a lot of Mets fans at work who are down on Pelfrey, who see nothing in his future with this team. I'm not there yet. This is definitely his do-or-die year; he has to show he's ready to pitch consistently at this level. Will he ever be a No. 1 starter? Probably not. But he can be a capable, reliable middle-of-the-rotation piece, if not a decent No. 2.

Here's hoping Wednesday night was just the start, for both Pelfrey and the Mets.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

At Shea, the future looks bright -- it has to

The Mets are celebrating 45 seasons at Shea Stadium this summer before they open the sparkling new Citi Field in 2009, and as the new ballpark takes its final shape behind the giant scoreboard in right-center field, it's hard not to long for the future. Yet it becomes easier if you dwell even briefly on the present play by the Amazin's. Amazin'ly frustrating is what it is.

Was so sluggish this morning. The sniffles I went to bed with stuck around till morning and invited a sore throat over as well. Such uninvited guests. It didn't help that Harry made his way into the bedroom and kept me awake several times with purring and attempts to burrow under the covers. Perhaps I can't close the door tightly enough because, subconsiously, I want the cats to join us. But it's definitely not a good idea when I need to get a good night's sleep -- or a good five hours.

It also doesn't help that the train is eight minutes late. Though while writing, I forgot about my sniffles for a while, so hopefully the rest of the day follows suit. (Postscript: It does. I don't become aware of my minor ailments again until I'm sitting at my desk more than 12 hours later.)
A lot of good things about this Opening Day -- particularly fewer black jerseys and hats in the stands. One guy in front of me actually went back to the souvenir stand to exchange a black ski cap he bought for an orange one. And I detected a significant lack of red in the ballpark, too. Sure, the Phillies fans were there, and if you were near them, they made their obnoxiousness heard, but I actually felt that there were fewer this year than last. Philly fans are weird that way: They tended to remain underground (unless you're at Wogie's) through most of last baseball season, then when their team went on a run in September -- and only then -- did they come out of the woodwork, dusting off their red caps (or purchasing them, from the looks of many a pristine hat I saw) and walking around New York with a newfound air of confidence.

My mom's first words to me this morning when we met at Penn Station were about the obnoxious Phillies fan standing near the women's room waiting for his girlfriend -- and passing the time by verbally chastising any Mets fan who passed by. We saw more as we entered Shea Stadium, and more when we left, but we certainly saw some civil, respectful ones as well (a few) and more than enough obnoxious Mets fans. The thing about Mets fans, though, is that they're obnoxious even when you agree with them. I'm the kind of fan who sits and stews quietly when his team struggles. I don't want to be bothered, and I'm not one for talking in those situations. Most of the people in my section, though, vented their frustrations by berating the relief corps.

And as for the in-stadium relations between Phillies backers and Mets supporters: I saw more fights in the stands at this home opener than at any single baseball game I can recall. The scuffles we saw broken up across all sections of the ballpark numbered at least five, and on three of them, I still saw punches being thrown (no matter how far off the incident was) before the security swarm could reach the pugilists. One fight originated in the orange field boxes, just a few rows from the Phillies dugout. And in each instance, if we looked long enough to see who was being led away -- often with a struggle and lunges back toward the sparring partner -- we saw one perpetrator whose wardrobe contained at least a little red and another who had a hint or orange, whether it was among blue and white or as an accent on a black top.

I'm not going to rehash the game, though. It's here in perpetuity if I ever feel the need to go back beyond the box score. The indelible images from this Opening Day -- my 10th in a row -- were the approach on the 7 train and the new descent from the station to what used to be the road below the walkway that took you to the circular stairways that provided the narrow glimpse into the ballpark. That bridge has been demolished to make way for the expanding Citi Field.

And that's what stands out the most: Citi Field is a budding ballpark now, not just a few acres of concrete and steel. It stands as a picturesque panorama as you emerge from the subway station and a majestic backdrop to the ballgame once you settle into your seat inside Shea. It's going to be one of baseball's better ballparks, even if it's still out in one of the far corners of New York's outer boroughs.

The last moment of levity on an afternoon that went from excitement, elation and joy to frustration, anger and disappointment came in the eighth inning with the sing-along vote. The Shea Stadium crew acknowledged the Rick Astley vote and played "Never Gonna Give You Up" -- and the fans promptly booed it down. How much of the jeering was actually a carryover from the Mets' bullpen effort, however, has yet to be determined.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Oh eight

4:26 p.m., Woody McHale's, 14th Street, New York City

That's where I put myself this afternoon, watching the Mets from a spot a short walk from my office, so that when I had to get to work at 6 p.m., I wouldn't miss much of the game.

Turns out, I saw all I needed to see. I sat there through the extended fourth inning, tapping my foot and fingering the wrapper from my straw, refusing to head to the restroom until I'd seen the rally expired. David Wright's bases-loaded -- bases-clearing -- double was enough. At that point, I left my barstool, paid my tab upon my return, and headed to work.

In the interim, Johan Santana gave up a hit or two (and maybe a homer), but I didn't see it, so in my mind, it didn't happen. But even if it did, it was surely a splendid debut for the Venezuelan Vulcan. Or whatever we'll be calling him. He needs a nickname, though. Santana, Wright and the Mets got 2008 off on the right foot, the foot on which they should've ended 2007. It's just one game, but it's still one game better than where the Phillies sit right now. Or the Marlins. And two games better than where the Braves sit.

I'm not sure if it was a disjointed March -- the Padres and Dodgers playing two exhibition games in China, the two games in Japan between the Red Sox and A's, the Dodgers' leaving Dodgertown early to finish their spring slate in Arizona, or the fact that I worked during the Braves-Nationals Sunday night opener -- but today didn't have the same feeling of anticipation and butterflies I usually get on Opening Day. I was excited, sure, but just not in quite the same way I usually feel that I am. Yet once I sat down at my desk, with all the games at my fingertips, home runs and dropped popups and all the game-changing moments happening in front of me -- or on a TV near me -- I really got into it.

Kosuke Fukudome's game-tying three-run homer in the ninth inning was thrilling, the Pirates-Braves back-and-forth tilt was exhilarating, the Royals' extra-innings win was surprising and Jake Peavy's seven scoreless innings over the Astros was dominating. (Sadly, on the Braves front, Suzie Q did not make the entertainment team out of Spring Training. She'd have been a more alluring roving reporter than Peachtree TV's "J.J.," who was not well received at all by one fan. Woah.)

Thinking about what lies ahead now, from the final seasons at Shea and Yankee stadiums, the All-Star Game in New York, the potential for three- or four-team pennant races in at least two National League divisions -- that gets me excited. That has me checking the schedule pages to see when I can get to Shea (other than next Tuesday's opener), when I might squeeze into Yankee Stadium one last time, or when I can make my first trip to Nationals Park.

On that last one -- if my wife will let me (and my friend will offer me his couch) -- I might make a visit when the Mets do on April 24.

Play ball!

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