11th and Washington

11th and Washington: March 2009

Monday, March 30, 2009

This one goes out to the one I love

R.E.M. was the first music we heard coming from the field, but we were still on the concourse. We'd just come up the escalator through the Jackie Robinson Rotunda and we were ready to work our way around Citi Field.

While I enjoy college baseball games, we weren't there to see St. John's and Georgetown. Most of the 20,000 or so who actually made it out to the ballpark were there for the unveiling, the soft open of Citi Field -- and its food. We were barely halfway down the first-base line on the concourse when I noticed Blue Smoke out behind center field. Our trajectory was set.

They started announcing the lineups and John Franco took the mound to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, but we stood on line at Shake Shack and Blue Smoke and Box Frites. I took off my hat as the national anthem played, but I wasn't anxious to place my order and get my food to get back to my seat (and that felt weird at first). Instead, the smell of the grill -- of the Shackburgers -- weighed more on me, and that's what I found myself anticipating more.

"If I see Danny Meyer, I might just kiss him," I said as we downed our burgers, pork sandwiches, fries and beer on a wall at the top of a stairway out beyond the center-field scoreboard.

In short, I'm hooked.

Shea Stadium had its charm, its character, its history. But it also had its rust, its gunk, its grunge, its smells and its attempt at food. Citi Field tops it all. We spent the afternoon at the ballpark and never even found where our seats, as printed on the tickets, were located. We circled the ballpark on the field-level concourse -- a first in Queens -- and did the same on the promenade (upper deck) level. We ducked into several shops, read multiple menu boards and made our way back to Danny Meyerland for a second lunch of tacos.

In 23 years of attending games at Shea, I saw games from just about every vantage point -- field level behind the dugout, boxes on the loge, mezzanine and upper levels, the top row, the picnic area, the small slivers of seats in fair territory down the lines. After one look at Citi Field, I hope to take in as many different views in must less time.

I appreciate baseball's history as much as anyone. I lament the fact that I never got to Chicago in time to see Comiskey Park and I would probably use a chance at a time machine to see games at the Polo Grounds, Ebbets Field, pre-renovated Yankee Stadium (the true original Stadium) and several other old parks. At times, I'm sure I'll miss Shea, where I saw scores of games and I'll miss Yankee Stadium, where I saw my first game. But those days should be few and far between now that the Mets have a beautiful new ballpark that they both deserve and need.

Citi Field wasn't quite complete for this soft opening -- it was just short of a full dress rehearsal, with the Mets still in Florida, after all -- but it was only a few Jackie Robinson murals and outfield advertisments short of being finished. It didn't feel like Opening Day, but it sure felt like a new era.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

'That would have elevated the well-deserved prestige of Cuban sport'

The Japanese team is excellent; I would like our victory in the Classic to be achieved at the expense of this team; a team that has tremendous technical expertise.
I'm going to have to go through more posts to find other gems like that, but that nugget comes from Fidel Castro's blog on the World Baseball Classic. No, really! Tom Verducci says so!

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Stories of Seaver and Ryan on the Network

I've been watching MLB Network here and there, both at work and at home, and I really should start keeping it on in the background or as my default channel for idle loafing. ("Idle loafing" -- not oxymoronic, just hyper-loaf-like.)

First, there was the second part of an interview with Tom Seaver on "MLB Tonight" in which he talks about the Hall of Fame's Induction Weekend. The best part -- his favorite part, he said -- is the Sunday night dinner. There are only three types of people allowed into the room: Hall of Famers, the Commissioner of baseball and the president of the Hall of Fame (and, presumably, the catering staff, so I guess that's four types).

If I could have access to any room anywhere in the world -- perhaps at any time in history -- that room would be in the top five. Off the top of my head, I'd add: Independence Hall when they were hashing out the Declaration of Independence; the Oval Office at some seminal moment in history, perhaps when FDR learned about Pearl Harbor (or when, if the legend is true, he learned of a possible attack ahead of time and decided to let it happen to justify entering the U.S. into World War II); a pop-culture moment or two, like when Bruce Springsteen met Clarence Clemons or played "Thunder Road" for the first time, or when Jack Kerouac met Allen Ginsberg or Neal Cassady; and the ballroom or wherever Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "Mountaintop" speech the night before he was killed.

But back to the Hall of Famers dinner. Can you imagine that room? Seaver, Bob Gibson, Stan Musial, Reggie Jackson, Mike Schmidt, Ralph Kiner, Hank Aaron. And so many more. But maybe I wouldn't want to be in that room some day -- because it would mean I'd have to leave.

Later on the Network -- now, actually, as I wrap up at the office -- is a re-airing of Nolan Ryan's seventh no-hitter, from May 1, 1991. I remember reading about it the next morning. In New Jersey, of course, we didn't get the game on TV, and there was no MLB.TV or Extra Innings package on cable (not that my family had cable in 1991). It doesn't even appear that it aired locally in Texas. I've only been half-listening, but I got the impression that this was the Blue Jays broadcast. Part of what led me to that conclusion was one announcer -- the color commentator, so presumably a former player (he sounds young, and not like a veteran TV/radio man) -- noted how Ryan grunted when he threw his fastball. "Nolan only grunts on the fastball. As a hitter, if you can pick up on that, you know it's a fastball. He doesn't grunt when he throws a curveball."

But then there's the matter of physics -- light travels faster than sound, so by the time the batter hears the grunt, it's too late to catch up to the fastball.

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