11th and Washington

11th and Washington: March 2010

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

How's this for a cover jinx?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Watching the good Doctor work

Late last night, Marty Noble put up a blog post reminiscing about crooner Johnny Maestro and hurler Doc Gooden, and it brought up some memories of my own that I didn't include in my post about Gooden's Nike billboard in Midtown.

I was 10 in 1986, and the two games I did see that year were started by Sid Fernandez (8-2 on June 20!) and Rick Aguilera (he homered!). I didn't catch Gooden until he faced the Phillies on Opening Day 1991, my first opener and definitely a thrilling one because my parents let me miss school to go. Sometime during that offseason, I asked (probably begged) my parents to buy tickets and call me in sick to school. They agreed -- "Just this once" -- and Dad took the bullet by calling out sick himself and driving my friend Will (he might've actually been off on his Catholic high school's two-week Easter break, but his parents would've let him go anyway) and me to Queens. It truly would've pained my dad to take the day off and make the two-hour drive from the Jersey Shore, across Staten Island, up the BQE and down Northern Boulevard (before the internet and GPS, he took the most direct route, rather than the fastest, which is the BQE to the Grand Central Parkway). He's a Mets fan, but he prefers to watch on TV; Will's a Yankees fan, but he's not the dick kind that starts chanting "Let's go Yankees!" on Opening Day in Queens.

Traffic near Shea was a mess, and the parking lot where Citi Field now stands was full by the time we arrived. So we wouldn't miss the first pitch, Will and I got out of the car and walked across the lot and reached our seats in the left-field mezzanine with time to spare. Dad had to park somewhere in or near Flushing Meadows Park and caught up to us in the second inning, I believe. By then, the Mets were already ahead, 1-0, after Vince Coleman doubled down the right-field line in his first Mets at-bat and Gregg Jefferies followed with a double down the left-field line.

Gooden was on his game that day, getting through the first needing only 13 pitches to get Lenny Dykstra to fly out and fanning Darren Daulton and Von Hayes on seven total pitches. Doc went eight innings, allowing six hits and a walk and striking out seven. His only mistake was a 1-2 pitch to John Kruk leading off the fifth. Kruk belted a line-drive homer over the Mets bullpen in right field and hit one of the Phillies' buses parked beyond the 'pen.

The other game was on July 8, 2000, the Shea Stadium end of the first day-night Mets-Yankees doubleheader in both boroughs. Doc won that one, too -- for the Yankees, in his former home. I'm pretty sure that remains the loudest ovation given a Yankee in Queens since interleague play began, and the only time Mets and Yankees fans cheered in unison. That included myself and a college pal, Brad, another Yankees fan (he grew up in the Bronx suburb of Fort Wayne, Indiana). The game was Doc's first in his second stint with the Yankees, following his release by the Devil Rays, and it was his final victory at Shea. He won only three more games in his career.

So Gooden's combined stat line in the two games I saw him pitch reads like this:

13 IP, 12 H, 3 R/ER, 2 BB, 8 SO, .249 BAA, 1.08 WHIP, 2.08 ERA

He only struck out one Met that day, and his performace was overshadowed by the night game -- also a 4-2 Yankees win -- in which Roger Clemens beaned Mike Piazza, giving him a concussion and keeping him out of that year's All-Star Game.

It was clear from the beginning of the day game that the former Mets would do in the current Mets. Chuck Knoblauch led off the game by lining the first pitch to center for a hit, but Jay Payton threw him out at second base. After Yankees first-base coach Lee Mazzilli appealed to first-base umpire Robb Cook that first baseman Todd Zeile had interfered with Knoblauch, the call was overturned. Bobby Valentine argued and was objected, even though he was right -- the call was crap. Zeile barely moved from his position in the field, and Knoblauch took an unusually wide turn around first base. Valentine argued that Knoblauch never changed direction or came into contact with Zeile, but the blind umps wouldn't budge. I distinctly remember Valentine repeatedly and demonstratively walking in Knoblauch's footsteps on the otherwise pristine, freshly dragged infield to make his point. It's still a bullshit call. Knoblauch should've been out and Derek Jeter, who followed with an RBI double, should have one fewer RBI among his career totals.

There is one more memory of seeing Gooden in person, though he didn't pitch. Dad also took Will and me to the final weekend home game in 1989. The Expos won, 6-5, on Fan Appreciation Day (remember those?). Howard Johnson stole his 40th base and Darryl Strawberry hit his 29th home run. But the highlight came before the game, when Will and I were hanging over the railing at the end of the right-field loge, watching David Cone warm up for the start in the Mets bullpen. At one point, Gooden emerged from the small clubhouse beneath us and we called down to him, hoping we might get one of the baseballs lying on the grass. He didn't toss us a ball, but he looked up with a smile and a wave, and that made our day more than anything that happened in the game.

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Friday, March 26, 2010

What a destructive day!

March 26 is a big day in sports stadia demolition. Ten years ago today, the Kingdome was imploded; this is the demoversary.

In New York today, another stadium from the '70s saw the last section of its upper deck pulled down.

On Aug. 21, 1983, I saw my first baseball game. It was Angels-Yankees, and we sat in the upper deck. I remember wanting to keep going higher; at that age (I was a few weeks from turning 7), you don't get many bird's-eye views. These days, I do prefer the closer angles, as much for taking pictures as anything else, but I go to enough games that I like to mix it up.

Wonder what will turn out to be the last piece to fall.

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Photo Friday: Vintage Spring Training

In some ways, I'm still not caught up from vacation, because I hadn't intended to skip two slide-show Fridays. The plan was to have this one in the bag for two weeks ago, then resume with the weekly collections the following week. Clearly, didn't happen.

At least it's still spring training, though these images fit more toward the beginning of camp. Back in February, I bought the March 3, 1958, issue of Sports Illustrated and the April 5, 1948 issue of LIFE magazine on eBay because they had photo spreads -- and covers -- dedicated to spring training. They're fun images to look at, especially because, until recently, Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg was still used (by the Rays) and Vero Beach was still the Dodgers' home. Now, both are retired, at least as spring facilities. More images can be found at the Google LIFE photo archive, LIFE.com and SI on Getty, plus 39 covers at SI.com.

I'll dig up something for next week and then hopefully will have fresh batches of photos throughout the season. I might not get to a game a week, but I definitely have the archives to come up with something to post each Friday, as long as I stay on top of things. I don't expect I'll choose to do any more that aren't my own shots. This was a one-off look back at what spring training used to be.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

When Gooden was larger than life

Yesterday's news about Dwight Gooden has brought out a lot of old photographs of Doctor K, but this one is the one I like the best. Two young stars, their potential seemingly limitless -- 1985 All-Star! -- clowning around after a game in some wood-paneled office at Shea Stadium that still had NFL helmets on display years after the Jets had moved to New Jersey.

That shirt on Doc brings back a memory for me. His endorsement with Nike was the first time I ever associated an athlete with a company, but it wasn't from this photo. It was from one like this one to the right, only hundreds of times bigger and hanging off the side of a building in Midtown Manhattan. New Jersey Mets fans may remember it well: A giant image of Gooden, arm cocked, foot driving, the Nike logo and swoosh in a corner, affixed to the western side of a building and visible to pretty much anyone gazing out the windows as they emerged from the Lincoln Tunnel. People winding up the ramp into the Port Authority Bus Terminal parking deck got a closer look, but that wasn't necessary to notice the thing. It was huge. Billboards are made to be larger than life, but putting Gooden on that one made him into the city's Paul Bunyan. A true giant.

Unfortunately, the only images I have of it are in my head. I never really had a chance to get a picture of it, because my first camera -- the cheap and perfect-for-kids Kodak Disc (I was probably influenced by the commercial) -- wouldn't have been able to handle shooting from behind the window of a moving car, and it wasn't until the past four years that I found myself any further west in Manhattan than that exit to the tunnel, and with all the changes in New York, that building itself may not even be standing, let alone any monster billboards of the city's biggest sports star that may be occupying the space. Gooden, it seems, came down shortly after his drug suspension in 1994, though if I took note of its disappearance at the time, I didn't keep the memory for long.

A photo of that billboard -- not a reproduction of the particular image, but an actual photo of that billboard on that building -- may be the holy grail from my first years as a Mets fan. I recently came across one discovery when I uncovered the two ticket stubs to my first Mets games. I always knew that my family went to two one summer, one of which was on a brutally hot and muggy New York night, and the opponents were the Reds (I remember Pete Rose) and the Cubs (the blue jerseys). However, I was under the impression that both games were in 1985. Upon finding the stubs, I learned that they were from that dominating year, 1986.

That was truly a year in which everything came together, stars and planets included. The talent was undeniable and it should've carried over into another division title in 1987, if not another World Series win before the '80s were out. It just wasn't in the cards.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Citi Field's All-Star Luncheon

My wife and I had the chance to go to Citi Field today for the unveiling of this year's menu. I'll leave the full culinary write-up to Casey (look for it on Opening Day, because she's timely like that), but I will say this: It's a big advantage to eat in pairs. We were able to sample more by sharing, particularly splitting a burger from Shake Shack. Not that we needed to sample it, but it was free. Like we were going to pass that up. So we ate well, to say the least.

The 2009 season at Citi Field was a rookie season for sure, and I think the changes, improvements and upgrades will be readily noticeable throughout the ballpark this season. In some ways, maybe it's understandable that some things wouldn't get done, some of the more cosmetic aspects of the design, the first season. (That said, I don't recall hearing about any lack of history at Yankee Stadium, but I haven't been there for a game yet. Plus, we all know how obsessed they are with every last detail of their history, so I'm sure they were planning way ahead for that.)

As for what's in store for 2010, most notable, to me, is that the Mets have expanded access to the Caesar's Club, Promenade Club and Acela Club. In other words, a wider range of tickets (and prices) now will get you into those more exclusive areas. For many of us, the open air and a Shackburger are more than enough to enjoy a game, but it's nice to know that, if those areas are going to be there, more people will be allowed into them.

Other additions throughout the ballpark include the gluten-free foods, Hanover Cafe Korean cuisine and Tai Pan Chinese, and a rum bar, all at the World's Fare Market. The Excelsior level will have sit-down dining in the Caesar's Club, and Big Apple Brews will have an additional outpost in the food court behind home plate on the Promenade level. Fixing Game 7 And many of the chefs are adding menu items: grandma slice with vodka sauce at Cascarino's (outstanding; I've had it at other places) and a crab cake sandwich at Catch of the Day were two that stood out.

Finally, I approached executive vice president Dave Howard to ask about the Game 7 marker in the Fanwalk, and he said that it would be corrected. "It may already have been removed," he said. And sure enough, as Casey and I walked around the outside of the ballpark afterward to look at the Mets history markers, workers were installing a generic Fanwalk panel in a spot that fell in line, chronologically, with where Game 7, 1986 would be.

Opening Day is 12 days away, but this made it seem that much closer. Starting to get excited now ...

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Why not Tejada?

Opening Day is less than two weeks away, and Jose Reyes will be back on the field in Port St. Lucie tomorrow to resume baseball activities, so we all know we'll be cheering Angel Pagan at the top of the order at Citi Field on April 5. What we don't know is who we'll be cheering at shortstop.

The likely answer to that query is veteran Alex Cora, but I'm starting to read more in support of giving 20-year-old Ruben Tejada a shot from the start. I can't disagree with any of those points, particularly in that there's no shame in failure. Give him a shot from the start, and if he's in over his head after a week, 10 days, two weeks, send him down. Reyes could be back by then, or Cora could get a few starts until Reyes is ready.

Another reason I'm for it is the case of Elvis Andrus. Their minor league numbers are eerily similar, and though Andrus played four seasons on the farm to Tejada's three (at this point), he was also signed a year younger, playing his first season at 16, while Tejada's first season came at 17.

For a side-by-side comparison, I isolated their full seasons at high-Class A and Double-A and present them along with their minor-league totals.

2007 18 2 Teams A+ 126 563 495 78 127 22 3 5 49 40 15 54 107 .257 .338 .343 .682 170
2008 19 Frisco AA 118 535 482 82 142 19 2 4 65 54 16 38 91 .295 .350 .367 .717 177
4 Seasons 407 1789 1598 256 439 73 10 15 185 125 50 151 321 .275 .343 .361 .704 577
Rk (1 season) 52 213 184 29 54 7 1 3 21 8 4 23 32 .293 .380 .391 .772 72
A+ (1 season) 126 563 495 78 127 22 3 5 49 40 15 54 107 .257 .338 .343 .682 170
A (1 season) 111 478 437 67 116 25 4 3 50 23 15 36 91 .265 .324 .362 .685 158
AA (1 season) 118 535 482 82 142 19 2 4 65 54 16 38 91 .295 .350 .367 .717 177
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/23/2010.

2007 17 2 Teams FRk-Rk 67 298 241 45 78 9 3 3 41 18 6 38 35 .324 .434 .423 .857 102
2008 18 St. Lucie A+ 131 555 497 55 114 19 4 2 37 8 5 41 77 .229 .293 .296 .588 147
2009 19 Bing. AA 134 553 488 59 141 24 3 5 46 19 3 37 59 .289 .351 .381 .732 186
3 Seasons 332 1406 1226 159 333 52 10 10 124 45 14 116 171 .272 .346 .355 .700 435
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/23/2010.

No one can be sure that Tejada will become the same Major Leaguer that Andrus has -- Tejada doesn't have the gaudy stolen-base totals in the minors, and he wouldn't be given the job for the season -- but there seem to be a lot of similarities between the two, leading me to believe there's at least a hint of Tejada's future when looking at Andrus. To me, that's worth a look when the season opens if your starting shortstop won't be there anyway.

I also had this link saved for eventual extrapolation, and going back to look at it now, I noticed it's the same type of comparison, only with a much bigger upside: Ike Davis has eerily similar minor league numbers to Ryan Braun. Davis was sent down to minor league camp this morning, and the situation with him is different from Tejada's because the Mets have their incumbent first baseman healthy and in the lineup ... and he just struck out to end the inning in today's exhibition game against the Braves.

I like Daniel Murphy, but having seen what Davis can do, I'm quickly moving toward his side of the argument. With the seasons the Mets have had the last three years, the money and prospects they've parted with to bring in the likes of Johan Santana, Jason Bay, Oliver Perez, Francisco Rodriguez, etc., having a couple of young, homegrown prospects making the leap to the big leagues would be refreshing and a sign of good things to come. It could be just what this franchise needs.

Part of what hurt so much about losing the NLCS in 2006 was that seemed like The Year, the best chance to win a World Series. Pedro Martinez had a great season and we didn't know if he'd hold up for the remaining years on his contract (bingo), Cliff Floyd had a solid season, David Wright and Reyes became MVP candidates and Tom Glavine was getting on in years, too. The window, it seemed, was as wide open as it would get and it would only begin to close in the following years. Turns out it remained open through most of 2007, until a sudden, late storm that September slammed it shut.

Heading into 2010, the window might not even be open yet. Maybe it's cracked half an inch. (Error by Luis Castillo follows Yunel Escobar's wind-aided homer to right-center off of Oliver Perez; that window isn't opening any more at the moment.) The Mets are a team in need of a breath of fresh air, and Jason Bay, as talented and likable as he is, is more of a zephyr than the strong gust they need to unfurl the sails and really take off.

Wow, that metaphor really took off, too. Jeez.

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