Category Archives: Baseball

Meet the Mets: A first visit to Citi Field

Citi FieldSpending a day at the ballpark with family is always a treat, and yesterday I had the special pleasure of visiting Citi Field for the first time to catch a game with both my sons.

With a temperature in the low 80s, a nice breeze and seats in the shade in Section 311, conditions were perfect to watch the Mets show a surprising outburst of power in defeating the Texas Rangers 8-4 in an inter-league game.

Getting to the ballpark was a breeze, a quick 20-minute train ride from Penn Station on the Long Island Railroad. From there it was a short walk across a boardwalk and through a subway station to the park, a gleaming brick structure festooned with banners of Mets greats from the past. Inside were  all the amenities you expect from a modern stadium. The concourses were wide and offered a convenient selection of food stands and rest rooms without seeming hyper commercialized as I’ve experienced at other parks (see AT&T Park, San Francisco, for Exhibit A).

Our seats were comfortable, the view unobstructed, the sound system excellent, the passageways clear of debris. Had it not been for the pigeons swooping overhead and lighting on the speakers, I almost thought I wasn’t in New York City. But it’s hard to forget you’re in the Big Apple when the oversized guy in the blue and orange jersey three rows in front bellows over his beer cup most of the game. One or two knuckleheads aside, the crowd was family-friendly and well-behaved.

The Citi Field wifi worked flawlessly — something I haven’t found at the parks in Cleveland, Philadelphia or San Francisco in recent visits. So chalk up one more positive for Citi Field. I hope to visit again soon.

 

 

My National League picks for the 2014 baseball season

These picks and $3 will get you a coffee and donut at Dunkin’ Donuts:

East

1. Atlanta – Top of a weak heap

2. Washington – They’ll make it interesting

3. New York – Struggle, they will

4. Philadelphia – It’ll be a long summer

5. Marlins – It’s always a long summer

Central

1. St. Louis – The team to beat in the NL

2. Piitsburgh – Another fine year

3. Cincinnati – Missing it by “this much”

4. Chicago – Friendly confines but little more

5. Milwaukee – It pains me to place them here

West

1. Los Angeles – It pains me to place them here

2. Diamondbacks – On the upswing

3. San Francisco – Rotation is beginning to fade

4. San Diego – This will be a tight race; they could go higher

5. Colorado – Another year or two of scraping bottom

At the risk of having all my fellow Giants fans bail forever, I’m picking the Dodgers to take the NL pennant and (brighten up, Bay Area!) lose to the Rangers in the World Series.

My Amerian League picks for the 2014 baseball season

These picks and $4.50 will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks:

East

1. Boston — Sizemore, win more

2. New York — A close second

3. Tampa Bay — Another “so close” season

4. Baltimore — One of these years, but not 2014

5. Toronto — Still the best team in Canada

Central

1. Detroit — Too much talent

2. Cleveland — Playoffs again, if briefly

3. Kansas City — Better, but not best

4. Chicago — Poor

5. Minnesota — Poorer

West

1. Rangers — Too many bats not to prevail

2. Oakland — All-around strength

3. Los Angeles — Persistent under-achievers

4. Houston — Wild hunch; I may be the only one on the planet not to pick them last

5. Mariners — Sorry and soggy year ahead

I predict the Rangers will make it to the World Series and win the whole shootin’ match, to use Texas phraseology.

Agreed: The Tribe should retire Chief Wahoo

The Plain Dealer came out forcefully in an editorial Friday recommending that the Cleveland Indians drop their long-serving, cartoonish mascot, Chief Wahoo.

I agree.

Years ago, I didn’t.

I made the usual arguments: Chief Wahoo is part of our Cleveland heritage, a rallying point for the whole community — black and white — that unites behind its team. The Indians are named in honor of a native American ballplayer, Louis Sockalexis (who went to Holy Cross College 80 years before I did).

Blah. Blah. Blah.

Now that I’ve had a couple of decades to consider the issue, I’ve changed my perspective. There’s no getting around the fact that Chief Wahoo, a product of an earlier era, is a stereotypical caricature who offends not only Native Americans but many other minorities and a lot of white folk who wish we Americans would put racial and ethnic divisiveness behind us.

This isn’t the first time I’ve taken on Chief Wahoo in this blog, started in 2008 with the idea that it might be fun to use baseball caps as a jumping off point for discussing baseball and other sports. After a “hello world” entry, in my first true post I analyzed the Cleveland Indians cap, a natural in that I am a Cleveland native who grew up in Cleveland Heights as a diehard fan of the Tribe.

Toward the end of the post, I “came out” against Chief Wahoo. My commitment has only deepened over time, and I was glad to see The Plain Dealer make its case.

Notably, the PD doesn’t say that the Chief Wahoo logo should be obliterated. It is part of Cleveland and baseball heritage.

But like the Chief Wahoo sign that topped old Municipal Stadium, it belongs in a museum, to be visited occasionally as a reminder of the good times we associate with it, and of the shame we should feel from a less-enlightened era.

Baseball: The Winter Game

Yes, baseball is the summer game. But that is precisely why it resonates so warmly in the dead of winter for those of us in cold climes.

As I write this post on a Sunday morning from my home in  New Jersey, a good deal of snow still dominates the view through the picture window of our family room. A leonine storm is headed our way today on this second day of March, threatening to dump several inches of snow and probably a bit of ice on us once more. The forecast low temperature for Monday is 1 degree Fahrenheit.

Yet this afternoon I can turn on the transistor radio or, more accurately, fire up the MLB app on my iPhone or iPad and listen to a spring training game from Florida or Arizona. Yesterday, I tuned in to disappointment: the Indians and Giants were both rained out, and the Phillies had wrapped up. I thought I’d try the Brewers-Dodgers, but the only options were LA broadcasts (no thank you). So I managed to catch a couple innings of the Pirates and Rays before errands chased me off the couch and into the cold.

It’s been a long winter across much of the United States, and I’ve had little inspiration to post the last couple of months. But the sound of bat meeting ball coming through a tinny speaker from a distant Snowbird stadium does wonders for one’s mood. It is hope, springing eternal.

 

 

 

Phillies fans are a passionate lot

As I put my purchase onto the checkout counter at the sporting goods store, the clerk looked me in the eye and said bluntly, “Why did you take Hunter Pence from us?”Image

In a split second, I realized that this young man was a Phillies fan and had noticed my San Francisco Giants cap.

“I wasn’t involved,” I replied. “But what I can’t understand is why the Phillies let him go.”

Such exchanges with strangers aren’t unique here in the greater Philadelphia area, where fans are gonzo for their teams. And I like that.

Today’s episode — in the middle of the off-season, mind you — was at the Dick’s store in Princeton, N.J., nearly an hour’s drive to Citizens Bank Park. The exchange was similar to one I had with an Acme grocery store clerk shortly after I moved into our new home two summers back. I was wearing a Tim Lincecum T-shirt. The clerk at the register eyed it and said, “Why aren’t you a Phillies fan?”

“Hey, I just moved here from California,” I said. “I’m a Giants fan but I like the Phillies.”

The clerk’s reply?

“Lincecum sucks.”

Marking the Baseball Solstice with a list of Top 10 moments

To mark the Baseball Solstice, I’ve been contemplating the greatest moments in baseball history. A number of these came to mind instantly, a few of them took a bit more prodding of the memory banks.

This list is strictly my own reckoning on this date. Ask me in a few weeks or a few months, and some of the items may change — although the top three to five would likely stick.

10. The Amazin’ Mets win the 1969 World Series. The expansion Mets were a miserable franchise in the 1960s (no comment on subsequent decades) and their defeat of the Orioles was as exhilirating as it was surprising. I should note that I was rooting for the Orioles, yet even as a kid I thought the Mets were quite the story.

9. Cal RIpken breaks Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played. Gehrig’s once unassailable record fell when Cal took the field that night, an event that connected the glory days of the past to what was then the present day.

8. Billy Buckner boots the grounder at first base. The Red Sox were oh so close to breaking the curse of the Bambino, and then Buckner let the ball go between his legs. It would be several more years before the Red Sox would finally win their first World Series  since the first decade of the century.

7. The George Brett pine tar bat incident. Never have I seen anything so uproariously funny during a baseball game. Brett charged from the dugout like a demon, screaming bloody murder. Later it came out that Billy Martin had waited for the ultimate moment to call the pine tar violation, which makes the incident even funnier.

6. Who’s On First? OK, so this isn’t a real baseball moment. But Abbot and Costello’s classic routine underscores baseball’s relevance in American culture better than anything.

5. Babe Ruth calls his shot. We know that “Who’s on First” was made up, but the Ruth legend is somewhere in between fact and fiction. That the famous gesture to center field was issued in a Yankees’ defeat of the Cubs in the World Series tells me without a doubt it really happened.

4. Lou Gehrig’s “luckiest man” farewell address. This sad yet sweet moment under the echoing arches of Yankee Stadium is undeniably one of the great ones. It’s a reminder of the nobility of man, and that baseball can break your heart.

3. Roger Maris hits his 61st home run. Through all the relentless pressure he faced, Maris still managed to launch home run No. 61 off Tracy Stallard in 1961. He broke Babe Ruth’s single-season record that day. And he did it witout any hint of performance-enhancing drugs.

2. Willie Mays catch at the Polo Grounds. In Game One of the 1954 World Series, Vic Wertz ripped a monster drive into cavernous center field. Mays raced straight back and brought the ball to earth and, his cap flying off, hurls the ball back toward the plate. The Indians, the winningest regular-season team ever, were toast and lost to the Giants in four straight.

1. The Shot Heard ‘Round the World.  Bobby Thompson smacked a home run off Brooklyn’s Ralph Branca to give the Giants a victory in the final of a three-game playoff series to determine the National League champion. It was the ultimate “walk-off” moment, immortalized by Russ Hodges’ radio call: “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”

It’s nearly time to celebrate the 2013 Baseball Solstice

20131227-111016.jpg

The Baseball Solstice draws nigh. This Sunday, Dec. 29, marks the midpoint between the end of the World Series and the beginning of Spring Training games in Arizona and Florida.

Just as Rocky Balboa “invented” the names “Cuff” and “Link” for his turtles, I invented the baseball solstice in 2011 as I contemplated disconsolately the long winter ahead without the crack of the bat. As I saw it, since at least the time of the Druids humans have been figuring out ways to hold a party in the midst of the coldest months of the year. Why should we baseball fans be any different?

How to mark the occasion? In the past I’ve suggested that people engage in some sort of “baseball activity.” That could mean hauling out an old record album or VHS tape of some past season of your favorite team — 1995 Indians, anyone? — and reliving the glory (or near glory, in the case of Cleveland). If you’re lucky enough to live in a climate where you can play ball any month, by all means go outside and play catch with your dad or your kids. And if you’re stuck in ice-bound Maine or Michigan, get out the Strat-O-Matic board and roll the dice to re-enact a great season past.

You could even dig out your old mitt and give it a restorative leather treatment. Merely picking it up and smelling the leather will get you in the mood for the 2014 season.

The important thing on the solstice is to do something meaningful involving baseball, even if it’s merely sitting in an easy chair and pondering the warm memories of Little League games in which you made multiple errors (sometimes on one play) or that fantastic evening you had at Fenway Park when the Yankees and the Red Sox went at it hammer and tong.

Fond memories of Candlestick Park

As the final curtain of fog is about to go down on Candlestick Park, I’m grateful for my memories of the place.

I went to a smattering of Giants games at the ‘Stick in the mid- to late 90s, the first of which as I recall was against the Montreal Expos. That was the second National League game I had ever seen in my life.

I arrived in San Francisco from Seattle in 1993, a few months after Barry Bonds came over from Pittsburgh. Those were, presumably, pre-steroids days for No. 25, before he got caught up in the home run chase with immortality — and notoriety.

One of the quirky things about the Giants in those days was that they signed Dallas Cowboys’ star Deion Sanders to play the outfield alongside Bonds. I actually got to see Sanders play and somewhere in a shoebox I have a photo of him on the field shot from the upper deck behind home plate.

I went to one Dodgers-Giants game at Candlestick, and although the results of the game have faded from memory, those of the weather have not. With my wife and in-laws and maybe a child or two, we sat in the bright sunshine during the early innings that summer afternoon. By late in the game, we were huddling under blankets once the fog brought in a blast of cold air from the coast.

Although I never saw a football game there in person, on TV I watched many a 49ers game from there during the Steve Young era. Banner-towing planes that would circle the ‘Stick took off from Oakland Airport not far from our home in Alameda, and they’d be droning overhead as I’d listen to the games on radio while doing yard work on Sunday afternoon.

My San Francisco years overlapped with the renaming of Candlestick to 3Comm Park, a marketing change that, to my memory, no one in the Bay Area liked or embraced.

San Franciscans have warmly embraced AT&T Park as the home of the Giants, and they’ll take quickly to the 49ers new home being built down the peninsula in Santa Clara.

The ‘Stick has served San Franciscans well, and it will be missed. Mays and McCovey and Marichal and Montana were in their heyday there, but ultimately, the place will be remembered for its strange weather more than anything else.

 

 

 

 

 

Who’s worth more? A baseball player or the doctor keeping your wife or child alive?

I opened the papers this morning to read about the Seattle Mariners giving Robinson Cano a 10-year contract for $240 million. The New York Mets apparently have agreed to give Curtis Granderson $60 million over four years. And there was the Jacoby Ellsbury deal with the New York Yankees earlier in the week: 7 years, $153 million.

For these ballplayers who have combined talent and hard work to reach such stratospheric salaries, I say, “Well done.”

But whenever baseball or other sports go through the off-season ritual of courtship by checkbook, I try to get a bit of perspective on what our society is saying in the way we reward sports figures.

Is a first baseman — with an average annual salary of $5.4 millionten 100 times as valuable to society as a high school teacher  — with an average annual salary of $54,000 — inspiring your child?

Is a shortstop — with an average annual salary of $3 million — ten times as valuable to society as an oncologist — with an average annual salary of $278,000 — treating your wife or husband for cancer?

Questioning the relative value of sports heroes to those serving the public is hardly new. Babe Ruth is famously remembered for his answer when asked about wanting to get paid more than President Herbert Hoover: “I had a better year than he did.” I imagine that even way back in the Roman republic, some people pondered the public adulation heaped on gladiators against the physicians of the day.

I still remember a section of a college economics textbook that did an academic proof  that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was worth every penny the Los Angeles Lakers were paying him in the 1970s. Kareem brought people into the arena and had a huge influence on broadcast revenues, q.e.d.

Certainly, pro athletes enrich our lives as they provide marvelous entertainment. I’ve been thrilled to see Ozzie Smith acrobatically turn a double play from short and been crushed to see Billy Buckner watch a grounder go between his legs at first. There’s even value in sports in occasionally seeing the games as morality plays on good versus evil (Red Sox v. Yankees, or vice versa, depending on your accent).

Yet no matter how much I love the game and how much economic sense it makes to pay the players, I still value more the doctors and nurses and teachers and coaches who care for us.