Posts Tagged ‘Mets’

Movie Review: Knuckleball! (2012)

Title: Knuckleball
Release Date: 18 September 2012
Director: Ricki Stern & Anne Sundberg
Production Co: Break Thru Films and Major League Baseball Productions
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: Documentary | Sports | Baseball
Rating: ****

The knuckleball is baseball’s most enigmatic pitch.  Despite its name, it is thrown with the finger tips and unlike any other pitch it prevents the ball from rotating.  This makes the ball move in unpredictable ways that it make the knuckleball difficult to hit.  Yet that unpredictably has a way of coming back to haunt the pitcher, so there are few pitchers who risk using it.  This documentary follows the 2011 season of the only two knuckleball pitchers in Major League Baseball at that time: Tim Wakefield of the Boston Red Sox (now retired) and R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets (now with the Toronto Blue Jays).  These are also two of my all-time favorite pitchers.  The documentary does a good job of explaining the mechanics of the knuckleball and how knuckleball pitchers are treated as an oddity in the baseball community.  It also has some excellent archival footage of the lives and careers of Wakefield and Dickey. If there’s one thing that could improve the movie is to not have so many talking heads and clips of baseball commentators repeating the same basic facts about the knuckleball and perhaps delve into the science and history of the pitch a bit more.

Book Review: Best Mets by Matthew Silverman

AuthorMatthew Silverman
TitleBest Mets
Publication Info: Lanham, Md. : Taylor Trade Pub., c2012.
ISBN: 9781589796706
Summary/Review: I received and advanced copy of this book for free through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program, who like to send me books about baseball (I wonder why).  The title of the book pretty much sums things up, this is a book of lists about the best Mets players, teams, games, traditions, etc.  Obviously this book is not going to have widespread appeal beyond Mets’ fans, although I’d think it best for the novice Mets’ fan looking to learn a little bit about the history of the team.  Still, there are better Mets’ books out there. (see below)
Recommended booksFaith and Fear in Flushing by Greg Prince, Mets by the Numbers by Jon Springer and Taking the Field by Howard Megdal.
Rating: **1/2

Photopost: Citi Field

This Sunday, I made my annual pilgrimage to Flushing, NY to see the Atlanta Braves take on the New York Mets at Citi Field.  My Braves fan friend Mike was unable to attend so I enjoyed the pleasure of watching the game with another Mets fan, Chris.  Tickets for the game came courtesy of another Mets fan and ticket plan holder Sharon.

So these were good seats, right in centerfield,  just five rows back from the wall.  It meant that Chris and I were in direct sunlight until about the 8th inning so it’s a good thing I brought sunscreen.  It wasn’t terribly hot but my arms sweat a lot which seemed to also attract miniscule flying insects.  Barring the sun and the bugs, it was a terrific game.

Johan Santana started for the Mets masterfully dominating the Braves for seven innings.  Angel Pagan had a great game at the plate and Ike Davis smashed a home run to the batters’ eye in deep centerfield not far from our seat.  The Happy Recap for the game ended with the Mets shutting out the Braves 3-0.

The scoreboard kept us up to date on the FIFA World Cup championship game which for some reason was listed as a NL game.  Post game I took the LIRR to Penn Station and found a pizza joint where the Hispanic staff and a Buddhist monk were watching the game on Univision.  I ate a calzone and saw all of extra time including Spain’s winning goal.

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Book Review: Faith and Fear in Flushing by Greg Prince

Author: Greg Prince
Title: Faith and Fear in Flushing
Publication Info: Skyhorse Publishing (2009)
ISBN: 1602396817

Summary/Review:

Greg Prince, one of the co-authors of the Mets blog Faith and Fear in Flushing – the most intelligent and literate Mets blog there is – writes about his 40 years as the guy everyone knows as the big Mets fan.  Part memoir, part baseball history this book explores the ups & downs of fandom in parallel with the events of his life.  If this sounds familiar it’s because it is very similar in concept and execution to Fever Pitch.  That is Fever Pitch the autobiographical book by Nick Hornby about his love for the Arsenal Football club, not the wholly fictional romantic comedy film about the Red Sox.

Prince’s ruminations on the Mets are a pleasure to read for the most part although he does have a tendency for repetition especially in the more navel-gazing portions of the book.  As a fellow Mets fan, I enjoyed reliving the Mets good years and many fallow years from the perspective of another fan.  I think this book could be enjoyable as well to someone unfamiliar with the Mets or with baseball, especially since it gives a literary perspective on the game that breaks from the mold of Yankees/Red Sox/Dodgers.

If there’s one thing I quibble with in this book is Prince’s characterization of Mets fans loving the Mets but hating the players.  While I think that negative attitude has become prominent in the past five years or so, historically that “win or your a bum” kind of thinking has been more of a Yankee fan ideology.  Mets fans used to be opposite, the cult of the underdog, a humanistic approach to accepting the players despite their flaws and celebrating their accomplishments and commiserating with their failures.  The Mets were a team the ordinary guy could identify with and thus players like Marv Throneberry, Lee Mazzili, Mookie Wilson, Butch Huskey, and Tsuyoshi Shinjo became local heroes despite never leading the league in anything.

At any rate, I find it harder to be a Mets fan these days not because of the Mets but because of the hostile and vulgar attitude of my fellow “fans.”  This book gives me hope because it shows that there are still thoughtful and literate fans among our numbers.

Favorite Passages:

Blogging revealed itself to me as Banner Day’s logical and technological successor.  Mets fans are always dying to tell you about being Mets fans.  We each fancy ourselves Mr. Met, except Mr. Met is mute and never stops smiling, whereas we never shut up and expend loads of bandwidth contemplating, complaining, and, only on infrequent occasion, complimenting.  -p. 255

I don’t love the Mets because it gives me license to behave as a “crazy fan.”  I don’t know whether it’s crazy to give one’s mental well-being over to the fickle physical fortunes of a batch of youthful millionaires.  I don’t know whether it’s crazy to risk vast quantities of disappointment in the longshot search for a modicum of solace.  I don’t know whether it’s crazy to think the angst I incur as a preoccupational hazard is, in fact, maybe its own reward.  But I’m a big fan.  I’m not a crazy fan. – p. 270.

Recommended books: Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby, Mets by the Numbers: A Complete Team History of the Amazin’ Mets by Uniform Number by Jon Springer, and Playing Hard Ball: A Kent Crickter’s Journey into Big League Baseball by Ed Smith.
Rating:

Fenway Park

Updating the out-of-town scoreboard is done by hand at Fenway

Updating the out-of-town scoreboard is done by hand at Fenway

On Sunday I attended my second Mets game of the month, this time a road game here at home in Boston.  It feels a bit odd to don my blue & orange hat for a trip to Fenway since I will root for the Red Sox against any other opponent.  Yet I’ve done it many times dating back to the Mets first interleague appearance in Boston back in 1998 and the games are among some of the most interesting I’ve ever seen.

Here are some highlights:

  • June 5, 1998 – Mets 9, Red Sox 2: Arguably Pedro Martinez’s worst game in his best season in that he allowed home runs to four Mets.  Martinez beaned the Mets new catcher Mike Piazza early on forcing him from the game but Piazza’s replacement Albert Castillo hit one of the home runs and scored two runs in the game.  Odd.
  • June 6, 1998 – Mets 1, Red Sox 0: The next day I didn’t have a ticket but walked up to Fenway and got one from a firefighter for $10.  You’ll never hear of anyone getting same day tickets anywhere near that price today.  Tim Wakefield pitched his heart out allowing only one hit, and lost. Brian McRae walked, stole second, advanced to third on a ground out, and then scored on a balk.  And that was it! Crazy.
  • July 13, 2000 – Mets 3, Red Sox 4: Things looked good for the Mets at first as Bobby Jones of all people was able to keep pace with Pedro.  Later on odd things happened with Carl Everett and Dennis Cook (which would come to ahead two days later with a complete Everett meltdown).  A Melvin Mora error and some late-inning heroics by Brian Daubach off Armando Benitez gave the win the Red Sox.  Exciting game nonetheless.
  • June 27, 2006 – Mets 4, Red Sox 9: After a six year absence the Mets returned to Fenway on a day that was also the first time Pedro Martinez returned to Boston as a Met (and received a warm welcome when he pitched the next evening).  In a nice touch, the fans and players saluted the 1986 AL Champion Red Sox on the 20th anniversary of the year they lost the World Series to you-know-who.  There were a ton of home runs in this game, three for the Mets, but the Red Sox would score more runs by far.
  • June 29, 2006 – Mets 2, Red Sox 4: Curt Schilling pretty much shut down the Mets this evening.  This is the only occassion when I’ve encountered rude fans at Fenway as a trashy-looking woman and her teenage son shouted insults and threw peanuts at Mets fans in my sections (although for some reason they left me alone).  This game sewed up a sweep for the Sox and at the time it looked like they were bound for the postseason and the Mets were fading, but in the end it was the the Mets who reached the playoffs that season.

The grounds crew to the rescue!

The grounds crew to the rescue!

Sunday’s game was interesting as well partly because a thunderstorm pelted the field with rain and hail in first inning.  Fans ooh-ed and aah-ed as lighting struck buildings in nearby Back Bay.  I sat in the family section in left field near the Green Monster, safely ensconced under the roof.  So I had a good dry view of the heroic grounds crew as they rushed to get the already sodden field covered with a tarp.  It was also amusing to watch the people in the front rows evacuate their seats.  On the scoreboard they showed a video of a couple of guys lip-syncing Milli Vanilli’s “Blame it on the Rain” and dancing with the Wally the Green Monster in a rain slicker.  Turns out the “two guys” are Red Sox pitchers Jonathon Papelbon and Manny Delcarmen which further proves that I can never recognize athletes when not in uniform.  Anyhow, it’s pretty funny and you can watch it below:

When play resumed, things looked good for the Mets as they took a lead into the fifth inning and seemed in control of the game.  And then the Red Sox batters made mincemeat of the Mets bullpen – especially Brian Stokes – and just kept hitting and hitting and hitting.  Oh well, it turned out to be a lovely day and while some blokes lamely tried to heckle Gary Sheffield, I sat among some friendly fans.  Which is good because we’re all squished together in that special Fenway way.

Luis Castillo dances off second when things were going well for the Mets

Luis Castillo dances off second when things were going well for the Mets

I’ve been visiting Fenway Park pretty much every year since 1997, and it just gets bigger – more seats, more concourse, more concessions, and more ads (which add some nice color) – but the seats are still narrow as can be.  All the changes have been for the better improving what was already one of the best ballparks in baseball (although at least the Mets have something comparable now).  I look forward to going back for a game when I can root for the Sox.

More pictures from the game in my ballgames photo album.

A mound conference when things were going poorly for the Mets

A mound conference when things were going poorly for the Mets

Citi Field

The skyline over the Shake Shack is a memento of Shea Stadium.  The shakes are good too.

The skyline over the Shake Shack is a memento of Shea Stadium. The shakes are good too.

My friend Mike and I have a tradition each year of visiting New York City to see a ballgame between the New York Mets and the Atlanta Braves.  Mike grew up in Alaska watching the Braves on TBS in the Dale Murphy era when the team was pitiful.  I of course spent my first 17 years within 35 miles of Shea Stadium and the next 7 near the Mets top farm team in Norfolk, VA so I’m forever attached to the Mets.  Devoted to our wives and children, we usually try to slip out for a day game during the week and the schedule has been kind to us.

Here’s the history thus far:

  • April 27, 2005: Atlanta 8, New York 4 – The Mets lose with the help of the Manchurian Brave Tom Glavine.
  • April 19, 2006: Atlanta 2, New York 1 – Glavine pitches a much better game this time, but the Mets still lose.
  • April 21, 2007: Atlanta 2, New York 7 – With Brave-killer Oliver Perez on the mound the Mets win with the help of a big inning (while I’m getting ice cream for my pregnant wife).  See my blog post Another Weekend in New York for more details.
  • September 14, 2008: Atlanta 7, New York 4 – Mike was unable to attend this game so I went solo to witness the Mets bullpen implode in the 9th inning.  Photos from this game are at the end of my post Shea Stadium: A Personal History.

As you can see the Braves hold a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.  The fifth installment of this tradition would be different as it would be our first visit to the Mets new ballpark with the unfortunate name of Citi Field (see my blogpost Stadium Naming Rights for more of my thoughts on that issue).

We got a lot start and encountered delays along the road so we didn’t arrive until after the game started and both teams had scored.  Oddly, after having no problems parking when the Mets were constructing Citi Field in the Shea Stadium parking lot we found ourselves shunted over to distant parking by the World’s Fair Marina.  Mike declared it our prettiest parking spot ever.

The view from our seats in left field.

The view from our seats in left field.

The first impression of Citi Field is that everything is so big, even though it is smaller both in height and capacity than Shea Stadium.  The dimensions of the field are large, the outfield walls are tall, the scoreboard (and all it’s ads) is huge and the new Mets home run apple is freakin’ enormous. The Jackie Robinson Rotunda, a much-lauded entrance to the ballpark is bigger than it looks on tv and is quite impressive and attractive.  I also like the exposed ironwork support beams throughout the park and the bridge in centerfield.

We sat in the left field reserved section where a long homerun could land (as one in fact did, unfortunately hit by the Braves’ Martin Prado).  Seats in the outfield are one of the features I think are necessary for every great ballpark and something Shea Stadium lacked (except for a small picnic area).  The other great improvement are wide open concourses so one can continue to watch the game while walking to the concession stand, restrooms, or just stretching your legs.  My third feature of great ballparks is an adjacent neighborhood with shops, restaurants and bars is still missing although it is a bit startling that the chop shops of Willets Point are now just across the street from the Bullpen Gate.  As Mike pointed out, you can get your car detailed while you watch the game.

The chop shops of Willets Point will care for your car while you enjoy the game

The chop shops of Willets Point will care for your car while you enjoy the game

The game itself was an exciting back and forth affair.  Both the Mets and Braves scored a lot of runs and gave us three innings of free baseball in addition to the standard nine.  Sadly, this was yet another win in the Braves column.  There’s always next year!  And I definitely need to return as our late arrival and need for haste to return to Boston meant that there is much of the ballpark left unexplored.  My first impressions though are good.  I still miss Shea, but a little less now.  Frankly, in some ways I felt a little spoiled by Citi Field.  We Mets fans aren’t accustomed to nice things happening to us, but I could get used to this.

See my web albums for more ballpark photos.

Book Review: Playing Hard Ball by E.T. Smith

Fifteen years ago I attended a portion of a cricket cup match in Bermuda and have had a curiosity about the game ever since. Now I’ve discovered a book by a cricketer who loves baseball, a game I understand much better. Playing Hard Ball: County Cricket and Big League Baseball (2003) by professional cricketer E.T. Smith is an amusing and insightful comparison of the national pastimes of England and the United States.  Smith visits New York in 1998 and is swept up in baseball fever and yearns to learn more about the game.  In 2000 he returns to New York to watch the Subway Series rightly supporting the underdog Mets agains the dynastic Yankees.

The next spring he spends a few days with the Mets at Spring Training.  Some of the more humorous moments of the book are here as Smith takes a few cuts against live pitching and the American ballplayers inevitably refer to him as a cricketeer.  But it also shows that the then Mets manager Bobby Valentine has a sharp mind and actually knows enough about cricket to help Smith with his swing.

In the next section of the book Smith compares the rising fortune of his own Kent County Cricket Club in 2001 while the Mets collapse and fail to make the postseason that same year.  The highlight of this book is Smith’s reflections on the Mets playing the first game in New York after the September 11th attacks.  The memory of the night made me a little bit weepy as did the part where Smith quotes Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech.  According to Smith, everyone cries at that speech, including himself.

Other chapters of the book focus on sporting dynasties, statistics, and sports literature -which Smith believes is vastly superior in the US than in England, at least prior to Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch.  Smith is less flattering on a visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame and the ideas of baseball as representing national character.  Yet he balances this with equal bunk stated about cricket.  In the end he concludes, baseball and cricket are great games but have no inherent morality or character other than what people bring to it.  Smith also observes about how much more international cricket is compared to baseball although this was written before the coming of Ichiro and Japan’s back-to-back victories in the World Baseball Classic.

This is a good, fun book for sports fans and those who are interested in cultural exchange.  I can’t say that I’ve learned much about cricket though as those passages are written for an English audience leaving me completely befuddled.

Favorite Passage

It is a surprising comparison.  America, which so values individuality and self-expression, has produced sports which are massively reliant on the intervention of coaches and managers, and a culture which demands players to adhere to their demands.  But in England, and in English-invented games worldwide, the players have hung on to more of their self-determination.

Authors: Smith, E. T. (Ed T.), 1977-
Title: Playing hard ball / E.T. Smith.
Published: London : Abacus, 2003.
Description: viii, 213 p., [8] p. of plates : ill. ; 20 cm.
Notes: Originally published: London : Little, Brown, 2002.
ISBN: 0349116660 (pbk.)
9780349116662 (pbk.)

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