Podcasts of the Week Ending June 8


BackStory :: Songs of Ourselves?

Walt Whitman and the American Imagination on the 200th anniversary of his birth.

The Moth :: Mets, McDonalds, and a White House Secret

The story of the author of “Go the F**k to Sleep” ends up at a fundraiser with Dr. Ferber and a family finds a way to get to see the Mets first World Series championship.

Code Switch :: The Original ‘Welfare Queen’

The story of a con artist, child abductor, and possible murderer whose crimes were used to justify to slash welfare safety nets by the Reagan and Clinton administrations.

99% Invisible :: The Automat

When I was a kid, I loved going to the last surviving Automat in New York City, a surviving relic of Old New York.  This podcasts details the 100 year history of the innovative Horn & Hardart restaurants in Philadelphia and New York that became a cultural touchstone.


Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:

Photopost: Wrigley Field


Last week I returned to the best ballpark in Major League Baseball (sorry Fenway Park, you’re a close second) for a game between the Chicago Cubs and the New York Mets. I previously attended a full Cubs-Mets series at Wrigley Field in 2004. This was the first time my wife, Susan, and kids, Peter and Kay, would visit this baseball cathedral. We only intended to attend one game, but the previous night’s game was suspended due to thunderstorms in the 10th inning, so we ended up seeing the last two innings of that game as well.

We got tickets for the bleachers with hopes of catching some home runs.  Renovations have significantly changed Wrigley Field since my previous visit when the area under the bleachers was a no-frills area with chain link fences, bare bone concessions, and an ambiance unchanged from 1914.  Now everything is beautiful red brick with Cubs memorabilia exhibits and fancy concession stands.  Even the restrooms have been modernized, albeit they’ve kept the notorious urinal trenches. The bullpens – once in foul territory right along the baselines – are now hidden under the bleachers (something that will become significant to us later).

Our early arrival meant that we could snag seats in the front row right behind the ivy-covered wall.  A light rain fell before the resumption of Tuesday night’s game, but stopped as Michael Conforto came to bat with a count of 2 balls and no strike. Two innings later, the Cubs walked-off the first game on an error by Mets reliever Paul Sewald.  Another light rain fell between games.

The official Wednesday afternoon game was an exciting game featuring:

The kids didn’t catch any homeruns but Peter did get 2 balls from the outfielders and Kay also got one.  The most exciting encounter, though, happened deep under the bleachers when we were getting french fries from the concessions stand.  A security guard approached us and said “C.J. Edwards has a ball for the girl.” We approached the back door of the hidden bullpen and saw the Cubs reliever peeking out the crack of the door. His arm shot out and tossed a ball to Kay, and he quickly disappeared behind the closed door.  “He likes to do that for the kids sometimes,” said the security guard.

 

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It was a wonderful afternoon at a brilliant ballpark, and the Cubs organization made it a fun experience for the family.

Current ballpark rankings.

  1. Wrigley Field
  2. Fenway Park
  3. AT&T Park
  4. Oriole Park at Camden Yards
  5. Petco Park
  6. Citi Field
  7. Nationals Park
  8. Miller Field
  9. Dodger Stadium
  10. Citizens Bank Park
  11. Guaranteed Rate Field
  12. Yankee Stadium III

Former ballpark rankings

  1. Tigers Stadium
  2. Shea Stadium
  3. Yankees Stadium II
  4. RFK Stadium
  5. Stade Olympique
  6. Veterans Stadium

MLB Postseason Preferences and Predictions


The Major League Baseball playoffs begin tonight and as I’ve done in previous years, I’d like to offer my opinions on which teams I would like to succeed and which teams I expect will actually win. This is an interesting year in that both of my favorite teams – the New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox – are participating in postseason play. This makes me nervous because I don’t want to see them play against one another in the World Series because I’d hate to see either team lose to the other. The last time this happened in 1999, I was ready to lean towards the Red Sox in a World Series matchup since they were in the midst of their famed championship drought. Now, if forced to choose, I’ll lean toward the Mets since the Red Sox have won a World Series more recently (2013 compared to 1986) and have won more championships in the last 12 years (3) than the Mets have in their entire history (2).

The 2016 Mets have shown that living well is the best revenge. Their 2015 World Series opponents, the Kansas City Royals, were eliminated while the Mets returned to the postseason by winning the first Wild Card spot. Who would have predicted that last November after the Royals dismantled the Mets in five games? Or even as recently as August 20th of this year when the Mets were 60-62.  Of course, if the Mets are to win the World Series they’re going to have to face Chicago, Los Angeles, and/or Washington, all of whom will be seeking revenge on the Mets for 2015 .  These teams may not recognize the Mets who show up to play in 2016 as there seems to have been a lot of roster changes since last autumn. Daniel Murphy moved to the Washington Nationals during the offseason, while David Wright, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Stephen Matz, and Wilmer Flores are all injured. Instead the Mets are relying on newcomers like Asdrubal Cabrera, Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, Rene Rivera, T.J. Rivera, Jay Bruce and a returned Jose Reyes. It will be fun to see how far the Mets go with this squad, but even if they don’t achieve much it gives hope for future seasons that – should everyone be healthy – the Mets will have so much depth to choose from.

The Red Sox won the American League East after what I consider a successful 4-year rebuilding period. As would be expected during a rebuild, the Sox finished in last place 3 of those 4 seasons, but more unlikely, they won the World Series in the other year. Nevertheless, the important thing is that the Sox rebuilt their farm system and held on to talented young players who form the core of this year’s team and I believe will make the Sox contenders for years to come. These include Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, Jr., Travis Shaw, Brock Holt, Sandy Leon, Steven Wright, and Andrew Benintendi. They’re joined by veterans acquired via trade David Price, Rick Porcello, and Hanley Ramirez. And of course, Sox old-timers Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz. This is notably Ortiz’s final season, and one of the best reasons I have for the Sox to go all the way this season is to see Ortiz win his fourth World Series with Boston before he retires.

There are a lot of intriguing possibilities considering the other teams in this year’s postseason. 8 of the 10 teams have significant championship droughts greater than 20 years: Toronto (1993), New York (1986), Baltimore (1983), Washington (no championships since franchise began in Montreal in 1969), Texas (no championships since the franchise began in Washington in 1961), Cleveland (1948), and most notoriously Chicago (1908). At the other extreme, the remaining two teams – the San Francisco Giants (2014, 2012, & 2010) and the Boston Red Sox (2013, 2007, & 2004) – have combined for half of the World Series title in the last 12 seasons!

Some interesting World Series matchups include:

  • Chicago versus Cleveland – the two longest droughts head to head as well as an original NL team versus an original AL team
  • Boston versus Chicago – an original AL team versus and original NL team, playing in MLB’s two oldest ballparks
  • New York versus Baltimore – rematch of the 1969 World series
  • Washington versus Boston – the Amtrak Northeastern Corridor Series
  • Boston versus San Francisco – which team will get the fourth title of the 21st century?
  • Washington versus Texas – which team will win their first World Series? (also, former Washington team versus current Washington team)
  • Washington versus Baltimore – an All-Chesapeake Series

The League Championships Series may also have some interesting storylines:

  • Chicago versus Washington – each team has a lengthy pennant drought, the Cubs last appeared in 1945 and the Nationals have never won a pennant since the franchise was born in Montreal in 1969
  • San Francisco versus Los Angeles – classic West Coast rivalry for the first time in the NLCS
  • New York versus Washington – a younger East Coast rivalry but I think it’s  a fun one

After all that, here’s the ranking of my preference of which teams I’d like to see win the World Series:

  1. New York Mets
  2. Boston
  3. Chicago Cubs
  4. Washington
  5. Baltimore
  6. Toronto
  7. Cleveland
  8. Texas
  9. San Francisco
  10. Los Angeles

And here is my prediction of how I think this postseason may actually shake out.

Wild Card Games:

  • Toronto defeats Baltimore
  • New York defeats San Francisco

League Division Series:

  • Boston defeats Cleveland
  • Toronto defeats Texas
  • Washington defeats Los Angeles
  • Chicago defeats New York :(

League Championship Series:

  • Boston defeats Toronto
  • Chicago defeats Washington

World Series

  • Chicago defeats Boston

Let’s hope I’m wrong.  What are your picks for the MLB postseason?

Photopost: Meet the Mets


My family and I finished up the summer with an extended long weekend visiting my mother in the Bronx.  We took the time to explore New York and have a lot of fun.

Here are photos from the first night when my son and I went to see the Mets take on the Washington Nationals, followed by a fireworks display.

Related posts:

Book Review: Amazin’ Again: How the 2015 New York Mets Brought the Magic Back to Queens by Greg W. Prince


Author: Greg W. Prince
TitleAmazin’ Again: How the 2015 New York Mets Brought the Magic Back to Queens
Publication Info: Sports Publishing (2016)
Previously Read By Same Author: Faith and Fear in Flushing 
Summary/Review:

2015 was a special season for the New York Mets and Mets’ fans, not just because they won the National League pennant, but because of so many unique aspects and players that made it unlike any season in the team’s history.  Prince, one-half of the team at the magnificent Faith and Fear in Flushing blog, relives the 2015 season month-by-month, game-by-game, and sometimes even inning-by-inning and pitch-by-pitch, offering his wizened and humorous perspective.  While a regular blogger writing about the Mets, make no mistake that this is a book by a journalist or a sports writer, this is a fan’s book.  Prince writes about watching games from his seat at Citi Field or on tv and offers many great tidbits of Mets history and the fan’s zeitgeist to embellish the narrative.  If there’s anything wrong with this book it’s that it has the same sad ending as the Met’s 2015 season (Prince wisely does not dwell on the World Series).  Let’s hope that Prince will have reason to write another book with a happier ending in the near future.
Favorite Passages:

Some combination of appreciation for the Met who wanted to be a Met so bad he wept when comprehending he might be something else and the intoxication we felt for having just gotten Cespedes turned the shirt-receivers their own kind of emotional. When they got a load of Flores in his first at-bat since the trade that wasn’t, they rose and applauded. Thank you, Wilmer. Thank you for being here. Thank you for being you. This sort of gratitude isn’t readily associated with the Mets fan species, but standing ovations now followed Wilmer Flores around like a loyal pup. He couldn’t step into the batter’s box or approach a ground ball without his every movement causing a commendatory commotion. Driving Juan Uribe home with the first run of the night in the fourth made him only more beloved.

Four National relievers. Three Met runs. One hellacious fist pump out of Wright after he crossed the plate. Yes, it seemed to shout, this is what all that stretching and exercising the back was for … this is what I signed that long-term deal for … this is what it’s all frigging about. Even when filling David Wright’s thought bubble, I can’t imagine The Captain cursing.

If you came to the Mets later in life—by marriage, by immigration, by one day looking up at the television and deciding that team on the screen was somehow for you—then your elation is every bit as earned as mine. The Mets may extract blood, sweat and tears from you, but you don’t have to fill out a form to prove your loyalty (they tried that with the “True New Yorker” marketing gambit of 2014 and it backfired blazingly). Adult conversions are welcome. They’re admirable. We know you had your choice of baseball teams and we thank you for flying with us.

Recommended booksBad Guys Won by Jeff Pearlman, If at First by Keith Hernandez and Mike Bryan,  Faithful by Stewart O’Nan and Stephen King
Rating: ***1/2

Major League Baseball Postseason Preferences & Predictions


Baseball’s postseason starts tonight, and so I’m going to run through which teams I want to win and which teams I will expect to win (likely not the same teams, as I do root for underdogs, but know that they rarely win).

Preferences

Wild Card Round

Yankees vs. Astros – I’m tired of seeing the Yankees win things, and even if winning the Wild Card playoff doesn’t mean much in the long run, it would put them in position to potentially win something more.  So I’m firmly behind the Astros here even if I still think it’s weird for them to play in the American League.

Pirates vs. Cubs – From the pure underdog point of view, I should pick the Cubs to go all the way but since I have a horse in this race the Cubs can wait another year.  I’ll pick the Pirates to go on to the NLCS since it will mean shorter trips for my team. By the way, it’s outrageous that these two teams with the 2nd & 3rd best records in baseball this season are forced to play this one game ‘coin flip’ playoff.  MLB really needs to work out their backasswards playoff system.

Divisional Series

Blue Jays vs. Rangers – The Blue Jays are an exciting team from a congenial country to the North.  And they have R.A. Dickey.  The Rangers have never excited me.   Blue Jays for the win.

Royals vs. Astros – I enjoyed the Royals return to greatness last season and hope that they have a chance to go all the way one year soon.

Cardinals vs. Pirates – I’m even more tired of seeing Cardinals win things that I am of seeing the Yankees win things.  Pirates (or Cubs) all the way!

Dodgers vs. Mets – My favorite team in baseball versus my third least favorite.  Easy choice!  Let’s go Mets!!!

League Championship Series

Blue Jays vs. Royals – I kind of think of these teams as being very genial, so this will be a most polite (and blue) series.  I give the Blue Jays a slight nod due to their entertaining style of play and Dickey-ness.

Mets vs. Pirates – Once again, I can root for no one else to win but the Mets!

World Series

Blue Jays vs. Mets – Oh how I’d love to see this World Series play out, with the Mets winning of course.  But really, I’ll take a Mets victory over any AL opponent.

Predictions

And here are my colder, lest fannish picks for how actual postseason outcomes will play out.

Wild Card Round

Yankees beat Astros
Cubs beat Pirates

Divisional Series

Blue Jays 3, Rangers 0
Royals 3, Yankees 1
Cardinals 3, Cubs 2
Mets 3, Dodgers 1

League Championship Series

Blue Jays 4, Royals 2
Cardinals 4, Mets 1 :(

World Series

Blue Jays 4, Cardinals 3

Related Posts:

Book Review: The Last Icon: Tom Seaver and His Times by Steven Travers


Author:Steven Travers
TitleThe Last Icon: Tom Seaver and His Times 
Publication Info: Lanham, Md : Taylor Trade, 2011.
ISBN: 9781589796607
Summary/Review: I received a free advance review copy of this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.  The biography of the great Mets pitcher and Hall of Fame baseball star is generally a hagiography from the title to the conclusion.  Not that I would prefer a hatchet job but depicting Seaver as near-superhuman does him no favors in my opinion.  Also, Travers and Seaver share the same alma mater of USC and Travers doesn’t miss any opportunity to mention it.  I did learn some interesting things about Seaver such as the fact that he was a late bloomer and didn’t become a great pitcher until his college years.  There are also some interesting details of his Mets years and relationships with coaches and players.  The diehard Mets or baseball fan may want to read this book but otherwise I think the great Seaver biography remains to be written.

Recommended booksGil Hodges: The Quiet Man by Marino Amoruso, The Ticket Out: Darryl Strawberry and the Boys of Crenshaw by Michael Sokolove and If at First: A Season With the Mets by Keith Hernandez.
Rating: **

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: Baseball Double Header


Over Memorial Day Weekend, I enjoyed a two-city, two-team, two-day baseball double header. On Sunday, I traveled down to New York to see R.A. Dickey and the Mets take on the San Diego Padres in the good company of some of my Mets fan friends. The next day, my son Peter & I went to Fenway Park for the Red Sox victory over the Detroit Tigers.

Related posts:

Book Review: Taking the Field by Howard Megdal


Author: Howard Megdal
Title: Taking the Field
Publication Info: Bloomsbury USA (2011)
ISBN: 9781608195794
Summary/Review: I received this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewer program.  Mets fan and sports journalist Howard Megdal, frustrated by the mismanagement of his favorite team decides to take action by running for the office of Mets general manager.  The position is not an elected office of course, so this is a bit of a gag, but Megdal dutifully holds primaries on a number of Mets blogs.  I could have lived without the extensive details of the election campaign as it becomes obvious pretty early that  Megdal has great ideas about how to manage the Mets and that these ideas have a lot of support among Mets fans.  Luckily, alternate chapters contain Medgal’s actual analysis of how to run a ball club focusing on the Mets historically on their all too many bad transactions as well as the thought and planning that went in to building the championship teams of 1969 and 1986.  Megdal’s evaluation of the Mets past and present  is spot on as are his ideas for the future of the team.  I’d vote for him if I could but lucky for him Sandy Alderson took the job, so Megdal can focus on spending more time with the baby daughter he writes about lovingly throughout the book.

Recommended books: Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets by Greg Prince, Foul Ball: My Life and Hard Times Trying to Save an Old Ballpark by Jim Bouton, and Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis
Rating: ***1/2