Thursday, February 27, 2014

Baseball has been asleep for a while, welcome, the game is coming back

NOTE: this is my annual first-spring-training-game post.

Back when I was a bit younger (we'll call it the late '80s and early-mid '90s, a time when I wasn't quite a teenager), I remember running home from school on the day that Spring Training games finally began, or at least the day of the first broadcast on WFAN (for some reason, I had no, or chose not to use, a walkman). I would look forward to hearing the voices that I knew meant baseball for the first time after the long offseason.

On the eve of the fist Spring Training game, I bring you two treats.

First up is a 1 minute audio clip from the Mets first broadcast on WFAN from Spring Training 1998. I won't say any more, other than the voice is forver the voice of the Mets...

Second is about 6 1/2 minutes in length, coming from another 1998 Spring Training game. This one is most of half of an inning from a road game against St. Louis in Jupiter's inaugural season. The play-by-play voice again belongs to Bob Murphy with Gary Cohen along side.

I invite any readers to submit or link to their own Spring Training audio and video from the 1980s and 1990s.

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Mets Announcers at the Olympics

This is an updated post from ones I did in 2010 and 2012.

With this Winter Olympics underway, I decided to take a look and see which past and present Mets broadcasters have worked at the Olympics. I found a few more than I had expected. It wouldn't surprise me if there was an omission from this list. If you don't want to do all that reading, head down to the bottom of the post for a few sound bytes from a current Mets announcer calling an Olympic sport.

  • Jiggs McDonald - Best known as a Hall of Fame Hockey broadcaster and voice of the Islanders on TV from 1980-81 through 1994-95, he called Mets games on SportsChannel in 1982.
    He called Ice Hockey at the 1998 Calgary Winter Games for ABC and at the 1992 Albertville and 1994 Lillehammer Winter Games for TNT, and also Basketball for CTV in Canada at the 1992 Barcelona Summer Games.
  • Don Criqui - Known for his work calling NFL and College Football and College Basketball for NBC and CBS TV and Radio, he was listed as a fill in announcer for the Mets in 1991 (which I don't really remember, but have seen his name listed in some announcer lineups and it was noted in the NY Times).
    He called play-by-play for Swimming at the 1988 Seoul Summer Games and Water Polo at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games for NBC and hosted NBC's Olympics Triplecast PPV broadcast at the 1992 Barcelona Summer Games.
  • Kenny Albert - Best known for his work with the NFL and MLB on FOX and Rangers on the radio and NHL on NBCSN, he was a fill-in announcer for Bob Murphy during the summer of 2001 on WFAN.
    He's called play-by-play for NBC's Olympic Ice Hockey coverage at the 2002 Salt Lake City, 2006 Turino, 2010 Vancouver and now 2014 Sochi Winter Games for NBC.
  • Ed Coleman, former Mets fill-in announcer and host of Mets Extra on WFAN.
    He "did some radio work" at the 1988 Seoul and 1992 Barcelona Summer Games for NBC Radio and the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Games for CBS Radio.
  • Howard Cosell - best known from his work on Monday Night Football and Boxing on ABC, he was actually the first pre-game host for the Mets Radio broadcasts in 1962 on WABC Radio.
    He was part of ABC TV's Olympic coverage in the 1972 Munich Summer Games and called Boxing at the 1976 Montreal and 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games
  • Tim McCarver - Known at one point as the best analyst in Baseball, he's been a lead analyst for ABC, CBS, ABC again, and FOX and was a Mets broadcaster on WOR/WWOR and SportsChannel from 1983 to 1998.
    As part of ABC Sports in the late '80s, he called Freestyle Skiing and served as a reporter at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games, and as part of CBS Sports the early '90s, he was a co-host of CBS's primetime coverage of the 1992 Albertville Winter Games
  • Gary Thorne - Best known as ESPN and ABC's lead NHL announcer, he was a Mets Radio announcer from 1985 to 1988 on WHN/WFAN and a Mets TV announcer on WWOR, WPIX, and FSN New York from 1994 to 2002.
    He called Speed Skating for CBS at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games, Canoeing and Rowing for NBC at the 2000 Sydney Summer Games, and Ice Hockey for NBC at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.
  • Ted Robinson - Best known as the lead Tennis commentator for NBC and the Tennis Channel, he was a TV and Radio announcer for the Mets from 2002 to 2005 on WPIX, FSN New York, and WFAN.
    He holds the record for past/present Mets broadcasters making his 8th Olympic broadcast appearance, having called Short Track Speed Skating, Freestyle Skiing, and Giant Slalom Snowboarding for CBS at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games, and for NBC, he called Baseball at the 2000 Sydney Summer Games, Short Track Speed Skating at the 2002 Salt Lake City, 2006 Turino, and 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, Speed Skating at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, Diving and Canoeing at the 2004 Athens Summer Games, Diving again at the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Summer Games.
  • Gary Cohen - Best known for his work calling New York Mets baseball, he's been the TV voice of the Mets on SNY and WPIX since 2006 and was a voice of the Mets on WFAN from 1989 to 2005.
    He called Ice Hockey for CBS Radio at the 1992 Albertville, 1994 Lillehammer, and 1998 Nagano Winter Games, including all 3 Gold Medal contests

Here are some sound bytes of Gary Cohen at the 1998 Winter Olympics.
A disclaimer. These broadcasts are probably the copyright of the IOC, USOC, CBS Radio and/or WFAN. I recorded them using an old fashioned walkman plugged into my computer in 1998, live, as the events happened.

Gary Cohen at the 1998 Olympics Men's Ice Hockey tournament (CBS Radio):
Czech Republic wins the Men's Ice Hockey Gold Medal

Czech goalie Dominik Hasek with 3 great saves against the U.S.

Mike Modano scores for Team USA

Mikhail Shtalenkov with a save for Russia

Petr Svoboda with a goal for the Czech Republic

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Kiner's Korner

"Hello everybody, welcome to Kiner's Korner, I'm Ralph Korner."

I'm too young to remember the early years of the Mets. I don't remember the days of the original 3 - Lindsey Nelson, Bob Murphy, and Ralph Kiner. I don't remember the early days of Kiner's Korner. I'm certainly too young to remember Ralph Kiner as a Home Run king. I only know Ralph Kiner as a TV announcer for the Mets on WWOR with only the Sunday edition of his Kiner's Korner post-game show starting for me in the late 1980s.

But with the rotation (both during the game and from season to season) of announcers on Mets TV over my first decade as a fan, there was Ralph, a constant, and usually along side eventual Hall of Fame Broadcaster Tim McCarver. Even at a young age, and before I could really appreciate the history, I understood that Ralph Kiner was an original. In a way for me, those are the glory days of Mets broadcasts. A Sunday afternoon watching Channel 9 with Ralph Kiner and Tim McCarver and Kiner's Korner after the game. The team wasn't good for most of that time, but I didn't necessarily care. The broadcasts were entertaining. And that was led by Ralph Kiner.

Kiner's Korner faded away some time in the mid-90s ( says 1995). The "glory days" as I knew them faded away too, but Ralph kept going. As I got older and I began to appreciate Mets history, I began to appreciate how original broadcasters Ralph Kiner and Bob Murphy were still there calling games, having been there since that far away time of 1962. A new era (to be fair, probably a 4th new era in Mets history) dawned with Ralph no longer doing play-by-play (he had a bout with Bell's Palsy which affected his speech). But he never left the ball club. How could he? He was Ralph Kiner.

In his later years (the modern era), he only made a few appearances each season. He would come in only for a few innings at a time (something I never understood why it was so short), and it was usually pure gold.

In a few week, we'll reach the start of a new baseball season. Sad to think it will be the first Mets season which won't have Ralph Kiner in the booth.

"Going, going. Gone goodbye"

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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Fixing Citi Field

A few tweets that showed up in my timeline and a trip to Nationals Park in Washington, DC, have gotten me thinking again about what's wrong with Citi Field, or at least what can be done to make it better. I'm leaving out the parts about the team on the field and the owners in the owner's suite. Those aren't part of this debate. I'm talking about the ballpark itself as a Mets ballpark.

In no particular order...

The green seats need to go. They really don't look good, and green is not a Mets color. For nearly 30 years at Shea, we had an influx of color with the orange, blue, (lighter) green, and red seats, the blue walls, and the blue facades and exteriors. I don't think Citi Field could handle a blue makeover given that it's a brick color, but I would love to see some Mets colors in the seating bowl (considering that more often than not, any given seat is empty during a game). Blue seats make the most sense. Or that mixture of blue and orange on different levels, similar to Shea. When I was at Nationals Park over the weekend, I noticed that their seats are dark blue, which is a secondary color for the Nationals. And it looked a whole lot better on the stadium than the darker green colored seats at Citi Field.

The outfield wall, and all padded walls on the playing surface, need to be Mets blue. They the fans what we were asking for before the 2012 season (when black was removed from the Mets color scheme and blue was making a return) by making the portions of the wall in fair territory blue, and it looks really really good, especially with the orange HR line. But I think the entire thing should be blue. That's what I had assumed it would be, but the Mets went for the minimum effort. It needs to be fixed.

A larger gathering spot to watch the game. This one I took from Nationals Park, where they have an area in the second deck in RF going towards CF which is similar to the Shea Bridge and that big CF area behind the scoreboard at Citi Field. And then they have the rooftop bar in CF on the 2nd deck and standing room in left-center on the first deck. Sounds similar to Citi Field, but I like how it's 2 levels of standing room area in the OF to watch the game. And they don't have the big scoreboard blocking anything. Citi Field put that thing in view for the advertising and it completely blocks off the view from that plaza area behind it.

Bring back the name "Casey Stengel Plaza". If you don't remember the street map at Shea Stadium, one of the entrance ways from Roosevelt Ave into the ballpark was signed as "Casey Stengel Plaza", of course named after the first manager of the Mets. I don't think we need a street named for Stengel. I'd actually rather see the big plaza outside of the ballpark which contains the fan walk, the Shea HR Apple, and the different vinyl banners of past Met greats get named in honor of the Ol' Perfesser.

Or at the very least, name it after Gil Hodges or Joan Payson and use the name "Casey Stengel Plaza" for the area above the rotunda on the Upper Deck that's open to the elements behind home plate with the food tables and team store. And name the area behind the big CF scoreboard after Joan Payson. Or any permutation is fine. Those 3 areas should be officially named parts of the ballpark.

The Rotunda should be there to honor National League and Negro League Baseball in New York. Nothing wrong with Jackie Robinson, nor is there with carrying on his legacy in New York, where he played for the Dodgers, but the rest of the Dodgers history, plus the Giants and the Negro Leagues shouldn't be forgotten.

The vinyl banners should ALSO be inside the ballpark. Sometimes I forget who plays there. I know there are some large black and white photos (with a sponsor's logo), and the large baseball card lineup of classic Mets (I have no idea what makes that lineup), but there should be more. After adding more, ask if it's enough. The answer is, there should be more. There should ALWAYS be more Mets inside the ballpark. I've seen it at plenty of other parks to know that it's a good idea. I think Shea had some of that. Just sayin'.

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Sunday, May 12, 2013

There's a science to Banner Day

Banner Day 2013 was fun. I entered 2 banners, which I posted on Saturday, neither of which was selected as a finalist, which I think I'll learn to accept. Seriously though, I don't disagree with the finalists. There were a lot of great banners. Almost 100 of them, down from nearly 300 last year. Everyone who came out under the threatening skies of springtime did a great job, and there was a small contingent of fans down the foul lines and with cameras in the upper reaches of the stadium taking pictures (see my photo album).

Now, my banner didn't fare well in the parade or in the stadium afterwards. And this is part of what I call the "science" of Banner Day. I had 2 banners, both roughly 22x28, both basically a thin poster board (one was packaged as poster board that came in a package of 3, the other on paper of a similar context, but from the printer at Staples). But they weren't exactly the same size. The paper from Staples was slightly bigger, and I was using the packaging from the poster board as a cover. It was skin tight to the poster board, so the slightly larger paper didn't fit. So thought number 1, either trim down the larger banner to fit the covering better, or find a larger covering. Of course, I was really only concerned with the covering because of the rain. The covering ripped a bit because of trying to jam in the larger banner, and I placed it down in a puddle by my seat by accident, with the exposed corner down, and it got wet.

That was just a small problem after the parade. The poser board wasn't very sturdy. It's good for doing something on an easel, and the brand that I used has an invisible grid which helped me line things up, which was good (except it was really hard to see, even up close, to take advantage of). The printed paper was basically the same context. It was easy to hold up with two hands, but it was hard to commit to giving two hands to my banners (even the two packaged together), so how do I try to roll it or hold it with one hand to work a camera in the other? I did have two extra sets of hands for the parade to help me show off both banners. And then it was windy. The banners, when out of the covering, were really hard to contain in the wind. Either it would try to escape my hands, or it would blow right into my body and cling to me. Next time, I definitely wouldn't use this material. Maybe if I secure it to a larger more sturdy poster board (last year, I used a foam poster board that needed two people to carry that might work here). I had thought about that, but just didn't have time to make it happen. There needs to be an all-(reasonable) weather parade test for the banner(s) to make sure they stand up to anything. I didn't see anyone else having that sort of problem.

Next, in the design of the banner. All of my banners have been made with drawings or tracings on printer paper that are cut out and assembled onto the poster board. I've done that because it gives me the ability to have a do-over in case of problems in the drawing, and in the case of last year's banner, I didn't know exactly how it would lay out until I had made all of the pieces. I could have everything there, move it around, and then decide on a final layout. Also, since I like tracing off the computer screen, i need a medium that fits on my computer screen, and printer paper, or pieces of printer paper work, while a large poster board wouldn't. I don't think that's a bad way of doing it, but looking at most of the other banners, they have computer printouts, bedsheets, and more sturdy things. I need to figure that out for next year.

And the last thing. The winner had a moving part. The banner had Shea Stadium next to Citi Field with the Shea Home Run Apple in the middle, and the apple was controlled to go up and down.

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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Banner number 2

Okay, and now on to Banner number 2.

This banner idea and design has evolved from something inspired by Casey Stengel and Harry Caray to something that helps promote what I feel will be a hidden theme in Banner Day this year - the All-Star Game at Citi Field taking place sometime in July. The first evolution of this banner came from a "thing" that I've been doing at Mets games since 2009. It has origins that date all the way back to September 28, 2008, for the final game at Shea Stadium, when the Mets were hanging on by a thread and needing the Cubs to beat Milwaukee on the final day of the season to extend the Mets season and to extend the life of Shea Stadium by just a little bit.

We hit the 7th inning stretch of the Mets game needing help from the Cubbies, and I decided to get clever and invoke a little help from the baseball Gods by calling on Harry Caray's famous alteration of one of the lines in "Take Me Out To The Ballgame", where he would show how he really felt and sing "Root, Root, Root for the Cubbies" (instead of rooting for the "home team"). On that day, it didn't work. Both games seemed to implode on us at right about the same moment. But somewhere that offseason, I came up with a Casey Stengel-Mets-inspired version of what Harry Caray famously had done for years - "Root, Root, Root for the Metsies". I would love for that to catch on, and I decided this offseason that it had possibilities as a banner idea. A friend of mine, when I saw his banner from last year hanging in his basement, helped me to realize that you can't over do it on the banner because you only have a few seconds to impress the judges, and what I had last year was really complex to look at. Even the first banner I designed for this year I thought would be too complex for a short display for judging, and this second idea would work a whole lot better.

So the banner was going to center around the lyrics "Let us root, root, root for the Mesties/If they don't win it's a shame!", with the Mets script logo expanded to say "Metsies". That element is in the final banner with one alteration that I'll get to in a bit. But the minimum space that I had to work with (22" x 28") was gigantic compared to what I was trying to do. And I started seeing possibilities after I started playing around with different large hand-printed words on the space that I could go all the way and include all of the lyrics to "Take me out to the Ballgame", complete with my "Metsies" alternate lyric.

I started spacing it out, and then it hit me. This year, Citi Field is hosting the All-Star Game. It wasn't formally announced as a theme, but I could see it in some of the online banner submissions (including the eventual winner) and thought it would earn me a lot more points if I included the All-Star Game in mine. And I got clever, replacing some more lyrics from the song with All-Star Game references. It's not the "ballgame", it's the "All-Star Game", with different All-Star Game logos used instead of just showing the words. And it's not a shame if the Metsies or home team doesn't "win". In the All-Star Game, it's a shame if they don't "play".

I really started to like where this was headed. I could see the different pieces coming together (literally, based on how I create everything hand-drawn or traced on printer paper and tape/glue it to the posterboard once I have the layout I want and can easily remove/replace any mistakes). But I still had some more space to fill. Then Matt Harvey was pitching this past Tuesday night. And he was dominant. Nearly perfect. I don't think it fits the definition of "imperfect", but darn near close to that. And I thought, I had to get Matt Harvey into my banner. But how? The brain clicked on again, and the last piece of the banner was born. The left side features what is meant to resemble a lineup card, but not for any single game. Rather, it shows the 18 different Mets who have started an All-Star Game, going from Ron Hunt in 1964 to David Wright in 2010. After seeing Matt Harvey pitch on TV Tuesday night, and seeing what he's accomplished already this year, I had no doubt in my mind that Matt Harvey should at least get consideration for starting the All-Star Game in his home ballpark. Hence, the final entry in that lineup card, in a different color so it stands out, and with question marks after the year "2013" since it's what he's working towards.

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Banner number 1

Banner Day 2013 is upon us. Thanks to the Mets for bringing it back. Last year was lots of fun watching about 300 banners marching around the Citi Field warning track and in front of the judges. I took part in it with a banner that I thought was going to win the entire contest, and I was blown away with the work that everyone else did. I am still very proud of my banner, but I can see how it wasn't as good as many many others out there.

And that brings us to Banner Day 2013. During the offseason, I had come up with another killer idea that I started sketching out with paper and pencil with the intent that this banner would march with me in the parade. The Mets hadn't even announced Banner Day 2013 yet. And then, during the winter, I had a second idea for a banner for 2013, and I spend some time sketching that one out as well, and trying to figure out which one to work on. Of course, we went through the whole exercise of Banner Day being announced, the game being moved to Sunday Night Baseball, and the fans voting on a new date. The plan for me was to start working for real once I got home from my Spring Training vacation for the last 10 days of March, moving towards a May 11 date. Still trying to figure out which design to execute, the Mets came out with an idea that there would be an online contest for Banner Day 2 weeks before the Banner Day parade. So I said, "good, now I can do both banners!", and the clock was ticking.

So this is a post about the first banner, which was the first idea I had, and the banner that I thought would be too busy to be judged properly in the parade. It actually came out better than I had expected.

The idea was simple. Take a parody of "Hollywood Squares", the old TV game show from the 1960s and revived again in the 1980s where 9 celebrities are aligned in a tic-tac-toe board, and the two contestants are playing a complex game of tic-tac-toe, where the celebrities are asked questions, and the contestant has to determine if the celebrity's answer is correct or not in order to win the square. The parody would be a Mets version, of course, called "Citi Field Squares", because "Citi Field Squares" has the same verbal rhythm as "Hollywood Squares" does, and it allowed me to bring out 9 of the greatest New York Mets.

The layout for the logo on top of course starts with the Citi Field logo, this one redrawn from a picture of the logo on top of the CF scoreboard, and continues with the word "Squares", redrawn from the logo of the 1980s version of the show, but changed from gold to blue to match the Mets color scheme, contrasting with the orange in the word "Field". The gameboard is designed like the gameboard from the TV show, where a gold/orange border is lit up around each square, which I replicated here, and each celebrity would sit at a little desk which has a name plate lit up on the bottom and a display for either "X" or "O" in front. I tried to replicate that, but in the TV show, those were white or gold-looking colors on a black background and that was a little too hard to draw, so it became black text on a white background. And the desk was represented poorly (I'm not afraid to criticize my own work) as just a square outline on top of it, but with an orange "X" or blue "O", as to represent Mets colors again.

The real part that should stand out is how each Mets "celebrity" was represented. Instead of trying to draw/copy their likeness to the game board, I decided to go with their respective retired numbers as the background. Of course, only 3 of them are actually retired by the Mets, but I took that design and adapted what 6 other retired numbers would look like. If you look real hard, you should notice that the black dropshadow is missing from the numbers (it's still there in the numbers on the Citi Field wall today, which the Mets should fix) to be more correct, except in the case of Mike Piazza, the only one of those Mets who spent their entire Mets career (or even close to it) wearing the drop shadow jersey. In hindsight, I might have been able to doctor up something for the players from the 1986 team with the larger blue/orange piping that went down the side of their jerseys.

And of course, let the debates begin about which 9 Mets I chose. But that isn't necessarily the point. Now look at the placement of the "X"s and "O"s on the game board. It's set up with "Tom Seaver for the win" (or "Tom Seaver for the block"), as they might say in the TV version.

In the online contest, I was hopeful that it would do well with the judges. I really really liked how it came out. And the whole thing was the different players and borders and logos taped on to a piece of standard size printer paper (8 1/2" x 11"). Since it was an online contest, with a maximum file size of only 2MB, I didn't need to go large with it. There were only 21 entrys in the online contest, including mine. 5 of them were just people uploading pictures of themselves with their banner at last year's parade. I consider them invalid entrys. So I was one out of only 16, with 4 being selected as finalists. A 1 in 4 chance of moving on, and it didn't happen. I don't disagree with any of the banners that were chosen.

What you see pictured is an enlarged version of the scanned image which I am marching with in the parade.

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