Thursday, September 1, 2022

A Pig in Sh-

Last Saturday was the Mets first Old Timers' Day since 1994. There was lots of build-up and excitement and anticipation for this event from the fans. Watching a melding of Mets players from different eras (and different uniform styles) coming together as one (all wearing the Swoosh-branded modern day/traditional uniform), I felt like a pig in shit. That was first how I thought it might have felt for emcee Howie Rose, who grew up as a Mets fan starting from Day 1 of the franchise and has been covering them for more than half of their history. After the exhibition game was complete, that's how I felt too.

These were the different eras of my Mets fandom, as well as the "pre-historical" times, coming together on the same field. This was my childhood and my adulthood and the history lessons all coming back to life. Doc Gooden was back on the mound in Queens. Steve Henderson (who I'm told played for the Mets in the "dead" era of the late '70s) was in Right Field. Turk Wendell was back at third base. Wait - what? This was a seriously executed event that was just lots of fun to watch, and I'm sure even more fun to take part in for the players. I don't know if it was lack of roster depth, or some players just letting their personalities get the best of them, but pitchers Turk Wendell and Roger McDowell (two of the better personalities in Mets history) both played in the "field" (non-pitching positions) during the game. Because of course they did. McDowell even had a few RBIs.

I'm still having trouble decribing what was going through my mind watching the introduction of players and watching the game. For so many of these guys (save for the older ones that were always "Old Timers" to me), it still sort of feels like yesterday that they were active players in Mets uniforms, and here they are mixing together in different uniforms (even the most contemporary Mets didn't wear that Swoosh icon on the front when they played). I always think of different distinct eras (the late '80s when I grew up; the mid-90's when I was in high school; the Bobby V years when I was in and just out of college; the David Wright years; and the more modern days that somehow feel like so long ago, with the 2015 pennant). Here they were mixing together. It was weird seeing the 1986 Mets in uniforms lacking the iconic racing stripe. (Heck, at this point, it was weird seeing Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez in uniform and not in their SNY polo shirts and headsets.)

Was it a perfect day? No. As a Mets fan, I'm conditioned to expect things to be wrong. I can point to 10 things that were wrong, ranging from missing players to a warning light that illuminated my car as I was passing LaGuardia Airport on the way in. But given who was there and what the event was, it certainly was as close to perfect as Mets fans can accept. But a pig in shit is as close to perfect as one can get.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Complementing Retired Numbers

Earlier tonight I wrote about the plans for Retired Numbers.

Then I had more ideas of ways to really honor the best of the best of the Mets. Let's name some part of Citi Field after those whose numbers are retired!

Jackie Robinson Rotunda - self explanatory

41 Tom Seaver Way - done!

Gil Hodges Alley - Maybe make "street" names for the different parts of the concourses (even though they're mostly round). I'd start by naming "Gil Hodges Alley" for the area behind home plate on the main concourse at the top of the rotunda, maybe the parts where you can't watch the game because of whatever club that's there behind home plate.

Casey Stengel Plaza - this was a street sign, possibly even a valid street name, on the edge of Shea Stadium near the subway tracks. Let's re-purpose that name for the plaza outside Citi Field where the Shea Home Run Apple is. Basically, keep the new Casey Stengel Plaza as close to where the old one was (if my memory is correct about the location).

Mike Piazza - this is a play on words. In Italian, piazza is an open square especially in an Italian town. Taking a liberty that we're at Citi Field, not in Italy, let's name the area on the Promenade concourse behind home plate the "Mike Piazza". It's not an open square, rather, it's an open circular area.

We could always switch the names of Casey Stengel Plaza and Mike Piazza. It might be fitting that the Home Run Apple is inside Mike Piazza.

Ralph Kiner Broadcast Booth - I'm getting lazy.

Now what to do for Jerry Koosman? And the eventual others? Especially since the Mets probably won't change the name of a sponsored area in favor of a Mets all-time great. Go with the street sign idea. Mets of the 60s and 70s go down the LF side while Mets of the 80s and beyond goes down the RF side, unless otherwise noted.

The Kid Area - again, another play on words. This is the kids area in the back CF corner on the main concourse, and named for Gary Carter (a.k.a. "The Kid" or "Kid").

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Retired Numbers

Today the Mets announced that Jerry Koosman's #36 will be retired by the Mets some time in 2020. He would be the first person to receive such an honor as a Mets player that isn't a Baseball Hall of Famer (Gil Hodges had his number retired for his accomplishments as Manager, and I won't get into him deserving to be inducted as a player, but not wearing a Mets hat for that).

For me, this opens up a can of worms. Who's next? Where do they draw the line? Several years ago, I made a commentary of sorts on the subject in the form of an entry for Banner Day called "Citi Field Squares", where I had a parody of the old TV game show "Hollywood Squares" where each celebrity square was represented by a Mets would-be or actual retired number. The commentary was that there's a lot more potential retired numbers for the Mets, and I had to limit my game board to 9 squares (and 3 already retired numbers). From that list, 31 for Piazza was eventually retired (6 days after he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame). And I didn't even include 36 for Koosman.

So who's next (after Koosman)? The implication from today's announcement was that there will be others.

Gary Carter is a Hall of Famer, who more or less earned it before coming to the Mets. He earned his World Series ring in Queens. A lot of people are going there. Carter passed away in early 2012. It would have been nice to honor him this way while he was still alive.

Many people want David Wright to be a baseball Hall of Famer. I thought he came up short on that, but he should be the next person inducted into the Mets (team) Hall of Fame. And have #5 taken out of circulation like #24 was taken out of circulation, but not retired. I might wait a couple years before holding David Wright Night and retiring his number just to see if he does make it to Cooperstown.

What about Doc Gooden & Darryl Strawberry (who were inducted together into the Mets Hall of Fame in 2010)? Or Keith Hernandez? Personally, I would have made the next Mets Hall of Fame induction be Gary Cohen this season (now just a few games shy of 31 complete seasons calling Mets games), with Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling following a year or two later (maybe 2021 in their 15th season calling games, or 2022 after 15 seasons were complete) with plaques that indicate for each that their longevity is as a broadcaster while each made a mark as a player. But Keith Hernandez is a borderline Hall of Fame player. So should he get his number retired at some point?

What about Bud Harrelson or Eddie Kranepool? They were both long-tenured Mets from the 1960s and 1970s. Buddy was the only person in a Mets uniform for both World Series championships (as a player in 1969, as a coach in 1986). And Buddy's not in good health. It would be good to honor him while he's still (physically) here. Hopefully the same would be true for "Steady Eddie" should they choose to retire his number.

Who am I missing? Am I wrong about any of these? I don't want to consider (yet, and for a while) the active players.

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Saturday, February 23, 2019

A New Spring

It's Spring Training again. I keep thinking that I will write here a lot this season, again. Maybe I will, maybe I won't.
But I can't let the start of Spring Training pass without my annual post (or re-post or just sharing an old link). The sounds of Spring Training.

I always listen to some sound bytes of Bob Murphy opening up WFAN's first Spring Training broadcast in 1998, a recording I made playing around with a Walkman, wires and my computer. Then I listen to a 6 1/2 minute clip of Bob Murphy and Gary Cohen calling another game from that spring. And then there's a clip of them throwing it to a commercial (which now makes me nostalgic for the WFAN Mets Radio Network).

raw audio from Spring Training 1998 (WFAN Radio):
WFAN's first broadcast of the spring with Bob Murphy at the mic

Bob Murphy leading into a commercial

6 1/2 minutes of play-by-play and conversation between Bob Murphy and Gary Cohen

Recently, I found some cassette tapes that I made around the same time as those sound bytes, taken from both TV and radio. So I have some brand new Mets audio clips:

Another game opening on WFAN in Spring Training 1998, with Gary Cohen as the lead and Bob Murphy as the #2 announcer.

WWOR TV's "Fresh From Florida" opening (unfortunately, it's only the audio) with Gary Thorne and Tim McCarver opening "Mets Baseball '98".

A short highlight from Tim McCarver and Gary Thorne on WWOR TV. Pitcher Paul Wilson with a basehit.

Another short highlight from Tim McCarver calling a homerun. I always loved how small and intimate the crowd sounds here.

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Saturday, September 29, 2018

Our Captain My Captain

It was late March 2004 (I don't know the exact date), at the Mets Spring Training ballpark in Port St. Lucie, Florida. It was late in a game (maybe the 7th inning). Art Howe had brought in minor league players to fill out the lineup late in the game because the regular major leaguers don't play all 9 innings of exhibition games. Back then, I wasn't really in tune to the pipeline of prospects in the Mets system, so I didn't really know who I was watching at that point in the game. I was there to root for the laundry and get some March sun, so it didn't matter to me anyway. And someone leaned over to me, pointed towards third base, and said that this kid is going to be the next third baseman for the New York Mets. Not knowing any better, and remembering the ongoing counting of third basemen in Mets history, I kind of laughed this guy off. And I couldn't have been less Wright with that reaction if I had tried.

That was 14 1/2 years ago. For Mets announcer Gary Cohen, that's half of his tenure calling games in Flushing. For me (who became a fan 2 years before Gary Cohen arrived in the Mets booth), that's slightly less than half of my time as a fan. In other words, that's basically an entire generation of Mets fans who have had David Wright in their respective Mets vocabularies. This is also the same new generation of fans that doesn't remember Bob Murphy calling Mets games (like I'm in the generation of fans that doesn't remember Lindsey Nelson calling games). Wright goes back to the end of the Mike Piazza-Al Leiter era. His time in New York dates back to the end of the Art Howe era. John Franco's last decision as a Met (a Loss) was this game, in which David Wright had his first hit.

And now the David Wright era informally comes to a close with his last appearances in the big leagues. He'll serve out the remainder of his guaranteed contract on the 60-Day DL and then officially retire at the end of the 2020 season.

There were definitely times over his career when I wasn't so high on him. Some unclutch hitting, and his throwing mechanics from third base always made me nervous. I can't tell you how many times he got bailed out by a good first baseman. I won't even bring up the one he should have simply put in his pocket on that warm November evening in 2015. But he always smiled. When he would sign autographs (and sometimes there were big crowds so it wasn't for very long or very often), he always gave you quality work. He was the constant (at least until his injuries). He became "The Captain". He was there when the Mets were building up in 2005 (he was definitely part of it) culminating in that Game 7 loss in the 2006 NLCS. He was also there for the "Fool me once" collapse in 2007 followed by the "Fool me twice" collapse in 2008. He was the star of the new ballpark in 2009 and the team fell back into the abyss. And he was still there, a shell of his former self, when the Mets built back up in 2015. He finally got to play in the World Series that year.

It took the Mets a while to catch on, but they should have moved on from him after 2015. That was when I thought he should have hung up his spikes (after that season), knowing his physical quality would never improve. He didn't. They weren't ready to move on and find a full-time third baseman. He tried to play and it didn't last very long. He tried to come back, and it didn't go well the first time. But he kept at it, working hard to improve his baseball physical quality and his general physical quality. And he made it back, even if only for a cameo appearance with the Mets in order to have a proper goodbye.

I have a lot of respect for an athlete who decides to push himself back from a career-ending injury just to be able to take a final bow, instead of simply disappearing in the end. Basically, don't retire from the disabled list. Retire from the field. To use a word that Gary Cohen used on Friday night's broadcast, this is "closure" for David Wright.

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Sunday, June 10, 2018

Baseball Bingo

I coined the term "Baseball Bingo" last year (2017) as a way to describe seeing a game at every level of professional baseball. There are a few variants of it.

Mets Baseball Bingo (and 29 other variants)
Seeing every minor league affiliate of the Mets (some organizations have 5 teams, some have 6)

Minor League Baseball Bingo
Seeing any game from each of the 6 levels of affiliated Minor League Baseball (for which tickets are sold). Overall, there are 160 teams, with 30 at each of the first 4 levels (playing April through early September), and 40 more short season teams (mid-June through September), with every organization having at least one team between the two levels, and some having a team at each level.
  1. AAA, broken into 2 leagues across the country
  2. AA, broken into 3 leagues in the Northeast, Southeast, and greater Texas
  3. Class A Advanced (aka "High A" or "A+"), broken into 3 leagues in California, Florida, and the Southeast/Mid-Atlantic
  4. Class A (aka "Low A"), broken into 2 leagues in the Midwest and Southeast/Mid-Atlantic
  5. Class A Short Season, broken into 2 leagues in the Northeast and Northwest
  6. Rookie Advanced (Short Season), broken into 2 leagues in the Appalachian Mountains in TN, NC, VA and WV; and Big Sky/Rocky Mountain regions

Baseball Bingo
Spring Training, Major League Baseball, All 6 levels of Minor League Baseball, Independent baseball

MLB Ballpark Pass-port has a product useful in tracking one's travels. This product includes a fold-out map of the United States (and southern Canada) and marks the locations of all 160 affiliated minor league teams color coded by their classification. The Wikipedia pages for the respective leagues will show you the local map for those teams.

I bring this up because based on geography, these are very difficult feats to accomplish. No matter where you live, travel will need to be involved to accomplish any of these feats. Some of the time, these smaller leagues are in very hard-to-find towns.

And for the second straight season, I can say that it is in the plans for me to accomplish Baseball Bingo. My Minor League Baseball Ballpark Pass-port book will help validate it, something which I didn't think of last year. It's not something I go into the season looking to accomplish. Last year, it happened somewhat organically. This year, it's a bit more forced.

I travel around Spring Training every year. I wish I had bought one of these passport books when I started that in 2004 so I could get stamps from all across the Grapefruit League. Some of those ballparks are now abandoned, so a lot would be lost if I started now. I don't try to get them all in one season.

I see the Mets in New York several times a year. That's my local team (even though I pass Yankee Stadium on the way there).

I went to see the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League of Professional Baseball one night after work looking to get a specific autograph.

A friend had organized a small group to see the Columbia Fireflies (Mets, Low A) play on the road in Lakewood, NJ. It was a bit of a hike, but still doable for an evening after work. Because of a rainout, the night became a doubleheader (of 7 inning games).

We also went into Brooklyn to see the Cyclones (Mets, Short Season A) for a specific promotion over a holiday weekend. That game was suspended by rain but I was still there. Technically, Staten Island (Yankees, Short Season A) is closer. The Hudson Valley team (Rays, Short Season A) is within reason too, given the other local travel.

I had a planned weekend getaway in Binghamton (Mets, AA) that I've done each of the past couple summers. Trenton (Yankees, AA) is a bit closer, but the schedule didn't work out for me to see Binghamton there until the playoffs, after I had already called "BINGO".

I had a road trip planned to see family in Virginia Beach and started looking at other destinations. Misreading a map, I thought, why not Kingsport, TN to see the most obscure Mets farm club and thought it was too far. Then, on a whim, I asked, where are the Las Vegas 51s (Mets, AAA) playing, not really thinking they'd come that far east. They were in Nashville, and Kingsport could be a stop on the way home. The scheduling gods were working with me. With some non-baseball stops included, it was destination: Nashville (Oakland, AAA) to see the 51s and then Kingsport, TN (Mets, Rookie) before heading home. I passed a few other towns that have minor league ball but didn't think to fit in a game.

After that, I realized I'd see every Mets affiliate except for the St Lucie Mets (High A) in Florida. I found an equivalent team 2 hours away from home in Wilmington, DE (Kansas City, High A).

And that got me Baseball Bingo.

2018 has some different stops planned. A different road trip to Raleigh to see family. Different stops to and from. And the plan became to get Baseball Bingo again once I saw that I was close enough to the Appalachian League to start looking at maps and schedules.

Spring Training again. Already a few games at Citi Field.

The minor league adventure started in Trenton (Yankees, AA) last night to see Binghamton (Mets, AA). A return engagement in Binghamton is in the works. So are Brooklyn and Lakewood (when the Fireflies visit). AAA will be different (and still not seeing any of the nearby teams in Pennsylvania) and so will High A and Rookie ball. Seeing the Columbia Fireflies at home is the big stop on the road trip. There are also other independent teams near home and a Mets trip planned for California.

Some of these local games don't need to be done every year (but it's still fun). It's usually not worth the travel to see two teams that I don't know unless getting Bingo is in mind. All of it can be done within 2 hours except for Spring Training (never a problem going there) and Rookie ball. But once a Rookie league is within the cross-hairs (and it's just too obscure to be a destination on its own), the others come into focus quickly.

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Saturday, May 20, 2017

30 Years As a Mets Fan - Banner Day

30 Years As a Mets Fan – Part 10

Banner Day

For those of you who don’t remember the old tradition, the Mets, for many years, once a season would allow their fans to parade around the outfield warning track showing off homemade signs showing messages of support for the New York Mets players. This event would take place in between games of a doubleheader at Shea Stadium and fans at home would be able to see the hundreds of entries on WOR TV. Fans would use whatever media they could find, from poster boards to bed sheets, to convey their message. Some were simple and some were creative. The banners were judged and winners were given prizes. This was a tradition inspired by the early Mets fans at the Polo Grounds and original Mets manager Casey Stengel, who would spend time looking in the stands at the “placards” during the game. This tradition carried on for over 30 years, into the mid-1990s.

I never entered it myself, or even attended the Banner Day Doubleheader in person. As a kid, I knew of Banner Day but don’t really remember even watching it. I was around for the last few seasons the Mets held it. Maybe inside those last 2 sentences is the reason why it was eventually cancelled.

The Mets brought it back in 2012, in part because of some stirring among the fan community as an idea of how to celebrate the team’s 50th anniversary. The return of Banner Day had become known as “Banner Day 2.0” among some fans. In the internet age, fans could be part of the judging among 4 finalists chosen by Mets-connected people (broadcasters and alumni) during the game with the winner announced and shown off during the 7th inning.

My creative juices started flowing. The same could be said for about 300 other fans who lined up outside Citi Field early that Sunday morning. This new Banner Day parade wasn’t quite the same as it was in the old days. There are no longer scheduled doubleheaders, and you can’t really disrupt the game in order to hold the parade of banners for judging. The Mets opted to have the parade start shortly after the ballpark opened, which would be 11:10am for a 1:10pm game (one year it might have been a later start, but always an afternoon game). It wasn’t ideal for bringing in big crowds to support the banners. SNY (or PIX11 in some cases) wasn’t coming on the air that early (about 90 minutes earlier than the regular pregame show) to show the festivities to the fans at home. The second year saw the Mets introduce a pre-Banner Day online contest separate from the traditional parade. That second contest lasted only 1 year. But overall, interest was waning and the team stopped promoting Banner Day, allowing it to die a slow death after only 4 seasons.

It’s a shame that it didn’t catch on and become a marquee event like in the old days, especially since the Mets were starting to get good around 2012 and 2013 (eventually winning the NL Pennant in the final season of Banner Day 2.0). The interest wasn’t there and the promotion (from the team or television) wasn’t there either.

I loved being part of it. It was a different and creative way in which I could express my Mets fandom. It was better than trying to come up with 140 character tweets or post thoughts about a recent game or recent struggles/successes on Facebook or a blog or fan forum. We could use imagery, colors. We could make it large. Someone had moving parts. And I had some wild ideas. For some of it, I was winging it (am I using the right medium – different types of poster board as opposed to a bed sheet or something vinyl), but I didn’t really care. Each year, I’d have my idea well before the season got underway, with Banner Day taking place sometime in the first half of the season (usually May, but once it was in June), and I’d tell people I’d have the winning banner (I was never a finalist, but there was one year where I really felt cheated by that statement). I’ve covered each of my entries on this blog before, so I won’t go into detail, but I will mention them here with links to my original posts.

2012 was an idea that a friend nicknamed “the parade float” because it had so much stuff in it. It came out as a tribute to banners and signs from Shea Stadium, which was sort of homage to past Banner Days to mark the occasion of its return. The original idea was to put some of those tributes on top of a picture/drawing of an empty Shea Stadium (in its full 1990s colorful glory), but I couldn’t quite figure out how to convey or execute that idea.

2013 was the year they introduced the online contest, with entries due about a week before the real banner day. I took my original idea (“Citi Field Squares” – a Hollywood Squares knockoff that was Mets-themed), made a small version of it (regular sized printer paper instead of big poster board) and submitted it online and decided to make something else for the parade. Citi Field was hosting the All-Star Game that year so I played along with that theme (“Take me out to the All-Star Game”), and then included all of the Mets All-Star Game starters, even foreshadowing Matt Harvey’s All-Star Game start. A friend convinced me to bring both banners to the parade. It was fun to show off, but I think it confused the judges.

2014 was the 50th anniversary of Shea Stadium, and I had my biggest idea yet – to create a large and detailed “Shea Stadium Monopoly” board. It was a big idea in my head and I just didn’t know if I could get it to come together, but if I could, it would be perfect for the judges. It was big and it was detailed. It was better than what I had in my head. I still don’t know how I didn’t win. But creating it and parading with it is one of the things I’m most proud of in life.

Not knowing that 2015 would be the final year, I ended up closing on a simple but maybe appropriate note. Casey Stengel was the inspiration for Banner Day, and I came up with the “Stengelese Dictionary”. It wasn’t quite what I had in my head, but it was simple and to the point.

Unfortunately, 2015 was the last time the Mets held Banner Day. It’s a shame because 2016 had 3 different themes that fans could have used (30th anniversary of the 1986 World Championship, Mets were defending NL Champions, and Mike Piazza is going into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a Met with his number getting retired by the Mets). And I had several ideas that I had accumulated along the way and never got to execute, sometimes bumping an idea down in the list for a better idea which I ended up using. So here, I believe for the first time, I present my list of unused Banner Day ideas. Some of these ideas were written on a piece of paper (based on the date I wrote down) after returning home from Banner Day in 2013, and never made the cut.

  • Meet the Mets: Mr. Met’s Family Portrait – featuring Mr. Met, Mrs. Met, their kids (younger versions of Mr. and Mrs. Met), original Mr. Met, Florida Mr. Met (the Mr. Met variant used by the St. Lucie Mets), and Mr. Met, Sr. (an old man version of Mr. Met). Given the 2016 themes, this was probably in line for 2017.
  • Mets Scrabble. This came on the heels of “Citi Field Squares” where I had board games in my head.
  • Mets Word Jumble. I think a crossword puzzle would have been too much.
  • Mets Monopoly. Subconsciously, this idea was spun off as “Shea Stadium Monopoly” the year after I wrote this down. I didn’t remember it until I found that list very recently.
  • Mets Board Game/DVD/Bookshelf – think of board game boxes stacked on a shelf, using names of Mets-themed board games without having to create the entire game board
  • Mets postcards – Tradition Field (as it was then known), Shea Stadium, Citi Field
Being part of Banner Day 2.0 was fun. I wish I could have been part of the original incarnation. I really hope the Mets find a way to have Banner Day 3.0 (or even 2.5) and then make it work with 20,000 fans cheering everyone on.