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2008-2009 NBA Season Preview and Predictions

10/28/08

I’ll preface this post by stating I openly admit to having little to no confidence in my predictions, nor do I claim to have any professional experience in making them.

I read the previews out there, I listen to talk radio and I use the old gut.

That being said, the NBA season tips off tonight, with Boston looking to defend it’s title and the Lakers looking to dethrone them behind first time MVP Kobe Bryant.

LeBron and the Cavs will looking to finally get over the hump, while out west the power may have shifted away from the Spurs-Mavs-Suns trio while being replaced by the Hornets-Jazz-Rockets three-some.

In the east, my Knicks will be better but still on the outside looking in at season’s end, while teams like Philadelphia, Toronto and Orlando will look to take another step towards deeper playoff runs.

I don’t want to get too specific, after all I do this for fun, so without furthter adieu, here is how I foresee the 2008-2009 season taking shape…

Eastern Conference Playoff Teams:

Boston– The defending champs won’t miss James Posey as they are still the most talented starting five in the NBA.

Cleveland– LeBron and his new look squad will reveal themselves as Boston’s biggest threat.

Detroit– Contract year for Rasheed, and assuming he stays, Detroit, despite a new coach, will continue their winning ways.

Toronto– This is Chris Bosh’s team, and as a result, expect Jermaine O’Neal to quietly put up numbers closer to the ones he put up during his best days in Indiana.

Philadelphia– A new “Brand” of basketball, Elton’s presence will propel Philly into the playoffs for the second year in a row.

Orlando– Still young and now with some playoff experience under their belts, Orlando might need a deadline deal to push them into the second round.

Chicago– Last year proves to be a fluke, as this team has too much talent not too make a postseason return with the help of Derrick Rose.

Milwaukee– Scott Skiles can coach, and this retooled team will be the biggest surprise in the NBA’s minor leagues…err…Eastern Conference.

Western Conference Playoff Teams:

L.A. Lakers- Kobe, Kobe and more Kobe.  Oh, and a healthy Andrew Bynum, a full year with Pao Gasol and that ‘Zen-guy” head coaching.

Utah Jazz- Deron Williams and Carlos are legitimate stars, and Jerry Sloan just wins.  That continues this year.

New Orleans- Everybody wants to talk about the Posey signing, but I’ll keep it simple.  Chris Paul will score more, and win more.

Houston- Biggest move of the off-season was adding Ron Artest.  A healthy year from Yao and T-Mac equal realistic title dreams.

San Antonio- Missing Manu Ginobili will hurt this team early, but having him healthy down the stretch will ensure they’re still playing after the regular season ends.

Dallas- Avery Johnson gone, core of the team remains the same. Kidd another year older, but a full year running that offense will be enough for a first round exit.

Portland- Greg Oden finally makes his NBA debut the year after he’s drafted, while Brandon Roy is an MVP candidate. This team finally takes the next step.

Phoenix– It may take more than 7 seconds or less, but the Suns will figure out a way to sneak into the playoffs as this team can still score with the best of them.

Awards

MVP: Chris Paul

Defensive Player: Ron Artest

Rookie of the Year: Michael Beasley

Most Improved Player: Devin Harris

Coach of the Year: Jerry Sloan

6th Man of the Year: Jason Maxiell

Local Picks

Knicks: 36-46, 10th in East

Nets: 30-52, 13th in East

NBA FINALS

Celtics-Rockets

2008-2009 NBA Champion

(drum roll please)

Houston Rockets

Check back in April to see if I have a future in fortune telling or selling fortune cookies.

Either way, it’s great to have the NBA back.

Let the games begin.

October 28, 2008 Posted by | Sports | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Apologize? No way, Jose

10/21/08

I bet I’m in the very, very small minority in thinking this, but Jose Canseco, who earlier today came out and said he regretted writing his bestselling book Juiced, has absolutely nothing to apologize for.

Is he a rat for betraying the fraternity of professional athletes and throwing many of his fellow teammates under the bus by revealing they used performance enhancing drugs?

You betcha.

But when it comes to apologizes he thinks he owes, whether it be to the players he turned his back on or the game that turned its back on him, I’d say no way, Jose.

Let’s face facts for a second:

Before Canseco’s book, the steroid in culture was nothing more than the big elephant in the room everybody did their best to turn their heads at.

Everybody from fans like you and me, to club’s management and ownership to the commissioner himself, post-strike baseball was a billion dollar business that wasn’t about to let some speculation turn away the very fans the sport was so happy to finally have back.

The steroid story has been told so many times and has become so well known by us fans to be considered baseball’s ‘New Testament’ of sorts.

Abraham, Issac and Jacob have been replaced by men far less worthy of any admiration, as names like Bonds, McGuire and Clemens have been the sport’s sacrificial lambs on it’s way to cleansing and redemption.

The game was stained, many believe permanently, and Canseco is at the top of the list of those responsible for bringing this toxic culture into the spotlight.

And while today Canseco apologized, and was quoted as saying

“If I could meet with Mark McGwire and these players, I definitely would apologize to them,” Canseco said, according to the New York Daily News. “They were my friends. I admired them. I respected them.”

First of all, it’s a good thing he referred to them as friends he used to have, as I doubt any of them would be welcoming him to their dinner table anytime soon.

That being said, while Canseco brought the skeletons out of their closets, the guilty parties have nobody to blame but themselves for being in the position they find themselves in.

Canseco was by no means a saint, as he admitted himself he was a heavy steroid user, and by breaking protocol and giving up the names of his former teammates, he lost any respect he may have had leftover from his one time promising career.

But respect aside, Canseco should be seen as the sacrificial lamb here, as it is thanks in large part to him, his own admissions of steroid use and his revelations of former teammates that baseball is currently cleaner (at least we are to believe) than its been in decades.

Performance enhancing drugs are being tested for in ways they never have before, and those athletes who were misguided enough and desperate enough to turn to them are paying a very deserving price.

Canseco can apologize all he wants, and if its pity or sympathy he’s seeking, he shouldn’t expect to find much of it, however as far as I’m concerned he doesn’t owe apologies.

I refuse to refer to any of those players as victims, because they are anything but.

The only thing they are victim of is their own poor judgment, as for whatever the reason, they felt it necessary to compromise the integrity of a game we love (not to mention a game we pay good money to enjoy) to give themselves an unfair competitive edge.

And if you want to make the Andy Pettitte argument, that he used HGH a handful of times to recover faster from an injury, I don’t want to buy it.

Guys like Pettitte are even more pathetic in my eyes, as instead of just admitting their mistake and taking full responsibility, they come out well after their names are revealed only to give us excuses in place of admissions.

I have more respect for a guy like Canseco, who saw the state of baseball and felt compelled to do something about, regardless of how we went about doing it.

And I’m fully aware most people if not all people will disagree with me, and tell me that Canseco is nothing more a rat who doesn’t deserve the time of day as he himself is an admitted steroid user and so on and so forth.

I’ll agree that the list of Canseco’s faults and mistakes is near endless compared to any good he has either done or tried to do since all of this steroid nonsense began.

But the fact of the matter is, nearly everything he said in his book proved true, and regardless of who he is or how we went about doing what he did, in some sick and twisted way, he deserves to be revered as a hero as like him or not, the state of the game was stained and at present time is far better off than it was.

I don’t happen to like Jose Canseco, nor do I have any sympathy for him and to a point, I don’t completely agree with how he destroyed the careers and even lives of some of his former teammates and fellow major leaguers. But I feel pretty damn good knowing that the game I’ve loved since I was 6 is finally getting itself out from the dark cloud it had been hidden under for most of the last decade.

When it comes to steroids and performance enhancing drugs, there is no gray zone, no in-between and no ifs or maybes. They were the source of baseball’s darkest period which occurred only a handful of years following the devastating 1994 work stoppage.

As baseball continued to be plagued by a coalition of liars and cheaters, it would be perhaps the biggest liar and cheater of them all who gave the sport something it needed more desperately than anything: honesty.

And for that, Jose owes nobody an apology.

October 21, 2008 Posted by | Sports | , , , , | Leave a comment

Blogroll

10/10/08

2 quick changes to point out.

First off, I fixed the time setting so now when I post something it will post the correct time in which I posted it, not the time four hours from now.

Also, I finally realized a little whlie back what the purpose of a blogroll was, which isn’t to list the different websites I frequently visit, but rather to list other blogs I enjoy reading, get information from and reccommend to anybody who reads my blog.

I’ve promised more posts in the past but usually fail to deliver, however I came up with no less than a dozen things on my mind I hope to talk about soon, ranging from my usual sports rants and commentary to my feelings towards the election and current economic crisis (yea, I’m going there.)

Thanks for the overwhelming support.

AF

October 10, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My Top Ten Shea Stadium Memories

10/4/08

I’ve been going to Shea Stadium since I was 5 years old.  I can’t remember who the Mets were playing when I saw my first game there, but I know I was sitting in the upper deck, down the first base line.  My father tells me that I couldn’t wait to leave by the fifth inning, probably because I had already had my ice cream, gotten my souvenir mini bat and was ready for a nap.

All these years later, I can think back on a handful of other times when thanks to their poor play, the Mets dug themselves in 10-1 deficits I had no interest in sticking around for, and decided to depart Shea earlier than expected.

The following is a list of ten memories that had me spending just a bit more time inside a ballpark that is, was and always will be a home away from home for me, where I saw playoff games, big home runs, great catches, rock and roll legends, Opening Day’s and a final weekend.

The Mets have been as big a part of my life as anything else, and Shea Stadium was the place I was always able to go where I could the anything else would go away when I needed it to.

I grew up there, and I’ll always be thankful for the wonderful times I’ve been able to share with both family and friends, as well the baseball team that captured my heart some 15 years ago.

Here are my top ten Shea Stadium memories.

10.  May 19th, 2006

All Wright Now

David takes down Goliath Rivera in Comeback win vs. Yankees

Few games bring a playoff atmosphere to Shea Stadium during the regular season like Subway Series games. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend at least one at Shea ever year since 1998, and in 2006, I was in attendance Friday night May 19th. I had just gotten home from my freshman year of college, and my first trip to Shea since being home brought the Yankees in for their annual three game series. The game seemed one sided before it started, with Randy Johnson pitching in pinstripes while the Mets were starting relative unknown Geremi Gonzalez. In the top of the first, Gonzalez allowed his nerves to get the best of him, allowing 4 runs staking Johnson and the Yanks to an early lead. But as they became accustomed to doing all season, the Mets struck back, with Carlos Beltran hitting a three-run bomb off Johnson. The game would be tied at 6 heading into the ninth, and Yankees manager Joe Torre brought in the seemingly invincible Mariano Rivera to keep the game tied. The Mets would have none of it, as they loaded the based against him which set the stage for David Wright to send a Rivera pitch sailing over the outstretched reach of Yankees Centerfielder Johnny Damon, giving the Mets an inspiring come-from-behind 7-6 victory. For all of the Mets-Yankees games I’ve seen at Shea- and at Yankee stadium for that matter- I’ve never experienced a game with such a rollercoaster ride of emotions, ending in such dramatic fashion. It was by far the greatest Subway Series game I’ve ever seen, and starts out my list as my tenth most memorable moment.

9. May 24, 1998

A Piazza Delivery: Mike Piazza’s first weekend in New York

It was a Sunday afternoon game in 1998 against the Milwaukee Brewers. In what would seem to be an otherwise meaningless, early season game with little significance, that Sunday will forever go down as the first time I can remember not asking- but begging my parents for tickets to a Mets game. I was 11, and just two nights earlier, my favorite baseball team suddenly revealed itself on the baseball map, by acquiring Mike Piazza in a trade with the Marlins. I’ll never forget hearing about from a Yankees fan friend of mine at the time, and I was so shocked I refused to believe him. When I finally had the rumor confirmed, I had never been so anxious to get to Shea. I wasn’t able to make it to the ballpark for Mike’s first game, which I’ll never forgive myself for, but Sunday I was able to persuade my father to get tickets. It was on that Sunday afternoon, in what was an 8-3 win for the Mets, I was able to- for the first time- feel connected to a player like never before. My fan-crush on Mike Piazza began that day, and hasn’t dimmed since, despite Piazza retiring from baseball earlier this year while not appearing in a Mets lineup card since the final day of the 2005 season. But that Sunday, I’ll never forget the electricity in the air, as fans finally seemed to have a reason to believe again at Shea. The Mets were the recipients of a future hall of fame catcher, while I was the recipient of a hero.

8. June 11th, 2005: Cliff Banger

Floyd wins it in 10th with Homer after Anderson ties it with Inside-the Park Shot

Before my buddy Ian and I ever made it to Shea that day, we had purchased tickets to meet Pedro Martinez. After waiting several hours, we were informed Pedro was going to be a no-show, forcing us to change our plans for the rest of the day in hopes of making up for our wasted morning. We decided to purchase some cheap seats in the upper deck for that night’s game against the Angels, which we were just happy to be at regardless of outcome. The game itself was pretty dull, a 2-1 game with the Mets trailing heading into the bottom of the ninth. The Angels had their dominating closer on the hill, Frankie Rodriguez (who this season saved a Major League record 60 games), ready to finish the Mets off. A pinch-hitter extraordinaire that season, Marlon Anderson had other ideas. With nobody on and one out, Anderson laced a ball into right centerfield. Steve Finley, who Mets fans will always remember as the centerfielder who failed to reel in Todd Pratt’s NLDS winning home run in 1999, dove trying to catch the ball, but ended up not only missing the ball but kicking it away from himself. Realizing the ball had kicked away, Anderson just kept on running, all the way home for what would be a game-tying, inside the park homerun in the bottom of the ninth. I couldn’t dream up a more exciting way to tie the game, but that only got the action started. In the top of the 10th, the Angels went ahead 3-2, thanks to a Darren Erstad single, set the stage for a memorable bottom of the inning. Having already pitched K-Rod, the Angels were forced to turn over their closing duties to Brendan Donnelly. Jose Reyes led off the inning with a single. Mike Cameron followed with a walk. Donnelly then seemed to compose himself, striking out Carlos Beltran and Mike Piazza, leaving it up to Cliff Floyd. Floyd worked Donnelly into a 9 pitch at-bat, at one point sending a ball deep down the right field hooking just foul, but carrying home-run distance. After that foul ball I admit losing all hope, figuring that whenever a player hits a home run ball foul, he almost never actually ends up hitting a home run. Wouldn’t you know it, on the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Floyd launched a moonshot over the right center field wall, winning the game 5-3 with a 2 out, bottom of the tenth 3-run homer. An unforgettable ending to an otherwise forgettable day at Shea.

7. May 23, 2006 & August 22, 2006

Belted: A pair of Walk-off Beltran Blasts

As stated earlier, in 2006, the Mets seemed to score early, score often and find new ways to win game night after night. En route to winning 97 games that season, Carlos Beltran settled the fears of fans who believed that the Beltran they saw in 2005 was a guy their team had grossly overpaid for. Beltran, after all, hit just 17 home runs while driving in only 78 runs, hitting .262. But in 2006, he rebounded with emphasis, tying the franchise record for homers in a single season (41), while driving in 116 runs. He was an MVP candidate, and helped carry his team into the playoffs for the first time since 2000. Two nights in particular stand out from that season. In May, Beltran helped end a marathon, 16 inning affair with the Phillies, sending a ball deep into the right field bullpen prompting Gary Cohen to call “…and we’re goin home!” in a game that ended around 12:30 AM. Later that season, in a head to head match up with a fellow MVP front runner, Albert Pujols, Beltran seemed to be sitting in the backseat to the show Puols was putting on. Pujols hit 2 home runs, one a grand slam and the other a 3-run shot, giving himself 7 RBI’s that night while opening up a 7-1 Cardinals lead. It would be another Carlos who helped get the Mets back into the game, as Carlos Delgado, in his first season wearing orange and blue, connected for a grand slam of his own, which coincidentally was also the 400th home run of his career. It was also his second home run of the game, which brought the Mets to within 2, at 7-5. Jose Reyes drove in a run in the 8th inning making it 7-6, but the fireworks would be put on hold for another inning. In the bottom of the 9th, with a runner on and one out, as Cohen was on air uttering the phrase “and Beltran can win it with one swing”, Carlos connected on a first pitch from former Met Jason Isringhausen, sending a towering drive to right, sending the Mets to an 8-7 victory. The crowds on both of those nights seemed dead at times when the Mets were down or the game was stagnant, but both nights, it would be Beltran who lifted them up, along with his team to two memorable victories, both of which I was lucky enough to be at.

6. July 4th, 1999

Pre-game Photos, Post Game Fireworks and a Handshake with my Hero

1999 was a defining season in Mets history, filled with as many memorable moments as any. Todd Pratt and Robin Ventura both ended playoff games in walk off fashion, while the team was just thrilled to be taking part in postseason baseball for the first time since 1988. Ironically, it was a member of the 99 Mets rotation, who I saw start that day, who single-handedly eliminated the Mets from the ’88 playoffs. Orel Hershiser, an old, washed-up has-been as my family and I affectionately referred to him as, didn’t last long, allowing 6 runs in only 2.2 innings. The Mets would end up coming back against John Smoltz highlighted by a 7th inning Edgardo Alfonzo home run, winning 7-6, and pulling themselves to within 4 games of first place Atlanta. The game itself was great, but had nothing on pre-game festivities, which included photo-day, a tradition the team has since removed. The first 500 (maybe 1000) fans who showed up were allowed to go on the field before the game and walk around the field taking pictures of the players, with the rules specifically stating that you weren’t allowed to take pictures with them. A few things that stand out about that day: First, it was the 4th of July and I somehow convinced my parents to take me to Shea instead of doing whatever it was they would otherwise wanted to do. Secondly, it was no cooler than 105 degrees that day. I’m talking sweltering heat that made you want to wear nothing but freshly frozen ice trays as clothing. Lastly, for some reason that to this day I’ll never remember, I decided to show up at Shea wearing a Hawaiian shirt. It was hot, but I wasn’t a rationally thinking 12 year old, so the heat had nothing to do with my decision making. No Mets jersey, no Mets t-shirt. Not even a Mets themed Hawaiian shirt. Just a standard, I’m 45 and single Hawaiian shirt. Be as it may, I was there early with my parents, and we walked around the field, snapping shots of everyone from Rey Ordonez to Al Leiter, Bobby Valentine to John Franco and Benny Agbayani to Jay Payton. But of course, knowing he was their biggest star, Mike Piazza was the last guy you were able to see, and the crowd around him was huge. Realizing this might be my only chance to ever get this close to him, I decided to make a daring dash towards him, sticking out my hand to shake his. The ushers hadn’t yet finished yelling at me to step back by the time the camera did its job, getting a perfect shot of both Mike and myself, shaking hands and both staring directly into the camera. Not only was I not supposed to get that close to the player, but Mike didn’t have to shake my hand, and certainly didn’t have to smile and look at the camera. But he did, and it provided a photograph and a memory I’ll always have.

5. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, September 26th, 27th and 28th 2008

Shea Goodbye: The Last Weekend at Shea Stadium

Had things turned out differently on Sunday, this easily could have skyrocketed higher on the list, but I actually debating leaving last weekend completely off following the disappointment I experienced during the 4-2 loss to Florida, ending the 2008 season for the Mets as well as the 44 year lifespan of their ballpark. That being said, I made it a point to drive home from school (Syracuse) early Friday morning, knowing that nothing was going to keep me from being part of the last possible games ever played at a place that as much a part of me as anything else. I’ve been going to Shea since I was 5 (so my father tells me), and between the ages of 5 and 21, I’ve certainly seen a lot (as this list proves). But I had never seen a clinching game, whether it was for a playoff spot or of a playoff series. The Mets had given me that opportunity, heading into the final weekend of the season tied with the Brewers for the Wild Card, while only trailing the first place Phillies by a game. Three games stood between me, my team and the playoffs. Also standing in my way was the worst weekend of weather I can remember. It rained seemingly non stop from the time I left Friday morning, through my drive home Sunday night. Incredibly, the rain seemed to break at the right time each day, giving the Mets and Marlins a chance to play some baseball. Friday night may not have been a wash weather-wise, but it certainly was on the field, as the Mets offense didn’t show. They lost 6-1, and combined with wins by both Philly and Milwaukee, the Mets would wake up Saturday in a do-or-die situation, needing a win to extend their season. Just as they had a year before, they came through, thanks almost solely to the left arm of ace Johan Santana. Santana, pitching with what we now know was a torn meniscus in his knee, on only three days rest, delivered a complete game, 3 hit shut-out. The Phillies clinched the east, but the Brewers lost, putting the Mets back into a tie with them for the wild card. This set up a win-and-in situation, meaning a win Sunday would at the very least force a 1 game playoff, but as had happened a year earlier, it wasn’t to be, as the offense didn’t show again, and the bullpen did what it became best known for doing all year, allowing two late inning home runs, giving Florida the win, and the Brewers a playoff birth following their win that day. In what I can only describe as the most awkward feeling I’ve ever had in a ballpark, the Mets then began their post-game, Shea Goodbye celebration. 50,000 plus fans had stayed behind, despite having just watched their season end. The Mets celebrated their teams history in their ballpark, bringing back 45 former players to take part in the festivities. From Tom Seaver and Mike Piazza, to the first Shea Stadium appearance of Dwight Gooden in a Mets jersey since 1994, to folk heroes like Robin Ventura and Cleon Jones, for 45 minutes you were almost able to forget about the gut-wrenching end to the season, and just embrace the teams past, while enjoying a final smile inside Shea. Personally, I couldn’t bring myself to leave, staying in my seats about an hour after the game ended, just thinking about all the years and all the memories I was lucky enough to experience there. I finally left and Ian and I took some pictures outside the ballpark before finally heading home around 7:45 that night. The ceremony probably ended sometime between 6 and 6:30. It was an unbelievably devastating end to both the season and my time at Shea, but it will also forever be remembered, even if not for all the right reasons.

4. April 2000, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008

Opening Days at Shea

Starting back in 2000, the decision was made within my household that going to Opening Day was something we wanted to take part in. And since 2000, I’ve been sitting at Shea for both season and season home openers six out of nine times. Opening Day is no more important a game as far as the standings are concerned, but there is the hope a new season brings and the pre-game ceremonies that always bring 55,000 fans to the ball park for the first home game of the year. The Mets have historically played winning baseball on Opening Day, 29-18 during their 47 year history. Up until this past April, I had boasted a perfect 5-0 record, including a win over the Padres in 2000 thanks to an 8th inning Derek Bell home run. In 2002, the arrival of big names like Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar and Jeremy Burnitz had a frenzied crowd anticipating a big season. We had to settle for a 6-2 win in the opener, but not much success thereafter. Fast forward to 2005, the ‘New Mets’ took the field behind new skipper Willie Randolph. The pre-game intros were highlighted by a resounding standing ovation for new ace Pedro Martinez, who a day earlier had secured the teams first win of the season after starting 0-5. The Mets beat Houston 8-4, as the theme of the day was old faces in familiar places, with Andy Pettitte starting for Houston and John Franco coming in to relieve later in the game against his former team. It was also the first time both David Wright and Jose Reyes took part in Opening Day. 2006 was when Mets fans saw Carlos Delgado, Paul Lo Duca and Billy Wagner for the first time. David Wright homered and another new face, Xavier Nady had 4 hits in leading the Mets to a victory. The game ended with Carlos Beltran throwing out Washington’s Jose Vidro at second base for the final out of the game earning Wagner his first save as a Met. In 2007, Jimmie Rollins of the Phillies proclaimed his team the one to beat, but couldn’t back up his words during the season opener, going 0-3 and committing a big error which helped spark a 7 run 8th inning to give the Mets another opening day victory. And just this past April, coming off their epic collapse, the Mets had the Phillies at Shea again, playing their last ever home opener at their home of 44 years. The Phillies would crash the party, winning 5-2 after the Mets bullpen coughed up a 2 run lead and the offense was unable to tack on any runs late, trends they seemed to continue throughout the entire 2008 season. Although the Mets lost in their final Shea Stadium opening day, they gave me yet another chance to see them start a season in what has become a tradition I hope to continue over at the new ballpark, starting a string of new memories.

3. October 16 1999, October 5th, 18th & 19th, 2006

In 1999, I was able to experience post season baseball at Shea for the first time, and I quickly learned just how different the crowd can be in October. The place was full of life, standing up from first pitch to last. It was game 4 of the 1999 NLCS, the Mets were facing elimination down 3-0 to Atlanta, but John Olerud wasn’t ready to let his team fall victim to the Braves powerhouse. After hitting a homerun earlier in the game, Olerud came through off Mets nemesis John Rocker with an 8th inning two run single to put his team ahead, forcing game 5 which would set the stage for Robin Ventura’s ‘grand’ heroics. Following the game 4 win, I would make a postseason return to Shea until 2006, when I was at game 2 of the division series, which saw Tom Glavine pitch six shut out innings in a win against the Dodgers. Two weeks later, I was back at Shea for game 6 of the NLCS against St. Louis. The Mets were down 3 games to 2, and had the unproven John Maine starting against Cards ace Chris Carpenter. Jose Reyes got the party started early; hitting a lead off home run in the bottom of the first, and the Mets wouldn’t look back, as a 4-2 victory would force a game 7. I had flown home from school for game 6, not having tickets for a potential 7 or a flight that would have allowed me to get back, but when an offer came for a game 7 ticket, I rushed to change my flight and come up with a hefty price tag for a ticket I knew I might never have another chance of getting my hands on. Game 7, trip to the World Series on the line at Shea Stadium. It just didn’t get any better than this. I ran into Tim Kurkjin from ESPN before the game, and asked him who he liked, and he told me he had picked the Mets to win and was sticking with them. If Tim felt the Mets were winning, that was good enough for me. It didn’t matter that Oliver Perez was starting despite having an ERA north of 5, or that the last game 7 the Mets played in an NLCS saw them lose to the Dodgers in 1988. This was going to be different. And it certainly appeared that would be the case after the Mets scored first, and Perez pitched 5 easy scoreless innings. In the top of the 6th, with a runner on and only one out, Perez was facing Scott Rolen, who connected with a Perez pitch launching it deep to left field, chasing Mets outfielder Endy Chavez back to the wall. In a defining moment in Mets history, Chavez made a spectacular leaping catch, fully extending his arm over the wall and pulling the would be home run ball back into play, and throwing the ball back in to double off the runner on first. To this day, I can still hear the roar of the crowd when Endy made what is known to Mets fan simply as “the catch”. Of course that would be the last time fans would get to cheer that night, as Aaron Heilman surrendered an 8th inning home run to Yadier Molina, and Carlos Beltran left the bat on his shoulders with the bases loaded, striking out looking against Cards closer Adam Wainwright, sending St. Louis to the World Series. 56,000 people have never sounded so quiet, and watching the visiting team celebrate winning a pennant on my field was heartbreaking. I never though I’d leave Shea Stadium so emotionally crushed (little did I know what the team had in store for me last Sunday). As rotten as it was leaving game 7, the memory was a once in a life time sort of experience, and although they lost, the Mets, and Endy Chavez that night along with Jose Reyes the night before and John Olerud back in 1999, showed me that there is nothing in the world that compares to playoff baseball at Shea.

2. July 18th, 2008

Billy the Kid rocks Shea

Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined looking back on the hundreds of times I went to Shea that the second greatest night I’d ever spend there wouldn’t feature a single pitch being thrown or a single swing being taken. Back in July, I hit the jackpot of jackpots in landing floor seats to the second of Billy Joel’s ‘Last Play at Shea’ concert series. I had only been to a concert of any kind once before, and while I considered myself a fan of Mr. Joel’s, I was hardly the fanatic worthy of the seats I was lucky enough to get. I only knew the words to a handful of his songs, and couldn’t name half of the ones I heard by the time I left. But a number of things happened that night which have changed a whole lot of that. Since that concert, I find myself listening to his songs, all of them, dozens of times a week, knowing the words to most and anxiously searching online for an announcement of another tour. I also got to experience Shea Stadium in a way I never had before, being able to walk around the field and explore everything from the outfield wall to the dugouts to standing in straight-away centerfield, just admiring the 50,000 people looking down upon the stage. It was overwhelming to say the least. I was also able to scoop up some grass and dirt from Shea, knowing I would never have another opportunity to do such a thing. By the time the concert started, I had already gotten my money’s worth, or so I had thought. During a 3-plus hour performance, Mr. Joel played all of his biggest hits, along with some of his lesser known gems, while welcoming a number of big name guests to join the stage with him. Tony Bennett, Garth Brooks, Steven Tyler and Roger Daltrey all took the stage to amaze the crowd, but it was the final guest of the night who may have stolen the show. It had been more than 40 years since the Beatles took the stage at Shea, but Mr. Joel made sure the place wouldn’t be torn down without a final goodbye from one of the Fab Four’s shining stars. Sir Paul McCartney was introduced, singing two songs to a euphoric crowd who walked out in such a state of shock that it was unusually quiet for what had just happened inside. Piano Man, Movin’ Out and Scenes from an Italian Restaurant had Shea rocking like it was an October night with a championship on the line, while Sir Paul playing Let It Be was perhaps as spine chilling a moment as I’ll ever experience.

1. September 21st, 2001

Baseball returns to NY after 9/11, Piazza wins it with HR in 8th

This was about more than baseball. This was about showing the world we weren’t afraid, and that were going to pick ourselves up off the mat, and go on with our lives and prove that we could be bent but not broken. September 11th, 2001 was a day that permanently changed the lives of every American. Living in New York City, I had a front row seat to the events which shook us to our very foundations. I also had tickets to a Friday night game at Shea only ten days later, not knowing if the game was going to be played, and if it was, whether or not it would be worth going. Once we knew the Mets and Braves would in fact be playing, the decision was easy. That was the first season I had my Tuesday-Friday season ticket plan, so the tickets were ours and we knew there was nowhere else we’d rather be than at Shea. The night was emotional to a point where you simply had to be there to appreciate. The crowd was excited to be back but cautious and still very much hurting from what had taken place less than two weeks prior. The replica skyline that rests above the scoreboard had a ribbon covering the World Trade Center. The American Flags waving around the ball park suddenly took on new meaning. Both teams took the field during the anthem, and greeted each other before the game to display an act of unity. Mark Anthony and Diana Ross sang, and the place was ready to watch some baseball, and distract itself for the first time since the tragedy. The game was tied at 1 going into the 8th, when the Braves took a 2-1 lead. While most fans would probably agree just being at a baseball a baseball game was distraction enough, walking out of Shea with a loss wouldn’t have helped lift the morale’s of New Yorkers who sorely needed a reason to smile. Trailing 2-1, on a night when New York’s true heroes were honored, Mets fans had their own hero put on his superman cape. In a moment scripted too perfectly for a Hollywood film, Mike Piazza hit a long, two run homer giving the Mets a 3-2 lead they wouldn’t give back. To this day, watching the replays give me goosebumps each and every time, and hearing the crowd erupt was a sound that still never goes away. The moment was so powerful, and so emotionally uplifting that people weren’t sure whether it was more appropriate to cheer or cry. It had been an inning earlier when Liza Minnelli sang New York, New York during the 7th inning stretch, eliciting a worthy standing ovation and cheer. But it was Piazza, the heart of a team who, if only for a night, sewed the hearts of a city with a swing that even he admits was probably bigger than any other he’s ever taken. Personally, watching my favorite player hit a home run to win a game would be special any night, but it was obviously considerably more special under the circumstances. On a night when baseball was serving simply as a way to think about anything other than the falling of those towers, it was mission accomplished thanks to the bat of Mike Piazza, who gave his team a win, and a city a reason to smile again.

October 4, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

All ‘Shea’ Wrote

10/2/08

Last Sunday, Shea Stadium lowered it curtain for the last time, closing the book on 44 years of memories.

While the ball club crashed their own party by failing to qualify for postseason play for a second consecutive season, Sunday was as much about remembering and celebrating the life of a ballpark that saw it all, from baseball to concerts to religious royalty.

When it opened in 1964, the still infant New York Mets finally still lacked the talent to compete, but no longer lacked a home of their own.

Located on Roosevelt Avenue in Flushing, Queens, Shea and it’s surrounding area leave little to be desired aesthetically, in fact more often than not the ballpark is referred to (being kind and keeping this appropriate) an eye sore (among many other lovely names).

When stadiums and ballparks go up today, the buzz word surrounding them is often ‘state of the art’, and while the Mets new home, Citi Field, will certainly fit the description, back in 1964 upon opening, Shea already seemed to appear outdated.

It didn’t help that less than 10 miles away sat another ballpark where another New York team played. A ballpark they said was built by some guy named Ruth. A ballpark where guys proclaimed they were the luckiest man on the faith on earth”. A ballpark that saw championship flags raised and a ballpark that saw both records and legends fall.

Ok, so Yankee Stadium has the history, the mystique and aura and the ghosts.

While Shea lacked all of the above, what it had was a team that gave New Yorker’s lovable losers, who brought National League baseball back to a National League town.

Those early years were as brutal as the traffic is getting there these days, but those Metsies (as Casey Stengal lovingly referred to them as) had charm.

It didn’t take long for Shea’s theater to feature its first true performer, as the right arm of Tom Seaver toed the rubber for the first time in 1965, the same year some kids from Britain sold the place out. From what I hear, they weren’t bad.

Beatlemania was fun, but it was four years later when miracles were made.

Led by Gil Hodges, who had already captured the hearts of New Yorker’s for so many years wearing Dodger blue, made those National League holdovers proud again with an Amazin’ finish in 1969, giving Shea some much needed interior decoration.

It won’t be soon forgotten that Shea hosted football too, and the Jets flying overhead had nothing on the

Just four more years later, another New York baseball legend, who told us it wasn’t over ‘til its over, had the Mets just a win away from a second championship.

Behind a rallying call so often still uttered, the ’73 edition of the orange and blue gave us “Ya Gotta Believe”, but ultimately gave us bitter disappointment.

The next decade saw icons take their final curtain calls (Willie Mays ’72 and ‘73), and also saw hometown heroes make unexpected exits (Seaver in ’77).

As Shea was hardly enjoying its teenaged years, it would be some teenaged stars that would be called upon to revive a drowning organization.

With a Doc and a Straw, the energy was back, even if the magic wasn’t (true Mets fan will appreciate the reference to one of the teams countless ill-fated marketing campaigns).

An MVP from St. Louis along with a ‘kid’ from Montreal, and the pieces were finally in place for Shea to host another October party.

With a game six groundball and game seven comeback, Shea was once again a house of champions, and once again the center of the New York baseball universe.

Another crushing playoff defeat in ’88 saw the end of an era in Queens, as young stars were quickly becoming troubled veterans.

As disappointment turned into embarrassment, and money couldn’t buy success, the dawning of a new era was arriving in the spring of 1998.

A Piazza delivery had a rejuvenated fan base buzzing, looking to quench it’s postseason thirst.

Just a year later, it was Piazza who delivered, as Shea prepared to get ‘wild’.

Never shy from dramatic, the Amazin’s brought with them back to playoffs some magic, as the names Pratt and Ventura were forever etched into both Mets and Shea Stadium lore for homeruns and grand slam…singles.

Another year, and another trip to the playoffs, this time with a National League crown to show for it.

A meeting with those cross town rivals scheduled, with more than titles on the line.

And although a mighty drive from Mikey fell harmlessly in the glove of Bernie Williams, the Yankees may have had their three-peat, but the Mets once again had significance (hardly compensation, but important none the less.)

Fast forward another year, to events that forever changed our lives.

September 11th, 2001 saw time stand still, and when it picked up again in the baseball world, Shea Stadium would serve as 55,000 seat therapist’s office.

Whether or not we should have been there was certainly a question, but by night’s end, doubts were erased with what many agree was the most significant swing Shea ever saw.

With broken hearts beating and crying eyes watching, Mike Piazza’s 8th inning home run might have given the Mets a lead, but more than that, gave a city a much needed chance to smile.

It didn’t win a playoff series, and didn’t clinch a championship- but it didn’t have to.

That swing was about more than baseball, and for the first time since those towers had fallen, New Yorker’s spirits were lifted.

After coming up short in 2001, Shea went silent again for another 5 years, surpassing the big 4-0 without any playoff celebrations.

Before there was talk of a new ballpark, there would be talk of the “New Mets”.

A superstar shortstop and a hot corner cornerstone, along with a hall of fame ace and all star centerfielder made up the framework of a new generation in Flushing.

Led by a GM from Queens and a manager from Brooklyn, it would take only two seasons for the “New Mets” to be National League East champions, dethroning 14 years of consistency down south.

In what few expected to be its final postseason party, Shea was home to a pennant clinching celebration it hadn’t seen in 6 years.

What few also expected, was watching the winners wearing the wrong colored caps, as a called third strike would make a legendary class go for naught.

Seeing it’s replacement finally take some shape, Shea watched it’s own demise slowly resurrect in its parking lost, while it watched the demise of its favorite tenants painfully play out within its walls.

Known simply as “the collapse”, the numbers 7 and 17 would forever be infamously synonymous with the Metropolitans, having nothing to do with a shortstop or a ‘stache’.

In 2008, Shea’s swan song wasn’t the only music playing, as the Piano Man hosted Shea’s last play…twice. With the help of some friends, including one who hadn’t seen Shea’s stage since he first graced it in ’65, Billy the Kid had the house rocking like it had some 40 years before.

Two weeks ago, we bid farewell to Yankee Stadium, known to many as the House that Ruth Built and baseball’s cathedral.

Among those who called it home included the Babe and Iron Man, a Clipper and the Mick. From Reggie and Thurman, to Donnie, Derek and Mo.

That other park in town, the one with the airplanes and the one that looked like it needed to be torn down not long after it went up, might not have been built by sultan of swat, or proclaim itself as religious arena.

Among those who call IT home were Tom and Tug, Daryl and Doc, Mookie and Mike, David and Jose. Not a Hall of Fame guest list per se, but not bad either.

To those who called Shea home, this author included, it might not have been the best looking and might not have fanciest.

It might have lacked mystique and aura, and it might have lacked a pretty white facade.

For all Shea might have lacked, it made up for with its familiarity and unexplainable charm.

To those who have called Shea home for any period of time, what it lacked in physical appeal it made up for with emotional sentiment.

Although few will argue it’s no longer up to the standards set by the new era of ballparks springing up, few will also argue that Shea will be torn down not having lived the fullest of lives.

It saw baseball and football, championships and heartbreaks, religious icons and rock and roll immortals.

But most of all, it was place where millions of people would gather for whatever the reason, not caring about what that place looked like, but more just how they felt once inside.

And more often than not, thanks to 44 years of moments and memories, they felt like they were home.

October 2, 2008 Posted by | New York Mets, Sports, Thoughts | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment