Fier Thy Words

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Abraham, Issac and Jacob have been replaced by men far less worthy of any admiration, as names like Bonds, McGuire and Clemens have been the sport’s sacrificial lambs on it’s way to cleansing and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

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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

Just Not ‘Wright’: Mets’ Playoffs Hopes Flatline

9/25/08

Flip the switch, pull the curtain down and tear it up already.

Shea Stadium was given an early farewell last night, thanks in part to yet another devastating loss by the New York Mets.

In falling 9-6 to the Chicago Cubs, this loss hurt as much if not more than any other this season.

And for all the blame the bullpen has (rightfully) earned this season, last night’s loss primarily gets credited to the offense, who failed miserably late in the game.

In the 7th, 8th and 9th innings, the Mets had runners on third base with nobody out, yet combined, they were able to muster only a bases loaded walk in the 8th, which at the time tied the game at 6-6.

There were two very questionable decisions made by the manager and one of his coaches, which were not sending Jose Reyes- the franchise’s all time stolen base king in the 7th inning which in turn led to Daniel Murphy lining out into a double place, as his rocket line drive landed harmlessly in the glove of first basemen Derek Lee, who stepped on first to retire both Murphy and Reyes.

In the 8th inning, following a Carlos Delgado lead off double, Carlos Beltran ripped a single to center, which could have potentially scored Delgado.  Unfortunately, third basemen Luis Aguayo held Delgado at third without hesitation, preventing the tying run from even attempting to score.  While Delgado would eventually score following a bases loaded walk, Jose Reyes couldn’t produce any bases loaded magic two nights in a row, grounding out weakly to second to end the threat.

And then came the ninth inning, where its safe to say and hope of the Mets making the playoffs came to a near dead end.

Murphy lead off, and laced a ball into right-center field, hustling his way all the way to third for a triple.  Nobody out, runner on third, and up came the face of the franchise, the captain in waiting, the guy Mets fans wanted at the plate: David Wright.

Lou Piniella decided to allow his reliever, Bob Howry, to pitch to Wright instead of walking him and Delgado, in attempt to set up a potential double play with forces at any base.

Despite the fanfare surrounding him and the MVP talk which once again picked up some steam during the last week, Wright has been anything but valuable this season with runners in scoring position, hitting an inexcusable .242 in those situations, worked the count to 3-0, before fouling off a couple of very hittable pitches, only to chase a fastball well out of the strikezone, stranding Murphy at third.  Piniella decided to have his reliever walk both of the Carlos’ to load the bases, and Howry proceeded to get Ryan Church to ground out to second, forcing Murphy at home, while Ramon Castro struck out.

If all of the air wasn’t sucked out of Shea following the Mets’ inability to score more than one run during those final three innings, it certainly was a half inning later, when with two outs and nobody on, Luis Ayala , in his second inning of work, allowed a single to Ryan Theriot, who after stealing second, scored on a bloop single to right by Lee.  The final knockout punch was delivered by Aramis Rameriz, who crushed a home run off Ayala with a runner on, punctuating what would turn out to be a very forgettable night at Shea for New York.

The loss was crippling, not only becasue it was once again of the self-inflicted variety, but because with the Phillies getting mauled at home by the Braves, the Mets could have tied up Philadelphia in the loss column, while also maintaining their one game edge in the Wild Card- something of course they were unable to- as the Brewers took care of the Pirates in Milwaukee.

This loss certainly tops them all, and despite how bad the bullpen has been, and even despite Oliver Perez coughing up the 5-1 lead his team gave him, the Mets were gift wrapped an opportunity to put themselves in prime position to erase the nightmares of last season, needed nothing more than a fly ball from their third basemen.

For what it’s worth, and its hardly consolation after a loss last night, Carlos Delgado all but put penciled his name in next seasons opening day line-up after coming up huge once again last night.  With the score tied at 1 in the bottom of the third, Delgado took advantage of a distracted Carlos Zambrano, who seemed to allow Reyes’ antics running down the third base line get into his head, as he served up a grand slam to the Mets first basemen.

Delgado also doubled to lead off the 8th, and eventually would score on that bases load walk, and did all he could to help get his team past the demons of last season’s collapse which seem to taking in Shea’s final days along with the fans.

Johan Santana can’t pitch every night, but it seems like down the stretch unless he’s on the mound, the Mets find ways to lose these pivotal late season games.  Jerry Manuel seems hesitant to pitch his ace on short rest this weekend, although the situation may force his hand if come Saturday the Mets find themselves in an elimination game.

It just doesn’t get much worse than it was last night at Shea Stadium, which will now likely host it’s finall games Sunday, following another brutal loss which took the Mets’ playoff destinty officially out of their own hands, and puts their postseason hopes very much up in the air.  And ironically, had David Wright done just that with a fly ball, we would likely be having a very conversation this morning.

But he didn’t, and the team took one step closer to missing out on playoff baseball for the second time in as many years, doing so in an eerily similar fashion, while taking all of the life out of ballpark dying to breathe some October air one more time.

Sadly, it appears those hopes, along with the team, are already flat lining.

September 25, 2008 Posted by | New York Mets, Sports | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mets’ Collapse (Encore Performance) Continues

9/23/08

Here we go again.

I know I’m beating a dead horse, and come to think of it, thats more or less what the Mets resemble, but Jerry Manuel’s ballclub seems to be flatlining once again despite being an arms reach away from a postseason berth.

Last night, the Mets found yet another way to reach rock bottom, as the fatal blow came from the opposing teams starting pitcher, who took rookie Jon Niese deep from a fourth inning grand slam which broke open a 2-2 game.

It’s tough to say whether or not this is deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra once said, or whether or not the Mets will stop this lateseason landslide before they find themselves on the outside looking in for a second consecutive October.

Once again, the Mets control their own playoff destiny, as they maintain a one game over a Milwaukee Brewers team who has been trying its best to avoid a late season meltdown of their own.

And while the Mets will wake up this morning still holding onto a playoff spot, you wouldn’t know it by the vibes surrounding them.

Last night, Shea Stadium, beginning it’s final week of regular season baseball it’s rusting and rotting walls will ever witness, saw its crowd turn quickly on their favorite choke artists, as cautious cheers turned into defening, sustained boos.

The one big difference between this season’s late season slide and last is the absense of Willie Randolph, who ended up being the scapegoat for the 2007 disaster, losing his job in the middle of June earlier this season after his team failed to show an ability to get out of its own way through the first 70 games or so.

And while Randolph was enjoying the festivities Sunday night saying goodbye to Yankee Stadium, his successor may have to start preparing to say goodbye to more than his current ballpark come Sunday.

He may lose that interim tag after all- along with his chance of coming back next season.

But just as the blame was somewhat unfairly placed on the shoulders of Randolph, Manuel has done his best to weather this storm that only seems to strengthening by the day.

Once again, this falls on the players.

The bullpen has been putrid, but the offense continues to leave far too many runners on, notably in late game situations.

It would be a shame to spoil some of the feel-good stories around this team, whether its the resurgence of Carlos Delgado or the brilliance of Johan Santana.

And despite those, a failure this season to clinch a playoff spot would be nothing short of apocalyptic for this franchise, which is still very much trying to heal its emotional wounds from how horribly last season ended.

And yet with a chance to atone for their shortcomings last season, the Mets seem to be lacking the same killer instinct they needed last season, along with the mental toughness the team their chasing manages to find a nightly basis.

The Phillies, who were last season’s beneficiaries of the Mets collapse, have once again this year come from behind while leaving the Mets in their rearview mirrors, now holding a 2.5 game lead with the Mets having only 6 games left to play.

As Joel Sherman states in today’s New York Post, a second consective collpase would be “two much too handle”.

6 more games, at home, with the Cubs and Marlins at hand.

The Mets will start Santana tonight, and again on Sunday in Shea’s finale.

This is why the Mets went out and got him, and why GM Omar Minaya isn’t just yet preparing a resume for job interviews.

Santana’s maginificant season has come down to these last two starts, where he can help pitch his team into the playoffs and put the nightmarish memories from last season.

Succeed, and Shea Stadium will be given a stay of execution.

Fail, and everyone from Minaya to Manuel may not be so lucky.

September 23, 2008 Posted by | Movies, Sports | , , | Leave a comment

My Top 10 Yankee Stadium Memories

9/20/08

I hate the New York Yankees.

It’s no secret and anybody who knows me knows that I hate the Yankees about as much if not more than I hate anything.

However, I’ve always held a great deal of respect for the history of the franchise, and my experiences going to Yankee Stadium have always been enjoyable, usually regardless of result.

That said, despite my feelings towards the team that calls it home, Yankee Stadium has been the site of a number of my greatest sports memories, starting way back when in 1996 when I took my first ever trip to The Bronx, late in October for game 6 of the World Series.

That’s right, myself- 9 year old kid without any real emotional connection to the team I was going to see- was introduced to the hallowed grounds on 161st street and River Avenue.

There was the first time I saw Monument park a few years back, along with day-night, two stadium doubleheaders.

There was watching my favorite player take a fastball to his head, and most recently, baseball’s midsummer classic, the All Star Game.

Any sports fan, regardless of team affiliation, can appreciate the history surrounding Yankee Stadium, and the seemingly endless number of legends who have graced its batters boxes and pitching rubbers.

From Ruth, Gehrig, Dimaggio, Mantle and Berra to Munson and Jackson and Mattingly to Jeter, Rivera, Williams and Rivera, some of the games greatest have donned the pinstripes and had the honor of calling Yankee Stadium home.

Since I was 9, I’ve been going to Yankee Stadium with absolutely no regularity, however the times I’ve been lucky enough to have been there, have generally been unbelievably special.

In honor of the closing of baseball’s most prestigious stage, here are my ten most memorable trips to the house that Ruth built.

10. July 24th, 1999

Yankees beat Indians 22-1; I watch all of it from a Luxury Box

This game stands out for two reasons (which I guess I gave away in my little headline), but it was the only time I dined at the Stadium club restaurant and sat in one of it’s luxury suites. As a pure baseball fan, I absolutely detest luxury boxes. They take you away from the crowd, and while the food is great, the experience isn’t. It also isn’t often you see a team score 22 runs in a game, and on this particular July afternoon, the Yankees did just that, highlighted by Chili Davis (you’re gonna hear his name again later…if you can believe that) drove in 6, while every Yankee starter with the exception of Paul O’Neil drove in at least one run. And for what it’s worth, Ricky Ledee, who came in as a replacement for O’Neil, drove in 3.

9. September 25th, 1998

Yankees earn 112th victory of the season

On pace to setting the American League mark for wins in a season (until they were surpassed by the Seattle Mariners in 2001), the Yankees won their 112 game of the year that night, and the atmosphere was playoff like despite the Yankees being heavily favored to win their second world series in 3 seasons. Orlando Hernandez pitched, and the Yanks took care of the Tampa Bay (still at the time) DEVIL Rays.

8. June 27th, 2008

2 Games, 2 Stadiums and 9 RBI’s for Carlos Delgado

The first day of the rest of Carlos Delgado’s season would turn out to be the last regular season game I would ever see at Yankee Stadium, and what a way to go out. The Mets, mired in mediocrity and less than 2 weeks into the Jerry Manuel era, Delgado decided to extend batting practice and go off, hitting two home runs that still haven’t landed. He came into the day with 36 RBI, and left the ball park with 45. As I’ll get into greater detail discussing later on, leaving Yankee Stadium having seen the Mets win a game there always put a big, fat smile on my face. Making the day even more special was leaving the Stadium, heading for the subway, and taking two of them back to Queens, arriving in more than enough time to catch the second game of the two stadium doubleheader. A very unique experience for most, but it actually was the second time I would be completing such a feat.

7. June 25th, 2004 and June 26th, 2005

Mets fans take over in two Saturday thrashings

I listed two dates here because on virtually the same day a year apart, the Mets played the second of three games during their annual visit to Yankee Stadium, and for the first time I was able to remember, I left Yankee Stadium to the sweet sounds of “Lets go Mets”, as the visitors from Queens won 9-3 in ’04, and 10-3 in 2005. In both games, by the late innings, the stadium had mostly cleared out, with Mets fans staying behind and making themselves feel at home (myself included, both times). The chants were loud and the house that Ruth built was temporarily being overrun by Mets fans. It was a wild time, and after years of making the trip to the Bronx and either leaving with a loss or a hard earned win, it was nice walking out with a victory, being serenaded with a chant unfamiliar to the ears of fans who usually fill Yankee Stadium.

6. August 10th, 2005

Yank’s edged out by White Sox; I’m Introduced to Monument Park

The game was exciting, going 10 innings and seeing the Yankees lose a close, 2-1 game to the visiting White Sox. However, this day was defined by my first ever stroll through Monument Park. If you haven’t been there, Monument Park is located out in left field, underneath that netting that are often the recipient of home run balls. While all stadiums retire numbers and honor their history in one way or another, Yankee Stadium is extra special in this manor, having their own hall of fame which contains not only the retired numbers and plaques of legends past, but honors the Pope’s visits, Stadium voice Bob Sheppard along with a moving plaque commemorating both the victims and heroes of September 11th, 2001. Walking around and seeing the plaques of Ruth and Mantle sent chills up my spine, however it was overwhelming to see how many great players have been part of the Yankee family, and for all of the terrible things I’m quick to say about the team, their history is second to none and earns all of my respect. Visiting Monument Park is something any baseball fan needs to do, and with all of the monuments and plaques moving across the street, anybody who didn’t get the chance to see it at the old ballpark needs to make sure they make up for it by visiting them in the new stadium.

5. July 8th, 2000

Two Games, Two Stadiums, One Memorable Hit-By-Pitch

On a long day of New York baseball that started in Queens with Doc Gooden toeing the Shea Stadium mound for the first time in his second stint as a Yankee, pitching well and earning a victory in the first game of the first ever Mets-Yankees two-stadium doubleheader. I made the drive from Shea to Yankee Stadium for the second game, which was a make up for a game I was supposed to have seen a month earlier but was rained out (for anybody who can remember, that rain out was made memorable by Robin Ventura dressing up, facial hair and all, like Mike Piazza and rounding the bases in the pouring rain with the tarp on the field, emphatically sliding into home). That night, Piazza himself was on the field, although not for long. Roger Clemens was pitching, and after being worn out by Piazza in recent years, he threw a fastball at Piazza’s head, drilling him and knocking him out of the game, and eventually the All Star Game. I will never forget the sound of the ball hitting Piazza’s helmet, as I was sitting in the upper tier between home and third with a clear shot of what was happening. In addition to losing their star catcher, The Mets would go on to lose the game, with Piazza’s beaning simply adding injury to insult as the Mets were swept in the twin-bill. Not the greatest Yankee Stadium memory of mine, but one I’ll always remember, for all the wrong reasons.

4. September 10th, 1999

Pedro nearly perfect, strikes out 17 in Red Sox Victory

In what many describe as the most dominating pitching performance by any visitor in the history of Yankee Stadium, then Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez was electric. Being only 12 years old, I sat there not fully aware of how well Pedro was pitching, but inning after inning, strike out after strike out, I started to get it. With the exception of a Chili Davis (there’s that name again) solo home run in the second inning, Pedro was perfect. Literally. He faced 28 batters, allowing only the one run on the one hit, and nothing else. He threw 120 pitches, 80 of which were strikes, and fanned 17 Yankees in the process. In 1999, Pedro ended up winning the Cy Young in what many also consider to be his greatest single season, finishing 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA. In addition to winning the American League Cy Young award, he was started the All Star game in Boston that year, winning the game’s MVP award, and also finished second in the overal American League MVP voting. I was lucky enough to see his 21st victory of that magical season he had, while witnessing perhaps the greatest single pitching performance by a visiting pitcher in the history of Yankee Stadium. Not bad.

3. June 17th, 1997

The Inaugural Mets-Yankees Subway Series (Game 2)

No, I wasn’t in attendance for the first ever regular season meeting between the inner city rivals, but I was there for the second game. While the Mets won 6-0 in game one of the series, I wasn’t so lucky, watching my team fall 6-3. However, among the things from that night I’ll never forget was the crowd and the playoff atmosphere in June. At 10 years old, I probably had no business being there, but that was at the point in my childhood where I was coming into my own when it came to understanding and appreciating baseball, and I knew I was part of something pretty special. If you haven’t caught on, most of my trips to Yankee Stadium over the years coincided with the Mets being there, and that Tuesday night in June back in 1997, my first ever exposure to regular season, Mets-Yankees baseball that was anything by regular.

2. July 15th, 2008

Yankee Stadium hosts the All Star Game one final time

Talk about a once in a lifetime opportunity. Yankee Stadium, in the midst of it’s final season, was hosting baseball’s midsummer classic. Not only was this an All Star game being played in my city, but with it being the lats one ever at Yankee Stadium, I figured they were going to be pulling out all the stops. Sure enough, by the end of a very, very long night, not only had I watched the longest game in All Star Game history (the game ended at 1:40 in the morning after 15 innings of baseball, but I was able to enjoy the largest on field collection of Living Hall of Famers including Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. The game itself, while it started slow, had a thrilling conclusion, ending with a walk-off sacrifice fly off the bat of Michael Young. Extra innings saw great escapes, outstanding defensive plays and guys being thrown out at home, and I sat uncomfortably in the left field bleachers all night, enjoying every second of it. I had never sat out in the bleachers before which only added to the uniqueness of the whole experience, and between the game, the hall of fame players and the fact that it was an All Star game- and the last to ever be played at Yankee Stadium- it was a memory nearly impossible to top.

1. October 26th, 1996

A Dynasty is born; I make my first ever visit

The fact that (to the best of my memory) this was the first time I had ever stepped foot in Yankee Stadium, I couldn’t have asked for me.  Game 6 of the 1996 World Series, and not only was I- a 9 year old- going to be there, I was sitting in the lower level down the third base line.  A few points to make.  First of all, at 9 years old, I was a Mets fan but hadn’t developed any hatred whatsoever for the Yankees, which would explain the Wade Boggs jersey and Yankees cap I showed up to the game wearing.  Secondly, the fact that it was my first ever time in Yankee Stadium was secondary to the fact that when I saw Charlie Hayes snag that final foul pop off the bat of Mark Lemke (yea, I remember), I was watching the start of what would be a powerhouse Dynasty in the Bronx, and first real postseason success during their course of 12 consecutive playoff appearances.  It was Joe Torre and Derek Jeter being officially welcomed as ‘true Yankees’.  It was watching Wade Boggs ride around on a police horse, celebrating his first ever taste of championship glory.

In thinking back, I have no idea why I was lucky enough to experience some of these great Yankee moments, especially considering how much I despise the team.

That being said, as a baseball fan, I will always cherish the chance I had to live so close to a place so special, and witness some of the greatest moments in the history of a franchise that, like it or not, stands second to none when it comes to baseball royalty.

And so, as the gates come down for a final time tomorrow night, in a late September game that is unusually irrelevant, Yankee fans and baseball fans will say goodbye to a stadium that was anything but.  And regardless of who you root for, anybody who calls them self a baseball fan- especially in New York- is going to miss baseball’s cathedral, and in that spirit, here’s a confession of mine:

I know I will.

September 20, 2008 Posted by | Sports | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

…with 17 games left to play

9/13/08

The great thing about sports is how often history likes to repeat itself.

Off the top of my head, I think of the countless times the great athletes like Michael Jordan and Tiger woods find ways to overcome adversity and come out victorious.

I think back to 2001, when the Yankees found themselves in the same situation on back to back nights, trailing the Diamondbacks in the ninth inning and hitting two out home runs to help win World Series games.

I recall Adam Vinitiari drilling not one, but two game winning field goals to clinch Super Bowl victories for the Patriots.

And wouldn’t you know it, here in 2008, history has once again poked it’s ugly head up, this time in the case of The New York Mets.

I don’t think anybody can forget their epic collapse last season, which of course is highlighted by the fact they could not capture a division crown, no less a playoff birth, despite having a 7 game lead with 17 games left to play.

The fell harder and faster than a brick off the top of a hundred story building, and sure enough, a full calendar year later, they find themselves with a healthy (although not as hearty) lead in their race for a National League East title, with- you guessed it- 17 games left to play.

They’ve played 145 games to this point, splitting them between a season that has really been the combination of to individual era’s: The end of Willie Randolph’s, and the beginning of Jerry Manuel’s.

Of course you could also argue the Mets really picked things up when their first basemen decided he had been hibernating long enough.

Carlos Delgado has gone from being asked out of town to the talk of it.

His numbers since June 27th are eye-popping, as it was that afternoon he hit two home runs and drove in nine against the Yankees in the first half of a two stadium double dip in the Bronx.

That would be the final game the Mets would ever play at Yankee Stadium, preparing to lower its curtain a month earlier than expected with the Yankees all but dead, and their slugger left it looking an awful lot like the guy they claimed built it.

OK, so Carlos Delgado is no Babe Ruth, but his performance down the stretch has put the Mets in prime position to put the nightmarish end to last season behind both his team and their fans.

These Mets can’t seem to figure out whether or not they are in fact a reincarnated version of last year’s losers. Despite many of the same faces, it’s the fresh ones who seem to provide the most hope in avoiding another dreaded September disaster.

They have a new manager (Manuel) who has a new go-to guy (Johan Santana) in his rotation, which is something the last guy (Randolph) didn’t (no, Tom Glavine fell a bit short).

Ryan Church, Dan Murphy and Luis Ayala have all helped their new team in a variety of ways, however it’s also been the guys who were hear that have been contributing.

Jose Reyes, who seemed to fall in love with popping out for the last month of last season, looks fresh and energized, and has continued his potential MVP pace (that’s right, Delgado isn’t the only guy who should be in that discussion).

Carlos Beltran has been ever so quietly putting up the same consistent numbers he has the last two seasons, and while his home run numbers are down, his batting average is up.

A quick note about Beltran- for all the talk about him being overpaid and out of place in New York, the guy will once again finish the season with over 100 runs scored and 100 RBI, while hitting between 25 and 30 home runs and (at current pace) hitting between .275 and .285. You can debate whether or not that’s worth the contract he signed, but the fact of the matter is he has been playing his best baseball over the last 3 weeks (when the games have counted most) while also continuing to play gold glove defense in center field.

Mike Pelfrey, whose face we saw last year but without the results, has been a savior of sorts with his solid numbers since June, winning 11 games to an ERA of less than 3.00 since.

With 17 games left, the team also has a number of question marks surrounding it.

Their closer, Billy Wagner, underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this week and likely has pitched his final innings as a Met.

David Wright, despite his 4-4 performance the other night, still needs to cut down his swing and go back to driving the ball up the middle and to right field. Doing that successful with runners in scoring position wouldn’t kill him either.

The bullpen? Still a heart attack waiting to happen each and ever night, and can certainly be credited with Manuel’s recent anointment of his team as “Team Tightrope”.

Forget about the velocity issues with Pedro Martinez, right now he needs to remember where the strike zone is if he wants any hope of getting another contract offer from the Mets, as he becomes a free agent at seasons end.

Oliver Perez has been relatively reliable since Randolph’s firing, however another recent meltdown against last place Washington signaled a potential warning for the organization. Perez is also in his contract year, although based on his potential and agent (Scott Boras) he’s likely all but assured an overpriced deal.

The Mets have 17 games left to do what they were unable to last season, which is simply hold on.

They lead the second place Phillies by 4 games in the all important loss column, and wrap up their season playing 13 games against the Marlins, Braves and Nationals, teams a division winning team should beat.

Then again, facing the same teams down the stretch last season, the Mets were unable to take care of business, making unprecedented, unwanted history.

The Mets now look to make sure what happened last season isn’t repeated.

September 13, 2008 Posted by | New York Mets, Sports | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The First Day of the Rest Of My Life: Remembering September 11th, 2001

9/11/08

“Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind”

-Nathaniel Hawthorne

Seven years.

Today marks seven years since that fateful September morning.

I’m not sure why, but seven years later, and for the first time in a number years since that tragic day I’ve been unable to get 9/11 off my mind.

It’s sort of scary how fast time has flown, but at least in my lifetime, and I’m sure this holds true for almost everybody else old enough to appreciate it, September 11th, 2001 will forever be a day nobody forgets.

You’ll never forget where were you when you first heard or saw what had happened.

You’ll never forget any of those heart wrenching images that have been forever etched into our minds.

You’ll never forget the feelings of helplessness and shock, accompanied by devastation and fear.

You’ll never forget the outpouring of spirit and resolve this country showed in the days, weeks and months following.

You’ll never forget the heroism and reaffirmed respect for the everyday people many of us to that point had taken for granted.

No, seven years later, we’ll never forget a day that in one way or another changed us for the rest of our lives.

Following the events that day in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, American citizens were given a collective wake up call, shook to their very cores and foundations, aware, perhaps for the first time, that the freedoms and liberties we’ve always overlooked were being threatened.

Personally, I was only 14, and starting my high school career.

I live in Queens, and I was on my way to school at around 9:30 (late for a city public school, but thanks to 4,500 students, I was on a split schedule which had my first class starting at 9:50).

I bring that up because when the first plane hit Tower 1 at 8:46, I was unknowingly sitting in my living room, watching SportsCenter.

I left about a half hour later to catch the bus, completely unaware of what was going on only miles away from where I live, and prepared for just another day.

I’ll never forget, nor do I think anybody else will, how stunningly perfect the weather was that day.

I can’t remember ever seeing a sky so clearly blue, and I remember pointing out to a friend of mine how gorgeous it happened to be that Tuesday morning.

Waiting for the bus, another friend of mine who was himself just arriving at the bus stop, asked me if I

had heard about what was going on at the World Trade Center, to which I naively replied no.

The bus stop happened to be at the bottom of a hill, the top of which gave (and still gives) anybody a picturesque view of Manhattan’s skyline.

We walked no more than half way up that hill, and looking out, I took what would end up being one final look at the Twin Towers.

Thick, billowing black smoke stained the cloudless sky, and for the first time in my life I was overcome by indescribable emotions.

Without knowing anything more than one of the most symbolic images I had come to know was up in flames, my friends and I got to school, where there was a surprising sense of calm, or perhaps just a widespread unawareness.

Whatever it was didn’t last long, as rumors fly through high school faster than light travels, and I can’t begin to tell you some of the absurd things students were saying.

Teachers had radios on, and there was a heightened sense of panic that began to spread.

I went to my first two classes of the day, the first of which was gym which consisted of nothing more than listening to the radio.  After that was math, and for whatever reason, one of the things about that day that stands out personally was just writing the date on my page.

At that moment, scribbling 9/11/01 on the upper left hand side of my notebook page, it all sort of hit me that what was going on today was going to make this date pretty darn important.

Among the few things about that day I don’t remember was whether or not I took notes that period, although I do remember asking my teacher if he had heard anything new by the time I got there.

After that second class, my best friend Joe and I made one of those in the moment decisions I doubt either of us will ever forget.  At only 14 years old, and in only our very first week in a new school, we agreed there was no way we could stay in school, completely left out in the dark with everything going on.

Both of our fathers worked in Manhattan, and his was a high ranking city government official who ended up being called down to the scene to set up a command post.

(While everybody we knew ended up being ok, we knew many others weren’t as fortunate.)

With the uncertainty on both of our minds, we walked out of school, without telling any teachers or more importantly, getting in touch with our parents, which in hindsight probably was among the dumbest decisions we could have made, especially considering his mother showed up less than an hour after we left to pick up both up.

Regardless, we walked home, and I’m typical, immature high school freshman form, I started cracking jokes, both because of how immature I know I was but also because with everything going on I figured it wouldn’t kill either of us to smile, even for a minute.

Walking from our high school to his house was anything but a short stroll, and under the circumstances that 20 minute walk felt like hours.

By the time we finally got home, only one network television station was coming in, as the antennas on top of the World Trade Center towers was used to send out those signals.

The headline running along the bottom of the screen was short but profound.

“World Trade Center Destroyed”

If you step back for a second and just think about that, seven years later it still gives you chills.

Nobody in their wildest dreams when seeing those buildings- whether it was up close visiting, noticing it from a distance or simply recognizing them as the symbolic columns of freedom they were- could have ever fathomed that in the span of less than 2 hours, they could be taken away from us.

Of course as symbolic as they were, they were merely buildings when putting in perspective the massive loss of life that day.

2,974 deaths which have been accounted for, with 24 names still considered missing (hijackers excluded).  More than 6,000 injured.

Thousands more who knew these people, and millions around the world who, to this day, who had the proverbial “first day of the rest of their lives” start that morning.

In the midst of one of the most historic Presidential campaigns going on- and let me join those, particularly New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg, in saying that neither Barack Obama or John McCain belong at the site today as regardless of how united they may appear (I’ll even be bold enough to say the current President has more of a right to be there than either of them)- this country deserves a day to remind itself how united WE are, and how despite the differences we have, the one thing we have in common is our privilege to call this country our own.

Seven years later, I can’t figure out why this seems to be hitting me harder than it usually does on this anniversary, but for what its worth, I stood proudly for the moment of silence my school had this morning.

I stood there remembering a day when thousands of innocent lives were lost, and millions more changed forever.

I stood there remembering the first day of the rest of my life.

September 11, 2008 Posted by | Personal, Thoughts | , , , | Leave a comment

Mad Dog Put to Sleep: Chris Russo released from WFAN

7/14/08

“AAAAAANNNNNNNDDDDDDD GOOD AFTERNOON EVERYBODY! HOW ARE YOU TODAY?”

The signature opening of the Mike and the Mad Dog radio program, heard everyday between 1 and 6:30 on WFAN in New York City will never be heard again on the stations airwaves as long time afternoon host Chris “Mad Dog” Russo was released from his contract after nearly 20 years of co-hosting one of the most successful radio shows in history.

Living in New York, Mike and the Dog, or as I (along with others) more lovingly refer to them as Fatboy and Fruitloops, spent the last 20 years becoming as big a fixture in New York sports as any of the teams they spoke about.

Their unique combination of ferociousness (Francesa) and lunacy (Russo) captured the ears of New Yorkers and made them households names for any true New York sports fan.

Despite their flaws, which are probably too many to count, they had an indescribable appeal which had listeners (and viewers following their simulcasts on the YES network) tuning in day after day, suffering from what I would best describe as “trainwrecks disease”, as no matter how much one couldn’t stand them, day in day out you found yourself listening to what they had to say, regardless of how much you agreed or disagreed with them.

As one of their fans, going to school outside of the area forced me to see much more of them than I probably ever should have been subjected to, but watching them on YES every day up in Syracuse kept me touch with the sports scene back home, and allowed me to get inside access to athletes, managers and coaches I couldn’t get anywhere else.

It really is the end of an era and sad day here in New York, of course while trying to keep things in perspective- nobody died and both men will certainly continue to live secure lives financially (both pull in well over 7 digits a year), however drives home will never be the same without Dog’s ranting and raving about anything and everything, and Mike’s know-it-all, condescending remarks that drove you crazy yet still left a smile on your face.

While they would have you convinced otherwise, these two guys hardly knew what they were talking about all the time, but their distinctively different personalities are what made the show so addictive, and while you never really knew a whole lot about their personal relationship, hearing them argue with one another only created the sort of on air awkwardness that had you coming back for more.

Over the years, including many before I ever heard of either of them, they had their issues including a time when Mike was away and Russo came on the air and started the show by introducing it as the Mad Dog and Mike show (or something to that effect) which resulted in Francesa calling in and demanding an apology.

The tension always seemed to be there yet was sort of like the big elephant in room, and only recently got to the point of no return, as after nearly 20 years, Mike and the Mad Dog are no more.

Reports say that Mike Francesa has signed a new multi-year deal with WFAN and will host the show solo, while Russo was released from contract under “mutual” terms. There have been rumors that he was seeking a new deal with Sirius satellite radio.

Personally, I can’t think of any aspect of the media more synonymous with sports here in New York than Mike and the Mad Dog, and not having the two of them together anymore is disappointing.

We’ll see if the FAN decides to replace Russo in any capacity, although for the time being it appears as though they wont, leaving Mike without his partner of the last two decades.

And listeners without their favorite dog.

August 15, 2008 Posted by | Sports | , , , , , | Leave a comment