Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Play's The Thing

I rarely use this forum to promote my non-Baseball life, but for those of you who might know me outside of Metsdom, I ply my trade in the Theater business.

I've been known to direct plays here and there and generally I don't like to draw great amounts of attention to myself, but sometimes you fall into a particular situation where it's necessary to do so.

The play, GREAT KILLS, which is written by Tom Diriwachter and directed by me, opens tonight at Theater for the New City in the East Village, Manhattan. It's a bit of a dark comedy with a bit of an "American Buffalo" feel to it, involving three down-on-their-luck men that hatch a get rich quick scheme and what occurs from there. It's a smart, quick-moving 90-minutes of Theater.

I'm fortunate enough to be directing this play with a trio of fine actors, among them the great Emmy Award-winner Joe Pantoliano, whom many of you may know from "The Sopranos" to "The Goonies" to "Memento" and countless movies and plays in between. Joining Joe are Robert Homeyer and Peter Welch, two New York actors of their own renown. Together, we have put together a play that everyone ought to come see and enjoy, whether you're a Mets fan or a Theater fan or both, and with tickets a mere $20, this is Theater that's affordable for everyone.

Though this is mostly off-topic, the play does hold some connection to the Mets. The play makes multiple references to a Mets game being on TV during the course of the play, and there is a surprise cameo from my voice, doing my best bad Gary Cohen impersonation, calling the play-by-play from a fictional Mets/Reds game with Jacob deGrom on the mound. The author, Mr. Diriwachter, is also a Mets fan of long standing, as is Mr. Homeyer, who has been known to sojourn to Citi Field with me on occasion. So maybe this isn't quite as off-topic as it appears.

I'd be remiss after pimping out this show so much if I didn't tell you where, when and how to see it. The play is at Theater for the New City, at 155 1st Avenue, between 9th and 10th Streets in Manhattan. The show runs Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm through April 12th. Tickets are available on (click the link) or by calling SmartTix at 212-868-4444, or the Theater's box office at 212-254-1109. Don't miss out; if I'm pimping out my show like this, it's probably worth seeing.

Monday, March 23, 2015

For Openers

The word, which to me seemed kind of inevitable, that Bartolo Colon had been named the Mets Opening Day starter on April 6th was met with certain furor. After all, Colon was, prior to the Zack Wheeler injury, supposed to be the 5th starter in this loaded rotation, and even as it slots out now, he's still probably the #4. Opening Day is generally reserved for the Ace, and on the Mets, that's Matt Harvey and even if it's not, it's Jacob deGrom. It's not Bartolo Colon. Colon is probably being given this assignment based solely on tenure, if not some odd ploy to pump up ticket sales during the first homestand of the season the following week. The move has been derided as stupid and short-sighted and already Terry Collins is getting blasted for screwing things up and the team hasn't even taken the field yet.

But somehow, I'm OK with the move. It doesn't bother me that Colon will get the ball on April 6th, and it doesn't bother me that deGrom gets the ball in the Home Opener on April 13th, and although I'll probably have to buy tickets if I decide to go, it doesn't bother me that Matt Harvey's return to Citi Field will fall on the following night, April 14th.

Colon is the veteran here, obviously, but he's also the only pitcher on the staff right now that has meritable Opening Day experience (Jon Niese in 2013 notwithstanding—Niese earned that particular nod simply because someone had to and he had the tenure). True, the logical choice is Matt Harvey, who's looked so good so far in Spring Training that his stardom is beginning to rocket into other dimensions. But let's hit the brakes on Harvey for a second. He's more than likely going to have many more Opening Day assignments fall his way and although he, and a majority of Mets fans may not like it, it probably makes more sense to ease him back into things, and not throw him out there on a day where he'll be more amped up than he usually is. Jacob deGrom, coming off a Rookie of the Year campaign, would also be a good choice, but he seems to be more of a sentimental choice than the kind of presence you look for on the mound on Opening Day. This isn't a knock on deGrom at all, but the understated deGrom doesn't posit as quite the Hollywood type that, say, Harvey is. Niese and Dillon Gee have also started Opening Day games for the Mets, but among this group, they really don't quite rate.

So, Colon is the choice, and I really don't think it's a bad thing. Colon, for his age and his general lack of conditioning still managed to lead the Mets in wins last season and basically performed as well as we could have hoped for in 2014, and there's no good reason to think he won't duplicate his performance in '15. I don't think we need to vilify Collins or Alderson for the move as much as people are doing. Perhaps this is me drinking a little too much of the Met Management Kool-Aid, but after so many losing seasons, I have to believe in the plan they're feeding us. Part of the team being exciting again is getting the asses in the seats by any means necessary. It's not quite as crazy as it sounds.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Aw, Geez

Injuries, particularly devastating ones to the elbows of pitchers, seem to have become as much as part of Baseball as, say, the Designated Hitter. Nobody likes it, it causes divisive amounts of controversy and there's no good solution to stop it. The Mets have had plenty of their own pitchers shelved due to major elbow injuries that required the Big Boy Surgery over the past couple of years and now they've been hit twice more in the past couple of days. Josh Edgin was diagnosed with a ligament injury apparently caused by a bone chip that was cutting into the ligament and after a second opinion decided to go under the knife. That was bad enough. More disheartening to the Mets chances this season was the news this morning that Zack Wheeler had been diagnosed with a torn ligament in his elbow and would need his own operation.

Word later in the day revealed that Wheeler's elbow had been of concern to doctors, but that a major injury didn't appear imminent. It just required "monitoring." These kind of situations, however, tend to not end well, and that being said, perhaps it's not totally surprising that this is the end result for Wheeler. That doesn't make it a positive by any stretch of the imagination, and in fact for a team and a fan base that's constantly had to deal with injury after injury and disappointment after disappointment it's downright disheartening.

But in the big picture, it's not the end of the world.

When Matt Harvey went down with the same injury in August of 2013, that was really bad. Harvey had emerged among the Best pitchers in Baseball over the course of his brief career, and he was expected to lead the charge when the Mets eventually returned to prominence. His injury for all intents and purposes put things on hold for the team and basically threw the fan base off a collective cliff. Zack Wheeler's emergence helped to lessen the sting of losing Harvey in 2014, but ultimately his strong finish to the season didn't immediately turn the Mets into contenders. Wheeler's larger problem among fans seems to be basically that he's not Matt Harvey and he didn't come up and produce the same results. Wheeler in 2014 had a good season but pitched like a young pitcher who was still trying to figure it out. There were moments where he looked very good, but also moments that he was pretty bad and the goal for this season was more of the former and less of the latter. Matt Harvey came up looking like such a finished product that it was easy to project the same hype onto Wheeler. Not the same kind of pitcher, not the same kind of results.

Point here is that the loss of Wheeler is frustrating and annoying and a sizable chunk of the Mets fan base is probably yelling about "AW THERE GOES ANOTHER SEASON (these are the same people who think they can force the Wilpons to sell the team and continue to harp on how the Mets need to fire Terry Collins and hire Wally Backman tomorrow)," but in the grand scheme of things, starting pitching is the one area where the Mets could absorb a major injury. Wheeler's gone for 2015, and that sucks. Fortuitously, the Mets have a major league quality starting pitcher who can slide right in and take his place in Dillon Gee. Imagine that. For once, the Mets actually have a contingency plan! Sandy Alderson hasn't hit on everything, but the non-move of dealing away Gee or Jon Niese showed a good bit of temperance on his part. Gee won't be Wheeler but in this rotation he doesn't have to be. Gee just has to be Gee, and in certain periods of his career he's pitched rather well. He'll get the first crack at holding down this spot in the rotation, but if it doesn't work out, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz are also primed to move up the ladder this year.

So, don't panic just yet. If anything, the Edgin injury is more difficult for the Mets because they don't have another lefty reliever to replace him, or at least not one with any kind of Major League experience. But on the other hand, relief pitchers are like elbow injuries. Annoying and unpredictable.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Fare Thee Well

Rumblings on Monday led to a pair of painful announcements relating to the 49ers this afternoon, breaking up the general monotony of Spring Training baseball where no news tends to be good news. One item was expected. The other, a shocker that's kind of left everyone feeling numb.

The surprise retirement of Patrick Willis came mostly out of nowhere. Willis, the unquestioned leader of a defense that has been among the NFL's best the past 4 seasons, hadn't given much in the way of indication that he wouldn't be back from the toe injury that shelved him for a majority of the 2014 season. But as a sign that you can never really know what's in the head of an athlete, Willis instead announced today that he planned to retire to pursue a more philanthropic career. It's noble, and certainly speaks to the character Willis displayed throughout his career, but that doesn't make it any less shocking.

Willis' career has been nothing but one accolade on top of another. Drafted by the 49ers in the 1st round in 2007, Willis was the Defensive Rookie of the Year, a first-team All Pro multiple times and voted to the Pro Bowl every year of his 8 year career except this past season. Willis was a leader in every sense; not so much that he set an example for his teammates both on and off the field, but for the fact that he made everyone around him better. NaVorro Bowman, who from everything I can gather like a little brother to Willis, was hardly heralded as a prospect when he entered the league in 2010, but after playing next to Willis became a force just as strong and together, the tandem helped the 49ers become great again. Bowman will be back, though nobody knows just how strong he will be after his knee injury now over a year ago, and certainly everyone had to think Willis would be there alongside him. But he won't.

Whether it was the wear and tear of playing at the level of ferocity he usually displayed or a religious awakening that became so prevalent across his social media pages, Willis decided now was the time for him to move on. It seems shocking and premature but the best way to look at it is to reflect on the 8 seasons he played and remember what a force he was.

Less surprising, but not less upsetting was the word that Frank Gore was also departing the 49ers after 10 sterling seasons as the team's Running Back. Gore, a Free Agent, wanted to be back and the 49ers certainly indicated they wanted to have him back at the end of the season, but the way things unfolded that seemed to dissolve, because I'm not sure the 49ers ever made him an offer. Over the weekend, it seemed like the hot word was that Gore was headed to the Eagles, but he ended up shunning Philly for an offer from the Indianapolis Colts.

With Gore, the answer of whether to bring him back or not seemed less cut and dry. Gore's 32-year old legs covered a lot of ground over his 10 seasons and at times he certainly didn't have the same juice he did when he was younger. But just when you figured he was through, he'd come out and rip off a 120+ yard game and score 2 Touchdowns and you'd remember that he was still the same Frank Gore who was always going to get the job done. Gore, the 49ers all-time leading rusher and a 5-time Pro Bowler, always ran tough and angry, but accomplished his job humbly, so much so that sometimes it was easy to overlook him. But he was always there in the end to grind out tough yards when the 49ers needed it most.

Most importantly, Gore and Willis were the two key cogs on the 49ers through the latter half of the dark era of 49ers football in the mid to late 00s that toiled through a lot of lean years before finally getting a taste of success in the past few seasons. When the 49ers re-emerged in the Jim Harbaugh era, it was Gore and Willis who stood front and center as the team's leaders and nobody questioned that. These were two players that clearly appreciated every ounce of the winning they got to experience. But as Harbaugh has departed, and now Gore and Willis have left as well, it seems that the window on this era has closed for the 49ers. The 49ers do have the depth and pieces on their roster now to replace these large holes, but will they? It's not the time now to focus on how or why this has happened here, or to start knocking owner Jed York, or whatever. For now, you tip your cap to Patrick Willis and Frank Gore, a pair of great players who always made me proud to root for the 49ers.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Back Where He Belongs

I had, for some reason, blindly assumed that the Mets first Spring Training game of 2015 was today, against the Tigers in Port St. Lucie, and that the Mets had decided to give Matt Harvey the ball to mark the occasion. Turns out I was totally off, because the Mets first game was actually on Wednesday and whether or not it was on TV, I yakked on it completely. I don't know if they won, I don't even know who pitched. Not that it matters, especially. Spring Training games are only useful if you want to see some veteran guys assured of a roster spot half-ass it for a few innings, and then a bunch of young kids looking to make a good impression hit the field in the late innings and play like tigers (not Detroit Tigers, actual Tigers). Turns out that Friday was a first game of sorts, but only because it was the Mets first Home Game of Spring Training, and also the first game of the Spring to be shown on TV.

Then, there's the case of Matt Harvey, who finally took the mound in some kind of a game situation against live hitters that were up there to hit the ball and played for a team that isn't the Mets. I went so far as to DVR the game from 1pm until 2pm, because all I was really interested in was seeing Harvey. Sure, there was a rest of a game to be played, and the Mets ended up winning courtesy of a Matt Reynolds walkoff Home Run, but nobody was tuning in for Matt Reynolds. Even Noah Syndergaard, fresh off his lunch break, was relegated to the undercard. Harvey was the story, and he'll be the story all Spring as he hit the mound for the first time since August of 2013. It seems like so much has happened since then, but the short of it is that Harvey can basically be treated as though he were a Free Agent acquisition, because he's now being added to a loaded pitching staff that fared reasonably well in his absence in 2014.

If Harvey had any lingering ill effects from the Big Boy Surgery he had back in October of 2013, he didn't display them this afternoon, as his two innings of work went off about as well as you could hope for: 2 innings, no hits, no walks, 3 strikeouts, 25 pitches, 16 strikes and touching 99 on the radar gun. The effort was so good, it gave the impression that he'd never left, never been injured.

It's always tough to tell how a pitcher will respond to the Big Boy Surgery, which is why it's so nerve wracking to see it happen to a star player like Harvey. Most pitchers seem to recover just fine and end up back at the level they were before getting injured (see Wainwright, Adam; Smoltz, John; deGrom, Jacob). The fear, as I've said many times, is that the pitcher ends up turning into another coming of Bill Pulsipher, and we as Mets fans are once again left holding our jocks while other teams laugh at us. I know it's one game, and it's a Spring Training game no less, but to see Harvey go out there and look like he was all the way back from this can only be viewed as highly encouraging, and I'm as cynical as any Mets fan can get.