Friday, February 27, 2009

The All-Ballclub Team, 2009 Edition

It's time once again to dust off the record books and name the All-Ballclub team for 2009. Each of the past two years, we've named a team of 40 players that we feel best represent The Ballclub, and the kind of Ballplayers we stand for. As always, the disclaimer is that it's not the 40 players we feel are the best in Baseball. Lists like that are boring (and besides that, they're facist). Some of them may not necessarily be good Ballplayers in general. But they have a necessary mix of talent, style, substance, swagger, heart and other intangibles, plus a certain Joie de Vivre for the game that makes them stand out to me, thus, they are worthy of the All-Ballclub Team.
For 2008, the Most Ballclub Player was Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers. The Most Ballclub Pitcher was, quite obviously, Johan Santana.

Here, I present the 2009 All-Ballclub Team, in alphabetical order:
  1. Mike Aviles*
  2. Carlos Beltran***
  3. Endy Chavez***
  4. Joba Chamberlain**
  5. Carl Crawford**
  6. John Danks*
  7. Jermaine Dye***
  8. Yunel Escobar**
  9. Matt Garza*
  10. Curtis Granderson**
  11. Ken Griffey, Jr.**
  12. Cole Hamels**
  13. Josh Hamilton**
  14. Matt Holliday**
  15. Ryan Howard***
  16. Torii Hunter***
  17. Clayton Kershaw*
  18. Tim Lincecum**
  19. Francisco Liriano***
  20. John Maine**
  21. Nick Markakis**
  22. Joe Mauer***
  23. David Ortiz***
  24. Jonathan Papelbon***
  25. Hunter Pence**
  26. Mike Pelfrey*
  27. David Price*
  28. Alexei Ramirez*
  29. Hanley Ramirez**
  30. Jose Reyes***
  31. Mariano Rivera***
  32. C.C. Sabathia***
  33. Jeff Samardzija*
  34. Johan Santana***
  35. Alfonso Soriano***
  36. Denard Span*
  37. Ian Stewart*
  38. Ichiro Suzuki***
  39. David Wright***
  40. Kevin Youkilis*
    Emeritus in Moustachness: Sal Fasano.
Note: Stars indicate the number of times this player has been named to the All-Ballclub Team.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Second Chances?

This is #2 of 5 Key Mets Players for the 2009 season.
Luis Castillo came to the Mets in what was more or less a no-brainer deadline deal in 2007. Down the stretch, Castillo took over at second base, a position that had been a problem for the Mets to fill most of the year. He played tolerably well, hitting .296 and scoring 37 runs in 50 games with the team, which is about what you'd expect of Luis Castillo. He'd made a name for himself for many years with the Florida Marlins doing just that: Getting on base, getting in the way and being a pain in the ass. Though he didn't possess the speed he once did (62 SB in 2000 was his career high), he was still farily fleet afoot, and with his Free Agency coming up, it seemed more or less a given that the Mets would resign him, probably for a couple of seasons.

We didn't expect an asinine 4-year, $25 million contract that not only tied him up, it made him virtually untradeable.

We also didn't expect Castillo to show up undermotivated and out of shape in 2008, which resulted in a thoroughly embarrassing performance, hitting .245 in 87 games, scoring only 46 runs and managing only 11 extra base hits for the season. Yes, Castillo missed wholesale time during July and August. But when he returned in September, and found himself battling for playing time among the likes of Argenis Reyes, Damion Easley and Ramon Martinez, Castillo responded by going a robust 4-for-36 for the month of September. Booed regularly, Castillo had fallen out of favor rather quickly with the fans, and just as quickly with his manger. By the season's final week, Manuel's plan for Second Base appeared to be "Anybody But Castillo." With Reyes overmatched and Easley hurt, Manuel turned to castoff Ramon Martinez several times during the season's waning moments. In the end, it wasn't enough. Though Martinez contributed far more than expected, a healthy and motivated Castillo might have made the difference.

After the season, I called Castillo a "No Fun Cliff Floyd with no power." I'll stick with that statement until Castillo proves to me different. After an offseason filled with rumors that he would be cut, and attempts to deal him were futily attempted, the Mets decided to suck it up and bring Castillo back. These efforts weren't lost on Castillo himself; he came to camp this season and said he was embarrassed by his performance last year. He virtually begged Minaya for a second chance, and apparently made a concerted effort to show up in good shape and ready to play. Now 17 pounds lighter, and free of pain in his knees, Castillo, if you believe what you've been reading about him, appears ready to erase the memories of 2008.

But is it believeable?

Castillo has a lot to do to convince everyone that what happened in 2008 was an aberration, and not the path his career is heading. He has always been a high OBA, low SLG player, a slap hitter who uses his speed to get things done. He'd hit leadoff for a number of seasons in Florida, before 2003 when, hitting behind Juan Pierre most of the season, the Marlins won the World Series. You would think that, hitting behind Jose Reyes, Castillo would do many of the similar things, such as taking pitches, letting Reyes steal bases, or laying down a bunt, or slapping the ball to the right side and moving Reyes over, or getting some hits of his own and driving Reyes in.

The hot talk, of course, has been Manuel's plot to have Castillo himself hit leadoff, with Reyes moving to the #3 spot in the lineup. It's not the craziest idea in the world, and I'd suspect Manuel will try it more than once, at least during exhibition games. It's my thought that this is more of a motivational tactic that Manuel is using to kick Reyes in the ass a little bit. This move would work, but two things need to happen: 1) Reyes needs to basically become Keith Hernandez as a hitter (IE a #3 hitter needs to level his swing, hit line drives, and produce a high batting average and a lot of RBIs, not HRs and fly balls, something Reyes may not yet be capable of doing on a consistent basis) and 2) Castillo needs to prove that he's for real, and he's back to being the Castillo of old, that is, drawing walks and stealing bases, something he really hasn't done a lot of since 2004 or so.
More than likely, Castillo deserves to begin the season hitting 8th, with Daniel Murphy most likely hitting 2nd. Castillo would really have to prove himself to earn back the #2 spot, but then again, who am I to say? It would be nice to say that Castillo can rebound, hit about .280 with an OBA of .370 or so, and maybe hit more than 7 doubles for the season. It would be nice to think that he'll play 140+ games this season and be a steady figure on the team. It would be nice to see Castillo win back the fans, who will undoubtedly be on him like vultures from the moment he steps out of the Dugout on Opening Day. But he's got a lot to prove. Bill Price of the Daily News has already installed a daily "Castill-O-Meter," tracking his daily Batting Average. Nobody seems to be convinced that he's up to the task.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Who's Drinking?!

Shea Stadium, our dearly departed former home, was pretty far from desirable when it came to the quality and variety of available food offerings. I don't think I'll find too much argument there. We always had a readily available assortment of the standard fare, Hot Dogs, Pretzels, Beer, etc. But there was nothing particularly special about anything. And it was generally not worth what you paid for it. In the late 80s, or at least this was when I noticed it, things started to get jazzed up a little bit. They opened a quaint little food-courty type place in the Right Field corner in the Field Level called the "Fielder's Choice," where you could get more or less the same stuff, I believe. In my younger days, I always opted for the chicken tenders. The Fielder's Choice caught on, and before too long, they popped up in the Mezzanine and Upper Decks.

In the 90s, Aramark took over the concession from Harry M. Stevens (I'm more or less going from memory now, so correct me if I'm wrong) more and more specialty food stands started to pop up, and the Fielder's Choices had wholesale makeovers, with new names like "Midtown Express," and "Grand Central Grille." But they more or less had the same stuff they always did. Then, there were some satellite stands that had ice cream, or beer and pretzels. In the early 2000s, an odd, rather tasty smell began wafting through the stands, when they started putting Italian Sausage stands in various locations. I tried one once, in 2001. I was immediately hooked. It was substantial, it was good, and it was, by Shea standards, reasonably priced. And thusly, the Sausage & Peppers became my Shea Stadium food of choice.

But through these years, I was going to quite a few games, generally within the neighborhood of 15-20 a season. Sometimes, I didn't always feel like the Sausage & Peppers. So, I began to explore the other available options. The standard Hot Dog had gone through its own metamorphosis, from Kahn's to Nathan's, and if you found the right stand, was even available in a footlong variety (see above). At some point, they even started throwing a free bag of chips in there, too. There was also the old standby, the Chicken Tenders, which now came plopped on top of a small stack of soggy French Fries. They were cardboardy, heartburn-inducing goodness. There was pizza around, however after trying it once and finding the box it came in to taste better, I wasn't going there again. The Bubba Burgers that appeard in 2006 were nice, but unsubstantial. I felt limited. Were there other, palatable options? I meandered around the Field Level a few times in 2007 and 2008 and found that the original Fielder's Choice had turned into a veritable strip mall of chains and inscrutable local establishments. The BB Sandwich Bar had an interesting Cheesesteak-like sandwich (Upon mentioning this to my infamous co-worker, he replied, "Cheesy Steak? Who the hell eats that at a ballgame?!"), but it was basically an over glorified Roast Beef Sandwich, hardly worth going out of my way for. I wasn't about to frequent Dunkin' Donuts for dinner either. There was also a Subway there, which I could only make fun of, because it was overpriced and unnecessary. And if I ever wanted to go to Subway, I would have gone to one of the many real ones in Manhattan, gotten a reasonably-priced sandwich and eaten it on the train out to the stadium. There was also the Glatt Kosher stand, which I never went to because I'm clearly a bad Jew. In the Mezzanine, there appeared, in 2008, a stand called Mama's of Corona. I'd never heard of it. They had a stack of boxes, but no picture or description of what was inside. It was the Mystery box. El Guapo and I wondered about it for several weeks, before I finally took a moment to walk over and read the menu. Turns out they were specialty sandwiches. I believe there was a Turkey Club, and something called the "Mama's Special." $9 specialty sandwiches, that they didn't show you before you bought them. I decided to pass.

So, what's the point of all this? Well, with Citi Field opening, there was the promise of some newer, higher-quality, recognizable food coming in. The concession deal with Aramark remained, and one can only assume that many of these options will still be available (I'll be sorely disappointed if I can't get the Sausage & Peppers in the Promenade level). But who cares about that? An article in Friday's Daily News gives a blow-by-blow account of the new assortment of culinary choices available at Citi Field. I guess, at Shea, the only really high-end anything as far as food was concerned was the Diamond Club. I never set foot in the place. I'd venture the guess that I probably won't see a number of the new places at Citi Field, either.

First, there's the Shake Shack. This isn't anything resembling high-end, I don't think, though I have to admit that I've never set foot in a Shake Shack, nor have I been to the original stand in Madison Square. El Guapo raves up and down about it, so I guess it's probably good.

Next, Box Frites. This place serves Belgian-cut french fries. Because when I think of great Ballpark Food, I think of Belgian-cut french fries.

The Verano Taqueria, much more acceptable than if they'd decided to plop a Taco Bell in Center Field.

The Wheelhouse Market purports to have "classic, artesianal comfort foods," which sounds to me like an overglorified diner.

Then, there's the Delta Sky 360 Club, the Acela, and the Blue Smoke, in case you have the urge to sit and have a gourmet 3-course meal while watching the Mets. Apparently you can only get into the Acela if you have a reservation. Well, la dee da! I wonder what the menu at that place must look like.

But the real kicker is Zachys, a Wine Bar. I'd love to see what happens when the Sack 'O Nuts crowd gets tanked after too many glasses of Merlot.

Many of these new stadiums tend to have a hearty sampling of local food, such as the Sushi stand in Seattle or the Crabcake stand in Baltimore. I know there's something in San Francisco too, but whatever it was has slipped my mind at the current time. What appears to be lacking here is that the Mets seem to have gone for a lot of glitz and glamour, and some big-name restaurateurs when it came to putting together the Citi Field Menu, but it lacks New York flavor. I know a good Corned Beef or Pastrami sandwich isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you're at a ballgame, but wouldn't a 2nd Avenue Deli stand work here? How about a Junior's Cheesecake stand? How about finding someone who can turn out a decent Pizza, rather than that Sbarro crap they've been passing off as food? And the Wine bar is just plain bewildering.

One thing's for sure. If you're going to go to a game at Citi Field, you won't go hungry. But at what cost?

Slate of Amazin' Eats on Citi Field's Home Plate
[Daily News]

Thursday, February 19, 2009

So It Continues...

I'm starting to think I've been through this before.

Problem is, whenever a Mets player has opened their mouth and proclaimed them the "Team to Beat" in the NL East, it hasn't exactly ended up so well for the Mets. I'd feel a little better if the Mets kept their mouths shut and did their talking on the field.

Then again, given that their main opponent, the Phillies, seems to have developed an obsessive and rather unprofessional hatred of the Mets, maybe it's just a little tough to ignore them. Maybe, perhaps, Carlos Beltran feels it better to needle them, just to make them think about the Mets a little bit more than they should.

The people doing the talking on the Philly side seem to be the usual suspects. First, it was Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins taking ample opportunity to trash the Mets at their own World Series Celebration, which I thought rather odd, why worry about the Mets when you just won the World Series?

It continued in December, when Cole Hamels, who was goaded and took the bait, called the Mets "Choke Artists" on Joe Benigno's radio show on WFAN. Again, I thought this rather odd, considering that, although the Phillies won the World Series, and Hamels was the World Series MVP and put himself into the National Spotlight as a Big Game Pitcher, the one team he struggled with more than anyone else in 2008 was, in fact, the Mets, to a tune of an 0-2 record and an ERA of 6, replete with a pair of HRs by Carlos Delgado that may still be going.

It would be preferable, I'm sure, to me and to most Mets fans, if we just kept quiet, because the Phillies seem to be doing a good enough job of making themselves look like a bunch of insecure, sore winners. Francisco Rodriguez is new here, and new to the rivalry, and I suppose he just wants to fit in a little better when he starts opening his mouth and making predictions. Predictions are cheap, and in all reality, they should be left to the writers and the bloggers to make. Even Jimmy Rollins himself, the guy who started this mess, seems to be out of the predicting business.

And all this is to say nothing of the warring factions of fans, who continue to seem intent to take over each other's stadiums, though this appears to have always been a one-sided battle that the Mets fans usually win. Particularly with Citi Field opening, 12,000 fewer seats, and far fewer opportunities to get tickets.

But it took Jose Reyes to say the one thing we've all been thinking all winter long. It took him one day in camp, and one conversation with a reporter, but Jose pretty much said what we've all been thinking. I certainly hope all his teammates are in agreement with him.

We don’t worry about Philly. I don’t know why they worry so much about the New York Mets. They can talk about whatever they want to, because we worry about us. They are the one to win the World Series, not us, and we don’t say nothing about them. We just say congratulations to the Phillies. We focus on them when we play them, but they always seem like they’re talking something about us, and I don’t know why.

I'm not so sure, either. It's even worse dealing with their fans, who seem to come off like an even more insecure version of Yankee fans. Tell them their concern with the Mets is insecurity, and they say something like, "SHUT UP! YOU SUCK! WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME THE METS WON THE WORLD SERIES!?"

It's a common retort to the Mets fan. We're used to it by now.

At any rate, Jose continued by talking about the Phillies' criticism of his Home Run celebrations:

I heard that. I don’t know why they say that, because I’m not the only one pimpin’ when I hit a home run. A lot of people do that. People from Philadelphia, too. They stand for a couple of seconds at home plate and nobody say nothing. So like I said, I don’t know why they’re so focused on us. We just worry about us.
I find it rather ironic that they would complain about Reyes jumping around and pumping his fist and doing some goofy handshake with Carlos Delgado, while their own guy, Little Shit Victorino, does everything short of run around with a flag whenever he gets a hit.

It's a recycled comment, but these 18 games are, once again, going to be very interesting, and very difficult to sit through. I'm looking forward to it.

I think...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Final Tip of the Cap

This was my final glimpse of Shea Stadium, as I left on September 28th, 2008. I, like others, did not return to the Shea site after that date. I did, however, diligently follow the destruction of Shea, piece by piece, through sites like, and the work of people like citi_field on Webshots. But I never went in person. Even in the years that they weren't tearing down Shea, I preferred not to go out there between October and April. I preferred to remember Shea as it was when I was going there with purpose, not just passing through on my way to someplace else. In other words, I prefer to remember Shea as it was on a night like this:
(Photo from October 12, 2006)

as opposed to today, February 18th, 2009, where, in a rather ignominius bit of symmetry, Shea finally fell to the ground on my 30th Birthday.

I have, previously, said my peace on Shea, and I know my feelings are echoed by multitudes of Mets fans around me. It's gone now. But it's never dead.

Just look here.

Or here.

Or here.

Or here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Church of Sporadic Offense

This is #1 of 5 Key Mets Players for the 2009 season.

The last man ever to swing a bat in Shea Stadium was Ryan Church.

If things had broken a little better for him during the '08 season, perhaps that final swing could have taken place under vastly different circumstances.

If the 2008 season for the Mets could be best described as long, frustrating and ultimately unfulfilling, perhaps nobody exemplified this more than Ryan Church.

After arriving in New York in a rather controversial trade, Church certainly had a number of questions surrounding him. Could he hit lefties? Could he hit for power and drive in runs on a consistent basis? Would he be able to hold down the bottom third of a batting order that stood to peck and scrape for runs?

At the outset, the answer to all of those questions turned out to be a resounding YES! While the rest of the team seemed to be in their own fog, Church broke from the gate and played like he really had something to prove. Over the first two months of the season, nobody was playing better than Church. He kick started it off with a rally-extending single on Opening Day, and only went up from there, finishing April with a .316 BA and 19 RBIs. His defense in Right Field was more than solid as well, as he chipped in with a strong arm and great range to complement Beltran in Center. May started, and Church continued to swing a hot bat. His power numbers picked up, and by May 20th, Church had a robust 9 HRs and 32 RBIs for a team that wasn't scoring much.

Then, came the nightcap of a miserable May 20th Doubleheader.
Trying to break up what would be a game-ending Double Play, Church's high slide led him straight into the knee of a leaping Yunel Escobar. The resulting collision was brutal, ugly and ultimately short-circuited Ryan Church's entire season.

Whether or not the Mets Medical staff botched the handling of Church's second concussion in three months is academic. Church should have been sent back to New York and immediately put on the Disabled List until his head was clear. But, instead, Church played on. But it was clear that he wasn't right. After about a week's worth of Pinch-Hitting appearances, Church was back in the starting lineup on June 1st. He responded with a fine game, even hitting a HR off Hiroki Kuroda.

Church would go 0 for his next 10 before being placed on the Disabled List for the next few weeks. He wouldn't appear again until June 29th. Clearly, something was very wrong. Again, Church claimed he felt good, and he certainly looked good, picking up a pair of hits in a victory over the Yankees. When he continued to play well the following week, we again thought Church was back. But on July 5th, he left the game against the Phillies in the 8th inning with Dizzy spells.

He would not play again until August 22nd. For June, July and August, he played a grand total of 20 games.

When he returned, he played his heart out, and the fans knew it and appreciated it. But he hit .195 for August and September, and clearly killed the Mets in a number of spots. Instead of being a bottom of the order run producer, Church instead deepened the Black Hole at the end of the lineup. His hits counted, including a Grand Slam in Milwaukee, and a pair of clutch hits (and an even more clutch slide) in the frenetic September 25th game vs. Chicago. It was clear that he couldn't be counted on, and he probably wasn't playing at 100%, and yet Jerry Manuel continued to run him out there day after day, until that final afternoon, when he embarrassingly struck out in his first 3 at bats before making that final swing and lofting that final fly ball out to Center Field.

After the season, there were revelations that he hated New York and wanted to be traded, though the prevailing thought was that this was little more than a Mike Francesa Creation, and Church and his wife were happy, and moved with the fans response to Church, particularly after he returned from the DL. Whether this is true or not, Church is back, and for better or worse will be the starting Right Fielder on Opening Day.

[Note: Some further research revealed Francesa's comments to be totally False. Church sounded off on this in an article here, and was further corroborated here.]

The question is, what, exactly, do we have in Ryan Church? His career norms don't jump off the page at you, and his 2008 season all told didn't vary from those numbers at all. The 43 doubles he hit in 2007 while playing in cavernous RFK Stadium were a good indicator of his gap power, and Church certainly displayed that when he was going good, though he didn't come close to 43 doubles for the '08 season.
It's clear that Church certainly has the capability to play well for a good streak of time. I don't think his hot start was an aberration. But it's unclear as to whether or not he can keep that sort of a streak going over the course of a full season, and end up hitting .290 or .300 with 20 HRs and 80 RBIs. These are the kind of numbers that the Mets are probably going to need out of Church if they expect to challenge for the NL East. Given that it's going to be the same cast of characters playing out there for the Mets in 2009, and given that the Mets didn't bring in a righty bat to platoon with Church if he begins to falter against lefty pitching, it is incumbent upon Church to show that his concussion battles are behind him, and that the hot start he got off to in 2008 was no fluke.

After the season, I wrote that teams were pitching around Delgado and Beltran to pitch to Church, and Church was justifying the move every single time. If Church hits, and hits well, it means that Beltran and Delgado get better pitches to hit in front of him, it means guys like Daniel Murphy don't have quite as much pressure on them to get that big hit, and it means that the Mets lineup looks a lot better from top to bottom.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine Day (Revisited)!

It's a little known fact that Bobby Valentine invented, or at least claims to have invented the Wrap Sandwich at his Stamford, CT restaurant. This video, found here, features our own beloved Bobby V talking about his discovery. As always, on Valentine's day, it's only proper to tip our cap to the only Valentine the Mets fan really needs.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Inside the Mind of the Mets Fan

In celebration of Pitchers and Catchers reporting to Spring Training today, I offer you some of the Mets-related thoughts that have popped through my mind since the end of the 2008 season.

  • Citi Field will be a beautiful ballpark, won't it?
  • Sheets? Wolf? Ollie?
  • Why couldn't Wright have swung at the 2-0 pitch?
  • Cole Hamels was 0-2 with a 6 ERA against the Mets last season.
  • What is the music they played at Shea when Carlos Delgado hit a Home Run?
  • Between A-Rod and the Torre book, I wonder if the New York Media will even bother showing up to Mets camp?
  • Jose...JoseJoseJose...
  • I really love Carlos Beltran.
  • Gawd, that last day at Shea was depressing.
  • Manny.
  • I know that it's illegal to implode a building in NYC, and that they probably couldn't blow up Shea because of how close it was to Citi Field, but if they had planned to blow it up, Fred Wilpon would have probably charged fans $50 a head to watch.
  • I should have gone home as soon as Spiezio hit the triple.
  • Jose...JoseJoseJose...
  • As bad as the Wilpons may appear, it could be worse. The Mets could be owned by a guy who called the players greedy while standing on his $4 million yacht and outbid himself for Alex Rodriguez by about $75 million. Ladies and Gentlemen, Tom Hicks!
  • Since it's probably safe to assume that a large chunk of Major Leaguers were on steroids throughout the 90s and early on this decade, and the playing field was hopelessly skewed, wouldn't it somehow even out in the grand scheme of things? Moreover, why do people care about this so much? Why is the media so consumed by this?
  • Jose...JoseJoseJose...
  • I'm not worried about Mike Pelfrey hitting a wall.
  • I'm worried every time the door to the Mets bullpen swings open. We probably all have PTSD.
  • I plonked down $355 for a Weekday plan, and, quite honestly, I'm not ashamed I did it. I never quite understood these indignant people who scream about how they're "never going to another game again!" for one reason or another. These protests don't work. Someone else will always buy the tickets.
  • The more I think about it, the more I truly have no clue what to expect out of Daniel Murphy.
  • Jose...JoseJoseJose...
  • Freddy Garcia. I must have drafted him every year from 2000 to 2004 in Fantasy. Him and Javier Vazquez.
  • I wonder if I'll be able to see car fires in the parking lot from my new seats?
  • Jose...JoseJoseJose...Jose...Jose...

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Happy Ballclub Day!

Today is The Ballclub's second birthday. As always, we would like to step back from the state of our team for a moment and Thank everyone who has stopped by here for a read, or a kind word, and everyone who has befriended us on Facebook and MySpace.

The second season for The Ballclub was difficult, and that's being kind. For myself, and for just about all of my Blogging Bretheren, the 2008 season became less about the games themselves, and more about the sanity of an entire fan base. There were enjoyable moments, and there were certainly great games. But as a whole, there wasn't much relaxation. In many ways, I think many of us expected things to end the way they did. That didn't make it any easier when it happened, but if nothing else, this particular team had conditioned us to expect the absolute gut-wrenching worst, no matter how much we were led to believe otherwise. Much of the same team is expected to return for the 2009 season, the same old team in a brand new ballpark.

It may seem like a recycled comment, but maybe the third year of The Ballclub will be the charm.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

As We Return...

And thusly, though the scenery may change, things remain the same with the Mets.

The re-signing of Oliver Perez probably signals a few different things.

1) The Mets are more or less sated with the starting pitchers they will bring to the table this season.

2) Given the injury history of Ben Sheets and the age & injury history of Randy Wolf, Perez, at 27 and without any major injury problems, was probably the best option.

3) There is a secret hope that Oliver Perez will somehow turn into the 2007 Oliver Perez every time out.

4) Whatever is left to do with the 2009 Mets, will happen to the offense.

It's not the time, right now, to continue to harp on Manny Ramirez, though rest assured I will probably continue to do so at some point in the near future. But if the Mets are done with Free Agents and trades, then they look to be content to return to the table with what amounts to mostly the same team, plus a few better relief pitchers. The starting rotation, from 1 to 4, is exactly the same. But it will continue to elicit questions about how many innings they will be able to eat. We know what Santana can do, and even off knee surgery, I think we'd all be hard-pressed to find a tangible reason that he wouldn't be as good as last season. Mike Pelfrey made The Leap last season, now it's up to him to continue forward. But if you buy into the whole innings count argument, he may not. But I'm not so concerned. It's not like Pelfrey is a slight kid with a violent delivery home. Pelfrey is a 6'7" horse with a fluid move to the plate. I'm not so concerned. Or at least, not so concerned about him as I am about 3 and 4, John Maine and Oliver Perez. I think Maine will bounce back from the bone spur problem, that's one thing. But as Jason at Faith and Fear calls it, Maine has a major case of "Leiteritis," that is, inability to put away batters with 2 strikes.

Then, there's Ollie.

Not much needs to be said.

Basically, this could be another taxing season for the bullpen if the starters can't solve their own questions. It's not something that inspires a lot of confidence in the Mets fan. Particularly if, on the other side of the ball, the offense is going to peck and scrape and claw inconsistently throughout the season. This team as it stands won't get picked by anyone to win anything. I think it's silly for Omar & the Boy-King to stand pat when everyone around him seems to know this. There's no confidence for the Mets fan right now. If these guys want us to be a little more confident, I think the answer is abundantly clear.

His name is Manny Ramirez.

(OK, so I mentioned him. It's all going to come back to him in some way, shape or form as long as he's still out there.)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Another One for the Ages

Yes, he was indeed in.

And with it, another frenetic 4th Quarter flurry of both teams simultaneously finding their rhythms saved yet another Super Bowl from unraveling into an unmemorable mess.

For the better part of the first 3 quarters, this Super Bowl seemed quite a bit like last year's version. That is, a rather unmemorable blur. Sure, there was a bit of excitement generated by James Harrison's electrifying 100-yard interception return, but for the most part, there wasn't anything memorable going on. Pittsburgh's defense had held strong, Arizona couldn't get into any sort of a rhythm offensively, and Pittsburgh's offense basically was doing the absolute minimum needed to win the game. With a 20-7 lead, it seemed more or less academic: Pittsburgh would grind out the rest of the game and win a rather unremarkable Super Bowl.

Then, rather quickly, something changed. Arizona suddenly found their feet, or rather, found their air, sending Kurt Warner back to pass and, and they were moving the ball, and Warner was threading the needle and Larry Fitzgerald was getting open, and the Cardinals were in the End Zone. Pittsburgh went into their Prevent Offense, sending their runner up the middle. Problem was, they hadn't been able to establish a running game at all to that point, and then when they really had to, they couldn't get it going. This would eventually screw them completely in a rather stunning turn of events within about a minute late in the 4th quarter. Pinned back at their own goal line, Pittsburgh couldn't run themselves out of it, and then managed to penalize themselves into a Safety that made the score 20-16 and gave Arizona the ball, and one more chance to try to strike.
And strike they did.

If Larry Fitzgerald hadn't already cemented himself as the premier Wide Receiver in the NFL, he certainly had to with his performance down the stretch in this game. And his 64-yard touchdown, in which he not only managed to split Pittsburgh's safeties to the point of embarrassment, but also turned on the jets and simply outran them to the End Zone could very well have been the enduring image from this game.

I watched the game at a rather sparse party, where beer was plentiful, but food was in short supply. By the 4th quarter, things had pretty much dispersed. Only 5 or 6 of us remained. I resorted to texting a friend, and we began talking about Kurt Warner, and his ubiquitous series of Chunky Soup commercials. I surmised that if the Cardinals held on to win, we would be subjected to Kurt Warner doing those nauseating commercials for the rest of our lives. Perhaps the alcohol had severly impaired my thought process. Or maybe I'd just had enough of Kurt Warner. Either way, I wasn't pleased with the prospects.

But Arizona's pass defense, which had been a liability late in the NFC Championship, and which I figured would be their downfall in this game, couldn't hold up their end of the bargain. Playing in an awful zone formation, the Arizona secondary basically allowed Roethlisberger to pick them apart, moving the Steelers smartly down the field despite an almost-deathly holding call, putting them in prime position to strike, and then hurling the dagger, a picture-perfect strike to Santonio Holmes to cap off their victorious march.
Thus, the enduring image from Super Bowl XLIII was not Fitzgerald. The aftermath would not be a lifetime of Kurt Warner's Chunky Soup. Instead, we're left with Santonio Holmes, his toes hanging onto the ground for dear life, catching the pass and capping off a fabulous game, the kind of Super Bowl that the Super Bowl should be, but rarely is; the kind of Super Bowl that this game almost wasn't for about 2 3/4 quarters.

Thusly, the NFL season comes to a close. Time to turn the page. In New York, I think Baseball season has officially begun.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


This is probably going to be very brief...

Ever notice how, more often than not, advertisements and shops and whatnot will not refer to the Super Bowl as the Super Bowl? I know it's got to do with the fear of some sort of copyright infringement, but it sort of removes the spirit of the game. Instead, all over the place, there are signs and advertisements not for the Super Bowl, or Super Bowl parties, rather, they look like this:




We may as well just not call it the Super Bowl anymore. Instead, it's just the Big Game! And so, today, in The Big Game XLIII, we have the Arizona Iced Tea and the Pittsburgh...Whatever the hell they have in Pittsburgh. Rivers? Steel mills? A horrendous airport? I don't know.

The game should be pretty much scenery to the hoopla, it usually is. The stupid hype week usually kills whatever rhythm the teams have, so more often than not, the first half of the game turns into a rather epic crapfest. Look at last year's game. People call it the most exciting game ever, but how many people forget that for 3 quarters, the game was a mess, a 7-3 mishmash of punts and incomplete passes. I guess today could just as easily go the same way. I could talk about the high-powered offense of the Cardinals, or the sterling Defense of the Steelers, but I'm not going to tell you anything you didn't already know. These games tend to come down to who can control the ball and play better defense, and I think Pittsburgh can do both better than Arizona will be able to.

My pick: Steelers 23, Cardinals 14

And by Tuesday, most of you will have forgotten that the Cardinals were even playing in the game.

Enjoy THE BIG GAME, everyone!