Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sit and Spin

"It's rare that you get that type of talent. I mean, boom! Right in the middle of the lineup type of guy, and right-handed for us, that would be a big bonus."
-Jerry Manuel

It's funny how the same interview can be spun so many different ways.

The outcry for Manny Ramirez that began last week, and which I've wholeheartedly thrown myself behind continued on Tuesday, as Jerry Manuel chimed in on the matter. There are two such places in particular that reported on this, one on the Mets website, and the other on If you read one of them without reading the other, you probably think that Manuel has one particular stance. But if you read both of them, you come away thinking that Manuel gave two separate interviews at two different times.

On, the Manuel article portrays the Mets Manager as being more interested in helping out at a local Food Bank, helping out the community before he heads down to Florida, ready to do battle with, what he feels, is a team completely in place. Sure, he was asked about Manny, but his response seems to be respectfully passive towards adding a surefire offensive force to a team that mangled far too many opportunities to score some runs. If this is what you read, you'd think that Manuel is happy and confident with what he's got, and he's ready to move forward for the 2009 season. The article appears to focus more on Manuel's dislike for his players participating in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, and that he feels Jose Reyes is ready to emerge as a clubhouse leader.

On ESPN, many of the same points are covered
. However, Manuel's comments are spun to read that Manuel would love to have Ramirez on the team, and that he'd be fully in favor of bringing him in.

The article is, I gather, closer to the truth. There's no need to put any particular angle on Manuel's comments if you have no vested interest in the team. The Mets, however, would like to have all of us believe that whoever this Manny Ramirez fellow may be, the Mets won't be getting him and we should pretend he doesn't exist. I've already stated my feelings. If I needed any further backing up on the matter, Bill Simmons' latest article for ESPN The Magazine praises Ramirez as an underrated commodity who's showing no signs of age or slowing down. And this is from a Red Sox fan who should have nothing but scorn and ill will towards Manny.

The handwriting is clearly on the wall, and the outcry from the fans really ought to be getting through, somehow, to the Clown Car that is the Mets upper management. The Mets are SCREAMING for this guy. He's the perfect fit. It's the right situation. Not making this move would be catstrophically dumb. It's the difference between being a nice little contending team that could just as easily finish 3rd as 1st, and being a serious contender to take it all the way to the World Series. So, once again, I wonder: Who's driving this bus, and how serious are they about making their disillusioned fan base believe that they want to build a winner?

Mets' Kitchen open for Business []
Mets Manager Jerry Manuel would welcome Ramirez []
Bill Simmons: Overrated Overload []

Monday, January 26, 2009

He Said, They Said...

I'm beginning to wonder who, exactly, is driving this bus.

The Mets can continue to add pitchers to try to round out their starting rotation, but in reality it's no secret that if the Mets really want to make themselves a bonafide contender, they need to add a major bat to the middle of their lineup.

I'm not at all against the signing of Freddy Garcia. I really liked Garcia back in his Seattle days, and I certainly think the move is a great low-risk, high-reward kind of deal. Should Garcia prove himself healthy and capable of eating up innings and winning games, the move is a steal. But there was another news blip late in the week that left me a bit perplexed about how the Mets are approaching the 2009 season.

The article, of course, involved the Mets lack of interest in Manny Ramirez.

I'm kind of confused as to who, exactly, is telling the truth. For all we've heard, or at least all that's been indicated to us, Omar Minaya is a huge fan of Ramirez, and has been so for years. I don't know if it's substantiated, but I keep hearing word that both Freddie and the Boy-King don't like Manny because of Character issues.

This strikes me as a pretty sorry excuse. Manny Being Manny is going to pop up wherever he ends up. So will a guy who's a pretty safe bet to hit about .300, with 35 HRs and 110 RBIs. The kind of bat who would look pretty damn good in the middle of a Mets lineup that was simply dying in key RBI spots late last season. He'd look pretty good in a lineup that already boasts major question marks at no less than 3 positions, and probably 4 if you figure that Carlos Delgado is another year older and for at least 70 games last season looked to be completely past it.

But nooooooo, apparently this guy isn't even an option
. The Mets can continue to load up on pitching and more pitching, and have that shutdown bullpen that will keep the Mets in games that they will continue to lose 3-1 and 4-2 because they couldn't get a key hit. The argument that the offense wasn't the problem because the Mets finished tied for 2nd with Philadelphia in scoring 799 runs is a load. The Mets tended to score runs in bunches. I'd bet that, more often than not, the Mets were either scoring 9 runs or 2 runs, with no in between. I can't buy that this thought hasn't crossed Omar Minaya's mind. Minaya isn't a guy who has been timid to make a major acquisiton; it's part of the reason the Mets have had the modicum of success they've had over the past 4 seasons. And I'm sure the Mets players would certainly be glad to have him around, at least David Wright has indicated as much, and I'm sure plenty of other players agree with him.

Bringing in Ramirez is, the more I think about it, an absolutely necessary move. Going into the season relying heavily on Fernando Tatis, Daniel Murphy and Ryan Church to carry a major part of the offensive load is not going to inspire confidence in anybody, certainly not anyone who really picked apart the Mets struggles last season. I don't care about the fact that he's a space cadet. I don't care if he wakes up on the wrong side of the bed one day and decides he doesn't want to play. Manny spent a large chunk of his childhood in Washington Heights. If he comes here, he immediately becomes the King of the City. He can carry the team on his shoulders, act like a goofball, whatever. I don't care. He needs to be here.

One final point on who we ought to believe: Nobody will say it, and any reporter who does would likely be fired on sight. But if Freddie and Jeffy are such keen judges of character, then how did they manage to get swindled out of $300 million by Bernard Madoff? If that's not a ringing endorsement for Omar to bite the bullet and bring Ramirez on board, I don't know what is.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Change of a Different Kind

I seemed to be one of the few people rather nonplussed from yesterday's Inaugural Ceremonies in Washington DC. While the word "Change" was thrown around enough times to make you want to scream, it's going to be a while before we actually see a change. And even then, there's no guarantee what kind of changes we will see. But it requires patience and temperance, and a lot of effort on our own part. Changes have to begin at home before they can be felt across the nation.

We have our own change coming as Mets fans, and this too has been a change that we've been waiting for. We've been waiting for a couple of years now for our change, and come April 13th, the Change will be here at last. The change, of course, is the move from Shea Stadium to Citi Field. But whereas Barack Obama's promise of change is met with widespread hopefulness, it seems like many of us seem to treat this change with a degree of disdain.

Assumedly, and given the attitude of Fabulous Freddie and the Boy-King, Change, for the Mets fan, could very well mean abandoning the rich history and culture we developed over the 45 seasons at Shea Stadium. Change, in moving to Citi Field, would mean adopting a new way of life, where the past is given a faint nod, but it's not our past. It's someone else's past. And it's not the past that we want to remember, it's the past they want us to remember. Mets history has sometimes been dotted with moments when it was more "They" than "Us," and though it's purely speculative that this will become the norm once Citi Field opens for business, the Wilpons have given us enough of an indication to make us fear that this will be the case. Citi Field, after all, isn't going to be known as "The House David Wright Built" unless the Mets go out and win a bunch of World Series Championships, and right now, it's being derided as "Taxpayer Field" or "The House Fred Wilpon Built."

I often feel that we're going into Citi Field with the wrong attitude. Perhaps it's the conglomeration of the way the last two seasons have ended. Combine that with the relatively lax attitude Freddie and Jeffy-poo have taken towards the team itself, and the state of the economy, and the way Shea has basically been auctioned off to the highest bidder, have combined to leave a pretty bad taste in all of our mouths. Yet, I'm excited to go into Citi Field on April 13th. It should be the start of a new era for Mets fans, but not the kind of era the Wilpons seem to want, it should be an era that we, the fans, create. It shouldn't be a time of silent loathing towards ownership, it should be a time of hope, and moving forward. It shouldn't be a time to ignore the past, it should be a time to embrace it, remember it, and continue to build on it.

Shea Lives! Shea will continue to live, for as long as anyone whoever sat inside there on a sun-soaked Sunday Afternoon with 55,000 in the house, or for anyone who came on a Chilly Mid-April Wednesday night with 17,000 fans will remember it. For as long as we continue to have highlight films, DVDs, photos and video of games played there, as long as we have people who write and continue to write about what a magical place it was, and as long as we remember the players who played there, Shea Stadium will always live on. Change will only mean giving up Shea Stadium if we, as fans, change who we are. And we will never change our identity. As Mets fans, Shea Stadium is always a part of us. A new Stadium can only change our vantage point for watching the Mets, but it can't change our memories and it can't change our History. Shea Stadium may be gone physically, but it will endure and continue to move forward with us into Citi Field.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Reluctant Set of Predictions

After having gone 0-4 for the Divisional Playoffs, I more or less didn't even want to bother predicting games for the Conference Championship round. But I wasn't the only one who went 0-4 and stunk up the joint as bad as Eli Manning did last Sunday. In fact, people much more notable than me did just as bad. The point: Well, there is no point. But I put it off and put it off just like I did with my picks for the first two rounds, and now it's Sunday Morning and I have to make some sort of picks, right?

Well, I suppose I don't have to...

But I will anyway.

I'll start out by saying that I really just don't like 3 of these 4 teams at all. And perhaps it was my general dislike for these teams that made me pick against them last weekend. Unfortunately, one of them will end up in the Super Bowl and I can assure you that I'll be picking against them when the game is played after the two weeks of lather jobs and crotch-grabbing. I know it's poor form to pick against a team simply because you don't like them, but isn't that what sports is all about? Nevertheless...

Sunday, 3:30pm
Philadelphia Eagles (11-6-1) at Arizona Cardinals (11-7)
For the first time since the 1979 season, there will be a Super Bowl team that won only 9 games in the regular season. It was Ray Malavasi's Los Angeles Rams that pulled off this feat a generation ago, beating an upstart Tampa Bay Buccaneers team 9-0 in a painful Championship game before falling to the Steelers in Super Bowl XIV, though they did put up a spirited effort against Pittsburgh.

So, 29 years later, we have a matchup of 2 teams that only managed to muster 9 wins in the regular season for a chance to go to the Super Bowl. What a crock. I really don't like either of these teams much, though I did pick Arizona to beat Atlanta two weeks ago. I don't think anybody thought this game possible at the beginning of the season, or even last week. Nobody thought Arizona was going to beat Carolina, and certainly not the way they did, and Philadelphia got here by beating up a pair of bad teams and then catching the Giants at their absolute worst. The prevailing thought that I keep hearing is that this is going to be a high-scoring shootout and the Eagles will win. There are a large number of people that are just adamant, that the Eagles will win! E! A! G! L! E! S! EAGLES! On the other side, the best support I've heard for the Cardinals is that they have Kurt Warner, and a Pakistani Bill Simmons reader purports that Warner's wife said the family could get a puppy if they won the Super Bowl, and we all know that Warner is the NFL's most adamant Jesus freak, and so "you can't pick against God and Puppies." That's not a compelling argument. There's also this residual bitterness I have for Warner going back to his Rams days. He killed the Niners then, and he's still killing them with Arizona. I don't care about the humanitarian efforts, or the rags-to-riches story, or the Chunky Soup, I hate him. This will not change. And the thought of 2 weeks of listening to him pontificate and the godawful human interest crap we're going to hear about him bagging groceries is nauseating.

But I hate Philly more. You don't even need to ask why, and it's not even close.
My pick: Cardinals 34, Eagles 28

Sunday, 6:00pm
Baltimore Ravens (13-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (13-4)
A much more compelling matchup as far as quality of teams go, that's for sure. These are two teams that had good seasons, play solid, smashmouth football and don't like each other. The game itself may as well be a tossup because these teams appear to simply mirror each other at every avenue. Young, talented QB, Streaky, slashing backs, rangy WRs and punishing defenses. In a game like this, it's going to come down to some odd variable that nobody thinks of that will end up being the difference. It's not going to be all about who gets more turnovers, or whose running back breaks through, or who can control the ball longer, or who was the hotter team coming in. Both teams have been playing well for several weeks now. In fact, this game is a rematch of one of the more spirited games of the late regular season. Both these teams have a lot of players who have been here before. Baltimore seems to have a similar recipe that they had in 2000, when they won a Super Bowl. Pittsburgh still has much of their recent Super Bowl team intact as well. When it's this even, I think you have to step back and examine what you thought of these teams during the season. Baltimore never impressed me, and they rarely do. Two years ago, they stormed into the Divisional round with a bye and a 13-3 record and promptly got whacked by Indy. I've been thinking Pittsburgh was a Super Bowl team since Halloween. That hasn't changed.
My pick: Steelers 16, Ravens 7

I've got to get at least one of these correct, right?


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Now Pitching?

I tend to pay these minor signings the Mets make from time to time little to no mind, and most of the people I know or the other blogs I tend to read generally do about the same. But for some reason the Tim Redding signing seems to have spurred a whole flurry of discussion all over the place, and I'm intrigued enough by it to chime in myself.

Who is Tim Redding?
A native of Rochester, NY, he's also the nephew of Joyce Randolph and if I'm not mistaken a High School classmate of a College friend (El Guapo will have to verify this for me). I recall Tim Redding as being one of a number of highly-touted pitching prospects that came out of the Houston Astros system in the early 2000s. He, along with Roy Oswalt, Wade Miller and Carlos Hernandez, were supposed to be the next generation of great Astro pitchers. Much in the vein of Generation K, however, most of these pitchers didn't live up to their hype. Miller and Hernandez were injured far too often, and Redding simply was ineffective. Though Redding had a respectable year in 2003, going 10-14 with a 3.68 ERA , the year after, he was more miserable than not and bounced to San Diego and the Yankees in '05 before failing to make the Majors in 2006. Redding landed in Washington in 2007, and stayed there through 2008, as a nondescript pitcher in the back of the rotation on a bad team. Now, he's on the Mets. Here, we expect little more of him than to take the ball every 5th day and not kill you, which, I suppose, he will do.

Given the fact that there were only so many names the Mets would be able to pick from among Free Agent pitchers that were going to somehow fill out the rotation with Santana, Maine and Pelfrey, I suppose the Mets had to make this move. It looks all the wiser if the Derek Lowe to Atlanta deal is in fact confirmed (it seems to be darting around like a rumor at this point). This leaves us with Oliver Perez, who has been offered a contract, and we know what we're getting with him. Many people I know would prefer to let Ollie go. In fact, Perez's numbers and Redding's numbers weren't exactly that far apart if you look closely. Tim Marchman brings up the point that Redding's major problem isn't so much inconsistency as much as he's a strict flyball pitcher, and gives up a lot of HRs (27 in '08). Redding hasn't been helped by spending his career pitching in a hitter's haven in Houston, and Nationals Park was, I believe, fairly skewed towards offense (at least when the Mets put up some 12-0 wins there I think that's true). Citi Field is, from what people seem to believe, perhaps more favoring to pitchers than Shea was. Should this be the case, many of Redding's fly balls should be outs instead.

Moreover, though his WHIP of 1.429 in '08 isn't outstanding, he doesn't walk many (only 65 in 180 IP) and has a K/BB ratio of nearly 2:1. On the other hand, we have Oliver Perez, who has the annoying habit of being Oliver Perez. If Oliver Perez had somehow had the season he had in 2007 in '08, perhaps it would be logical for him to ask for 4 years and $48 million or whatever he's asking for. But, he didn't. And somehow, giving a pitcher with a pretty marginal record an incentive-laden $2.25 million contract seems to make a lot more sense to me than shelling out some major bucks for a pitcher who can't keep his head on straight. That is, at least, when it seemed like the Mets were going to land Derek Lowe. Given what the Mets appear to be trying to do, their only option right now to try to finish out their rotation the way they want is to bring Ollie back. It's either that or Ben Sheets, who's just as scary a proposition.

I guess the bottom line with Redding is, according to Marchman, and with whom I agree, is that he's going to, more than likely, take the ball on a regular basis out of the 5th rotation spot, as opposed to the Mets having to roll the dice with Jonathon Niese or whoever else is kicking around in AAA (the Claudio Vargas/Tony Armas/Jose Lima types) and making the spot a major question mark.

It doesn't, however, answer one of my larger questions for the Mets, which is how, exactly, do they plan to remedy their major situational offense problem when it appears they are content to return largely the same lineup from last season.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Don't Listen To Me

Well, I'm just dumbfounded.

After putting forth what I felt were a solid set of predictions for this past weekend's NFL Playoff Games, I sat back and watched as, one by one, every team I picked lost.

This has never happened before. And I'm embarrassed by my performance, just as much as many of the teams that lost should have been embarrassed by their performances. By the time the Steelers game ended, I was just nodding off silently on my couch, numb to what had happened.

It started off promising, with the Tennessee/Baltimore game on Saturday. I was in transit for most of the first half, though I did hear a bit of the game on the radio, and ended up not missing much. It was 7-7 at the end of the 1st Quarter, but it seemed like Tennessee had the upper hand. The game was, as I expected, a defensive slugfest, and a low-scoring battle of field position and turnovers. Tennessee was moving, but not scoring, though it seemed to be only a matter of time until they broke through. But it didn't happen. Instead, Tennessee lost Chris Johnson, their one Home Run Threat, they started turning the ball over repeatedly deep in Baltimore territory, and finally, Joe Flacco strung together one late drive, got that lead Field Goal and left Tennessee with only :53 to try to come back. And it didn't happen. This was, for Tennessee, one of those frustration games where they seemed to have everything going for them, and just couldn't finish anything off at the end. And I'm sure they're still kicking themselves.

That barely prepared me for what I witnessed Saturday night. The game was a blowout, just as I thought it would be, however it was a blowout in the exact opposite direction as I thought it would be. Which begs the question: How was Carolina so good during the regular season with this offense? Was there just some inherent flaw with them that they covered up during the season to the point that we all just missed it? Because for all they indicated during the season, and for all Arizona had shown us, there's no explanation for this. Except that Arizona just caught the Panthers at the right moment, with the right game plan, and put the whole package together. Seriously. They made Jake Delhomme look silly out there. He had no idea what he was doing, and the game was over by Halftime.

That was just an appetizer for the carnage on Sunday. Early, I was raring to go, much like everyone else in New York, for the Giants to come roaring out and take it to Philly, perhaps to exert their will on the Eagles and begin a year of New York rising up to knock down Philly after the past two years. And in the end, I feel more inclined to say that the Eagles didn't so much win the game as the Giants simply lost it. This game must have been sheer torture for the Giants, because for most of the game, they were right there, and they were one big play away from getting themselves together and getting right back in it. And it never happened. The defense played well; at least as well as could be expected when the Offense kept throwing them out there. But you had a feeling that the Giants were in trouble from that first series. Bradshaw has a great return of the opening kickoff, Manning has Steve Smith wide open down the field on the first play, and he throws a dying quail that falls incomplete. The Giants move, barely, but can't get any further than to kick a field goal. And they do this again, and again, and again. And Eli is looking confused and over-and-underthrowing his receivers, and they try to run, and Philly starts teeing off, and before you knew it, the Giants were forced into a pair of posessions where they had to go for it on 4th down, and got stuffed both times. And then, Eli threw that final interception, McNabb ran and had a chat on the phone, and the Giants were shoved off the dance floor.

By this point, now, I'm just hoping San Diego makes it close, and being thankful that I didn't actually lay any money on these games. I had waffled on the final game all weekend, and I didn't exactly feel confident in my pick of San Diego. So I figured it was just a matter of time until the inevitable happened: Willie Parker has by far and away his best game of the season, Roethlisberger hangs in the pocket and makes all the throws he has to, and the Steelers Defense makes the Chargers look like the 8-8 team they were. And after the way they took out Indy, that was something that was all of a sudden very easy to forget, and it's a bad job by me for not realizing that on Friday. But Pittsburgh won, and I'd say they're the odds-on favorite right now to go to the Big Game.

So, after years of going 10-1, 8-3, 7-4, 8-3, 9-2, etc for the Playoffs, I now stand at a paltry 2-6. Which just goes to show you that this season, the NFL has just been ass-backwards. We now have an NFC Championship game played by a team whose record once stood at 5-5-1 and another team generally regarded as the saddest of the sad sack franchises, now playing their second Home Playoff game after not hosting one in over 50 years. One of those teams is going to the Super Bowl. How the Hell did that happen?

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Short Form

I've been overly lazy this week, perhaps even moreso than last week when I waited until late Friday night to put forth my picks for the Wildcard Round. Although I felt that I had put forth a good effort, I ended up going merely 2-2 for the weekend. Now, with the Divisional Playoffs upon us, I've again waited until the last minute, to the point where I don't quite have the wherewithal to offer up a full breakdown of each game (replete with cute little logos).

Thusly, I offer you the short form of NFL picks for the Divisional Round. It's a solid set of games that make this perhaps the Best Weekend of Football all season. We'll kick it off on Saturday.

Saturday, 4:30pm
Baltimore Ravens (12-5) at Tennessee Titans (13-3)
Defense will rule the day in this matchup. Baltimore looks like the more chic pick, but I think Tennessee will come through after having a week off to rest up. Look for a key turnover in the 3rd Quarter of a tie game that will swing things in the Titans favor.
My pick: Titans 17, Ravens 13

Saturday, 8:00pm
Arizona Cardinals (10-7) at Carolina Panthers (12-4)
This is the mismatch of the weekend. Arizona has had a nice run and took advantage of several Atlanta mistakes last weekend. Now, they play a Carolina team that does not make mistakes, and won't beat itself. The line isn't close, and the game won't be either.
My pick: Panthers 34, Cardinals 14

Sunday, 1:00pm
Philadelphia Eagles (10-6-1) at New York Giants (12-4)
What appears to be misconstrued as an Eagles Hot Streak is really just the Eagles beating the pants off a Cowboys team that had self-destructed and followed that up by beating a simply miserable Vikings squad. They may have beaten the Giants in the Meadowlands in December, but by that point, the Giants had a few too many distractions, and had already wrapped up the division. Not sure why Philly is getting as much press as they are.
My pick: Giants 27, Eagles 17

Sunday, 4:30pm
San Diego Chargers (9-8) at Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
I've waffled on this game all week and I'm still waffling. I really have no idea who the hell to pick. My gut, initially, said Pittsburgh, and that San Diego would be constantly kept off balance by Pittsburgh's Defense. But the Steelers offense has struggled at times as well. Fast Willie Parker has been woefully inconsistent all season, and Roethlisberger is coming off a concussion. This is going to be a Defensive slugfest that could very well come down to a battle of field position. It should be a very close, low scoring game, no question. I think it could very well become one of those "Frustration" games for the Steelers as they put together a number of long drives into San Diego territory that ultimately comes up short. San Diego can punt Pittsburgh into a corner and run them down with Sproles, plus Rivers just thrives in games like this. Chargers in an upset.
My pick: Chargers 14, Steelers 10

Sit back and enjoy the fun! Recaps (hopefully) on Monday.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Catching the 518

I had written two weeks ago about how the Mets had snuck a little Plan Pre-Sale box on the bottom of their website, and wondering just what they meant, and if I would be included in such a pre-sale.

As it turned out, I was indeed among The Chosen for this special event, and thusly, I have procured a fine selection of tickets for the Inaugural Season at Citi Field. I don't know if this photo above is my section exactly, but it appears to be a fairly accurate representation of my seats, in the Promenade, Section 518. I have the Weekday Plan, which as you well know is more often than not my game of choice. Though the Yankees series was not included on this plan, that may well be the only drawback. The games are spaced out rather nicely, for the most part, and it includes the Grand Opening on April 13th, and each time teams like Philly and Atlanta come into town, among others. They did sneak two of those hideous Weekday Afternoon games in there, and for what it's worth, I may yet just blow off work that day and go to those games. We shall see.

It was an odd process in general. Though the Mets slapped the notice online before Christmas, I didn't actually find out what it meant until I got a letter from them the following week. Imagine that, people still use mail to communicate things like this. Last year, the Mets sent me a similar letter for tickets, which arrived about 3 weeks after the Single Game sales started, which was quite useful. This year, clearly, with their artificially created demand, they've obviously become a bit more careful about notifying the people who might actually WANT to plonk down money to see whatever mess Fabulous Freddie and the Boy-King put out on the Field (Good or Bad, we're still showing up, dammit!).

I got the letter. The Pre-Sale started January 6th, 10am. I was primed. I was ready to strike. The Guap and I had it planned out. And so, the clock struck 10am on Tuesday morning, and I pounced. The internet was a little slow, probably because I wasn't the only one camping out waiting for the tickets to go on sale. I ran through the process, and waited for the system to spit me out some seats...

...Section 505, Row 17.

I looked at the seating chart. Section 505 didn't sound so good. Last row, too. Maybe I'll try again. I keep the seats in my cart. Go through again. It hits...

...Section 506, Row 17.

Bah! Again...

...Section 508, Row 16.

Getting warmer...

Section 522, Row 15.

Now, we're all the way on the other side of the field. And it's confusing, the way they've numbered everything. I keep knocking off the prior selections, always keeping one set in my cart, just in case. One more time, I say to myself...

...Section 520, Row 17.

Can I get anything that's not Row 17? In fact, I haven't hit lower than a Row 15. One more...

...Section 523, Row 15.

That's no better. Sigh. Again...

...Section 518, Row 17.

That's as close to center as I've gotten. OK. If I can't find anything else, that's acceptable. One more time...

...Unable to secure seats in this price level.

Damn! They're gone already! Of course, about 3 of them are in my cart. The lines must be buzzing. I act quickly. Dump the 522 and 520 seats. Keep the 518. Race through the payment process. The E-mail comes in. I'm secure. I've got my seats. Citi Field, here I come!

Later in the day, I checked back to see if, by some miracle, I ran through and hit something like Section 515, Row 11. No dice. Still unable to secure seats. I try the Promenade Reserved. I hit a Row 6, but in Section 538, way out in Left Field. Whatever I did, whatever remains available for the rest of the General Public, I have no idea. I don't know what's being held back, if anything. The Plans hold an option for a pre-sale on General Tickets. I don't know what's going to be left. But I've got my seats. I beat the rush. I wonder how many of you out there had an experience similar to mine?

Say what you will about the Organization and the Owners and the Stadium itself, but I feel pretty damn excited, all things considered.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Into The Fire

It is officially January here at The Ballclub, and with little to report in Metsdom (the signing of Derek Lowe still pending but meeting with my approval), I turn my attention to the NFL, and the Playoffs, which begin tomorrow.

The NFL Playoffs always seem to have a bit of a frenetic atmosphere to it. It's created purely by the media, no doubt, and more often than not, the games don't live up to the hype. But last season, we had quite a few classic games play out, and the season was capped off with the kind of Upset Victory you get perhaps once every 25 years or so. The Giants were the underdogs last year, but this year, they have to be considered among the favorites to repeat. Their opponents, the Patriots, suffered through a long season full of injuries and new faces, and played admirably well, yet find themselves on the outside looking in despite an 11-5 record that has set off all sorts of controversy about the NFL's playoff structure. I'm not here to talk about that, however. I'm just here to pick the games.

Last season, I got lazy and missed the first weekend, and I've been similarly lazy this weekend, but at least I've managed to get this in just under the wire. Last season, I went 9-2 picking games for the playoffs (No gambling involved, and I'm just picking the winner, not picking against the spread), missing only Indianapolis over San Diego and New England over the Giants. This year, we've got a lot of new teams, a lot of new faces, and a lot of bizarre matchups, and that's just this Wild Card Weekend, where all 4 road teams have better records than their Division Champion opponents. This should be an interesting weekend, so let's take a closer look.

Saturday, 4:30pm

Atlanta Falcons (11-5) at Arizona Cardinals
This is one hell of a matchup to kick things off. One team went 11-5 this season after re-inventing themselves after a 4-12 finish last year, thanks to a new coach and rookie Quarterback that nobody really knows anything about. On the other side, a 9-7 team that went 8-8 last year, didn't really remake themselves at all and has a veteran team that slogged their way to barely winning the worst division in Football. The prevailing wisdom has Atlanta winning this game, and they very well might. But Bill Simmons brought up several very valid points in his column today, regarding home records vs. road records, the success of Atlanta's running game on grass vs. the hard turf in Atlanta, and the fact that Atlanta's Matt Ryan is making his first playoff appearance, while Arizona is starting Kurt Warner, who I hate, who's still sticking it to San Francisco, and who has started 2 Super Bowls. Arizona really didn't impress me much during the regular season and they really didn't impress anyone down the stretch, after they had basically locked up the NFC West in October. Atlanta has been solid throughout, particularly when they've played their NFC South opponents at home. I think the prevailing thought is that Atlanta is going to win the game, and that may well be the case. But I think that, in the end, it will be Warner and Arizona's passing game that will prevail.
My pick: Cardinals 34, Falcons 28

Saturday, 8:00pm
Indianapolis Colts (12-4) at San Diego Chargers (8-8)
Thing is, I've seen this before. I saw it before last season, when these two met in the Divisional Playoffs in Indianapolis. That time, I picked the Colts to blow out the Chargers at home, and that didn't come close to happening. The Chargers defense held the line, knocked around the Colts receivers and Peyton Manning, made some big plays, kept the game close, and kept themselves together even after losing Tomlinson and Rivers and finishing the game off with Billy Volek at QB. It's been the prevailing theme over the past few seasons when these two teams meet up, and generally, the Chargers have been able to prevail. This particular game seems to have all the makings of going the same way. Both of these teams have been ridiculously hot, with the Chargers winning their last 4 games in order to make it to 8-8 and the Playoffs as the AFC West Champion. On the other side, the Colts started slow, and now have won 9 in a row, cruising into the Playoffs without much drama at all. Were it not for the fact that their own Division opponent, the Tennessee Titans, went 13-3, perhaps they would be at home this week. But, this isn't the case, and here the Colts find themselves: On the road, playing a team that won 4 fewer games than they did. Such are the vicissitudes of the NFL Playoffs. I certainly expect this to be a good game, and much like every game this weekend, it could very well go either way. But it comes down to this for me: The Chargers are an 8-8 team. 8-8 teams have made the playoffs before, and they generally haven't done very well, even if they've gotten a lot of hype. But there's a very good reason that they were an 8-8 team, and those reasons will show themselves eventually in the postseason. The Colts, on the other hand, are the Colts. We know what we're getting out of them.
My pick: Colts 31, Chargers 27

Sunday, 1:00pm
Baltimore Ravens (11-5) at Miami Dolphins (11-5)
I don't like the Ravens at all. In fact, I was over the Ravens about 3 years ago. And yet, here they are again. The Ravens, to me, are the classic "every-other-year" team. They have a good season, make the playoffs, and then go 5-11 when they have the 1st or 2nd place team schedule, and then the next year, playing a 3rd or 4th place schedule, they go 11-5 and make the playoffs. It's really tempting for me to pick the Dolphins in this game purely because I hate the Ravens, I'm sick of Ray Lewis and his horrible dancing, and I just want someone to kick them in the nuts and end this once and for all. Problem is, I don't think the Dolphins are going to be the team to do this. While the Dolphins, all of 1-15 last season, are undoubtedly the most inspirational story of the season, they did this not because of a breadth of talent, they did this with good coaching and solid game plans. The Ravens got here with talent, a great Defense and Running game, and a Rookie QB who hasn't killed them. Miami has gotten this far because of a precision short passing game with Pennington and some gadget running plays with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. Two particular areas that play right into the Ravens' strengths. The Ravens can grind this game out and force turnovers. I don't think the Dolphins will be able to keep up.
My pick: Ravens 21, Dolphins 10

Sunday, 4:30pm
Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1) at Minnesota Vikings (10-6)
The Bizarro Game of the weekend, for sure. This game has been giving everyone fits because nobody has any idea who the hell to take. I have a problem picking Philadelphia because I just don't think they're very good. They muddled their way through the season, looked literally clueless a good chunk of the time, ended up with a Tie in awful Cincinnati, and yet somehow, they managed to get their act together and make the playoffs, although I have the feeling it was more by virtue of this perfect storm of happenings, where Tampa Bay self-destructed in the last 4 weeks, and they were fortunate enough to catch a Dallas team that was spiraling completely out of control last Sunday. And, sure enough, here they are, in the Playoffs. But for as bad as I think the Eagles are, I think Minnesota is even worse. The NFC North appeared to be a division where nobody could get out of their own way, and the Vikings won simply because the Bears couldn't. They have a QB who is quite literally a National Laughingstock, and an owner with a reputation of letting his patients run the asylum. But, they do have one thing that Philadelphia doesn't: Adrian Peterson. Much like Johan Santana was the Ultimate Equalizer for the Mets, so is Adrian Peterson for Minnesota. He is the kind of Running Back who can take over a game when he has to, and I think this is just the kind of situation where he'll be able to do that. He just has to hope that Tarvaris Jackson doesn't make too many mistakes and the Minnesota Defense, great against the Run, can smack Philly in the mouth a bit. This game will be a grind, for sure, but I think, ultimately, Peterson will make the difference in a Minnesota victory.
My pick: Vikings 17, Eagles 10

Thusly, we have my picks. Enjoy the games, folks!