Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Mr. Excitement Returns

As with any offseason, particularly in the dark days of February, a month where many Presidents and a ragtag Mets Blogger celebrate birthdays, it's often a lot of grasping at straws when it comes to finding things to write about. So you end up with weeks on end where I have little or nothing to say regarding the Mets, but with the team now starting to crank into action, I have to crank myself up too.

News around the Mets isn't really what I would call news so much as little bits and pieces of information to get excited about. It is, after all, the first time in about 6 years that we can really get excited about the team so these things are often approached with baited breath. And, of course, no single player on the team merits as much baited breath as Matt Harvey, who is the story of the Spring as he finally returns from Big Boy Surgery.

He's facing live batters for the first time since his surgery on Friday, which is about as newsworthy as things get in the early part of the Spring. There's not much more to say other than it's good to see him making progress and the hot word I've heard is that he's going to be slotted in to pitch the Mets Home Opener on April 13th. I, of course, already have my tickets for that game so if you didn't have any incentive to be excited already, now, if you're not juiced for Opening Day at Citi Field, you either died or you're not a Mets fan. Still, a ways to go before we get to April 13th, and Harvey will be likely pitching to batters who aren't going to swing at anything. The real acid test will come later, when he finally gets into a game. But, baby steps at this point. It's been baby steps for the Mets for several years now, so what's a few more?

Friday, February 20, 2015

d'O What Now?

A lazy Friday evening saw me tooling around on the TV, flipping around stations and ultimately landing on SNY because I saw something involving the Mets, and after all, Spring Training has in fact begun in spite of the fact that it's a robust 4˚ out in New York right now. But they're living it up in Florida so if nothing else that's a sign that the weather will be turning eventually. But not yet.

Apropos of which, I was watching some video of a workout and something caught my eye: Travis d'Arnaud, who'd been wearing uniform number 15 since coming to the Mets two seasons ago, was curiously wearing number 7. I wondered if maybe this was just a Spring Training thing. After all, it seemed somewhat prescient of the Mets to give d'Arnaud #15, a number that for many years was worn by standout Mets Catcher Jerry Grote, and I have, at times, seen a lot of Grote in d'Arnaud. Given tenure, I can see d'Arnaud as the kind of catcher with a general scowl on his face going out and screaming at pitchers when the situation presents itself. Plus, it's not unheard of for guys to wear different numbers in Spring Training. I know Dwight Gooden for one used to put on #64 in Florida before going back to his customary #16 up north.

But after some sleuthing, I came to discover that d'Arnaud had, in fact, swapped numbers with Bob Geren, and #7 was a permanent change. Why, I'm not totally sure, I can't imagine d'Arnaud wished to pay homage to Todd Pratt, but he's a Major League ballplayer and can do what he wants. Particularly if he builds on his solid, if somewhat uneven, second half performance last season.

The joke, however, is on anyone who bought a d'ARNAUD 15 T-shirt last season, like I did. I like d'Arnaud and late last season I was on a coupon/discount card-aided kick of replenishing a Mets t-shirt collection that was old/ill-fitting/full of holes and bought T-shirts featuring d'ARNAUD 15, deGROM 48 and WHEELER 45. But now that d'Arnaud is out of date. He's hoodwinked me. I'm not going to plonk down more money for a d'ARNAUD 7 shirt. I'd rather save it for another fascination, say, FLORES 4.

At least the other Met to change his uni number, Noah Syndergaard, had the foresight to swap numbers before he made it to the Major Leagues and had a spate of T-shirts made up. In a less eye-catching number change, Syndergaard has abandoned #55 in favor of #34, recently worn by another excessively large-framed right handed pitcher, Mike Pelfrey.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Happy Ballclub Day, Revisited

Rejoice with us all, as today The Ballclub celebrates its 8th Anniversary of providing you, loyal readers, with some of the Finest Hardest-hitting most Unique viewpoints on your favorite team and mine, the New York Mets. We are looking forward to April and beginning our 9th season (8th if you really want to be technical since I skipped 2011 altogether, but nobody wants to remember that season anyway) with you all once again. For the first time in many years, Opening Day for the Mets actually feels like something we can all look forward to.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Finally Humbled

I watched the Big Game* last night through clenched teeth. Somehow, I knew that the Seattle Seahawks, nauseating as ever, were going to find a way to hang around with the Patriots, pull off some stupid late play and ultimately reel in their second consecutive championship. That would make them the NFL's new dynasty, which means we'd be subjected to another offseason of America's Sweetheart Russell Wilson being shoved down our throat because he's just like you and me, a down-to-earth dude who bullied kids in High School and speaks mostly in cliches. It would mean that somehow, clown prince Pete Carroll would be hailed as a genius, and Richard Sherman might never shut his mouth again. But just when it seemed like they were going to stomp down on the Patriots, Tom Brady and company got off the mat and erased a 10-point deficit in the 4th Quarter. Then, with the clock winding down, the Patriots somehow ended up on the right side of perhaps the most baffling, inexcusable play call in the history of the NFL and in one of the more rousing Big Games* in recent memory brought home their 4th title in 14 years with a 28-24 victory.

I'm no Patriot lover by any stretch and perhaps I could be chided for rooting for them in the game under the "Win for Seattle is a Win for the NFC" theory, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. I watched this game with the same silent glower on my face that I did while watching last year's debacle of a Big Game*, but where last year produced bad comedy, this game was a barnburner. It was also a nice big middle finger in the face of everyone who a) Hates the Patriots because they always get called out for some kind of nefarious behavior and b) Jumped on the Seahawks Bandwagon sometime around Week 13 in 2012 and thinks that they're God's Gift to the NFL. Anyone who thinks that the Seahawks are somehow this squeaky clean bunch of guys who play hard and win must have been living under a rock. Did the fact that Pete Carroll basically pulled an Amish Act on USC, scurrying off into the night before the NCAA stripped his titles somehow slip everyone's mind? How about the myriad PED suspensions? How about Richard Sherman, who used the Ryan Braun defense to get a suspension overturned? Going into the game, I got the sense that people wanted to see the Patriots lose simply because "Derp Derp They Cheated," even though nothing about deflated footballs had been resolved by game time. Basically, it was a good story and a nice diversion for everyone during hype week leading up to the Big Game. Let's throw all the negative press on the Patriots while Seattle can walk around with their chests puffed out and Marshawn Lynch can clown the media while eating HGH-enhanced Skittles.

This was how I felt going into the game. The Seahawks opened up about as poorly as they did against Green Bay, although much like the Packers, the Patriots didn't take advantage of the opportunity to open up a lead. They moved the ball consistently, behind a game plan that appeared to be directly pulled from the Bill Walsh playbook. Rather than try to run and gun, the Patriots instead decided to attack the Seahawks underneath, with a variety of 4- and 5-yard pass plays that were rather boring, but effective because they worked every time. This allowed the Patriots to consistently inch downfield. Brady was intercepted by Jeremy Lane in the 1st Quarter, but in the 2nd Quarter, he hit Brandon LaFell for a TD. But by that time, Beautiful Russell Wilson found his sea legs and Seattle responded with a TD of their own on a run by Lynch. The Patriots scored again on a pass from Brady to Rob Gronkowski with :30 seconds left, but their defense got soft and instead of going into the half with a lead, they allowed Seattle to tie the game and people to orgasm over Wilson because he hit Chris Matthews for a score with :02 to go (I'd make some crack about Matthews being an unknown, but, you know, all the Seattle receivers are unknown).

I didn't feel good about things for New England after they'd let Seattle cut through them like that. The Patriots had mostly dominated the first half but somehow could only muster a tie. Having seen more than enough of the Adderallhawks, I knew what was coming. Seattle came out on a roll in the 2nd half and immediately grabbed the lead on a Field Goal, then picked off Brady on the ensuing Patriots possession and scored a Touchdown when Wilson hit Doug Baldwin for a 3-yard score. Baldwin, who apparently was tired of hearing that all the Seahawks receivers are no-names, made sure everyone knew who he was by proceeding to perform some lewd act with the football. Attention-grabbing, yes. Classy, definitely not. Richard Sherman decided he'd get in on the act too, making some clownlike gestures at Darrelle Revis. 24-14 Seahawks and this game looked like it was about to spiral out of control.

But a funny thing happened: The Patriots fought back. Brady never wavered from his game plan, never panicked, and just went right back to picking the Seahawks defense apart. Though they punted early in the 4th Quarter, the Patriots defense got back to shutting down the Seattle offense and got Brady one more chance. This time, he capitalized, leading New England down the field for a Danny Amendola TD catch. Another Seattle 3-and-out got the Pats the ball again, and all Brady did was complete all 9 passes he attempted on that drive, that culminated in his 4th Touchdown pass of the night, a 3-yard score by Julian Edelman that put the Patriots back on top.

This, of course, is when things started getting interesting.

Seattle, which hadn't done much in the last quarter or so, got themselves downfield quickly thanks to one of those fluke plays that always seems to go against New England in the Big Game*. Or is it one of those plays that always seems to work in Seattle's favor? I forget, but at any rate, Wilson threw a deep bomb downfield that appeared to be batted away from Jermaine Kearse by Malcolm Butler. Or was it. In a moment reminiscent of Antonio Freeman in another era, Butler's batted ball floated into Kearse's lap without touching the ground; a clean catch. Somehow, the game fell into Seattle's lap. Now, the Seahawks had the ball at the New England 5 yard line, with Time Outs to burn and Marshawn Lynch ready to steamroll over everyone in a Steroid Skittles-aided frenzy for the certain winning score. He plowed for 4 of the 5 yards on 1st down. The clock was ticking away, with neither coach appearing to blink. Surely, Lynch was going to get the ball again—how could he not?

Somehow, he didn't.

In one of those plays that will end up with some name that sticks out in NFL Lore, a la Red Right 88, someone, whether it was Carroll, or Seattle's OC Darrell Bevell, called a pass play and Russell Wilson is too much of a "nice guy" to say that that's ridiculous and call an audible. Instead, he threw the pass, a square-in slant intended for Ricardo Lockette. But Malcolm Butler, who'd been victimized by the Kearse catch mere minutes earlier, atoned by pulling off the play-read of a lifetime. Butler, as though he knew exactly what was coming, jumped Lockette's route and blasted him clear out of the play, intercepting the pass in the process. With the game seemingly in Seattle's lap, Butler saved the day for New England. Neither I, nor anyone I spoke to, or anyone around the NFL or anyone watching the Big Game* could believe what they'd just seen. It was as though the Seahawks had somehow decided that they were so good, they could just do whatever they wanted and their opponent would capitulate to them, but they fell victim to their own hubris. Instead it was Schadenfreude that would rule the day as the Patriots took over, needing to just kneel on the ball a couple of times in order to finish out the game. Seattle, however, had other ideas. In a scene that showed the Seahawks true colors, rather than graciously let the Patriots celebrate, they petulantly tried to fight them, as Bruce Irvin decided to take on Rob Gronkowski and an ugly scene ensued that showed what a bunch of crybabies and sore losers the Seahawks really are. Maybe the Patriots cheated, but either way, a team nobody liked very much would have won the Big Game*.

Fortunately, it was the Patriots that came out on top. I can't imagine what it would have been like if Seattle had won, but I'm certain it would have been wholly unbearable, and so I'm thankful that Brady and company were able to seal the deal, and I'm glad that the Seahawks exposed themselves as a bunch of jackasses in front of a worldwide audience. It couldn't have happened to a more deserving group. Besides, any argument that will now come up saying that Tom Brady is as good or better than Joe Montana because they have the same number of Big Game* wins can immediately be blown up simply by pointing out that unlike Brady, Joe Montana never lost the Big Game*.

*Note: I have to refer to it as the Big Game because if I refer to the game by its actual name, Roger Goodell and the NFL Police will break down my door and fine me $50,000 for improper usage.