Citi Field has FINALLY come to life

Sometimes last minute plans are the best plans. A spur of the moment decision led me to Citi Field to witness the Mets complete their sweep of the Nationals. The Mets, who have so often been on the butt end of a joke in recent memory, made a statement last night with the help of their fans that they aren’t fooling around.

After a bizarre couple of days around the trade deadline, I don’t think we need to recap what has already received enough coverage, the Mets played some of their best baseball when they needed it the most. Fantastic pitching performances and dramatic endings on Friday and Saturday set the stage for Sunday night.

I wasn’t even in the stadium yet and I knew it was going to be a different kind of night at the ballpark. While searching for tickets on Stubhub there were only 250 tickets available at the 5 o’clock hour. For those of you unfamiliar with the secondhand ticket service, there are generally an abundance of tickets available for Mets games. It’s not uncommon to see a few thousand tickets available on the cheap hours before a game. Not yesterday. Despite being an 8 o’clock game on a Sunday night, fans wanted to be there.

Sums up Mets fans perfect after this weekend.Hat tip to @TooGooden16 for the twitter post

How I assume all Mets fans are talking to one another today. Hat tip to @TooGooden16 for the twitter post

From the moment I stepped foot into Citi Field you could just feel the buzz. Something I may have felt in small doses while attending various opening day games, Harvey nights or during the All-Star game. But it wasn’t a passing moment. This energy was there for the long haul.

The third inning was something special in its own right. Curtis Granderson’s two-run shot brought the crowd to their feet. Daniel Murphy kept them up with a tape measure bomb on the very next pitch. Then Lucas Duda nearly brought the house down two batters later with a moonshot off of the Pepsi Porch facade. Citi Field was ROCKING.

From there on out it was a raucous crowd. Every opportunity the fans had to cheer, applaud or get on somebody – they did. Just ask Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth. Harper, who seems to have become public enemy No. 1, was on the brunt end of quite a bit of heckling. I’m all for giving opposing stars a hard time out there. After all, this is New York. A visiting club should never feel too comfortable in our city. That’s the way it should be.

In the top of the eighth inning Noah Syndergaard, who had been mowing down the Nationals lineup all night, had one more showdown with Harper with two outs and a pitch count well over 100. It felt reminiscent of the closing scene in ‘Major League’ with Rick Vaughn going mano-a-mano and his fastball lighting up the radar gun. The fans willed Syndergaard to get everything left out of that arm for one last batter as he touched 99 MPH on his final pitch right through Harpers swing. A standing ovation followed that led perfectly into the Piano Man sing-along between innings.

Wilmer Flores, who entered the game as a pinch hitter in the eighth, received possibly the loudest ovation of the night when he stepped up to the plate. “Willlllmerrr” echoed throughout Citi Field. The fan favorite ripped a ball into left center that was only a few feet shy of leaving the park. If that had gone out I think the crowd would still be cheering.

Newly acquired, and former National, Tyler Clippard closed things out to the chants of “SWEEP! SWEEP! SWEEP!” as the Flushing Faithful erupted for one last roar.

I’m not saying it’s time to start printing those postseason tickets. It’s still August. Early August at that. But this fan base so desperately needed that. I needed that. But what we really need is for that to be only the beginning of more nights like that things to come.

Alderson, deGrom and Harvey salvage the Mets weekend

When it comes to Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey, Mets fans feel confident those two will come through when it’s needed the most. That same trust has yet to be placed in General Manager Sandy Alderson, who often works in a passive aggressive manner (financial restrictions or not) when it comes to upgrading the roster. But this weekend, together, all three led the way in salvaging the final two games against the Dodgers.

Alderson started to change the stigma surrounding this roster with the promotion of top hitting prospect Michael Conforto on Friday night. Although one can argue it was an overdue move considering how poor, and that’s putting it lightly, this Mets offense has performed. Better late than never, I suppose. But he didn’t stop there. The news broke right around game time Friday night that Alderson had acquired Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe from the Atlanta Braves for two mid-level prospects. It may not have been the blockbuster move that fans have been craving but there is no doubting they improve this Mets roster. Each are proven veterans who have established themselves as more than capable everyday players or in an ideal scenario, provide some much-needed depth to the bench.

Conforto showed no signs of having any Major League jitters. He has recorded an RBI in his first three games and helped ignite the offense on Saturday with a 4-for-4 day while scoring four runs. Conforto displayed quickly what we’ve heard so much about him, he’s a professional hitter who uses the whole field and has a disciplined approach at the plate. Like Conforto, Johnson and Uribe wasted no time in making their presence felt. On Saturday, while playing second base and batting clean up, Johnson added two hits with one of them being a two-run home run. Uribe added a hit of his own after relieving Daniel Murphy at third base late in the game but his mark was made on Sunday. After once again relieving Murphy at third, Uribe made a crucial play on a slow roller to record the first out in the top half of the ninth. That turned into an even bigger play after the Dodgers followed that up with three straight hits to tie to the game. In the bottom of the 10th Uribe crushed a double off of the left center field wall that drove in the game winning run in walkoff fashion.

The Mets starting rotation has received no shortage of national publicity, and rightly so, as they’re loaded with some of the top young arms in all of baseball. But the debate these last few months has been who is the ace of the staff – deGrom or Harvey? It’s deGrom, and it’s not even a debate at the moment. The best part of that question is that the answer doesn’t even matter. That’s a win-win argument for the Mets as they anchor the front end of this young rotation. The only thing that matters is that they each do their part in helping the Mets win each time they take the mound. Which was the case on Saturday and Sunday.

Harvey, who has had a strong but not entirely smooth return from Tommy John Surgery, put up a solid performance on Saturday. He threw seven innings and allowed two runs while striking out four and walking only one batter. The most important thing I took away from that start was the return of his command. When Harvey has gotten into trouble lately it has been due to giving too many free passes as he is unable to locate his pitches. While deGrom was stellar once again as he squared off against Zack Greinke, the NL CY Young award favorite. DeGrom out dueled Greinke in what I felt was an important game for him to solidify himself against one of the games perennial starters. He allowed just two hits over seven innings while striking out eight as he blew away the Dodgers lineup. A blown save might have cost deGrom a W in the win column but the Mets were able to walk away with a victory in extra innings, which is all that really matters.

Considering what a roller coaster ride of season this has been for the Mets thus far, with every bit as much negativity as there has been optimism surrounding the franchise, they trail the Washington Nationals by only two games. That’s right, two games! I have to do a double take every day I check the standings when I realize the National League East is still within grasp. Conforto, Uribe and Johnson might not be the saviors – but any offensive help they can provide for deGrom, Harvey and the rest of the staff will go a long way in keeping the Mets in contention. Alderson may have helped salvaged the weekend, but it will probably take another move or two to salvage the season.

 

My first no-hitter experience

Little did I know a weekend trip to visit some friends just outside of D.C. would lead to me witnessing my first no-hitter. While out at happy hour on Friday, we were asked if we’d be interested in some extra tickets for Saturday’s game. With no definitive plans lined up for the next day we decided to give it a go. What a wise decision that turned out to be.

I’d be lying if I told you I knew Max Scherzer was pitching the night before. Hell, I didn’t even know the Nationals were playing the Pirates. My love for the Mets is pretty well documented at this point. But Mets or no Mets, there isn’t a baseball game I won’t go to. Although the Nationals are considered the Mets biggest rival given their current stature as “the team to beat” in the NL East, I have no real animosity towards them, yet. The Braves and Phillies are still the teams that bring out the worst in me. I guess most of that has to do with the fact that the two teams have never been contenders in the same season. That will probably change in the years to come, but not yet.

While most of our crew decided to extend the tailgate/pregame well into the 7th inning (really got their monies worth), I at least had the one other real baseball fan in the group to soak the day in with. It’s always important to have someone else who will have the same sort of appreciation for these type of events on hand. The first few innings moved along like any other ordinary game. The only real action that jumped out to me was a home run that Bryce Harper mashed into center field. You could literally hear the crack of his bat echo throughout the stadium. Love him or hate him, that guy can flat-out rake the baseball.

max scherzerWith two outs in the top of the sixth I finally noticed all the zeros on the scoreboard. I usually roll my eyes at pitchers comments when they claim to be unaware they were in the midst of throwing a no-hitter until the final few innings. I just assume things like that would be on your mind from the moment that first batter steps into the box. After all, we keep track of everything in baseball. I guess I was just too caught up in conversation to realize what was happening earlier. Or maybe that was just the subconscious Mets fan in me assuming things like this just don’t actually come to fruition.

Baseball is a funny game with plenty of odd superstitions both the players and fans alike follow. One of them being the unwritten rule that you don’t openly talk about or acknowledge the potential of a perfect game/no-hitter being completed.  But I couldn’t help myself. I said something along the lines of “I don’t want to jinx it or anything, but Scherzer has a perfect game going.” I was immediately greeted with a turn of the head and a dead eyed stare of disapproval for what I just said. No words were spoken initially and none needed to be said. Her face said it all. Can’t say I blame her. My reaction probably would’ve been the same if she had done that to me.

From that point on I put aside any rooting interest and was cheering for the perfect game. I’m one of those guys that as soon as I get the alert on my phone about a no-hitter in action I immediately find a TV and throw on the MLB network to watch the live look in. Each inning brought about more tension as fans went from sitting, to the edge of their seats to rising to their feet with each two-strike count. The Nationals continued to tack on runs as they rode a 6-0 lead into the latter innings. With the games outcome never really in doubt, all eyes were on Scherzer and his bid for perfection.

scherzer

Tabata taking one for the team.

In the ninth inning the entire crowd was on their feet in anticipation. Each foul ball brought a unison groan followed by a sigh of relief. After two rather easy outs, Jose Tabata stepped up to bat. Tabata battled Scherzer, fouling off several pitches while working his way to a 2-2 count after seeing seven pitches. Things got interesting on the eighth pitch. Scherzer spun a backdoor curveball that was hovering inside the plate that Tabata took off his protective gear covered elbow. I’ve watched the replay quite a few times and it looks pretty clear to me that he leaned into the pitch. Needless to say, the crowd (myself included) was not happy. I was angry I would no longer be seeing a perfect game and I was left doubting we would see the completion of a no-hitter. That just felt like one of those disaster turn of events that had me convinced the following batter, Josh Harrison, would break up the no-no.

Luckily, I was wrong. Harrison gave the ball a ride that put a bit of a scare into the crowd as Michael Taylor tracked it down just short of the warning track in left field for the final out. A collective roar erupted. Now I was nowhere near the level of the die-hard Nationals fans who were in a state of jubilation (very similar to my reaction to Johan Santana’s I watched in the bar a few years ago) but I certainly partook in my fair share as we embraced after watching our first in-person no-hitter.

I’ve been lucky enough to witness quite a few special moments at baseball games. This one is right up there behind only Derek Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium as my favorite non-Mets related moment. No-hitter’s, especially in an era where pitchers struggle to get through six innings, are a rare occurrence.  I hope it’s not the case, but that could very well be the only one I see in-person throughout my lifetime. Hopefully I’ll get to witness a no-hitter, or preferably a perfect game, at Citi Field. Fingers crossed it’s not the Mets on the receiving end of it though.

max-scherzer-10

Chocolate syrup celebration?

Side notes: I thought it was awesome to learn that Scherzer’s parents were in attendance from Missouri and he was able to treat his dad to an early fathers day gift. I always love those type of secondary story lines. Also, what was the deal with that chocolate syrup celebration? Is this a new trend that I’m only learning about now? I’m sure the equipment manager really appreciated this. Forget the water jug, whipped cream pies, bucket of sunflower seeds or chocolate syrup – go find a couple of cold ones from the fridge and let Scherzer down a few Stone Cold Steve Austin style.

 

A lot of words can describe this Mets team, but resilient has to be one of them

The Mets celebrate last night's walk-off win

The Mets celebrate last night’s walk-off win

After suffering a brutal loss on Saturday (I witnessed it firsthand) the Mets have done what they have all season – bounced back.

Just a day after a bullpen meltdown led to an extra innings loss, Dillon Gee imploded on Sunday afternoon allowing eight runs in just 3 2/3 innings of work. It appeared the Mets were well on their way to a downward spiral as the life was sucked out of the ball club on back-to-back days. But then the often anemic offense came to life. Home runs by Darrell Ceciliani, Dilson Herrera, Travis d’Arnaud and Juan Lagares powered the Mets to a 10-8 come from behind win. Terry Collins didn’t take any chances with the bullpen this time around as Jeurys Familia completed a four out save.

Monday night appeared to be going down the same path as Saturday’s loss. Noah Syndergaard, after a first inning mistake to Jose Bautista, held a steamrolling Blue Jays lineup at bay throwing six innings while striking out 11. The Mets offense rallied in the bottom half of the sixth for two runs that put Syndergaard in line for a much deserved win. Familia was called upon once more for a four out save. He was able to work his way out of an inherited jam in the eighth, but didn’t fair as well in the ninth.

A tailing 97-MPH fastball that was sitting about six inches inside the plate was rifled down the left field line by Bautista, again, for his second long ball of the game. I have a hard time putting too much blame on Familia for that pitch. Nine out of ten times that pitch breaks a hitters bat. There are only a handful of players capable of hitting that ball, unfortunately Bautista is one of them. After exchanging zeros in the 10th, the Blue Jays put together a run in the 11th that had many thinking deja vu to Saturday afternoon. Once more the Mets showed their resiliency. Down to their final strike, Lucas Duda floated a single into left field against an outfield shift that allowed a running Michael Cuddyer on a 3-2 count to score all the way from first. Wilmer Flores followed that with a base hit up the middle that brought Duda home to win the game.

This Mets team isn’t perfect. In fact, they are far from it. There are plenty of flaws that we are quick to point out with this injury decimated roster. Yet no matter how questionable their lineup may look at times they have continued to play well enough to hang onto first place in the NL East. The Washington Nationals are still the odds on favorites and it seems inevitable they will eventually put a stretch together that allows them to surpass the Mets in the standings. However, it’s become rather clear that this Mets team will not go down this season without a fight.

 

Tanaka, Gee: A tale of two returns

IMG_0151Yesterday the Yankees and Mets each had a starter return to their respective rotations. Masahiro Tanaka, the ace of the Yankees staff, made his much-anticipated return to the mound. While Dillon Gee, who has become more commonly known as the odd man out, returned to the Mets.

Tanaka: 7 IP 3 H 1 ER 9 SO

Much has been made of Tanaka’s health since a small tear of his UCL in his right elbow was discovered last season. Rather than undergoing Tommy John Surgery, Tanaka chose rest and rehab. While some rolled their eyes at his decision, he was able to return to form late in 2014. However, it took less than a month into the 2015 season for another setback to occur. Although the two aren’t believed to be related issues, Tanaka spent the past month on the DL with a right elbow strain. Leaving many to wonder whether or not Tanaka made the right decision to forego surgery and was putting off the inevitable.

In the four starts Tanaka made before hitting the DL he did not look like the Cy Young candidate from last season. His fastball was sitting in the high 80’s as he was clearly holding himself back on the mound. I’m not sure what exactly happened in the month since his last start, but Tanaka seemed to have returned to form yesterday. His fastball was clocked as high as 96 MPH along the way to dominating the Seattle Mariners. With the AL East up for grabs, if Tanaka can stay healthy, and that’s a big if, the Yankees 1-2 punch with Michael Pineda and himself anchoring the rotation could make the Yankees the team to be within the division.

Gee: 4 IP 8 H 7 R 4 ER 1 SO

It’s been an interesting start, to say the least, for Gee’s season. Here’s a little rundown on his year to date:

  • After being considered an expendable arm, he was openly shopped around the entire offseason
  • Reluctantly awarded a spot in the rotation when Zack Wheeler underwent Tommy John Surgery in spring training.
  • Then forced into a battle, for that same spot, with emerging young arms Rafael Montero, Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard for most of March.
  • After suffering an injury that landed him on the 15-day DL, he was then replaced by Syndergaard in the rotation.
  • Syndergaard seized his opportunity and excelled in his first few starts, causing the Mets front office to overly extend Gee’s minor league rehab assignment to buy Syndergaard more time at the major league level.
  • Gee was recalled as part of the Mets plan for implementing a six man rotation, that will last for the foreseeable future, in an effort to limit the workload on the young arms.

There is a buzz that has surrounded most of this Mets rotation throughout the season. When Matt Harvey takes the mound, it’s an event in NYC. Jacob DeGrom, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year, is as cool as they come and he’s picked up right where he left off. Syndergaard, who has lived up to his “Thor”nickname, strikes fear into batters with his 6’6” 240 lb presence on the hill to go along with his fastball that flirts with 100 MPH at times. Even Bartolo Colon, who leads the staff in wins, has become must watch TV for the pure entertainment value (especially at the plate) he provides.

Then there’s Gee. When he’s listed as the probable starter, the game really has no feel to it. He gives fans a kind of “blah” feeling when he takes the mound. Sure he will keep the Mets in the game, for the most part, but he doesn’t provide any extra excitement that entices you to tune in. Yesterday didn’t help his cause in arguing against that point. He struggled in his return to get through his four innings of work. “It wasn’t as bad as it looked” said manager Terry Collins. I’m not sure which game you were watching, Terry, but yes, yes it was. With Steven Matz patiently awaiting a phone call, Gee is on a short leash to turn things around if he wants to hold onto his spot in the rotation.

At the end of the day, it was only the first start back for Tanaka and Gee. But each fan base was left with completely different emotions by their end results. Yankee fans were given hope that maybe they can put a strangle hold on the AL East, with no team differentiating themselves so far, if Tanaka can stay healthy and returns to form. While Mets fans were left scratching their heads as to why Gee is still hanging around.

 

 

Matt Harvey shines on “The Daily Show”

harvey elbow

Jon Stewart provided ample protection for Harvey’s right elbow

Mets ace Matt Harvey was a guest on “The Daily Show” hosted by Jon Stewart last night.

It’s no secret that the longtime host is a die-hard Mets fan. He has become well-known for incorporating his frustrations with the franchise in his nightly rants, making them the punchline in many of his jokes over the years. Stewart is your prototypical Mets fan in his pessimistic views, always expecting the worst case scenario to occur.  With little faith in the Mets ability to retain Harvey long-term, he flirted with the idea of trading him in the near future “for a goat and some magic beans.” With his tenure coming to an end with “The Daily Show” this year, it made sense for him to have the franchises biggest star on before his departure.

Stewart asked Harvey about the Mets early success this season. “You’re 26 years old. You got New York City — we have not seen a player of your ability in many years. … What does it feel like?” Stewart asked the pitcher.

“I think it’s excitement,” Harvey replied. “For us and the whole staff, we’re excited about the future, we’re excited about now. And I think the most important thing is to focus on what we’re doing now.”

The highlight of the interview was when Stewart pulled out a pillow for Harvey to rest his elbow on and miniature police road blocks for protection. “I’ve got nothing left soon, that elbow is my future!” Stewart pronounced.

Harvey presented Stewart with a Mets jersey with #17 ij honor of 17 seasons of hosting "The Daily Show"

Harvey presented Stewart with a Mets jersey with #17 ij honor of 17 seasons of hosting “The Daily Show”

No offense to David Wright, but Matt Harvey is the face of the franchise. He possess the skill set, will to win and craves the limelight in a way that few desire. Harvey looks as comfortable in front of a microphone as he does out on the mound. Two years ago Harvey, in the midst of taking the league by storm and named NL starter for the All-Star Game, made a memorable appearance on “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon. Since then Harvey’s off the field persona has continued to grow. He has been featured in the ESPN Magazine Body Issue, dated numerous super models, become a fixture on Page Six of the NY Post for his social life, named NYC Bureau Chief for Derek Jeter’s ‘The Players’ Tribune’ and had an entire ESPN E:60 feature dedicated to his rehab after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

But, all of this wouldn’t be possible without his continued dominance on the mound. Harvey has wasted no time in silencing any doubt he would be rusty after missing a year and a half of action. He is 5-2 with a 2.91 ERA. In reality, Harvey has pitched well enough to win eight of his nine starts this year. However, I do believe he has yet to return to his form of two years ago, but that’s what’s scary about his start. Harvey has been nothing short of spectacular this year and he hasn’t even returned to peak form. Mets fans are giddy knowing that even better days could be lie ahead for Harvey in 2015.

So far, nothing has effected Harvey’s success on the field. As long as that doesn’t change, I’m all for him living his life any way he pleases. 26-years-old, single and living in New York City – it’s good to be Matt Harvey.

Click here to watch Matt Harvey on “The Daily Show.” 

Bartolo Colon, professional athlete, may have struggled due to running the bases

bartolo colonLet me start this off by saying I love Bartolo Colon. I really do. Everything about him is a joy to watch. From his care free demeanor on the mound to his helmet flying off of his head with each swing he takes at the plate – I can’t get enough of it. He’s been a pleasant surprise and a highlight free agent signing during GM Sandy Alderson’s tenure with the Mets. But manager Terry Collins made some comments last night that I found to be rather alarming regarding Colon’s mid game struggles.

In the third inning of last nights game, Colon reached base on a fielding error made by Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. He was then followed by back-to-back base hits that required Colon to “run” to reach base before being stranded at third. The following inning, after throwing three scoreless innings, Colon imploded and allowed six runs.

“That’s the first time he’s had to do that all year long,” Collins said after the game, referring to Colon having to run the bases.  “Maybe that was some of the reason why the next inning he didn’t have much. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him struggle so much with the command side.”

I know, Colon isn’t exactly the model of good health. But I still find that to be disturbing. I know the line from ‘Mr. Baseball‘ goes “We’re not athletes, we’re baseball players” – and while some degree of that may hold true, not being able to run 90 feet at a time is embarrassing. At the end of the day I don’t care if Colon get on base again for the rest of the season. He’s getting paid to perform on the mound, not at the plate. But if you’re going to play baseball in the National League I expect pitchers to at the bare minimum be able to run, and I use that term very loosely with Colon, the bases without it effecting you on the mound.

Here’s the clip from last night of Colon reaching base on an infield error:

The Subway Series Is The Talk Of The Town

IMG_4587

We’re only 16 games into the season and the buzz surrounding this weekend is that usually reserved for September/October baseball. The Rangers, Islanders and Nets might be in the playoffs – but the subway series is the talk of the town.

When the schedule was first released I was disappointed to see the first part of the subway series would be taking place in April. I felt it was too early in the year and would be lacking any real excitement during this normally dull period in the season. Luckily I could not have been more wrong. We might not have kicked the cold weather just yet in New York but both of these teams are red-hot.

The Mets (13-3) come into this series as the hottest team in baseball – riding an 11-game winning streak. Their hot start has already given the Mets a 4.5 game lead in the NL East. Despite players dropping like flies due to injury (and suspension) the team has maintained this football like mentality as “next man up” seems to be their mantra. Terry Collins has his ball club playing with a type of grit and resilience that hasn’t been seen in Queens in years. The fan base has responded in a big way to this early success. Attendance is soaring and Citi Field, dare I say it, is beginning to rock like Shea. Maybe not quite on that level, but it’s a noticeable atmosphere change. Every night a different player seems steps up and comes through with a key walk, sacrifice fly, strong start, clutch hit or defensive web gem on the way to a win. It has been a complete team effort early on for the Metsies.

IMG_4588

Friday: Michael Pineda (2-0, 5.00 ERA) vs Jacob DeGrom (2-0, 0.93 ERA) 7:05 p.m. WPIX/YES/MLB Network

Saturday: CC Sabathia (0-3, 4.35 ERA) vs Matt Harvey (3-0, 3.50 ERA) 4:05 p.m. SNY/YES/Fox Sports 1

Sunday: Nathan Eovaldi (1-0, 3.12) vs Jonathon Niese (2-0, 1.50 ERA) 8:05 p.m. ESPN

After getting off to a 3-6 start it appeared the Yankees (9-7) were in an early season tailspin. Things quickly turned around as the Yanks have since won 6 of their last 7 and now sit tied for first place in the AL East. There were questions swirling around some of this teams veteran players and what, if any, they had left in the tank. Mark Teixeira and A-ROD have been a blast from the past as each are producing at a high level. Chris Young, who was viewed as the team’s fourth or fifth outfield option, is among the hottest hitters in the game and has forced manager Joe Girardi’s hand for more playing time. The tag team of Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller has been as good as advertised in the back-end of the bullpen. In just a week the Yankees have changed their outlook from bleak to optimistic in what appears to be a wide open AL East.

In years past this has been a no-win situation for the Yankees. They have long been the kings of this city and would never gain any real advantage from taking a series from the Mets. Even when the Mets have won this series in recent years it has garnered no real significance. Sure, it’s nice to beat the Yankees but no one really cares when you’re playing meaningless games by the middle of August.

This year feels different. The Mets, and their fans, have been quite vocal in pronouncing 2015 as the year they take New York back. This is the first time that I can ever remember the Yankees coming into the subway series with a little chip on their shoulder. I have a REALLY hard time saying any team with a payroll well north of $200 million is ever an underdog, but it sure feels that way. For the Mets, if they really want to surpass the Yankees as the toast of the town – it starts by sending a message this weekend.

The Mets have overcome plenty of adversity in only 13 games

mets take back

The Mets are 10-3 and off to their best start since 2006. Attendance is soaring and reaching figures the franchise hasn’t seen since Citi Field’s inaugural season in 2009. Take a look at the back cover of any local newspaper and the Mets will be featured on it. Listen to WFAN or ESPN radio (if you must) and odds are the Mets will be the topic of discussion for the majority of any given program. Matt Harvey has become the toast of the town. Simply put, the Mets are well on their way to taking the city back.

By all means things appear to be going just as planned, if not better, for the Mets in 2015. Yet they have already overcome an immense amount of adversity just 13 games into the season.

  • Zack Wheeler was diagnosed with a torn UCL in mid-March and has since undergone Tommy John surgery. He is expected back in 12-16 months.
  • Vic Black underwent an MRI late in spring training that revealed a herniated disc in his right shoulder. There was hope Black would return as early as this week until another MRI revealed only little improvement. He will rest another week before being reevaluated once again. A reasonable return date is unknown at this point.
  • Jenrry Mejia suffered stiffness in his right elbow on opening day and was placed on the 15-day disabled list following the game. But that wasn’t the worst of it. Just a week later he was suspended 80-games for PED use. Changes in the CBA ban Mejia from pitching in the postseason, should the Mets qualify.
  • David Wright was placed on the 15-day disabled list on April 15th with strained hamstring. Wright has begun some rehab activities and Sandy Alderson expects the captain back when he is eligible to return on April 30. I hate to be negative about this positive news but hamstring issues are notoriously nagging injuries.
  • Travis d’Arnaud fractured his right pinkie finger and will be in a splint for three weeks. Rehab time still has to be taken into consideration on top of that. A realistic timetable for his return might be the end of May.
  • Jeremy Blevins fractured his forearm after being hit by a line drive and will remain in a splint for six weeks. He will then be reevaluated at that time and resume throwing when healed.

injured mr met

When you think about what those players mean to this roster you’re talking about a front line starter, three prominent arms in the bullpen (closer, setup man and lefty specialist), an emerging catcher and the linchpin of this offense who is also the team captain.

The motto so far seems to be next man up. Nobody feels bad for you in professional sports. There is no pity for you when a player goes down. For opposing teams it can be seen as an opportunity to take advantage of your vulnerability. But as of now the Mets have been able to not only “hang in there” but succeed even with those gleaming voids.

Looking at that list reminds me of the 2009 season when it felt as if the entire roster suffered from injury at some point throughout that year. The difference in this team has been their resilience. Sure the Mets have gotten off to other strong starts in recent seasons – but this one feels different. It’s hard to explain. Similar to how you try to quantify how some people have that “it” factor. I can’t quite put words on it but I have a sense this team will be able to keep it together. I won’t go as far as to crown them World Series Champions, yet alone NL East Champions, just yet – but I do believe this team is well on its way to playing a meaningful 2015 season in its entirety.

A farewell to my grandparents

Yesterday I received the type of news that you know will one day come, but refuse to accept it will actually happen – my grandfather, or pop-pop as I knew him, had passed away. I found myself thinking about the time we had spent together, as I’m sure many of you have done yourself after losing a loved one, and baseball kept coming to mind.

If you couldn’t tell by the fact that you’re reading this on a blog dedicated to the game – I love baseball, and my grandfather had something to do with that. I am admittedly a die-hard Mets fan. A major reason, and possibly the sole reason, I still follow the Yankees so closely and decided to make a NY baseball blog is because of my grandparents (mothers side). I might be writing this due to the recent passing of my grandfather, but my grandmother, who passed away about 8 years ago herself, had just as much to do with my love for the game. They were the biggest Yankees fans I’ve ever met.  I know, everyone says that about their grandparents when it comes to the Yankees, but I truly mean that statement.

Growing up when I would visit their home it wasn’t uncommon to walk in and see a Yankees game on the TV. In fact it was weird to not see one on the TV. I’m not just talking a game that was being played in the midst of a current season. I’m talking about in January a Yankees game would be on the TV. You have to remember this is before the YES network was shoving Yankees greatest games down our throats. No, they would be watching one of their many VHS tapes (remember those things?) of recorded games. There was always a pile stacked up on the floor next to the TV ready to be popped into the VCR to relive their favorite moments in Yankees history at anytime.

I don't think he ever got around to wearing that one...

I don’t think he ever got around to wearing that one…

My grandfather drove a paper route in NYC for a living. He would deliver newspapers and magazines to the proper distributors before they hit the newsstands in the morning. This must have contributed to his encyclopedia like knowledge of sports and pop culture. He loved the tabloids and to his dying day would read several newspapers on a daily basis. Baseball cards were still abundant at many of his stops in those days. I’m not sure if he actually bought all of these cards out-of-pocket or if he had a bartering system of sorts but he began giving me more packs than you can even imagine at a very young age. I still have every baseball card he has ever given me carefully packed away in my closet and tucked under my bed. I’m sure a good 95% of those are worth nothing more than the paper they are printed on, but no matter how much space they occupy I can’t ever see myself parting with them.

I have a feeling there are still packs tucked away in his house that he probably never got around to giving me from his working days. That was always kind of our thing. Everyone has something they connect over and ours was baseball. When my grandmother passed away he began spending increased time at my parents’ house, as my mother became his caretaker of sorts. Even as his health began to deteriorate and his memory began to go – he always wanted to talk sports and most notably baseball with me. Those facts and memories seemed to never falter from his brain. He would walk in the door, and speed walk his way through the house against my mother’s wishes, to find me in the living room before pronouncing something along with the lines of “YOU SEE THAT GAME LAST NIGHT?” I have to admit, there were times I dreaded him coming over the day after a tough Mets loss. But I know he wasn’t trying to rub salt in the wound. He just really wanted to talk about the game with me. Looking back on it now I already wish I didn’t take those moments for granted so many times.

When it comes to my grandmother, I don’t even know where to begin with her. She was the strongest willed woman I’ve ever seen. Typical Italian in that she never shied away from letting her feelings be known or engage in an argument just for the sake of arguing. And she was good at it. I don’t think it was possible for her to walk away from a conversation before getting her two cents in. But for all that she always had this help others first mentality. Everything revolved around what she could do to help you before herself. That is something that I felt summarized her character more than anything else and will always be my lasting memory of her. I hope to have half the heart she had when it comes to looking after my family and friends.

She loved baseball every bit as much as my grandfather. The two of them were frequent listeners to the sports radio station WFAN. Their favorite program was the Mike and the Mad Dog show. My grandmother enjoyed it so much that she actually took the time to call in “Grace from Lindenhurst you’re on the air,” as Mike Francesa would say. How many of your grandmothers cared enough about sports to call into a talk radio show? I’m going to go out on a limb and say not many.

The two of them visited the baseball hall of fame in Cooperstown when I was still very young. They brought me back this custom wooden bat with my name, hometown and birthday engraved on it. For years it was displayed hanging on my bedroom wall. As I got older it became my thinking bat. When I lay in my room that bat somehow always finds its way into my hands. No matter what’s on my mind, or what I have going on in my life, that bat seems to always help get me through it.

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I was the first grandchild they were able to sit in the stands and watch play baseball. As I got older I was lucky enough to be a part of a successful high school team. We had a very exciting two-year run and I know how much they enjoyed following along and coming to the games when they were able to. I grew accustomed to having my parents in the crowd and didn’t think twice about seeing them. But when I spotted my grandparents I would genuinely become nervous. I’m still not really sure why. I guess because I didn’t see them there as often and wanted to make sure I left the best impression I could on them in those limited opportunities. I like to think I did a pretty good job of that. On my teams way to winning the Long Island Championship I was named the county playoffs MVP. As much as that award meant to me on a personal level, I know how much pride that brought them both.

Shortly after winning the county championship

Shortly after winning the county championship

Last year on the final day of the baseball season my family and I took my grandfather to Citi Field. He had always told me stories about going to games at the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field. I felt that it was important that he see firsthand the modern-day stadium that was built in those ball parks remembrance. It didn’t matter that the Yankees weren’t playing. He didn’t care about that. Just being at the game with us and seeing the stadium in person meant the world to him. Later that night he broke down in tears to my mother about how much he enjoyed the day and what it meant to him for us to take him there. The thought alone makes me water up. I take solace in knowing I was with him for his final baseball game.

My  grandfathers final baseball game

My grandfathers final baseball game

My grandmother always kept up with modern technology and frequently used AIM (AOL Instant Messenger), yes my grandmother, and would always put up the same away message. All these years later I still have it ingrained in my mind – “When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you.” With opening day upon us I’m sure both of you are smiling ear to ear, along with the rest of us. Pop-pop is already complaining about a Joe Girardi pitching change. That’s if he’s able to get a word in over my grandmother.

R.I.P., I love and miss you both.

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Mets ownership should take a page out of the ‘Better Call Saul’ playbook

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Right as Mets spring training officially got underway this week an unwanted sight for Mets ownership erected – a billboard stating “Fred, Jeff & Saul – Ya gotta leave” went up on a nearby highway in Port St. Lucie.

It’s no secret ownership hasn’t been beloved by the fans for some time now. There is a strong disconnect between themselves and the fan base. And while it’s become quite clear they love owning the franchise, the feeling isn’t exactly mutual.

Mets fan Gary Palumbo took his protest one step further than most. He started a kickstarter campaign to raise money in order to create these billboards encouraging ownership to sell the team. When I first saw this on twitter I laughed it off. Figured it was just a guy who came up with this idea at the bar one night with his buddies and was probably half serious about it. Sure enough once the campaign started he quickly found out he wasn’t the only fan who shared these feelings.

With an original goal of raising $5,000 he has surpassed that with $6,714 to this point. Meaning fans will be seeing multiple of billboards surrounding Queens this summer.

It’s hard for Jeff, Fred and Saul to receive any sort of sympathy. After all, it’s hard for anyone to feel bad for a group of Millionaires. But, if they tuned in to ‘Better Call Saul’ a few weeks ago, they might have found a way to earn some goodwill…

Not that I would ever expect to see this happen. But I sure would love to see Saul Katz (has anyone ever seen this man do an interview?) give this a try.

The only real solution to this problem is to win. If the Mets are winning ballgames this season than this will become nothing more than background noise. Nobody hopes that is the case more than Jeff, Fred and Saul.

Daniel Murphy was doomed for failure yesterday

Yesterday former major league player Billy Bean, not to be confused with the Athletics GM, was invited to Mets camp as a guest of Sandy Alderson. Bean is the first professional baseball player to publicly come out as gay. He now serves as an MLB ambassador for inclusion in the game today. Alderson hoped his story and presence in camp would rub off on the team and help stress the point of inclusion for all as the team continues to bond this spring.

The thought was there and I tip my cap at Alderson for the effort. But, things took a turn for the worst when Daniel Murphy made headlines.

Murphy has become well-known, especially by the team beat writers, for his christian beliefs. His faith is a big part of his life and has never shied away from saying so in any interview. Thus making him the target of the media yesterday to get his thoughts on Bean and his sexuality.

Here is some of what Daniel Murphy had to say regarding Bean (NJ.com):

“I disagree with his lifestyle,” Murphy said. “I do disagree with the fact that Billy is a homosexual. That doesn’t mean I can’t still invest in him and get to know him. I don’t think the fact that someone is a homosexual should completely shut the door on investing in them in a relational aspect. Getting to know him. That, I would say, you can still accept them but I do disagree with the lifestyle, 100 percent.”

“Maybe, as a Christian, that we haven’t been as articulate enough in describing what our actual stance is on homosexuality,” he said. “We love the people. We disagree the lifestyle. That’s the way I would describe it for me. It’s the same way that there are aspects of my life that I’m trying to surrender to Christ in my own life. There’s a great deal of many things, like my pride. I just think that as a believer trying to articulate it in a way that says just because I disagree with the lifestyle doesn’t mean I’m just never going to speak to Billy Bean every time he walks through the door. That’s not love. That’s not love at all.”

Murphy was set up for failure yesterday. I understand it’s the media’s job to seek after these sort of quotes and headlines to sell papers. But what bothered me was that they chose to go after Murphy because of his well documented christian beliefs. They knew Murphy would not shy away from speaking on behalf of his faith. Murphy did what he has always done, and what the media hoped he would do, as he stood there and answered the questions openly and honestly.

We live in a politically correct world today. Especially on a topic as sensitive as homosexuality in America. These days if you don’t agree with someone, you’re the problem. No longer are we allowed to disagree or possess different beliefs. I mean what do you think this is – the land of the free?

For the record, I have absolutely no problem with Billy Bean and his sexuality. Good for him for living his life the way he wants to. Everyone should be able to do the same without fear of persecution.

Bean, who is a contributor on MLB.com, wrote a piece today regarding his experience with the Mets. It’s worth a read. This is an excerpt from regarding Murphy:

 “After reading his comments, I appreciate that Daniel spoke his truth. I really do. I was visiting his team, and a reporter asked his opinion about me. He was brave to share his feelings, and it made me want to work harder and be a better example that someday might allow him to view things from my perspective, if only for just a moment.”

“I respect him, and I want everyone to know that he was respectful of me. We have baseball in common, and for now, that might be the only thing. But it’s a start.”

This is why I have a problem with the backlash Murphy has received in these last 24 hours. The man stood there and reiterated his personal beliefs. He did not commit some hate crime. You didn’t see Murphy protest his presence and refuse to get dressed in the same locker room or participate in anything involving Bean. In fact, he did the complete opposite as he spoke with Bean and got to know him a little. If Bean, the man who was supposed to be offended the most by these comments, was able to walk away with respect for Murphy – why can’t everyone else?

We do not have to agree on everything in this country. That’s what is supposed to make America great. We have the freedom to differentiate ourselves from one another with our own personal beliefs.

Feel free to disagree with Daniel Murphy. You have every right to. But don’t hate the man for having an opinion different to yours. Billy Bean doesn’t.

 

Watch: Matt Harvey “The Dark Knight Rises”

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ESPN’s Baseball Tonight crew is spending the day in Port St. Lucie at the Mets spring training facility. To correspond with this E:60 has released the trailer for their upcoming feature “The Dark Knight Rises” starring Matt Harvey.

This doesn’t look like the run-of-the mill piece, as they have captured footage over the past several months of Harvey. I’m not so sure he wouldn’t have been a better choice than Ben Affleck to revamp the Batman movie franchise.

If you’re a Mets fan, there isn’t any way you can watch this and not feel those baseball juices flowing inside of you.

There can be only one: Who will reign as king of the back page, Harvey or A-ROD?

Matt Harvey (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images), A-Rod (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images) Photo from: http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2015/02/12/mets-harvey-a-rods-return-good-for-him-good-for-baseball/

Matt Harvey (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images), A-Rod (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images) Image from: http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2015/02/12/mets-harvey-a-rods-return-good-for-him-good-for-baseball/

New York City might be big enough for two professional baseball teams, but only one franchise, and in most cases one player, will control the back pages. Last season that man was Derek Jeter. Now that his farewell tour has ended, I wasn’t sure if it ever would, there are two men who will fill that void. Matt Harvey and Alex Rodriguez are poised for a back page battle in their 2015 returns. But as was the case in ‘Highlander’ – there can be only one.

In 2013, Harvey took the league, and city, by storm. You could find him featured in ESPN Magazine: The Body Issue, participating in skits for ‘The Tonight Show’, on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Us Weekly (featuring his breakup with super model Annie V) and sitting courtside at Knicks/Rangers games. Oh, then there was the fact the he started the 2013 All-Star game at Citi Field. Almost forgot about his on the field dominance. Simply put, he was everywhere.

Unfortunately, Harvey’s rise to stardom was derailed by a season-ending elbow injury that led to Tommy John Surgery. Even while he missed the entire 2014 season recovering he grabbed more attention than his active teammates. Now, much of that has to do with the lackluster season the Mets put together. Nonetheless, Harvey has become a walking headline. Every interview, comment, appearance or tweet he made has become back page news.

Harvey’s combination of talent and brash have him on the cusp of taking the throne as King of NY. All eyes will be on him this spring as he returns to the mound.

matt-harvey-sports-illustrated-cover

Matt Harvey will be leading the charge as the Mets try to take back NY.

Then there’s A-ROD. He is one of, if not the, most captivating figure in sports. Given where he stands in today’s media landscape, it’s easy to forget that A-ROD was once one of the most popular players in the game. That was long before he donned the pinstripes. As a young phenomenon he was well on his way to a Hall of Fame career and was on pace to break every record in the book. He earned the largest contract in professional sports history (he would later receive a second deal to top that). His little black book is filled with a “who’s who” of women in Hollywood. Then steroids came into the picture. Accusations occurred, denials were initially made and then apologies were ultimately issued.

A-ROD went on to become a World Series hero and all was forgiven. Or was it? Accusations of PED once again began to occur. A lot of them. Denials were once again made. Then a suspension was handed down. A big one (The largest in baseball history). And once again, an apology was issued. This time in the form of a handwritten note.

Here’s an excerpt:

“I accept the fact that many of you will not believe my apology or anything that I say at this point. I understand why and that’s on me. It was gracious of the Yankees to offer me the use of Yankee Stadium for this apology but I decided the next time I am in Yankee Stadium, I should be in pinstripes doing my job.”

People love to see the mighty crumble. As bad as that may sound, it’s true. Think about every featured story on the news, magazine covers or website homepages. More times than not you won’t be seeing any feel good stories. It’s almost always regarding someones downfall. Hence why these A-ROD scandals have been so widely reported. Sure, his story has become kind of repetitive. He’s almost like watching a rerun on TV. You’ve already seen the episode. But you enjoyed it so much the first time around that you decided to watch it again. Sound familiar?

I don’t care how many monuments the Yankees give out this season. A-ROD is the only Yankee story people care about.

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Not so fast, A-ROD. I’m sure you have a few more back page covers in you.

The media aren’t the only ones excited for A-ROD’s return. Earlier this week Harvey himself said “If he is that dedicated and wants to come back then more power to him for going up to the organization like that, it shows a lot,” Harvey told the NY Post. “It will be exciting to see what he can do.”

No one epitomized a baseball player better than Derek Jeter. But I found myself becoming bored with him during those dog days of summer last season. I craved that polarizing figure. Someone who has a bit of a flair to him. I missed Matt Harvey. And at times, I can’t believe I’m saying this, I missed A-ROD..

Both The Mets and Yankees are projected to be in the playoff hunt this year, but neither are considered favorites. It’s been a while since these two were on roughly an even playing field. While winning is crucial in NY, it is considered almost equally as important to win those back pages. A-ROD, for both his on and (mostly) off the field actions, could be the Yankees only hope in this battle. While Matt Harvey will try to solidify himself as the new face of baseball in NY.

WATCH: Josh Lewin on MLB Network talking Mets

Mets radio broadcaster Josh Lewin was a guest on MLB Network’s Hot Stove this morning to talk the upcoming season. Lewin sounded optimistic that the Mets will be able to ride this pitching staff into playoff contention in 2015. One interesting point he made was a reminder that Rafael Santana, the Mets shortstop on the 1986 champion team, hit .218 with one home run in that season. He was quick to remind us that he wasn’t comparing the rest of the everyday players to that roster but rather raising the point that it’s not the end-all and be-all if they don’t start the season with a premier shortstop.

Watch the segment in its entirety below:

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