Thirty Years Later for All of Us

I’m covering two Mets teams tonight. Since about 7:10, I’ve been in the press box watching the 2016 Mets take on the Los Angeles Dodgers (no score, one out, the fans are booing the announcement of Chase Utley… now Noah Syndergaard has been tossed for throwing behind Utley’s back… Terry Collins is furious, and he’s been tossed… Logan Verrett is taking his warm-ups, the fans are standing, furiously booing in a “What the blank just happened” kind of way, and now they are roaring with delight because Utley’s been called out on strikes…whew, the excitement of on the spot writing.)

However, I am also covering the 1986 Mets tonight as the organization is honoring that World Championship team tonight. Having figuratively lived and died with the highs and lows as a fan of the Mets of that era, it was fun to chat with manager Davey Johnson, Jesse Orosco, and Wally Backman before the game.

Later, about 25 minutes before the ceremony, I stationed myself on the field to take photos of the festivities. I chatted amiably with the photographer next to me (based on the zoom capabilities of our lenses, it was clear he was a photographer and I was a guy taking pictures).

The Mets opened the festivities with the old “Let’s Go Mets Go” video and maybe it was the sight of the late Gary Carter or just the sights and people of 1986 New York City but I was moved to the point where I almost became emotional. Granted, I’m not exactly gruffest guy in the world; I became emotional during a showing of the  presentation scene in “The Lion King” at Disney World in 2000 – the happiest place in the world for goodness sakes –  when my oldest daughter was a baby, but this was unexpected.

Perhaps it was a combination of being reminded of happy memories, my youth, and the passage of time that caught me off guard. Looking at the faces of the 1986 Mets, 30 years time had treated  some of them better than others. Of course, while I like to think  I’m the same guy I was at 23, the gray hair on the barber shop floor when I get a haircut tells me otherwise.

I remember watching a documentary about the Brooklyn Dodgers with my Dad years ago and noticing a trace of emotion in his face  watching the players he rooted for in the 1940’s and 1950’s (and he’s a World War II veteran who experienced the Battle of the Bulge not a guy who works in air conditioning in a cubicle like me). At that point, those “Boys of Summer” had been gone from Brooklyn for 30 years or so, some of them had begun to pass away like the late Gil Hodges, and life had moved on, like it always does. But maybe it was that same sense of happy memories and youth that hit both of us.

One of the perks of covering a game at Citi Field is you never know who you’ll share an elevator with and after the on field festivities, I found myself waiting for the elevator with among others, Ray Knight, the MVP of the 1986 World Series. This was Knight’s first participation at a Mets event with his former teammates and with his back to me, I tapped him on the shoulder and asked him about how it felt to be back and he said it  was  “awesome” and it gave him “chills.” I told him I felt the same way and he patted me on the shoulder, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Short Outing but Long Night for Harvey

When you combine the shortest outing of Matt Harvey’s career with the most runs he’s allowed in a game, you get tonight’s game at Citi Field. As I sit in the pressbox at 9:56 pm, Matt Harvey has been in the dugout for almost two hours as the Mets trail the Nationals 9-1 in the eighth inning. Unlike his other starts in 2016 where Harvey struggled to get out of the fifth or sixth inning unscathed, ex-Met Daniel Murphy quieted the crowd early when he drilled a 0-2 pitch over the centerfield fence for a two-run homer in the first inning. Two innings later, the Nationals scored seven runs (three unearned) and Harvey was gone. As Harvey walked off the field, the fans started to boo but by the time  he crossed the grass onto the dirt in foul territory in front of the Mets dugout, even the most annoyed fans were silent as the Mets ace’s night ended before sundown.

Before the game, manager Terry Collins was hopeful that facing the Nationals and Stephen Strasburg might provide the adrenalin rush to Harvey that might help him regain the form he’s shown in past years. Instead, it’s turned out to be his worst outing of the season and the questions surrounding Harvey will swirl even more furiously in days before his next start.

 

The Short Shelf Life of a Sub-Headline but a Prescient First Paragraph

In my latest article in the Rockland County Times this week, I wrote, “Matz Excels and Harvey Improves,” and this particular sub-headline appears to have been as long lasting as an ice cube left on a hot sunny sidewalk. For Matz, concerns were raised by his inability to take the mound this weekend due to elbow pain while for Harvey, the concern is his inability to get out of the sixth inning.

After picking up his fifth consecutive victory on Monday, the Mets announced two days later that Matz would miss his next scheduled start on Saturday in Colorado due to elbow pain. The Long Island lefty has won nine of his first ten career decisions since being called up late last June but in the middle of those decisions he missed two months of 2015 due to a lat injury. Matz will be evaluated when the team returns to New York on Monday but he’s also someone whose development was delayed when he underwent Tommy John surgery shortly after the Mets drafted him in 2009 so the optimism about his stellar performance for the Mets has been tempered by concerns about his durability. Could he be a Mets version of Clay Bucholz of the Red Sox, eg. someone who’s talented enough to pitch a no-hitter, win 17 games in one season, go 12-1 in another season and yet also be someone who goes on the DL seven times in eight years?

Matt Harvey confounded conventional wisdom last season when he pitched so well in his first year back from Tommy John surgery. Unfortunately, so far, he’s confounding the conventional wisdom that pitchers perform better in their second year back from Tommy John surgery. Team leader and titular ace of the staff, Harvey has lost five of eight decisions this season and his performance on Friday against the Rockies was particularly troubling considering his velocity was down and it followed his best start of the season on Sunday against the Padres. The Mets ace said he feels fine physically but is confused about his struggles. “I’m just not feeling comfortable throwing a baseball right now,” he said after the Rockies rocked him 5-2 on Friday.

On the other hand, most of this week’s article was about Bartolo Colon and his first career home run and I wrote (tongue in cheek), “What will Bartolo Colon do for an encore? Hit two home runs in one game?” While he hasn’t hit two home runs in a game (yet), in the hours between my writing that sentence and the publication of the article,  his teammate Noah Syndergaaard  became only the second Mets pitcher to hit two home runs in one game when he defeated the Dodgers 4-3 on Wednesday.

 

 

 

Latest Newspaper Article:Colon’s First Homer Is a Record-Setter

Colon’s First Homer Is a Record-Setter

Colon’s First Homer Is a Record-Setter
Posted May 12th, 2016

Matz Excels and Harvey Improves

By Joe Rini

What will Bartolo Colon do for an encore? Hit two home runs in one game? How about stealing home? Perhaps leaping a tall building in a single bound?
With a league leading 49 home runs through 32 games, the first place Mets are on pace to smash the franchise record of 200 home runs set in 2006. However, unless one of the Amazins channels his inner Bill Mazeroski and hits a championship winning home run in the ninth inning of game seven of the World Series this October, the most memorable home run of the season may have been struck by Colon this past weekend.
Colon, who turns 43 on May 24, became the oldest player in baseball history to hit his first major league home run when he drove a James Shields pitch into the leftfield seats for a two-run homer in the Mets 6-3 victory over the Padres in San Diego on May 7. Having spent the vast majority of his career in the land of the designated hitter, otherwise known as the American League, Colon hadn’t had a base hit in nine years before joining the Mets as a free agent in 2014 at the untender age of 40. Despite a .083 batting average since joining the Mets, the rotund righty’s at bats have been as entertaining as his pitching has been effective (he’s the team’s leader in wins since 2014) with flying helmets and bats held as he’s run to first base, along with the occasional base hit.
Speaking after the game, manager Terry Collins said, “You’re just so happy for him. He’s such a pro. He’s such a good guy. The time he’s been here, he’s such a leader for everybody. We all know he’s an entertaining guy at home plate, so to have him ambush something like that and hit a homer, it’s pretty special.”
Commenting afterwards through an interpreter, Colon said, “It means a lot. It’s something that I still can’t believe until now.”
While Mike Piazza’s home run after September 11 will probably always be the most significant home run in Mets history, Colon’s homer, like a surprise birthday party on New Year’s Eve where the guest of honor finds out he has hit the lottery on the same night, may have been the most joyful in Mets history – unless, of course, he hits that championship winning home run Mazeroski style in October.
The Mets are in the midst of an eleven game road trip that has seen them split the first six games and edge into first place in the NL East by 1⁄2 game. Since opening the season with a thud in his 2016 debut, Steven Matz has excelled and picked up his fifth consecutive win in the Mets 4-2 victory over the Dodgers on May 9. Matt Harvey gave the Mets cause for hope as he pitched his best game of season with 10 strikeouts in six innings as the Mets topped the Padres 4-3 on Sunday.
After four games in Los Angeles, the 20-12 Mets play Suffern’s Walt Weiss and his Colorado Rockies in Denver before returning to Citi Field on May 17 to renew their rivalry with the Nationals and NL batting leader, Daniel Murphy.
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Trying Not to Go South When Going West

(Stage Direction: The following paragraph can be read in an Andy Rooney type voice) I wanted to write a more positive sounding title, but how is it that “going south” can mean things are going badly while “going north” never really caught on to mean things are going well? We say things are “looking up” or “looking down” but somehow “going north” never really made it as a counterpoint to “going south.” In fact, we negatively use north to mean we’re getting older (“Sign that guy? He’s north of 30!) or heavier (“He’s put on some weight…I bet he’s north of 200.”). Then again, who am I to judge directions- I don’t even own a compass.

(Stage Direction: Resume our real voices) Following their successful 7-2 homestand, the Mets headed west to California on Wednesday night to play eight games in eight days in San Diego and Los Angeles with a stopover for three games in the nation’s heartland (aka Denver, Colorado) before returning to Citi Field on May 17. Trepidation seems to follow west coast trips; perhaps, it’s the going to bed not knowing how the team fared (“Go to bed…you have work tomorrow.”). It’s a challenge to excel cross-country. In fact, after flying west on Wednesday and opening a four game series with the Padres without the benefit of a good night’s sleep or an off-day, the Mets’ bats slumbered  through the first eight innings on May 5 before rousing to score three runs in the ninth inning in a 5-3 loss.

However, if they can meet the challenge and have a successful west coast swing, it can give the team an early season boost. Last season, after being swept by the Cubs for the second time in two months, speculation about Terry Collins job status traveled with the struggling Mets to Los Angeles and San Francisco but the Mets surprised the Dodgers and Giants with four wins in six games and saved their season. A decade ago, six wins in seven games in June 2006 in Los Angeles and Phoenix put the Mets on the express track to the Eastern Division championship.

On the other hand, a 2-9 western trip in 2010 under Collins’ predecessor Jerry Manuel staggered the second half hopes of the Mets and ultimately lead to the manager’s dismissal and the Terry Collins era.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

13 Runs and Uncle Al

Sometimes the number 13 isn’t so unlucky. It was lucky for the Mets on Friday when they trounced the San Francisco Giants 13-1 after exploding for a franchise record 12 runs in the third inning. More fortunately for me, it reminded me of my late Uncle Al.

Uncle Al was a friendly and pleasant guy, a World War II veteran, a New York Giants turned Mets fan, an early riser and a hardworker.

Growing up in Brooklyn in the 1970’s, I saw my uncle (who was also my Godfather) frequently as he would often visit my family on his way home from work. He and my Aunt Liz didn’t have children of their own but he was the kind of uncle who’d actually play with us when we were little and I’ll always remember the treats he’d bring to our home from the the Crescent Street Bakery (the bakery is gone now and unfortunately they took the chocolate pudding cake with them). He introduced me to the pre-Rupert Murdoch New York Post and he always seemed to have the late edition of the New York Daily News with the late game boxscores. Oh, and he taught me about the “13 run pool.”

Sitting around the table in the kitchen (I’ve learned from personal experience that a lot happens around the kitchen table in Italian households), and scanning the boxscores from the Post or the News, I remember my uncle mentioning the “13 run pool.” Evidently, the locals in the neighborhood bar had a pool where someone would win the pot if a team scored 13 runs. I couldn’t tell you the size of the pot or how the participants selected their teams or if my uncle ever won that pool. What I do know is that more than 40 years later, whenever a team scores 13 runs,  I think of my Uncle Al and the 13 run pool

One thing I know, if there’s a 13 run pool in heaven, I hope he collected on Friday.