Posted in Baseball, New York Mets

Baseball is back, and that is awesome

Baseball is back.

I got to watch the Opening Day introductions of the Mets players live on SNY before it was time to start work, so I saw the new Mets trainer get cheered for not being Ray Ramirez. Jacob deGrom earned applause even without his trademarked long locks. Wilmer Flores, man of the people, got one of the biggest ovations. So did David Wright, though it was sad to realize that the cheers were for what he’d already done and not what he might still accomplish on a baseball field.

Philip Evans looked like he was trying to run Brandon Nimmo competition for having the biggest smile on Opening Day. After a too-long winter, it was great.

I had to wait for the SNY Encore to watch the game, which the Mets won 9-4.

Noah Syndergaard was impressive, striking out 10 while walking none. But I agree with him that there’s room for improvement… forget about Yadier Molina’s fluke home run, because Molina hit a pretty good pitch and it barely stayed fair. But Jose Martinez (who the hell is Jose Martinez, anyway?) looked way too comfortable.

Amed Rosario had one of the biggest hits in the game. Brandon Nimmo was on base just about every time he came up. Yoenis Cespedes was Yoenis Cespedes (in a good way.) Nobody could touch Robert Gsellman when he came in in relief.

It was awesome. The cherry on top is that Michael Conforto might be back next week, almost a month ahead of schedule. (Adrian Gonzalez, you should probably consider yourself on notice.)

I got to see a few minutes of the Yankees’ opener, though not any of the exciting bits. Giancarlo Stanton lived up to the hype — at least on Day 1. A homer in his first official Yankee at bat gave John Sterling the chance to debut his awful home run call. (Dude, you had all winter and this is what you came up with?)

The other big star of the winter, Shohei Otani, singled in his first Major League at bat and drove in a run. He went 1-for-5 as the DH in the Los Angeles Angels’ Opening Day loss. Otani is set to make his MLB pitching debut on Easter Sunday.

Thanks to Easter and all the daytime baseball scheduled during the season’s opening week, it will be a little while before I can settle into a rhythm of watching games… but it’s nice to know that baseball and the Mets will be there for the next six months, at least.

Posted in New York Mets

We’ll remember Rusty

Rusty Staub passed away this morning due to multiple organ failures. He was 73.

I didn’t really start following baseball until Staub’s 23-year playing career came to an end. I knew him through stories… as one of the best pinch-hitters in the National League… as the guy who hit .400 in the 1973 World Series with a bum shoulder… as the guy Davey Johnson tried to hide in the outfield during an 18-inning game in 1985, when he hadn’t played out there in close to two years… despite Johnson’s efforts to switch him between left and right field to keep him away from chances, Staub managed to make a game-saving catch when Rick Rhoden hit a ball to him.

I remember Staub as a restaurateur and a broadcaster… again, both through stories. I never visited his eatery and we didn’t get the channel he worked for. I remember Staub for the stories about all the work he did on behalf of the New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund.

The nice thing about stories is that they never die, as long as we keep telling them. Please share your stories about Rusty Staub in the comments, and enjoy the video of Rusty Staub Day in 1986 from YouTube.

Posted in Baseball, New York Mets

One day more

One day remains until the curtain rises on the 2018 Major League Baseball season.

One day more until the games count… but don’t tell that to the 25,000 fans and one proud dad who watched Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit a walk-off home run to give the Toronto Blue Jays a 1-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in a exhibition game at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium last night. (Fun footnote… Vladimir Guerrero Sr. hit the last walk-off home run in an official Major League game in the ballpark in 2003.)

On the other hand, the Los Angeles Dodgers are probably happy to have a little more time to get ready… an exhibition game between the Dodgers and Los Angeles Angels at Dodger Stadium came to an early end last night after a pipe broke and flooded the field, leaving the grounds crew to cope with a smelly mess.

The Oakland Athletics are probably enjoying the headlines.

Speaking of the A’s, they’re bringing back an old mascot to help celebrate their 50th anniversary season. According to Baseball Digest, Harvey the Rabbit started delivering baseballs to the home plate umpire during games in the 1960s when the Athletics played in Kansas City. The A’s brought him to Oakland when they relocated, but he last appeared at the Coliseum in 1971. The new Harvey is remote-controlled and will serve a more limited role: bringing out the baseball for the ceremonial first pitch.

I’m generally in favor of anything that seems fun and unique, but I do wonder if there’s any nostalgic outcry for a mascot last seen 47 years ago.

And to bring us back around to the Mets, Todd Frazier let us know about a cool thing they will be doing this season:

Posted in Baseball, New York Mets

Wrapping up spring training

The Mets ended the Grapefruit League portion of their spring training schedule Sunday, though they still have one more exhibition contest against their Triple-A team to play today.

I watched a grand total of two spring training games this year, undoubtedly my fewest in any year of the 21st century. I enjoyed the first few innings of Sunday’s game between the Mets and Marlins… Steven Matz got his final preseason tuneup, and I got to see a reasonable facsimile of Thursday’s Opening Day lineup. The Marlins were anonymous, even more than normal since it was a split squad for them. (Seriously, 2017 Somerset Patriot Tyler Cloyd was the most recognizable player in orange….)

But it was fun to watch baseball… at least until the players with names on the backs of their jerseys left the field for the guys from minor league camp who were wearing generic uniforms with numbers in the 80s and 90s. There was a time I would have known something about a few of them, at least. Now the mass swaps just annoy me. (I expect to catch myself yelling at someone to “get off my lawn” any time now.)

Bartolo Colon baseball DSCN1192
Baseball signed by Bartolo Colon

With the Texas Rangers’ release of former Met Bartolo Colon, it looks like Ichiro Suzuki will be the last active Major League player who was born before me. It’s just a matter of time.

The end of spring training likely brings the end of a few other careers.

  • The Philadelphia Phillies released 36-year-old Francisco Rodriguez, who had been the Mets’ closer from 2009-11. If my lasting memory of K-Rod wasn’t his arrest following a 2010 clubhouse incident involving his then-girlfriend’s father, maybe I’d feel bad that Rodriguez’s baseball days seem to be over.
  • The Atlanta Braves released 34-year-old Scott Kazmir, despite owing him $16 million this year. If this turns out to be it for the oft-injured left-hander, Kazmir will finish with a 108-96 MLB record, 4.01 ERA and three All-Star appearances. That’s not a bad career at all, but given the expectations that surrounded Kazmir when he was a Mets’ prospect, it feels a little bit disappointing.
  • Carlos Torres got his release from the Cleveland Indians after learning he would not make the team. Torres, 35, probably has the best chance of catching on somewhere else. He’s been a largely effective workhorse reliever since 2013. I’ll remember Torres for a photo I snapped of him wearing his glove on his head while he signed autographs during batting practice. I posted in on my Flickr account, and the glove manufacturer saw it. I ended up getting a nice pair of sunglasses from them in exchange for granting permission to use it in their marketing materials.

Mr Met DSCN6546The Mets finished spring training with a 10-18 record, which is not exactly inspiring. Only the 7-22 Texas Rangers finished with fewer victories. But honestly, it’s not that big of a deal — the 1986 Mets went 13-13 that spring, while the eventual 55-58 squad won 21 games in 1994.

Jason Vargas and Michael Conforto not withstanding, the Mets finished the spring relatively healthy. Conforto is likely to be back earlier than expected, and even Vargas doesn’t seem like he’s going to miss much time.

Mickey Callaway should have the team that Sandy Alderson put together for him in April, barring injuries. (With the Mets, you always have to qualify such statements because even cab rides to restaurants can prove dangerous.) And hey, you never know – Sports Illustrated is picking the Mets to win a Wild Card.

Everyone is still tied for first place, and will be until sometime Thursday afternoon. Anything is still possible.

Ya gotta believe.

Posted in Baseball, New York Mets

Spring training is underway (and nobody got hurt.)

Forget about the snow that’s falling as I write this. Spring training officially got underway this week. Mickey Callaway is excited about his new team, which is good because you know you’re in trouble if your first-year manager isn’t excited about his team in February.

Michael Conforto is taking part in baseball activities. David Wright is in Florida and progressing in his comeback attempt, though he’s not ready for baseball activity yet. Maybe (probably) Wright never plays another major league game… but I’ve gotta admire him for giving it every shot. It would be so easy to walk away, but that’s not how Wright wants to go out. That dedication is a big part of what made it possible for him to be one of the greatest players in Mets history.

Jason Vargas will be part of the 2018 Mets rotation, giving them a second pitcher on their roster who threw at least 150 innings last year. Hey, I was hoping for Yu Darvish (who finally signed with the Cubs last week). But at least we got an actual major leaguer who has been able to stay on the field for most of his career. I’ll call it a win.

Zack Wheeler may not be happy, but Vargas makes the Mets a better team. Now Wheeler gets to compete with Matt Harvey, Stephen Matz, Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, Chris Flexen and Rafael Montero for two starting spots and three or four bullpen spots. And when the inevitable injuries occur, the Mets should have better options to turn to than they did last year.

Since it looks like the Mets might only carry four outfielders to start the season, they’re talking about giving Jose Reyes and Wilmer Flores some reps in the outfield this spring. Now let me go on record to say that Wilmer Flores, outfielder, is a terrible idea. Jose Reyes is probably not going to be a good outfielder at this stage of his career either. But if the Mets are determined to stick them there at some point this season, I hope they get the ‘experiment’ started this spring.

Let’s find out whether Reyes or Flores can play out there in meaningless exhibition games, and give them enough experience to let them be at least somewhat comfortable before that day game after a night game comes along when Juan Lagares is banged up and Yoenis Cespedes doesn’t feel up to playing. (Hey. at least the Mets brought back Matt den Dekker on a minor league deal so there’s somebody that can play centerfield in Triple-A.)

And guys? I’m not gonna say a word about who you choose to hang out with during your off hours. But is shark fishing really a good idea if the goal is to keep as many Mets healthy as possible this season?

Minor League Promo of the Week:

Get your Quidditch star Fungo bobblehead when the New Hampshire Fisher Cats celebrate 15 years of magic on July 20.

Posted in Baseball, Baseball Cards, New York Mets

Baseball’s broken economic system & other thoughts

In less than a week, pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to spring training…and there are still around 100 free agents who are looking for a team. Eric Hosmer, Yu Darvish, J.D. Martinez, Jake Arrieta and Mike Moustakas — some of the biggest names to hit the market this winter — are among the players still unsigned. The union is actually going to run a spring training camp for all of the players who are still looking for jobs.

It got to the point where some players are openly talking about the possibility of going on strike and others reportedly considered waiting until Feb. 24th’s mandatory reporting date to show up in spring training camps in a show of solidarity with the unsigned players.

While this off-season’s free agent market has worked out pretty well for the Mets, it’s clear that the the current system is broken. It’s pretty clear that no one is going to give J.D. Martinez the seven-year, $210 million contract he was reportedly looking for back in November. But it’s equally ridiculous that Martinez has only received two offers this winter, and that one of them was for a one-year deal to come back and try again on the free agent market next off-season.

I don’t think we’re looking at collusion, but we are looking at 30 front offices who are tired of getting burned by free agent contracts that make them look bad. Thirty front offices that are increasingly obsessed with young, controllable players to the point where they manipulate player service time to delay free agency and arbitration eligibility. A select group of owners who do not care about winning, at least in the short term.

And that means that even though MLB enjoyed record revenue last year, it’s not translating into more money for the players that we are paying to watch.

Now Martinez should not expect to earn $30 million when he is 37, but Jacob deGrom should be able to expect more than the $7.4 million he will earn this year. And even though he’s one of the most marketable players in baseball, the Yankees could get away with paying Aaron Judge the major league minimum salary.

Brandon Moss is right that players gave away too much in recent bargaining sessions with owners. Here’s hoping that the MLBPA and MLB owners figure out a way to get more of the game’s profits to the game’s younger players without totally turning off fans in the process. Because the current system is broken and is not good for players, fans or even owners in the long run.

Todd Frazier signs with the Mets

Todd-Frazier
A signed Todd Frazier baseball card from my collection

The New York Mets continued their bargain shopping this week, signing third baseman Todd Frazier to a two-year, $17 million contract. I think that Frazier strikes out too much and doesn’t get on base enough, but he’s a definite upgrade over Wilmer Flores and Jose Reyes at the plate and a much better defender. So it’s definitely a win – this hasn’t been a bad offseason for Sandy Alderson’s crew at all.

If they could find a way to add a starting pitcher, I’d feel pretty good about the Mets’ chances to compete for a Wild Card spot. And if they could somehow land Yu Darvish, I’d start dreaming about them challenging the Washington Nationals for a division title.

Bartolo Colon is still playing

Colon
Bartolo Colon

The Texas Rangers signed 44-year-old Bartolo Colon to a minor league contract this week. I’d been hoping for a reunion with the Mets, but as long as gets a major league shot sometime this season I’ve got another year before I have to deal with a reality where all the players are younger than me.

So thank you, Bartolo… I will be rooting for you.

First 2018 Baseball Cards

I bought my first pack of 2018 Topps Series 1 baseball cards this week. Fittingly, a member of the World Series Champion Houston Astros was the top card in the pack. Michael Conforto was my first Met (yay!) while Aaron Judge was my first Yankee (boo!)

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I like this year’s design, but I think I will try to avoid buying more packs and just pick up a Mets team set from eBay.

Minor League Promo of the Week

Thirty years ago this June, my favorite Eddie Murphy movie Coming to America made its theatrical debut. The Fresno Grizzlies will celebrate its anniversary by playing as the Zamunda Lions for one night.

Posted in Autographs, Baseball, New York Mets

Some recent additions to my Mets autograph collection

Last weekend, I went to MAB Celebrity Service’s Pinstripe Parade autograph show with my friend Bart. It was kind of overwhelming, really.

People bought around 300 tickets at $60 a piece for New York Yankees prospect Gleyber Torres’ autograph. Alex Rodriguez, in his first area autograph signing in more than a decade, might have been even more popular even though his autograph tickets started at $149 and went up depending on what you were getting signed. New Hall of Fame member Chipper Jones was doing his first signing since the election announcement, and he was also very in demand.

It didn’t feel like there was enough space for all of the people who were waiting for autographs, and I was thankful that I wasn’t getting any so I could steer clear of the densest crowds.

But I did come home with a selection of 15 bargain-priced signed Mets photos for a total cost of around what my friend spent to get one baseball card signed by Gleyber Torres.

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1517509133305-dcb1b45d-115d-4afc-93a2-7516ed80b0b8.jpgYesterday, I got a signed baseball card back in the mail from Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo, from a request I mailed to Mets spring training camp last February. Unlike the photo he signed for me at the Queens Baseball Convention last month, Nimmo personalized the card for me. Very cool.

Other odds & ends