Posted in Baseball, New York Mets

Snowed out

Only one playin today is this dude!

A post shared by Kevin Plawecki (@kplawecki26) on

The New York Mets were indeed snowed out on Monday, so the New York debut of Gabe Kapler’s Bullpen Follies has to wait until tonight.

Instead, I watched the Houston Astros beat the Baltimore Orioles 6-1 in their home opener. Before the game, the Astros unveiled their 2017 World Series Championship banner (with the help of a leafblower.)

I found it interesting that while the Astros have won seven division championships and three wild card berths, it looked like they only have two banners on display – their 2005 National League pennant and the 2017 World Series one. I think I like the “keeping to essentials” approach.

The Astros are a fun team to watch. Charlie Morton may be the best number five starter in baseball, but as good as their pitching is their hitters are better. At this stage, everyone knows about Jose Altuve… but George Springer is every bit as exciting. Alex Bregman impressed me with his hitting and defense and Marwin Gonzalez impressed with his versatility.

I could easily see the Astros successfully defending their World Series title.

Other odds & ends:

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Posted in Baseball, Baseball Cards, New York Mets

Easter baseball cards

DSCN7460

I hope everyone had a good Easter (or Passover… or just a nice weekend.) It sure feels like yesterday’s 60 degree spring-like weather was the April Fool’s Day joke, because we woke up to snow (again) this morning.

The Yankees’ home opener has already been postponed, and who knows if the Mets can clear the snow from Citi Field’s seats in time to play tonight’s game.

So today’s a good day to look at the Topps Opening Day baseball cards I got for Easter. While Opening Day is overlooked by most collectors, I enjoy it because it’s about the closest I can get to reliving the experience of opening baseball cards when I was a kid.

Opening Day packs are cheap, usually a dollar. They have a decent number of cards in them (by 21st Century standards, anyway.) And given the unlikelihood of pulling any autographs or memorabilia cards, if you’re opening Opening Day, you’ve got to actually want the base cards or the fun “regular” insert sets.

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There are two reasons that Opening Day isn’t perfect. Number one: except for a few Series 2 previews and PhotoShop uniform swaps, Opening Day cards are rehash of the Topps Series 1 cards that came out in February.

Number two: Opening Day has a limited checklist – just 200 cards. The positive to that point is that you’re much more likely to have at least one star player in every pack.

Shohei-Otani Opening Day’s March release spot does give Topps a little more time to do things like add our first rookie card for Angels’ pitcher and designated hitter Shohei Ohtani (who impressed in his Major League pitching debut on Sunday.)

I’m kinda happy Topps used a press conference photo for this card – I love getting to see them on cardboard because they represent that time of optimism where your team’s new star player can do no wrong. There will be plenty of time for game action photos later. (I can’t wait to see what the card designers at Topps and Panini decide to do about including hitting and pitching stats on Ohtani’s cards next year.)

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While Ohtani’s rookie card is the draw for Opening Day this year, usually the inserts are the big thing. Card collectors who like mascots have to go for Opening Day. This year’s set also includes Team Traditions & Celebrations inserts, as well as an Opening Day subset and a Before Opening Day insert set.

I love the mascots and I think the Team Traditions & Celebrations set is a fun new idea. The other two leave me a bit flat.

The Opening Day cards have cool photos, but the backs are focused on how the teams did on Opening Day 2017…and that leaves them feeling a bit dated. If I were writing the copy for the card backs, I’d go with a more general focus. Maybe a particular team is unusually successful on Opening Day, or they have an active Opening Day winning streak. Maybe there’s a star player who does particularly well on Opening Day. Something…

The Before Opening Day insert set is worse, because the photos aren’t even that interesting. I’m pretty sure I don’t care which players had good springs in 2018. I know I don’t care about 2017 spring training performances. Hopefully this insert theme gets retired.

 Other odds & ends:

Posted in Baseball

Enjoy baseball marathon memories while you can…

On the second day of the 2018 baseball season, I got to watch the last couple of innings of the New York Yankees’ 4-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays and just enough of the San Francisco Giants’ 1-0 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers to see Chris Taylor end Johnny Cueto’s perfect game bid.

That’s probably a lot more baseball than I will find time to watch today, but it’s a lot less than fans who were attending the Philadelphia Phillies 5-4 victory over the Atlanta Braves (11 innings), the Pittsburgh Pirates 13-10 win over the Detroit Tigers (13 innings) or the Miami Marlins’ 2-1 win against the Chicago Cubs (17 innings.)

In the not-too-distant future, games like those will probably be unimaginable. Minor League Baseball is already testing a rule change that puts a runner on second base at the start of each extra inning.

Friday’s marathons are sparking more discussion about making a rule change at the Major League level. It’s coming and I hate it.

One of my favorite baseball memories is a game that didn’t want to end between the Miami Marlins and New York Mets. On June 7, 2013, young stars-to-be Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey matched up and left with a 1-1 tie. By inning 13, journeymen Kevin Slowey and Shaun Marcum were pitching for the two clubs, respectively. They’d been scheduled to start a game that had been rained out the night before, and they took the game to the 20th. It was awesome – the only part I would’ve changed was the end result (the Mets lost.) If tinkering with the rules brought the game to an end in 11 or 12 innings, I guarantee you I wouldn’t remember it five years later.

Sports reporters and baseball managers hate extra innings, because it makes it more difficult for them to do their jobs. I think most fans like them – sure, there’s a point where you have to leave the game or turn off the tv. But that could happen anyway – the deciding game of last year’s World Series lasted over five hours and only took nine innings to play. But if you get to stay for a marathon, you get to see something special and I hate to see that get tossed away in some misguided pace-of-play initiative.

So here’s my compromise proposal: save the extra runners for the All-Star Game, and start inning 10 with the bases loaded. Regular season games that remain tied after 12 innings go in the books as a tie. Playoff games are played to their conclusion without any gimmickry.

It still sucks & fundamentally changes the way baseball is played, but it does so in a way that I can live with.

Other odds & ends:

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.

Every time I throw this ball, a hundred different things can happen in a game. He might swing and miss, he might hit it. The point is, you never know. You try to anticipate, set a strategy for all the possibilities as best you can, but in the end it comes down to throwing one pitch after another and seeing what happens. With each new consequence, the game begins to take shape….In fact, the game wouldn’t be worth playing if we knew what was going to happen.

— Commander Benjamin Sisko in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Emissary,” written by Rick Berman and Michael Piller

Seeing what happens

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: