Back on Track?

07050742_1I’m back. 

I wish the Mets and their usual A+ playing were back.

In the two weeks since my last post, I travelled to Houston to see the Mets play two games, watched the other two Houston games on TV, did without baseball for a few days, and watched the All-Star Game on TV.

On Thursday night, I was in attendance at Shea to welcome the gang back from their road trip. 

On Saturday and Sunday, I made clandestine checks on my cellphone browser during the first two installments of the Kirov Opera’s Ring Cycle at the Metropolitan Opera which I was attending.  I was then once again in attendance at Sunday afternoon’s game in Queens.

Thanks to the local Starbucks, I have been able to stay with SNY and the two West Coast games so far.

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Metsc2 Looking back over the past two weeks, in some ways, a lot has happened for the Mets:  some roster moves, e.g., Julio Franco and Lastings Milledge; Batting Coach Rick Down is gone and Rickey Henderson is now here coaching;  Jorge Sosa came off the DL and Oliver Perez went on and came off the DL; within the past few weeks, Reyes was taken out of games for not hustling and El Duque hustled and got two stolen bases(!); we now have a new player–Chip Ambres; the additional brickwork now in place at Citi Field is quite noticeable; and Willie Randolph had surgery and now has his arm in a sling.

But then, in other ways, it seems that very little has changed for the Mets.  How many times do I still find myself staring incredulously as the middle of our batting order does absolutely nothing for us?  As runners are again left in scoring position? It’s like we’re stuck in a time warp. 

We may be stuck, but the teams behind us are not.  They are moving forward, slowly but surely. 

I was so hoping the Mets would begin the second half of the season breaking out of the gate like they meant business, but so far it seems more like "business as usual". 

It doesn’t seem fair to complain when they are, afterall, in first place.  Problem is, though, this kind of playing–matched up with that of Atlanta’s–will not keep them in first place much longer, I fear.

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But how about some of the more memorable moments from the past two weeks, technicalities aside?

It’s always interesting to go to another ballpark.  Although our SNY and WFAN announcers do a terrific job of giving us the "feel" of each ballpark, its distinctive sights and smells, there is nothing quite like the personal and direct experience, of course.

While I was well aware that Carlos Beltran’s returns to Houston are not well received, one really needs to be present to truly appreciate the intensity of the Houston fans’ vitriol for Carlos.  I mean, the boisterous booing and cat-calling for the always-reserved, ever-gracious Beltran actually put the Philly boo-birds to shame in its sheer volume and intensity. 

By the time we had sat through almost two entire games of Beltran’s at-bats, I was ready to stand up and scream in frustration, "So he signed with the Mets and left Houston after three months…how many years ago was that?!  GET OVER IT!!!!" 

07050748_5 The vociferousness of the fans was beyond belief:  a lot of these rednecks were practically foaming at the mouth!

While I realized at the time that I was risking life and limb (not to mention that of my loving family…oh, and my expensive camera and lens), I couldn’t help but jump out of my seat–GREAT seat, 15 rows behind home plate–and scream loudly and applaud lustily, when Carlos hit his first ever home run in Minute Maid Park.  I also took this shot just after he crossed home plate.  In the words of A-Rod, "HAH!"

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While we were not at the the 17-inning game, my husband and I did watch it on TV and stayed with the whole game.  Having been at Minute Maid Park and thus having seen the slope of Tal’s Hill and also having witnessed first-hand the venom of the fans for Beltran, it felt even MORE exhilirating watching that AMAZING catch that he made going up Tal’s Hill! 

And how interesting to hear later that when he was with Houston, he and coach Jose Cruz used to go out and practice catching flies going up that hill each and every day.  But, he added, that he had never once been in a situation where he had had to make a catch there before that game.  But when the time came, was he ready or WHAT??!!

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07060760_1In no particular order, then, here are some other little "remembrances" from the Houston road trip:

The opportunity to see the kinder, gentler side of the Houston fans in the "afterglow" of the whole Craig Biggio/3,000 hit celebration.  We arrived in Houston exactly one week after Second Baseman Biggio had hit is career 3,000th run, and it was safe to say that the festivities were far from over.  The "count up" meter was still running, "3,000 hit" T-shirt and cap sales were brisk, and every plate appearance by this career Astro was marked by thunderous applause and cheers.

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07060755 It was also a delight to catch a glimpse of close friends and former teammates Billy Wagner and Craig Biggio sharing a conversation in between the Mets’ BP and Astros’ BP before Friday night’s game. 

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I’m sure the conversation was much lighter and preferable to the tension between the two the previous night when Billy faced his friend and former colleague in the bottom of the ninth with one man on and the count 2-2 and through him his wicked slider to watch him strike out and clinch the 6-2 victory for the Mets.

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An "audience participation" moment on the big screen:  a marriage proposal.  (At Shea, we have the "Kiss Cam".)  The whole crowd is engrossed in the drama of the young man proposing to the young lady and anxiously awaiting her replay onscreen.  Except for a Met fan three rows behind us who’s shouting, "DON’T DO IT!!  DON’T DO IT!!"

Story doesn’t end there:  the next night at the next game, prior to the national anthem, the fans are asked to rise and observe as a handful of new Army recruits take their official oath of office and are sworn in in front of all of us. 

At this point, I turn to my husband and say, "DON’T DO IT!  DON’T DO IT!"

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Fans with toy stick ponies, waving them around.  "That’s cute," I thought.  "I wonder what that’s about?"  The year’s "campaign" for the Astro’s is "The Return of the Good Guys" and features a kind of Western gun-slinging "Wanted" poster-like background.  I thought the toy ponies might be in keeping with some kind of cowboy, Western theme??

216686_1 But then I started noticing that the large screen showed fans waving those stick ponies every time a certain player came up to the plate:  Carlos Lee.

I still couldn’t make the connection until the next day when I was in the gift shop at the ballpark and saw player T-shirts.  On Lee’s T-shirt was his number and his nickname:  "El Caballo" (The horse.)  Aha…got it!

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Feeling drips on me as I settled into my seat for the beginning of the first game even though the roof was closed and figuring, "Oh great!  We just got here and the fans are already throwing water on us!" 

Turned out that, because of the heavy rains we had had earlier in the day, the roof was leaking and small drips continued to splash on me throughout the game. 

"We always put the Met fans in that seat," an Astros fan next to me jokingly ribbed me. 

And, by the way, thank GOODNESS for that (leaking) roof since it rained every day we were in Houston!

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Hou29 Singing "Deep in the Heart of Texas" [clap clap clap clap] with my daughter in the seventh inning.  With the words on the giant screen and every other line being "deep in the heart of Texas", it’s easy to join right in even if you’ve never heard the song before.  She even slipped in a nice little twang on "hawwrt"…precious!

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Watching my daughter toss Billy Wagner a baseball from above the Visitors’ Dugout, having him catch it, sign it, and toss it back to her, and then seeing the excitement on her face.

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Watching games from 15 rows behind home plate.  Wow!  But especially watching John Maine and Billy Wagner each with their good stuff just go to work.  Absolutely amazing.  Check out my "Houston Road Trip" photo album for some pictures from that vantage point if you have a minute.

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07060739crop_2  And, as always, the opportunity to get really close to the players in a place outside of New York where people are less uptight about 07060744security, the crowds are not usually as big, and the players are sometimes more approachable, presumably since the Mets fans are a somewhat unexpected sight.

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