Unparalleled by any other sport, baseball is a game of numbers. Of statistics. Of quantifiable accomplishments.
In music and other art forms, measures of success or achievement are far more subjective. There will never be a “greatest” or “best” soprano, symphony, or even composer.
With the exception of a few asterisks or footnotes, when an outstanding baseball achievement is made, the record book is immediately updated, and the recipient and his feat are honored. At least until the next player comes along and breaks that record.
The quantifiable aspect of the sport affords an auspicious status to players that is not available to artists. In sports, one can be considered the reigning champion of one or numerous particular feats: the very “best”.
One particular feat happened at Citi Field last Thursday night: Outfielder Yoenis Céspedes became the first player ever to hit a ball into the third deck of the ballpark. Anyone watching the 2013 Home Run Derby portion of the All-Star Game festivities will remember those bombs hit by Céspedes, including one that drilled the glass exterior of the Acela Club in Left Field. While Thursday’s home run was calculated to have been hit 466 feet–which constituted a tie with Giancarlo Stanton for the furthest hit fair ball in Citi Field–it was an unprecedented feat because of the sheer height of the home run. The surprise on the fans’ faces in the third deck–where the ball landed–speaks volumes: no one sitting in those seats ever expects to go home with a souvenir. Not even from batting practice.
Earlier in the history of the franchise, an equally impressive bomb was hit–and immortalized. In the third game of the 1969 season, outfielder Tommie Agee socked a ball that landed halfway up in Section 48 in the left Upper Deck at Shea Stadium. Eventually, the spot where the ball was hit was painted. Unfortunately, during the demolition of Shea Stadium, the marker was removed and was sold to a private collector.
The stadiums that have chosen to place physical markers where players have hit home runs are numerous:
Fenway Park boasts its singular “red seat” where, on June 9, 1946, Ted Williams hit a homer–Section 42, Row 37, Seat 21–for a recorded distance of 502 feet.
Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia at one time had markers for home runs hit into the left-field upper deck by Greg Luzinski and Mike Schmidt. A home run by a non-Phillie, Willie Stargell of the Pittsburgh Pirates, even warranted a marker there: a yellow star with a black “S” in the middle.
RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., boasted numerous seats painted white–against the prevailing sea of yellow seats–denoting places where Frank Howard, a.k.a., “The Washington Monument” and “The Capital Punisher”, hit home runs during his tenure with the Washington Senators.
Baltimore’s Camden Yards has countless markers embedded into the pavement for those homers hit onto Eutaw Street. But in this digital age, they even have an online “Eutaw Street Home Run Tracker” where one can watch the arc of all 85 homers (at last count), that has landed there. Two orange seats reside there as well: the first was installed in honor of Cal Ripken Jr.,’s record-breaking home run on July 15th, 1993, in which he passed Ernie Banks for the most home runs ever hit by a shortstop. The second orange seat marks the location of Eddie Murray’s 500th career home run of September 6th, 1996.
Camden Yards’ predecessor–Memorial Stadium–commemorated Frank Robinson’s monumental homer of May 18, 1966, which sailed 451 feet over rows of bleachers and out of the ballpark. This feat was commemorated by an orange banner over the left-field bleachers with the single word “here” printed on it.
Houston’s Jimmy Wynn and Doug Rader each hit homers into the left field upper deck at the Astrodome in 1970. The home runs were hit a week apart and to the same row in the upper “Gold Level” with just a few seats separating them. The Astros had an artist paint the seats to mark them. They remained in place until 1985 when the seats were refurbished and repainted to match the blue, red, orange and yellow of the Astros rainbow jerseys (which ironically they stopped using just two seasons later). The seat locations were remarked during the renovation.
Obviously, there is precedent for honoring a ballpark’s history, long balls hit by franchise and non-franchise players alike. Melanie Spector, my daughter and companion in Section 318 of Citi Field for practically every home game, has come up with an idea about honoring Céspedes’s third-deck bomb. She’s even created an online petition to try to make this idea became a reality.
According to WOR’s Howie Rose, it took twenty-five years and some inquiries from Rose himself to see Tommie Agee’s marker get painted. With your help, perhaps Yoenis–and Mets fans–won’t have to wait nearly as long to see this epic home run get an appropriate commemoration at Citi Field.
Please sign the petition, send it to friends, and post it on social media, using the hashtag #PaintItYellow! You can find it here.
Most of the time, my day job–a seasonal one–does not overlap the baseball season by more than a month or so on either end. Citi Field in April is often freezing, so any disappointment I have about missing games here and there because of performances I must play at the Met is mitigated by at least knowing that I’ll be warm and dry in the pit that day or evening. With “meaningless” games in September being pretty much a Queens hallmark, and with the start of school for my daughter and the resumption of work for me demanding our attention, being obligated to perform at the Met and having to miss a game in September has often been something of a relief.
This year, it’s different. Way different.
Once it was determined that Citi Field would see its first ever post-season game this past Monday, I was both ecstatic and crushed. While there can be some flexibility in my schedule, Monday’s opera was Wagner Tannhaüser with Maestro James Levine conducting. It had probably been scheduled as such five years ago.
As accommodating and sympathetic as our Orchestra Manager is in general and to this dilemma in particular, he basically told me that my “team” needed me at the Met. As disappointed as I was, I reminded myself that–just as with relief pitchers–fine musicians are “specialists” at what we do: not just anyone can be “called up” to replace us, even with advance notice.
Like all Mets fans, I was thrilled that the Mets beat Kershaw in Game 1 in Los Angeles. For me, the win took on even more significance: I now knew that I would be able to attend at least ONE post-season game at Citi Field–Game 4 of the series.
I’m glad I was there, but they didn’t win and the series would not be decided in four games. A return to Los Angeles and an additional game would be required. And, wouldn’t you know it, Game 5 will be played while I am involved in playing–you guessed it: Tannhaüser at the Met.
As on Monday night, the curtain for tonight’s performance of Tannhaüser is 7PM. The three acts with intermissions (during which I can find out what’s going on at Dodger Stadium), total about four and a half hours.
I couldn’t be at Citi Field for Game 3, and I cannot be near a television tonight for Game 5. That said, a repeat of last Monday’s performance–both baritone Peter Mattei’s heart-rending portrayal of Wolfram von Eschenbach and the Mets stellar offense and victory–will be most welcome nice again.
When I hear Mattei’s meltingly gorgeous rendition of O du, mein holder Abendstern (Ode to the Evening Star) in Scene II of Act III, I’ll be offering my own inward prayer that there will be a star shining over Chavez Ravine to guide my Mets to victory and a trip home to play Chicago–whether I’m in attendance for Game 1 of the NLCS at Citi Field or not!
Let’s Go Mets!
Ideally, the New York Mets would learn a lesson from last night’s public relations fiasco. I doubt that will happen, but it’s possible.
Unconfirmed news of Wilmer Flores’ and Zach Wheeler’s imminent departure from the Mets and their subsequent replacement in the form of the Brewers’ Carlos Gomez spread like wildfire on social media during the game–in which Wilmer Flores was playing. If you’re a Mets fan, you’ve caught wind of most aspects of this farce, but here’s the latest in case you had not heard: Carlos Gomez is rumored, repeat RUMORED to have been traded to the Houston Astros.
But don’t quote me on Twitter. Please.
Look, anyone who’s spent any amount of time on social media has penned at least one post or Tweet that he or she regrets and has had to then suffer whatever subsequent fallout came of the impropriety. “Tweet and delete” or suffer the consequences should be the admonition, I suppose.
But if you are a business or professional organization, just as damning are the social media posts that you do NOT make.
In the aftermath of last night’s widespread misinformation and the toll it took, a whole lot of outrage and fingerpointing ensued–at reporters, at social media itself, and at the Brewers. I contend that the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of the New York Mets themselves.
No doubt there were leaks from insiders who should’ve known better than to open their mouths just yet. Perhaps overzealous reporters and bloggers enthusiastic to be first with a story neglected to underscore the “pending physicals” part of the narrative. Perhaps exuberant fans were just as impetuous in swiftly retweeting the “news” of the not-quite done deal. And perhaps Brewers management jumped the gun in informing Gomez himself that he had been traded.
One could even argue that Terry Collins was culpable in the debacle by not sending Geren or someone else to find out what the heck was going on off the field, what with his shortstop crying on the field and the fans cheering wildly for the same player’s next plate appearance, even though said player had not started a game since the previous Thursday and, thus far in the game, had garnered only a single and a strikeout.
The fact that Collins later stated that he had been oblivious to his player’s emotions and the strange crowd reaction furthers my belief that Terry Collins’ knowledge and management acumen are incommensurate with those required for his position.
However, in this particular case, I actually felt badly for Collins. Terry Collins had been “had” just as much as his player..
Through their mis-, or rather, non-communication, management essentially hung Collins out to dry: by not alerting him to the viral communications that were sure to reach his players at some point during the game–communication that they had to know might very well engender a reaction by the unsuspecting Flores himself; by not contacting Collins to request that he pull Flores since the trade was at the very least a remote possibility and the possibility of pulling out a win at this point in the game seemed highly unlikely anyway; by not contacting Collins immediately requesting Flores’ removal from the game the moment that it became obvious that everyone at Citi Field knew what had supposedly transpired except for Flores himself, thereby at least affording him the opportunity to process the information in the the clubhouse instead of under the scrutiny of millions of television viewers; and by making Terry fend for himself in the post-game interview, causing him to appear more bollixed than usual in his nightly interrogations by the media.
Leaks happen. In sports organizations, in big business, in the White House. Any expectations an organization might entertain of silencing loose lips entirely are probably delusional. And, in fact, business leaders and managers have been known to intentionally float rumors themselves to test the response, drum up interest, or to otherwise serve their own interests.
Reporters are often leaked information. In the absence of verification, each reporter must then choose whether to disseminate the message immediately or to wait for confirmation. This is nothing new.
What IS relatively new is the speed with which any message may be disseminated and the sheer volume of disseminators of that message. Some reporters and bloggers possess thousands of followers, and each one of those followers has the technical capabilities to further disseminate the message just as expediently to his or her own cadre of followers.
For those of us of a certain age, a certain Faberge shampoo commercial comes to mind:
For better or worse, we live in an age where a message may go viral regardless of its validity, its decency, or the number of people who may agree with its sentiments.
Smart business owners and managers are aware of and respect social media’s influence and are pro-active in the forming of their own narrative…or counteracting a negative one. One cannot simply sit back and blame social media; businesses must now work actively not only to circumvent misinformation and negative publicity but they must also work to ENGAGE those so passionate about their product, in this case the New York Mets.
A public statement by the Mets, indicating that the deal was not in place, disseminated to those reporters and bloggers, could have squelched the rampant inaccuracies. Or, at the very least, if the Mets did not want to go public during the game, they should’ve been proactive in alerting the unsuspecting player and manager about the possible trade as well as the out-of-control social media messages. It would have been the only decent thing to do.
The Mets’ lack of communication meant that the crowd at Citi Field was privy to what would prove to be misinformation, unrefuted, that Flores had been traded. How shocking it must have been to Flores to come to the realization that thousands of people had known about what, had it transpired as reported, would have represented a profound change in his professional and personal life. And he and his manager had been the last two individuals to know.
Mets management’s offense last night was an act of omission, not commission, but as such was just as heinous.
Mets management’s silence resulted in embarrassing and humiliating two of its valued employees in a very public way.
“It’s a whole new world,” some would say. “Who would’ve known that something could’ve gone viral like that?” It’s not new, and many have experienced first-hand social media’s potential for negative fallout. There are many cautionary tales out there–businesses large and small that have made missteps as well as individuals publicly shamed on social media for a contentious tweet or a public action, sometimes to the point of the individual having to go into hiding. A certain dentist that shot a beloved lion comes to mind.
Not only are there lessons to be learned from others’ mistakes, but businesses and professional organizations are now investing time and money to learn how best to harness social media’s power for good as well as how to limit its potential for adverse messages. It is not uncommon for a company to hire additional personnel to serve as a social media team or for companies to hire consultants to coach existing public relations personnel on employing this method of audience engagement.
One does not even need to hire a consultant, though. Advice and detailed blunders abound on the Internet.
Here are just a few relevant articles I found in a quick Google search:
Social media experts will tell you: having a social media presence is not just about promoting your product. And, believe it or not, it’s not just about having a megaphone through which to refute inaccuracies (although that tool could definitely have been employed to the Mets’ benefit last night about this time.)
It’s about ENGAGING your audience or customers.
I say “audience” because I am a contributor to the Met Orchestra’s Social Media Team and, as such, have worked diligently with my colleagues to generate interest and enthusiasm about our ensemble as well as to create a DIALOGUE with our listeners and fans in the creation and upkeep of our website, Facebook page, and Twitter account.
Those who would blame reporters and/or social media for Wilson Flores’ tears miss the point: generating buzz about the team and getting fans excited and engaged and joining in the conversation on potential trades or other team or player news is a good thing.
It was decidedly not a good thing that the New York Mets either vastly underestimated the power of social media or had heretofore been blissfully ignorant of its immediacy and power. In this day and age, it is simply not enough to wait until the next business day for a carefully crafted “statement” to be issued. All the Mets would have needed to do was tweet a simple reminder that the deal was in fact not yet done and something to the effect of, “We appreciate your interest and your enthusiasm, fans! We will verify the trade here on Twitter just as soon as it happens! Stay TUNED!” They could have gone even further and generated their own attention-getting hashtag, e.g., “#MetsMarket”.
Face it, Mets owners and management, you blew it: you were silent when you should’ve provided some clarification–to your fans, to your manager, and to Wilmer Flores. Well before the news came that there would in fact be no trade, you had managed to make Mets fans feel positively crummy about a transaction that we would otherwise have had every reason for which to be ecstatic. Following a game that the team had won and in which Lucas Duda had homered three times, your inability or unwillingness to respond appropriately to the situation that had transpired had managed to effectively suck all of the “feel good” out the evening for a lot of us.
Wilmer Flores was not the only one feeling miserable at the end of the evening.
“Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.” –Nathaniel Hawthorne
Tonight’s the night all Metsdom has been waiting for: the Major League debut of top prospect, pitcher Noah Syndergaard. He arrives on the Major League stage at Wrigley Field accompanied by much fanfare and already in possession of a nickname: “Thor”.
The genesis of the nickname was Syndergaard’s Halloween costume this past October, a photo of which he tweeted and which was then retweeted widely. Naturally, the blogosphere is having great fun with the nickname and its associations with the Marvel Comics superhero and subsequent movie of the same name as well as the character’s original incarnation in Nordic mythology as the God of Thunder.
However, as an opera lover, “Thor”, conjures up something different to me. At the mention of “Thor”, I hear softly murmuring arpeggios in the cellos. Then, I hear the Violas joining in. Then the Second Violins. And, finally, the First Violins. The undulating sextuplets I hear in my mind are the magical introduction to Thor and his sorcery as written by Wagner in his opera Das Rheingold.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
First, I should mention Wagner’s god has a slightly different name: Donner. The Old German equivalent of the Norse “Thor” is “Donar”. Donar’s name day, as it were, became Donnerstag “Donar’s day”, otherwise known to us English-language speakers as “Thursday”.
But I digress.German composer Richard Wagner spent years composing a Ring Cycle comprised of four operas, based upon Donner and other gods of Norse mythology. The first opera, Das Rheingold, is performed as one act–with no intermissions. The four scenes of the opera meld seamlessly into one another, and there is no break in the music or drama from the beginning until the end, about two hours and forty minutes later.
During the opera, a lot of action has taken place in this amount of time. The viewer has watched the Rheinmaidens extol the virtues of their gold, a character steal the gold from them, a god and his accomplices descend to that character’s underworld to claim the gold for themselves, two giants subsequently lay claim to the gold, and finally, one giant bludgeoning his giant brother in order to seize his brother’s share of the gold. Oh, and before the grisly murder, there is an appearance by Erda, the earth goddess, who forecasts gloom and doom for those who are consumed by this gold (more specifically, a ring forged from said gold, but you get the idea.)
Towards the very end of the opera, there is an exhilarating moment for Donner, a role for bass-baritone. After all of the mayhem and madness following a goddess coming up out of the ground unannounced and a bloody fratricide, Donner decides that it is time to, literally, clear the air. The god of thunder and storms conjures up a thunderstorm meant to dispel the fog and general discontent.
Donner’s glorious invocation to the heavens, summoning the cleansing mists, is stirringly answered by four French horns, playing in unison. The ensuing winds and storm rage as the string arpeggios morph into an ascending scale, by the whole orchestra, gradually increasing in intensity and dynamic until, [ding], Donner wields his hammer to dispel the storm and, how operatic, a rainbow then magically appears.
I happen to really like this video interpretation of the scene, set to an *audio recording of the opera excerpt:
*Eberhard Wächter with the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Georg Solti.
It’s a magical moment in music.
I don’t know what kind of magic Mr. Syndergaard might wield on the mound this evening or in his starts to come. But this optimistic Mets fan can’t help but hope for signs of a dominating talent.
God-given or otherwise.
We are fourteen games in. Grandstanding seems oh so premature.
But can I just say this? How great is it to put on one’s Mets gear these days and be greeted in the grocery store, on the street, or at work with a smile and a, “How about those METS?!”
“…and I pit- y any- one who’s not a Met to- night…”
“…such a pretty pitch, such a pretty hit, such a pretty steal, such a pretty streak!”
Puts a little swagger back in one’s step…just in time for the upcoming Subway Series.
One of countless things I love about having a career as an artist is being afforded the opportunity to personally observe an individual’s perspective–my own or that of a member of my family or a friend–with regard to a particular work of art and how that perspective can change over time due to any number of reasons. With repeated viewings or listenings, and thus familiarity, it is to be expected that one’s response to and estimation of any work of art is altered. But more intriguing to me is that one’s interpretation of a work can morph for contextual reasons unrelated to the artistic experience itself: events in one’s personal life, the current political climate, or even the season in which the experience takes place.
If it’s an opera we’re talking about, one obvious catalyst for edification can simply be seeing and hearing a different cast sing the same opera. Also, because the conductor leading the proceedings can greatly influence a performance, and thus one’s response, the same could be said of seeing the opera led by a different conductor. Likewise, seeing the same opera in another production or in another opera house can elicit a revelation.
Often, as a performer, I find I am able to gain perspective from those in the audience.
As I write this, I have now performed the first of seven scheduled performances of the gargantuan (time-wise, anyway) opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg by Richard Wagner. Anyone who knows Wagner knows that he would never use one reiteration of a theme when ten would do. “Ah, but it’s in the subtle ways he changes those themes!” say fans; detractors cite physical pain and serious time commitment as deterrents to their enjoyment of his works.
I happen to love playing Wagner. He wrote beautifully for the orchestra and, for those who delve into the score, there are all kinds of “hidden”, often humorous, asides and commentary upon the characters and actions onstage from “voices” within the orchestra. Many times the orchestra functions either as a character itself or in the role of revealing an unknown truth about a character. Fascinating stuff!
That said, Meistersinger is truly one of the most challenging works that we play as an orchestra if for no other reason than its duration. There are operas that are almost as long, Götterdämmerung for example (by Wagner…who else?), but the difference is that the first act of Götterdämmerung lasts a little over two hours. The two acts following it are proportionally not nearly as long.
I like to compare the challenge of playing Meistersinger to the Tour de France. Ever notice how those god-awful hills are often near the very end of a day’s exhausting stage through Les Alpes? Climbs are assigned difficulty incrementally from Catégorie 4 (easiest) to Catégorie 1 (hardest). But then there are those mountain passes that are even more impossibly steep and/or the cyclists approach them at such a late time in the stage–when they are most fatigued. These climbs are considered beyond even the challenge of Catégorie 1 and are termed hors catégorie, or “beyond categorization”.
I played Meistersinger my first season and have played every single performance in every revival that has taken place in my twenty-two seasons at the Met. It is not news to me that it is a marathon. But thanks to two separate events this week, I have a slightly different, and welcome, view of the challenge it presents to audience members.
(1) Prior to the 6PM curtain of Die Meistersinger this past Tuesday, our piccolo player Stephanie Mortimore, was on the subway going to work. A few violinist colleagues happened to board the same car and a discussion about the impending long evening of work ahead ensued. Eavesdropping on their conversation, a woman who was obviously on her way to the Met as well commented to the musicians that she and her companion were not anticipating that that they would make it to the bitter end. “Well, it’s not like we have a choice,” Stephanie replied with a smile. Apparently, the fiddle cases had not registered with the couple, so Stephanie explained. “We’re in the Met Orchestra. We’ll be there for the WHOLE THING.”
(2) Then today, friends of mine composed a blog post detailing their personal experiences surrounding this very same performance. It happened to be their first time to ever see the opera. I found their post witty, knowledgeable, and insightful. I particularly liked the way each of them mentioned preparations they had made in advance of the performance–professionally as well as personally–in order to maximize their stamina and longevity for the siege ahead. In spite of their precautions, however, back pains and worries of deep-vein thrombosis marred their experience at least somewhat. They were suitably proud to report that they, unlike many seated near them in the Dress Circle, had not only made it to the beginning of Act III but were still there for the climactic Festwiese at the very end.
The thought had never occurred to me, I suppose, that those in the audience do have the option of leaving before the end of the opera and that this could be either a premeditated plan or that they could fuggi on a whim.
Trust me, I am aware that audiences often high-tail it out of the opera house if they don’t like the production or the singing that night or if they become physically ill or if they just find themselves tired after a long day at the office. I get that.
But what I had failed to think of before was (1) how daunting some audience members apparently find attending this particular opera–enough so to give a disclaimer to strangers on the subway or (2) how having attended this opera in its entirety clearly bestows certain merit.
My next thought was that that sense of personal pride and accomplishment should be encouraged and even rewarded in some tangible way. Perhaps those exiting at 12:10AM or so could have their tickets stamped by ushers upon their exit. Later, these “survivors” could go to the Met Opera Shop and present their stamped ticket stubs in exchange for a pin or a T-shirt proclaiming “I SURVIVED DIE MEISTERSINGER!” or “MEISTER OPERAGOER” or some such sentiment.
Heck, why limit it to Meistersinger, though? What if those hard-core operagoers who sit through an entire opera of five hours’ length or more were to have their time, effort, and devotion acknowledged in some way? I’m imagining a Passport-like booklet to be given to audience members at performances of great length and each opera being assigned a unique stamp or sticker to be affixed that would only be made available at the conclusion of the opera.
But hundreds of words later, I must acknowledge that this is supposedly a blog devoted to baseball, and believe it or not, this post does in fact have a baseball tie-in:
This idea of a special memento being given to the most dedicated of opera enthusiasts was inspired by my knowledge of similar incentives given to die-hard baseball fans. The former ballpark of the San Francisco Giants, Candlestick Park, was infamous for its many bitterly cold games, primarily due to its proximity to the San Francisco Bay. In an effort to encourage the continued support of the team by the fans, management came up with the “Croix de Candlestick”. In the event of a night game that went into extra innings, those die-hard fans who stayed until the bitter(ly cold) end, were presented with this personal badge of honor upon exiting the ballpark.
Opera and baseball are performed/played to a fan base. Many of those fans are regulars and often make personal sacrifices to be in the house/stands for prolonged periods of time.
Shouldn’t the audience members themselves share in the accolades at the end of a long performance?
If you are in the audience at one of the Meistersinger performances in the upcoming weeks and you see me clapping in the pit at the end, please know that I am applauding YOU as well as the cast.