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.
But before what became the successful trip to the Deep South, the Mets had the horrible, awful, stinky, putrid, philthy stand closer south at Citizens Bank Park culminating in four losses and rumors of the Phillies stealing signs in the first two games.
I wouldn’t actually want to remember and, therefore, post anything about that nightmarish four-game phiasco had it not been for the fact that there were some kinda neat things about the game which we attended: the Tuesday night game, August 28th:
(1) Tuesday was my daughter’s birthday and we attended the game at her request. "Happy Birthday" was sung to her by–yes, believe it or not–Phillies fans! (I had not ruled out the possibility that fans that are capable of booing their own players for any minor infraction, their own manager, heck–even Santa Claus–might boo a ten-year-old kid in Mets gear celebrating a birthday, but they did not.)
(2) Tuesday also marked the return of my personal favorite, Endy Chavez, and
(3) We had some AMAZING seats!
While we were quite a ways down the left field line, we were only five rows from the field.
This meant we were privy to some neat plays by Pat Burrell and Moises Alou.
It also meant that we were able to witness some old-enough-to-know-better, drunken boors make passes at the Phillies foul ball girl sitting down on the field right in front of us.
The Phillies do truly have some of the worst fans (except the ones near us who did sing "Happy Birthday", of course.)
Additionally, our right-on-the-field seats meant we witnessed first-hand the tomfoolery between the Phillie Phanatic and our players.
But the shenanigans continued.
(Maybe he stole the keys or flipped some switch?)
I still would’ve preferred the smiles that a Mets win would’ve given us, but I’m afraid Ryan Howard took that away from us that night.
And the unfortunate interference call at second on Wednesday, and Billy’s blown save on Thursday…
But now the Phillies have lost their series in Florida and are now four games behind us, so things don’t look SO bad, right?
Let’s just try to rack up a lot more wins and stabilize that bullpen before the Phillies come here in 10 days or so, what do you think?
A better record of my family’s road trip following the Mets can be found in my online photo galleries posted in the side bar to the left of these posts, but before too much time goes by, I did want to just mention a few things about what will have been my final visit to RFK Stadium.
Believe me, I shed no tears upon departing that charmless place. But with the Nationals making a big to-do about their new stadium opening next year in Anaconda, er–AnaCOSTIA, I was well aware that this was my final opportunity to catch any baseball or Presidents’ Races at this locale.
We had terrific seats for both games: a StubHub purchase secured our seats eleven rows behind the Nationals dugout for Saturday night’s game. (Here’s a sweat-drenched Dmitri Young returning from the field to the dugout.) And for Sunday afternoon’s game we had the treat of using my husband’s company’s seats right behind homeplate, with a perfect view of El Duque’s wind-up.
While I love our season tickets in the Mezzanine behind homeplate at Shea, I’ve found that that’s one of the fun things about taking road trips for me: getting to sit in another part of a ballpark to get a different perspective. While I might miss angles–and sometimes even plays–I often see other things that I would not normally see from our regular seats or get a better view of a particular play(s) than the view I have from our regular seats.
While I might prefer our normal vantage point, it’s kinda fun for one game here or there to see things from another viewpoint.
While I’ve seen all of this from a distance and, close-up on television, there’s a certain excitement being right there on the line right on top of the action!
The Mets may have won both of the games we were at, but the Nationals fans were really into it, booing down any chants of "Let’s Go Mets" that got started.
There is definitely some pride there and some fans who desperately want a chance to compete. Maybe with a new stadium, the somewhat limited fanbase the franchise has now will expand and the team will command more interest and respect in this mostly football-centered city.
Whatever the Nationals decide to leave behind at RFK at the end of this season, they simply MUST bring along the four Presidents for the Presidents Races. The size of those guys is so astounding as to be positively surreal and hysterical at the same time.
And maybe–just once before they leave RFK Stadium–Abe, George, and Tom should let poor Teddy Roosevelt win a race just once…poor guy. He’s beginning to give the Rough Riders a bad name.
Life’s been hectic, preparing for my daughter’s return to school and my return to work. I guess that’s the best way to explain the fact that I am only now writing this post on two Met games I went to in Pittsburgh–after the Mets went on to Washington, returned for a home stand, and began another road trip this evening in Philadelphia.
Anyway, PNC Park lived up to all of the great things my family and I had heard about it.
- It is small (second smallest, only to Fenway and has an intimate feel to is.
- It has a GORGEOUS view of the beautiful downtown Pittsburgh skyline.
- As with so many of the new "old-fashioned" ball-parks, the architects incorporated elements of older designs. In the case of PNC Park, the lights are imitations of the old "toothbrush lights" of the old Forbes Field. The distinctive black poles and unusual design of these lights catch one’s eye immediately.
- In keeping with the "retro" design and at the same time acknowledging the city’s historic past, the architects made ingenious and artistic use of steel truss work in the design.
- Very well-done tributes–individual statues and video tributes–to members of the Negro Leagues and players from the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords stand at the entrance at the Left Field Gate. There are also large statues outside the park of Roberto Clemente, Honus Wagner, and Willie Stargell.
- Although there are parking lots near the park itself, with its location right on the banks of the Allegheny River and the fact that the nearby Roberto Clemente Bridge is closed to vehicular traffic around and during game times, there is much pedestrian traffic to and from the park itself: a very nice touch for the community itself as well as visitors.
- File under the "Unique and Unusual" Department: the Pierogie Races, i.e., PNC Park’s version of the Sausage Races. For the uninitiated, pierogies are deep-fried polish potato-filled pastas. Just don’t ask me to name the three different characters that race each other at each game (although I’m sure my daughter probably could identify each of them just as she knows every single Major League Baseball mascot.) One is cheese-flavored and one is jalapeno-flavored, I think…
- Although this is a local chain and probably nothing particularly special to the locals to find this at the ballpark, we found it fun to order a bucket of wings from Quaker Steak and Lube–in our choice of Arizona Ranch, Garlic, Hot Sauce, or Atomic sauce. We didn’t risk the nuclear reaction but were nonetheless glad to have been supplied moist towelettes for the clean-up following our consumption of the delicious ranch variety.
- Behind Center Field, former Pirate catcher Manny Sanguillen holds court at a barbecue joint bearing his name. The clouds of smoke that billow up during the game and waft over the outfield (as well as the engaging aroma) would be the only enticement necessary, trust me. But additionally, Manny himself is there for every game–sitting high and mighty in his leather easy chair, Sharpie in hand, poised to sign autographs for those waiting in line for barbecue.
Having been to both Camden Yards and Citzens Bank Park and become familiar with Boog Powell’s and Greg Luzinski’s barbecues in each of those two respective ballparks, I wasn’t surprised to learn of Manny’s place in Pittsburgh’s new park. I also happened upon an article, addressing this phenomenon of former athletes retiring and still enjoying the spotlight…albeit by shedding the helmet and donning an apron.
My mind started racing:
Since the Mets will soon have their own "retro" ballpark, what former Met might we see serving up barbecue sides of beef in Summer 2009 at CitiField Park?
And then it came to me!!
I can see it now: hungry Mets fans lined up, waiting innings at a time, unable to get enough… imploring, begging, "Give me mo’ MO!!"
But will even the most succulent sandwiches, the most lip-smacking sauces make up for all of Mo’s on-field shortcomings? Hmmm.
Yo, I’ll take mine with the [bitter]sweet and sour sauce, Mo.
This post will not address the Mets’ current slump. There are countless blogs that can and will do so…a lot more interestingly than I might, I might add. I’ll leave all the suggestions and strategizing and thoughts about who should be batting in the Number Two spot, whether Tommy Glavine is too focused on Win Number 300, whether guys are having too much fun and not focused enough on wins, whether acquiring Moises was a mistake, why the Carloses are not hitting, etc., etc., to all of the guys on the call-in shows, the other blogs, and elsewhere. I certainly have no expertise in any of these areas.
Instead I will simply try to remain optimistic and, frankly, just aim to be AWAKE for all of tonight’s game! (West Coast night games are killers for me!)
And, as in life, I will try to see the humor in things.
Towards that end, recalling those giant flocks of SEA GULLS all over the field at Comerica Park over the weekend keeps cracking me up.
It wasn’t like, watching the game on TV, you saw a bird now and then. It was nearly impossible to get a camera shot of the game WITHOUT a bird in it! And then when we got a wide shot that showed, say, the entire field, I could not believe the sheer NUMBER of birds that were just hanging out there. It literally looked like a bird SANCTUARY!
Turns out, Comerica Park is not always like this, and the gulls were not merely attracted to the plentiful concessions. It seems the Mets left town and, even with no game (nor concession-consuming fans) at Comerica yesterday, the gulls showed up in droves.
Officials there became so concerned that the grounds crew even brought in an entomologist to address the situation. It seems the bird problem has been caused by an earlier hatching of moths, i.e., gull grub.
Whatever course of action the entomologist suggested, however, progress must be slow. Prior to this evening’s game, I saw highlights of Justin Verlander’s no-hitter tonight from Comerica, and I saw PLENTY of those gulls flyin’ high and walking around the infield too. They don’t seem to be in any hurry to vacate.
Speaking of sea gulls and the moths that they are attracted to, that reminds me of a recurrent problem related to bugs in my own outdoor work experiences: every summer the MET performs outdoor performances of operas in concert in local parks in the New York City parks.
Although rain-outs are always a concern for any outdoor concert (or ballgame), several years in a row there was a particular problem related to a specific park located on Staten Island. Every time we performed at this particular venue, our performance–always in mid-June–seemed to coincide with the mating season of a large colony of June bugs that called that particular area of Staten Island home.
Apparently attracted to the hot spotlights focused on the orchestra and soloists onstage, these bugs would begin to congregate shortly after the overture began and continue swarming in larger and larger numbers as the opera progressed, spawning and then falling to the floor of the stage to die, buzzing all the while, making an enormous racket.
It was incredibly distracting, if comical, especially when one of the buggers attacked you or your instrument. Looking around the orchestra while the opera was going on, it was nearly impossible to keep a straight face, much less continue performing: violinists were putting their bows down to slap their legs, horn players were literally jumping out of their chairs, and the conductor was waving his arms giving extra beats.
One particular bug-riddled performance resulted in an unexpected intermission having to be taken because the distraction made it impossible to continue. The orchestra was having trouble keeping any kind of continuity in the music in between the bug-slapping and, although the soprano was a sport and had gamely continued singing, she was understandably a little grossed-out, having had a bug fly right into her open mouth while singing an aria from the evening’s opera, Lucia di Lammermoor!
Funny, I didn’t hear anyone screaming, "Is there an entomologist in the house (on the lawn)?!" Never mind.
But back to the Comerica Park sea gulls…other than being omnipresent, I don’t think the birds caused any problems. There was a bird right in front of David Wright in one of the games as he ran forward to field a a chopper and quickly throw to first. I seem to recall Gary Cohen and Ron Darling of SNY mentioning something about how it was a good thing he hadn’t quickly picked up the bird and thrown it instead.
I cannot swear that there was no foul play (ar, ar) involving the sea gulls. (Frankly, I found a lot of the games so frustrating that I was not following them as closely as I usually do.) I did hear somewhere (Was it on SNY?) that Oliver Perez’s cap had been decorated with gull droppings sometime within the course of the first game, but I was unable to find an official Press Release on that one. (I heard it was while he was off the mound.)
The presence of the birds did provide for lively discourse between Garry and Ron as well as the opportunity for them to mention the incident in Arizona in a 2001 exhibition game involving a poor bird that pitcher Randy Johnson "exploded" (Ron’s terminology).
Being reminded of that incident and the proliferation of sea gulls on the field at Comerica Park prompted me to see what I could find out about other incidents where other foul impacted the game.
I found some interesting things:
- In 1983, Dave Winfield, then with the Yankees, created a furor in Toronto by throwing a ball that hit and killed a seagull at Exhibition Stadium. The bird was walking, not flying, and because Winfield was just making tosses to the infield between innings, it appeared to the fans that saw it to be intentional. The Metropolitan Toronto Police charged him with cruelty to animals, but the charge was dropped the next day.
It was said that Billy Martin, in his defense of his player, was quoted as saying,
"He couldn’t have hit the seagull on purpose. He hasn’t hit the cutoff man all year."
Almost exactly one year ago, a baseball collided with a seagull at home plate at a minor league game in Buffalo, New York. "Seagull hit by pitch (not awarded first base)" read the USA Today headline. The gull was not awarded a base, but thankfully, he was alright–presumably not meeting a 98-mile-per-hour fastball as in the case of the poor bird, a dove apparently, encountering Johnson’s pitch–and was escorted off of the field.
- Writing in Baseball Digest in June 2004, Rich Marazzi discussed his contributions to a book that had recently been published on the subject of major leaguers playing from 1950-1959. In an article entitled "Baseball rules corner: some colorful stories about players from the 1950s", Marazzi writes:
- "When a batted ball hits a wall or the ground it is no longer considered to be in flight for the purpose of making a catch. If the ball strikes a flying bird, however, it remains in flight. That might not be necessarily true for the bird. And yes, a fielder can make a catch of a batted ball that bounces off a bird. Just ask Frank Ernaga, who had a cup of coffee in the major leagues with the Cubs in 1957 and ’58.
Playing for Tulsa in the Texas League game against Houston in 1956, Ernaga was in the outfield when Houston pitcher Bill Greason flied to left. As Ernaga waited to make the catch, the ball struck a bird. Nevertheless, Ernaga caught the ball while teammate Bob Will grabbed the bird. No, umps didn’t call "Fowl Ball," they ruled Ernaga’s snare to be a legal catch.
By the way, Ernaga was flying high when he homered and tripled in his first two major league at-bats. After he glided into the sunset, he became a building contractor in Susanville, California."
Care to feather your nest with yet one more baseball/bird reference? You can go to this NPR afiliate site for their delightful take on interleague (interspecies?) play.
Baseball is certainly not the only outdoor sport to have been plagued by aviary interference. The results have often been hysterical as witnessed by an ESPN Sport Center-compiled video montage of "Top Ten Bird Moments", running the gamut of the entire world of sports.
Let’s hope more runs and wins generate news for the Mets in their upcoming games, rather than Mother Nature. There’s always the Discovery and Animal Planet channels for that, thank you very much.