I’m the proud friend of several prolific baseball writers. In the past, I’ve referenced here the fine work of Greg Prince and Jason Fry My seat for Mets games is in Section 318–right in front of the WOR-710 Mets broadcast booth. Over the years, the fact that I always have the Mets Booth radio guys in my ear during games–and often pantomime my reactions to their always insightful and entertaining commentary–and that I regularly trade tweets with “the immortal” Chris Majkowski during games, have resulted in a friendship with the radio personnel, including sportscaster and author Howie Rose.
Mark Newman does not write about the Mets exclusively, but he has spent a fair amount of time at Citi Field. He has been a longtime Hall of Fame voting member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. He is the recipient of the National Magazine Award for General Excellence. He has worked twenty-five World Series for Major League Baseball. It was through his position with MLB’s Advanced Media–for which he is currently Enterprise Editor–that I got to know him. Mark was a guru/”cheerleader”/problem-solver for all of us novice fans starting to blog about our teams for the first time. He was most helpful in providing guidance, encouragement, and helpfulf feedback to this Mets blogger. Since starting Perfect Pitch, I’ve had a chance to share some memorable games with Mark at Citi Field, and he and his wife Lisa have attended a few Opening Night Galas at the Metropolitan Opera as well.
Suffice to say, Mark has been around baseball and is accustomed to posing questions to ballplayers.
But for almost as long as I’ve known him, when he’s not involved in a specific work assignment for MLB, Mark’s been meeting one-on-one with players in pursuit of their answers to a single query: given the opportunity to cite a single at-bat as the most memorable of your career, which one would you choose?
He’s talked to current players, players who retired long ago, and Hall of Famers. He’s met them at batting practice, at foundation fundraisers, on golf courses, over lunch, dinner, or a cup of coffee–any number of scenarios that afforded the time and place for a bit of introspective reflection, “off the record” and away from the player’s team, his family, and the public.
The resulting answers, Mark found, were intriguing, fascinating, and quite often, they came as a surprise. A publisher had the same reaction. A book, entitled Diamonds from the Dugout, envisioned and written by Mark–with encouragement from Brooks Robinson–is the happy result. It came out just this week.
Fans, the media, statisticians, bloggers, and baseball historians have time-honored criteria for quantifying or qualifying an individual athlete’s performance relative to his peers. They are also afforded their respective platforms for self-cultivated “highlight reels” of their own selection. Some of the crowning points shared with Mark by these ballplayers might be seen as relatively unremarkable, from a strictly baseball point of view; what is noteworthy is the reason why this is the hit selected by the player himself and given its own chapter in Mark’s book.
The subject of each chapter is certainly a measure of athletic accomplishment, but more often a player’s selection had more to do with the context in which the hit was made. Mark skillfully weaves together the specifics of the play with anecdotal information from the player. Reading these vignettes, one can easily visualize the whimsical grin playing across the face of a player or the slight misting up of a player’s eyes involved in the hit’s memory and his retelling a story that, for that player at least, has obviously become the stuff of myth or legend. The inclusion of each player’s “back story”, the opportunity for him to “set the stage” and to add personal embellishments to his saga: this is what makes the book fascinating reading.
The book is a veritable Who’s Who of baseball royalty, but as a Mets fan, you’ll particularly enjoy reading chapters devoted to David Wright, Mike Piazza, Ron Swoboda, Mookie Wilson, Darryl Strawberry, Rusty Staub, Ed Kranepool, and Ralph Kiner. I particularly liked Staub’s tale involving a multiple-hit game as a young player for the Astros in May of 1967. The legendary Ted Williams was in the house–not as a player, but as an award presenter. Williams had scouted Staub in high school for the Red Sox, and on that day, he witnessed Staub go 3 for 3 with a run scored in the 6-2 victory. Staub recalls that his efforts that day garnered words of high praise from Williams that he remembers vividly to this day, “You’re gonna be OK, kid.”
Conversely, Mets fans will enjoy Chipper “Larry” Jones’ favorite hit for the mere fact that it did not take place against Mets pitching. Considering the plethora of killer at-bats inflicted by him upon my team, I was relieved to find that his chapter does not constitute a nostalgic recounting of a nadir of Mets family lore.
It’s a hard time for Mets fans: we had high expectations and low return this season. Meanwhile the team across town has powered its way to the ALDS. Trust me, there’s no better time to get lost in a book, if you’re a Mets fan. And I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Mark’s book today!
UPDATE: The hardcover edition of the book is once again in stock at Amazon. For shoppers in the New York City area, Barnes & Noble stores expect to have the hardcover available in its tai-state area stores and for free delivery to select area zip codes by Wednesday, October 11th.
As of this writing, Amazon is temporarily out of stock of the hardcover edition of the book. However, it is available on Kindle for instant download. The hardcover edition is currently available on Barnes & Noble’s website , and it is also available as a download for Nook.
For more information about Mark Newman and his book, please check out his website as well.
When the media seeks political commentary, it does not usually turn to sports figures. But professional sports and politics collided rather unexpectedly about ten days ago.
Outrage met the release of a salacious Access Hollywood tape in which Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is heard making lewd misogynistic comments and boasting of having perpetrated acts of sexual assault.
“This was locker room banter, a private conversation that took place many years ago…I apologize if anyone was offended,” was Trump’s initial statement.
Athletes in locker rooms everywhere took umbrage at these words. They saw his feeble mea culpa for what it was: a desperate attempt to vindicate his behavior and language by implicating all men in general and–by using athletes’ place of employment–male athletes in particular. They saw this as a personal and collective affront and quickly took to mainstream and social media with searing denunciations.
We have a “locker room code,” stated Dominique Wilkins, former NBA player and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer. He and numerous athletes spoke to CNN about the self-policing principles that make the locker room environment one in which such language is simply not tolerated.
Former NBA star John Amaechi, speaking recently to NPR, enumerated the topics typically discussed in the locker rooms he had inhabited:
We had conversations that were about politics, that were about the systemic racism, were about the tax advantages of living in Florida as an athlete. These things came first. These were the things that we talked about.
In a blistering blog post for Vox, former NFL player Chris Kluwe delineated the parameters of locker room discussions. Kluwe has written a scathing indictment of Trump. I would encourage you to read the entire piece by this gifted writer and published author. But one point of his piece I found particularly arresting:
See, that’s another big thing we talk about in the locker room. Accountability. In a professional sports environment, all of us are accountable to each other. We’re a team. If one of us messes up on the field, it affects everyone. Just like if a president makes a bad decision, it affects everyone. And do you know, Donald, the only way the team wins games? The only way we win is if, in the locker room, we’re willing to accept that accountability, address our mistakes, and work as hard as we possibly can to make sure those mistakes don’t happen again.
We don’t double down on a shitty play simply because a small portion of the fan base got excited by it. We don’t try to carve the team apart from the inside to appease a certain position group. We don’t blame our mistakes on something someone else did, because if we do any of those things, we lose, something you’ve become intimately familiar with on a personal, financial, and political level, and I’m not having too many difficulties reviewing how that happened to you on the game film.
John Amaechi was more succinct. Asked what would be the result if such vulgar language and admission of sexual assault were to be heard in the locker room, Amaechi said:
There would be absolute silence. And then any leader in the room – unless this was a locker room devoid of leadership, somebody would step up and say, by the way, what you’re talking about is abuse. It is not cool.
So, for those keeping score, the Republican candidate has now maligned Hispanics, Blacks, people of color in general, immigrants in general, Muslims, Gold Star parents, members of the Judiciary, his party’s leadership, women, and now athletes.
I would suggest that he has wronged the New York Mets as well, albeit indirectly.
I submit for your consideration the photo below. It’s a very painful moment of our shared history as Mets fans. You’d rather turn away, I know. But take your hands down from in front of your eyes and look beyond the still bat in Carlos Beltran’s hands and the elated Yadier Molina.
Yup, that’s him.
Game Seven of the 2006 NLCS.
Finally, behind this moment that until now had defied all explanation we see a logical, if perverse, narrative.
Let’s call it what it is:
The Curse of Donald Trump.
Castigate Carlos no longer: the real object of our ire and disdain should be the character behind the umpire, not in front.
Donald Trump cost us that series–and that year.
I’ve solved the enigma today, October 19th, 2016: exactly ten years ago to the day of this moment.
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!
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.
“Timing is everything.”
How many times have we heard that expression? It has certainly proven true recently in this house of Mets fans.
The high praise recent lavished upon my husband–while certainly well deserved–is owed, in part at least, to coincidence and excellent timing.
A die-hard Mets fan basically from the infancy of the franchise, my husband never appears happier or more youthful than when attending a Mets game. He was recently rewarded handsomely for the hefty price of our Season Ticket package, not to mention the expenditure of vast amounts of his personal time spent watching the futility that is the Mets’ offense in general and with the bases loaded in particular: he got to throw out the Ceremonial First Pitch at Citi Field.
Apparently, the designated First Pitch Thrower du Jour was unable to “go on”, and a suitable “cover” had to be found. Citi Field officials need have looked no further.
While Garry showed no signs of being nervous about his assignment, as it got close to his scheduled performance, he did admit to a fear of spiking the ball. And ideally, he added, he would like to throw the ball so that Mets Catcher Anthony Recker would not need to leave his crouch in order to catch the ball. However, if either scenario were to happen, he reasoned aloud, he would be in good company: he recalled how former Mets ace Tom Seaver had thrown out the first pitch at “Shea Goodbye”–the last game at Shea Stadium–and had spiked the ball. He also recalled that when Seaver threw out the first pitch at the 2013 All-Star Game, his throw came in quite high and outside and had required former Mets Catcher Mike Piazza to leap to his feet in order to catch it.
Other than these minor concerns, Garry showed no signs of performance anxiety whatsoever. In fact, he appeared rather poised and purposeful. (See if you don’t agree from the photo!) Dutifully following the instructions he had been given to “follow David Wright” (!), he strode onto the field with aplomb. I will never forget the image of him shadowing Mets Pitcher Jon Niese.
Wisely electing to throw from in front of the mound, Garry did one heck of a job, and I was not the only one who thought so. He did not spike the ball nor did Recker need to leave his crouch in order to catch the ball. As the two posed for a photo together, Recker even complimented Garry on his pitch.
Later that evening, sitting in our Excelsior Level seats directly in front of WOR announcers Josh Lewin and Howie Rose–with whom we delight in having as our audio accompaniment to each and every home game–Garry found himself somewhat (pleasantly) distracted from the game itself–and his usual scorekeeping ritual–as compliments kept coming in:
Friend, Mets blogger, and auteur exceptionnel Greg Prince came down from the Press Box to personally shake Garry’s hand. (Later, he would even mention Garry in his blog post about that night!) Plaudits for Garry’s efforts came over the WOR airwaves and into our earbuds as Howie Rose gave Garry a shout-out and a verbal “pat on the back”, adding that, “D’Arnaud would’ve framed it for a strike.” As a matter of fact, Howie had begun discussing Garry’s pre-game experience and, before he could finish the story, he was interrupted by the Yasiel Puig Web Gem that would become a viral .gif before the Seventh Inning Stretch. Even after that astonishing play that had left everyone in the stands momentarily speechless and, then, had even Mets fans applauding, Howie remembered having introduced Garry’s tale, and returned to the subject. Flattering, to say the least!
Yes, timing was in Garry’s favor on Thursday, May 22nd: He happened to be at Citi Field earlier than usual for that night’s game in order to sample “Nobu Night” at the Acela Club; therefore, he could assure Mets personnel that he would indeed be on-hand at the prescribed time.
But the fortuitous timing to which I refer was actually tied to a later event. A few days later.
Still “after glowing” about his unique souvenir, he came home that night to find that word had quickly spread about his special opportunity, and emails demanding explanations and details were coming in at an alarming rate. He sat down at his computer and composed a short synopsis of how the event had come about, how he thought he had performed, and the critiques he had received. He attached one of the numerous photos that my daughter and I had each taken of him from our position on the warning track. He then sent the email out to all potentially interested parties.
Initially, he received a flurry of emails in response . Friday brought more feedback. By that weekend, responses had slowed somewhat, but as the work week started on Monday, replies came from those colleagues who had taken a long weekend and not checked their work email since earlier the previous week and, thus, had just found out Garry’s news.
On Tuesday, rapper 50 Cent was given Ceremonial First Pitch honors. And he proceeded to bring dishonor on himself, frankly.
His throw was so wildly off-course that news of this charade was picked up by national media. Writers at the Washington Post even drew up a chart of “bests” and “worsts” in Ceremonial First Pitch Hall of Famedom to put his mishap in proper perspective.
First-pitch-related emails and texts to Garry recommenced. Friends’ and colleagues’ estimation of Garry’s feat shot up even higher. It had become quite obvious, even to those not having seen Garry’s throw, how poorly 50 Cent’s performance had measured up to Garry’s highly-touted outing only a few days before. Even non-Mets and non-baseball fans saw replays of Tuesday’s farce and were all too anxious to acknowledge Garry’s far superior performance.
Comparing the two men’s first pitches later, Howie Rose would even marvel–off the air–to Garry, “Grading on a curve, you are Sandy Koufax.” High praise indeed.
50 Cent has continued to extract from this episode every ounce of media hype possible for himself. Recently, he provided an attention-getting explanation for his poor outing that night. He also lives in infamy in an hysterical video that has since been created in which Vladimir Guerrero is seen “hitting” that ill-thrown pitch. Ah, but thanks to 50 Cent’s PR machine, Garry has vicariously continued to enjoy minor celebrity status, exceeding even Andy Warhol‘s predictions.
Serendipity had provided Garry the chance to live out a dream.
Coincidence allowed him to keep the dream alive for many more days to come.
UPDATE: The infamous first pitch throw will live on into the 2014 baseball season as Topps has confirmed that it will be issuing a baseball card “honoring” the pitch:
No, not “faith restored” in the Mets. Oh sure, I’m still a practicing Mets fan. On the surface, I believe. But, deep down…
Let’s face it: as a Mets fan in 2013, it’s slim pickings when it comes to finding something to get all hot and bothered about.
Sure, watching Matt Harvey pitch is a delight. But through no fault of his own, it’s been a long time since he’s recorded a win. Yes, the Subway Series was a very welcome and wholly unexpected surprise. It felt awfully nice to put on some Mets gear and walk around with a certain amount of swagger in one’s step, am I right? Was anyone surprised that the Mets’ euphoria coming off the sweep of the Yankees in both stadiums was not enough to get even a single, stinkin’ win in Miami? I, for one, was not.
But here I am–frustrated, angry, and bored with my team–typing away excitedly on a blog post after having remained basically mute for a good long while.
It’s not my team, however, that has propelled me to the keyboard, but it is something familiar to baseball fans: the practice of singing “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch.
The fact that this post-9/11 addition to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” has remained a staple well beyond 2011–at every Yankee home game and at many stadiums on Sundays–has bothered me.
Come to find out, it bothers others too. It bothered a Methodist pastor in the Washington, DC area so much that he wrote a letter that appeared in the Washington Post recently. What followed were over 3,000 comments online, including my own, and a virtual dialogue on a subject that, lo and behold, has a lot of other people–including Christians like myself–hot around the collar as well.
So, I submit as my return to the Mets blogosphere the following post on a topic which, unlike the Mets’ playing this season, has inspired and excited me and ultimately motivated me to write again.
These are my comments, as posted in the online Comments section that appears below the original opinion in its online version. Please do read the original opinion. It is beautifully written and makes some excellent points.
By the way, while I might not condone public songs with religious connotations (except in the context of a religious service, of course), far be it from me to discourage any Met fan from saying a prayer–in private–for this team if he or she is so inclined. Heaven knows–pun intended–they need it!
And I was not the one performing athletic feats all afternoon and evening.
Sitting through yesterday’s doubleheader at Citi Field–including witnessing a tripleplay and Jon Niese’s one-hitter–made me wonder if ballplayers have specific regimens or diets for a long day such as that.
While not nearly so athletic a feat, I am often asked to perform doubleheaders myself.
The Metropolitan Opera performs seven operas a week during its regular season, including a matinee and an evening performance on Saturdays. Depending upon which operas are scheduled, I might be called upon to “play two” or not.
The advantage to doing so is that it gets two of the four shows per week dictated by my contract out of the way in one (long) day. For that reason, many orchestra musicians, if given the choice, prefer to be scheduled for “double Saturdays”.
Unlike ballgames whose endtime is never known, it is relatively easy to determine the approximate running time of an opera, barring any lengthy technical problems onstage or a cancellation by a singer and the necessary time required to get a cover warmed up and into costume.
However, even though the total performance time of the sum of the two operas on a double Saturday is predetermined, the actual time commitment can vary widely depending upon the two operas scheduled and each of their running times.
Yesterday’s doubleheader prompted me to think of some of the more memorable doubleheaders I’ve played.
- One double–Verdi’s Otello and Falstaff–represented not only two operas by the same composer but works also both based on Shakespeare and featuring a libretto by Arrigo Boito.
- A long day in 1997 when I performed as part of a TV telecast of Giordano’s Fedora, followed by Wagner’s Götterdämmerung in the evening.
- And, probably the longest double I have ever played: Wagner’s *Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (about six hours), followed by Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (about
4 1/2 hours. 3 1/4 hours.) I definitely needed some Carmex after that day!
I’m sure certain games go by much faster than others for the players, depending upon how fast the pitcher works, how many men get on base, how much the weather is an annoyance or distraction, whether it’s a home or away game, or other factors I have not even thought of.
I know that, for me, some operas SEEM longer to me than others that are actually longer, simply because I enjoy playing some operas more than others.
Clocking in at just over three hours, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly–the ultimate tear-jerker and rarely, in my experience cast well–always seems interminable to me.
Contrast that with the final opera in Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle: Götterdämmerung. The first act alone is two hours. Add two more acts and two intermissions, and you’re looking at a performance that takes just under six hours. And yet, any time I’ve played that opera, the time has seemed to FLY by.
*An additional challenge in this opera is that the last act is the longest act at 2 hours and ten minutes. In fact, the last act by itself is longer than all of La Bohème.