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.
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.
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.
Mets outfielder Matt den Dekker had time to kill on Sunday. He had been called up for his first major league start of the season the previous day from the Triple-A affiliate. He no sooner arrived to join the team in Philadelphia then he was told he’d be returning to the 51s. Reportedly unable to catch the game on TV in his hotel (what kind of fleabag hotel did the Mets put him up in in Philly, anyhow??!!) he went out to check out the Liberty Bell and Center City environs prior to his evening flight back to Vegas. Good thing for the Mets that his return trip was cancelled. Let’s just say, he made the most of his time in Philly…and I don’t even know if he was a contributor to the new cheese-steak-eating contest numbers.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, so the saying goes. I know I personally am beside myself for the return of baseball to Citi Field. However, my wandering eyes have been smitten by, gulp, basketball.
I’ve written a blog post comparing the success of the Wichita State Shockers to a successful orchestra. You can read it here:
I was there.
I WAS THERE!
But, through the immediacy of social media, there were others not at Citi Field tonight who were there with me nonetheless.
Yes, I was one of the lucky Mets fans to experience live tonight–from the front row of the Excelsior Level, right behind Home Plate–the first no-hitter in the history of the Mets franchise, pitched by Johan Santana.
But, as the number of zeroes on the scoreboard began to climb, so did the anxiety and the trepidation. The angst was palpable: I saw it in my daughter’s and my husband’s faces; I saw it six seats down from me in the intense concentration on the face of WFAN’s Evan Roberts as well as in the death grip he held on the railing in front of him.
But I also “heard” it loud and clear in the voices fairly shouting on Twitter and Facebook.
I try to put my phone away during game-time, for the most part. I find that I miss too much of what’s going on in front of me if I don’t.
But with collective jitters permeating the atmosphere tonight, the distraction of my smart phone proved to be just the bit of short-term electronically-produced Xanax needed –at least while the Mets were at bat from about the sixth inning forward. (Did anyone else think that the bottom of the eighth inning set yet another franchise record for the LONGEST half-inning EVER?!)
Checking Twitter and Facebook late in the game when Johann was not on the mound, I was surprised to see a thread of comments inspired by a single tweet by fellow Mets blogger Greg Prince, of Faith and Fear in Flushing fame, in which he compared the spectacle we were all witnessing–in the ballpark, home, and elsewhere–to the grand spectacle that is opera.
I couldn’t have agreed more with the analogy. Truly, this evening’s event–with the pitcher in question having taken well over an entire season off for possibly career-ending surgery–was a story writ large. A gran scena.
For stellar moments in sports history as well as those in the arena of musical performance, the crowd simply cannot contain itself. “Jo- han! Jo- han!” or “Bravi! Bravi!”: the intensity and the passion are one and the same. And the thrill of having shared that athlete’s/musician’s professional milestone is something to cherish and to be retold–in the dramatic and theatrical manner appropriate to the occasion.
What comes to your mind when Jose Reyes…
- …hits one of his signature triples?
- …steals yet another base?
- …flashes that infectious smile?
- …has yet another multi-hit game?
The first thing you probably think–as I do–is, “We HAVE to SIGN HIM!!“
But sometimes, watching Jose in action reminds me of another exciting performer.
In the world of opera.