Saturday, September 30, 2006

Running for a cure -- and bagels

I peaked as a runner during my senior year in college, when I finished seventh out of a couple hundred in a mile race.

Since then, I’m confined to a treadmill, except for one day a year. Each September I race in the Grand Rapids version of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation’s 5-K Race for the Cure.

I started running in this race five years ago, when all of us in the education pod thought it might be fun. I didn’t take it too seriously, thinking I’d get a neat T-shirt and raise some money for a good cause.

Then I got to the event – it’s at one of the local malls -- and found out how much it meant to so many people.

Women who have survived this horrible disease wear pink T-shirts and are proud to make it the 3.1 miles of the route. You learn they are the lucky ones.

Most runners wear pink paper squares with the names of friends and loved ones they’ve lost, many listing more than one name. Others write names of people celebrating their recovery, or people battling the disease.

There are many groups of families and friends running as a team, often with matching T-shirts with photos of mothers, wives, sisters or daughters. Others carry signs while they run, sometimes with tears streaming down their cheeks.

I got choked up reading their messages as I ran that first year, and I’ve returned each year since without my work podmates, though the last two years I ran with my son. I think he gets it. I know he liked the piles of bagels and fruit awaiting us at the finish line and the goodies from the vendors.

Panera bread is a major sponsor, and employees greet racers with cranberry and vanilla bagels shaped like a ribbon instead of the traditional circle. The company sells them throughout October, with a portion of proceeds going to the cause. They’re awesome, at least as awesome as a Midwestern bagel can be.

This is the first year I had reason to wear one of the pink squares.

I was a little more aggressive in my fund-raising. People in the newsroom love my kick-butt chocolate chip cookies, and for the past two weeks anybody taking a cookie had to make a donation. We raised $40, which is probably a tear in the ocean of what is needed, but it’s something.

The weather was lousy this morning, a steady rain falling throughout the race. It didn’t stop the families and the survivors. Some who didn’t run lined the course with umbrellas, holding signs and shouting encouragement.

There’s a Costco along the route, and employees hand out free bottles of water to runners. Costco rocks.

There are some serious runners, but not many. Most are glad to make it to the end. I don’t think many of these folks are worried about their times. That’s not why they’re here. This time I forgot to look at the clock.

After doing this for five years, I’ve come up with some observations and tips to share.

1) If you have one of those cars with the electric locks opened with the buttons on the key ring. Don’t just take a key on your lanyard. It won’t open the door without the electronic thing. Then you have to find a payphone, figure out how to make a collect call and then beg your wife to come down to the mall and open the car doors for you. If this happens, you can pretty much expect a trip to J.Jill as compensation. Trust me.

2) If you get a little winded on a route with some hills, it’s OK to slow the pace a little, even all the way down to walking fast instead of jogging. But I explained to my son that you need to get back up to speed in time to pass the clusters of sorority girls handing out cups of water.

3) When taking the aforementioned cup of water, be careful not to drink it quickly while running. I did this once, the water went down the wrong pipe and I ended up kneeling at the side of the road coughing up furballs. Nobody is impressed by that scene.

4) If you’ve been walking for trotting for the last part of the race, sprint it out when the finish line comes into view so the gathered crowd will think you’ve been chugging away the entire way. OK, no one will really believe you’ve been chugging away. If that were the case, you would have finished sooner. But you can pretend that they will.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Knitting and cussing at Comerica

I like going to games by myself, and I’m not one of those people who easily starts conversations with strangers, preferring to quietly keep score and enjoy the festivities.

My new friend Mary Ann would have no part of that.

On Thursday I made my annual final-homestand roadtrip to Comerica Park to see the Tigers and Blue Jays. These excursions have been eventful in the past, from watching the White Sox clinch last year to Mike Sweeney tossing me a ball in an otherwise downbeat trip during one of those make-up games in the first week of October in 2001.

Typically on these trips I can pretty much sit anywhere. But given the Tigers impending trip to the playoffs, there’s a lot of excitement in Motown, attracting 28,000 to an afternoon game.

You can usually get a good seat when you’re buying just one ticket, and the clerk at the booth was able to set me up 20 rows from the field right behind home plate.

After making the mandatory lap of the concourse and inspection of the gift shops, I purchased my yearbook and program and proceeded to section 129.

And there in seat 9 I saw an elderly black woman in a black beret. I slipped past, sat down and politely said “Hello” before taking out my program.

“Young man, I’m going to ask you to forgive me,” she said.

I was confused. “For what?”

“There’s a chance I might curse during the game.”

I laughed, and said, “Ma’am, you’re in the right place. Feel free to cuss away."

She then introduced herself, telling me her name and explaining that she came to the game with her son, Lou, who was attending his first game at Comerica.

My new friend, who Lou later told me was 80 years old, soon told me all about her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, including the son-in-law in the Navy who is stationed in Japan.

Mary Ann belted out both anthems, proud that she knew the lyrics to “O Canada,” though I think Lou wanted to hide under his seat.

The game started horribly for the Tigers, with errors by Brandon Inge and Kenny Rogers contributing to the Jays posting two quick runs. Mary Ann pulled out two small knitting needles and beige yarn, saying she liked to knit when she was nervous. She knit a lot during the game, with good reason.

The Blue Jays jumped all over Rogers – like I haven’t seen him meltdown before -- chasing the notorious Andruw Jones-walker in the fourth-inning. The Jays were up 7-0 by the end of the frame.

After each hit, I heard Mary Ann emphatically say “Sugar!” and noticed her knitting more furiously.

She knew her baseball. Lou was calling for Rogers to get pulled during the first inning, and said players should be fined for making errors. Mary Ann would explain to him that’s not the way it works. Rogers would get a couple innings to right the ship, and players have contracts.

“He’s new to the game,” she told me with a wink.

The Blue Jays lead – and A. J. Burnett not giving up a hit until the fourth -- cheered the guy who sat on the other side of me, a gentleman who lives outside of Toronto and shares a block of season tickets at the Rogers Centre with a group of 10 friends.

When Mary Ann wasn’t talking, my Canadian friend was, telling me how the trip across the border is getting more difficult, new food concessions at the former SkyDome and the lowdown on the Jays’ young infielders.

We were also amazed that the Jays twice tried stealing third base on Pudge Rodriguez, both time failing miserably – especially when turtle-fast Jason Phillips was one of the would-be stealers.

The Tigers started making noise in the bottom of the fourth, loading the bases with none out and Carlos Guillen coming to the plate, the crowd on its feet.

Guillen wiffed. Then it happened.

“Ooooooooohhhhh shit! No! Sugar! I mean sugar! ”

“Mom!” Lou said, shocked.

I just laughed. “You told me that might happen.”

The Tigers made things interesting, pushing a run across in the fourth and adding two in the sixth before adding one in the seventh. Then Sean “The Mayor” Casey launched a two-run bomb to bring them within a run. Lou was convinced each hit was the result of his Mom’s prayers.

Alas, the Jays added an insurance run in the eighth, and Brandon League and B.J. Ryan mowed the Tigers down.

But a good time was had by all – though I never would have expected it. There was something familiar about talking baseball all afternoon with a senior citizen.

I dawned on me later it was like those games from my youth, when my Grandmother would take me to see the Mets at Shea. I finally got to return the favor, taking her to a couple spring training games in 1996. We lost her the next year.

Next time I go to a game by myself I might not be as shy. You never know who you might be sitting near – and it’s OK if they need to cuss a little.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Looking ahead to the postseason, because it's obvious the Mets are

It’s time to look forward to the postseason. The Mets certainly are, judging from their perfomance since clinching. Guys, would it kill you to mix in a win now and then?

But I digress. Things in the AL are pretty settled, though the Cardinals are doing their best to make the NL season count right down to the last day.

So let’s take a look at all the scenarios, weighing the pros and cons of facing each of these guys.

Possible Division or League Championship Series opponents

St. Louis Cardinals

Pros: The Cards are like mortally wounded animals, staggering in a circle before finally collasping dead.

Cons: If they survive the Astros, I don’t think they’ll never make it out of the Division Series. But in a five-game series anything can happen. Albert Pujols could go nuts and they could gimp through. A hazard then is that I have a lot of friends who are Cardinal fans, and I’d do a bad job feigning sympathy if we send them packing like we did in 2000.

Houston Astros

Pros: This is assuming the Cardinals replace the 1964 Phillies as the poster children for last-minute chokes. The Astros will be tired from just getting to the dance.

Cons: Bat-chucker. Not that I fear him. These days Dude goes five innings, walks out to the mound to start the sixth then walks off to A) cheers in the Juice Box b) jeers at Shea, then watches his bully wipe out any lead he built up. No, I fear the endless Fox hype and Clemens worship. And I don’t want to watch those Astros fans show their appreciation to Beltran for 2004 by booing his butt the whole time.

San Diego Padres

Pros: The Padres are everybody’s favorite postseason opponent, at least now that the Braves are out of it. They’re the closest thing that baseball has to a bye week I think they have won a grand total of one game in two World Series appearances, and got swept in the Division Series last year. And they gave Kaz Matsui and inside-the-park home run. Plus, only the Blue Jays have uglier uniforms.

Cons: Mikey’s gotta realize that he tributes are over and he won’t be getting served any more fat ones to give the Shea faithful one last thrill. The danger is that he might remember what a kick-ass player he was and do some real damage.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Pros: Met-killer Mike Scioscia is now managing down the street, Kirk Gibson and his stolen MVP are long retired and fired as a Tigers coach and Orel is making Steve Phillips look goofy on ESPN. And if we win in their yard, none of their fans will be around to watch it.

Cons: We know about the Wilpons’ love for all things Booklyn Dodgers. I just fear that these guys are going to get confused and start rooting for the wrong team.

Philadelphia Phillies

Pros: Traveling sure wouldn’t be a problem. In fact, most of the Cit will be filled with Mets fans making a road trip. It’s almost like playing all the games at Shea, but with better cheesestakes. Plus, the Phils gave their best player to the Yankees in July.

Cons: Pat Bleeping Burrell tends to play dead all season, except when the Mets are in the opposing dugout. That Howard kid has a little power.

Possible World Series opponents

Minnesota Twins:

Pros: They can’t pitch Johan Santana every game.

Cons: In a World Series, they just might try to pitch Johan Santana every game. Well, at least three times. And since we never know if Trachsel will convert into Shrapnel, I can see them stealing a game pitched by someone else, especially in that dome. If Lastings makes the postseason roster, I don’t want to see him trying to pick a fly ball out of that Teflon roof.


Pros: Vengeance for treating us like second-class citizens for all these years would be sweet. Watching DF Jeter weeping in the dugout -- "These tears sponsored by Nike" -- as we celebrate on their field would be wonderful. Watching everyone on the Yanks blame Alex Rodriguez for their loss would be a hoot. We tend to have no problem slapping Randy Johnson around -- even our scrub relievers!

Cons: They’re evil. Let’s get that one out of the way. But more importantly, if we play them, we become guest stars in our own World Series, because Fox and the Yankee-hacks launch right into Subway Series mode. It becomes a story about the mighty Yankees attempting to vanquish the cross-town step brothers who should be happy to be here after years at the bottom. Plus, we’ve been here before and it’s not a pretty place. Playing the Yankees is like my crush on Rachel Ray -- it’s just not going to end well for anyone.

Oakland Athletics

Pros: I like Frank Thomas! And the people on my Mets listserv will finally shut up about losing Marco Scutaro if they see that he’s just not that good.

Cons: That stadium is horrible. I don’t like the idea of the West Coast time zones messing with their body rhythms. Plus, I’d have flashbacks to 1973 with Reggie going deep in Game Seven and Bud Harrelson beating the tag and forever getting called out by Augie Donatelli despite Willie Mays pleading on his knees.

Detroit Tigers:

Pros: After seeing Detroit, every single Mets player, coach and staff member will run off the team bus and kiss the Unisphere, vowing to never say a bad thing about Queens again.

This team is hungry but inexperienced, played over its head all season and limped through September.

And, on a personal note, a series would be close enough for me to at least hang around the outside of the stadium snagging all sorts of cool World Series souvenirs.

Cons: None, other than the chance that someone might get hurt running for the Unisphere. Let Pedro off first and give him an unobstructed path. We want to play the Tigers.

Jeter hype alert!

ESPN asked two writers to debate who is more valueable, Derek F. Jeter or Jose Reyes. You can read it
here. But let me break it down. Jayson Stark basically says, "Don't look at the stats, Jeter is great because we say he is."

Monday, September 25, 2006

Win your division, lose your identity

I was watching the Tigers’ locker room celebration on Sunday and realized something was different.

The players were all running around dousing each other with whatever they could get their hands on, which is to be expected — except in the minds of Yankee hacks. That team, in theory, shakes hands like executives. But in reality it behaves like everyone else.

But I digress. Something else was different. And it didn’t strike me until seeing a photo in my newspaper today: They were wearing their beautiful jerseys instead of a cheesy T-shirts and caps.

The Tigers were celebrating not a division title nor wild card, but the fact that they clinched that they will be one or the other.

There is no shirt advertising a guaranteed post-season appearance. And that’s good.

The truth is that I absolutely hate these things. Not that the shirts and caps themselves are always ugly — though this year’s caps sure are brutal.

But it bothers me that some clubhouse guy has run on the field during a celebration, pull guys off the pile and say "better get this shirt and cap on quick!"

The shirts are rushed out on the field for the sole purpose of being able to sell them as "authentic" clubhouse celebration T-shirts.

Seriously, there must be a sign in the clubhouse reading in big letters: Attention! It is mandatory that you wear the official clubhouse T-shirt at the conclusion of the game.

And because the design is the same for each team except for the team logo, it makes every celebration look exactly the same. I don’t want David Wright looking like Derek F. Jeter.

Of course, my biggest fear is that they'll both soon look like Jeff Gordon and the other ad-covered NASCAR drivers, and we'll be watching the Verizon World Series.

I realize that everything associated with the game is commercialized. It’s a business, and they are going to get every last dime they can.

But could they at least take the hang tags off the caps before they force them on the players?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Know your blogs, watch your DVDs

The fine folks at A&E television must be Mets fans. They gave me two copies of their new DVD featuring Mets World Series highlight films from 1969 and 1986 to share with fellow fans.

My job was to come up with some kind of contest worthy of these glorious tales of Mets history.

Since everyone here is a reader of fine Mets Web sites, I thought it would be fun to come up a contest to test your blog knowledge.

Here are 10 questions. The first two folks to e-mail me the correct answers will get a copy of the DVD. Good luck!

1) Two fine writers produce the awesome Faith and Fear in Flushing site. Who are they?

2) Former Mets trainer Bob Sykes gives us magnificent inside peeks inside the baseball world and especially the Mets 1986 championship team. What’s the name of his blog?

3) This gut-busting prognosticator maintains a list so we know who to hate. Who is he?

4) I’m not the only Mets fan living away from the Homeland. Dan’s in Texas and Mike V. is in Greensboro, N.C. What are the names of their blogs?

5) This Mike also lives outside of New York – but not that far! What’s the name of this Nutmegger’s blog?

6) Researcher Mark writes about a specific kind of Mets victory. It’s also the name of his blog. What is it called?

7) Blogging isn’t limited to the guys. Jessica digs a certain kind of game, and another lady picked a good time to spend her “first year as a baseball fan.” What are the names of their blogs?

8) Chris Wilcox has one of the best-looking sites around, and scared us all with a defection to the Yankees – until we realized this miracle revelation was posted on April 1. What’s the name of his site?

9) My Quiznos subs are like this Joe’s often hysterically funny site.

10) My best friend and baseball co-adventurer gets mentioned in this space all the time. He runs What’s his first name?

There you go! Send the answers to metsguyinmichigan(at)

The DVDs are great. The 1969 highlight film is a hoot because they recreate all the bat sounds and crowd noise. You’ve got to love seeing the flannel uniforms, Yogi coaching first base and the little colorful panels decorating Shea.

And the 1986 highlights are just as good. I can watch Batchucker weeping in the dugout all day. And I must say that Darryl’s trot around the bases in Game Seven was even slower than I remembered. No wonder Nipper drilled him the following spring!

If you’re not one of the winners, you can still get the DVDs at and this link.

Thank you for participating, and thanks to the folks at A&E for making this possible. Hopefully they’re staring work right now on a 2006 highlight film!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Corporate executives? Call in the double standard police!

I’m calling in the double standard police after reading the stories about the Yankees clinching their division title — in Toronto, and only because the Red Sox lost.

When we clinched on Monday, there were all sorts of dismissive stories from the Yankee apologists about how the Mets players carried on.

AP had this: "When the Yankees celebrate division titles, they resemble corporate executives closing a deal with handshakes. When the Mets win anything, it’s time to let loose."

So now that the Yankees clinched, did we in fact see solemn handshakes and business-like demeanor? Let’s look at the first couple stories I found:

Ken Davidoff of Newsday: "This was one of the more raucous clinching celebrations of the Joe Torre era, with beer a noted weapon of choice, and the Yankees deserved it. Their ninth straight American League East title served as a tribute to their perseverance, their resourcefulness and, of course, their thick wallet."

Tyler Kepner of the New York Times reported: "Very quickly, the Yankees got off the couches and partied. The Red Sox are the next team to use the visitors’ locker room at the Rogers Center, and when they get here, they might catch a leftover whiff of celebration."

How many cases of Champagne did the Yankees use dousing each other? 'About 20,' said Rob Cucuzza, the clubhouse manager. 'And a whole lot of beer.'"

The Associated Press’ Rob Gillies had this to say: "Derek Jeter poured champagne over Joe Torre’s head. Johnny Damon swigged whiskey from a bottle. Robinson Cano ambushed teammates with beer."

"The New York Yankees celebrated their ninth straight AL East title like they’d never won it before. And they say they’re not done celebrating."

And finally, Mike Fitzpatrick of AP offered this: "The New York Yankees were still spraying champagne all over the clubhouse and dousing each other with beer when Derek Jeter, wiping the sting from his eyes, made sure to mention the big picture....

"The Bronx Bombers began the day needing one win or a Red Sox loss to clinch. Blue Jays reliever B.J. Ryan quickly closed out the Yankees in the ninth inning, but Boston’s game went final about 30 minutes later, setting off a raucous celebration in New York’s normally composed clubhouse.

"'The celebration is lasting a little longer, that’s the biggest thing that’s stood out so far,'" said Jeter, who was drenched in bubbly."

Wow. Nothing there sounds like "corporate executives closing a deal with handshakes." And I didn’t even see what the full-fledged Yankee hacks Klapisch and Verducci had to say.

The point is that no matter what happens, these guys are going to criticize the Mets and heap praise upon the Yankees. Don’t let it get you down. Look for it and mock it, but don’t let it spoil your day.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

ARod and Giambi, Godzilla and Mothra

This whole ARod v Giambi brawl is a beautiful thing.

It’s like a Godzilla vs Mothra and Yankee Stadium is Tokyo. We get to be those ever-present kids in shorts — all of whom seem to be named "Kenny" — who watch the whole brawl, cheer on both sides and somehow never get crushed.

In case you missed it, Sports Illustrated has a big story this week about Giambi allegedly going to Joe Torre and telling him to stop coddling Rodriguez.

Note for a second that the coddled Arod is hitting .286 with 111 RBI and 34 bombs while clubhouse enforcer Giambi is hitting nearly 40 points lower with seven fewer RBI. I guess his two more home runs gives him the authority to call out the reigning American League MVP.

This exchange is classic, according to Giambi, through SI:

Giambi: "We're all rooting for you and we're behind you 100 percent, but you've got to get the big hit."

"What do you mean? I've had five hits in Boston."

"You [expletive] call those hits? You had two [expletive] dinkers to right field and a ball that bounced over the third baseman! Look at how many pitches you missed! When you hit three, four or five [in the order], you have to get the big hits, especially if they're going to walk Bobby [Abreu] and me. I'll help you out until you get going. I'll look to drive in runs when they pitch around me, go after that 3-and-1 pitch that might be a ball. But if they're going to walk Bobby and me, you're going to have to be the guy."

SlapRod should have used this opportunity to mention that:

A) He has two MVP awards to Giambi’s one.

B) Giambi’s one award came because he had a hot September to help the A’s get into the playoffs, where they promptly tanked.

C) Giambi’s own bother contributed to one of those tankings by failing to slide and allowing a fluke throw to turn Freaking Jeter into a human hype machine.

D) Rodriguez never hit .207 over the course of a full season marred by alleged "health issues."

E) Said "health issues" may or may not have been brought on by behavior described in leaked grand jury testimony involving allegedly steroid use.

F) Rodriguez never reported to spring training looking like a shell of his former self and explained the amazing weight loss to yoga.

G) Rodriguez never had to conduct a press conference where he apologized for an offense, but said he was unable to say exactly what the offense was, though it came after the weight loss and leaked testimony.

F)ARod might have "false confidence," but Giambi's confidence allegedly comes in the form of the cream or the clear.

G) No team Rodriguez has ever worked for ever seriously looked into voiding his contract, allegedly for the activity mentioned in the grand jury testimony.

There’s plenty of ammo there. But does Arod fire back? No.

Instead, he goes all Mothra, gimping back to Infant Island so the twin mini fairies can sing him back to sleep.

"[Mike] Mussina doesn't get hammered at all," he told SI. "He's making a boatload of money. Giambi's making [$20.4 million], which is fine and dandy, but it seems those guys get a pass. When people write [bad things] about me, I don't know if it's [because] I'm good-looking, I'm biracial, I make the most money, I play on the most popular team ..."

Goodness, Alex. Man up!

The Wilpons took a lot of heat for not signing this wuss back in 2001, but they look pretty smart when this nonsense slips out.

Meanwhile, we get to run around like the Kennys, hoping that this brawl plays out on the back pages of the Post through the postseason.

A dysfunctional Yankee clubhouse is never a bad thing. We've already had scandals involving always injured Carl Pavano hydroplaning his sled into the back of a truck and not telling the team.

And while this is a long way from Billy and Reggie playing patty cake in the Fenway dugout, the relative lovefest of the Torre era seems to toast.

I do have to say that the timing of this whole thing is curious. And it was written by Tom Verducci, a well-known Yankee apologist who probably buys into the whole notion that Rodriguez isn't a "true Yankee." Wonder if this was a Dick Young-esque management hit?

Meanwhile, we can all kick back for a couple weeks and watch Willie work Julio Franco into as many new positions as possible after his recent visits to second and third bases. I wanna see that guy pitch!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

From Cleon to Cliff, this feels good!

I bring my laptop to Grand Rapids Board of Education meetings so I can take write stories as things transpire, then take advantage of the administration building’s kick-butt wifi to ship things back to the newsroom.

The laptop was out Monday night, but I confess it had a higher purpose — tracking the clinching game in progress through Yahoo.

There are hazards to doing this. While district staffers were discussing enrollment trends, an audible then quickly muffled cheer went up from a the fourth row in the audience. We’re supposed to be neutral observers. Technically, I was, though the board didn’t know it. I was cheering Jose Valentin’s home run.

Such are the difficulties of being a Mets fan living away from the Homeland.

I’m torn between being thrilled that we did it ahead of the Yanks, and not caring at all about the Yanks because I’m tired of them intruding into our moments.

Indeed, some of the Yankee hacks out there couldn’t resist. AP had this: "When the Yankees celebrate division titles, they resemble corporate executives closing a deal with handshakes. When the Mets win anything, it’s time to let loose."

Of course, when you spend $200 million on payroll and don’t win the division, you should be mocked. It’s like entering a bicycle race and pulling up in Jeff Gordon’s rig.

So the heck with the Yanks and their apologists. I’m celebrating today for Carlos Delgado, who at 1,703 games in the leader among active players without a postseason appearances, and Paul Lo Duca, who can’t be too far behind. Heck you know he’s excited after that little F-bomb incident on SNY.

I’m celebrating for Jose Reyes, who was a sliced finger away from showing the world his skills the spotlight of the All-Star Game, and for David Wright, who took that spotlight in July and could become a household name by the end of October.

I’m excited for Tom Glavine, who now might be able to stop being asked if he regrets leaving the Braves, and for Billy Wagner who proved that yes, a country guy can be successful playing in New York.

I’m geeked for Valentin and Darren Oliver. The idea that either of these guys could be on our roster sent the posters on my Mets listserv foaming at the mouth during spring training. I guess Omar knows what he’s doing.

I was pretty hard on Mike Vaccaro earlier this year, but I have to tip my cap for his column in today’s Post.

"The ball was heading precisely where it should have been headed on such a festive night, in such a stardust-frosted year. Deep left field at Shea Stadium is sacred ground anyway, the place where one improbable October afternoon in 1969 a long fly ball went to die in Cleon Jones' glove, where the greatest baseball story ever told reached its fitting, final climax."

"Now, just a few steps away from where Jones dropped to one knee, Cliff Floyd stood statue-still, listening to his heart pound, a sound he could hear even above the 46,729 voices trying to suffocate the sky with their glee. That was equally appropriate. It was deep in the lost baseball summer of 2003, Floyd's first season with the Mets, with his body hurting and his spirit sagging, that Floyd held court in front of a locker at Yankee Stadium.

"I want to be here when this gets turned around," Floyd said that day, at a time when the Mets were less relevant than the Brooklyn Cyclones, when it was fair to wonder if that would ever change. ‘I’ve seen from a distance what it looks like to be a winner in New York. I want to know what that’s like from the inside."

Absolutely beautiful.

And this, from Wright, about the fans: "It’s a great night for us, and a better night for them."

This guy is good. We’re talking Costco good.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Jimmy Carter is ruining my streak

"When I was a small boy in Kansas, a friend of mine and I went fishing and as we sat there in the warmth of the summer afternoon on a river bank, we talked about what we wanted to do when we grew up. I told him that I wanted to be a real major league baseball player, a genuine professional like Honus Wagner. My friend said that he'd like to be President of the United States. Neither of us got our wish." – Dwight D. Eisenhower

I’m fascinated by presidents.

As you know from this Shinjo-esque performance, American presidents are one of my few areas of expertise, along with 1980s music and, of course, baseball.

So I was pretty excited to hear that the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum here in Grand Rapids was combining two of the three through an exhibit called “Play ball, Mr. President.”

There wasn’t too much to the exhibit itself, mostly large photos of presidents throwing out the first ball on Opening Day surrounded by quotes about the glorious game. The Mets were represented by a photo of Richard Nixon at Shea in 1969, with Gil Hodges in the foreground and a couple photos of Clinton at the 1997 observation of Jackie Robinson’s first game.
The display was pretty light on artifacts, exhibiting a Cardinals jersey presented to Clinton – no stain jokes! -- a glove used by Harry S Truman and some bats and programs.
Mostly, it brought back memories.

One of the highlights of my job is that I sometimes to get to see presidents and vice presidents up close when they pass through town either campaigning or for speaking engagements.

Jimmy Carter remains elusive. If I finally get to see him in person, I’ll have a streak reaching back to Richard Nixon, who I met at a Yankees game, of all places, in 1987.

Most of these encounters are carefully scripted and contact is fleeting. But you can sometimes glean a little bit into what a president is like.

There are two types of presidential encounters: Viewing from a distance and handshakes. Actually, it’s more of a hand touch as they walk down a rope line grabbing outstretched fingers.

“I never leave a game before the last pitch, because in baseball, as in life and especially politics, you never know what will happen.” — Richard Nixon

Gerald R. Ford: Two viewings, once at the opening of a mall and other at a city celebration of his 90th birthday a few years back. I’m probably the only reporter in our newsroom who has not interviewed him for something — though not for lack of trying. (“Would the president like to comment on last night’s school board meeting? No? Are you sure? They approved new textbooks. Can I just ask him?”)

Making it worse, my son posed for a photo with the president at the birthday celebration, one of a couple hundred kids to do so. Jerry’s a local hero, of course, and is very comfortable with the crowds here. Sadly, as his health issues increase, his visits back home are becoming fewer and fewer.

Ronald Reagan: The Gipper appeared at the opening ceremonies at the 1984 International Games for the Disabled, which were at Mitchell Field on Long Island, part of the area that includes Nassau Community College. I’m pretty sure I was the only community college editor to get credentials for that event! But any chance to see the president is a good one!

“Were you told how the All-Star Game came out?” — Nixon, to Apollo 11 astronauts just after splashdown

George Bush: I’ve seen the elder Bush three times, once when he gave a commencement address at University of Michigan. The next time was when he was campaigning through Michigan on a train. I had a hand clasp with both the president and the first lady. Here’s some cool trivia. There’s a scene in the Clint Eastwood movie “In the Line of Fire” that shows the fictional president campaigning from a caboose in Holly, Mich. That was really Bush on that trip – Holly was one of the stops -- with the fictional president digitally added over the real one.

Then in 2000 I had a good, full handshake when he was appearing at a Lincoln Day Dinner here in Grand Rapids. I bumped into him at a reception. He seemed like a very nice guy, and noticed that his tie had little parachutes — no doubt a nod to his then-recent skydiving.

Bill Clinton: I met Bill at a campaign stop in 1992 at a UAW hall in Flint. He was pretty late, which apparently happened a lot. But the guy knows how to campaign. A lot of people waited outside, and he stopped and shook every hand, made eye contact and had something to say to everyone.

I saw Clinton once more, after he was elected.

I met Hillary a couple years later when she was appearing at a Flint school. She gave me kind of a look of death as she shook my hand, and I have no idea why.

“I like to see Quentin practicing baseball. It gives me hope that one of my boys will not take after his father in this respect, and will prove able to play the national game.” — Theodore Roosevelt

Caroline tells Al, "Beware the butterfly ballot!" Does he listen? No, he does not.

Al Gore: Gore has a well-earned reputation for being a stiff speaker before large groups, but in one-on-one situations he is very engaging.

Gore was vice president when he came to a Grand Rapids park for a campaign stop in 2000. I brought the kids because I think it’s important for them to see these national leaders are real people, not just folks on television. We couldn’t get close to where he was speaking, but I saw an orange snow fence set up and knew that’s usually a place where a politico will walk and shake hands.

And sure enough, Gore walked over and started reaching into the crowd. His limo drove alongside with the door open and Secret Service agents on either side of him.

My daughter was 3 at the time and was squirming around. I was afraid she’d wander away and boosted her onto my shoulders.

When my turn came, Gore firmly shook my hand and looked intently into my eyes as if he was listening deeply to what I had to say – which since I wasn’t working and had a 3-year-old on my shoulders was nothing deeper than “Welcome to Grand Rapids.”

But after shaking, Gore looked up at Caroline, held up his hand and said “High five!” And as she slapped his hand, I heard a bunch of cameras from the media pool.

I had only been at the paper a short while, and worked nights, so I was a byline an empty desk to most of the day crew. Apparently later that morning our shooter came back with a photo of the vice president high-fiving a little girl. When the day editor called it up on his monitor, he said, “We can’t run this, it’s Murray!”

But they made me a print, a copy of which, of course, went out in every Christmas card that year.

Dick Cheney: Cheney gets portrayed as a grumpy old man, but he was pretty friendly at a Tulip City Airport stop during the 2000 campaign, patiently answering my questions.

Here’s some trivia: While his name is often pronounced chay-nee, his daughter told me the proper pronunciation is chee-nee, but the family long ago gave up correcting people.

“I never dreamed about being President, I wanted to be Willie Mays.” George W. Bush

George W. Bush: West Michigan is sold Republican territory, but Michigan is a swing state so Bush has visited a number of times to fire up the base.

One of the debates for the 2000 Republican primary was at Calvin College here, and that was like an All-Star Game for political junkies.

But Bush returned right before the election for a rally at Grand Rapids’ Welsh Auditorium. It was electric; I’ve never seen anything like it. The only thing I can compare it to is a band at the peak of its popularity playing its best song. The air crackled. And it was surprising because Bush didn’t have a reputation for being especially good on the stump.

I saw Bush at another campaign rally in 2000, and twice in 2004. Absolutely nothing compares to hearing a sitting president of the United States introduced and seeing him walk on stage.

Alas, five sightings and not one handshake.

“Baseball isn't just the stats. As much as anything else, baseball is the style of Willie Mays, or the determination of Hank Aaron, or the endurance of a Mickey Mantle, the discipline of Carl Yastrzemski, the drive of Eddie Mathews, the reliability of a Kaline or a Morgan, the grace of a DiMaggio, the kindness of a Harmon Killebrew, and the class of Stan Musial, the courage of a Jackie Robinson, or the heroism of Lou Gehrig. My hope for the game is that these qualities will never be lost." -- George W. Bush

John Kerry: Kerry, of course, isn’t a president but I helped cover a rally in 2004. You watch these things long enough and you can get a sense of how things will play out. After that rally, I just knew that Kerry wouldn’t win.

It didn’t start out that way. About 10,000 people packed Calder Plaza in downtown, with lines to get through the metal detectors stretching around the block.

The crowd was fired up, nearly as pumped as the Bush speech four years earlier. It was brutally hot and there’s no shade on the plaza, with some people fainting

There were the usual local politicos serving as warm-up speakers, with the governor and our two senators – a lot of firepower on the stage.

Then Kerry’s wife, Teresa Heinz, started to talk. It was surreal. She went on and on and on, veering off to the strangest places. She spoke as much about her late first husband as she did about Kerry, and mentioned Pittsburgh, “where I live.”

Now, I realize she’s a billionaire and has multiple houses. But it was goofy. You usually don’t talk about living in Pittsburgh when your husband is senator from Massachusetts.

The crowd was pumped, but after Heinz spoke it turned completely limp. Kerry followed and was cheered, but the atmosphere was nothing like it was earlier. I remember thinking that if this kind of thing was happening along the campaign trial, Kerry was toast.

Everyone walked off the stage to shake hands. Heinz was clearly uncomfortable doing this. In fact, I thought she was afraid, extending her arm tentatively. Kerry was better, as you would expect. He’s very tall and quick to smile.

But when I got back to the newsroom, the buzz was all about what in the heck Teresa was doing up there. That wasn’t a good sign.

“Next to religion, baseball has furnished a greater impact on American life than any other institution.” — Herbert Hoover

At least it wasn't a chalupa

It's getting harder and harder to impress my 14-year-old. He and his buddy are taking Spanish for the first time, and would get extra credit if we went to the Mexican Festival in Grand Rapids this past weekend.

So I happily took them downtown after their water polo tournament, and stressed that we should use this opportunity to avoid the elephant ear vendor and eat authentic Mexican food. I even got to use some of my limited Spanish ordering empanadas and Mexican sodas.

Then I saw one booth selling what looked like small tortillas with lots of meat, veggies and sauce piled high. We ordered three. And when the vendor returned with the treats, I told the boys we should learn the proper name so they could tell their teacher what they had.

"What do you call these?" I asked.

"Tacos," the worker replied.

Needless to say, the boys were laughing themselves silly.

The worker explained that in Mexico, tacos are served open. "You're used to seeing the Tex-Mex version," she said.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Braves get bounced, Yanks get boosted and Jeter gets posted

There will be no celebration -- and early playoff departure -- for the Braves this year.

The Atlanta Braves’ string of post-season appearances likely comes to an end today. And I suspect I am joined by many National League fans in saying, "It’s about time."

Seriously, has any team ever done so little with so much? Let’s look.

First, it’s an asterisk-laden streak. The Braves will tell you it’s a 14-year run, I say it’s 11 years. The Braves were six games behind the Expos in 1994 when labor strife wiped out the season. Standings were kept and MVP and Cy Young awards were given, so I have to assume it was a real season, just a tragically shortened one.

Of those years — and I’ll use all 14 for these purposes and to give as much benefit of the doubt as possible — the team has a sole World Series trophy. That’s from 1995 when Tom Glavine had to take matters into his own hands and toss a one-hot shutout to beat the Indians. The Marlins have won more championships in that time.

Look at the futility:

1991: Squeeked past the Pirates in the playoffs, beaten by the Twins in the series.
1992: Again squeeked past the Pirates, beaten by the Blue Jays in the series.
1993: Spanked by the Phillies in the first — and at that time, only — round of the playoffs.
1994: Finished second to the Expos.
1995: Beat the Tribe in six, the only Championship.
1996: Folded to the Yanks in the series.
1997: Spanked by the Fish in the NLCS.
1998: Lost to the Padres in six in the NLCS.
1999: Embarrassed by the Skanks in four in the series — and they got that far only because Kenny Bleeping Rogers can’t throw a strike to a guy who wasn’t even thinking about swinging..
2000: Swept by the Cards in the Division Series.
2001: Dumped by the D-Backs in the NCLS in five games.
2002: Bounced in five by the Giants in the Division Series, this time Barry Bonds didn’t have to try to throw out Sid Bream at the plate with a throw from, ahem, deep short.
2003: Beaten by the Cubs — the Cubs! — in the Division Series
2004: Tossed by the Astros in the Division Series
2005: Tossed by the Astros again in the Division Series.

So as division champions, the Braves made nice speed bumps for teams heading for greater glory.

And for all those years, the Braves have subjected us to:

— Half-full stadiums for playoff games. Heck, the Fish might draw 6,000 fans a game in the season, but at least they sell tickets for the playoffs.

— Foul-mouthed relievers, Hooters-hustling third-basemen, trial-testifying and strip-club attending centerfielders, third-base-missing and Halle Berry-divorcing outfielders and — worst of all — tomahawk-chopping fans spurred on to their acts of insensitivity by lame organ commands.

I’m glad their run is over. I’m even gladder the Mets were the ones to issue the cease and desist order.

Yankee hacks assumed control

Sports Illustrated is at it again. The Yankee hacks are so embedded there that it’s comical.

The magazine’s Website has the annual stadium ranking according to a "fan value index," which takes into account things like the surrounding neighborhood, parking, atmosphere, access to public transportation as well as the product on the field.

Shea’s ranked No. 29 of 30, but you knew that would happen since these guys love to dump all over the Mets.

But explain to me how Fenway Park, a virtual museum, is ranked No. 28, beautiful Dodger Stadium No. 26 and classic Wrigley Field is No. 24?

Disappointing Comerica Park is No. 6, which is a joke, and the top spot is handed to the Angels for their reconfigured yard.

Now, let’s look at Yankee Stadium objectively. It’s in the South Bronx so you don’t dare venture a block from the yard, parking is fair at best, the fans are rude and the food is horrible. And the staff? I once witnessed a security guard taking a batting practice home run ball away from a fan, just because he could.

You’d think that if Shea is No. 29, this dump must be No. 30, or No. 35 with six blank spots above it just to show how horrible Yankee Stadium is.

Nope, SI ranks it No. 19, and you know it must have killed them to rank it that low. The justification for ranking it that high? I’ll let you read for yourself: "Despite all of the negatives, it’s still one of the best places to see a ball game ... because it’s Yankee Stadium."


The trouble with tenure

Speaking of Bronx boosterism.

I attended curriculum night for my son’s school this week. The idea is to follow your child’s schedule, spending 10 minutes in each room, with the teacher talking about what goes on in the room. You get to know the teacher, and they get an idea of where the kids are coming from, too.

So I was sitting there in one of my son’s rooms, looking around. Some Notre Dame football posters were on the wall, along with a Purdue University schedule poster...and a Derek F. Jeter poster.

Does that constitute a hostile classroom environment? I suppose it might work if the poster had a sign reading: Don't let this happen to you.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Embracing the homeland with baseball, bagels and blogging buddies

My emotions about this day, Sept. 11, bubble close to the surface.

It doesn’t take much to get me choked up. Little things like an old New York skyline Christmas ornament, or coming across a postcard or a photo of friends on the observation deck set me off.

Reporters develop sort of a protective patina because we see some unpleasant things, even on the education beat. We shift from "Oh, this is horrible" to "How should we cover this" pretty quickly. Another building in another city and I would have been able to make the shift.

But that day I was a wreck. And it was a real struggle last week to write our anniversary story and remain composed.

So I was a little worried about how I would handle a trip back to the homeland this past weekend for an education writers conference at Columbia University.

I have been back to the city just once since 2001, bringing my children to see some of my favorite landmarks in 2003. The closest we got to Ground Zero was Ellis Island. That was close enough. I knew what was missing from the view across the harbor; the kids did not.

Nevertheless, I was excited about the location of this conference because any trip to Manhattan is a glorious one. I was pumping my fist as the jet taxied to the gate and the spire of the Empire State Building poked through the trees around LaGuardia.

Speaking of taxis, I’ve decided that I hate those Bluetooth phone things that clip to the ear. The driver started talking as he thundered down the Grand Central Parkway. Since I was the only other person in the cab I assumed it was to me. I put my face up against the little window and said, "I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you." He looked over, shot me a look like I was crazy and dismissed me with a wave. Only then did I see the little gadget attached to his left ear.

I had about four hours of free time after arriving at the hotel at 79th and Amsterdam, and a couple places I wanted to get to before the conference started. The Mets were playing two day games — curses! — so I couldn’t get to Shea. I decided the Clubhouse Shop on 42nd Street would be as close as I could get.

I also was on a mission to get to American Girl Place for my daughter and to find something cool for my son and wife.

I figured I’d walk for a little while and eventually hop in a cab or figure out the subway, since I’d need to use it later in the day to get to Columbia.

Just a block south from the hotel was a classic New York bagel store. I’ve been in serious withdrawal since my local store closed, and even that was a Michigan version of a New York bagel, roughly similar to a Double-A baseball compared to the major leagues.
One of the two stores with awesome poppy seed bagels.

These guys never saw someone so happy to order a poppy seed bagel. It was as big as my fist and still warm as I munched and walked south on Amsterdam.

I had barely finished when I came upon Lincoln Center, my first stop. I wanted to find the New York Ballet gift shop to get something for my little ballerina and enjoyed talking to a police officer who offered directions. He, for reasons unclear, is a big University of Michigan football fan and was in awe that I had been to a couple games at the Big House. I was in awe that he gets to be in Lincoln Center every day.

With a nice dance top for my daughter in hand, I found a display of Christmas ornaments. There was a glass Yankees baseball jersey. I looked through the selection for the Mets version. There was none to be found.

How could this be? We’re the better team right now. Best in baseball!

Sadly, this shocking scene would be repeated throughout the weekend.

I walked a little farther, this time on Broadway, and soon came across Columbus Circle. Heck, Times Square was just off in the distance, so the walk continued, popping into souvenir stores, each time appalled at the lack of Mets items.

Soon the theaters started appearing — The Ed Sullivan where David Letterman tapes and the Wintergarden. I have not been in Times Square since the 1980s, and that was just a drive-through since it was a place deemed unsafe. I had heard it had been reclaimed. And how. It looked like an explosion in an neon glass factory, and was absolutely packed.

I spied the Hard Rock Cafe and thought that would be a place to find a T-shirt for my son. I thought the designs were horrible, which only adds to their coolness in his eyes. He must have liked it because he wore it to school today.

I then hit 42nd Street and turned left toward the block between Fifth and Sixth, where the Mets Clubhouse shop awaited.

It was both overwhelming and underwhelming at the same time. Lots of jerseys, T-shirts and caps. I was looking for things that I couldn’t easily get online, since luggage space was at a premium. I settled on a heavily discounted Kaz Matsui thing that looks like a Weeble, which wobbles but won’t fall down. The molded Kaz has a deer-in-the-headlights expression going. I decided it was perfect.

I also grabbed a Mets desk calendar, a little black batting helmet and postcards of Shea, Pedro and David Wright.

Having walked this far, and enjoyed every step, I decided to trek back uptown to Rockefeller Center, crossing through Bryant Park, which was abuzz with Fashion Week and packed with what I assumed were models or wanna-be models and guys who want to gawk at models and wanna-be models.

After checking out Prometheus, I ventured into the NBC store to find an NCIS T-shirt for my wife. This proved fruitless, especially because, as I later learned, the show is on CBS. The clerk was kind for not mocking me, at least not to my face.

American Girl Place is right across the street. There are only three of these stores in the world, and thank goodness. There might as well be a sign reading "Daddies, deposit your cash and dignity at the door." You can — and will — buy accessories for daughters, dolls and the dolls’ dogs. That damned Coconut is the best-dressed stuffed dog in the world.

I wanted to get back in plenty of time for the conference, so I started my trip back to the hotel, this time buying a sesame seed bagel from a guy who, once again, had never seen someone so excited about a sesame seed bagel.

That night and the next day was spent dissecting the federal No Child Left Behind Act and its effect on urban schools. It’s a fascinating topic for an education wonk like me. My job is to make it fascinating for our readers.

The non-conference highlight came Saturday night when fellow blogger Greg Prince of Faith and Fear in Flushing came to visit.

A beautiful thing about blogging is being introduced to people like Greg. I’m convinced that had we met as kids on Long Island we would have been best friends. He bestowed some glorious gifts to help combat homesickness and we enjoyed conversation and a meal at a street table at a place called Dead Poets, which we thought was appropriate for two live bloggers.

A street table on Manhattan is a joy because you get to see the world bustling by on a beautiful, busy Saturday night. The danger is that sometimes the world feels free to stop and talk to you — especially when you’re wearing a cool Carlos Delgado shirt and a sweet 1976 retro cap. Luckily, not everyone who stopped wanted money.

It was the first time Greg and I had met, yet it felt like we’ve been friends forever.

The conference wrapped up the next day. Columbia University is a beautiful place, though I did have sort of a Spinal Tap moment trying to take a shortcut through the engineering building. Found the boiler room and parking garage before eventually finding an exit.

I stopped at that bagel store one more time and grabbed a dozen. The guy tossed a couple more in the bag when I told him I was taking them back to Michigan.

The taxi driver taking me back to LaGuardia was talkative, and this time I made sure he wasn’t wearing a Bluetooth before responding. I learned a lot about the taxi business. Apparently the biggest obstacle is not double-parked trucks or inattentive pedestrians.

"People from Jersey," he said. "When ever I see a driver who has no clue what they’re doing, I look at the plate and they’re from Jersey.

He switched the radio to WINS 1010 as we crossed the Triborough and the announcer went live to Ground Zero, where President Bush and Laura Bush were laying a wreath. Out the window I could see the Empire State, the Citicorp and the Chrysler. I knew what was missing. The emotions came bubbling up.

On these days I try to dwell on the heroic instead of the wicked.

I’m not a huge Springsteen guy, but I think about his song "Into the Fire," a tribute to the firefighters of that day.

"The sky was falling and streaked with blood
I heard you calling me then you disappeared into the dust
Up the stairs, into the fire

I need your kiss,
but love and duty called you someplace higher

Somewhere up the stairs into the fire

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love"

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Adventures with the Bus Stop Gang

My youngest likes school. A lot.

School started this week, and we’re dealing with extremes in the household.

My fourth-grader can’t understand why summer break is so long, and the ninth-grader labeled Tuesday as "Day of Doom" on his wall calendar.

I’m just grateful we no longer carry the dreaded responsibility known as "bus stop house."

We were unaware of what this entailed when we bought our home back in 1999. I looked out one morning and saw half the neighborhood standing on my front lawn.

I learned there were all sorts of unspoken responsibilities, like opening the garage door on rainy days so they could wait inside and touch all my stuff. I hated rainy days.

I was working nights at the time, and my youngest had not yet started pre-school. So it was a good morning when I could send Andrew off the school without waking the little one, then crawl back into bed.

There were not many good mornings, especially after two girls known as "The Screechers" starting showing up. These pre-teen she-devils were sisters, and showed up early each morning, no doubt pushed out the door by their long-suffering parents. They were loud, annoying and loud some more.

When I was young, we pretty much stood on the corner and talked until the bus arrived. But these kids considered this time to be a second recess period, playing tag and other loud games before someone would yell "bus!!!" and they’d all rush back to the driveway and form a line.

There were several mornings when I’d go out there, round up the "Bus Stop Gang" and lay down some rules about staying off my porch during the games, usually to be taunted by the Screechers who maintained that they didn’t have to do anything I told them.

One morning stood above all others.

It was Bring a Reading Buddy to School Day, where the kids could cart a stuffed animal off to class and allegedly keep it in their lap as they read out loud.

This kept the Bus Stop Gang unusually quiet, though I noticed the younger of the Screechers kept throwing her stuffed bear into the air and catching it. I thought that was odd, but at least it was quiet.

I sent Andrew out the door and crawled back into bed, joyfully anticipating another hour or two of sleep.

Then I heard the most blood-curdling scream ever, followed by the front door banging open and Andrew yelling, "Dad! Dad! Come quick."

A million thoughts raced through my head as I ran down the stairs and toward the door. Surely something horrible happened, like one of the kids getting hit by a car.

I walked out to see the younger Screecher hysterical, with the older one attempting to console her and every other kid pointing up. There didn’t appear to be any blood.

But I walked out on the lawn and saw what they were pointing at — the stuffed bear was on the roof.

"You gotta get it!" the kids were saying as the girl sobbed.

I dragged my ladder out, and it only lifted me about eye-level with the gutter, bear well out of reach. I went back into the garage and came back with my hockey stick, and again the stinking bear was too far away.

We were only in the house a couple months at this point and had not had a reason to go on the roof. Thinking for a moment over the din of the scream-crying, I thought I might have a shot if I put the ladder on top of the picnic table on the deck in the back yard.

Sure enough, that made it pretty easy to climb up and walk up and over the peak and grab the bear as the school bus pulled into view.

The driver waited as I tossed the bear down to the girl and she ran up the steps of the bus.

That weekend I ran into one of the neighbors.

"Dave, I just have to ask. I saw you when I was leaving for work the other day. Why were you on the roof in your pajamas?"

Needless to say, we had new rules for the Bus Stop Gang.

Monday, September 04, 2006

What drama is left for September?

With Labor Day in the rear view window and the Mets’ lead around 15 games, it’s safe to say the only drama for September will be around individual accomplishments.

I was curious to see if any of the season records will be in reach for our slugging Metropolitians with just 27 games to go (and we’re playing the Braves as I type this to make it 26).

Let’s see:


Batting average: John Olerud, 1999, .356
2006: Paul LoDuca, .317

Olerud’s record is safe. And since we’re talking about Lo Duca, I think we can say that all those predictions of him fading horribly I the second half were way off.

On-base percentage: John Olerud, 1998, .447
2006: Carlos Beltran, .386

I’d forgotten just how good Olerud was, this mark seems safe, too.

Slugging: Mike Piazza, .614, 2000
2006: Carlos Beltran, .626

Looks like Beltran is ahead of Piazza! He’ll have to keep up his torrid pace for the last month – and stop running into fences -- which might be tough.

On-base plus slugging: Mike Piazza, 1.024, 1998
2006: Carlos Beltran, 1.013

Carlos has a chance to take this one, provided the extra-base hits keep coming.

Games: Felix Millan in 1975, Olerud in 1999, 162
2006: David Wright, 131

Wright’s already missed a couple games, so there’s no chance to tie this record. And truthfully, we’d rather have him get some rest.

Hits: Lance Johnson, 1996, 227
2006: Jose Reyes, 166

“1-Dog” had an awesome year in 1996. Even if Reyes gets a hit a game for the rest of the year he’d still fall about 30 knocks short of Johnson.

Doubles: Bernard Gilkey, 1996, 44
2006: Carlos Beltran, 36

Eight doubles in a month would be impressive, so Gilkey is probably safe. Wright finished 2 shy last year, and his slump probably put it on out of reach this season.

Triples: Lance Johnson, 1996, 21
2006: Jose Reyes, 16

Reyes is one away from his 2005 total, but asking him to hit five in a month is a tall order. But I think it’s safe to say Jose will lock this one up at some point in his career.

Home runs: Todd Hundley, 1996, 41
2006: Carlos Beltran, 39

This one could be over by sometime this week! Beltran’s 2006 total is already the third-best in team history – Strawberry did it in 1987 and 1988 – and is one behind Mike Piazza’s 40 from 1999.

Base on balls: John Olerud, 1999, 125
2006: Carlos Beltran, 75

Freaking Olerud! How did we let this guy go to Seattle?

RBI: Mike Piazza, 1999, 124
2006: Carlos Beltran, 112

Beltran should take this one with the homer record by the end of next week, too.

Stolen bases: Roger Cedeno, 1999, 66
2006: Jose Reyes, 55

I expect Jose to purge Mr. Cedeno from the record books by the end of the season.


ERA: Dwight Gooden, 1985, 1.53
2006: Pedro's at 3.84, Glavine's at 4.13

A-freakin’-mazing. Safe to say, that record’s safe.

Wins: Tom Seaver, 1969, 25
2006: Steve Trachsel, 14

Since Trachsel has six starts max, we can say this one won’t be touched. And I’m OK with that, because I don’t we want to see Steve Trachsel ousting Tom Seaver from the record books. Actually, with people saying that 15 wins in the new 20, I’d even go far as saying this one’s safe forever. By the way, Seaver, like all Mets, got screwed out of the MVP Award that season.

Losses: Roger Craig in 1962, Jack Fisher in 1965, 24
2006: Tom Glavine and Orlando Hernandez, 6

Considering that most manager throw a pitcher on the shelf when he gets close to 20 losses, it’s possible we won’t see the likes of anyone with 24 losses again – at least we hope not.

Games: Mike Stanton, 2004, 83
2006: Aaron Heilman, 64

This seems safe. Even if Heilman pitches in half the remaining games, we’re looking at the upper 70s. Possible? Yes. Likely? No.

Innings pitched: Tom Seaver, 290.7 in 1970, 290 in 1973
2006: Tom Glavine, 165

This is another one that’s probably on the shelf forever. Can you imagine the uproar if Willie dragged 300 innings out of a young arm like Pelfrey’s or a tender vet’s wing, like on Pedro.

Complete games: Tom Seaver, 1971, 21
2006: Trachsel, John Maine, El Duque, Alay Soler with 1

Seaver was a monster in 1971. But the game has changed so much that you’ll never see any starting pitcher throw so many complete games again.

Saves: Armando Benitez, 2001, 43
2006: Billy Wagner, 34

I’d love to see Armando purged from the record book. Can Billy Wags do it? Nine saves in a month is possible, but pretty tough. I suspect he’ll come close.

So it looks like the pitching records are safe, which is not surprising when you consider that they’re held my one of the best pitchers ever and a guy who had an amazingly dominant season.

But Carlos Beltran’s run at a number of the hitting marks demonstrate what a fantastic season he’s having – a most valuable season, one might say!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Willie or Girardi, who is manager of the year?

My buddy Will and I are having a debate over who will and should win the National League Manager of the Year Award.

Naturally, I’m campaigning for our man Willie Randolph. Will thinks Joe Girardi of the Marlins has it locked up, and I’m starting to see that opinion pop up in columns.

Typically I defer to Will, who is the best baseball analyst I know and is an amazing researcher. Check out his work on and you’ll be impressed.

But we’re not seeing eye to eye on this one.

Will believes that even if — or when — the Fish fall out of the wild card race, Girardi took a team that was expected to lose 110 games and has them in contention, all with the added burden of owners exhibiting bizarre behavior.

If Will had a vote — and it’s a crime that some press box lizards get one and Will doesn’t — he’d mark down Girardi first, followed by Jerry Narron of the Reds and then Willie.

I’ll give my reasons for giving the award to Randolph, but first I argued that there’s no way Girardi — who I agree has done an excellent job — gets the award for finishing in third place in a five-team division, especially if the Marlins finish with a losing record. And as I write this, the Fish are three games under and 17.5 back of the Mets and 3 back in the wild card standings.

I speculated that in the history of the award, it has never gone to someone finishing so low in the standings or with a losing record.

I should have checked first, because I was only half-right.

The award has only been around since 1983, and turns out the it’s gone to a first-place manager 17 of 23 times in both leagues.

Here are the exceptions:

1987: Buck Rogers, in what is the most mysterious award. The Expos finished third with a 91-71 record four games out and following the Cards and Mets. But the team wasn’t all that horrible the year before, finishing 78-83. You’d think it would take a more dramatic turnaround to be named best manager in the league. I don’t remember if there were any strange circumstances surrounding the team that year other than Tim Raines coming back in May after the free-agent hi-jinks.

1989: Frank Robinson, who brought the Orioles into second place after an disastrous 54-107 season the year before.

1990: Jeff Torborg, who took the White Sox to 94 wins and second place after finishing in seventh in 1989.

1993: Dusty Baker and the Giants finished in second place despite winning 103 games. The team was in fifth place in 1992.

1995: Don Baylor finished second, but took the Rockies to the wild card in their third season.

1999: Jimy Williams piloted the Red Sox to second place, four games behind the Skanks. They were second the year before, too.

1999: Trader Jack McKeon brought the Reds into second place, they were fourth in 1998.

2001: Larry Bowa took the Phillies from last place in 2000 to second place the next year.

2002: Mike Scioscia’s Angels were in third in 2001 and moved up to second and the wild card.

2003: Jack McKeon — did you know that’s actually pronounced Mc-Quoon? — salavaged the Marlins season and took them to second place and the wild card, eventually gloriously humbling the Yankees.

2003: Tony Pena boosted the awful Royals to third place, teasing everyone who thought the franchise wasn’t as horrible as it was. He finished 83-79, just four games over .500.

2004: Buck Showalter moved the Rangers from fourth place to third, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The team was 45 games back in 2003 and Buck kept them in the race until the end, finishing three back.

So third-place managers have taken the award three times. No one with a losing record has scored the award, though Pena sure came close.

It’s hard to say what should be considered a great managing job. Clearly it’s subjective.

Guys at the helm of dramatic turnarounds usually get the love, but I’m not sure that’s always fair.

Look at Detroit, where it’s a given that Jim Leyland will get some hardware for his performance. But I’d point out that Alan Trammell last year didn’t have a healthy Magglio Ordonez, Kenny Rogers in non-Mets mode, Joel Zumaya, Jason Verlander with a year of experience and Pudge Rodriguez recovered a, ahem, mysterious weight loss and divorce issues.

I wonder how Trammell might have fared with the same upgrades, just as I wonder if Art Howe might not have been chased out of town if he had Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Billy Wagner, Pedro and a healthy Jose Reyes.

As for Willie, I think he deserves it.

Will points out that I pick the Mets manager for the award every year, along with Mets for MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year. I can’t say that’s true, I’m not sure the Mets had a decent rookie in 2001.

But look at what Willie’s done this year with the rotation alone. Pedro’s hurt, Galvine’s been hurt, Zambrano’s done, Bannister got hurt, Maine got hurt and Jose Lima should have been hurt. The stud set-up man is done after a car crash and the second-best set-up man pouted most of the year.

The two corner outfield slots have been issues due to an injury and a trade, and the second-baseman was banished for sucking.

With all of this going on, the Mets have posted the best record in the league — and just better than Leyland’s Tigers. Seems like a good job to me.

And there’s been a dramatic improvement over last year, when Willie pulled some real head-scratchers.

Alas, history shows Mets tend not to do well with post-season awards, and no Mets skipper has ever one this particular accolade. Hal Lanier took it in 1986, Tommy Lasorda in 1988 and Dusty Baker swiped it from Bobby V in 2000.

These things are decided by sportswriters, and we know that Yankee-hacks have infiltrated their ranks. Our best hope is that some of these guys are confused and still think Randolph works for the Yanks and throw some votes his way.