Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Paulie's metldown and other scary Mets moments

Paul Lo Duca during his meltdown as depicted in pumpkin form.

I’m pretty down on Halloween.

I didn’t mind the cartoon-like ghosts and pumpkins. But decorations have just become too realistic. It would be nice to be able to walk down an aisle of my supermarket without seeing assorted plastic severed heads in states of decay in the spots that previously held Ritz crackers with Rachel Ray on the boxes.

I even had an unpleasant moment in The Store That Has No Faults, otherwise known as Costco. Walking past the snacks I saw one of those life-sized witches holding a ball containing yet another severed head.

I didn’t realize it was one of those robotic things with motion sensors, and jumped so high that I almost dropped my Sweet and Salty granola bar sample. The cashiers were all laughing as I was clutching my chest. I went back for another round of samples because, well, I earned them.

Of course, as Mets fans, we are not strangers to scary moments.

My Halloween pumpkin design each year typically salutes some aspect of the Mets or the Homeland. This confuses the neighbors.

This year’s abrupt end to the season inspired a horrifying design, and that would be catcher Paul Lo Duca’s complete meltdown and ejection after disagreeing with balls and strike calls in a close game.

Paulie in real life.

Paulie’s contorted face showed his rage as Willie tried to drag him back to the dugout. Clearly a Met completely out of control. It probably made the front office to decide to find another catcher for next season. We'll have to see.

Alas, the Mets short history is just full of tales twisted and terrorizing.

Here are the five scariest moments in Mets history, not counting Tom Galvine’s first-inning disaster in the last game, which I’m not over yet.

Watch the video -- if you dare.

Suzyan Waldman’s Tom Seaver tribute.

Look, I like Seaver as much as the next Mets fan. OK, maybe a little more. There’s a chance Seaver would seek a restraining order if he ever saw the shrines – you’ll note the plural – in my baseball room.

But even I was close to hiding under my seat at Shea in 1988 at Tom Seaver Day. At the conclusion of the ceremony where Tom’s No. 41 was forever retired, the team directed our attention to the Jumbotron for a video tribute by Waldman, who at that point was still pretending to be an unbiased sports reporter.

It started with scenes of Shea, then a twinkling piano with Waldman breaking out with “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Bad enough, to be sure. But then she started warbling modified lyrics intended to pay tribute but were so grossly over the top that even I was cringing.

I realize there is bad, and then there is Kiss Meets The Phantom of the Park So-Bad-That-it’s-Good bad.

But by the time Waldman got to the 300th win mothers were covering the ears of their crying children to protect them from further trauma. I’m very sure that had there been even one more verse most of the upper deck would have hurled themselves into the box seats.


The most frightening moment in Mets history.

Carlos Beltran and Mike Cameron collide on Aug. 11, 2005

Nothing funny about this one. A ball fell in between center and right in San Diego and both players dove, striking head-to-head.

Beltran, in his first season with the Mets, slowly rose to his knees, but Cameron barely moved and was removed on a stretcher. He fractured of both cheekbones and broke his nose.

Many baseball observers said it was the worst collision they had ever seen. Luckily, both recovered.

Bad costumes.

The 1993 “Wardrobe of Failure”

Even in their darkest days, the Mets could always say they looked good. The classy script Mets across the front of the jerseys was an established and proud look that was virtually unchanged from 1962 even as the team added sleeve stripes and collars, removed and restored buttons and tinkered slightly with the blue in the uniform.

So I nearly went into shock during a 1993 spring training game when I flipped through the program and found a photo of players modeling new uniforms with a thick, floppy tail underlining the team name.

Yup, they were going to discard the style worn by Hodges and Ashburn, Seaver and Mays, and Doc and the Kid and replace it with something that looked like it was rejected by a softball team sponsored by a bar.

Of course the team went into a tailspin and finished in the standings below the expansion Marlins, who, even wearing teal, could say they both played and looked better than our boys.

As the brilliant Metstradamas branded it, the uniforms were the wardrobe of failure. Very scary costumes, indeed.

Vince Coleman hurts kids

Among the bad things to happen during the tailed-uniform era was Vince Coleman, whose everyday play was frightening enough.

But following a game at Dodger Stadium on July 24, 1993, Vince allegedly thought it would be funny to toss a lit firecracker at fans from a car after the game, harming two children and a woman. He was charged with endangerment and sentenced to 200 hours of community service.

The thing I don’t understand is how he found Dodger fans after a game, since everyone knows the stadium empties out after the seventh inning.

Anna, the under-dressed elf

With stores starting to put Christmas decorations on display in mid-October, it’s easy to see how some people might confuse the holidays.

Kris Benson was known as much for his outrageous wife as his mediocre pitching.

And in 2006 the team decided to ask him to play Santa Claus at the annual Christmas party, where little kids are invited to sit on Santa’s lap and bask in the glory of all things Mets.

Anna decided to come to the party to help Kris distribute presents. But she apparently got the whole Christmas party/costume party thing all confused. I’m guessing Anna couldn’t decide whether she wanted to dress up like a naughty stripper or an elf – so she decided to do both.

A lot of kids – and grown-ups, too – had long lists that they wanted to share with Santa and his helper.

But Mets management was so frightened by the stunt that they banished both Bensons to the House of Horrors known as the Orioles before Opening Day.

Someone was a very naughty girl.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Yankees target vulnerable Mets fans

I’m in a fragile state right now, sportswise. I admit it.

I can’t enjoy the World Series without knowing that the Mets should be there, especially watching the likes of Kaz Matsui in those awful vests.

The Jets are terrible, even when they pretend to be the Titans.

The Islanders new sweaters are disastrous.

And I’m pretty certain the University of Missouri Tigers will wake up one morning and remember that they are, in fact, the University of Missouri Tigers and go back to being the doormats of the Big 12.

I’m doing everything I can to keep it together until pitchers and catchers report in February.

I think the Yankees know this.

There must be a Department of Taunting Mets Fans somewhere in the bowels of Yankee Stadium. Because one day I went out to my mailbox and came back with an envelope with what appeared to evil Yankee headgear in the corner.

Then I saw the big bold print, right above my name and address: “Dave, get inside the game with the New York Yankees NEW Extra Bases program!”

Flipping it over, again there was big, bold print: “Dave, Ultimate rewards for the New York Yankees fan!”

I thought it must be some sick and twisted joke. Then I opened it up and read further:

“Dear (Mets Guy), Imagine having a private tour of Monument Park at Yankee Stadium … or a dugout visit with one child (age 7 – 14) and four tickets to the game … or shagging fly balls during the 2008 State Farm Home Run Derby at MLB All-Star Week. You can do all this and more with your New York Yankees Extra Bases Platinum Plus MasterCard credit card.”

Private tour of Monument Park? I’d rather have a private tour of Rikers Island.

Bring kids into the Yankees’ dugout? Someone would slap the bracelets on me and I’d get that trip to Rikers because that’s just child abuse. “Look, kids! That’s Jason Giambi! Nooo, stop crying!”

Shagging flies at Yankee Stadium? I’d rather shag, well, you-know-what with the guy in the circus who walks behind the elephants with a shovel. It would certainly smell better.

There can only be so many reasons for this affront to humanity.

1) They’re so stupid that they actually think I’m a Yankees fan.

2) They’re so smug that they just assume everyone is a Yankees fan and send credit card applications these out to everyone.

3) They’re so cruel that they want to rub it in that our team faded somewhat down the stretch and that their team snuck into the playoffs.

4) Or, they sense that we’re vulnerable. Everyone knows we’re a hurtin’ bunch right now. They’re trying to lure us over to the dark side.

This is how it starts. Take the credit card. We’ll give you a mini-batting helmet allegedly signed by Don Mattingly.

Come sit in the dugout where Joe Torre used to sit until we dumped him because a dozen straight playoff appearances isn’t good enough. Yes, we disinfected it first.

Shag flies? Step into the infield on the spot where Roger made that little oops with the bat shard.
Next thing you know, you’re out there calling ARod ungrateful and declaring Derek F. Jeter to be the best player ever and saying stuff like, “Verducci is right. The Yanks should play all 162 games at home next season because, you know, it is the final year in the House that Ruth Built.

Well, not me, mister!

I’m a hurtin’ pup. But if I can survive the Midnight Massacre, Mettle the Mule, Vince Coleman and the uniforms with the tail under the team name, I can tough out a little late-season collapse.

I shredded that junk mail. Spring training can’t be all that far away. We must be strong.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Joys of modern air travel

A window seat? Yikes. Well, at least I'll have a great view of our fine country from above. Unless I'm in the row above the wing. But what are the odds of that? Pretty good.

I remember my college days, flying out to Columbia, Mo. on Ozark Airlines, with hot meals served with cloth napkins and metal silverware.

I thought of that Monday night on a flight from Atlanta to Detroit when the flight attendant offered me a granola bar – for $2.

Flying is not the same.

Now, I’m not complaining. Just observing. And the thought of any inconvenience evaporates the second I see my Dad waiting for me at the airport.

But after taking two three-leg flights in the last four days, there are a couple things to discuss.

Inconsiderate bastards

I’m going to call them IBs from here on out to be polite.

OK, if the rows are going to get any closer together, they’re going to start spraying people with WD-40 as they enter the jetway so they can get into their seats.

Knowing this, there are still IBs who insist on reclining their seats, knowing full well what this does to the person sitting behind them.

On one leg of my trip, an old guy in the row ahead of us dropped back as soon as he could. The guy behind him couldn’t believe it.

“The last time I saw somebody laying back that far he was getting a root canal,” he said loudly, so the IB could hear him.

“Seriously, they’re going to need the Jaws of Life to get me out of here.”

Of course, the old guy didn’t budge.

There are three things you can do in such situations.

First, as you see the seat going back, jam your knees up against the magazine/barf bag holder. If the IB’s finger is still on the button, you can at best push it back up and at worst stop it from going back further. The downside is that the IB might wait until you are not suspecting it and drop back again.

Second, take the overhead air-blower, tilt it as far forward as you can and turn it on full blast. Unless the IB is completely oblivious, he’ll get annoyed and move forward.

And third, in drastic cases, sneeze. The IB is certain to freak out when he feels that fine mist landing on his comb-over.

If none of these work, you can always set your can of Diet Coke on the IB’s forehead and say, “Oh, you were so freaking far back that I thought your face was an ugly meal tray.”

The baggage guys were slamming luggage on the conveyor like they were playing Whack-a-Mole, in full view of everybody in the gate area. Now, which is worse, seeing them slam your bag around or not seeing your bag at all?

Overhead storage battles

I know checking bags is always a risk, and this seems to be prompting IBs to try to bring all of their luggage onboard no matter how big the bags are. But, of course, there is limited room.

On one of my legs, I got to my seat nice and early, took out my book and magazine – Newsweek with Rachael Ray on the cover, yes! – and carefully placed my laptop case in the bin above my seat.

Well, a late-arriving IB stumbled down the aisle with his way-too-big bag and proceeded to his seat in the row behind me. He opened the overhead compartment, took out my laptop case, put in his bag and tried to cram my laptop in the two inches above his stuff.

Naturally, it didn’t fit. So he started giving my case the two-handed shove to squeeze it in there like it was a pillow, then started slamming the compartment lid down. I was in stunned disbelief, and finally said “Hey!” with as much indignation as I could muster.

I then stood up and shot the guy the kind of look I reserve for serial killers and people who wear Jeter shirts at Mets games. Then I reopened the compartment, took out my case, unzipped it to see that the laptop was OK while shaking my head in disgust. Then, for good measure, I shot him “the stare,” hoping that my new edgy haircut would take the guy down a couple notches.

Alas, IBs don’t care about what other people think.

Yes, that's a kitty. Let the cat out of the bag!

Purse puppies

It used to be that occasionally you’d see people trying to bring their pets on flights, and they’d have these large and elaborate carriers that were stowed with the luggage.

But on this trip I saw at least four people with tiny dogs they were carrying around in their purses the same way my daughter carries her stuffed puppy in her tote bag.

What the heck? When did dogs become accessories?

And I’m violently allergic to these things. I have no idea what would have happened had one of these IBs with purse puppies sat next to me – other than that it would be a heck of a lot easier to start sneezing if the guy in front leaned the seat back.

Even stranger, I later saw a lady with a cat in a mesh backpack. I have no idea how she got it in there – and there was precious little room for the kitty – and how it was being so calm.

Edgy people would rather ride motorcycles than fly. Ignore the kickstand -- or the fact that the motorcycle isn't actually moving. OK, Dad let me pose on his birthday present.

But like I said, all these thoughts vanish in the arms of loved ones at the other end of the trip.

It’s a lot more fun gathering for a celebration than for a funeral, as was the case earlier this year. And we had much fun reconnecting and laughing, having deep discussions while lamenting that the Jets’ offense didn’t show up on Sunday, and that the Mets didn’t show up for the post-season.

And for the record, the family liked the new haircut – but said it is not even close to being edgy.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Watching the Yankee Death Star explode

"Today will be a day long remembered. It has seen the end of Kenobi, it will soon see the end of the Rebellion."
-- Darth Vader

Allow me to paraphrase.

"Today will be a day long remembered. It has seen the end of the bat-chucker Clemens, it will soon see the end of the reign of Torre."

I’m not gloating. Gloating is bad, especially after our own team stumbled somewhat down the stretch.

So these are just observations after watching the Cleveland Indians dismantle the Evil Empire in four games.

1) I sure hope we’ve finally seen the end of the vile Roger Clemens. Something tells me that a 6-6 record and 4.18 ERA was not what the Skanks were hoping for when they paid Bat-Chucker $20 million or so for four months work. And that’s not even including the 2.1-inning performance in the ALDS with that nice, plump 11.57 ERA.

Clemens return did nothing but tack an ugly epilogue to the end of his career. From Suzyn Waldman’s hysterics announcing his arrival, to gimping off the mound in shame in his final appearance, this was an unqualified disaster.

Even his departure left a trail of sleaze. The Yanks bumped him from the roster — claiming an "injury" — and replaced him with Ron Villone, a journeyman middle reliever. The Indians howled, correctly pointing out that Clemens wasn’t going to pitch again in the series anyway, and Villone appeared in the next game, this effectively giving the Skanks a 26-man roster.

Posada's going to need more than one can of Raid to get rid of that pest.

2) Much was made about the "Joba rules" during the season. I bet next year there’s a new one: No pitching when there are bugs present.

I don’t know who on the Indians can command insects to swarm and attack like that. It was pretty amazing.

Makes you wonder what other animals are at their disposal. If we see hundreds of squirrels come out of nowhere and pounce on Curt Schilling during the ALCS, I’m going to be really impressed.

3) Is there anything more tiring than the Joe Torre deathwatch? I mean besides the "Frank TV" ads.

Some of the Yankee-hacks on the radio today were actually hyping Old Joe for manager of the year. Outrageous!

Let’s see.

He manages a team with a $195 million payroll. The next highest is $143 million. That’s a difference of about $60 million, a figure more than the entire payroll of seven teams.

He has a team with an All-Star at most positions.

Yet this team at one point was 14 games behind the Red Sox and eight games back in the wild card. We’re supposed to give him manager of the year because his team finally played the way it was supposed to play?

Once Joe gets the boot, if he wants to return to his managing roots and serve as Willie Randolph's bench coach, we might be able to make room for him.

4) For a guy who enjoys a reputation as being Mr. Clutch, Derek F. Jeter didn’t look too good hitting into a double play with two men on base when his team needed runs late in the game -- agruably his most important at-bat of the season.

Nor did he look too tough hitting a harmless infield pop-up even later when his team was mounting another charge.

Nevertheless, I have no doubt Tom Verducci will write something like, "Even when failing spectacularly when his team needed him most, Derek Jeter showed greatness."

5) The TBS announcers at times sounded like they were trying out for the a spot in the Yankee booth next year instead of calling the game properly.

After the Tribe finished off the Skanks, one of them — I think it was Chip Caray — said something like, "And the Indians shock the Yankees."

Well, the Indians had the best record in the league and the Yankees didn’t even win their division, sneaking in as the wild card. So I’d say the only thing shocking was that the Indians allowed one game to get away and didn’t sweep the Yanks.

Heck, sending former Mets castoff Paul Byrd to pitch Game 4 made me wonder if the Indians weren’t throwing the game so they could head back to Cleveland and win before their own fans. And the Yanks still couldn’t win.

I’m not saying that Yankee shame eases the pain of the Mets debacle. And don’t think that every moment of the NLCS I won’t be lamenting that the Mets are not there.

But there’s nothing wrong with watching the Death Star in the Bronx explode.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Beware: I'm 'edgy.'

Apparently I’m “edgy” now.

Of course, I’m only partially over the Mets collapse. It’s going to take a while.

One of the reasons I’m ticked at the team is that I’m a creature of a routine. And my routine from April through September was to listen to the Mets on WFAN through MLB.com and comment along with the guys in the Crane Pool Forum.

I was happy that routine was going to be extended through October. That is, until our boys disintegrated down the stretch, sending me into both a baseball funk and that disorientation that comes from losing the daily rituals.

Complicating matters was the loss of another routine.

You have to understand that I’ve had the same hairstyle for pretty much my entire life. Cut short, parted on the right side. Sure, in high school it was a little longer – but still short by 1970s standards.

And three years ago I tried something a little bold, cutting it really short and a little spiky in the front. This didn’t last too long because my wife said the barbers didn’t do it well and it looked like I had a big bald spot.

She wanted me to go to one of those fancy places to get it cut.

Not a chance.

As with everything, there are rules. I only get my hair cut in places with a barber pole in the front and three years worth of Field & Stream and Sports Illustrated in the waiting area. I found a place like that when we moved here in 1999 and I haven’t had my hair cut anywhere else.

I did stray slightly. The barbers there are old military guys and I soon learned they tend to struggle with anything that isn’t a flat top or trimming the horseshoe. But there are three women who also cut hair in that same place, and I’ve been letting them do the job.

Except for the last time, one of “the gals” – as the former military guys call them – had what we might call a bad day, and my wife decided once and for all that I was going to see Miss Michelle at the fancy salon, who takes care of my wife and kids.

So with great fear I made an appointment. Miss Michelle was not surprised to see me, having heard from my wife and kids of their efforts to get me there. I explained to her that this salon thing was far outside my comfort zone.

She took a look at my hair, moved it around a little bit and cringed. “Oh my. They gave you comb-over and you’re not even bald!”

Couldn’t argue with that. I had no choice but to submit.

“First thing we’re going to do is wash your hair.”

“Hold on there,” I said. “I just did that before I came here.”

“Well, we’re going to do it again. Twice, actually. Guys have no idea how to wash their hair. And I’ll massage your scalp, too.”

I have to say, I haven’t had somebody else wash my hair since I was small enough to sit in the sink, and I thought that was a skill I had mastered.

But, reluctantly, my chair was lowered back so my head was in the sink. It was pretty nice, though I think I could have done it myself.

Michelle explained that we were getting rid of the comb-over look – and the comb as well as a brush. “You’re going to be able to do everything with your fingers.”

At this point I was pretty much in shock. I’ve been using the same brush since college. I don’t mean the same style of brush. I mean the same brush. Routines were falling by the minute.

As she kept cutting, all kinds of strange things were going on around me. A woman walked past with strips of tin foil in her hair. I couldn’t imagine what that was about.

“Don’t worry, we’re not doing that to you,” Michelle said. “We do that to your wife, though.”

She then asked what kind of “product” I use in my hair. Aside from the store-brand shampoo and the 20-year-old brush she said I’m not allowed to use anymore, um, nothing. I was then introduced to “paste” and told how to work it into my hair, which we did after washing it for a second time, this time with a hot washcloth on my face.

Looking in the mirror when Michelle was done, I had to say it was a different look – and better.

Then I went to the register and the guy working handed me the bill. I had to laugh because I thought he said it cost $30, which is more than double what I usually pay at the barber shop. I stopped laughing when I realized I had heard him correctly.

This was all pretty tough to adjust to.

But my wife liked the new look, and co-workers agreed it was an improvement.

The only objection came from one of the people on the school board I cover.
“I don’t know,” she said. “It looks…edgy.”

I assure you, this is the first time in my entire life I have ever been called edgy.

I’m not even sure what it means. Is it edgy as in cutting edge? Or, bold and unpredictable. Maybe even a little dangerous.

Apparently not that dangerous. The day after Glavine’s meltdown ended our season, a co-worker placed a mock headstone on my desk with “2007 Mets” written on it.