Tuesday, April 14, 2009

New Shea Welcomes Baseball, Mets' Outfielders' Gloves Do Not Welcome Baseballs

Monday was opening day at New Shea as the Mets hosted the Padres. Yes, this was the third time that the new stadium hosted a "first ever" baseball game, but as they said in Oceans 13, those first two were "soft openings." While watching the telecast on ESPN and keeping track of where I need to visit and what pictures I want to take when I go to the ballpark next month, I took notes on some of my thoughts on the game. So consider this a non-live live blog on the game.

There is no way in hell I am going to remember that Jody Gerut was the first player to get a hit and first to homer in a regular season game at New Shea. I guess that makes the trivia question more valuable down the line. Remembering that David Wright had the Mets' first hit will be easy. For the record, Luis Castillo had the Mets' first RBI.

I could have sworn that the Rays lost the World Series, but at their home opener Monday against the Yankees, they raised an AL East Champs banner, an AL Champs banner, and handed out rings. Rings? For losing? What is this, little league and everyone gets a trophy?

Orel Hershiser picked the Rays to beat the Mets to win the World Series this year. I knew I liked Orel. The L.A. Times' Bill Plaschke and Sports Illustrated picked the Mets to win it all. I like them too.

If Mets' G.M. Omar Minaya really only goes after Latin players, how come the Mets start four white dudes? I would venture that that is the most white starting players of any team in baseball. Daniel Murphy, David Wright, Ryan Church and Brian Schneider. And two of the five starting pitchers are white (John Maine and Mike Pelphrey). And three of their most significant off-season additions (J.J. Putz, Sean Green and Jeremy Reed). Crazy, Obama has been president for two months and I am already arguing someone is not racist because he employs a fair number of white people. Anyway, can we finally put the Minaya-only-signs-Latino-players argument to bed?

ESPN got the cameras set correctly for this game. When they aired a preseason game from here last week, they cameras weren't quite right. The outfield looked like Yosemite and the standard pitch-view camera was way too far zoomed out. I couldn't figure out of the ballpark was just bigger than everywhere else by 300-400 feet or if they just hadn't fine-tuned the production. Fortunately it was the former, though the Mets hit 3-4 balls to center field that looked gone by a mile that wound up being lazy fly balls to the front of the track. This park is good for baseball, good for pitchers, good for speedy slap hitters, but not good for casual fans who like homers.

Murphy officially got the first Bronx cheer in the new stadium. After dropping a can of corn Sunday that cost the Mets the game, he had another Monday that he put away easily. As the ball went up and the fans realized it was going to Murphy, you could hear them start to buzz louder and louder until he caught it and got a sarcastic standing ovation from some fans. Murphy had a big grin on his face as he tossed the ball back in. I like this guy. He hits, he learns his lessons (two hands this time) and he can laugh at himself.

I think I figured out why I am scared of Mel Kiper (besides that he looks like an angry bird). He has utterly no sense of humor despite that looking at him, you would have to assume he presents himself the way he does as a joke. He is terrifying. They now have this commercial for ESPN's NFL draft coverage where Mel and His Hair stand there looking dead-serious as they go over an imaginary draft board in front of them. It is like in Minority Report when Tom Cruise is moving around little video clips and files on a giant virtual computer screen/wall. Only Kiper is doing it with potential draftees' names and teams. But you get no sense he knows this is insane. You know he was standing on an empty sound stage and pretending to be doing things and they added in the graphics later, but he is so serious and intent. Does he really see those draft names when he is walking around in the real world? Is that commercial a visual representation of Mel Kiper's universe. I don't know the answers to any of these questions, but that man scares the hell out of me.

At the end of the 2008 season, on a Mets game broadcast, Gary Cohen and Keith Hernandez were talking about what it would be like to have Shea be gone. One question Hernandez asked was what would happen to all the cats that live in the stadium (like the famous black cat that cursed the 1969 Cubs during a game when it ran out onto the field, stopped in front of the Cubs dugout and stared them down). I remember Cohen saying not to worry about the cats and that they'd be fine. For those fans who were worried, fear not. They survived. One of them ran out onto the field and then disappear back into the stadium's bowels in the middle of the game. He was like a little blond cat-messenger. "It may be newer and shinier, but we still own this place."

I don't know what I expected from the Mets fans when Gary Sheffield would be introduced for the first time there. I did not expect a collective yawn. The cheer that went up from the 41,007 on hand when Shef pinch hit for Mike Pelfrey might as well have been for Alex Cora.

Trivia: first Mets' homer: David Wright. It is strange as a Mets fan to think that in a four inning bullpen-vs.-bullpen game, we've got 'em. In any of the last few years, I would have been thinking, "oh man, we need to score 4-5 more times to win this one."

Trivia: first player to also be an umpire and single-handedly win a game for a team, ruin the Opener of a new stadium, and ruin my life: David Eskstein. With a runner on third after Ryan Church pulled a Murphy and dropped a fly-ball for a three-base error, David Eckstein called a balk on Pedro Felciano, the home plate umpire deferred to Eckstein authority and confirmed the call. (Eventual game-winning) run scores. Does this ump ask for help on balls and strikes too? This is the circumstance I have ever seen a call be made under ("well, he's a veteran and he says he saw it, so I will call it") and one of the worst calls I have ever seen. I played this alleged balk over at least 10 times, even in slo-mo and there was no balk. Feliciano crouched over on the mound, came set, lifted his head maybe an inch or two, and Eckstein called the balk for faking a movement towards the plate and stopping. I know I am biased as hell here, but this call is absolute garbage and that ump should be ashamed at the way he called it because a player told him to. Feliciano's hips, shoulders, hands, arms, legs, nor feet moved. Just his head tilted up. I hope the league reviews it and the ump gets a fine or suspension given that it wound up deciding a game. If the Mets lose the division by one game, I am gonna lose it. Bruce Dreckman, we are no longer friends.

The Padres do not have a single left-handed pitcher. That has to cost them down the line once all the teams get a scouting report on all these no-name new guys they have in their pen. But for the time being, these guys are getting it done. I didn't understand why the Mets tossed Duaner Sanchez last month and watching him Monday made me still not see why. He's like mini-Frankie, goggles and everything.

Brian Schneiders' intro-music is by Creed. Ouch. Consider yourself knocked down a few pegs, Mr. Schneider. I can only hope he didn't choose this and someone way out of touch just threw it in there because they wanted "white-guy music" for him.

Heath Bell came out Monday and ripped ESPN for their East Coast bias, particularly their Mets-Red Sox-Yankees bias. I completely agree with him on that. They just made this big deal out of having a West Coast Sportscenter beginning at 10 P.M. Pacific time and besides the anchors being different, if you watched both shows, you'd never know the difference. The set is identical, the content is identical. How is this the West Coast Sportscenter? However, Bell also said that the Mets trading him away is one of his primary motivations. I am all for using something like that to fire you up, but the guy was traded three years ago. Move on.

Well there was no late-inning magic at the new park and the Mets now officially lost their Shea opener, Shea closer, and New Shea opener. And now I have to wait for two days before they play again to wash this mess out of my mind.

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