Category Archives: Getting to Third Base

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How Jose Fernandez Deserves to be Remembered

I’ll be the first sports fan to be frustrated with an owner or manager who is not honest with the media. People who are dedicated to their sports teams have an absolute right to know what is going on. No beating around the bush- tell me straight if our ace needs Tommy John surgery. Tell me straight if you won’t be calling up that prospect until August.

However, when it comes to real issues that affect people’s lives, leave out the details.

The death of Jose Fernandez has left the baseball world mourning. It was heartbreaking news to so many at its onset. Since then, we remain brokenhearted at the disregard for loss of life painted by headlines that attribute the deaths to Fernandez’s potential substance abuse on that night.

It is no right of the public to have any information regarding the boat crash that may lead to the misconception that Fernandez was anything short of a fantastic man.

The fact is that we lost three young men on that night to things that young people often find themselves involved with. It is a tragic loss of life that while preventable, does not warrant attribution of blame.

Jose Fernandez was truly incredible.  He was so vibrant and passionate. He was one of the few who  played the game purely out of love; never mind the fact that he was wildly talented. He deserves to be remembered for his excellence on and off the diamond, and not some headline that links him to drugs or alcohol. Those who love him have certainly suffered enough.

1992-2016

image: http://thecomeback.com/

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Catch the Heartbreak

Prior to their 2015 surge to the World Series, the New York Mets experienced a nine-year drought of postseason-less baseball. This brings us all the way back to 2006, a year of wide-eyed young stars and seasoned veterans. The perfect combination, or so they had thought, to bring Queens its third championship in franchise history. Team chemistry had a lot to do with the success of the 2006 Mets. All of their hard work culminated to a National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

With their entire season on the line, the Mets sent Oliver Perez to the mound against Jeff Suppan in Game 7. The game was tied at one going into the sixth inning. What happened in the top of that inning would be forever etched in MLB history as one of the greatest defensive plays in the sport’s postseason history. Endy Chavez robbed Scott Rolen of a home run at the left field wall and doubled off Jim Edmons at first base to end the inning. Had he not made “the catch,” the Cardinals would have been up by two runs, which would have likely put the final nail in the coffin for the Mets. Fittingly, the advertisement along the left field wall at Shea Stadium was AIG’s slogan, “the strength to be there.”

Despite Endy’s heroics, the Mets would lose that game in 2006, sending them packing until they finally reached the postseason again in 2015. Fast forward one year later, and the Mets are in the 2016 Wild Card game against the San Francisco Giants, trying to scratch and claw their way back to the NLDS.

The stage was set at Citi Field for the ultimate pitchers’ duel between Noah Syndergaard and Madison Bumgarner.

Each ace battled their way into the late innings of the game without allowing a run. Just as Perez did ten years prior, Syndergaard got into a bit of a jam in the sixth inning. With a man on second, Brandon Belt hit the ball to deep center field.

Curtis Granderson, who was playing center that night, had been having a mediocre year until about September. Once that final month hit, he turned on the jets, and had the breakout month the lineup desperately needed. Already a hero for his crucial role in getting the team to the do-or-die game, Granderson tracked the ball over his head all the way to the warning track, and made an incredible catch as he crashed into the wall.

Witnessing this from the right field stands transported me, and likely many other Mets fans, back to Endy in ‘06. But this time, ten years later, we were confident the results would be different.

They weren’t.

The Mets fell to the Giants after closer Jeurys Familia allowed a three-run homer to Conor Gillaspie in the ninth inning. A defeat equally, if not more crushing, than the one in ‘06.

The moments when Chavez and Granderson made their catches were the moments all Mets fans and players alike had the same thought: “We are not losing this freaking game.”

Hang in there Mets fans. Here’s hoping the third time will be the charm for a season-saving catch that will actually save the season.

images:
http://www.northjersey.com/
http://www.newsday.com/

Bartolo Colon makes history twice in a week

We all know the ever-growing legend of Bartolo Colon, the nearly 43-year-old pitcher for the New York Mets. Bartolo has been nothing if not solid in his two years with the Mets and has had incredible longevity to stick around for what is now his 19th season. But in his last two starts he has entered the record books in two unique ways.

On Monday against Atlanta, Colon earned his 220th career win. Not only is that the highest number among active pitchers but it also moved him past Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez into second place on the All Time list of Wins by a Dominican born pitcher. Colon is now only behind Juan Marichal.

And then just yesterday, Colon was at it again launching a two-run home run off of James Shields in San Diego for his first career home run. In doing so, Colon became the oldest player to hit their first career home run, moving past another Hall of Famer in Randy Johnson.

There is usually nothing more fun than watching a Bartolo Colon start. At nearly 300 pounds Colon certainly doesn’t look like he should be a professional athlete and yet his feats of athleticism are remarkable. Last year Colon set a career high for hits in a season. He continues to be a control wizard and rarely walks anyone. He’s exceptional when it comes to fielding his position and the Mets even made a Spring Training drill in honor of Colon and last year’s behind the back flip to first base against the Marlins. And his at bats are usually top entertainment, mostly as a result of wild swings and an ill-fitting helmet. But on some beautiful occasions, Colon makes contact and if he gets all of his bulky frame behind a ball can get some serious exit velocity on it. And if he does, more often than not he carries the bat with him to first base.

If there’s one thing to take from this it’s that there is absolutely nothing Bartolo can’t do and that we should strive to live our lives as happily as Bartolo Colon does. #BigSexy2016

Can They Get There Again?

In 2015, the New York Mets fell just short of their first World Series title in nearly 30 years. They were defeated four games to one by the Kansas City Royals in a series that, in hindsight, should have been much closer. Many even say that the Mets should have taken the series, as they had late leads in games one, four, and five. While I do credit the Royals for their relentless comeback efforts, and their ability to capitalize on errors made by the Mets in the late innings of games four and five, I wholeheartedly believe that the Mets  ultimately acted as their own worst enemy.

Mets closer, Jeurys Familia, who had been nearly perfect all season, blew three saves in the World Series. Two of these blown saves were direct results of errors made by Mets infielders (second baseman Daniel Murphy, and first baseman Lucas Duda). Perhaps it was the pressure that took a toll on the team during those late innings. Many of the 2015 Mets players had never played in such high stakes games before. Going into 2016, I believe the experience they have gained will propel them right back to the Fall Classic, and that we are likely to see a different outcome. I could very well see the 2016 World Series featuring the Royals and the Mets once again, but I believe the Mets have what it takes this time around.

2016 holds more promise for the Mets than ever before, with a key returning bat in Yoenis Céspedes, new additions in Asdrúbal Cabrera and Neil Walker, and the resurgence of Zack Wheeler to undoubtedly the best (and newly postseason experienced) rotation in baseball. All of this under the leadership of the Captain, David Wright, leaves me with little doubt that Mets can perform to at least the standard that they set in the previous season.

With all of that being said, I do not by any means believe that the Mets will run away with the league championship, or even the division title. The Washington Nationals will yet again pose a significant challenge to the Mets in the East, but the Mets’ rotation is what should ultimately lead them passed worthy competitors.

Other teams will now be more eager than ever to knock off the reigning National League Champions in what should be a very exciting season.

Here’s to 2016.

image: http://www.wsj.com/articles/who-is-this-team-and-what-have-you-done-with-the-new-york-mets-1445523148

 

 

Major League Baseball Returns to Cuba, first time since 1999

On a day that was marked with a dark cloud over the terror attacks in Brussels, Belgium, many were able to seek solace with a landmark event that occurred in Havana, Cuba. For the first time since 1999, a Major League Baseball game was played in the country that, for decades, had been relatively closed off to the United States. A symbol of renewed openness and relations between the United States and Cuba saw Presidents Obama and Castro sitting behind the netting at Estadio Latinoamericano as the Tampa Bay Rays took on the Cuban National Team in a Spring Training exhibition game.

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Rays players line up with Cuban children for the singing of the respective National Anthems

The Rays defeated the Cuban National Team by a score of 4-1 as Dayron Varona made his return to his native Cuba, leading off for Tampa Bay. Prior to stepping into the batter’s box, Varona received a standing ovation from all fans in attendance; he is the first player to ever defect and then return to play in his home country. After the game, Varona expressed the entire thrill of the trip, from seeing his family for the first time since his defection to playing in front of his home crowd. The first pitch of the game was hit to the right of first base by Varona;  a high pop-up that resulted in the first out. When asked why he swung at the first pitch, Varona stated that he might as well hit the ball as hard as he could because “it would make it to the Hall of Fame” anyway.

The last visit by a Major League Club to Cuba happened 17 years ago when the Baltimore Orioles played in a Spring Training game. Today’s game showcased something much different. It was filled with a capacity crowd of 55,000, celebrating the “open door” relations between Cuba and the United States, it was a homecoming for Dayron Varona, and it was a game filled with symbolism and exuberance.

Said Ray’s starting pitcher, Matt Moore, “It’s really great, you know, this is something that feels like a very big game back home. … I’ve had the opportunity to be in the playoffs a few times, and this feels like that kind of an event.” Moore, like others were amazed by the entire scene, from the thrill of the game to the political and organizational underlying significance. Baseball may finally be open to Cuba and Cuba to baseball. We might see an influx of Cuban players in the game; players who no longer feel the need to run under cover of night and defect from their home just to achieve a dream of playing in the Major Leagues. Cuban players were also incredibly excited about the opportunities this day brought with Cuban player, Rudy Reyes giving his view of the game, “A lot, this game meant a lot, because of the brotherhood there will be from now on.”

Notes:

-Notable members of the crowd included Secretary of State, John Kerry, Yankee icon Derek Jeter, Rachel Robinson, widow of the late Jackie Robinson, and Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Rob Manfred.

-Cuban pitcher and 19-year major leaguer, Luis Tiant and former Cuban National player, Pedro Luis Lazo threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Estadio Latinoamericano

-Though there was much excitement over the game, Cuban protestors and dissidents interrupted ESPN’s Bob Ley throwing pamphlets and calling for freedoms

h/t:

-http://m.mlb.com/news/article/168496904/historic-rays-cuba-game-filled-with-thrills

-http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/15045394/tampa-bay-rays-beat-cuban-national-team-landmark-game

2016 Baseball Hall Of Fame Projections

Later this afternoon, an announcement will be made with the results of the Baseball Writer’s Association of America vote and a new Hall of Fame class will be revealed. While there are big names up for first time election, slugger Ken Griffey, Jr. and closer Trevor Hoffman, it seems unrealistic to expect another large Hall of Fame class like the four inductees in 2015.

Of the 32 Hall of Fame finalists, there are 15 newcomers, many of which will struggle to gain the 5% threshold to remain a part on the Hall of Fame ballot in the future. Players like David Eckstein, Brad Ausmus, Garrett Anderson and Mike Lowell had nice professional careers and should feel honored to be on the final ballot, but realistically they have no shot of gaining the threshold for reelection, let alone the hall of fame. Players who also don’t have a realistic chance for Hall of Fame election include former Red Sox Shortstop Nomar Garciapara and those whose careers where mired by steroid allegations. While Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemons, and home run “king” Barry Bonds all have the numbers to make them first-ballot hall-of-famers, their links to steroids will prevent many baseball writers from ever voting them into baseball’s most exclusive fraternity. While I personally feel these players should be honored as the best from an era where steroid use was common and very much part of the game, I don’t believe the Baseball Writer’s Association of America will ever share my opinion.

With all that being said, a simple question might arise: Who will get into the 2016 hall of fame? Mike Piazza should get enough of the vote to enter the Hall of Fame, and will be joined by at least one first-timer on the ballot. While there is uncertainty about whether first-timer Trevor Hoffman should receive first-ballot recogniton (this writer believes he should), the only doubt about former Seattle Mariners and Cincinnati Reds outfielder Ken Griffey, Jr. is how much of the vote he will get.

Many believe Griffey, Jr. can challenge Tom Seaver’s record of 98.84% of the vote in 1992. The Kid, as he was known to many throughout his electric career, revitalized baseball in the Pacific Northwest and brought excitement to Seattle with the expectation of either a monster home run or an acrobatic catch looming every time he took the field. Griffey was slowed by injuries in his career, but still managed the fifth most home runs in Major League Baseball history (630). One of the greatest “what ifs” in baseball is estimating how many home runs Griffey would have managed if he had stayed reasonably healthy during his career.

Hoffman had an equally dominant career on the West Coast with the San Diego Padres. He was the first closer to reach the 500 and 600 hundred save milestones, and at 601 career saves, was the all-time save leader until 2011, when Mariano Rivera surpassed Hoffman’s mark. Hoffman retired with the highest strikeout rate among relievers and 1,133 strikeouts to his name. Relievers usually do not receive much recognition when the Baseball Writers convene to decide the Cy Young (annually given to the best pitcher in each League), however, remarkably, Hoffman finished second in the Cy Young voting twice. While Hoffman is more than merited and will no doubt one day be in the Hall of Fame, it remains to be seen whether the Baseball Writer’s give him the nod this year or make him wait before his inevitable inauguration into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Jeff Bagwell (55.7%) and Tim Raines (55.0%) had the second and third highest vote totals for those not elected in the Hall of Fame a year ago. With 11 and 9 years left of their eligibility left respectively, it is only a matter of time before their long careers are honored with a call to the Hall of Fame. However, 2016 will not be their year. Bagwell and Raines can expect to get somewhere in the 55-65% range this season with election in 2017 or 2018 more likely.

The only other player certain to join Griffey this year in Cooperstown is former New York Mets Catcher Mike Piazza. Piazza received 69.9% of the vote a year ago, agonizingly close to the 75% required for Hall of Fame election. It only seems logical that this year Piazza will receive a larger percentage of the vote, enough to make him a 2016 Hall of Fame inductee. Piazza has the record for most home runs by a catcher (427) and is regarded by many as the greatest offensive catcher of all time. The twelve-time all star retired with a career .308 batting average and one of the most famous moments in modern sporting history: an eighth inning home run on September 21, 2001 to give the Mets the lead in the first major sporting event played in New York after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.