Jesse Jarnow

8 o’clock the lights are on at shea dept.

3.5 months.

Baseball, more than other sports, is a game of statistics. There are batting titles, earned run averages, and Bill James freak-outs. It is a game of distances covered simultaneously by whipped balls of cork and running feet, coming down to inches, and the strategy that pits them against one another. There are lefty/righty match-ups, pinch-hitters, and careers made or broken by the chance encounters of a baseball after it connects with a bat. Numbers are the game’s blood.

Despite this, like the point where human consciousness emerges from a collection of cells and organized tissue, stats only go so far. Ultimately, baseball requires a leap of faith — or, at least, a willful defiance of the numbers. Your favorite team might collapse down the stretch, but they’re still your favorite team. It is not rational. It is the opposite. The Phillies may have won the World Series, but I say fuck ’em, the Mets are still better with exactly the same passion as I did in the middle of the summer, and the same as I will when spring training starts. Fuck ’em. See you in three-and-a-half months.

statistical musings & getting sold out

“Meet the Mets” (organ version) (download)

The winners of the division pennants and Wild Card slots are determined by the best winning percentage. In mathematical and actual truth, minute fuck-ups and come-from-behind victories in April count exactly as much as they do during these last, fraught weeks in September. It’s an existential thing, all this drama, coming to appreciate emotionally of what every turn of the game really means, statistically speaking.

Watching the Mets unscrew towards statistical insignificance against the Cubs the other night–hopefully not my last Shea outing, though possibly–I returned bitterly pissed off at the Mets for selling off the last week at Shea for some bullshit VH1-type promotion looking back at the decades and therefore not playing “Meet the Mets.” WTF guys?

a trip to shea, 9/08

Went to Shea on Saturday for the lazy doubleheader against the Braves, arriving midway through the first game, and stealing a nice seat in the loge. I’m gonna miss that dump, both for nostalgic reasons and aesthetic ones. Built-in to being a Mets fan–and this, built-in to Shea–is the notion of hangdog tradition.

So, instead of a noble pinstripe continuity of God-like champs from Babe Ruth to Joe DiMaggio to Reggie Jackson, like the Yankees, the Mets’ lineage traces back to something even more basic: the desire for baseball. The official reason given for the team’s 1961 incorporation was the city’s need for another team. What were Dodgers and Giants fans supposed to do when their teams moved west? Root for the Yankees? It didn’t matter if the Mets won. It only mattered that they existed, that there was baseball to attend to. It’s why they could still draw many fans when they lost 120 games in 1962 and why Casey Stengel biographer Robert Creamer could declare the early Mets to be “countercultural” three years before Dylan went electric.

I think all of that is built into Shea, in its eternal Space Age funkiness, built as part of the World’s Fair across the Meadows. It even used to have weird, modernist plates adorning its sides. (I wonder when those disappeared.) At the very least, Shea’s humble funkiness was made even clearer when I headed up to the Bronx with RK & co. to see the Mets crush the Yanks, 11-2. There, I saw the Valley of Monuments (or whatevs) in centerfield, saw the entire bleachers engage in some kind of call-and-response with a Yankee outfielder, who replied by waving at them. I saw the stands erupt into a twinkling storm of popping camera flashes when Hideki Matsui batted. Give or take the “Jose, Jose, Jose” chant and the battered Home Run Apple, Shea has none of that.

But Shea is also Shea. Because the Mets (apparently) aren’t America’s team, terrorists pose no immediate threat to Shea Stadium. Thus, you can bring in backpacks, and don’t have to transfer your book/iPod/hoodie into a plastic bag (a clear bag, as I discovered, when I aided the Enemy by trying to recycle a white one) or check it at the bowling alley across the street. More importantly, at Shea, you can get tickets. Shea Stadium is big. It almost never sells out. There are ushers, sure, but–if you can find the empty seats–you can sit almost anywhere. There are still nights when you can get into the ballpark for $5.

And next year, at CitiField, who knows? There’ll be fewer seats, more luxury boxes, and higher prices. Will there be ushers forcefully guiding people to their assigned spots in every section? More, how will the new stadiums express the differences between going to a Mets game and the feeling of going to a Yankees game? Will there be any?

early pennant drive links

o The Enduring Popularity (and Ubiquity) of the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. Card . I never had one.

o Baseball, meth, and home games. Misleading title. Dude just means pills. Not, like, middle relievers getting cranked and scrubbing the bullpen bench clean with toothbrushes. Still, interesting (and probably correct) theory that I’ve seen floated more informally elsewhere, notably by radio color dudes.

o Horace Wilson and the beginnings of Japanese baseball. (And, somewhat related: baseball in Japanese internment camps during World War II.)

o A (relatively) recent interview with contrarian Oakland As’ general manager, Billy Beane: part 1, part 2.

o Hell freezes over and time stops. Not surprisingly, A-Rod is there.

uncle bill robinson memorial links

o Accepted baseball wisdom begins to mutate.

o A pro-Willets Point gentrification blog (including a link to an AM NY piece on ” 0, 2757074.story”>the Mayor of Willets Point.”

o Charting salary v. performance on big league teams in real time.

o Slate publishes some travel writing on baseball in the DR.

o A Baseball in Science Fiction bibliography.

o Mmmm, Tokyo Giants food.

o Giuseppe Franco for Mets manager! (Who? Him.)

o Dude traded for 10 bats in Texas.

doug sisk memorial links

(Actually, I’m pretty sure Doug Sisk is still alive.)

o Kottke breaks down the knuckleball using Josh Kalk’s PITCHf/x tool. The latter is amazing. Honestly, most of the math is entirely beyond me, but graphing the way a pitcher’s pitches break is a way to visualize a pitcher’s work, and is beautiful. It’s modern art, really, each chart somehow finding the truth of a particular player. Of course, the highly modern colors on the white background contribute, too.

o Slate‘s Matthew McGough on the golden age of baseball movies.

o Safeco Field in San Francisco has some kind of free live network for Nintendo DS users. Sounds fun, fersure, but such a strange platform to do it with. I mean, I guess DSes are popular and all, but wouldn’t it make more sense to develop it for the Blackberry or something? (Thx, VB.)

o The Mets latest 5th starter/hope, Nelson Figueroa, is the definition of the contemporary international journeyman. Born in Brooklyn (represent!), in the past year Figueroa has pitched in Mexico (all-star), Taiwan (Series MVP), the Dominican Republic (Series MVP), and the Caribbean (Series MVP). Definitely an Omar Minaya type of player. (via Metsblog)

o A whole mess of links about the 1964 World’s Fair which spawned Shea Stadium.

“all the way around & back” – charles ives

“All the Way Around and Back” – Charles Ives (download) (buy)
conducted by Leonard Bernstein

A Charles Ives piece from 1908 structurally mimics an archaic baseball rule from the composer’s childhood, via Timothy Johnson’s Baseball and the Music of Charles Ives: A Proving Ground:

The additive process aptly represents the gradual process of the runner. If the initial Db that begins each measure symbolizes first base, then each added note tracks the runner’s progress toward third. The skipped additions (moving directly from five to seven and from seven to eleven notes) seem to depict the runner’s increased speed as he builds up momentum heading for third. Finally, the complete pattern is repeated once more, running as fast as he can, before the whole process is reversed beginning with an extra two measures of the final undecatuplet, as the runner returns to first base in the same way that he traveled in the first place — rapidly at first, then easing up as the base is reached.

At first glance the symbolism of the baserunner, speeding up as he rounds the bases and then slowing down as he returns, seems to be lost in this palindromic reversal, since a runner presumably might easily trot back to first base after a foul ball. However, the rule that determined how quickly one must return to the base after a foul ball changed over the years. The rules of 1883 state that “a baserunner who fails to return to his base at a run following a foul ball is liable to be put out by being touched by the ball while off his base.”

(Thx, Jakebrah. Definitely need to read this.)

grapefruit league links, cont.

o Fantastic New Yorker profile of former Met/Philly Len Dykstra, who recently founded the Players Club, an investment group for professional athletes.

o Joe Smith is God, sez this MySpace page.

o Shawn Green retired three homers short of Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg’s all-time Jewish home run record of 331. Jewish guilt for juicing?

o On how Latin players pick up English.

o The Apollo 11 moonwalks, as mapped onto a baseball diamond. (Thx, Kottke.)

chop shop

Every Mets fan should see Chop Shop, which is at the Film Forum until Tuesday, and hopefully other art houses in other cities at other times. Though leads Alejandro Polanco and Isamar Gonzales are a bit melodramatic in places as adolescent brother and 16-year old sister Ale and Isamar, it’s still a valuable evocation of life in Willets Point, the scrapyard neighborhood bordering Shea Stadium. New Yorkers are long used to seeing movies set in the boroughs, but Willets Point — whose streets aren’t paved — might as well be another planet, even compared to projects and tenements and other slums.

Chop Shop has most often been compared to City of God, and that’s probably fair, both plots grown wholly from geographic/economic circumstances — in this case, Ale’s dream to open a food cart. There is little interaction between the neighborhood and the ballpark, but the economic chasm is constantly on display, the stadium lights sometimes seeming like alien backdrops. There is also, of course, quiet transcendence and something like authentic human life. With the construction of CitiField comes a looming threat of gentrification and Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts to have the area leveled/redeveloped. Chop Shop is a world that might soon be destroyed.

grapefruit league links

The Mets lost 4-2 to the Tigers in a split squad game today. Welcome back.

o Dunno how I missed this when the Voice ran the story in September, but ex-Mets pitcher/current Mets announcer Ron Darling is apparently a huge jazzhead.

o Digaman hipped me tonight to the existence of the fantasy baseball league that existed only in Jack Kerouac’s head. Really.

o Despite the utter failure of the Mitchell Report to create any kind of closure with the steroids era, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are speaking in gestures as weirdly elegant as their records are grotesque. That is, one can imagine John Chancellor’s narrator in Ken Burns’ Baseball reading off their narratives. The latest installment, far less reported than Clemens’ escapades on Capitol Hill, involves Bonds personally driving from spring training camp to spring training camp looking for work, while threatening to go play in Japan. (Thx, Russ.)

o SNY’s feature on the best Mets brawls would be a whole lot cooler with video clips. But it’s still pretty cool.

o The Times Bats blog reports on Mets’ pitching coach’s Rick Peterson’s observational skills. According to Sports Illustrated, Peterson spent the off-season “read[ing] Eastern philosophy and [drawing] sketches of his players.”

o A classic meditation by the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould.


If there was ever any doubt that baseball is an oral culture, peep this letter written by legendary manger Casey Stengel to sportswriter Ira Berkow in the ’70s, when Casey was in his 80s. Quoted in Robert Creamer’s superb Stengel, it was a bit of a shock to me to realize that Casey — a raconteurish encyclopedia cataloguing a lifetime of players, plays and stories — was barely literate.

Dear Ira: Your conversation’s; and the fact you were the working writer were inthused with the Ideas was great but frankly do not care for the great amount of work for myself. Sorry but am not interested. Have to many proposition’s otherwise for the coming season. Fact cannot disclose my Future affair’s. Good luck. Casey Stengel, N.Y. Mets & Hall of Famer.

Man, my spell-check loves Casey. Didn’t write in the passive voice, though!

“79 men on third for the mets” – dick mccormack

“79 Men on Third for the Mets” – Dick McCormack (download)
from An Amazin’ Era video

(file expires February 17th)

The baseball stories are increasing with the imminent reporting of pitchers and catchers to spring training this week. Today brings us a Times profile in which we discover that third baseman David Wright actually refers to himself as “D-Wright.” Uh, right on?
Relatedly, I spent some late night hours over the weekend revisiting An Amazin’ Era, the delightfully cheesy Mets retrospective produced just before the 1986 season. Included therein is the above song, “79 Men on Third for the Mets,” folksinger Dick McCormack’s novelty tribute to the nearly 80 players who’d covered the corner for the Mets between 1962 and 1985. (Though the video doesn’t include the ’86 season, McCormack manages to fit in the newly acquired Tim Teufel, who played one game at third later that year.) It’s super toe tappin’.

Anybody got info on this Dick McCormack dude? The infranet reveals the existence of a “We Didn’t Start the Fire”-style number he wrote summing up the 1987 season, though it looks like some lawyers nastygrammed it. Oh, bother.

two weeks.

An oncoming cold, a new millionaire pitcher to wonder idly about, and some Roger Angell to peruse. I’m going to bed, ideally to dream of “raising my mid-game gaze from the diamond to observe the gauzy look of departing rain clouds lifting from the jagged rim of some distant desert peak, and then entering that in my notebook (with the pen slipping a little in my fingers, because of the dab of Sea & Ski I have just rubbed on my nose, now that the sun is out again and cookin gus gently in the steepl little grandstand behind third base).” We all dream of dreams.

is it time for spring training yet?

Sadly, probably not. What a lame Series. At least it’s time to end the self-imposed moratorium on reading baseball books.

o The New Yorker‘s Ben McGrath gets loose on Scott Boras, agent to A-Rod, Carlos Beltran, and many others.
o A pair of scholarly studies about the effects of the Designated Hitter, including a PDF of “the Etiology of Public Support for the Designated Hitter Rule” (apparently, um, Democrats favor the DH more than Republicans) (Thx, MVB)
o will keep me entertained during the long, cold months. Of this, I am sure. (Word, OAK.)
o Richard Ford has a nice piece in today’s Times about the game-as-played versus the game-as-discussed. Anything that “refines the idea of spectatorship” is good. Anything “trying to sharpen the focus on a bunch of focusless stuff that not only doesn’t matter a toot, and could never be proven true or false and therefore isn’t really journalism, but that also doesn’t have anything to do with the game as it’s played”… well, that’s bad.
o It is time for the annual reading of A. Bartlett Giamatti’s “The Green Fields of the Mind.”

No, seriously, is it time for spring training yet?

yo la tengo in port washington, 10/19

“Ripple” – Yo La Tengo (download)
recorded 19 October 2007, Landmark on Main Street, Port Washington, NY

(file expires October 29th)

Yo La Tengo at Landmark on Main Street
Port Washington, NY
19 October 2007
Chris Brokaw opened.

The Landmark being (as we discovered) across the street from Finn MacCool’s, the watering hole of choice for the 1986 Mets, many of who resided in Port Washington, we naturally had to toast Danny Heep en route to the show. Via Jeff Pearlman’s The Bad Guys Won:

Strawberry did much of his damage at Finn MacCool’s, a tavern in Port Washington where many of the Mets hung out. One night Henry Downing, the bar’s manager, concocted a drink for the Mets that he named The Nervous Breakdown. It was a potent combination of vodka, cranberry juice, tequila, and schanpps, and the twelve Mets sitting around the table eagerly devoured pitcher after pitchers. Among the participants were Ojeda, Mitchell, Dykstra, and Backman — guys who could hold their own. Yet the one who drank the most was Strawberry. ‘I remember he really took to that,’ says Connie O’Reilly, MacCool’s owner. ‘I guess he liked the taste.’ … ‘The next afternoon we were watching the game from the bar, and the broadcaster said Darryl wasn’t playing,’ O’Reilly says. ‘They showed him sitting on tbe bench… something about a twenty-four-hour virus.’

Tom Courtenay
Beanbag Chair
Let’s Save Tony Orlando’s House
Fog Over Frisco
Mr. Tough
Ripple (Grateful Dead)
Surfin’ With the Shah (The Urinals)
Cone of Silence
Sloop John B (trad/Beach Boys)
Black Flowers
Luci Baines (Arthur Lee)
I Found A Reason (Velvet Underground)
Oklahoma USA (The Kinks)
Story of Yo La Tango
Detouring America With Horns
Speeding Motocycle (Daniel Johnston)
You Can Have It All (George McCrea)
*(encore, with Chris Brokaw on guitar)*
A House Is Not A Motel (Arthur Lee)
Tell Me When It’s Over (Dream Syndicate)
I Feel Like Going Home

mexican baseball in red hook after all, 10/07

the nice autumn air

Baseball deals in increments of hope: a two-run homer that brings the team within one, a strike closer to a strikeout, an out closer to the end of the game, a victory closer to the end. Each is a small clearing where suddenly a path to the future opens up, and everything is all right.

“There’s more Mets than Yankees in all of us,” Roger Angell once said, or something like it, which is maybe small consolation to a Mets fan this week. But it was a drama to participate in, milked to the very last day of the season: a statistically impossible and literally historic slide with one glorious high before the absolute crash, a redemptive one-hitter/blow-out (with a fight, taboot!), followed by a game in which a future Hall of Famer possibly making his final career start was blown out after giving up five runs in the first, a renowned slugger had his wrist broken by an errant pitch, and a kryptonite-weighted wunderkind ended his honeymoon with the fans. One utility player finished up an all-star career while his wife wept quietly in the stands, and September call-ups packed their bags, hoping for a shot in the spring.

For now, it is time for new routines, new ways to mark the post-agrarian seasonal changes. For some, it’s further escape into different culture industries: the fall movies (Wes Anderson! the Coen brothers!), other sports (a guy next to us at the game was tuned into the Jets today! The Jets!), or even changes that have nothing to do with consumption (taking the train to work instead of riding a bike). They are changes that would have happened with or without baseball, but now we can be aware of the Indian summer rising around us, the last nights to go out on the town and enjoy the air, instead of being lashed to a radio or a ballpark seat. Yeah, that’s the ticket: the nice autumn air.

in which the spirit of doc gooden cries out for peace, love, and three more m’fucking victories through the medium of a beach towel, 9/07

baseball as dumb show

It has been said often enough that baseball is a game of inches: of a ball that shoulda/coulda/mighta gone foul, of subtle pitch placement, of the exact angle of the bat as it makes contact. But, from the stands, baseball is a dumb show, able only to communicate in the broadest of strokes.

We do anything we can to infer personality from the players. Standing in repose as they do for most of the game — at bat waiting for a pitch (literally in a stance), on the mound waiting for a batter — this is pretty easy. It’s how they approach the plate, or head back to the dugout after grounding out weakly to second. But these are all actions that occur within a formal language, and the result is archetypes: speedy tricksters, crafty veterans, tragic journeymen, graceful future Hall of Famers who move like ghosts through the dugout.

Like the improvised characters in Italian commedia dell’arte, they are recognized instantly and understood for their behaviors. In some ways, at least as far as on-field personalities go, there is rarely anything new under the sun. Sometimes, there is, especially as the racial texture of the game changes, the make-up of pro ball having very much changed from the children of immigrants to immigrants themselves. But these changes are slow.

But, it’s baseball, and they don’t need to be fast. With between 10 and 13 characters on stage at a time with dozens more waiting in the wings (hundreds, if you count the players in the minors), multiplied by 162 games per team/per year (around 2,400 in all of Major League Baseball), the possibilities for sustained drama are functionally infinite.

But we hone in on specific personalities inside the noise, which is why we can so readily read pictures like this in ways that have nothing to do with stolen bases or batting averages or any other kind of detached statistic.

a baseball field on the last day of summer, 9/07

“The postseason is all about extending the summer, ” my friend Russ said last night, waxing philosophical sometime not long after I demanded the head of José Lima. For being the best, the World Series teams are allowed the pleasure of going to the ballpark day after day, reveling in the mechanics of routines they perfected in earlier, golden light, even as the leaves die and the sun changes.

richard ford’s “a minors affair”

A fine meditation on the slowness of the dog days, originally published in Harper’s, via Baseball: A Literary Anthology:

Everywhere, from Portland to Pawtucket, baseball’s the same slow, sometimes stately, sometimes tedious game governed by extensive, complexly arbitrary rules, and practiced according to arcane, informal mores and runic vocabularies which compel that almost every act of play be routine. Even the great smashes, the balletic defensive turns, and the unparalleled pitching performances — by being so formally anticipated, so contemplated and longed-for by the fans — become ritual, even foregone. It’s a Platonic game in this way, with all visible excellence (and even unexcellence) ratified by a prior scheme of invisible excellence which is the game itself.

i r in ur ballpark stealing ur jose valentin.

o Feral cats living in Shea! (Thx, IvyP.)
o Wally Backman bugs out.
o RIP former Mets first base coach Uncle Bill Robinson.
o Lasting Milledge’s MySpace profile.
o With his solo shot tonight, Shawn Green is now just five home runs away from tying Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg at 331 for all-time Jewish home run leader.

the baseball diaspora

Watching the Mets melt over the weekend, there were numerous tasteless jokes I wanted to make about unsuspended steroid-free reliever Guillermo Mota. But there was nobody around. I thought about logging on to one of the entertaining comment threads on Entry into the Mets’ online fan community is something I’ve been hesitant about, though.

When fans of bands or authors or comic books or even politicians gather online, it is usually for the purpose of creating a virtual community, a collectively imagined place to give body to an idea. But baseball fans already have a physical home: the ballpark. That’s not to take anything away from Mets fans that post online, just to note that the meaning and tenor of their conversations is different. They are an old-fashioned mini-diaspora that doesn’t need the net to survive, just AM radio and somebody in a similarly colored hat. I was happy to save my rude comments until those conditions were met. Didn’t take long.

notes from the upper deck

o The Wave dissipates around the seats, following a zagging single-file line before dying completely, more like a secret whispered from one fan to another than any kind of groupmind declaration.
o The ball is a pinprick in a massive field of controlled visual noise. It is like the key to a magic eye. Locating it against the crowd can sometimes be like looking at an Escher, the foreground and the background toppling over one another as one tries to pick up if it is fair or foul, high or low, or even which side of the diamond it’s heading towards. For a dizzying fraction of a second (at least far away) it is all of these places simultaneously. Then it is in the first baseman’s glove, and Damion Easley is heading back to the dugout.
o In extra innings, the PA runs into the deep cuts: The Doors’ “Break on Through,” with Ray Manzarek’s long organ solo to keep fans entertained in lieu of DiamondVision gimcracks. Also because, like, the Mets need to break on through & such. Later, the DJ (what would his title be?) whips out “We Will Rock You” — not just the introductory beat to get the crowd stomping, but the actual song, Freddie Mercury verse and all. As a dramatic cue, it really works.
o The booing of Barry Bonds is an amazing, overwhelming sound. Especially on Tuesday, when he doesn’t come in until a late inning pitch hit appearance, and the crowd finally releases their hatred (is that what it is?), it sounds like a jet going over Shea. Wednesday, a plane passed overhead while Bonds was up, and the sounds were indistinguishable.
o The debate over “performance enhancing drugs” rings a bit false, though, if only because science — especially as it relates to baseball — is almost always destined to prove itself mere folk knowledge. From (the recently late) David Halberstam’s Summer of ’49:

The strain of the heat on the pitchers was even more obvious. They kept a jug of orange juice mixed with honey to drink as a pick-me-up and also a bucket filled with ice and ammonia. Gus Mauch would dip a towel in the bucket and drape it over the pitcher’s neck between innings. “Florida water,” they called it. It was believed that water, any amount of it, would bloat you up, make you heavy, and slow you down. So none of the pitchers took even the smallest drink of water during the game. Allie Reynolds, as a special reward to himself if he made it to the seventh inning in the hot weather, would go over to the cooler, take a mouthful, wash it around in his mouth for a moment or two, then spit it out.

Sometimes, the players ate candybars (no water to wash it down) midgame. Other times, they just stuffed ice into their jocks to fight off fatigue.

what’s the frequency, omar?

Wow, the Man came crashing down swiftly on occasional Mets prospect Lastings Milledge for his participation in Soul-Ja Boi Records & Manny D’s “Bend Ya Knees” single, huh? There’s a nice multi-faceted discussion over at MetsBlog. Mostly, I’m just curious to hear the damn song — it seems to have been deleted from the Soul-Ja Boi website, their MySpace page has apparently been disappeared, and when I emailed their info@ addy, I got a big, fat “delivery to the following recipient failed permanently” bounceback. WTF? Anybody got an mp3?

notes from the upper deck

o It feels kind of, er, un-American to sing “God Bless America” during the 7th Inning Stretch. It feels hypocritical that it is only done on Sundays. I’ll stand for “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” though.

o Mama’s of Corona is easily the best food I’ve found at Shea. It is buried on the field level, accessible to Upper Deck groundlings, via a back hallway at gate B3 (though this article says there’s one in the mezzanine, too.) (Thx, Gary.)

o Much more on Michael Lewis’s Moneyball as it sinks in. An odd side effect of the Bill James/Billy Beane school of general managership: though it rewards deep, impersonal stats, on the playing field itself, it often emphasizes classically idiosyncratic baseball characters, such as Chad Bradford, the sidewinding Alabama Baptist, or Scott Hatteberg, the pitch-count-racking catcher-turned-first-basemen. (I’m only four years late to the party on this one.)

o During the last homestand, Shea’s grass was cut in criss-crossed diamond patterns. This time out, it radiates outwards from homeplate like sunbeams, growing wider and bolder as they reach the outfield, each a miniature replication of a baseball field’s implied infiniteness.

the team. the time. the one last nostalgic use of the marketing campaign. (greatest misses #6)

(A foray into longer-form baseball writing in the form of a review of Shout! Factory’s 2006 Mets highlights reel, The Team. The Time. The 2006 Mets..)

“You’re gonna have to learn your clichés,” Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis advises Tim Robbins’ Nuke LaRouche in 1988’s Bull Durham. “You’re gonna have to study them, you’re gonna have to know them. They’re your friends. Write this down: ‘we gotta play it one day at a time.'”

“It’s pretty boring,” LaRouche says.

“‘Course it’s boring,” Davis responds. “That’s the point.”

Nineteen seasons later — LaRouche, perhaps, having just wrapped up a respectable alternate-universe career as a dependable mid-rotation starter — Robbins has certainly learned his. Narrating The Team. The Time. The 2006 Mets, the now-veteran actor spits them out fast and furious, along with nearly every commentator, Met, vet, and front office rep to offer commentary.

And, like Davis says, that’s the point. Despite baseball’s infinite facets, cliché remains the dominant public language of the game, and there’s no reason to suspect that will change anytime soon.

“This town is about winning,” General Manager Omar Minaya notes at one point, completely clearing that up. “It starts with our passion for playing the game,” observes manager Willie Randolph in a totally winning white turtleneck. “The 2006 Mets personified heart and courage,” Robbins intones as Carlos Beltran slams into (I think) the Astrodome wall. Things, in short, that might be said about any (the) team at any (the) time.

In a way, all of that seems perfectly obvious. Of course David Wright is going to regurgitate platitudes like “I think winning’s contagious.” Clichés let the game speak for itself, mindless chatter between highlights clips. And what highlights clips: Carlos Delgado rocketing a shot into the rightfield bullpen in the 16th inning against Philadelphia on May 23rd, Jose Reyes completing his June 21st cycle with a single, Jose Valentin acknowledging the transcendent power of his moustache.

Stache’s ‘stache, as it turns out, is a reminder that highlights reels don’t have to be clichés. Really, a DVD about the 2006 Mets could just as easily plug the gaps between walk-off wins by talking about mechanics, like what knowledge leather-faced Rickey Henderson imparted on bright-eyed/bushy-tailed Reyes in the art of stealing bases, or the practically spiritual strength Tom Glavine draws from his routines. Or a feature reflecting the culturally rich clubhouse. Or even just the lovely and human story of the seemingly over-the-hill Valentin earning the hell out of a starting spot at second base.

Instead, we get acoustic guitar shorthanding for the sadness of Pedro Martinez’s mid-campaign meltdown, though no actual footage of the events. Even by highlights films standards, some of it’s pretty bad. By contrast, the plum delightful 1986 reel, A Year To Remember, created its narrative authority by including (for example) footage of an errant throw by Gary Carter smashing into Mookie Wilson’s face and shattering his sunglasses. Plus, they had montages. Crazy, bad-ass ’80s montages set to Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Glenn Frey. You know, from the Eagles. (The Eagles of Los Angeles, that is, not Philadelphia.)

Few of the clichés are inaccurate, either. After all, the Mets did finish 2006 tied for the best record in baseball, and a host of other accomplishments. But, with chapter names like “Chemistry,” “Resiliency,” and “Optimism,” it’s also kind of patronizing. Cute marketing brand, the whole definite-article/parallel construction the-team-the-time thing, but maybe not very accurate as far as titles go, given that the Mets didn’t even make it to the World Series. In the end, the true tenor of a baseball season — for player and fan alike — is multitudes more complex than “Chemistry” and “Optimism.”

Instead of the World Series, though, what we got — and what we get here, augmented by dramatic orchestral hits — is Endy Chavez creating a real, honest-to-Keith capital-M baseball Moment. And, while that’s maybe not as good as brute force world champ bragging rites, it’s also much richer: that concentrated flash of pure joy deeply colored by the fated ending just an inning later. It’s not victory, but it’s something to hold onto — and, in the form of The Team. The Time. The DVD, it takes physical form.

We bought the ticket, we took the ride, and the Mets lost. The latter fact feels (and is) entirely secondary on The Team. The Time. The 2006 Mets.. And, really, it is, owing primarily to another life-affirming cliché: we’ll get ’em next year. And we will. Both the bragging rights and the bitchin’ montages.

notes from the upper deck

o CitiField is emerging a few dozen yards from the outfield fence, a superstructure that looks not unlike the half-completed Death Star in Return of the Jedi. It’s certainly ominous. With nobody working on it during the weekend games, it looked like it could either be a construction or demolition project. Like a first trimester fetus in a sonogram, bits of what I imagine will be the first base bleachers are the only part currently recognizable as a ballpark.

o I’m deeply suspicious of the asymmetric layout of the new field. I dig Shea Stadium because it is Platonic: what a baseball field should look like in the best of all possible worlds. Allegedly, CitiField is to mimic old-time ballparks, with its facade imitating Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field. But old fields’ dimensions were idiosyncratic because they were often forced into the confined footprint of a city block. It just seems false.

o Aha, another reason baseball is unique: its complete system of elegantly nested units. (Huh-huh, “nested units.”) It can be broken down into formal segments, growing larger and more complex: single pitches (their motion over the plate), at-bats (the full drama of how to work a batter), plays (individual sets of action), innings (slightly larger sets, with dramatic unity), games (the most basic currency of baseball), series (how two teams stack up during a given few days), and seasons (ultimately, determining who is best, and starting over). Matt commented about the micro-macro qualities of the game at this point last year, and he’s totally right. The relationships between the levels are unbelievably dynamic. As above, so below. Or maybe it’s the other way around.

o Likewise, there are all kinds of different levels one can pop back and forth between when talking during a game. Besides the formal elements, listed above, there’s also the matter of lore: individual player narratives, team rivalries, and the like, as well as the even grander arc of baseball history.

o One can employ any one of the elements to figure out why the fuck the Mets melted in the 7th this afternoon. For example, one can blame Shawn Green’s misplay of Scott Thorman’s drive into the right field corner, which should’ve been the third out. Or one can blame the evolution of relief pitching into righty/lefty specialists used for one or two batters, even if they’re clearly in the groove — Willie Randolph having pulled Ambiorix Burgos so Scott Schoeneweis could face Kelly Johnson (walked) and Edgar Renturia (three-run home run into the Mets’ bullpen). Or one can blame Schoeneweis for bad pitching, or anybody or anything else. Really, the Mets lost, another unit completed.

the curious case of sidd finch

Perhaps it is true of all sports, but magical realism/fabulism seems to go particularly well with baseball, from Philip Roth’s malfunctioning Ruppert Mundys of the Great American Novel to the entire career of W.P. Kinsella (who I’ll probably post more about as the season moves along). A good answer is suggested by George Plimpton in his own contribution to the genre, The Curious Case of Sidd Finch, about an aspiring Buddhist monk who can pitch 168 miles per hour (and does so over several games with the 1985 Mets):

Baseball is the perfect game for the mystic mind. Cricket is unsatisfactory because it has time strictures. The clock is involved. Play is called. The players stop for tea. No! No! No!… On the other hand, baseball is so open to infinity. No clocks. No one pressing the buttons on stopwatches. The foul lines stretch to infinity. In theory, the game of baseball can go on indefinitely.

On Finish’s first big league performance:

Sometimes in a stadium, if it is tense, and the place has a good crowd, enough people identify with the actual flight of the pitch ball — an exhalation of breath — so that the pitch is accompanied by a slight whoomph. With the first ball that Finch threw there was no time for any kind of reaction: we heard the slam of the ball driving the air out of the catcher’s mitt with a high pop! — audible, I suspect, in the parking lot beyond the center-field fence. This was followed by a high exclamation from Reynolds, a kind of squeak, as he stood up from his stance, reached into his glove, and began pulling the ball free.

satchel paige’s rules for how to stay young

In the Great American Novel, Philip Roth compares legendary Negro League pitcher Satchel Paige to Mark Twain’s slave Jim, from Huckleberry Finn. “Students of Literatoor, professors, and small boys who recall Jim’s comical lingo will not be fooled just because Satch has dispensed with the thick dialect he used for speaking in Mr. Twain’s book.”

Paige’s six-point list for “How To Stay Young” (first published in Collier’s in 1953 and reproduced by Roth) sounds like it’s straight out of Twain, though (I think) could be any one of Twain’s folk weirdoes, white or black. Or maybe I’m just a white liberal.

1. Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood.

2. If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.

3. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.

4. Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social ramble ain’t restful.

5. Avoid running at all times.

6. Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.

I think often about #4.

“take me out to the ballgame” – bob dylan

“Take Me Out to the Ballgame” (a capella) – Bob Dylan (download here)
from Theme Time Radio Hour, ep. 04: Baseball

(file expires April 12th)

I think baseball’s slowness, exactly what most people seem to hate about the game, is exactly what I love about it: being able to watch characters develop slowly, over (if we’re lucky) eight months, both in action and in repose, in micro (at bat by at bat) and macro (the story arc of an entire career), and having plenty of time between pitches to boggle about it all.

Of course, whenever I try to boil down why I love baseball and not other sports, it’s all sort of arbitrary — which isn’t to say unimportant, just more akin to a religion one is born into, and accepted as meaningful many moons ago. Except for the fact that baseball begins with the spring, and ends as the leaves die. Anyway, it’s April, and the Mets are 3-and-0, so here’s Bob Dylan singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” from the fourth episode of his Theme Time Radio Hour.

baseball & gentrification

On Friday, listening to the Mets/Marlins broadcast on WFAN. I heard (for me) one of the first positive uses the word “gentrification.” Though I imagine that’s most likely because I’m a sheltered Brooklyn liberal. One of the announcers was commenting on the positives of adding a retractable roof to Dolphin Stadium, where the Marlins play, and suggested that it would gentrify the surrounding area, thus revitalizing it. The neighborhood — a slum, maybe, I’m admittedly not sure — happens to be Little Havana, heavily populated by Cuban exiles, with all their attendant culture.

It’s nothing new for baseball. A few years back, Ry Cooder recorded Chavez Ravine, paying tribute to the Los Angeles neighborhood cleared in 1950s to make way for Dodger Stadium. And in another year or two, the horribly named CitiField will probably wipe away Willets Point, the primeval shantytown of chop shops and tire repair joints that abuts Shea Stadium. Strange that baseball should be so linked to the displacement of indigenous urban cultures. I suppose anything the magnitude of a ballpark is necessarily a municipal project, and therefore big business. It seems natural, in a horrible way.

But was it always like that? Fenway Park and other old stadiums were built to fit inside their respective city grids, and a lot of the stories I heard about Ebbets Field seem to indicate that it was integrated into Flatbush. In this day and age, is there any way for something as mammoth as a stadium to be assimilated organically into the surrounding area? Certainly, shitstorms brew in Brooklyn whenever new stadiums are mentioned. But was there ever a time when they didn’t?

grapefruit observations

At first, the lack of coverage of spring training pissed me off: even with cable (not that I have it) only a few games on television, even fewer on radio, and no Gameday play-by-play on I think I like it, though. The lack of constant information feels like a connection to the old ballgame, and that’s always welcome: getting information in spots from informed beatmen like Adam Rubin and Mike Delcos (in their modern guise as bloggers, of course), and occasionally updated linescores.
Much of spring training feels like that. With all the teams in the Grapefruit League a busride away, it is nothing but a regional baseballing association. (That is, it feels like the way all non-major league baseball still operates.) Plus, the very ritual of Florida to begin with: going some place where there’s warmer weather in the spring, instead of holing up climate-controlled bunker/complexes in their respective hometown.

Baseball respects the seasons, and not in some meatheaded “we’re gonna prove ourselves by playing the m’fucking snow” way, so much as the “I’m gonna figure out how to position ourselves by gently tossing this here clump of dirt into the air and seeing how the breeze is, but if it rains I’m going inside like a sensible human” kinda way.

As my life began to de-blah itself from the winter, I noticed it was the same day exhibition games began. I was reminded of this quote Russ comforted me with in the days after the Mets lost the NLCS, from the late, sage commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti:

It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, you rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then, just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.

In the spring — or, rather in these weeks before spring — hearts are whole and pure.

grapefruit league links

Grapefruit League games begin on Wednesday. (Do you like grapefruit?)

o For the first time in a decade, Major League Baseball has tweaked the rules. Some stuff, such as a new way of resolving tied games, might come into play. In most cases throughout the 14-page PDF — the umpire placing the rosin bag on the pitcher’s mound instead of carrying it with him, for example — the changes are almost literally insignificant. Often, they exist simply to make a rule “consistent with current practice at the professional level.” One uses the word “expectorate.” In places, the changes excise outmoded historical statutes. They also acknowledge that any place the official rules refer to “he,” it could also mean “she.” If it is accepted that nobody, especially not Abner Doubleday, was singularly responsible for codifying the rules of a folk game, then — owners and commerce aside — it remains, like most professional sports, morphed and unconsciously micromanaged by the collective will of the participants. Official changes are, most of the time, secondary.

o The New York Times runs a nice profile Mets’ bench coach Jerry Manuel. “I feel very strongly that the game has a certain flow to it,” Ben Shpigel quotes Manuel as saying. “You make adjustments as it goes on.” It also notes that Manuel reads Gandhi and Tolstoy, which makes him a nice match with anti-war socialist/Gabriel Garcia Marquez-reading first baseman Carlos Delgado. I like the description of Manuel finding a “secluded spot on the field” to listen to the players around him.

o From the opposite school as Manuel is J.C. Bradbury, whose Baseball Economist: The Real Game Exposed was recently published (and reviewed by the Wall Street Journal). While the book sounds mindblowingly analytical, no doubt, I guess I’m a little skeptical of the claim that statistics comprise an objective, “real” game of ball. Baseball seems much larger to me, statistics being one part of a collision that also involves the drama, tedium, life, and lives that unfold from an eight-month season that begins in late February and ends in late October. Yes, you can read a baseball game as entries into a grand database (as my friend Russ recently pointed out) and maybe there’s something pure about that, but I’m not sure if it’s any more real or important than, say, a random summer rain delay.

o Spring training might be slow on actual news, but it’s high on human interest stories, usually in the form of profiles of perpetual minor league journeymen like Colter Bean.

a thought, waiting for the subway

It is cold, and there is still no snow. But, a week from today, pitchers and catchers report to spring training. From there, it is easy to imagine new beginnings: some bit of life, however feint, in the bitter air.

“puzzlin’ evidence” – talking heads & 1986 nlcs, game 6

“Puzzlin’ Evidence” – Talking Heads (download here)
from True Stories (1986)
released by Sire (buy)

(file expires January 20th)

Watching 20-year old baseball games is way more fun that I’d suspected. In the case of Game 6 of the 1986 National League Championship Series, a 16-inning epic between the Mets and the Houston Astros, the overarching drama yielded dozens of miniature entertainments. Framed by the hyperreal green of the Astrodome’s Astroturf and its roof’s impressionist light slats, there was the simple pleasure of watching the 1986 Mets operate. There were small moments: Keith Hernandez making a routinely amazing grab deep in the hole, and flipping effortlessly to Roger McDowell, covering first. And there were the crowd shots, flickering portraits of the same characters that populated David Byrne’s True Stories, shot and set in Texas that same year.

The first picture, perhaps, is titled: the Starting Pitcher’s Wife in the Top of the 9th. In this case, the starting pitcher was Bob Knepper, working on a two-hit shut-out against the Mets who — moments after this shot — pinch-hit with Len Dykstra, who would triple to deep center, thus beginning a three-run rally that would result (seven innings later) in the Mets’ clinching of the pennant. But she didn’t know that.

season ticket

Missing baseball, I recently spent some time with Roger Angell’s Season Ticket, which contains some of the best writing I’ve ever read about the pleasures of being a fan. That Angell’s fandom happens to be of baseball often feels incidental. Here is a rain-delayed in game in Toronto:

Then it rained — downward and side-blown sheets and skeins of water that streamed down the glass fronting of the press box, puddled and then pounded on the lumpy, too green AstroTurf playing field before us, and emptied the roofless grandstand around the diamond. Glum descendant clouds swept in, accompanied by a panoply of Lake Ontario ring-billed gulls (a celebrated and accursed local phenomenon), who took up late-comer places upon the long rows of backless aluminum benches in center right field and then settled themselves thickly across the outfield swamplands as well, where they all stood facing to windward, ready for a fly ball, or perhaps for a visiting impressionist French film director (“Quai des Jays,” “Toronto Mon Amour”) to start shooting.

(It also happens to be available for $1.00 from, or one cent from Amazon.)

think big!

By morning, I will happily off-grid for a week, back in action on 12/28 or so. In the meantime…

Rescued from the cabinet of VHSs at my father’s house on Long Island (and digitized by my buddy, LB), it’s Think Big, the 1987 inspirational video starring the New York Mets’ Gary Carter, Mookie Wilson, and Roger McDowell!

See them mime (on the field at Shea!) to hilariously synthed out rock tunes written just for them! Hear Gary Carter attempt a Pee-Wee Herman imitation! Dig the late ’80s conception of proto-internet video baseball! Get inspired!

I remember asking my parents to get Think Big for me. I don’t think I ever bought into to it, though. Even when I was nine, it was unbearably corny. But it was neat to see Mets players clowning around like they were the Beatles or something. Really, the coolest part was the video baseball. 100% awesome!

It’s in three parts:

aqua seafoam shame (nlcs, no. 7)

The Mets will change in the off-season, as teams do. Some are now free agents, others — perhaps — trade bait. The lineup will morph, and they’ll start again in Florida, in the agreeable weather and miles of green.

On the way home from Shea, I pulled my comfort ripcord and listened to In Utero quite loudly while reading the new 33 1/3 book about the same. Escaping back into the music that I loved in ninth grade when I turned away from sports to begin with, the phrase that kept rolling around in my mind was “aqua seafoam shame,” which is what I thought Kurt Cobain was singing somewhere in “All Apologies” (and still kinda do; the actual lyric is rather mundane).

I’m not sure why it’s appropriate, really, or even if it’s how I’m actually feeling right now, but it’ll do. Next season in Jerusalem, as I believe the saying goes.

phew (nlcs, no. 6)

Of all the major professional sports, baseball is easily the one with the most physical inactivity. That is, with the exception of the pitcher and catcher, most of the players are still far more than they are in motion. In that, it is also the professional sport best suited for lingering close-ups on players’ eyes. Resultantly, though perhaps I am saying this as one who never developed a taste for any other sport, it also seems the game with the greatest potential for articulated drama. It is not a coincidence, I don’t think, that the majors are known as The Show.

In terms of creating a genuine, truthful response from as large an audience as possible, mannered dialogue brimming with double-entendres and clever plot devices is always going to be working at a handicap compared to the evenly distributed nine innings of a playoff game. Storylines are ending, developing, and beginning, though not even the characters know which ones. Only the unwritten ending can contextualize the true meaning of the two-out rallies that begin on botched catches (as the Mets pulled in the 7th tonight), or advances that are temporarily halted (like a massive Carlos Beltran throw to the plate that prevented Juan Encarnacion from tagging) (though So Taguchi drove him in, quite futilely, on the next at-bat, anyway). Nobody knows the meaning, especially not going into game 7, but we’ve all got our suspicions.

an attempt to remain philosophical in the wake of the mets’ 4-2 loss to the cardinals (nlcs, no. 5)

For fans, October is an exciting time of year, for the majority of ballplayers — which is to say, all those who didn’t make the playoffs — it must be disconcerting. The sportswire is filled with the dispensing of managers, the scouting of coaches to fill their positions. For players — nomads, mostly, during the summer months — it is about moving. No matter what the Mets’ fate might be over the next few days, and no matter how he pitches tomorrow night, John Maine will soon be vacating the room in the Ramada Inn off the Grand Central Parkway where he’s been living, headed for that black hole known as the off-season.

Watching these games, sometimes, all the fancy fonts and and modern uniforms and tailored facial hair fall from view, and the face in the batter’s box could be peering from a daguerreotype in a Ken Burns documentary or a sun-bleached ’70s Topps card, all gauzy technicolor. The face becomes, for a moment, somehow classic. Tonight, that face belonged to the Cardinals’ runt of a leadoff hitter, David Eckstein, who nabbed a few near-hits during the Mets’ first at bat, and later took a pitch hard on his fingertips. He seemed like a ghost already, someone I’ll forget after the post-season. In my memory, his features will join my blurry gallery of ballplayers, an index like a massive WPA mural.

the narrator speaks (nlcs, no. 2, 3 & 4)

Not long after that season ended, I got a copy of the Mets’ highlight video, 1986: A Year to Remember, at a literal fire sale over on Jericho Turnpike: the place had burned, and the tape smelled like badly crisped bacon for a few years. As a nine year old, I watched it religiously, learning consciously for the first time about drama. There was an ominous narrator, atmospheric music, non-linear editing techniques, excited radio announcers, and some killer montages (one featuring “Karn Evil 9” by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, though I wouldn’t learn that for another decade). I saw how music could build tension and how authoritative foreshadowing could build it even further. I learned about fate, or at least its implications.

For me, it is right impossible to watch this post-season unfold and not hear A Year to Remember‘s narrator framing it. I want him to. I want him to say things like “in game 5, they put the ball in the capable hands of Tom Glavine,” as he described a winning Bob Ojeda appearance against the Red Sox. I want to see surprisingly tasteful bits of nostalgia — say, Reyes sliding in slow motion into second, coming up grinning — like the condensed version of the Series set to Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Remember You” (which, like the ELP cut, I didn’t realize was Dylan until much later).

Of course, the video’s weight comes entirely because the Mets made it, and won the World Series. Watching the Mets go down two games over the weekend, Saturday night in a singularly spectacular meltdown by seemingly everybody, the fate of the team was thrown into question for the first time since the post-season began. If the Mets lose now, and they might, does that invalidate everything that has happened already? Does the entire theoretical highlights video crumble? As the games progress, I hear him crunching them into soundbytes. I just wish I could feed him lines.

return to the upper deck (nlcs, no. 1)

Keeping score is a Braille record of the game, feeling the innings and statistics stretch, one by one. It is something to hold onto, something deeper than the drunken mayhem of the far reaches of the upper deck. Out there — even deeper than last time, now behind the stadium’s speakers — Ivan Neville’s rendition of the national anthem is almost literally avant-garde. Whole notes form ill-fitting harmonies with those on either of side of them in the melody.

Even the echo of the bat is gone, as is the announcer. The scoreboard is an unreadable sliver. In the eighth, we figure out that Manny Mota is pitching because the name on the back of the jersey is short and the number is somewhere in the 50s. On my lap, the scorecard is a languid other-world, far from the chants (“En-dy C,” “En-dy Cha-vez” and just “En-dy” all compete after a Ron Swaboda-like miracle catch) and the chill (which will surely be worse at future games).

The innings occasionally widen, only once filled with the black wedges that represent runs (Carlos Beltran’s two-run shot in the sixth), and sometimes aberrations (Beltran’s 8-3 double-play from centerfield to first base) (booya!), but mostly they roll by like a river and keep pulse: the heartbeat of a season extended nine more innings.

all your baseball are belong to us (nlds, no. 3)

Watching the Mets celebrate after their three-game sweep of the Dodgers on Saturday night, I again had the thought that I probably wouldn’t enjoy actually hanging out with any of them at a bar. They’re jocks after all, probably the same breed that did their best to make my life miserable in high school. What could we possibly have to talk about? But I still like them. It makes me happy to see Jose Reyes in the dugout, smiling and bobbing his head around. All of my assumptions about Reyes, though, come from trying to read into his minute variations on a very strict set of behaviors as a fielder, batter, and runner. Everything I think is probably grossly inaccurate, but that’s kind of the fun of it.

In watching baseball, I pay attention to people that I often cannot relate to in any way: physically, emotionally, financially, culturally. That’s kind of weird to me, I think. In theory, what we have in common is an interest in the sport, but I’m not sure how far that would go conversationally. Seeing the Taiwanese starter Hong-Chih Kuo — only one big league victory to his record — pitch against the Mets in game two, the dudes calling the game mentioned that if Kuo doesn’t succeed in the majors, he’ll be sent back to Taiwan, where he’ll be forced to enlist in the army. Clearly, baseball means something entirely different to Kuo than it does to me. In that sense, it’s a pretty abstract tongue, and one impossible to literally verbalize. It is irreducible, the language itself. It is spoken elegantly this time of year.

glavine works the third (nlds, no. 2)

the upper deck (nlds, no. 1)

The drama of the upper deck is all misinformation. High above the foul poles, the sounds ricochet, like Branford Marsalis’s instrumental “Star Spangled Banner.” It echoes from the PA towers, all neutered soprano sax. “You suck!” someone shouts, but most people just stand, shifting their feet. Elsewhere, noises delay and cross, owing to the sheer size of the arena, like the polyphonic “Let’s go Mets!” chants that thunder at different tempos and from different starting points and collide like a Charles Ives orchestration. The chants, especially, are amazing: spur of the moment decisions by the collective, crunching names into a small library of flexible syllable patterns (“Car-los Bel-tran!” “M.V.P.!”). Sometimes, no consensus is reached, and the chants whither away like smoke (but not before more chaos).

Mostly, the game is far away and it is hard to see the ball. The mezzanine swallows the deep corner of right field itself. The crack of the bat is unreal, one sound in many. When the ball is hit in the air, it is like being thrust into an optical illusion, nearly impossible to tell if its movement is hard or soft, high up or just over the infielders’ heads, or even fair or foul. Adjusted to the dimensions, the ball still lands in totally unpredictable places, like David Wright’s bloop double into right in the seventh. A run scores, and the chanting starts all over again.

the world series

Pretty much the standard complaint against the World Series runs something like this: “It’s not really the World Series, is it? They’re just American teams, man.” Well, maybe, but the players are far from all American. Though I’m reasonably sure most major league franchises are as equally diverse, there still seems something particularly New Yawk about the Mets’ international patchwork.

They’ve got corn-fed submariners named Chad from Jackson, Mississippi and power-hitting scumbags named Paul, from Brooklyn. But they’ve also got players from the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Venezuela. And until the General Manager (also Dominican) traded him for sucking, even a dude from Japan named Kaz who bugged his eyes out at unpredictable moments. (And though he doesn’t technically count as part of the international contingent, I was also quite pleased when they acquired a good Jewish boy named Shawn in the post-All Star Break force-marshalling.)

Baseball is a game of statistics. They exist so one might reasonably compare one player to any other, to find out which one is the Best. The Major League happens to be the league of record. Should the proper business interests establish a franchise in, say, the Dominican Republic, it would likely just become the same melting pot as any other organization. If one’s got an interest in baseball, the United States is where he goes. It’s not globalization, y’understand, it’s baseball. What the hell do you expect? So, the World Series it is.
All of which is to say: LET’S GO METS.

switching it over to AM, searching for a truer sound

Listening to the Mets on the radio is a crystalline connection to the old, weird New York, and not simply because it was something I did when I was a kid. It is filled with advertisements for steak houses (“just over the left field fence in Astoria!”) and camera stores (B & H, closed for Shabbos, though the voiceover dude is obviously goyim, and just says “Friday evenings and Saturdays”), of annoying pitchmen and annoying pitches. The Mets’ announcers still shill for sponsors, and often interrupt themselves mid-commentary to do so. It is a world where hipsters don’t exist, and Dwight Eisenhower might as well still be President, or even Calvin Coolidge. Ballgames — and, I assume, other sporting events — are one of the few things that traditional radio still does extraordinarily well. Web 2.0? Whatever. I’ll take pure AM gold from Shea.

johnny bench

One more baseball posting to close out the week…
Two excerpts from Catch You Later: The Autobiography of Johnny Bench by Johnny Bench and William Brasher. (see also: Johnny Bench by, uh, me.)


1972 World Series, versus the A’s.

I, meanwhile, had to prepare for a World Series not against Baltimore and Mr. Brooks Robinson, but against Charlie Finley’s Oakland A’s: mustaches, mules, and all.

We were the bad guys. It was 1972, the streets belonged to the people, flower children were alive and well, and the Cincinnati Reds were the Establishment being shoved up against the wall by the A’s from Berkeley.

We wore white suits at home, gray on the road, with low-cut socks and black polished spikes. They wore gold, green, and white uniforms in every combination, shiny high-cut silks, and white spikes.

We were clean-shaven with trimmed, short hair (Pete still wore a flat top) and no sideburns. They were longhairs, with sideburns and mustaches — thanks to Charlie Finley’s contest to see who could grow the most stylish upper lip — and the results were muttonchops, handlebars, and Fu Manchus.

…Before the series began in Cincinnati, I got together with Reggie Jackson and went out for something to eat. … Later I drove him back to the hotel, Reggie was on crutches, and when we went up past a few players’ rooms, I smelled the sweet, unmistakable odor of marijuana. A couple of the Oakland A’s, the American League representatives in the World Series, were smoking dope. That really shook me. I thought, “How in the world can they be doing this?” (pp. 109-111)


1973 National League Championship Series, versus the Mets

“Grab a bat!” I yell. “Everybody grab a bat! Make sure Pete gets off the field.”

Sparky takes it up, mobilizing the whole team into a civil defense corps. We’ll go out there swinging to get him if we have to. Our hitter slaps a grounder, Pete runs a few steps toward second, then dashes for our dugout.

“Here they come!” someone shouts, and the fans are pouring over the walls and onto the field. Pete bulls his way, knocks a few kids on their cans, and makes it into the dugout. By now the people are on the dugout roof and coming over the top. I stand there with the fat part of a bat in my hand. I swing at a kid who comes at me and rap him in the shins. I can hear the thwock against the bone. He yelps and drops back and others back off. (p. 144)

“meet the mets” – yo la tengo

“Meet the Mets” – Yo La Tengo (download here)
from Yo La Tengo Is Murdering the Classics (2006)
released by Egon

(file expires on May 31st.)

Every one of the 30 tossed-off covers on the terrible-by-any-objective-standard Yo La Tengo Is Murdering the Classics will be endearing to somebody; the only question is which one. It’s kind of a neat effect, and it makes the band seem that much more personal. For me, it’s “Meet the Mets,” the closest the team (from whose lore YLT drew their name) ever came to a theme jingle. Though it was recently replaced — officially, anyway — by the metallic shit-pop production “Our Team, Our Time,” “Meet the Mets” still gets an early inning airing and sing-along. Young Manhattanite recently posted a delightful mp3 history of the Mets’ various songs over the years.

(Visible under the 7-train tracks is the Casey Stengel bus depot.)

(“Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” 7th inning stretch.)

willets point, 5/06

Walking from home plate at Shea Stadium, across second base, through the outfield, over the fence and to the other side of the parking lot, one arrives in Willets Point, a sprawling near-shantytown of car repair places. Before tonight’s five-hour, 16-inning blowout victory against the Phillies, Tony and I wandered through Willets Point at Magic Hour. The roads were unpaved and riddled with puddles. There were chop shops, pre-fab warehouses, body specialists, and lots filled with tires. Tony said it felt like being suddenly transported to a third world nation. He wasn’t wrong. It was pure urban anarchy.

When the Mets’ new stadium goes up in a few years, it’s a sure bet that somebody will have some whizbang revitalization plans that will involve the removal of the unsightly car repair places (the cheapest in the boroughs, supposedly) currently clogging up valuable waterfront real estate. For now, though, the scrap metal glows in the Queens County sunset.

You can see Shea’s upper deck in the distance…

asian night

Before the game, the announcer announced that it was Asian Night. As such, there would be a performance of “traditional Korean music and dance.” Nothing more specific, just “traditional.” From the visiting dugout paraded a troupe of dancers and hand percussionists. A man played long, piercing drones on a horn. Processed through the tinny scoreboard P.A., the horn cut through the stadium din with stunning clarity.

When the dancers were done, men began banging on a massive drum set up by the Mets’ dugout. Again, no explanation, just booms. At first, they didn’t come through the speakers, and we could only hear the drums, muffled and indistinct, like distant fireworks. When they were piped through the P.A., there was an unbelievable echo, almost literally the dimensions that Jamaica’s early dub astronauts were trying to create. And again, the crowd — or those paying attention, anyway — were totally boggled. The speakers were cut off quickly.

If I was a kid there, I think I’d have to be totally intrigued, especially by the mysterious, ricocheting horn. It would’ve been like discovering music through the crackle of library-loaned vinyl, or from the erratic signal of the college radio station a few towns over. There was no scholarship to the presentation, and it was awesome (if maybe accidentally so, at least for that). “Let’s have a big Shea Stadium hand,” the announcer announced. Some people clapped politely, and the buoyant pre-recorded organ played again. .

gameday’s Gameday interface is a pretty ginchy way to follow a ballgame without the TV or radio interrupting work. The window automatically updates with a striking amount of information about the game as it happens (albeit with a 10-or-so second delay), all of which can be perceived in quick glances. Once one picks up the rhythm of the page reloads and toggling between other projects, the pace creates its own drama, and unfolds as such. Key transmissions, such as when runs score, come in bold. Today, I resisted the urge to turn on the radio as the Mets blew a lead in the bottom of the ninth, and beat the Giants in extra innings. It felt even more old-fashioned than radio, like reconstructing a game via telegraph.

eight o’clock, the lights are on at shea…, 4/06