Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Live from New York

This post was spawned from notes taken on my incredibly nerdy legal pad, while I sat in the 500 level of CitiField, directly behind (and above) home plate.

In my opinion, it does not appear that CitiField has very much foul territory. When average fans think about what is a hitter's park and what is a pitcher's park, too often they only consider the outfield dimensions and wall heights. Over the course of an entire season, there are a lot of outs to be had that fall in the first few rows of ballparks where they try to get fans closer to the action. I'm sure there is a website somewhere that measures the dimensions of every ballpark to see if my perception is correct, but my Internet connection at the Bean & Bean isn't the greatest.

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The Mets' lineup is dreadful. It's even worse after trading for one of the worst everyday players in baseball, I went to the game last Thursday, July 9, 1 day B.F. (Before Francoeur).
More on this later.

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Nick Evans is horrible in left field.
More on this in a second.

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Casey Blake could be the player who inspires the most apathy of anyone in Major League Baseball. At least in this contest, he was batting 4th, directly behind the game's biggest circus act: Manny Ramirez. For every at bat, in every stadium, Man Ram gets a loud collection of applause, cheers, boos, whistles, and heckles. The crowd gets so worked up for Manny's at bats that when Casey Blake approaches the batters box, you hear silence. I think even the beer guys & hot dog vendors get quite from the almost tangible let down. Casey Blake is an okay player; he's batting cleanup for the best team in the National League. He just does not foster any sort of reaction after the spectacle that is Mannywood.

Manny's presence was certainly felt in Queens. The scoreboard showed his Batting Average this season with runners in scoring position is over .500. He walked up to the plate four times, knocked in runs the first two times, and was walked the next two times. Every time, people were sitting on the edge of their seats. The times he did hit the ball, it was evident that he hit it squarely. I haven't seen Miguel Cabrera hit in person in some time, but after this performance, I would probably rate baseball's best hitters as: (1) Pujols (2) Manny (3) Miggy Cab.

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In the Top of the 1st inning, Livan Hernandez struck out Russell Martin on some JUNK. The third strike could not have been over 70 mph.

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Nick Evans is really, really not good in the outfield. He looks lost out there and has made obvious mistakes, with late breaks on hit balls, and poor routes to fly balls in his area. He misplayed Orlando Hudsun's double in the first inning, though it did lead to a crazy third out of the inning, when Hudson got caught in a rundown, trying to make it a triple. I (again very nerdily) scored it in my scorecard as 7-6-2-5-4, but I have not confirmed that anywhere.

It's a small sample size, as you can tell by "just" six RBI, but the scoreboard gave us a glimpse as to why Evans is allowed to butcher left field. With RISP this season, Evans is/was hitting .417 with 1 HR and 6 RBI.

Personally, I was bummed that Evans was in left field, while Gary Sheffield was in right. I was planning this big blog research project if Sheffield and Manny were to share the same defensive position in the game. I guess I can still do it, since they both played left field the night before, on June 8th. I want to see if this is the most career home runs that one defensive position has ever shared in the same game. Since Sheffield has 509, and Manny hit his 535th in the game, that would be 1,044 HR's shared by one position. I invite any reader to beat me to it and supply the answer in our comments section. Is this the most career homeruns ever shared by one position?

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Here are some remarkable Career vs Opponent stats, courtesy of the CitiField scoreboard.

Gary Sheffield, career vs LA Dodgers: .360 Avg, .640 SLG
Ryan Church, career vs LA Dodgers: .341 Avg, .419 OBP*

*the scoreboard failed to mention
his 1 missed base costing his team a win back in May.

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As The Dude would say, with hindsight being 20/20 and all that, it could appear that Ryan Church's last at bat as a Met was the last straw for Omar Minaya. He grounded into a 4-6-3 double play in the 8th inning of a painfully one-sided game.

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Watching Livan Hernandez do what he does is still a spectacle. Livan has a legendarily rubber arm that can take abuse and throw pitches and innings start after start, year after year. What I love about him, besides the backstory of how he got away from the Cuban National team, is that he doesn't look like someone who takes great care of his body or even uses his legs very effectively while pitching. My scouting eye is not as keen as it has been in the past, but while he was warming up for the 4th inning, he looked almost comical as he stretched out with six or seven arm windmills before chucking warmup 79 mph tosses, using what looked like "all arm".

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By the Top of the 4th, it was clear that the Mets outfield defense is embarrassing when they have Sheffield and Nick Evans playing at the same time. In this inning, Sheffield badly misplayed a ball from Rafael Furcal.

I'm quickly losing any confidence in the Mets' postseason chances. Unless they win about fifteen of their next twenty, or play over .600 baseball the rest of the way, they will probably miss the playoffs. One New York columnist, this week, noted that the Mets need to play .640 ball the rest of the way to reach 90 wins. That seams very unlikely, but there is some hope that 87 wins may win the wild card. Regardless, I need to see the Mets get out of the gate quickly after the break, or their season will be over.

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Walking through the concourse around the 6th inning, I could hear Keith Hernandez on the tv broadcast. He said something to the effect of: "
You can't walk too many guys, especially in this ballpark."

I like Keith Hernandez. He was great in the '86 season and playoffs. He won gold gloves and hitting titles. And, he was quite charming while macking on Elaine in
Seinfeld.

That being said, I think he missed the point here. Citi Field is a pitcher's park. Granted, you don't want to walk too many guys anywhere. But, the point should be made that you especially don't want to walk guys in hitter's parks, where there is a greater HR/AB ratio.

I realize it's a harmless comment, but I had to bring it up because it was the exact opposite of correct.

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General thoughts on the ballpark include the fact that the ballpark is pretty nice. Of course, it is an incomparable improvement over the landfill that was Shea Stadium. What I didn't really understand is why the Mets wouldn't decide to move further away from the airport. It seemed like there were multiple planes making their presence felt in every half inning.

I always love the way new ballparks allow you to stay close to the action with the open concourse. Older monuments, like Wrigley and Fenway, have their concourses underneath the stands. The way Citi Field's concourse is open reminded me a lot of New Comiskey and Turner Field. The stadium is much nicer than New Comiskey, at least.

There are a few places to stand in the sunshine and not really watch the game, but it's nice to be able to stand in the sun during batting practice, or when the game is not interesting.

I was mortified at the sight of people playing baseball video games at the 2K Sports stand behind the scoreboard, during the game. Sure, this is me being a young curmudgeon, but I'm telling you, no kid of mine is ever going to play a video game, while there's live action on the field. If he or she does, I will have to seriously reconsider everything.

I started leaving the game, but took another stroll around the stands, in the eighth inning, after Jerry Manuel called on the unwatchable Tim Redding. I thought this guy was in the rotation. He pitched 2 innings, allowing 2 runs on 6 hits and a walk.

Lastly, the Shake Shack and Blue Smoke BBQ looked really good, but there's no way I'm waiting in those lines. They had partitioned ropes up for the lines, like at airport security. Hundreds of people snaked around these ropes in line for each establishment. In fact, about ten minutes before the first pitch, the lines were completely full and at the opening of the ropes to get in line were globs of people forcing their way in line, like refugees from a war.

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In conclusion, it is more than possible that I've been spoiled by having the friendly confines of Wrigley Field as my home ballpark, and I should be more excited about what the Mets have been able to build.

Overall though, I think ballparks are heading in the wrong direction. New Comiskey started the "Ball Mall" phenomenon with activities for kids to do, besides watch baseball. A year later, Camden Yards showed everyone how great it is to make stadiums revert back to old time architecture and quirks. Then, parks like the Ballpark at Arlington and Jacobs Field followed suit with beautiful retro stadiums.

Lately however, teams are electing fore more bells and whistles, bigger Jumbotrons in the outfield, restaurants, museums, playgrounds, video game kiosks, and everything else that makes me cringe - and produces those magic words: "added revenue stream". Give me a ballpark with sunshine, green grass, peanuts, and an organ supplying the audio entertainment, and I'll be more than happy.

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