Monday, April 25, 2005

Mike Jacobs

I was all set to dislike Mike Jacobs when I saw his name on the B-Mets roster once again.

He was here before, pushing out the catcher I was rooting for that season, so I didn't cotton to him. And I overheard him make some arrogant remarks that struck me the wrong way.

Now he's back, starting again, as a first baseman, which means I'm in close proximity to him, and I wasn't going to be happy about it.

In the first place, I don't have much respect for first basemen. Everyone knows this is where poor fielders are hidden, at first or in right field, and many of them look like doorstops, barely moving when a ball comes near them, hit or thrown.


Mike Jacobs used to be a catcher, and I have more respect for catchers than I do for any other postion, maybe more than for all other positions rolled together. And Mike Jacobs is still, in some ways, a catcher.

When a hitter tries to check his bat, Mike Jacobs is calling for the first base umpire to confirm the swing, yelling "Check!" as loud as, and more quickly, than the man squatting behind the plate.

He has movement around first that most doorstops, er, first basmen don't. Or at least that they don't display. A quality defensive first baseman is a delight to watch, a luxury one rarely gets to indulge in.

He also takes time to meet and greet the fans at the fence railing before the game with a friendliness not apparent the last time he was here.

Then there was the afternoon he helped that day's young fan in the pre-game "Mascot Race". The 4-year-old seemed shy, tucked in to himself, head down, slowly walking toward first base while the mascot ran toward third in reverse direction (ideally they cross paths at second). Chatting with fans near the dugout, Mike Jacobs watched the youngster's difficulty for just a moment before moving away from the fans, toward the first base line, calling the boy's name, waving him toward first base. The little boy trudged along, peeking from under his cap's bill. Mike moved closer, crouched down behind first base as if it were the plate and continued to encourage the boy. When he finally got close enough, Mike reached out to touch his arm, then put his arms about him, picked him up, chatting away, a smile on Mike's face all the while. Winning some sort of answer from the boy, Mike carried him into the home team dugout where they sat for several minutes.

Mike Jacobs understands what baseball is really about.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Break Up the Sea Dogs!

The Portland Sea Dogs (Boston's AA team) got off to a fantastic start, going 10-0.

While I am a Red Sox fan, and while I was rooting for the Sea Dogs to extend their string, I am happy to report that it was the B-Mets who finally stopped them in a 3-1 game.

One of those 3 was another Chase Lambin homer. That's three in three games for him.

Monday, April 18, 2005

The Boys are Back in Town

This year's B-Mets roster has several familiar faces.

Brian Bannister, Ken Chenard, and Tim Lavigne all pitched for the B-Mets last year with varying success. Ken's little boy likes to warm up with the team, and some of the guys look like they're having a great time with him, especially Chase Lambin.

Joe Hietpas and Zac Clements both caught for the B-Mets last year. Joe is respected as a receiver, but he looks lost at the plate. Surprisingly, in one game over the weekend, he singled, then stole second. We think the opposition was totally stunned that he would even attempt it.

Mike Jacobs, David Bacani, Aarom Baldiris, and Chase Lambin are back in the infield. At one time, Jacobs was the heir apparent to Mike Piazza, but he is back in Binghamton to learn to play first base following a season lost to injury. Bacani is a crowd favorite, a sparkplug, but we are surprised he is not at AAA. Chase is listed on the roster as the utility player. He played a flawless third base his first game, but the next game he was back in his usual spot, at second, and uncharacteristically committed an error, tossing an routine doubleplay ball over Bacani's head into left field (Bacani is listed as 5'8", a generous stat, so he is a low target). The next doubleplay ball Chase displayed a little uncertainty by running to tag second himself before throwing to first.

Jeff Duncan, Wayne Lydon, Bobby Malek, and Prentice Redman are the returnees in the outfield. Jeff and Prentice have played with the NY Mets; we were all surprised to see them back at this level. Theirs is one of those cases in which you love the chance to watch him play, but you wish he, for his sake, was playing elsewhere. Wayne, if he sticks for the season, might make another go at the stolen base record; a late-season groin injury stopped him 2 bases shy of it. Malek came up to Binghamton late last season, right when they were dismantling the excellent team anchored by David Wright and Angel Pagan.

We were somewhat spoiled in 2004 by the team that played in Binghamton, until the majority were called up either to Norfolk or New York, but what this year's team has already shown us foretells an entertaining season.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Opening Day, Take 3

The budget is smaller, the town in smaller, but Binghamton (AA) treats Opening Day as the Special Occasion it is.

There was bunting around the park, and a beautiful, respectful rendition of the National Anthem. The ceremonial first pitch was thrown out by the club's director of stadium operations who had just returned from more than a year's tour of duty in Iraq as an MP. (He threw out the pitch in his desert camo uniform, but later in the game he was inside the giant plastic mouse ball, rolling across right field in a computer-related promo activity.)

The former GM, now special advisor to the president (in other words, the man in charge of fun), started things off, wishing the crowd "Happy Opening Day," and inviting us to turn to the person next to us and wish that person the same, "Like we're passing the peace in church" the person beside me noted.

Some of last year's players are back, as are most of the front office people, the ushers, and the vendors, not to mention the usuals in the stands. Some of the old promotions are back, like the musical toilets game and the pasta pitch, familiar sound effects, but new theme music for older players, and the railyard and skyline beyond the outfield fence are the same.

It's good to be home.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Props for Mr. French Again

Anton French was named K-Man of the day Sunday (Syracuse @ Rochester) and he responded in style bu hitting a home run in his first at bat. He came through for the crowd later, though, by striking out and earning all game-ticket holders a free taco at Taco Bell.

With the Skychiefs ahead 4-1, John-Ford Griffin turned playing leftfield into an adventure. He was well short of making three catches, letting three Red Wings runs in, tying the score. John-Ford redeemed himself a couple innings later with a grand slam.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Opening Day, Take 2

This is how Opening Day should be.

Sunshine (okay, the Simones have no control over the weather, but still...), a sellout crowd (5th largest in stadium history), bunting wrapping the park, a brass band, a choral group to sing the national anthem, fireworks and a balloon launch during the anthem, a recently wounded war vet throwing out the first pitch (not a bunch of politicians), marines in their dress uniforms looking like walking bunting scattered throughout the crowd.

Rochester does Opening Day the right way. And the fans respond to it.

I made the mistake of not purchasing my ticket beforehand and got SRO which mean sitting on one of the berms (too tough with my arthritic knees) or in the bleachers (see knees). I did find a seat way up top in the right field grandstand and quickly discovered why those seats were empty during a sellout. Under the roof, in the shade, it was cold and windy.

Not just the front office did Rochester proud. The team came through, too, winning 2 to 1.

Game Log CatcherKen Huckaby is a human Mack truck; we all remember him dislocating Derek Jeter's shoulder last Opening Day with his aggressive defense of third base. During the first game in Rochester, going after an infield pop-up he literally bowled over third baseman Jason Alfaro. Ken came running from behind the plate, Jason from third, Ken held his mitt up, ran over Jason who tumbled like an acrobat.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Game Log: Props to Anton French

In his first at bat of the 2005 season, Anton French OF scorched a triple down the right field line in a game the Sky(gak)Chiefs ultimately lost 9-7 after a ninth-inning 40-minute rain delay.

In the home team's first at bat of Game 2 of the season, Anton beat out a bunt for a single and came in with the game's first run in the first inning. The Red Wings took the lead in the fifth 3-2, tacked on an insurance run when Garrett Jones responded to derisive chants of "Gaaarrr-ettte, Gaaarrr-ettte!" from the Syracuse fans by hitting a solo shot over the right field fence. It looked like things were settled, the Sky(gak)Chiefs would lose the first two games of the season, disappointing their fans (sadly, not an uncommon event), but the bottom of the order and the top put together a couple hits and tied it up.

It stayed tied despite both teams getting men on base in nearly every inning that followed. The ballpark had been at best at 10% capacity and fans dribbled out as the dinner hour approached and the innings piled up. As the 12th came to an unresolved end, my uncle and I agreed we would stay for just one more before he needed to return home (he was on call that evening in the senior housing where he lives). The Sky(gak)Chiefs again got men on in the bottom of the 13th and it looked like they were likely to be lame ducks just like all those preceding them. But with two out and two on, and a strike, maybe two on him, Anton French powered a shot over the right field fence, same place Gaarrr-ettte had parked his. The shamefully small number of fans still on hand were mighty pleased not only to have their team split the opening series, but do it in such exciting fashion.
Reasons to Love Minor League Baseball: In the minors, the parks are small, the seats are close, you can hear not only the umps clearly, but the players as well, and all those marvelous sounds of the game, wood and leather and pounding feet. You also, when the "crowds" are small can hear the fans. Red Wings catcher Rob Bowen was at the plate and from behind their dugout a Red Wings fan in from Rochester (whose voice I recognize even though we're both out-of-towners because he's vocal when he follows his team here) encouraged him, "Come on, Rob, get a hit," and from the opposite side of the park, as Syracuse fan called out, "Rob, never mind. Don't do that." Red Wings fan, "Just a little hit, Rob, just a little hit now," and Sky(gak)Chiefs fan, "No, Rob, strike out."

Notes: Aaron Hill seemed to be having some trouble with the artificial turf, bobbling a couple balls, making a couple errors, but from what I've seen of him, the learning curve probably won't be steep. My uncle is concerned that Aaron is too good and will not last the season, or even the major part of it, in Syracuse. Russ Adams, who was called up from Syracuse late last season, is playing shortstop in Toronto, so I think Aaron will be given as much time as he needs.

Jason Tyner no longer resembles a toothpick. His uniform has always looked like it is dangling on a wire hanger out in centerfield. The man finally has some meat on his bones, and he finally looks like a man, no longer a boy, (he will be 28 in a couple weeks) evident not just in the filled-out frame, but in the changed angles of his face. My uncle thinks Jason Tyner has one of the strangest stances at the plate he's ever seen. Funny thing is, he takes the same stance at the ready in center; he looks like a croquet wicket.

Opening Day, Take 1

"Programs! Get your programs here! You're Next!"

Hearing Durkin, perched at the top of the entry stairs, smack dab in the middle of the concourse, calling out the greeting is THE sign that Spring and the Season have truly arrived. I've heard Durkin singing out that phrase for nearly 30 years, and it's always a welcome sound.

Living in the middle of Central New York, I have the possibility of attending as many as 6 different Opening Days as day trips, 7 if you want to stretch it to Buffalo. Schedule permitting, (the teams' not mine) usually I make it to two, Syracuse and Binghamton. Last year they were the same day with one ending as the other was getting underway so I made it only to the B-Mets (they are, after all My Guys), but this year the home openers are a week apart.

It rained. Starting in the third inning, pouring during the eighth, and when they pulled the tarps at the top of the ninth, the score Rochester 9-Syracuse 6, I decided I was soaked enough and headed home.

Despite the weather, it was a great Opening Day. Not only did I get to see this year's Player to Watch (a potential My Guy), shortstop Aaron Hill, I discovered my first favorite B-Met is playing for Rochester! Being a bit ditzy, I forgot the dugouts are reversed in Syracuse, home team on the left, and was watching for Number 5, Aaron Hill to come out, noting that Number 11 had looked familiar though I didn't recognize the name on the roster. When Number 5 emerged from the first base dugout the player definitely wasn't Hill. The person I was talking with pointed out they were wearing away uniforms. Number 11 for Rochester is centerfielder Jason Tyner. Made my whole day right then.

Syracuse got off to a great start, putting down the Red Wings 1-2-3 in the top of the first and the leadoff Sky(gak)chief Anton French hitting a triple. They sailed along beautifully for three innings. Then the Red Wings decided to play.

I have a love-hate relationship with the Sky(gak)chiefs and root with a strong sense of schadenfreude. Most games I attend to watch a player on the visiting team and cheer him and his teammates, usually to vistory. The final score was 9-7 so they got that ninth inning in, and I was lucky enough to catch the tape-delay on cable. I got to see Jason Tyner get his second hit of the day (2 for 5 in the leadoff spot) and see him catch a routine fly ball to center for the final out.

Heading back for Game 2 today.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

My Kind of Food Show

Saturday I went to my monthly writers' meeting and got together with friends for coffee and conversation, stopping at my aunt and uncle's which my father knows is my routine so he called me there to tell me not to bother to try driving home as roads were flooded in my home county. Which is how I came to be flipping through the channels on a Saturday night, passing shows I normally never see. I make instanteous decisions, analysizing the image on the screen in a split second before moving on, but an image of Cooperstown stopped me short.

Cooperstown, on the Food Network no less, $40 a Day. I had missed part of the show as the host, Rachael Ray, was tallying her breakfast bill (where? where?) at $9.09. There were familiar shots of Main Street, all of the shops recognizable to me, frequent visitor, and I realized the show was at least a year old as The Shortstop Restaurant was shown in its former Main Street location; it can now be found in the cellar level of Pioneer Street, directly across from the Tunnicliff Inn, beneath Mickey''s Place. She made the requiste whirlwind tour of the Hall of Fame, making a point of visiting Pudge's plaque, earning me as a fan by lingering on Fisk's engraved contentance. She went to Ommegang Brewery (I have tried their wares only to discover I don't care for Belgain ale), grabbed the makings for a ploughman's lunch at Danny's Main Street Deli which serves huge, fresh sandwiches, and ate on the shore of Lake Otesaga (Glimmerglass in Cooper's world). Afterward she left town via I-88 to Brooks Barbeque, just a short distance away in her words, though getting to I-88 is a 20-25 minute ride from Cooperstown. She rounded off the visit by riding out a rain delay at the Cooperstown Dream Park, a wonderful facility where kids from across the country come every summer to play week-long tournaments; I've visited when a friend was umpiring there and it's a great chance to watch amateur baseball.

As if a feast through, and around, Cooperstown wasn't enough, the teaser showed the next episode --to follow immediately-- involved more baseball.

The Triangle: Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hil, NC. As if I hadn't already enough of a yen to visit the place, she showed some great eating (I have to ask my friend JJ about her recommendations), some interesting shopping, including a local bookstore, and she took in a game at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the New DAP to some of us. She had breakfast at Elmo's Diner which looked like a great place though Southwest Cheese grits isn't likely to be on my plate, lunch at Mama Dip's (Catfish Gumbo), Cracker Jack at the New DAP, and supper at The Barbeque Joint where she learned the difference between Eastern North Carolina barbaque and all those other things claiming to be barbeque. She topped it off with an iced cappuccino at Cafe Driade. Though I'd probably make somewhat different food choices, she had what would basically be a perfect day as far as I'm concerned.

The crowning part of this show was her visit to the New DAP. Not only did I get to see what the place looks like, inside and out (sadly, too much like other stadia of its vintage), the visiting team was the Syracuse Skychiefs. That the Bulls' opposition was one of my local teams was a happy coincidence for me, but what made me even happier was that I recognized, in a fleeting glimpse, the Skychiefs' pitcher, Mike Smith.

Coffee-Flavored Misses Looks like My Barista was partly right. He predicted the winning team would score 9 runs, and that Boomer would be lifted inthe 5th, and that the number 2 was connected to the final score.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Blood of the Savior

No shortage of allusions and comparisons of baseball and religion exists, from Annie Savoy's soliloquy ("The only church that truly feeds the soul day in and day out is the Church of Baseball") to calling ballparks Green Cathedrals to scholarly volumes (The Faith of 50 Million: Baseball, Religion, and American Culture). Love of the game literally saved my life so I am disinclined to easily dismiss such comparisions.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown is acknowledged as a shrine and the Hall proper resembles nothing so much as a classic church, from the materials from which it was built, marble, granite and oak, to the shape and layout with the soaring dome of the santuctuary at one end and the plaques serving as stations of the cross throughout the nave.

So it is no surprise that on my latest visit (apparently I cannot pass through Cooperstown without stopping in at the HOF) that I should find on display the Blood of the Savior. On the top floor where the current reigning World Series winning team is celebrated, one can see Curt Schilling's bloody sock, along side Manny's bat and Papi's jersey. Seeing the sock there, the iron rust colored blot fairly small, evoked a sense of delight, as memories of the Series and the incredible season that preceded it unfurled, and a sense of the absurd, that this soiled garment serves as the modern version of a reliquary.

In the grand scheme of things, it seems only fitting that I viewed this religious artifact on Good Friday.

Coffee-flavored wishes My Barista this morning made his Opening Day prediction: Boomer will give up a couple runs, be lifted in the fifth, and the Scuzziest Looking Man in Baseball will get lit up, final score 9 - 7 Red Sox.