Archive for February, 2009

Athletes from Abroad May Be More Adept at Public Opinion

February 28, 2009

In William C. Rhoden’s Sports of the Times column in the NY Times on Thursday, Rhoden introduced the idea that NBA players chose to look the other way when they were faced with issues that are political in nature. According to the columnist, seventy-five percent of NBA players are African-American and he was disappointed in those players in particular. He felt that their enthusiasm throughout President Obama’s presidential campaign should have been replicated during the outcry concerning the racially-charged cartoon which ran in the NY Post last week.

In defense of the Post, they officially apologized; however, they felt that the meaning of the cartoon was misconstrued. Not to belabor the point of whether the cartoon was racially motivated or just a simple case of a bad joke gone awry, I will attempt to explore Rhoden’s introduction into this very sensitive topic. For arguments sake, we can say that the other twenty-five percent of the NBA’s athletes are made up of foreign-born players mixed in with Caucasian-Americans.

At this point, you are probably wondering why anything pertaining to the NBA is being discussed on a NY Mets blog. After dissecting Rhoden’s column, I thought of Mets first baseman Carlos Delgado, as a Toronto Blue Jay, defiantly staying in the dugout during the playing of “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch. Delgado, at that time, was opposed to the use of the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico as a bombing target practice facility by the United States Department of Defense.

In Rhoden’s assessment, Delgado exercised exactly what a man with some clout should do. Perhaps, one could say that piggy-backing a cartoon as a chance to voice your own opinion could seem a bit childish. In Delgado’s case, his threat was a tad more imminent. The crux of the matter is that American athletes may not feel a sense of urgency as much as their foreign counterparts do when asked to voice their position.

One speculation for the lack of public opinion may be that our nation’s athletes now reside within an economic stratosphere that shares no relation with the majority of their constituency. Quite simply, they can’t relate. To project a strong opinion just to exercise one’s God-given rights may place a particular athlete in unfamiliar territory.

As the preliminary rounds of the World Baseball Classic are set to begin on March 5th, sixteen teams from all over the world will be competing for the duration of three weeks to see who the ruler of the baseball world is. This competition could be seen as a way for Americans to satisfy their craving for our national pastime. The rest of the world will be eager to utilize the Classic as a political platform to help elevate those who share in a similar struggle.

For foreign athletes who participate in American-based sports, the motivation to express one’s personal opinion embodies virtue and honor. Their platform will be more accepted than scrutinized.

To read Rhoden’s original article click here,
On Some Subjects, Athletes Prefer a Silent Approach

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Reyes Has His Foot on the Pedal, Santana Opts on the Side of Caution, and Piazza Goes Global

February 27, 2009

“I believe he’s ready to take off,” Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. “He’s ready to take it to the next level.” Manuel was speaking about Jose Reyes who helped the Mets cruise to another power-packed win yesterday, 9-0, against the Florida Marlins. Reyes hit two homeruns, including a grand slam, and finished with six RBI.

“I told you he could be a third place hitter,” Manuel said. “You got mad at me.”

Manuel has taken some heat lately for proposing the idea of moving Reyes from the leadoff spot down to third place in the batting order. With that in mind, Manuel had nothing but compliments for one of the most coveted of his everyday players. “We feel good about where he is in his career,” Manuel said, “We feel very confident that there are a lot of things he still can do.” Gushing to the point of excess, Manuel felt compelled to mention that he likes the energy his talented shortstop brings but does not necessarily enjoy the anxiety that comes along with it.

Sticking with the topic of anxiety, Johan Santana was scratched from his first preseason start with tightness in his elbow. “It takes a little time to get loose,” Santana said. “I don’t think my elbow has anything to do with my knee.” Santana has repeatedly assured the media that his knee is fine since coming back from off-season surgery. “There’s no reason to rush,” the ace of the Mets pitching staff said, “I really have to prepare myself for April 6th.” Santana is hopeful that he will be the opening day starter when the Mets play the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ballpark.

Former Mets catcher Mike Piazza has been designated as the hitting coach for the Italian team as they compete in the World Baseball Classic which is scheduled to start March 5th. Piazza, who has spent most of his career behind the plate, will also be instructing the team’s catchers.

“There aren’t a lot of egos over there,” Piazza said. “It’s a good thing. I’m really pumped.”

Former Mets Closer is Given a Special Role

February 26, 2009

When you look up the meaning of the word ambassador it will tell you that it is an official envoy appointed for a special and often temporary assignment. For the next six weeks, the Mets have invited former left-handed pitcher John Franco to act as their special envoy to the Mets pitchers and specifically, left-hander Pedro Feliciano. Franco is interested in teaching Feliciano his signature pitch, the changeup.

Franco, 48, and a native of Brooklyn, has been retired from the game since 2005. In his twenty-one major league seasons, fourteen with the Mets, he earned 424 saves, has appeared in 1,119 games, and holds a 2.89 career ERA.

“I’m glad to be back,” Franco recently told WFAN’s Eddie Coleman.

In 2002 at age 42, the successful closer was still with the club when he underwent an MRI that revealed an avulsion of the medial collateral ligaments and flexor tendon from his elbow. Meaning quite frankly, it was time to hang it up. The decision for Franco was either find another line of work or undergo “Tommy John” surgery to repair his left elbow. Franco chose the latter and the organization could not help but honor his request since he gave them so many years of quality service.

He came back during the 2003 season and returned the following year. At the conclusion of the 2004 season, the Mets decided it was in their best interest to part ways with the St. John’s University alum. Franco finished out his final season in 2005 with the Houston Astros. Unfortunately, after his return from major surgery he was only a shell of himself. He was unable to regain the form that brought him to the forefront of his career.

During those great playoff runs of the late nineties which culminated with the Subway Series of 2000 against the Yankees, Franco took on the responsibility as one of the team’s leaders. When he was asked who he thought could lead this current team, he mentioned third baseman David Wright and shortstop Jose Reyes. “They’re the face of the organization,” Franco said. “David is starting to feel his oats here. He’s the type of guy who could lead by example.”

Regarding Mets manager Jerry Manuel, Franco said he considered Manuel a straight-shooter, a real player’s manager. When Coleman asked him if he was interested in a career in coaching with his former team, Franco replied, “If they give me an opportunity to take some baby steps, do things on a part-time basis, and work at my own pace.” Franco seemed hesitant due to the fact that he felt it was still important for him to be there for his family. “I still want to be around for them and watch my son’s high school games,” he added.

Franco went on to mention that he was looking forward to seeing Mets pitcher, Johan Santana. “I always have a special thing for left-handers,” he said. “Maybe I can learn something from him.”

He reinforced the notion that the pitchers the Mets brought in will definitely help the bullpen this year. “It will make the game shorter,” he said. “When you have those two big guys at the end of the game…I think it’s going to be interesting.”

Perhaps, having Franco back in the fold will bring the Mets some added karma going into the season.

The Grass is Cut and the Baselines Are Drawn

February 25, 2009

Today marks the first time the Mets will be competing against an opponent other then themselves. The exhibition game that is scheduled to take place will resemble a glorified practice. Manager Jerry Manuel may feel compelled to jot down the first eight names that come to mind when filling out his lineup card. The pitcher, I expect will be batting ninth. No doubt third base coach Razor Shines will be sure to prep his hitters to swing away. “If I touch my belt, that means bunt,” he could very well say. And pitching coach Dan Warthen could decide right now is as good a time as any to switch up the pitcher’s signs. “Instead of one finger means fastball, two fingers will mean fastball.”

The Mets will be playing against another group of baseball players this afternoon who are just as excited to be back on the baseball diamond as they are. They will attempt to quell their anxiety by swapping stories of last season and congratulate each other for a job well done.

At this point in the baseball calendar, every team assures themselves of one goal: win the whole damn thing. Unfortunately for some teams, their expectations may not be able to sustain themselves throughout an entire season. The reality of baseball, or any sport for that matter, is that athletes get injured. The ones who manage to stay healthy are the ones who find themselves in the best position to succeed.

This season, the Mets have been built for success. The current aura surrounding the team may cause you to suspect that this first year in their new ballpark will indeed, be special. As fans, we are fully aware of the reasons why.

Most recently, I drove up the Whitestone Expressway coming off the LIE travelling east. All of a sudden, my eyes became fixated on something up ahead. Under the highway lights, I saw a sign that read, “CitiField.”

Offense to Dictate Which Corner Outfielder Will Start or Sit

February 24, 2009

On September 16, 2008, the New York Mets dropped their second straight game to the lowly Washington Nationals. Not only were they shutout that night, 1-0, but their position atop the NL East went from first to second place. That disappointing night for the Mets also marked another devastating loss: the loss of one of last year’s key players, Fernando Tatis. Tatis was attempting to snag a blooper hit by then Nationals’ pitcher Odalis Perez, when he missed the ball on the way down and landed on his right side. The fall ultimately knocked him out for the rest of the 2008 season with a separated shoulder.

At the conclusion of the season, Tatis received many accolades for coming through in the clutch, earning him the award for NL Comeback Player of the Year. Last October, the Mets rewarded the 34 year-old utility player with a one year contract and told him to be ready for spring training.

“I feel fine now — I didn’t need surgery and I will be ready to go in the spring,” Tatis said.

With Tatis on-board, the Mets seemed satisfied and eager to continue using a platoon situation in left field. The veteran Tatis would be given the start against left-handers and the emerging Daniel Murphy would be plugged into the lineup against right-handers. However, this past weekend, Mets manager Jerry Manuel had a change of heart. He decided to ditch the idea altogether and give the starting job exclusively to Murphy.

“I don’t want him to get into a strictly platoon situation,” Manuel said of Murphy. “I think he’s a little better player than that.”

By making Murphy the everyday left fielder, Manuel was asked what his plans for Tatis were. Manuel’s response? The Mets manager suggested the veteran could now be a platoon for Ryan Church in right field. Church struggled against left-handed pitching last season after his return from the disabled list.

Acting as if he was the last to know, Church broached the subject with his skipper. “I knew all I had to do was talk to him. He’s very approachable. He’ll tell you how it is. He came up to me and said, ‘Don’t worry about it — you’re getting prepared to be the everyday right fielder for the New York Mets.'”

Since day one, Manuel has preached that his job is to predict which players will give him the best chance of winning. Ideally, he would love to have both left-handed hitting outfielders, Church and Murphy, make contact when facing both righties and lefties. If that’s the case, Tatis would be utilized as a right-handed hitting threat coming off the bench. Problem solved.

“He’s the boss,” Church said. “I can’t write my name in the lineup card. All I can do is control what I do on the field, and make sure I’m ready and do what he says. He’s our general, and I’ll go to war with him any day.”

By starting Murphy no matter who the opposing starter is on the mound, it allows the Mets to play the hot hand. In just 131 at-bats last season, Murphy batted .313 with 41 hits and finished the season with a .397 on-base percentage.

“I’m going to treat this just like I’m trying to win a job for the next month that we’re here,” Murphy said. “My job is still to get ready to play, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Rotation Looks Up to Big Pelf for Answers

February 23, 2009

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Up until now, the Mets starting rotation has not been viewed as a cause for concern, yet when you take a closer look, you can see a few uncertainties here and there. Two of its pitchers are coming into spring training fresh off of post-season surgery. A third pitcher remains inconsistent on the mound, while one of the possible contenders for the role of fifth starter has recently been sidelined with a sore shoulder. It’s safe to say that the Mets organization has a lot on their plate to digest as they approach the start of the 2009 season.

Fortunately, for the team, they have a formidable starter in 25-year-old Mike Pelfrey. Last season, Pelfrey had what some critics consider a year in which he came into his own. He won 13 games, completed 200.2 innings pitched, and finished with a 3.72 ERA.

“Last year was just the tip of the iceberg,” said the confident right-hander.

During a previous interview with WFAN’s Steve Somers, Pelfrey alluded to a game in late May of 2008 against the Los Angeles Dodgers in which he felt “enough was enough.”

“I was going to throw strikes,” Pelfrey said. “My confidence took over. I knew that I belonged. All I had to do was hit my spots and execute my pitches.” Since then, he’s never looked back.

At this time last year, Pelfey was fighting for a spot on the opening day roster. However, this season, he has already earned his right as the Mets’ number two starter. Pelfrey mentioned that not having to compete for a starting job took some of the pressure off but stated that he still has much to improve on.

Speaking about this year’s spring training, Pelfrey said, “It will be more of a working environment. The first thing is to establish my fastball command and be able to locate both sides of the plate.”

Pleased with Pelrey’s attitude, the coaching staff has shown much appreciation for the young right-hander’s maturity and discipline upon taking the mound. However, Mets Manager Jerry Manuel and Pitching Coach Dan Warthen must also consider Pelfrey’s durability heading into this season as he noticeably began to struggle towards the end of 2008. In 17 starts from June to late August last season, the right-hander made great strides as he won eleven of those starts on just two losses. Unfortunately, in his five September outings when the Mets needed him most, Pelfrey had a disappointing 0-3 record in which he surrendered 14 earned runs and 31 hits in 33 innings pitched.

Pelfrey seems to approach his task of having to pitch every fifth day with a grain of salt. “I like to look at every game like it’s just another game,” he said. “I just try to stay aggressive and not leave the ball up in the strike zone.”

Looking forward to this up-coming season, Pelfrey’s goals are to continue to throw strikes, work on his off-speed pitches, and obviously get better.

Delgado Has A Lot to Look Forward to This Year

February 21, 2009

Mets first baseman Carlos Delgado wears number 21, coincidentally the same number as the greatest Puerto Rican-born major league baseball player, Roberto Clemente. When Delgado was asked if he felt that every baseball stadium should honor Clemente’s 21, as they do for Jackie Robinson’s number 42, he answered without hesitation, “I would love to see it.” Delgado who turns 37 this season is playing his fourth year as a Met. At season’s end, he may be looking at more than five hundred homeruns for his career. He only needs to hit thirty-one more to reach that plateau.

“It’s quite flattering,” Delgado said regarding his admission into a very elite club. “When I get there, we will celebrate then.”

Delgado hit the bulk of his homeruns while playing with the Toronto Blue Jays. From 1996-2004, he averaged thirty-six homers a year. In just nine seasons, he collected a total of 324 homeruns. For Delgado, his performance north of the border is what has stayed with baseball fans most. The reception he has received at times from his present fans has not always been as settling.

“It sucks when you’re not getting any hits and you have fifty thousand people booing you,” he said.

The first half of the season for Delgado last year was considered a definite low-point of his career. “I wasn’t afraid or scared that I was losing it because I knew what I was doing wrong,” Delgado explained. “I wish there was something wrong physically. There was nothing wrong. My bat speed was there. It was just a bad swing,” he added.

Delgado has elected to participate in this year’s World Baseball Classic which opens up in his native country of Puerto Rico. Not only is he excited about the opportunity to be representing his homeland but the Clemente family has expressed that they would be honored if he was to wear the Hall of Famer’s number 21 during the tournament.

“We understand what the Clemente legacy means,” Delgado said, “They [the Clemente family] were generous enough to allow me to wear the number.”

Nobody knows where Delgado will be blasting his famous jaw-dropping home runs next year. But for now, he seems content as he approaches what may be his most memorable season as a baseball player.

“I’m gonna go out there, play the game, and hit the ball hard,” Delgado stated. “We’ve got a great ball club; we don’t care about what other people say.”

Eager To Drop the Leadoff Man, Manuel Shows Who’s Boss

February 20, 2009

As Mets fans here in New York attempt to suppress the lasting images of the final piece of Shea Stadium collapsing to the ground, those who most likely had the strongest connection to the former ballpark are more than twelve hundred miles away. The Mets players are in Port St. Lucie, FL tuning up for the start of the regular season. Spring Training has just about concluded its first week of workouts as players and coaches have been involved in soft hitting drills and limited pitching sessions. In a little over five days, the Mets will be participating in their first exhibition game against the Baltimore Orioles.

With all the distractions of late caused by Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez, Mets skipper Jerry Manuel found a quick way to grab a smidgen of face time from the hungry hordes of media. With a look of confidence, Manuel told a group of reporters that he would not hesitate in tinkering with the Mets starting lineup.

Manuel’s suggestion is to move Jose Reyes from the top spot in the batting order down to the number three spot and have veteran second baseman Luis Castillo lead off. Reyes relayed that he has no problem with the proposed switch and said he would do whatever his manager wants. If the plan does come to fruition, Reyes may be hitting in front of slugger Carlos Delgado.

“I’m not going to be selfish, I’m gonna try and let him go. I’d rather hit with Jose on second than first,” Delgado said.

Manuel’s theory of placing Reyes lower in the batting order is supposed to allow for Jose to free up his mind and not worry so much about getting on base.

“I’ll hit no matter where he puts me in the lineup,” Reyes said. “I’m still going to play my game.”

Reyes is one of those special baseball players who can beat you with speed. Last season, he finished with 56 stolen bases and had nineteen triples. Two offensive categories you want in your leadoff man. It’s no secret that Reyes is a bona fide table-setter.

“It’s going to be tough,” the Mets quick-footed, shortstop said. ”That’s part of my game, the stolen base, so let’s see how that works out.”

Manuel’s tinkering may just be a notice to his players, the fans, and the media that he’s fully in charge of this Mets team and will be the one who decides what’s best for it to succeed. Or maybe it’s a warning sign of strange days to come. For now, he has done a fairly good job of detracting the disappointment of last season by keeping his team up-beat and focused.

An Emerging Threat in the NL East

February 19, 2009

For the last two seasons, a bitter rivalry has reared its ugly head between our beloved Mets and the new darlings of the NL East, the Philadelphia Phillies. On a daily basis, players and fans alike have professed that their team is the team to beat.

The endless pontification dates back to the time Mets slugger Carlos Beltran merely suggested that his team was indeed the team to beat. The torch was then passed over to a feisty Jimmy Rollins who made Beltran eat his words. In the last two seasons, the Phillies have overtaken the Mets for first place in their division. Since then, the mantra has intensified to allow for Philadelphia left-hander Cole Hamels to go so far as to equate the Mets to a bunch of “choke artists.” The latest jab was recently delivered by one of the newest Mets, closer Francisco Rodriguez, who acknowledged the popular sentiment.

As Philadelphia and New York continue to taunt each other, a new challenger is starting to surface in the East. The Florida Marlins recently displayed an eagerness to throw their hats in the ring by re-signing manager Fredi Gonzalez to a three-year contract extension.

“It was really, really a tough negotiation,” Gonzalez joked. “Jeffrey [the team’s owner] came in. He wanted to talk to me. He offered me the extension. I don’t think I let him finish the sentence, and I said, ‘Yes.’ I wanted to be here. I want to be here for a long time and win a championship.”

With strength up the middle in shortstop Hanley Ramirez (.301 BA, 33 HR, 125 Runs, 35 SB in 2008) and second baseman Dan Uggla (32 HR, 92 RBI, 97 Runs), the Marlins possess just as good a double play combination as anybody. They have filled their roster with other effective position players as well such as 28 year-old catcher John Baker (.299 BA, .327 against right-handers) and corner infielder Jorge Cantu (.277 BA, 29 HR, 95 RBI, 92 Runs).

The 2008 squad set a franchise record for most homers in a season, 208. Unfortunately, they scored high marks consistently in another not so glamorous category: six of their top hitters averaged 129 strikeouts among them.

“You try to build on the positives and learn from the negatives,” Marlins outfielder Jeremy Hermida said. “That’s what I’m trying to take, build on it and take it into this year.”

The Marlins have placed as much faith in their even-keeled manager as they have in their young pitching staff. Right-handers Chris Volstad (22 years-old), Josh Johnson (25), and Anibal Sanchez (25) are all very capable of winning at least ten games this season. The only uncertainty for a club that finished in third place last year with an 84-77 record would have to be their closer. With the departure of right-hander Kevin Gregg in the off-season to the Chicago Cubs, the Marlins have asked former set-up man Matt Lindstrom to fill the role of stopper in the bullpen.

“We’re definitely going in the right direction,” All-Star second baseman Dan Uggla said. “We’re going to work hard, play hard, and go out there and see what happens.”

You never know, the Marlins could actually be this year’s team to beat.

Rodriguez Reiterates the Ignorance of His Youth

February 18, 2009

If we can learn one lesson from what transpired Tuesday afternoon down in Tampa, FL, it would have to be that we all make mistakes. When Yankee slugger Alex Rodriquez agreed to address the fans and the media yesterday about his use of a banned substance, it was obvious that he was resided in the fact that he had made a big mistake.

“I was young, I was naïve, and I stuck a needle in my butt to help make my muscles bigger,” he said. “Just ask my teammates.”

Rodriguez didn’t actually say that, although we would’ve loved it if he had. Just imagine the cameras cutting to a quick shot of his teammates who are in attendance as they nod their heads in unison. Isn’t that what this whole confession was about? Solidarity, being part of a family, and getting the team back on track!

Prior to opening the floor to questions, Rodriguez gathered himself for a moment, held back some tears, and said, “Thanks,” to his teammates. At that moment any one of those guys would’ve shoved a needle into their backside just to have the most embarrassing chapter of baseball history over with and get back to playing baseball. Unfortunately, as we have found out, it’s not that simple. Skipper Joe Girardi thought that his third baseman had shown remorse and that he did a very good job.

The media on the other hand remains largely skeptical. If possible, the battalion of reporters who were present would have uncovered every last detail of Rodriguez’ career beginning with his early days as a Seattle Mariner up to and including his current state of tumultuous affairs. Rodriguez claimed that the last fifteen months had been extremely hard for him since he has been preoccupied with matters that detract from the game he loves.

“I miss playing baseball,” Rodriquez began to say. “I miss….simply being a baseball player.”

After fielding a barrage of questions both general and some personal (including whether or not the injection hurt), Rodriguez responded evenly to the criticism. He spoke with an understanding that his career may never be seen in the same light again.

“Judge me from this day forward,” Rodriguez said as the press conference came to a close.