Friday, October 20, 2017

I'm Keith Hernandez! I Wish Me a Happy Birthday!

Hello, my friends.  I'm Keith Hernandez.  And today is a special day for me.  You see, today is my birthday.  That's right, all you kids out there.  I'm now 64 years old.

In honor of my 64th birthday, the cast and crew at Studious Metsimus asked me to give you a brief recap of my life.  To be honest with you, I've never heard of Studious Metsimus, but the offer of unlimited Tootsie Pops was too much to refuse.  Plus, they promised me there would be no traffic on the Long Island Expressway so I could make a quick getaway after writing this piece.  How could I pass that up?

Anyway, I was born in San Francisco on October 20, 1953.  Contrary to popular belief, I was not born with a mustache.  The picture you see below is one of my early photos.  Yes, the ladies loved me even then.  Can you blame them?  I mean, look at me!  I'm Keith Hernandez!

Unfortunately, I failed in my petition to get my own name on my Little League jersey.

After my days as a Little League Lothario were done, I was drafted in the 42nd round by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1971.  (Yes, I did go to high school between my Little League days and my high school graduation, but that was an awkward time for me, so I'd rather not talk about it.)  Clearly, the scouts back then were terrible judges of talent if they waited that long to draft me.  Unfortunately, I did nothing to earn that selection early on in my minor league career until I was promoted to Triple-A Tulsa in 1973, where I hit .333 and showed those other kids out there how a real baseball player was supposed to play the game.

In 1974, I hit .351 for Tulsa and was promoted to the big show on August 30 of that year against my hometown San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park.  I reached base three times in my first big league game, drawing two walks before collecting my first big league hit and RBI in the ninth inning off Giants' starter Mike Caldwell.  Unfortunately, we lost that game 8-2, but I let it be known to my teammates and the rest of the league that I was here to stay.

Once I settled in to the big leagues, I made my presence felt in the clubhouse and on the field.  The Cardinals just had to keep me around.  Therefore, they traded incumbent first baseman Joe Torre to the Mets after the 1974 season (more on first basemen being traded to the Mets a little later ... after a few more paragraphs and my first Tootsie Pop).  I was a Cardinal now, and St. Louis was about to see what Keith Hernandez was all about.

It was in St. Louis that I let my trademark mustache grow.  The Gateway City was also where I earned my first Gold Glove in 1978 and my first MVP Award one year later.  (Okay, so it was a co-MVP award that I shared with Willie Stargell.  But in Strat-O-Matic, I kicked Willie's posterior.)  In addition, St. Louis was the place where I claimed my first batting title (also in 1979), my first World Series championship (1982), my first line of... umm ... baseball cards (yeah, that's the ticket) and my first comparison to adult film thespian Ron Jeremy.

If my brother Gary were in this collage, you'd have the original Gary, Keith and Ron.

If you ask me, I don't see the resemblance.   He looks more like Mike Piazza than he does me.  Also, my acting skills are far superior to his.  Was he on "Seinfeld"?  I don't think so.  That was me.  Why did they choose me over him?  Because I'm Keith Hernandez!

Anyway, less than eight months after bringing home St. Louis' first World Series championship since 1967, I experienced one of the saddest days of my life, or so it seemed at the time.  On June 15, 1983, I was traded from the defending world champion Cardinals to the perennial cellar dweller New York Mets.  Shockingly, I wasn't even traded for future Hall of Famers.  I was shipped off to the Mets for Neil Allen, Rick Ownbey (who also celebrates a birthday with me today, but he's four years my junior) and a half-empty box of Tender Vittles.  Even my beloved cat, Hadji, wouldn't be impressed with that transaction.

It was already an insult to me that I was traded to the team known as "Pond Scum" and the "Stems" in St. Louis.  But come on!  Couldn't the Mets have offered some 9 Lives to the Cardinals instead of Tender Vittles?  After all, Morris the Cat was all the rage back then.  I mean, he was the O.G.  (Original Grumpy cat).   I would have accepted a trade for Allen, Ownbey and 9 Lives, not Allen, Ownbey and half-eaten Tender Vittles.  Sheesh!

I guess since the Cardinals already had the Clydesdale Horses, they didn't need another animal in the barn.

Anyway, the Mets didn't do too well after I got traded there.  We finished 68-94 in 1983, but showed some signs of life.  Old punching buddy Darryl Strawberry came up in May and future broadcast colleague R.J. (that's Ron Darling for all you casual Mets fans out there) was called up when rosters expanded in September.

Big Brother didn't come around in 1984 like he was supposed to, but we had our own little Animal Farm at Shea Stadium.  Top pitching prospect Dwight Gooden was called up in 1984 and Davey Johnson became the new Mets manager.  The team responded by going 90-72 and giving the Cubs all they could handle in the N.L. East.  As a result, I was no longer saddened by my trade to New York and only occasionally did I wonder if Whitey Herzog had finished what was left over in the box of Tender Vittles.

After falling short in the N.L. East race again in 1985, we put it all together in 1986.  That was the year I won my second World Series championship and helped bring the first title to Flushing since the Miracle Mets did the same in 1969.  I also paired up with another Ronnie after bringing the trophy home in 1986. 

What?  No Gary?  Fine.  Then we'll just have to make do with Keith and Ron instead.

Just as my tenure with the Mets was coming to an end, I decided I should give acting a try.  I wasn't planning on telling you this, but the Tootsie Pop dangling in front of my face has convinced me to do so.

Did you know that "Seinfeld" was not my first attempt at acting?  Before TV immortality, I wanted to be a movie star.  My time with former actor Ronald Reagan in the White House showed me that if he could be President and a movie star, then I could be a baseball legend and a matinee idol as well, so it was off to Hollywood for me.

I first gave acting a shot when I auditioned for the movie "Major League".  However, it ended up being a bad dream and instead of playing for the Cleveland Indians in the film alongside noted actors Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, Dennis Haysbert and Wesley Snipes, I ended up playing for the REAL Cleveland Indians, who were not nearly as talented as their counterparts from this past season.  You know, the team that won an A.L. record 22 consecutive games en route to a second straight A.L. Central title.  Needless to say, it was not a good time to be Keith Hernandez.

There's no way I would've let Roger Dorn get away with not diving for ground balls.

I was injured for most of my time in Cleveland.  Because of that, I only played in 45 games for the Indians, batting .200 with one HR and eight RBI.  You know it wasn't a good season when my Studious Metsimus editor reminded me that I had to write out my home run and RBI totals in words (one and eight) instead of numbers (1 and 8).  Needless to say, I retired after the 1990 season and went back home...

...which didn't last long.  In 1992, I appeared on Episode No. 34 of "Seinfeld".  The special one-hour episode, named "The Boyfriend", featured me trying to date Elaine Benes, but not being able to get past first base because I used to smoke back then.  Another subplot involved me being accused of spitting a magic loogie on Kramer and Newman, when in fact it was my former Met teammate, Roger McDowell, whose mouth shot the viscous projectile from the grassy knoll.

"That is one magic loogie."

My appearance on "Seinfeld" in 1992 and my subsequent cameo in the series finale in 1998 parlayed into several broadcasting appearances for the Mets.  When SNY debuted in 2006, I teamed up with former radio play-by-play man Gary Cohen and analyst/former teammate Ron Darling as the new broadcast team for the New York Mets.  My boothmates and I are also part of Gary, Keith and Ron, or GKR for short.  Together, we've raised money for our favorite charities, such as the Cobble Hill Health Center (for Alzheimer's care) and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (hoping to find a cure for Type 1 diabetes).  In addition, we've also focused on helping victims of domestic abuse.  And for all you kids out there, there's nothing funny about domestic abuse.

Fans might know me for my baseball career.  Others might know me for my excellent acting on "Seinfeld".  Some of you might even know me for my Just For Men commercials with Walt "Clyde" Frazier.  Current Met fans certainly know me for my unabashed analysis on SNY telecasts of Mets games.  And now, the rest of the country is getting reacquainted with me as I offer colorful commentary in the FOX Sports/FS1 studio for that network's pre-game and post-game shows.

I'm all of those people.  Although I'm a year older today, I'm still only 64 so I have plenty left to accomplish.  Maybe I'll mass produce my Mex Burgers.  Or perhaps I'll go from flashing the leather to wearing it on a broadcast.  Hey, I might even create a fantasy league for Strat-O-Matic players.  (Why haven't I thought of that before?)  Who knows?  One thing is for sure.  No matter what job I have or what position I fill, I'll always be around.  Why wouldn't I be?  After all, I'm Keith Hernandez!

It's not easy being me, but I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Joey's Soapbox: My 2017 Not-At-All Biased LCS Picks

I feel like I've been here before.  I think the Cubs have been here before, too.

Hey, everyone!  It's just me, Joey Beartran.  And I'm back to tell you what will undoubtedly be the correct World Series matchup.  For about a nanosecond, I thought the Nationals were actually going to join the 1981 Expos as the only team in Montreal/Washington history to win a playoff series in the franchise's 49 seasons of existence, but then I remembered we're talking about the Nationals here.  To paraphrase an old saying, Washington is first in war, first in peace and first to make golf plans when the NLCS is being played.

In the Senior Circuit, we have a rematch of last year's semifinal series, but this time it's the Dodgers who finished the regular season with the best record and home field advantage, while the Cubs will be faced with playing a potential Game Seven on the road.  Over in the American League, the Houston Astros will attempt to become the first team to win pennants in both leagues, but to accomplish that feat, they'll have to defeat the team with the most pennants in history.

Will Los Angeles advance to the Fall Classic for the first time since they defeated the Mets in the 1988 NLCS?  Will Chicago become the first National League team to win consecutive pennants since the 2008-09 Phillies?  Will Houston stay strong all the way to baseball's greatest stage?  Or will that other New York team rise to the occasion?

There are only two ways to find out.  One is actually watching the games, but since they're all taking four-plus hours to play, you'll probably fall asleep before they end.  The easier way is to read my fearless predictions, because you know they're going to be correct.  And they certainly won't be biased.  At all.


American League Championship Series


New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

In 1986, the Mets defeated Houston to advance to the World Series.  Nine years later, a certain Yankees employee named George Costanza told Astros executives that "no Yankee is ever coming to Houston."  Well, he was right for a little over 20 years.

                
Video courtesy of YouTube user thejog2k and his television set


The wild card Yankees have already knocked off the overachieving Twins and the underachieving Indians in the postseason to make it this far, while Houston coasted to a division title and made things look easy against the Red Sox in the division series.  The Yankees lost five of seven to the Astros during the regular season, but then again, they also lost five of seven to the Indians before taking three of five from Cleveland in the postseason.

Houston has two aces in its rotation in Dallas Kuechel and Justin Verlander.  Both pitchers have been successful against the Yankees in the postseason, as Kuechel and Verlander have combined to go 3-0 with a 2.83 ERA versus New York in five starts.  If they combine for four solid starts in this series, the Yankees won't be going to the World Series for the 41st time.

Even if the starters are ineffective, the Astros' bats can pick them up.  Jose Altuve, also known as the only player in baseball who's my height, will probably have as many hits in the series as Aaron Judge has strikeouts.  Marwin Gonzalez and Carlos Correa are both .300 hitters with power.  And you can bet former Yankees Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran are going to want to show their former team a thing or two about going far in the postseason.

I promise you I'm not being biased at all, but I'm convinced that not only will Houston defeat the Yankees in this series to advance to the World Series, they'll make it look easy.  As easy as Wally Backman was able to rattle Charlie Kerfeld over three decades ago when the Astros couldn't do to the Mets what they're about to do to the Yankees.

Prediction: Astros in 5.


National League Championship Series


Chicago Cubs vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

This is the Dodgers' fifth trip to the NLCS in the last ten seasons.  They've yet to win four games in any of their previous four appearances.  Meanwhile, the Cubs are making their third consecutive voyage to the NLCS, defeating L.A. last year after being pulverized by the Mets the year before.

Eventually, the Dodgers have to win a pennant, right?  After all, they've been to the World Series a total of 18 times in their proud history.  Well, eventually the Cubs had to win one as well.  And until last year, they went over 70 seasons without a World Series appearance.  The Dodgers can wait a little more before they consider themselves a long-suffering franchise.

Chicago just played a hard-fought series against Washington, eventually prevailing in five games.  Los Angeles made short work of the Arizona Diamondbacks and have been collecting dust waiting for the winner of the Cubs-Nationals series.  All that dust is going to make them cough a little through the early part of their series against the Cubs.

The North Siders pitched beautifully in the division series against the hard-hitting Nats, save for Game Five, when no one on either team could get anyone out.  They'll figure things out against the Dodgers and will take an early lead in the series.  But will they be able to close out the series and advance to defend their World Series title?  As long as they silence Justin Turner in the series (I can't believe I just said that), they shouldn't have a problem against the likes of Austin Barnes, Logan Forsythe and Yasiel Puig, who somehow combined to put a ridiculous .464/.531/.714 slash line in the Arizona series.

Clayton Kershaw isn't starting all seven games for the Dodgers, and even if he did, he'd probably give up another four homers like he did in his one start against the Diamondbacks.  Wait till next year, Dodgers.  Wait till next year.

Prediction: Cubs in 7.

After this NLCS, cubs like us might become Public Enemy No. 1 in Los Angeles.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Joey's Soapbox: My 2017 Not-At-All Biased Division Series Picks

The Indians progressed pretty well over the last month and a half of the season.

Howdy doody!  'Tis I, Joey Beartran, your fearless forecaster of all things playoffs.  And today I'm going to share my opinions on which teams will advance to the League Championship Series.  There are seven great teams to choose from (and the Yankees), but only four will advance (not the Yankees).

In the American League, we have the matchup that could have been a rematch of the 1986 World Series had Mike Scott gotten a chance to pitch in a Game Seven in the NLCS.  We also have the Cleveland Indians and their quest to repeat as league champions for the first time in franchise history.

In the N.L., the Chicago Cubs, who kept the Indians from winning their first title since Scott Atchison was in grade school, will be trying to repeat as world champions.  To do so, they'll have to get through Daniel Murphy, Bryce Harper, 'Ol Two Eyes (Max Scherzer) and the rest of the Washington Nationals.  And the Dodgers will be looking to inch one step closer to their first World Series berth since Mike Scioscia, Kirk Gibson and Orel Hershiser got in the Mets' way of what should have been their pennant.

Who will advance?  Who will go home?  (Spoiler alert: The Yankees)  And how many former members of the 2017 Mets will still be playing when I do my ALCS and NLCS predictions?  Enough with the questions!  On with the predictions!


American League Division Series


Boston Red Sox vs. Houston Astros

The Red Sox have made the playoffs 15 times in the last 32 seasons, yet this is the first time in over a century that they finished the regular season in first place in consecutive campaigns.  (They last accomplished this feat in 1915 and 1916, winning the World Series in both seasons.)  Meanwhile, this is just the Astros' second trip to the postseason in the last 12 years and their 11th overall.

All the experience goes to the Red Sox in this series, and they also have an ace starter (Chris Sale) and a game-over closer in Craig Kimbrel, who allowed 33 hits in 69 innings this season, or about the same number of hits Hansel Robles would give up in a week.

There's only one problem here.  After Sale, Boston's best starter is Drew Pomeranz, who somehow went 17-6 despite averaging barely over 5⅓ innings per start (32 starts, 173⅔ IP).  And manager John Farrell allowed last year's Cy Young Award winner, Rick Porcello, to throw over 200 innings despite the fact that he led the league in hits allowed and home runs given up, not to mention losses.  Since Sale can't pitch more than two games in the series, all Houston has to do is win the games not started by the 300-K southpaw.  You know, like the Mets had to do in '86 when the Astros had Mike Scott.

Challenge accepted.

Houston led the majors in batting average, OBP, slugging percentage, OPS and runs scored.  Only the Yankees hit more home runs than the Astros, but no team struck out fewer times than the A.L. West champions.  The Astros will batter the not-so-killer Ps (Pomeranz, Porcello and playoff pariah David Price) and may even steal a win when Sale starts.

And on a personal note, I'm stoked to see Justin Verlander start against Sale in Game One, especially since I flew to Chicago in 2012 to see then-Tiger Verlander face then-White Sox pitcher Sale, only to have that game rained out.  The Red Sox will be praying for rainouts of their own once the Astros start pummeling their pitchers.



Prediction: Astros in 5.


New York Yankees vs. Cleveland Indians

The Yankees won their first playoff game in five years on Tuesday.  The Cleveland Indians are a team on a mission, winning an American League record 22 straight games last month.  When the Yankees won four World Series titles in five seasons from 1996 to 2000, the only team to defeat them in the postseason was the Indians.

Those Yankee teams were far better than this year's model.  And this Indians club is looking World Serious.

Prediction: Indians in 3.


National League Division Series


Chicago Cubs vs. Washington Nationals

Daniel Murphy will pay homage to Leon Durham at some point.  (Jonathan Newton/Washington Post/Getty Images)

The Cubs finally ended their two-thousand year old championship drought (give or take a couple of years) in 2016, then remained hung over for the first half of the 2017 campaign.  Meanwhile, the Nationals had no real competition in the N.L. East and won the division title by 20 games over the Marlins.

Washington is counting on the three-headed pitching monster of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez to lead the team past the defending champions.  However, Scherzer tweaked his hamstring in his final tuneup last week, Strasburg has pitched all of five postseason innings in his career and Gonzalez has not fared well in four playoff starts, pitching just 18⅓ innings over the mostly abbreviated outings.  (Gio has not thrown a postseason pitch after the fifth inning in any of his four starts.)  If Washington's starters can't go deep in games, the team could be in trouble.  The combined ERAs of all Nationals pitchers not named Scherzer, Strasburg and Gonzalez was a bloated 4.69.

Meanwhile, the Cubs' starters (Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Kyle Hendricks) were mostly pedestrian this year, but their bullpen was absolutely stellar, with Pedro Strop, Brian Duensing, Carl Edwards and closer Wade Davis combining to produce a 2.73 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and just under 11 strikeouts per nine innings.

The Nationals need to keep their starters on the mound to have a chance to win the series.  The Cubs need to keep games close so that their lockdown bullpen can take over.  But of course, the only thing that matters is that by the time this series is over, the Expos will still be the owners of the sole playoff series victory in Montreal/Washington franchise history.

Prediction: Cubs in 4.


Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers went through a stretch during the summer when people were talking about them winning more games than any team in major league history.  Then they lost 12 straight games.  It got to the point where Los Angeles actually had to pay attention to what Arizona was doing because the D-Backs had cut their once insurmountable lead in the division to single digit games.  In fact, Arizona won 11 games against L.A. in 2017; the most of any team in the majors.  Included in their season-series victory was a three-game sweep in September in which the Diamondbacks outscored the Dodgers, 19-2.

Los Angeles hit 221 home runs during the regular season, but who didn't?  What didn't impress me was their .249 team batting average, and the only reason it was that high is because Justin Turner batted .322.

Despite making just 27 starts in 2017, Clayton Kershaw allowed a career-high 23 homers.  Now the southpaw has to face the right-handed hitting Paul Goldschmidt (36 HR, 120 RBI) and J.D. Martinez (29 HR, 65 RBI in 62 games with Arizona) in the division series.  And let's just say they're not .249 hitters like Kershaw's teammates on the Dodgers are.  Then there's the matter of that 4-7 record and 4.55 ERA in the postseason for the three-time Cy Young Award winner.

So you have a team that went 26-12 over the last six weeks of the season against a team that was 13-25 over the same time period.  I don't know about you, but I can't go with the team that recently lost a dozen consecutive games.  That 91-36 start seems like a long time ago for the Dodgers.

Prediction: Diamondbacks in 5.

Tom Lasorda might not want to watch what Arizona is going to do to his beloved Dodgers.  (Fox Sports South screen grab)

Monday, October 2, 2017

Joey's Soapbox: My 2017 Not-At-All Biased Wild Card Game Picks

I wonder who I'm picking to win the N.L. Wild Card game.  If only I had a sign to help me...

Hey, how's everybody doing?  I'm playoff prognosticator Joey Beartran and I'm ready for some postseason baseball.  This is the first season since 2014 that the Mets were not invited to the playoff party but many players who called Flushing home at some point in 2017 did receive - and accept - their invitations.

The Indians and Dodgers, owners of the best regular season records in their respective leagues, are bringing Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson, respectively, to the postseason.  Addison Reed will be coming out of the bullpen for the A.L. East champion Red Sox.  Even Rene Rivera could crack the defending World Series champion Cubs' 25-man postseason roster.

Last year, the Yankees stayed home and the Mets played past their 162nd game.  This year, New York (AL) is hosting the Minnesota Twins in the wild card game and New York (NL) is busy showing off videos of Jacob deGrom's haircut.  Seriously, that's how the Mets are making news this October.  (Well, that and Terry Collins saying adios to Mets fans.)

Say it ain't so, Jake!  (Screen grab courtesy of Jose Reyes' Snapchat)

So since we don't have meaningful Mets baseball games until next March 29, we should probably focus on the wild card games set for Tuesday and Wednesday night.  Will the Yankees win their first postseason game since Zach Lutz was a Met?  Will the Twins finally end their 12-game postseason losing streak?  Will the Rockies ride Chuck Nazty to the division series?  Or will Arizona get their revenge on Colorado for the 2007 NLCS?

There's only one way to know what's going to happen before it happens.  And that's by reading my wild card picks below; picks that are not biased at all.  Trust me.  I'm an expert.


American League Wild Card Game


Minnesota Twins vs. New York Yankees

The Twins have never defeated the Yankees in a postseason series, having dropped the ALDS to the Bronx Bummers in 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010.  More recently, New York won all three games played against Minnesota at Yankee Stadium in 2017.  And to make matters worse for the Twins, their starting pitcher for the wild card game - Ervin Santana - has an 0-5 record with a 6.43 ERA in six career starts at the new House That Juice Built.

For the Yankees, starting pitcher Luis Severino struck out 230 batters during the regular season, which was tied for the third-highest total in Yankees history.  In addition, his 153 ERA+ made him the first Yankees starting pitcher to register an ERA+ over 150 since David Cone had a 159 ERA+ in 1997.

I heart Bart.  (Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
The Yankees go into the postseason on a roll, having won 21 of their last 30 games.  The Twins were a .500 team in September, going 14-14 in the month.  New York has ten-foot tall Aaron Judge clubbing everything out of sight.  Minnesota's top home run hitter is Brian Dozier, who's half the size of Judge and hit 18 fewer homers.  Everything seems to be coming up Yankees in this game, right?

Nah.

Santana wins his first game at the new Yankee Stadium, Miguel Sanó does his best David Ortiz impression (but from the right side of the plate) and Bartolo Colón's career lives to see another round.

Prediction: Minnesota will advance to the ALDS.


National League Wild Card Game


Colorado Rockies vs. Arizona Diamondbacks

Both Colorado and Arizona reversed their fortunes in 2017.  Literally.  The Rockies improved their record from 75-87 to 87-75, while the D-Backs went from 69-93 to 93-69.  But neither team came within striking distance of the first place Dodgers, necessitating this one-game face-off for the right to be swept by Justin Turner and Friends.

Last year, the Mets played in this game and ran into a buzzsaw on the mound in Madison Bumgarner.  This season, Jon Gray and Zack Greinke will try to be this year's Bumgarner.  It's too bad both pitchers will fail, as this game will be a Wild West shootout.

Gray will have to control the bats of Paul Goldschmidt and J.D. Martinez.  It will not go smoothly.  Greinke, on the other hand, will be staring down Nolan Arenado and batting champion Charlie Blackmon, among others.  Because of his reputation, Greinke will be left in the game a little too long.  Like five or six runs on the scoreboard too long.

Arizona may have finished ahead of Colorado in the standings, but the Rockies will finish ahead of the Diamondbacks in this game.  And if Arizona ordered a large number of churro dogs in anticipation of a lengthy postseason run, I know someone who can help them reduce their inventory.


Prediction: Colorado will advance to the NLDS.



Thursday, September 21, 2017

Joey's World Tour: Peaches and Creamed (Part II - Mets Put the M.I.A. in Miami)

I feel like they were expecting me, what with the blue and orange welcome signs.  (Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

Hello again, everyone.  This is Studious Metsimus roving reporter/culinary expert Joey Beartran with the conclusion of my two-part road trip synopsis.  In Part One, I shared my experience at SunTrust Park in Atlanta, one that was mostly pleasant except for the fact that I had to watch the Braves and several thousand of their fans doing that silly tomahawk chop, not to mention hearing the wrong Lou Monte song at the worst possible time.

But the Mets did thankfully win the series in Atlanta, and once I had taken off from Atlanta to Miami with the rest of my colleagues, it was time for the team to do the same in South Florida.  Instead, the Mets became victims of the worst massacre in Miami since the final scene of "Scarface".

Prior to entering the ballpark, we decided to pay our respects to the late Jose Fernandez, who tragically passed away last September in a boating accident off the southern tip of Miami Beach.  A tribute to the former Marlins ace can be found near the home plate entrance, which is now covered with messages from fans to the late pitcher.

R.I.P. Jose Fernandez (EL/SM)

Soon after paying our respects, we walked around the ballpark to see if we could find statues of legendary Marlins players such as Jeff Conine and Luis Castillo, but much to our surprise, there were none to be found.  After suffering through that disappointment for about five seconds, we made the decision to go inside the fully air-conditioned stadium to escape the heat and humidity.  (I have fur and wear a long sleeve Mets hoodie all the time.  Imagine how hot it gets for me!)

Our seats for the first game of the series were located directly behind home plate, just 14 rows up from the field.  (And they were just $12 each on StubHub.  I think we found the one team whose fans want to get rid of their tickets even more than Mets fans do.)  We were so close to the Mets dugout that I probably could have conducted an in-game interview with Jose Reyes.  But of course, Terry Collins wasn't having any of that.

Come on, Terry!  I came all the way down from New York for this!  (EL/SM)

Since we were in the airport hangar known as Marlins Park, we had to get photos of the Marlins' equivalent of the Mets' Home Run Apple.  Rumor has it that soon-to-be Marlins co-owner Derek Jeter wants to get rid of the eyesore in center field, even if Miami-Dade County won't allow Jeter to DISRE2PECT the sculptor by having it removed.  So I figured I might as well pose behind it while it's still there.

The ugliness of this sculpture foreshadowed the Mets' play in this series.  (EL/SM)

The starting pitcher for the Mets in the series opener was Matt Harvey.  Harvey was never good against the Marlins BEFORE he began his descent into pitching purgatory.  Now that he's a shadow of his former Dark Knight self, a meeting with the Marlins was probably the last thing he needed.

Harvey allowed seven runs and a career-high 12 hits in four-plus innings against Miami.  It was the fifth time in his career that Harvey allowed at least ten hits in a game, but it was the third time he had done it against the Marlins.  Needless to say, Harvey's outing caused the floodgates to open, as Miami pounded out 19 hits en route to a 13-1 thrashing of the Mets.  Coupled with the meltdown of former Marlin A.J. Ramos in the second game and the 9-2 homerfest against the bullpen in the series finale, the Mets were outscored by Miami in the series, 27-7.  Even the Jets wouldn't have lost to the Dolphins by that score.  (Okay, maybe they would have...)

A photo my colleague took at the end of the first game pretty much sums up all you need to know about the series.

The Mets stink.  No hashtag required.  (EL/SM)

So rather than talk more about the games themselves, I'd rather take off my roving reporter hoodie and put on my culinary expert one.  At least that way you'll know what to eat at Marlins Park the next time you go there to see the Mets suffer another humiliating defeat in front of a handful of Marlins fans and 35,000 empty seats.

To satisfy the growing Jewish community in South Florida, the Marlins have a Kosher Korner.  The Mexican community has also grown in Miami, and to appease to those who crave Mexican food at the ballpark, there's a Miami Mex stand that specializes in tacos, nachos and churros.  But most ballparks now serve Kosher and Mexican foods.  The one thing Miami had that I had never seen at any major league venue was found at the Goya Latin Café.  Feast your eyes on this gastronomical gem.

It's... it's... what exactly is that?  (EL/SM)

In addition to serving empanadas, croquettes, yucca fries and Cuban sandwiches at the Goya Latin Café, the Marlins have a delicacy they could only call "Bacon Wrapped Plantain".  Ordinarily, I'm not a fan of bacon-wrapped anything because the bacon has to be soggy in order to wrap around the food it's supposed to cover and I prefer my bacon crispy.  But this delightful dish (minus an actual dish) was phenomenal.  It was sweet.  It was salty.  It was succulent.  It was sublime.  It was every positive "S" word you can think of.  And before long, it was in my belly.

The bacon-wrapped plantain was exactly what I needed to help me forget what was happening at Harveypalooza.  Of course, some of my colleagues decided to take the liquid approach to help them cope with the carnage on the field.

Frozen mango and strawberry Lime-A-Ritas were just what cousins Les Gomez and Ballapeño ordered.  (EL/SM)

Once I satisfied my stomach and Ballapeño and Cousin Les destroyed their livers, I had to see the one other aspect of Marlins Park that was unique among all the major league stadiums.  If you've seen as many games on TV broadcast from Marlins Park as I have, then I'm sure you've seen the Bobblehead Museum.

I was quite surprised to discover the museum was not located in its own separate room.  Rather, it's located right on the concourse behind home plate, roped off so that people can't get at the large case holding the bobbleheads.  There were dozens of bobbleheads of current and former Mets players, listed alphabetically (mostly), as well as a bobblehead of late, great Mets broadcasters Bob Murphy and Ralph Kiner.  Mr. Met and the Phillie Phanatic were also found on the display, with the Phanatic keeping a close watch on his New York counterpart.

I wouldn't trust the Phillie Phanatic with that bat in his hands and that look in his eyes.  Just sayin'.  (EL/SM)

There was also one interesting bobblehead on display in the museum.  It was one of Nolan Ryan as a member of the Texas Rangers.  Perhaps it was the Exorcist bobblehead version of Ryan.  Or maybe Robin Ventura took his revenge on the bobblehead for the atomic noogie Ryan gave him on the mound in 1993.

Why try to describe it?  Here, take a look for yourself.

Nolan Ryan was so good, he could strike you out without even looking at you.  (EL/SM)

So what's my review of Marlins Park?  To be honest with you, it was better than I expected.  (Insert your shocked reaction here.)  The food was unique and catered to the people who live in the area.  The Bobblehead Museum was one-of-a-kind and could capture your attention for several innings if you allowed it to.  The Home Run sculpture, although an obvious monstrosity in center field, has gotten Floridians to disagree with Derek Jeter on something, so that makes the sculpture worth it.

However, unlike the area around SunTrust Park in Atlanta, there isn't really much to do around Marlins Park.  It's either go to the game or go home.  Which is pretty much what the current environment around Citi Field is like.  Maybe that's why I liked Marlins Park as much as I did; because it made me feel like I was home.

Which is probably where the Mets should have stayed if they wanted to avoid being creamed by Miami after having a peach of a time in Atlanta.

For Studious Metsimus, I'm Joey Beartran.  Hope you can join me on the next leg of my baseball stadium world tour, wherever the road takes me.

If the Mets go M.I.A. the next time I see them on the road. I'll just stay in my comfortable hotel bed instead.  (EL/SM)


For previous installments of Joey's World Tour, please click on the links below, where you will be entertained by Joey's wit, photos and love of ballpark cuisine:

World Tour Stop #1: Baltimore
World Tour Stop #2: Washington, DC
World Tour Stop #3: Pittsburgh
World Tour Stop #4: Texas
World Tour Stop #5: Los Angeles
World Tour Stop #6: San Diego
World Tour Stop #7: Toronto
World Tour Stop #8: Chicago (NL)
World Tour Stop #9: Milwaukee
World Tour Stop #10: Seattle
World Tour Stop #11: Cleveland
World Tour Stop #12: Brooklyn (Ebbets Field site) and Manhattan (Polo Grounds site)
World Tour Stop #13: Baltimore (again) and Pittsburgh (part deux)
World Tour Stop #14: Cincinnati
World Tour Stop #15: Colorado
World Tour Stop #16: Cooperstown (Baseball Hall of Fame)
World Tour Stop #17: Detroit
World Tour Stop #18: Atlanta

 

Joey's World Tour: Peaches and Creamed (Part I - Mets Put the Hot in Hotlanta)

At least it's not Turner Field.  (Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

Welcome to the latest edition of my baseball world tour.  I'm your Studious Metsimus roving reporter/culinary expert Joey Beartran.  In today's two-part installment (you can read the second part by clicking here), I'll take you to the latest ballparks I visited; the brand spanking new SunTrust Park in Atlanta and the cavernous airport hangar in Miami known as Marlins Park.

The state of Georgia is known as the Peach State, and I was feeling pretty peachy myself after attending the middle game of the three-game series against the Braves.  My colleagues and I arrived at the ballpark about half an hour before first pitch.  We tried to get there at least an hour early to take photos around the park and to explore the stadium before first pitch, but it was impossible to park near the stadium.  You see, most parking facilities within a Juan Lagares throw of the stadium were "permit parking only".  My limo driver (and by limo, I mean rental car from the airport) had to drive around for close to half an hour before she found an area nearly a mile away from the stadium gates.  So after working up a sweat hiking, we arrived to notice that the area adjacent to the ballpark has been developed into an entertainment complex known as The Battery.

For those who don't have tickets to the game, The Battery has several restaurants, such as Wahlburgers, YardHouse and PBR Bar & Grill, where you can drink, dance and ride a mechanical bull.  And no, I did not ride the bull.  I weigh eight ounces and would be tossed from it immediately.

The Battery also has a theater for live entertainment (Coca Cola Roxy Theatre), an area where you can watch the Braves' pre-game show as it's been filmed and a huge floating baseball located high above the concourse that serves as a TV and scoreboard.  All in all, this area has everything for the baseball fan (and non-baseball fan) to see and do before and after the game.

(Above photos by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

As we walked around the ballpark, we noticed several statues dedicated to Braves legends.  Hall of Fame pitchers Phil Niekro and Warren Spahn (who won four games as a Met in 1965) are prominently featured, as is Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox.  Meanwhile, all the Mets can muster for one of its managers is a gnome-sized Casey Stengel statue-like piece hidden near a window at the Mets Hall of Fame and Museum.


Seriously, Mets?  This is the best you can do regarding statues?  (EL/SM)

We did notice that one statue was missing outside the stadium, and considering that the ballpark's official address is 755 Battery Avenue Southeast and 755 is kind of an important number in baseball history, we thought this was an oversight on the Braves' part, similar to Terry Collins not starting Michael Conforto regularly against left-handed pitchers until a couple of months into this season.

But we were proven wrong once we entered the ballpark.  Oh, how wrong we were.

Behind home plate is an area known as Monument Garden.  This area details Braves history from the team's days in Boston to its 13 seasons in Milwaukee to the last half-century in Atlanta.  From the World Series pennants (Did you know the Braves franchise has won exactly one championship in each of the three cities it has called home?  They won a title in Boston in 1914, Milwaukee in 1957 and Atlanta in 1995.) to uniforms of prominent players over the years, the Braves did a fantastic job honoring the history of the franchise as a whole; not just the team's days in Atlanta.  They even gave Casey Stengel - who played for the franchise for two seasons and managed them for six years - more than just a gnome.

Top to bottom: Monument Garden, Dale Murphy 1982 jersey, Sid Bream's leg brace from his pennant-winning run, Laaaaarrrry, Casey Stengel non-gnome.  (EL/SM)

That's just some of the Braves history in the park.  But you want to see the Hank Aaron stuff, don't you?  There was plenty of that to behold in Monument Garden.

First, there was the jersey worn by Aaron when he hit his record-setting 715th home run on April 8, 1974.  Then there is the massive statue of Aaron making solid contact with a baseball, which sits atop a beautiful waterfall.  And of course, there are the 755 Louisville Slugger bats behind the statue which form a number 755.  (There are 201 bats in the number 7 and 277 bats in each of the two 5s.  I'm not as nerdy as my colleague; he was the one who counted the bats.)  The whole area is truly an awesome tribute to a legendary player and ambassador of the game.

Henry "Hank" Aaron.  Legend.  (EL/SM)

At the other end of the ballpark in straightaway center field is an area devoted to kids.  From rock climbing to a zip line to a whack-a-mole game, kids who are more interested in playing than watching millionaires play will certainly have plenty to keep themselves occupied.  But if I were a parent, I wouldn't be happy with it, mainly because there is no way to see the game from center field.  That concourse area does not have a view of the field so you'll have to depend on small TVs that you have to be standing directly under in order to know what's going on in the game you paid good money to see.

If I were one of those kids' parents, I'd just leave them there and walk around to one of the many food areas.  At least there, I can turn around and watch the game.  What are some of these food choices?  I'm glad you asked.

In addition to the regular ballpark fare, there are street tacos, a build-your-own ice cream bar, a Chick-fil-A, a Waffle House (not pictured), the Chop House (which serves the regional favorite H & F Burger) and a cleverly named stand that specializes in Thai food (Intentional Wok).  Although I was interested in trying the Chicken Pad Thai noodles there, I did not.  That was mainly because the name of the stand reminded me too much of the intentional walks issued by Kenny Rogers to Chipper Jones and Brian Jordan in Game Six of the 1999 NLCS right before the unintentional pass to Andruw Jones that won the pennant for the Braves.  Those walks made me intentionally walk right by the Thai food stand without ordering anything.

Wok on by, wok on by.  (EL/SM)

The game itself was quite entertaining, as Jacob deGrom bested former Met R.A. Dickey in a 7-3 Mets victory.  DeGrom threw seven innings of one-run ball, Gavin Cecchini collected his first three-hit game in the majors and drove in two runs and Dominic Smith got back at the moron who chose to play "Dominic the Donkey" as Smith's walk-up music by lashing a two-run double.  Seriously, if the Braves were going to play a Lou Monte song, they should have picked "Lazy Mary" instead of "Dominic the Donkey".  But what should I expect from a team that can't spell "Lagares" correctly?

Well, he has legged out several triples and stolen bases this year, so maybe that explains the misspelling.  (EL/SM)

So what did I think of the ballpark?  Well, I liked the area around the park.  I also enjoyed Monument Garden and the food options.  Another cool feature was the rent-a-glove station, which allows fans who don't want to injure themselves by attempting a barehanded catch of a screaming Freddie Freeman foul ball to leave their gloves at home.  All that makes it seem like I enjoyed my experience at the ballpark.

But it's the Braves.  As a Mets fan, I will never like anything about them.  So if you're not a Mets fan or if you are but don't have a long memory, come on out to SunTrust Park.  As long as you don't have kids who will keep you in the center field play area all game, you'll have a wonderful time before, during and after the game.

I do give credit to the Braves for trying to give an out-of-town Mets fan such as myself a pleasant experience.  In fact, I'd like to give them a full moon salute for their effort.  You can't say I don't appreciate a team trying to impress me.

Chop this, Atlanta!  (EL/SM)


For previous installments of Joey's World Tour, please click on the links below, where you will be entertained by Joey's wit, photos and love of ballpark cuisine:

World Tour Stop #1: Baltimore
World Tour Stop #2: Washington, DC
World Tour Stop #3: Pittsburgh
World Tour Stop #4: Texas
World Tour Stop #5: Los Angeles
World Tour Stop #6: San Diego
World Tour Stop #7: Toronto
World Tour Stop #8: Chicago (NL)
World Tour Stop #9: Milwaukee
World Tour Stop #10: Seattle
World Tour Stop #11: Cleveland
World Tour Stop #12: Brooklyn (Ebbets Field site) and Manhattan (Polo Grounds site)
World Tour Stop #13: Baltimore (again) and Pittsburgh (part deux)
World Tour Stop #14: Cincinnati
World Tour Stop #15: Colorado
World Tour Stop #16: Cooperstown (Baseball Hall of Fame)
World Tour Stop #17: Detroit