Monday, September 28, 2015

Joey's World Tour: Coronation in the Queen City

I'm ready for a clinching in Cincinnati!

Hello, everyone!  This is Joey Beartran and this is a special edition of my world tour.  In the past, I've shared my experiences of various ballparks and the cuisines found in those parks.  But this past weekend when I attended my first game in Cincinnati, I didn't eat a single thing at Great American Ball Park.  You see, something else captured my undivided attention.  And it was sweeter than anything I could have eaten at the ballpark.

When I left New York on Thursday, the Mets' magic number stood at five.  Since I was only going to Friday and Saturday's games, I needed the Mets to win every game between Thursday and Saturday and I also needed the Nationals to lose at least twice.  Considering that Washington was playing the sub-.500 Baltimore Orioles on Thursday and was then beginning a series against the team with the worst record in baseball - you might know them as the Philadelphia Phillies - the odds were not very good that I would see the Mets clinching the division in person.

But as Mets fans, we've been taught that we have to believe.  And I had a belief that I was going to be celebrating in Cincinnati.  At a rest stop near Columbus, Ohio, I found out the Nationals had lost their Thursday afternoon affair.  And soon after we arrived in Cincinnati, the Mets took the first game of their series against the Reds.  The magic number was down to three and my odds for seeing it go down to zero shifted so much in my favor, even Pete Rose would bet on my chances.

Friday night was my first time inside the Reds' ballpark, making it the 18th stadium I've had the pleasure to put my paws in.  By the time the third inning rolled around, both the Mets and Nationals had taken 1-0 leads in their respective games.  (Pitcher Noah Syndergaard's RBI single gave New York its early lead.)  But then things changed when Lucas Duda hit a long three-run homer and Philadelphia's Aaron Altherr completed a 120-yard dash, clearing the bases on an inside-the-park grand slam.  The scores were now 4-0 in favor of the Mets and 4-1, Phillies over Nats.  I was as happy as the statues of Pete Rose and George Foster were in the Reds' Hall of Fame and Museum, but I knew there was still plenty of baseball yet to be played.

(Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

The fifth inning in Washington caused me to throw my paws up in the air and wave them around as if there were no repercussions, as Aaron Altherr hit an outside-the-park home run and was followed two batters later by Darin Ruf's solo shot.  Washington did pull back to within four runs in the sixth inning, but by then I wasn't constantly looking at the out of town scoreboard, mainly because I was too busy cheering for Lucas Duda and Curtis Granderson.  Both lefty-swinging sluggers launched matching three-run blasts to extend the Mets' lead to a dozen runs.  The Mets eventually allowed five meaningless runs in the eighth and ninth frames, while the Phillies tacked on two insurance runs against the Nationals in the late innings.

The Mets had defeated the Reds, 12-5, and the Nationals had fallen to the Phillies, 8-2.  The magic number was down to one and after thinking I wouldn't get a chance to see it, I was poised to witness the potential division clinching game on Saturday.

It was difficult hibernating on Friday.  I was tossing and turning throughout the night.  Once Saturday morning came around, I needed to do something to get the butterflies out of my tummy, so I paid a visit to the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, which I soon realized had a lot more to offer than just Rose and Foster statues.

Upon entering the two-story museum, I saw an exhibit on the original 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings - baseball's first professional team.  The following room contained the Kings of the Queen City exhibit and a 100-seat theater.  I wasn't really in a movie-watching mood, mainly because they didn't have any popcorn, but I was intrigued by the other exhibit in the room.

Along with Pete Rose memorabilia and old uniforms, the wall around the room served as a timeline in Reds history, and it wasn't just all the positive moments in Cincinnati's long and proud history.  Just take a look at these photos from the 1973 and 1999 wall entries and you'll see what I mean.

From there, I took the stairs to the upper level.  Even the area near the staircase had something to behold, as there were 4,256 baseballs - one for each of Pete Rose's base hits accumulated over his illustrious 24-year playing career - going up the face of the wall.

Upon entering the second floor, I was greeted by a wing dedicated to Hall of Famer Tony Perez, which includes the uniforms he wore for every team he played for - not just the Reds.  The next room is devoted to all the men and women who have been part of the team's front office.  Yes, that means there is a mention of Marge Schott and her dog, Schottzie.

The following room has a wall that has photos of every Reds player who has participated in an All-Star Game.  The room also has a replica locker room, where guests can put on a Reds uniform, hold a bat or wear a Reds batting helmet.

From there, I went down a hall that had memorabilia from those All-Stars and to the left of that hall is a room where I could throw baseballs at a catcher.  I didn't want to undergo emergency Tommy John surgery, so I moved on to an area that housed a dugout and a statue of Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson.

My sister, Iggy, and I wanted to pick Sparky's brain, but he wasn't talking.  It's like he was a statue.

One sweet feature on the second floor was the Ultimate Reds Room, which is a fancy term for a "man cave".  As a bear, I know a thing or two about caves.  But this "man cave" - which was stacked with Reds photos, posters, replica ballpark seats and a TV showing Reds highlights - was missing the most important thing.  It didn't have a fridge.  So naturally, I didn't pose for photos there and instead moved on to the next room, which featured great teams in Reds history.

What I liked about this room was that it didn't just include championship teams.  Oh, there were a number of World Series trophies present, but there were also mentions of Reds teams that didn't even qualify for the postseason, including the 1999 team that lost to the Mets in Game No. 163.  And of course, the centerpiece of the room was the Big Red Machine.  And by Big Red Machine, I mean statues of the eight position players on the teams that won five division titles, three pennants and two World Series championships in a seven-year span from 1970 to 1976.  (Cincinnati also won a division crown in 1979, but Pete Rose and Tony Perez had already parted ways with the team.)

Remember the photo of Rose and Foster I shared above?  That was part of a much larger photo, which you can see below.

(Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

One thing I noticed about the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum compared to what the Mets have at Citi Field (besides the obvious difference in size) was that the statues could be touched by anyone.  There were no ropes keeping paws and hands away from the works of art, a la the Mr. Met that's cordoned off from guests in the Mets Hall of Fame and Museum.  Out of respect, I didn't touch the statues and instead moved on to the final room, which houses the plaques of all the players in Reds Hall of Fame.

I noticed a plaque for Pedro Borbon, who Mets fans know as the Reds player who bit off part of Buzz Capra's cap during the Pete Rose-Bud Harrelson fist-filled fracas in the 1973 National League Championship Series.  I also smiled at Chris Sabo's plaque, which featured the bespectacled third baseman of the 1990 World Championship team in his signature goggles.  There also may have been a plaque for Tom Seaver, but I'd rather not talk about that one.  Besides, wouldn't you rather hear about the game between the Reds and Mets on Saturday, which I was about to be late for because I spent so much time in the museum?

Why did you have to go to Cincinnati, Tom?  You don't even look right in that uniform.

I made it to my seat just in time to see the Mets come to bat in the top of the first inning.  Had I spent more time looking at statues or staring at Pete Rose's balls (Iggy, why are you giggling?), I would have missed Lucas Duda hitting his third home run of the series.  This one was a grand slam - the first of Duda's career - and it gave Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey a four-run lead before he threw his first pitch of the game.  A solo shot by Granderson an inning later gave the Mets a 5-0 advantage.

Harvey was a little shaky in the second inning, allowing hits to four of the first five batters to face him in the inning.  But he limited the damage to two runs, and in the next half-inning, the Mets got those runs right back on a two-run double by Michael Cuddyer, who may or may not be Scott Atchison's lost twin brother.

David Wright isn't sure if that's BFF Michael Cuddyer or former teammate Scott Atchison.  (Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

As the innings progressed and Matt Harvey continued to mow down Reds hitters while keeping them off the scoreboard, I proceeded to count down the outs.

Fifteen outs to go.  Twelve outs to go.  Nine outs to go.

Harvey surprised all the fans sitting with me behind the Mets dugout when he came out to pitch the seventh inning.  It was innings limits, schminnings limits for Harvey on this overcast day.  And as light sprinkles continued to fall from the southern Ohio sky, I started to feel a new appreciation for Harvey.  Or maybe it was just hunger pangs because I hadn't eaten at either of the two games I attended.  It didn't help that I had just seen a subliminal Skyline Chili ad disguised as a "guess which plate of spaghetti and chili the baseball is hidden under" game on the scoreboard.

(Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

Harvey couldn't complete the seventh inning, but he did receive a rousing ovation from the thousands of Mets fans in attendance as he walked off the mound.  Once Addison Reed recorded the final out of the inning, the Mets were just six outs away from a division title.  And when Tyler Clippard pitched a 1-2-3-4-5 inning in the eighth, the Mets were three outs away from the promised land.

I wanted so badly for Mets batters to swing at the first pitch they saw in the top of the ninth, just to get Jeurys Familia on the mound for the bottom of the ninth.  Some batters did swing at the first pitch, but they ended up getting on base.  And when David Wright sent a Burke Badenhop pitch in the direction of the Ohio River - it splashed down in the seats just left of straightaway center field - it provided a fitting capper to a wonderful game and prompted fans to show off their best congratulatory signs for the longest tenured Mets player.

It was indeed worth the wait for David Wright and the Mets.  (Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

Even though the Mets now had an eight-run lead, manager Terry Collins called upon Familia to close out the race for the NL East title.  Familia needed just six pitches - all strikes - to retire the first two batters in the ninth.  Fans behind the Mets dugout - myself included - had already been standing since the start of the inning.  A nine-year period of pent-up frustration was one out away from being over.  The anticipation was, pardon the pun, unbearable.

Then Familia allowed a single to Joey Votto, followed by a Brandon Phillips infield single.  The next batter would be Jay Bruce - the same Jay Bruce who was almost traded to the Mets before the team decided they could swing a deal with Detroit for the services of Yoenis Cespedes.

The first pitch to Bruce was fouled off, as was the second pitch.  The Mets were one strike away from winning the National League East.  As Familia looked for the sign from catcher Travis d'Arnaud, camera phones were up the air hoping to capture the moment when the team's biggest out in nearly a decade was recorded.  Familia came to the set position and fired the ball to the plate.  And four-tenths of a second later, there was joy in Metsville - mighty Brucey had struck out.

David Wright, Jon Niese and Daniel Murphy - the three longest tenured Mets - celebrate the victory.  (Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

I had been to various ballparks over the past five years.  But all of those stadium visits involved me watching Mets teams that would go on to finish with losing records.  That's seventeen parks and nearly two dozen nondescript ballgames featuring mediocre-at-best Mets teams.

But this stop of my world tour was so much different than all of my previous stops.  My trip to the Queen City had resulted in the coronation of the Mets as division champions.

My world tour is not yet over, as I still have a dozen more ballparks and cities to visit.  Maybe I'll even sample some of the food in those not-yet-visited stadiums.  But I don't think I'll ever have a memory of a ballpark greater than the one I had in Cincinnati.  From the hospitality (not a single Reds fan said anything negative to me or my fellow Mets fans) to the incredible Hall of Fame and Museum to the games themselves, my trip to southern Ohio produced the happiest recap I could have ever asked for.

This is the look of a fan of a division champion.
For more 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
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)

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