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


Thursday, September 14, 2017

Matt Harvey Could Make History, and Not In a Good Way

Looks like an Unhappy Harvey Day.  (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Matt Harvey's fall from All-Star Game starting pitcher to oft-injured, in-game batting practice pitcher has been well documented.  A year after going 4-10 with a 4.86 ERA and 1.468 WHIP, Harvey has somehow gotten worse.  Much, much worse.  In fact, if he doesn't show any kind of progress in his final few starts, he stands to make Mets history, and it's not the kind of history any pitcher would ever want to be associated with.

In 16 starts this season, Harvey has seen his ERA and WHIP go up to 6.14 and 1.574, respectively.  Should Harvey fail to lower his ERA under 6.00 before the end of the campaign, he would join an exclusive club.  How exclusive would it be?  Let's just say no one has been allowed to enter it yet.

Thanks to the Play Index, Pete Schourek and Matt Harvey can be mentioned in the same sentence.

Prior to Harvey's 2017 campaign, Pete Schourek was the Mets pitcher who came closest to posting an ERA north of 6.00 with at least 16 starts.  But Schourek's 5.96 ERA in 1993 was crafted as both a starter and reliever.  In Schourek's eighteen starts, he posted a 5.47 ERA, compared to the embarrassing 7.86 ERA he had in 23 relief appearances for the last Mets team to reach triple digits in losses.

Now if we only consider those Mets hurlers who made all of their appearances in a starting role, the closest one to Harvey is a another former ace whose career in New York was beleaguered by injuries.

What is it with guys named Pete or the Spanish equivalent of Pete and high ERAs?  Is Harvey secretly a Pete in disguise?

Harvey is not the only Mets starter this season to suffer from injuries, poor performance or a combination of the two.  Zack Wheeler had a 5.21 ERA in 17 starts before injuries curtailed his season.  Robert Gsellman is the owner of an unsightly 5.58 ERA in 19 starts and three relief appearances.  And had Steven Matz's season not come to a close after just 13 starts, he'd be in line to join Harvey in the Mile High ERA club (Matz finished the year with a 6.08 ERA).

But as awful as Mets pitchers have been this year, no pitcher in the 56-year history of the franchise who made as many as 16 starts has ever finished a season with an ERA higher than 6.00.  That may change when the curtain falls on the 2017 baseball season in a couple of weeks.  And a former Dark Knight could be facing some dark nights of his own during the off-season as he reflects upon his historically bad campaign.


Monday, September 11, 2017

My Mother, Breast Cancer and the Mets

At the opening of Citi Field in 2009.  (Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

In the spring of 1979, two years before I became a Mets fan and four years before I attended my first game at Shea Stadium, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I was six years old at the time and didn't understand much about the dreaded C-word, other than it was making my mother very sick.  Fearing the worst, my parents bought me my own color television to serve two purposes: to distract me from my mother's pain and to give me something to remember my mother by in the event she lost her battle.

After several hospital stays and too many rounds of chemotherapy to count, my mother kicked breast cancer to the curb.  Eleven years later, she conquered colon cancer.  Since then, she has been cancer-free and is now just two months shy of her 79th birthday.

Because the cancer was detected early enough, she was able to watch me enjoy the television she got me - that TV still works and is in my parents' home in Puerto Rico - and most importantly, she was given the opportunity to live a full, healthy life; one that involved going to many Mets games with me.

My mother moved to New York from Puerto Rico in 1967, soon after her father passed away.  When she first came here, she lived with her aunt, who was a die-hard Yankees fan.  But after meeting and marrying my father later that year, she stopped being exposed to the Yankees on a nightly basis.  Five years later, I made my first appearance.

Since my mother had no other children before or after I was born, I was quite spoiled as a child.  If I wanted something, I got it.  If I asked my mother to do something for me, she would do it.  So when I saw my first Mets game in 1981 on the TV my parents bought me as a cancer-related gift, she noticed how quickly I became passionate about the team.  I asked her to watch the game with me.  She did.

It didn't take long for her to become a Mets fan as well.

As the timestamp on the photo says, this was taken on Shea Stadium's final Opening Day in 2008 (EL/SM)

My mother was with me when I watched the Mets come back in Game Six of the 1986 World Series.  She attended more than a dozen Opening Day games with me and joined me for the final game at Shea Stadium in 2008.  Prior to the Shea Goodbye sobfest, the two of us were in attendance for the 2006 division-clinching game and for a postseason game a few weeks later.  Mind you, by then she had moved back to Puerto Rico with my father after he retired from his job as a New York City bus driver.  That didn't stop her from making several trips back to New York just to attend Mets games with me.

In 2009, she and I were at Citi Field's first game.  Four months later, I met the woman who would become my wife and the Opening Day torch was passed.  I now attend more than 20 games a year with my wife, as my mother rarely comes to New York for games these days.  But she still watches the Mets play whenever their games are broadcast in Puerto Rico.  And she watches them on the TV she bought me in 1979, when she thought breast cancer would prevent her from giving me any other gifts in the future.

This year, it'll be my turn to give my mother a gift.  On October 14 and 15, I'll be walking in the Avon 39 Walk to End Breast Cancer, hoping to raise a minimum of $1,800.00 so that other children don't have to watch their mothers go through the pain and suffering mine did as she attempted to beat the disease that tried to separate us.   To make things even more special, my 39.3-mile walk will take place over the same weekend in which my parents are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, as they exchanged their vows on October 13, 1967.

My mother has lived nearly four decades since defeating breast cancer.  Let's make sure all women can have the opportunity to live their lives without the specter of breast cancer looming over them.  You can help make that a reality by donating to my fundraising page by clicking here and following the simple instructions.  Together, we can strike out breast cancer once and for all.