Monday, October 21, 2019

Joey's Soapbox: My 2019 Not-At-All Biased World Series Pick

I'm either looking at the yummy food in Houston or I'm following the flight of Jose Altuve's home run.

How is everyone doing?  I'm Joey Beartran and like Tony the Tiger, I'm feeling GRRRRRRRREAT!!  And I have Jose Altuve to thank for me being so upbeat.

I had always been a fan of Altuve, mainly because he's the only major leaguer who's my height.  But now, after hitting a walk-off, pennant-winning homer against the Yankees, I love him even more.  His blast allowed me to go 2-for-2 in my League Championship Series predictions, and that's the only reason why I'm this excited today.  Not because the Yankees lose, thaaaaaaaaaa Yankees loooooose.  That would be biased of me, and I'm not at all biased.

Thanks to Altuve's heroics, we now have a World Series that will be anything but boring, with intriguing pitching matchups in practically every game.  The Fall Classic will also feature teams that had combined to win just two pennants prior to this year, which hadn't happened since 1980, when the Philadelphia Phillies (who had previously won pennants in 1915 and 1950) faced the Kansas City Royals (who had never won a pennant).

Will the Washington Nationals win their first championship?  Will the Houston Astros tie the Mets for most titles for teams that played their first game in 1962?  Will the Yankees ever learn how to count past twenty-seven?  The answers to the first two questions will be revealed below.  The answer to third question is no, they will not.

The people who made this shirt should be happy they never have to update it.

World Series

Washington Nationals vs. Houston Astros

For the opening act, we have Max Scherzer vs. Gerrit Cole.  Then we have Stephen Strasburg vs. Justin Verlander in Game Two.  And if that's not enough to whet your pitching appetite, it's Patrick Corbin vs. Zack Greinke in Game Three.  How's that for must-see TV?

The Astros batted just .179 against the Yankees in the ALCS, which doesn't bode well for them against the vaunted Nationals staff.  That Nats staff didn't throw a single pitch in the NLCS with the team trailing, as Washington led throughout their four-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals.  That might change in the World Series if Houston continues to jump on top early.  Of the 22 runs scored by the Astros in the ALCS, ten of them crossed the plate in the first three innings.

Washington is a very streaky team.  During their current six-game winning streak, they've outscored the opposition, 33-10.  They also scored 166 runs during a 21-game stretch in late August and early September.  But the Nats can also go cold at the plate, as evidenced by the 61 times this year (58 regular season and three postseason games) they failed to score more than three runs in a game.  By comparison, the Mets scored three runs or fewer in 54 games this season.

If the Nationals could be held in check that many times this year when they didn't face past, present and future Cy Young Award winners every game, imagine what they'll look like against Cole, Verlander and Greinke.

Then there's the case of the bullpens.  Washington's bullpen is such a mess that manager Dave Martinez went with his starters in relief on various occasions to navigate through the playoffs.  Meanwhile, Houston's bullpen was one of the team's many strengths, posting a 3.75 ERA during the regular season.  That's nearly two full runs lower than the Washington's 5.68 ERA for its relievers.  If a game comes down to Altuve and his brothers facing the Nats' relief corps, I'll put my lunch money on Mini-Me and the 'Stros.

I think it's clear who I'm picking to win the World Series.  But if it still isn't obvious to you, please think about this.

The Washington Nationals play their home opener next year on April 2.  Their opponent that day will be the New York Mets.  Do you really want to see them rub their World Series rings in our faces?  I think not.  Let them raise their National League pennant against us in 2020.  For this season, it'll be the Astros who will #TakeItBack.

Prediction: Astros in 6.

Little man on paper.  Big man on campus.  (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Sunday, October 20, 2019

I'm Keith Hernandez! Where's My Birthday Cake?

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 66 years old.

In honor of my 66th 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 current counterparts.  You know, the team that has averaged 95 wins over the last four seasons and hasn't had a losing record since 2012.  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 in 2017, the rest of the country got reacquainted with me when I offered colorful commentary in the FOX Sports/FS1 studio for that network's pre-game and post-game shows during the postseason.  (I'm too busy playing with Hadji now to be doing that job again.)

Today, I'm the author of a memoir with a predictable title.  I'm also Hadji's agent and food provider, as well as a cool follow on Twitter.  (Nearly 104,000 tweetsters who follow @keithhernandez can't be wrong.)

I'm all of those people.  And although I'm a year older today, I'm still only 66 so I have plenty left to accomplish.  Maybe I'll mass produce my Mex Burgers.  You know, the ones that used to be sold at Citi Field before they took my burger stand away.  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.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Joey's Soapbox: My 2019 Not-At-All Biased LCS Picks

Please read my picks while I make a pit stop at Walgreens.  (Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

What's good, kids?  This is Joey Beartran and we've reached baseball's final four.  And unfortunately, this year's pair of League Championship Series feature quite a few teams that I did not predict to advance this far.  In fact, the only team that did make it to the LCS as I foretold was the Houston Astros.

Batting .250 in the division series round means that I have some work to do to improve as a fearless forecaster.  But at least I can make myself feel better by saying I had a better chance of picking a winner in the last round than Hall of Famer and franchise legend Gary Carter had of collecting a base hit as a member of the New York Mets.  (He hit .249 while wearing the racing stripes and shooting Ivory Soap commercials.)

This year's National and American League Championship Series feature intriguing matchups.  In the Senior Circuit, we have the Washington Nationals, who are making their first NLCS appearance since moving to our nation's capital from Montreal and just the second final four appearance in the 51-year history of the Expos/Nationals franchise.  Their opponent, the St. Louis Cardinals, have appeared in 14 League Championship Series since the Expos/Nats last played in one.  The Redbirds are also making their 11th NLCS appearance in the last 24 seasons.

Moving over to the A.L., we have the New York Yankees, who are playing in their 1,000th League Championship Series in club history, according to what their fans say.  They'll be taking on the Houston Astros, a team which is appearing in its third consecutive ALCS.  This is also a rematch of the 2017 battle for the American League pennant, a series won by Houston in seven games.

Will the Cardinals win their 20th National League pennant or will the Nationals win their first?   Can Houston make its third World Series appearance of the 21st century and second in three seasons?  And how many times will Yankee fans remind us of their ringzzzzz?

You can either watch these four-plus hour contests that feature starters pitching in relief and 20,000 or so home runs (by coincidence, that's the same number of division titles the Yankees have, which must be true because I was assured of that fact by a long-time Yankee fan who said he knows everything about the team since he became a fan in 1996) or you can just read my predictions below while pondering just how many words I can fit in one sentence.  (Run-on sentence much?)

I'd take the "read my predictions" option if I were you.

National League Championship Series

Washington Nationals vs. St. Louis Cardinals

Although the Cardinals have home field advantage because they were a division champion, the Nationals actually finished with the better record (93-69, while the Cards were 91-71).  However, it was St. Louis that won the season series in this matchup, taking five of seven against Washington.

Nationals ace Max Scherzer was defeated twice by the Cardinals by identical 5-1 scores, while Washington's bats hit the snooze button in their regular season meetings with St. Louis, scoring just 17 runs in the seven games.

But that was a different Nationals team.  This group of Nats come back from two-run, eighth-inning deficits in wild card games instead of choking postseason advancement away as per the usual Washington script.  This group of Nationals erase two-games-to-one deficits in a best-of-five series and take future Hall of Fame pitchers deep on back-to-back pitches in the late innings of do-or-die games.  For everything this group of Washingtonians does now, there's one thing the team no longer does.

They don't pay Bryce Harper's salary.

These Nats don't choke.  (Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Harper's .211 lifetime postseason batting average in a Nationals uniform is long gone, as he is now helping the Philadelphia Phillies underachieve.  But you know who is in Washington?  Anthony Rendon and his .412 batting average and 1.219 OPS in the just-completed series against the Dodgers.  So is Juan Soto and his 1.020 OPS in the same series.

Basically, all the Nationals had to do was cut ties with the hair-flipping Papelbonian punching bag and they were destined to win a playoff series and perhaps two.

The Nationals won't win this series because the pitching firm of Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin will keep the Cardinals' already low .245 batting average in check.  They also won't win because their relievers won't get the chance to blow leads if they're hardly ever used.  Nope.  All they need is the knowledge that Bryce Harper is busy playing golf and getting another one of his managers fired (the 2020 season will see Harper playing under his sixth different skipper in nine seasons) and that'll be enough to advance to the franchise's first World Series.

Prediction: Nationals in 7.

American League Championship Series

New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

The Yankees can only win when they outslug you.  It's true.  When they scored five runs or fewer, their record was 31-53.  We're not talking about being 22 games under .500 when they score no more than two runs.  We're talking FIVE RUNS OR FEWER.  And even when they scored half a dozen runs or more, they still managed to lose six times.

Considering that New York will now be facing a dominant Houston pitching staff that held its opponents to four runs or fewer in 112 games (for all you kids out there, that's more than two-thirds of the games they played), it's going to be very difficult for the Yankees to keep up with the Astros.

Oh, and since we're on the topic of pitching, allow me to remind you that the Yankees allowed five runs or more in nearly half of their games (72 out of 162) and will now be facing an Astros lineup that averaged 5.7 runs per contest.

The Yankees have a great past.  But it's the Astros who have a great present and future.  And looking a week into the future, I see the Astros playing in the World Series.

Predictions: Astros in 6.

If S.I. says it, then it has to be true.  (courtesy Sports Illustrated)

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Joey's Soapbox: My 2019 Not-At-All Biased Division Series Picks

Minnesota hit the target (the outfield seats) a major-league record 307 times.  (Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

Hey, everyone!  This is Joey Beartran, and it's time to share my picks for the American and National League Division Series.  As usual, none of these picks will be biased because I'd lose all my credibility if they were.  You know, kinda like when the Wilpons lose their credibility as big-market owners every year during free agent signing season.

All my picks will be based as endless data that I've pored over for days.  I've considered pitching matchups, weather factors, if a stadium favors one team over another, and who's playing that team from the Bronx.  All of that information has led me to pick four winners who will compete in the League Championship Series.

Who will advance?  Will Minnesota do what no Twins team has done before in October against the Yankees?  Will the Nationals finally win a playoff series?  (Don't you dare say they just did.  They won the Wild Card Game, not the Wild Card Series.)  Will Houston have a problem against Tampa Bay?  And will I watch any games in the series featuring the last two teams to eliminate the Mets in the NLCS (Braves in 1999, Cardinals in 2006)?

The time has come for me to share my Division Series picks.

National League Division Series

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Atlanta Braves

I'm only picking the winner of this series because I have to, not because I want to.  Both teams have been a thorn in the Mets' side over the years, so I'm not particularly thrilled that one of them is going to play for the right to represent the National League in the World Series.  But I'm a professional, so I'll actually pick a team to win for a reason other than a meteor striking the other team's dugout, frying every player on the roster to a crisp and causing a forfeit.

The Cardinals made the playoffs as a division champion despite having the tenth-best record in the majors.  Their team batting average was only .245 and they had the fourth-fewest homers in the National League.  Their starting rotation is Jack Flaherty and the Mediocre Men.  If you want to argue that Dakota Hudson had a 16-7 record, I'll respond by pointing at his 1.41 WHIP.  Bring up Adam Wainwright and his Death-To-Beltran curveball and I'll show you his 4.19 ERA, 1.43 WHIP and .782 OPS against him.  Plus, Yadier Molina is playing in his 20th postseason series.  I've had enough of seeing him in October.

Meanwhile, Atlanta earned their trip to the playoff party, winning 97 games and graciously allowing the Mets to sweep them at the end of the season so that New York could finish ten games above .500.  Now that's southern hospitality right there.

Up, up and away. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) 
The Braves have Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuña Jr, Ozzie Albies and Josh Donaldson leading the offense, while the rotation of Mike Soroka, Dallas Keuchel, Max Fried and Julio Teheran is among the best in the league.  But those players aren't why I'm leaning towards picking Atlanta.

#VoteMarkakis.  It was cool in 2013.  It's still cool now.  And Nick Markakis - who's advanced to the League Championship Series just once in his 14-year career - is going to make the Cardinals buckle before him.  You know, kinda like what Adam Wainwright did to that future Hall of Famer in 2006.

I'm voting Braves in this series.

Prediction: Braves in 4.

Washington Nationals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

Let me begin by bringing up something I mentioned before.  The Nationals have never won a postseason series.  Ever.  They won the Wild Card GAME, not the Wild Card SERIES.  Plus, Wikipedia told me they haven't won a playoff series, and as we all know, if Wikipedia says so, then it must be true.

That being said, the Dodgers have too many weapons for Washington to handle.

Whatever.  (David Crane/LA Daily News)
Cody Bellinger led the Dodgers in hits, walks, home runs, RBI, runs scored, stolen bases and probably put on a vendor uniform and sold some Dodger Dogs between innings when no one was looking.  He's that talented.  And even when Bellinger had a rare bad night (like going 1-for-4 with a walk), his teammates were there to pick him up.  Joc Pederson and Max Muncy combined for 71 homers.  Corey Seager ripped 44 doubles and drove in 87 runs despite missing 28 games.  And Justin Turner was magically delicious as always, batting .290 and tying a career high with 27 homers.

The Nationals may have the three-headed pitching monster of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, but it was the Dodgers who led the league in ERA and WHIP.  Los Angeles also allowed just 185 home runs, which was the fewest given up by any National League staff.

If that's not enough for you to figure out who I'm picking in this series, consider this.  In using Scherzer for five innings in the Wild Card Game (still not a series) and Strasburg for three frames, neither pitcher will be available to pitch in the first two games of the Division Series, with Scherzer due to start Game Three and Strasburg toiling in Game Four.

In 2012, the Nationals famously shut down Strasburg before he got a chance to pitch in the Division Series.  He's not pitching in this series either, but this time it'll be because the Dodgers are shutting down Strasburg's team.

Prediction: Dodgers in 3.

American League Division Series

Tampa Bay Rays vs. Houston Astros

The Rays are a great story.  On a budget that would make the Wilpons proud, they've managed to lead the American League in ERA and allowed the fewest long balls in the majors in a year when baseball went homer happy.  They've continued to use an "opener" instead of a starting pitcher to great success, which allowed Tampa to limit its starters' innings to keep their arms fresh.  (Only Charlie Morton worked more than 150 innings this season.)

On the offensive side, the Rays got an incredible year from Austin Meadows, who launched 33 homers in 138 games after hitting just six in 59 games prior to the 2019 campaign.  They also got Travis d'Arnaud to come out of his shell, as he finally reached his potential with the bat just months after he played his final game with the Mets.

As I said, the Rays have been a fantastic story in 2019.  But dude, they're playing the Houston Astros.  And no one is beating a team that has Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke putting up zeroes and Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel blasting balls all over the field.  Oh, and let's not forget shortstop Carlos Correa, who's been injured for most of the season, but still managed to hit 21 homers and put up a .926 OPS in 75 games.  Correa is expected to be ready for Game One of the Division Series.

It was fun while it lasted, Tampa.  But the Astros are a team of destiny.

Prediction: Astros in 4.

Is Jose Altuve trying to give Cody Bellinger a run for his money as part-time All-Star, part-time hot dog vendor?

Minnesota Twins vs. New York Yankees

I'll make this one quick and painless.  The Yankees are 13-2 all-time against the Twins in the postseason.  But they've never faced a Minnesota team that can beat them at their own game.

The Yankees hit 306 home runs to shatter their major league home record, which was 267.  Except that the Twins hit 307 to erase the Yankees from the record book.

New York's starting pitchers don't miss bats, as evidenced by James Paxton's team-leading 186 strikeouts.  With Domingo German out for the postseason, no other Yankee on the postseason roster reached 150 Ks.  Pitching to contact against a team that makes powerful contact isn't a recipe for success for any team, no matter how many ringzzzzz they have.

By the time this series is over, the Yankees will have lost five postseason games to the Twins all-time.  Which will give them plenty of time to treat their necks for whiplash from watching all of Minnesota's home runs.

Prediction: Twins in 5.

Smile!  The Twins are finally going to (boom) stick it to the Yankees.  (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

Monday, September 30, 2019

Joey's Soapbox: My 2019 Not-At-All Biased Wild Card Game Picks

It's Miller Time!  But are the Nationals going to shut down the Brew Crew's party?  (Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

What's going on, everyone?  This is your favorite fearless forecaster, Joey Beartran.  And I don't know how effective I'll be picking other teams to win, especially since I'm still on a high from the Mets' season-ending walk-off victory.

Finishing ten games over .500 wasn't good enough to get the Mets into the playoffs, as they finished three games behind the Milwaukee Brewers for the second wild card.  But at least they're not the 93-win Cleveland Indians, who became a fringe playoff team themselves when they allowed the small-market Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics to beat them to the postseason party.

Speaking of fringe teams, the Philadelphia Phillies paid $330 million to Bryce Harper, who led them to the promised land of a .500 record.  That's over $100 million more than the Washington Nationals are offering Anthony Rendon, otherwise known as the player who was the real offensive leader of the Nats all these years.  And the player who could possibly be one of just 25 who can say they helped Washington advance in the postseason for the first time ever.

But will Washington finally celebrate something other than a division title or wild card berth?  Will Milwaukee continue to win one for the Yelich?  How about the Rays, who are making their first playoff appearance with a skipper not named Joe Maddon?  Or will the A's move on for the first time in five trips to the postseason under manager Bob Melvin?

I guess it's time for me to put on my thinking cap (or the hood from my Mets hoodie, since that's the only article of clothing I wear) and share my predictions for the American and National League Wild Card games.  And of course, there's no chance those picks will be biased.  Not at all.

National League Wild Card Game

Milwaukee Brewers vs. Washington Nationals

We all know the Nationals' history in the postseason.  Four appearances, four quick exits.  Meanwhile, every time the Brewers have qualified for the postseason since moving to the National League in 1998, they've won more playoff games than they did in their previous playoff appearance.  Milwaukee won one postseason game in 2008, then followed that up with five playoff victories in 2011.  Last year, the Brewers fell one win short of their second-ever trip to the World Series.

Both teams are hungry.  Milwaukee is hungry for a pennant, while Washington is hungry for their first-ever October champagne celebration (which is weird because how can a team be hungry for a liquid?)

Let's look at the pitching matchup, because as we all know, pitching wins Wild Card Game championships.

The Nationals will trot out Max Scherzer, whose seven-year, $210 million contract has produced zero postseason wins in three starts and one relief appearance.  Scherzer will also be pitching on six days rest, which usually helps a pitcher.  However, this season Scherzer made four starts on six or more days rest.  He won none of them, producing a 3.28 ERA in those well-rested appearances, which was nearly half a run higher than the 2.86 ERA he put up in his other 23 starts.

Milwaukee's starter will be Brandon Woodruff, who has a lifetime 1.46 ERA and 0.81 WHIP in four career postseason appearances.  Those numbers look good on paper.  You know what looks better on paper?  His 0.96 ERA and 0.70 lifetime WHIP against the Nationals in four appearances.  And I haven't even mentioned that he's struck out 23 Washingtonians while walking just two.  (Okay, maybe I just did.)

The face of a philosopher. (Getty Images)
And the pièce de résistance?  The next extra-base hit a Nationals player collects against Woodruff will be the first.  You read that right.  In his four appearances against Washington, Woodruff has faced 68 batters and has yet to allow an extra-base hit to any of them.

I believe it was the great former Mets shortstop Rafael Santana who once said, "Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it."  (I also believe my Studious Metsimus colleague is passing me a note saying that it was actually George Santayana who said this.  What does he know about famous quotes?)  With or without Bryce Harper, the Nationals will always be doomed to repeat their postseason failures.  Scherzer might be a future Hall of Famer, but 'Ol Blue Eye is not a future wild card game winner.  At least not until he signs with another team.

Prediction:  Milwaukee will advance to the NLDS.

American League Wild Card Game

Tampa Bay Rays vs. Oakland Athletics

So remember what I said about pitching winning championships?  Well, we're going to get some pitching in this game.  Unless things change, Oakland will be going with Sean Manaea, who made just five starts this season, but posted a 1.21 ERA and 0.78 WHIP in his September to remember.  Tampa will be going with All-Star Charlie Morton, who went 16-6 and struck out 240 batters in just 194.2 IP.  And if you recognize his name, it's probably because you recall how great he was for the Houston Astros in the 2017 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, winning the seventh and deciding game to give Houston its first-ever championship.  In other words, he's got what it takes to pitch in a win-or-go-home game.

Manaea was great in September, but his last four starts were against the Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers (twice) and Seattle Mariners.  Those three teams combined to finish 99 games under .500, meaning Jeurys Familia and Edwin Díaz could probably shut them down as well.

In addition, Tampa's lineup is as consistent as they come.  Nine players had 300 or more plate appearances.  Eight of those players had between 14 and 21 home runs.  (The one who didn't, Austin Meadows, hit 33 taters.)  No one on the Rays had as many as 90 RBI, but eight players drove in over 50 runs.  No player hit .300, but eight of the nine regulars hit over .250, and the one who didn't (Kevin Kiermaier) led the team in stolen bases.  How consistent were the Rays throughout the season?  They had 11 players with a bWAR of at least 2.0, but none with a WAR above 5.0.  And who is the one player worth exactly 5.0 WAR?  Why, it's wild card game starting pitcher Charlie Morton.

The game is in Oakland, but Tampa had the second-best road record in the majors at 48-33.  This team knows how to win on the road.  And their starting pitcher knows how to pitch when the team's season is on the line.

Touch 'em all, Travis.  (Scott Audette/AP)
Oh, and one more thing.  Travis d'Arnaud is on the Rays and he just had that breakout campaign (16 HR, 67 RBI in 92 games with Tampa Bay) we were told he'd have one day as a member of the Mets.  But in addition to his skills with the bat, d'Arnaud also made Charlie Morton better, as evidenced by the opponents' .202/.265/.361 slash line against Morton with d'Arnaud behind the plate.

The Coliseum hasn't seen a playoff victory in six years.  That streak isn't ending this year.  Right, Travis?

Prediction:  Tampa Bay will advance to the ALDS.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Joey's Small Bites: Crashing the MLB Food Fest II

Time to step up to the plate at the MLB Food Fest.  (Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

What's cooking, everyone?  I'm Joey Beartran, roving reporter and culinary expert for Studious Metsimus.  And everything was cooking for me this weekend and the MLB Food Fest, which for the second straight year was held at Center 415 on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue.

Most of the bugs from last year's inaugural food fest were fixed (and I'm not just talking about the toasted grasshoppers from Seattle; those were still there).  There were 15-minute gaps between sessions so that everyone could enjoy their full two-hour window.  Departing guests also didn't have to use the same staircase to leave the venue as the arriving eaters were using to enter it, which allowed for a smoother flow of traffic.  The main difference from last year was that all guests could only sample a food item once.  No going back for seconds here.  Attendees were required to scan a bracelet before taking a food item which kept track of which food stands they visited.  That kept lines moving and prevented large gatherings of people by the most popular food stands.

As a culinary expert, I wanted to try as many foods as possible.  Also, my colleague never got me breakfast before we left for Center 415 so I made him make up for his obvious oversight by going around from stand to stand collecting the best items from all 30 ballparks.

Lights, camera, snack-tion!  (EL/SM)

Since it was lunchtime when our session began, I decided to lead off the eating game with a grilled cheese sandwich.  But it wasn't just any grilled cheese, it was a beer braised short rib grilled cheese courtesy of the Tampa Bay Rays.  Just like Brandon Nimmo or Jeff McNeil, this dish got things off to a flying start with its Budweiser braised short ribs, multiple cheeses, caramelized onions and horseradish cream.  It's too bad the Four Hands Nachos offering from the St. Louis Cardinals grounded into a double play.  Its diced chicken and typical nacho toppings were just meh.

Next up were by the Mahi Mahi Tacos from the San Diego Padres and the Philly Cheesesteak from the team that made a clown move by signing Bryce Harper because his history of losing when it counts fits in perfectly with the team's history.  Surprisingly, the tacos were nothing special and the cheesesteak was probably the best thing to come out of Philly since DJ Jazzy Jeff.

After washing down my food with several cans of the well-stocked Coke product coolers (they had 12-ounce cans this year, which was an improvement over last year's eight-ouncers), I moved on to two American League Central specials.  First, I tried the Fat Rooster from the Cleveland Indians and then I topped it off with the BBQ Burger from the barbecue-loving Kansas City Royals.  The Fat Rooster was surprisingly very hot, but I guess when you top off a fried chicken breast with Frank's Hot Sauce, habañero powder, cajun seasoning, Lawry seasoning, white pepper and garlic, that's to be expected.  The BBQ Burger had pulled pork on top of a steak burger patty, along with American cheese, world-famous Kansas City BBQ sauce and a large onion ring.  Both were a meat lover's dream.

Speaking of meats and love, I loved the meaty offerings from the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs.  The Reds' dish was a Bulgogi Beef Egg Roll, which had steak, rice, carrots, onions and scallions all drenched in Gochujang sauce, which is a Korean red chili paste.  Meanwhile, the Cubs served up a Beer Can Chicken Sandwich, which was grilled beer-can chicken, bacon and dijonnaise on a brioche bun.  Both were very different and both were very delicious.

Clearly, this food fest was not made for vegans.  (EL/SM)

After eating all of the above meals, I had to take a break to get the food down.  In other words, I had to make a run for the rest room.  Since we only had two hours to eat everything we could get our paws on, I allowed my sisters, Gabby and Iggy, to try some of the delicacies I didn't think I would like.  Since Gabby likes fried foods, she went for the Rocky Mountain Oysters from the Colorado Rockies, while Iggy sampled the Coney Egg Roll from the Detroit Tigers.

Gabby was intrigued by the breaded cowboy caviar and fries.  However, when she found out that cowboy caviar was mostly veggies, she just ate the fries.  Plus, the cowboy caviar was very tough to chew.  Iggy's snack was supposed to have chili on it, but it looks like the server forgot that part.  Despite the missing ingredient, she seemed to enjoy the hot dog and diced onions inside an egg roll.

My pinch-hitters came through when I needed it most.  (EL/SM)

After I returned from what turned into an extended bathroom break (don't ask; what happens in the stall stays in the stall), I didn't think I looked very photogenic so I let my Studious Metsimus colleague take photos of several other items I ended up trying, some of which were amazin' like the 1969 Mets, and some of which were reminiscent of the 1962 Mets, meaning they sucked pretty bad.

First, let's talk about two items that were like the '69 Mets.  The "See You Tater" Backyard BBQ Tots from the Washington Nationals and the Pulled Pork Pierogie Hoagie from the Pittsburgh Pirates were both truly scrumtrulescent.  The first dish had tater tots topped with some incredibly creamy mac and cheese, perfectly crispy onions and pulled pork shoulder covered in tangy BBQ sauce.  The latter sandwich was a repeat offering from last year, but I'm glad it came back because it was my favorite thing to eat in last year's food fest.  Both items had pulled pork, but only Pittsburgh had the smarts to add a pierogi to it.  Seriously, I could eat both of these all day.

Things I wouldn't eat all day included the Curveball Frites (Milwaukee Brewers), Shrimp Po' Boy (New York Yankees) and unfortunately, the Bases Loaded Dog (your New York Mets).  Look at the photos below for the Curveball Frites and Shrimp Po' Boy.  All I see is some tough-to-chew Andouille sausage from Milwaukee and pickles from the Bronx.  Let someone else have those.  And what about Citi Field's Bases Loaded Dog?  Let's just say no one's coming around to score after having that one.  Sorry, Mets.  I still love the team, though.

Now look at the offering to the left of the Bases Loaded Dog in the next-to-last photo below.  That's the Chicken and Bubble Waffle from the Miami Marlins.  Clearly, Derek Jeter had nothing to do with that dish because it was absolutely delicious!  The Marlins took a thick piece of breaded chicken, smothered it with maple aioli and stuffed it in a bubble waffle cone to create the best thing at Marlins Park.

Last, but not least, was the Smoked Pork Belly Bao Buns, courtesy of the Los Angeles Dodgers.  The extreme close-up below perfectly shows off the candied pork belly, corn relish, sriracha aioli and spicy mayo nestled within a soft bao bun.

In order, base hit, base hit, strikeout, strikeout, home run, strikeout, base hit.  (EL/SM)

There was plenty of food to be had at the MLB Food Fest, but for those with smaller stomachs than my own, there were plenty of other things to do to pass the time.

In one corner was a virtual reality home-run hitting game.  There were also TVs everywhere showing all of the day's MLB action as well as a free soft serve ice cream stand (okay, so that still qualifies as food).

There were also larger-than-life sculptures of pretzels and cotton candy, which many people posed for photographs with.  But my personal favorites were the French fry ball tank that I jumped into and the hot dog seesaw, which I hopped on with my siblings.

There was fun for everyone at the MLB Food Fest (EL/SM)

The Studious Metsimus staff had a wonderful time at this year's MLB Food Fest.  The delicacies were plentiful and the portions were bigger this year than they were in 2018, which made it easier to accept the fact that I didn't have time to try about half of the items from all the ballparks.  Sure, there were some things I could have done without (I probably wouldn't have tried what Gabby had), but I have faith that the teams that struck out this year will make up for it at next year's food fest.  And there will be a food fest next year, right?

On that note, it's time to say goodbye from Center 415 in midtown Manhattan.  I hope my report makes you want to visit some road stadiums in the near future.  I know I want to go back to Miami, Pittsburgh and Kansas City, to name a few.

Now it's time for me to collect my M.V.E. Award.  I was kind of expecting a trophy, but I'll take the napkin.  Besides, I think I have some barbecue sauce on my chin.  A trophy probably wouldn't do much good to clean up that mess.  Happy eating, everyone!

I always love being recognized for my work.  (EL/SM)

Thursday, September 19, 2019

A Healing Win After a Terrible Loss

My mother was only 15 years old and living in Puerto Rico when her mom passed away.  Soon after, she met a man while she was finishing up high school and married him at age 18.  That marriage lasted for nearly a decade, but when she and her husband couldn't conceive a child, the relationship fizzled and led to divorce.  The year was 1967.  And once again, my mother was alone.  Her aunt, a rabid Yankees fan who lived in New York at the time, asked her to come visit for a few weeks to get away from the heartbreak and disappointment.  My mother accepted the offer and her visit ended up lasting for decades.

You see, soon after my mother arrived in New York, she met a man who just happened to be from Cabo Rojo - the same town in Puerto Rico where she was born and raised.  He had also been involved in a relationship that had recently ended and they found comfort in sharing those stories with each other.  Eventually they shared more stories with each other, sometimes over ice cream on City Island or under the stars by the Hudson River.  Less than nine months after they met for the first time, they were married.  And five years later, I came along.

It.  Had.  Happened.

I was one awkward looking kid.  But I was the only one my mother had, and she loved me for it.

After 15 years of trying, the long-desired title of "mother" had finally been earned.  You can imagine how much Mamita (that's what I called her) loved me and spoiled me, especially after thinking that she would never have a child of her own.

When I was eight years old, I became a Mets fan.  And when Mamita saw how much joy the team gave me - even if it was 1981 and the team rarely won - she became a Mets fan as well.  Her aunt wasn't very pleased with Mamita's decision, but the 22 rings won by her team probably made it a lot easier for her to accept.

Since my father was not a big sports fan, it was Mamita who took me to my Little League games.  She even worked at the field's hot dog stand just so she could be closer to me when I was playing.  When I pitched my first and only Little League shutout, she was the one who served me and my teammates the celebratory frankfurters.  They were probably the best dogs I ever had.

Once my Little League career had ended, my mother would take me to Mets games so we could continue to bond over our mutual love of baseball.  I'd talk to her about Mookie Wilson and she'd tell me about seeing Linguine Lasorda (that's what Puerto Ricans playfully called the legend we know as Tommy) playing and managing in Puerto Rico.  It made those pre-1986 losses much more tolerable to watch in person.

Ah, 1986.  The year the Mets finally won the World Series.  Mamita and I watched every postseason game together that October.   And in the tenth inning of Game Six, she passed down an old Puerto Rican tradition to me, although it was completely by accident.

As you surely know, the Mets needed to win Game Six to force a seventh and deciding game.  My mother had been holding a ceramic elephant for luck during the entire contest.  Not only did she have to hold the elephant, but it had to be facing away from the TV and she could only grab the elephant by its tusk.  It's only weird if it doesn't work, right?

Well, once Wally Backman and Keith Hernandez made the first two outs of the tenth with the Mets trailing by two runs, she tossed the elephant aside in disgust.  Ya gotta believe that I picked up the elephant and held it backwards by its tusk once she let it go.  This long-suffering Mets fan (of five whole years) was not about to give up on the team just yet even if things looked somewhat bleak.

With the elephant correctly positioned in my hand, my mother and I watched nervously as Gary Carter, Kevin Mitchell and Ray Knight singled.  We were on the edge of our seats as Mookie Wilson tap-danced away from Bob Stanley's wayward pitch.  And once Mookie's little roller up along first found its way behind the bag, I knew that I'd be holding elephants by their tusks for the rest of my life whenever I needed a little good fortune.

The Mets didn't make a return trip to the World Series until 2000.  By then, my father had been retired for 11 years and my parents had moved back to Cabo Rojo to spend the rest of their lives in their hometown.  Even though Mamita was now 1,576 miles away (according to what the frequent flyer miles said), she always made it back to New York for important Mets games.

Shea Stadium will always be in my heart.  As will my mother.

She was with me at Shea Stadium when Mike Piazza played his final game as a Met in 2005.  She was there when we saw the Mets clinch the N.L. East division title on September 18, 2006.  (I don't think I apologized enough to her for injuring her shoulder when Cliff Floyd caught the final out of the game.  I was a little excited and started jumping up and down while pressing down on her right shoulder repeatedly.  Oops.)  She even attended the last game played at Shea Stadium in 2008 and the first regular season game played at Citi Field in 2009.

The baseball-loving-woman-in-my-life torch was passed from my mother to my wife when we were married in 2010, but my mother always asked me about the Mets whenever we spoke on the phone during baseball season.  Even when we couldn't find something else to talk about, there was always baseball.  And it would be like that until her final days.

My mother passed away yesterday, exactly 13 years to the day after I got a little too excited after seeing the team clinch their first division title since 1988.  And even in passing, she gave me one more happy Mets memory.

As my father informed me of her passing, the Mets were playing a day game in Colorado.  Eighteen years ago, when I was told the news that my grandmother had passed away, the Mets were also playing a day game.  On that day (May 20, 2001), the Mets were trailing the Dodgers by two runs as they came to bat in the eighth inning.  New York scored in the eighth, then pushed across the winning run in the ninth inning.  It was a happy moment on an otherwise awful day.  So what do you think happened after I learned of my mother's passing?  Yup, you guessed it.

Mets down by two as they bat in the eighth.

Mets score in the eighth.

They score again in the ninth, turning a potential defeat into a healing victory.

The funny thing is, once the game against the Rockies entered the eighth inning with the Mets trailing by a couple of runs, repeating the scenario from when my grandmother passed, there was no doubt in my mind that the team would come back to win.  When it came to baseball, my mother had never let me down before and she wasn't about to begin now.

The Mets might not make the playoffs this season, but as far as I'm concerned, they already had their biggest win of the year yesterday.  And in a way, Mamita got to experience that win with me.

As a child and young adult, baseball helped my mother escape from the difficulties that life presented her, whether it be losing a parent, a marriage, or even the place she called home.  Now baseball will help heal me as I face my own challenge.  And I will heal, just like my mother once did.

We believe in comebacks.  And just like the Mets did yesterday, I'll come back from this loss.

My mother wouldn't have it any other way.

Dedicated to Juanny Leyro (Dec. 27, 1938 - Sept. 18, 2019)

Mamita, you'll always be in my heart.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Joey's World Tour: A Twin Killing in Minnesota

Twins Territory?  Not when the Mets are in town!  (Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

How's everything going, my fellow Mets fans?  This is your favorite Studious Metsimus roving reporter/culinary expert, Joey Beartran, and I just returned from a trip to the land of Juicy Lucys and Mary Tyler Moore.  Ya, for sure.  You betcha I'm talking about Minnesota.

Target Field is home to the Minnesota Twins, but you wouldn't think that after the Mets made themselves at home there for a couple of days.  I only made it to the series opener, but unlike my trip to San Diego a few months ago, my colleague didn't get tickets to the wrong game, mainly because the Mets swept the two-game set.

In addition to attending an actual Mets road victory for a change, I also toured the ballpark and sampled some local eats.  Along the way, I found out that Prince is still really huge in the Gopher State, the Mets have employed a whole bunch of Twins Hall of Famers and tour guides are very friendly with their guests.  Almost a little too friendly.

Are you ready to be taken for a ride?  Then fasten your seat belts, 'cause we're about to blast off like a Pete Alonso home run.

Malls are so huge here, they have roller coasters for people who'd rather shop for thrills instead of scented candles. (EL/SM)

Since our stay was going to be brief in Minneapolis, we decided to take the Target Field tour on the morning of the Mets' first game against the Twins.  There were several tour guides there to accommodate the dozens of mostly Mets fans who showed up expecting the usual "here are our expensive suites and here is the one tiny place in the ballpark where we acknowledge that the team has some history" spiel.  Oh wait, that's what they do at Citi Field tours.  My bad.

At Target Field, they actually appreciate and celebrate their history.  And it's not just Minnesota Twins history.  Prior to 1961, the Twins played in our nation's capital as the original Washington Senators.  Just because the Senators don't exist anymore doesn't mean they've been forgotten.  Within the ballpark are homages to the three pennant-winning Senators teams.  (Washington played in the World Series in 1924, 1925 and 1933.)  In addition to these tributes, our octogenarian tour guide, Bob - who looked like he could have been an usher for the Senators at old Griffith Park in D.C. - showed us a wing dedicated to the franchise's super slugger and gentle giant, Harmon Killebrew.  And since the first seven seasons of Killebrew's career were spent in Washington, it was pleasing to see that he was equally depicted wearing Senators and Twins jerseys.

First in war, first in peace and last in the American League.  But not last when it comes to producing superstars.  (EL/SM)

The Twins have had many great players in their fifty-plus seasons in Minnesota.  And it seems like all of them have sections devoted to them in the ballpark.  Hall of Famers such as Killebrew, Rod Carew and Kirby Puckett all have statues and gates named after their uniform numbers (Gates 3, 29 and 34, respectively.)  But native Minnesotan Kent Hrbek also has a statue and gate, as well as three-time batting champion and 15-year member of the Twins, Tony Oliva.  (Their statues are near Gates 14 and 6, naturally.)  And if that's not enough in the statue department, they even have full-size bronze effigies of two-time World Series-winning manager Tom Kelly and mascot TC Bear.

Within the park are also display cases and walls dedicated to Paul Molitor, another Minnesota-born Hall of Famer, as well as fan of flatulence Bert Blyleven and 21st century Twins legend Joe Mauer, whose number was retired by Minnesota just nine months after he played his final game for the team.  (Let's see how long the Mets wait to retire David Wright's number.  Hopefully before the team "accidentally" gives it to Kelvin Torve's son or some other no-name Met.)

There's basically no part of the park in which you can't find a tribute to a great Twins player, as illustrated by the photos below.  Even former Met Jerry Koosman got a mention because he was born in Minnesota and was a 20-game winner for the Twins in 1979.

Kirby Puckett's statue was so excited, it almost punched me in the head!  (EL/SM)

Just look at all those beautiful statues.  Meanwhile, all the Mets have is a Casey Stengel gnome tucked away near a window in the team's Hall of Fame and Museum and a not-yet-completed Tom Seaver statue that'll probably be put in the same area where the Home Run Apple was relegated to in 2009.  Because Mets.

But I digress.

Speaking of the Hall of Fame and Museum, the Twins even display their history outside the ballpark, with pennants depicting all of the members of their own Hall of Fame.  And of course, all of them fared far better for the Twins than they did for the Mets.

But at least we got a no-hitter from Johan, right?  (EL/SM collage)

Seeing how the Twins honor their former greats made me want to take off my roving reporter hat and put on my culinary expert cap.  So before heading out for some poutine (I was in a state that borders Canada, you know), I decided to check out what Target Field had to offer in the food department.  And I'm happy to report that I wasn't let down.

In the Champions Club, you can get everything from street corn dogs to a steak mushroom Alfredo pizza.  Had my colleague remembered to bring extra meal money, perhaps I could have sampled some of these delicacies.  Instead, I had to eat food from the concourses.  Fortunately, I did not consider this a downgrade, especially after I saw all the choices.

You can have Cuban sandwiches at Tony O's or the Italian fare at Frankie V's (named after Frank Viola, of course).  Want a 24-inch long Boomstick frankfurter or some tasty bratwurst?  They've got that.  There's even soul food at Soul Bowl and Mexican delicacies at Señor Smoke's.  (I had the last two for quality assurance purposes.)

Target Field has no shortage of food selections for hungry fans.  In addition to these stands, Target Field has an area of rotating vendors near the Kirby Puckett gate.  Clearly, they were speaking my language when they built the food stands at this ballpark.

Mac n' cheese, collard greens and smoked mushrooms to the left; chicken burrito bowl on the right.  (EL/SM)

So far I've discussed Target Field's tour and food.  Now it's time to talk about the ballpark and some interesting features that you won't see in many other stadiums.

Located in the Terrace Level behind home plate is 2 Gingers Pub.  Sure, you can get an adult beverage there.  But the main reason people go there is to chat with Twins organist Sue Nelson.  Throughout the game, Ms. Nelson plays her favorite instrument, which sounds so much better than the ear-shattering recorded music that we're normally subjected to at baseball games.

When Ms. Nelson is not playing, she's shmoozing with fans, who are allowed to go up to her throughout the game.  And who wouldn't want to say hello to her, especially with that radiant smile greeting you when you enter the pub?

I was calm when I met Sue Nelson because her bag told me to trust her.  Who am I to question a bag?  (EL/SM)

In addition to Ms. Nelson's organ playing, other features that make Target Field a little different than most other ballparks include exit velocity and launch angle on the scoreboard (for all you nerdy kids out there), the classic logo of Minnie and Paul shaking hands over the Mississippi River, the flagpole from old Metropolitan Stadium (which was the Twins' original home when they moved to Minnesota in 1961), the MLB and Twins logo made entirely of wooden bats, a plethora of purple Prince products in the Twins clubhouse shop and the only mascot in the American League that's also a bear.

As you can imagine, my colleagues had to stand in line to meet TC Bear, even if it meant missing an inning or two of the Mets game.

My colleague was way too happy to meet TC Bear, who reminds me of what I would look like on steroids.  (EL/SM)

So that's all for my trip to the North Star state, a trip that featured two Mets victories against the Minnesota Twins.  On this journey, I learned that the Washington Senators are gone, but not forgotten.  I also learned that the Twins are proud of their homegrown players and anyone who has ever contributed positively to the franchise.  They also specialize in a diverse assortment of ballpark cuisine and Irish pubs that are actually secret hiding places for smiling organists.

Oh, and remember when I mentioned Target Field's very friendly tour guides twenty paragraphs ago?  (You can scroll up; I'll wait.)  Yeah, they get very attached to their guests, especially when they consist of famous roving reporters and culinary experts.

Love you, Bob the Tour Guide.  Thanks to you and the Mets' performance in Minneapolis, my stay in your state was one I'll remember for quite some time.

Can we get some privacy, please?  (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
World Tour Stop #19: Miami
World Tour Stop #20: St. Louis
World Tour Stop #21: Kansas City
World Tour Stop #22: Anaheim (and San Diego revisited)