Saturday, September 25, 2004

Rants From the Upper, no, Lower Deck by Steve Reynolds

For the first time since I’ve been writing Rants From the Upper Deck in Zisk, the title of this column isn’t appropriate. Yes Zisk readers, I have seen how the other, richer half lives—I have sat directly behind home plate at a major league ballgame. As a matter of fact, I sat in the upper deck only once at a Met game this year, thanks to my good friend Jocelyn, who works at the Mets flagship radio station, WFAN. It seems that people with money to afford really good season tickets can’t or don’t use them all the time, which led to me seeing baseball games without needing oxygen. This year I sat in great free seats on the first base side, directly above the net behind home plate and the aforementioned home plate seats.

How does a baseball peasant approach sitting in these seats? By acting like a total fool, of course. I called my friend Joe and asked him to tape the game because we might be on T-V, and he asked, “How many rows back are you?” I replied, “None back,” and then burst out into maniacal laughter. Myself, Zisk publisher Mike Faloon and our friend (and drummer extraordinaire) Pete Hayes cackled like kids getting out of school for the summer when we discovered there was waiter service at our seats...the same kind of seats that they started putting in the big “stadium” theaters a few years ago. I have never been so comfortable sitting through a three-hour game in my life. I never had to get up for anything—the waiter brought me seven-dollar beers, six-dollar chicken fingers, five-dollar fries and the largest bag of popcorn ever made. And all I had to do was sign the credit card receipt—oh yeah, he had a little machine on his belt to swipe my card. The only thing the waiter didn’t offer to do was empty my bladder for me.

So you might wonder about the game itself. Who cares?!?! They bring you sushi with wasabi sauce to your seat—who needs to watch the game when something like that happens? Honestly, I don’t even recall who won, but I do know that from behind home plate every ball that was hit hard seemed like it was destined to leave the park. And we were so close that when you spoke out to players, they could actually respond. Cliff Floyd had a rough at bat his first time up, and when he came up a second time I yelled out something like, “Don’t let the fans get you down, you can do it.” He then looked up at me, and the pointed the barrel of his bat right at me, and then went up and got a double. At that point, I should have taken over for Art Howe.

This season I also got see how the semi-rich live in my borough of Brooklyn at Keyspan Park, the home of the Mets single A team the Brooklyn Cyclones. Through my friend Erik’s connections with a beer baron, we got two tickets for the “Party Deck” on the top of the park. There is a long single row of seats right along the rail, so you can over look everything that’s happening below. But what is even better looking is the limitless supply of free American beer you get until the bottom of the seventh inning, which sits right alongside a huge table of hot dogs, chicken fingers, salads, cookies and many more foods I can’t eat on my low-carb diet. Once again, the game seemed secondary to novelty aspects of where I was sitting. (By the way, I do remember that the Cyclones won that game.)

So what have I learned from this baseball season of great seats? No matter where you sit, George Steinbrenner still looks like an insensitive prick. The shabby treatment of the whole Hurricane Frances/Tampa Bay Devil Rays travel fiasco offended many fans, but the Boss did something that was even more offensive, yet much less reported. After the Yankees were thrashed by the Indians on August 31st, Steinbrenner ordered his minions to put up a bunch of silly inspirational messages on the scoreboards and on the big sign on the stadium’s facade. When Jack Curry of the New York Times asked Howard Rubenstein, Stenbrenner’s spokesman, why the messages had been placed around the stadium, the PR flack came back with a whopper of a response for King George:

“I wanted to show the fans that we have the same courage and the same attitudes all New Yorkers have had fighting back from that terrible episode on 9/11. New Yorkers never give up and the Yankees never give up.”

I just about screamed out loud on the subway while reading this little statement. Baseball did help many people (this writer included) get over the initial shock of the first couple weeks after the attacks, but to insinuate that a 22-0 loss is even close to the same realm as almost 3,000 people dying is just plain offensive. I don’t think anything Steinbrenner has said over the years has ticked me off more. I hope the man rots in hell and dies a horrible, long drawn out death because of some incredible painful and embarrassing disease.

Speaking of embarrassment, that’s what I feel looking back upon at least two of my projections for the division winners. (The Royals? Was I smoking crack? Was I given the intelligence of our 43rd President for a day? What was I thinking?) In any case, it’s much easier (and safer) to hand out our almost annual Zisk Year End Awards. (These aren’t who I think will win, it’s who I think should win.)

AL MVP: Gary Sheffield, New York Yankees. With apologies to my Red Sox and David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, those guys didn’t play with a separated shoulder all season. As much as I hate the Yankees and everyone associated with them, I have a deep respect (and a burning sensation in the pit of my stomach) for what Sheffield has done this season—and he’s eradicated all that baggage caused by his demands for trades from teams in the past. The Yankees would be even more of bust without Dwight Gooden’s nephew. (But I still hate him.)

AL Cy Young: (Tie) Johan Santana, Minnesota Twins and Curt Schilling, Boston Red Sox. Would either one of these teams have locked up their playoff spots without these two guys? No way.

AL Manager of the Year: Mike Scoscia, Anaheim Angels. With amount of injuries this team had in the first half of the season, the fact that they were still in the race at the end of the season is a testament to the former catcher’s ability to fit the right spare part into the right position.

AL Least VP: Jason Giambi, New York Yankees. Okay, so the guy was sick and then had a benign tumor, but his secretive nature when it was finally diagnosed made him even more a distraction to a team with plenty of them.

NL MVP: Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants. Really, how could anyone doubt this? He’s still one of the biggest assholes of the game this side of Ty Cobb, but the Giants are basically a one-man team (two when out next winner pitches).

NL Cy Young: Jason Schmidt, San Francisco Giants. Schmidt stumbled a bit after he hurt his groin, but that doesn’t take away the fact that he delivered whenever called upon to keep the Giants in the playoff race.

NL Manager of the Year: Bobby Cox, Atlanta Braves. Again, I hate this team, but Bobby Cox’s pact with the devil was at its highest level this year.

NL Least VP: Kaz Matsui, New York Mets. I was temporarily blinded by Matsui’s big splash on opening day, but after a while my initial impressions from spring training were correct—this guy was the second coming of Tsuyoshi Shinjo.

Ah, the Mets. Back to where we started this column. What can be written about the Mets that hasn’t already been said by most of the sports “journalists” in New York? 2004 was truly an odd year to be a Mets fan. For the first time in at least eight seasons, I had low expectations for the team. In the late ’90s they got better each year, just missing the playoff two years in a row before getting in in ’99 and then going all the way to the World Series in 2000. Those teams had an excitement about them—you never felt that someone trying to improve their fantasy league team assembled them. But the past three seasons were one bad decision after another (Mo Vaughan, Roberto Alomar anyone?).

However, as 2004’s opening day approached I actually felt the Mets could avoid last place for a third consecutive year. GM Jim Duquette seemed to have a great plan of mixing the team’s youth with some newcomers that could actually catch the ball to play off the fact that Shea Stadium is still a pitcher’s park. I couldn’t wait to see Mike Cameron make some great defensive plays and to see Matsui and Jose Reyes become a middle infield destined for the Web Gems segment on Baseball Tonight. Heck, even Peter Gammons, whose baseball opinion I respect more than anyone’s, said that the Mets had done a good job in the off season.

As we all know from the past few years, what looks good on paper doesn’t always come together. Reyes got hurt for the 100th time, Matsui couldn’t figure out how to play shortstop anymore and Cameron’s struggles at the plate caused him to press too much on defense. Yet the Mets stayed in the race in the NL Least until mid-July—and then Duquette blew apart his carefully constructed plan for the future. After saying this wasn’t a “win now” year he traded a pile of youth for two pitchers that didn’t have winning records, one of which could leave as a free agent (Kris Benson) and the other one with a gimpy arm (Victor Zambrano). What a jackass. Or maybe it’s the Wilpons (both father and son) who are the jackasses. Perhaps they saw their chance for a division title (and a spot on the back pages of New York’s tabloids) and ordered Duquette to make the trades. Every time I see Scott Kazmir pitch for the Devil Rays, I reach for a bottle of Pepto, as I know I’m not going to like how well he pitches while Zambrano and pitching coach Rick Peterson try to use some zen healing to make his arm whole again. Has there ever been an organization that has given up on so many talented players too early, only to watch them blossom into stars for other teams? Well maybe the Yankees, but they’re definitely a distant second.

For me, the moral of the 2004 season is this—even if you get to look at shit up close, it stinks just as much as it does in the upper deck.

Steve Reynolds is the senior editor of Zisk, and has already sent in his application to be the Mets skipper next year—how could he do any worse?

No comments: