Yesterday I received the type of news that you know will one day come, but refuse to accept it will actually happen – my grandfather, or pop-pop as I knew him, had passed away. I found myself thinking about the times we had spent together, as I’m sure many of you have done yourself after losing a loved one, and baseball kept coming to mind.
If you couldn’t tell by the fact that you’re reading this on a blog dedicated to the game – I love baseball, and my grandfather had something to do with that. I am admittedly a die-hard Mets fan. A major reason, and possibly the sole reason, I still follow the Yankees so closely and decided to make a NY baseball blog is because of my grandparents (mother’s side). I might be writing this due to the recent passing of my grandfather, but my grandmother, who passed away about eight years ago herself, had just as much to do with my love for the game. They were the biggest Yankees fans I’ve ever met. I know, everyone says that about their grandparents when it comes to the Yankees, but I truly mean that statement.
Growing up when I would visit their home it wasn’t uncommon to walk in and see a Yankees game on the TV. In fact, it was weird to not see one on the TV. I’m not just talking a game that was being played in the midst of a current season. I’m talking about in January a Yankees game would be on the TV. You have to remember this is before the YES network was shoving Yankees greatest games down our throats. No, they would be watching one of their many VHS tapes (remember those things?) of recorded games. There was always a pile stacked up on the floor next to the TV ready to be popped into the VCR to relive their favorite moments in Yankees history at any time.
My grandfather drove a paper route in NYC for a living. He would deliver newspapers and magazines to the proper distributors before they hit the newsstands in the morning. This must have contributed to his encyclopedia-like knowledge of sports and pop culture. He loved the tabloids and to his dying day would read several newspapers on a daily basis. Baseball cards were still abundant at many of his stops in those days. I’m not sure if he actually bought all of these cards out-of-pocket or if he had a bartering system of sorts but he began giving me more packs than you can even imagine at a very young age. I still have every baseball card he has ever given me carefully packed away in my closet and tucked under my bed. I’m sure a good 95% of those are worth nothing more than the paper they are printed on, but no matter how much space they occupy I can’t ever see myself parting with them.
I have a feeling there are still packs tucked away in his house that he probably never got around to giving me from his working days. That was always kind of our thing. Everyone has something they connect over and ours was baseball. When my grandmother passed away he began spending increased time at my parents’ house, as my mother became his caretaker of sorts. Even as his health began to deteriorate and his memory began to go – he always wanted to talk sports and most notably baseball with me. Those facts and memories seemed to never falter from his brain. He would walk in the door, and speed walk his way through the house against my mother’s wishes, to find me in the living room before pronouncing something along with the lines of “YOU SEE THAT GAME LAST NIGHT?” I have to admit, there were times I dreaded him coming over the day after a tough Mets’ loss. But I know he wasn’t trying to rub salt in the wound. He just really wanted to talk about the game with me. Looking back on it now I already wish I didn’t take those moments for granted so many times.
When it comes to my grandmother, I don’t even know where to begin. She was the strongest willed woman I’ve ever seen. Typical Italian in that she never shied away from letting her feelings be known or engage in an argument just for the sake of arguing. And she was good at it. I don’t think it was possible for her to walk away from a conversation before getting her two cents in. But for all that she always had this help others first mentality. Everything revolved around what she could do to help you before herself. That is something that I felt summarized her character more than anything else and will always be my lasting memory of her. I hope to have half the heart she had when it comes to looking after my family and friends.
She loved baseball every bit as much as my grandfather. The two of them were frequent listeners to the sports radio station WFAN. Their favorite program was the Mike and the Mad Dog show. My grandmother enjoyed it so much that she actually took the time to call in “Grace from Lindenhurst you’re on the air,” as Mike Francesa would say. How many of your grandmothers cared enough about sports to call into a talk radio show? I’m going to go out on a limb and say not many.
The two of them visited the baseball hall of fame in Cooperstown when I was still very young. They brought me back this custom wooden bat with my name, hometown and birthday engraved on it. For years it was displayed hanging on my bedroom wall. As I got older it became my thinking bat. When I lay in my room that bat somehow always finds its way into my hands. No matter what’s on my mind, or what I have going on in my life, that bat seems to always help get me through it.
I was the first grandchild they were able to sit in the stands and watch play baseball. As I got older I was lucky enough to be a part of a successful high school team. We had a very exciting two-year run and I know how much they enjoyed following along and coming to the games when they were able to. I grew accustomed to having my parents in the crowd and didn’t think twice about seeing them. But when I spotted my grandparents I would genuinely become nervous. I’m still not really sure why. I guess because I didn’t see them there as often and wanted to make sure I left the best impression I could on them in those limited opportunities. I like to think I did a pretty good job of that. On my team’s way to winning the Long Island Championship, I was named the county playoffs MVP. As much as that award meant to me on a personal level, I know how much pride that brought them both.
Last year on the final day of the baseball season my family and I took my grandfather to Citi Field. He had always told me stories about going to games at the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field. I felt that it was important that he see firsthand the modern-day stadium that was built-in those ballparks remembrance. It didn’t matter that the Yankees weren’t playing. He didn’t care about that. Just being at the game with us and seeing the stadium in person meant the world to him. Later that night he broke down in tears to my mother about how much he enjoyed the day and what it meant to him for us to take him there. The thought alone makes me water up. I take solace in knowing I was with him for his final baseball game.
My grandmother always kept up with modern technology and frequently used AIM (AOL Instant Messenger), yes my grandmother, and would always put up the same away message. All these years later I still have it ingrained in my mind – “When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you.” With opening day upon us, I’m sure both of you are smiling ear to ear, along with the rest of us. Pop-pop is already complaining about a Joe Girardi pitching change. That’s if he’s able to get a word in over my grandmother.
R.I.P., I love and miss you both.
Last night I attended Pitch Talks at BB Kings in NYC. For those of you unaware, Pitch Talks is a segmented event of national and local sports writers/personalities to talk baseball. This is the first one of their events I have attended but from what I gather this is a traveling show of sorts with the participants changing based on location. It’s events like this that remind me just how lucky I am to live in the most powerful sports market in the country. We were spoiled with some of the most prominent people in the industry to entertain us with baseball talk, in the middle of January.
Pete Abraham (Boston Globe) played the master of ceremonies role as he moderated all three segments. The night started off talking about the game on a national level with panelist Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports/MLBN), Buster Olney (ESPN) and Jay Jaffe (Sports Illustrated). Given the timing of the event it was no shock that the Hall of Fame was a focal point of discussion. It was made rather clear that all three have a problem with the voting process and it sounds like changes will be heavily discussed going forward. Whether it be the removal of the character clause, increasing the amount of players you can vote for or the amount of years players can remain on a ballot remain to be seen.
There was no argument that given any unforeseen event Mike Piazza will get elected next year. Rosenthal believes that this will open the flood gates to allow other suspected, but not proven, PED players to be elected going forward. I still want to hold out hope that Piazza is clean, but I understand the point. Jaffe refrained from using too many sabermetrics last night which disappointed me a little as I enjoy watching traditional writers debate new age thinking. I was happy Jaffe was quick to shut down the notion that Pete Rose is no different from the PED guys. As he said, it’s “Apples and oranges” – he broke the golden rule and should never be allowed in.
When it came to Rob Manfred taking over for Bud Selig as the new commissioner, no one felt much would be different. He was groomed for this position under Selig and is suspected to have similar beliefs on how the game should operate. One thing mentioned to keep an eye on was the pace of play. Olney believes that it is only a matter of time until a pitch clock is inserted.
All three of them wanted to see the game market their young stars better and they couldn’t be more right about this. I think the NBA might do this better than other league. They do a great job marketing players in the smaller markets and turn them into household names. Just think Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City) and Anthony Davis (New Orleans). MLB is doing terrific locally but they need to take a page out of the NBA’s playbook and promote their stars on a national level.
Next up was the Mets segment where Olney stuck around and was joined by Matthew Cerrone (MetsBlog) and Adam Rubin (ESPN NY). As a shocker to no one, the Wilpons and the SS position were the hot topics. Olney and Rubin reiterated that the Mets payroll is what it is. There is no reason to believe it will be changing anytime in the near future. It was suggested that the Wilpons long ties with Selig will holdover with Manfred taking the reigns. You could see the genuine disgust in Olney, and Rosenthal in the previous segment, over the lack of Mets payroll and efforts to act like a major market franchise.
Every time Wilmer Flores or Ruben Tejada were so much as mentioned you could hear the snickers in the crowd, I chose just to shake my head. In order to become a real contender they believed the Mets need to pull the trigger on an Ian Desmond type of player. Although I have been hesitant myself to give up our pitching prospects, last night started to sway me. It is all but a given at least half of those prospects will either not pan out or go down due to injury. This where the highly touted minds in that front office need to earn their keep and decide which are the ones the Mets should be willing to part with.
It was mentioned that the feeling around baseball is that the Mets feel they have to win every trade. Of course I understand that to a certain extent, especially when you are in rebuilding mode. But if you are going to sell the fans on the fact that you are trying to win now, you have to take a chance once in a while and give something of value up to fill a void. That is the conundrum the Mets front office currently faces. Everyone seemed to be in agreement that the Mets will be above .500 this year, but no one saw them as anything more than “in the wild card hunt” as the roster currently stands.
The evening finished up with a “Bronx Banter” discussion when Jaffe returned with Sweeny Murti (WFAN) and Tyler Kepner (NY Times) filling out the group nicely. There wasn’t any “core four” talk and it was weird to think of the Yankees no longer having that face of the franchise player. A lot was made about who would take over as the new clubhouse leader. The belief was that it is only a matter of time until Brian McCann becomes that guy. I’ve always heard great things about McCann and that wouldn’t surprise me at all. Brett Gardner and Mark Teixeira have spent a good amount of time in NY now and I would really like to see them step into that role as well.
Although no one had any real reason to believe the Yankees will make another big splash, they agreed to never count them out of anything. Given what GM Brian Cashman has done so far this off season, they believe he is relying heavily on his defense and the bullpen. The pen may be in great shape but Murti and Kepner both felt they need one, maybe two, more starters. Jaffe raised an interesting point that he could envision the Yankees making Andrew Miller the closer this season and keep Dillin Betances as the set-up man. His reasoning being that this will keep Betances cost down for another season as set-up men earn far less than closers. It’s hard for me to believe the Yankees would actually operate this way but maybe the times are a changing.
One thing that doesn’t change is AROD finding his way into the discussion. No one believes that the Yankees are ready to simply pay AROD to go away. Not yet at least. Murti stressed the notion that the Yankees received the lowest production out of the DH position in the American League last year. I was pretty shocked by that. He felt that if the Yankees want to maximize AROD’s production then he should be delegated as the teams full-time DH. I think Cashman all but assured us AROD won’t be playing much third base once he resigned Chase Headley.
Although I read/watch these guys do on a daily basis, it was great to see them interact in this type of setting. It’s fun to see their personalities come to life and get genuine emotion out of them. Rosenthal and Olney are two of the most recognizable figures in this industry. It was nice to see them loosen their tie up (bow tie in Rosenthal’s case) and just talk baseball in the bar as so many of us do. Jaffe even brought his beer on stage with him.
I strongly encourage fans to follow each of last nights panelist throughout the year. They get to spend more time at home during the winter but there is no such thing as an off season for any of them. There is sure to be plenty more baseball to talk about on both a local and national level between now and opening day.
35 days till pitchers and catchers report. But who’s counting?
With Robinson Cano returning to the Bronx tonight, many are eager to see the treatment he receives from the fans. Cano, was a guest on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon last night, and we were given a glimpse as to what the crowd might be like.
Fallon has become notorious for pulling pranks during his years on late night TV, this time it came at the expense of Yankee fans. Random fans were questioned on the street as to how they would treat the former Yankee great upon his return. The fan would then turn and let their voice be heard to a poster of Cano, little did they know the real life Cano would be standing behind the sign. The faces of disbelief and shock are priceless when Cano reveals himself. Fans tones quickly change from boos to hugs.
This is the way most fans really are, regardless of the fan base. It’s easy to boo from a distance, knowing the person will be unable to single you out. But put that same fan face-to-face with their target, things will quickly change. The video is hilarious, kudos to Jimmy Fallon and whatever producer thought this skit up, well done.
Watch the video below, you won’t regret it.
For as long as I can remember, I have been infatuated with the game of baseball. Growing up on Long Island, I was taught first and foremost to root for the New York Mets. I have been a die-hard fan my whole life, which has had its ups and downs over the years, to say the least. But this is the fan path I have chosen for myself and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
But being raised in the New York area you learn at an early age, whether you like it or not, The Yankees dominate the city. All season long I find myself as intrigued and interested in everything and anything related to the historic franchise. From their 27 Championships to George Steinbrenner to the walking tabloid that is Alex Rodriguez, how could I leave out the Yankees?
This is why I have decided to focus my blog on New York City baseball as a whole, rather than just one team. Baseball is life to me once the season begins. I plan on expressing my thoughts, opinions and maybe some venting throughout the course of the season.