11 September 2011

Shame on you, MLB

Photo credit: AP
So tonight the Mets wanted to wear caps representing local public safety agencies as their 2001 predecessors did following the World Trade Center attacks.  MLB, in its infinite wisdom, denied the request, citing a desire to not show bias to any one team and maintain uniformity throughout the game.

Yeah, right.  Surely, it has nothing to do with MLB's promotion of the special edition flag-patch caps that the Mets wore instead along with the rest of baseball to mark the date.

Since, as explained in the product description, a portion of the profits go to 9/11 memorials in New York, at the Pentagon, and the site of the United Flight 93 crash, maybe the directive isn't all just MLB playing Scrooge.  However, if it were about the charities, why not a) say so, and/or b) give the team or individual players the option of wearing the fire, police, EMT, Port Authority, etc. caps in exchange for a donation to make up for the supposed money that might be lost if the team didn't actually wear the caps on TV?

No, I'm afraid common sense tells us that the charitable "portion" of the profit on a $37 (seriously, that's what 5950s go for now?) baseball cap probably wasn't the issue.

While I'm wagging my finger at MLB, though, I'll add I'm a little disappointed but not at all surprised by the team's obedient compliance and that the best protest they could muster was David Wright wearing an NYPD cap in the dugout for a half-inning.  The 2001 Mets were given the very same order 10 years ago and simply thumbed their nose at it.  Heaven forbid this era of Mets display one fraction of the heart and stones of the Valentine-era group under this or any other circumstance.

Credit where credit is due, though:

I salute the Mets organization for the pre-game ceremony, which was very classy and a great tribute.  If the Mets ran a ball club as well as they put on commemorative ceremonies, they'd be annual World Series contenders.

23 August 2011

More on the fences

OK, this is starting to get ridiculous.  I can't run through my daily Mets internet rotation without coming across something about if/how/why the dimensions of Citi Field need to be changed.  We've already experienced the ultimate irony on the subject, but I feel compelled to go more in-depth on what a waste of time the whole thing is.

Quite simply, this is yet again one more thing to talk about in lieu of a pennant race, one more distraction away from how to actually fix the franchise, one more case in which everyone in Metsdom has the answer and very few are asking the right question in the first place.

MLB home run/scoring information is not hard to find on the world wide web.  I perused some this morning and discovered the following (click for the source):

1) The Mets' home runs per game rate is actually higher at Citi Field than on the road.

2) There are 5 National League parks more stingy with homers than Citi Field.  Where's the outcry for the Pirates, Dodgers, 2010 World Champion Giants, and 2009 Division Champion Cardinals to reconfigure their fields? The Marlins, of course, are altogether moving out of their stadium (in which they won two World Series, by the way).

3) In terms of scoring, Citi Field is about as average as it can be.  A score of 1 is the standard.  Citi Field scores .973, placing it 16th out of 30 ballparks, which is incidentally all of one spot below the bandbox in Philadelphia.

Interesting sidebar: The Phillies' staff ERA is is better at home than it is on the road.  Amazing how unlike Mets' hitters supposedly are, Philadelphia's pitchers aren't intimidated by the park in which they play 5 times as many games as anyone else.

All that said, yes, the Mets do struggle a little more to score at home than on the road.  If you sort the stats here, you'll see as of this morning, they're scoring 4.25 runs per game at home and 4.63 (rounded) per game on the road.  But 1) that only amounts to roughly one run every 3 games, and b) we already established above that as compared league-wide, scoring for ALL teams at Citi is perfectly normal.  Also, the point of the game is to score more runs than the other team, right?  Well, Mets pitching is slightly better at home, with a home ERA of 4.03 and a road ERA of 4.42, almost exactly the same 4/10ths or so of a run per game difference on offense, only this time in the Mets' favor.

If somebody wants the walls moved in just to see more homers hit, fine, just don't kid yourself that it's going to help the team all that much.  It's just not that big a factor.  Even to the extent it is, David Wright and Jason Bay being "robbed" once or twice a month is the least of your worries when the pitching staff is putting forth a daily effort to compile the league's 13th-worst ERA.

21 August 2011

Collins laments Citi Field's offensive stinginess, 20-run game ensues

My nominee for Quote of the Season, from Jeff Bradley of the Newark Star-Ledger:
“It’s very difficult to play here if you’re an offensive player,” Terry Collins admitted today, before the Mets lost, 11-9, to the Milwaukee Brewers.
Seriously, you can't make up this stuff....

25 July 2011

All you need to know about the Mets, right here:

Over the weekend, this tweet from Peter Gammons popped up around the internet (cap tip to Metsblog):
Interesting Elias note: since 2005, Mets are a .542 team with Wright, Reyes and Beltran in the lineup together, .480 with one or more out
Obviously, the point there was to illustrate how different a team the Mets are with and without those 3 cogs in the machine.  Personally, I find the stat meaningless since you have no idea what the team's comparative ERA might be or who else is in the lineup during those games, but I'll play along.  The Mets are a far better team with Reyes-Wright-Beltran than without.

The problem is, it's still not good enough a team.  During that same period of 2005 through today, a .542 season would not have been good enough to win a single playoff berth out of the N.L. East.  The worst winning percentage among  East Champions during that span was the Phillies' .549 in 2007, and the worst of the wild card teams was the Dodgers at .543 in '06 (N.L. standings from 2005 onward start here).  So per the figure quoted by Gammons, the safe expectation for the Mets when they have Reyes, Wright, and Beltran all playing together is to narrowly miss the playoffs.  Wouldn't you know it?  In addition to the one division title, that's exactly what happened--twice--during the peak of the Reyes-Wright-Beltran era with The Collapse and Shea Goodbye.

I almost tire of saying it: As good as these three guys may be individually, what the Mets have been doing with them simply hasn't worked, and it's past time for a new approach.

Now, what I'd really be interested in knowing is the team's record with and without Paul LoDuca.

04 July 2011

The Math

(Special "Ribs on the Grill, Margarita Within Reach, Buffett Wiggling Out of the Speakers, Lying in My Hammock, 4th of July/Start of My Vacation" Edition)

After a dramatic win to take Game 3 of the Subway Series, Act II, the Mets yet again find themselves at .500.  Last night, while perusing the web, I saw an internet post stating that the difference between .500 and 90 wins is only 9 games, or a scant 5% of the season.  I replied to that post, and will repeat the gist of my response here in more detail.

Yes, 9 games is the difference between 90 wins and 81.  Yes, 9 games is only slightly over 5 1/2% of a 162-game season.  The problem is, the Mets aren't working with a 162-game season at this point.  In fact they're working with less than half of a 162-game season, as 84 of those games are already in the books.  As fate would have it, the Mets are also right at .500 at the moment.  That 9-game difference between .500 and 90 wins has to be made up in 78 games.  Now those 9 games comprise 11.5% of the remaining season, a much larger portion than our original claim of 5%.

Looking at it more directly, in order for the Mets to win 90 games, they have to go 48-30 the rest of the way.  48-30 works out to .615 ball from now until the end of the season.  Only one team in all of baseball has that high a winning percentage at the moment.  The A.L. East-leading Yankees, who just took 2 out of 3 from the Mets are only at .610.  That one team that's playing .615 or better?  The Phillies, who at 53-32 are roughly one-half game above that percentatge.  Essentially, for the Mets to go on to win 90 games, they have to turn into the Phillies the rest of the way.  The Phillies have one of the best starting rotations in recent memory.  The Mets?  Not so much.

Is it possible?  Well, anything is.  Is it remotely likely?  Heck, no.  I've seen other people say that "we're only 7 out of the Wild Card, and we blew that big a lead in a couple of weeks back in '07."  The difference is 1) The 2007 Phillies only had one team to catch for the division title as opposed to the 6 the Mets currently trail in the Wild Card, and 2) sadly, we are talking about the team that blew said lead, not the one that erased it.

Enjoy the 4th, take the opportunity to listen to Vin Scully at least for a while tonight if you can, enjoy the rest of the season.  Just don't kid yourself.

24 June 2011

Read this now.


I want to buy this Rob guy a beer.  I think the exact same things, but dang if he doesn't explain them a lot better.

And in response the eternal and totally-missing-the-point question of "who do you get to replace him?" let me once again say, "You don't, nor do you have to."  It's been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jose Reyes is not the key to winning championships.

23 June 2011

A telling choice of words from MetsBlog

[NOTE:  Apparently the "scheduled publish" feature is still not working properly.  This was supposed to go up first thing in the morning yesterday.]

So sayeth Brian Erni:
Tomorrow’s matinee is a huge game for this team. A win would give the Mets the series win and a 3-3 home stand.
So this is what we're down to, huh?  "Huge" is now defined as not losing 2 out of 3 to a last place team that arrived at CitiField with a record of 33-40?

Seriously, just chew on that a while.  Swish it around, taste it.  Ponder the fact that it's really been so long since the Mets were in honest contention for anything meaningful that a pivotal moment in the season now consists of the opportunity to split a home stand with the bottom half of the American League West.

I remember huge.  Huge is a weekend series between the 1st and 2nd place teams with a half game between them.  Huge is sweeping the team nipping at your heels as if to say, "Nice try, but this is our year, not yours."  Huge is a playoff game in October.  This--while I'm sure it will be a perfectly enjoyable afternoon game coinciding on a day off for me--is a lousy, laughable substitute for huge.

18 June 2011

That was fun while it lasted.

Normally, I refrain from posting on weekends, but as you can see, it's been a while.  I got hella busy with work and managed to get sick for all but a couple of days of a two-week stretch, so the blog here fell pretty low on the priority list.  That said...

Here we are, with the Mets having played pretty well for the past couple of weeks, polishing up a 6-4 road trip and not one, but two series wins against a winning Braves' team, yet they are again: 2 games under .500, which appears to be the team's permanent home in 2011.

That's just the way it is with the Mets of this era.  They have flashes of brilliance, but things always revert back to mediocrity.  The last two days have been a microcosm.  After digging out of the hole and sitting at .500 for a day, and on the verge of sweeping the Braves, they hand it right back.  And they don't just lose--no, that'd be to boring for this era of Metsdom.  They lose on the combination of an error and a balk.   Then, the bad taste of that lingers through Friday and they drop the home opener against the Angels, who should have been at a disadvantage after flying from end of the continent to the other.

Like I assume most Mets fans are, I'm just enjoying the season for what it is one game at a time.  Even that's tough, because as long as they hang around on the fringes of contention (4 1/2 out of the wild card as I type this), the higher the likelihood the franchise continues in this purgatorial holding pattern instead of making some big moves one way or the other.  Contending is awesome.  Rebuilding is at least interesting.  This limbo situation is just "meh."

Yes, there's still plenty of season left.  Yes, it may not take 90 wins to make the playoffs.  But until this team can stay over .500 for more than 24 hours, I'm forced to believe they simply are what they are: usually pretty good at some things, usually pretty bad at others, and almost perfectly mediocre over the long haul.

24 May 2011

Inspired Mets respond to owner's knocks by dominating 5th-place Cubs

Yeah, right.

Fred Wilpon sounds a lot like me

I'm a whole day behind on this, which may as well be an eon in internet time, but there's no way I can NOT address Fred Wilpon's quotes in the New Yorker which lit the Metsiverse on fire yesterday:

“We’re snakebitten, baby.”
"He won't get it." [in reference to Jose Reyes getting "Carl Craword money" as a free agent]
"Not a superstar." [in reference to David Wright]
and my personal favorite:
"Shitty team"

I'll let everyone else gasp and wring their hands over those words and the disastrous effect they'll have on the team (as if it's not in a train-wreck state of a affairs as it is), but let me offer you a fresh perspective: the owner, much like myself, has simply had it with this bunch.

It's important to keep in mind the context in which Mr. Wilpon said what he said.  His team was in last place (a position they're still only a game and a half ahead of as I type this this evening), losing to another last-place team, and in the midst of a horrendous start to a season which followed two other horrendous seasons which in turn followed two horrendous endings to otherwise respectable seasons.

Should the owner of a team be saying unflattering things about his players, knowing they could be made public and set off a media circus?  No, of course not.  Did Fred Wilpon honestly give a rat's behind about that at the time he uttered them?  I honestly don't think so.  He sounded like a guy who'd crossed the threshold, a man who'd resigned himself to the fact that his team is broken and is far beyond being fixed with a minor tweak or three.

Not that he gives two whits what I think, but while I don't condone Wilpon's lack of discretion, I respect his honesty about the situation.  He may be a fan, but he's not some doofus on a message board pretending a team with a below-average rotation and sitting 2 games under .500 at the end of May is somehow going to find itself in a playoff race just because its leadoff hitter is a fantasy baseball god and has a big smile.  And since Wilpon's the guy in the best position to do something about it (well, for now, anyway...), that's a good thing.

The vibe I get from that part of the New Yorker story is that Wilpon has similar feelings toward his baseball team as I do toward my lawn.  I water it.  I mow it.  I pay about $40 a month every few weeks for someone to come treat it with various fertilizers, insecticides and whatnot.  I do everything I'm supposed to from March through May, but by the middle of June, there are nonetheless bare spots and thin spots, and  it's overrun by that damned torpedo grass anyway.  It's frustrating.  Wilpon?  He's spent the money, hired execs who were supposed to be brilliant, built his team a snazzy new home, and given them a TV network.  Yet, he ends up with this, this, this, this and this.

Every Fall, I invariably accept that my only hope of my grass ever looking as good as I want it to is going to be to eventually kill it off, re-sod it, and start over. 

It sounds like Fred's reaching for the RoundUp, and I can't say I blame him.

15 May 2011

Identifing the problem prior to fixing it (Part One)

This little item over at MetsBlog this morning caught my attention.  It's kind of a "Well, duh..." type thing, but nonetheless it's sometimes good to see things in black-and-white and leave no doubt (kinda like the standings, no?).  The last-place Mets starting pitching so far has not unsurprisingly been below the mean.  Realistically, no one expected brilliance, but it's currently even falling short of passable.  The last-place Mets starting staff is 11th of 16 in the NL in innings pitched, 14th out of 16 in ERA, and 12th of 16 in wins.  Whether you want to call that expected, a little disappointing, or a lot disappointing, there's no way that gets you into the playoffs regardless.

Now let's take this a step further.  How are the last-place Mets doing on the other side of the coin, offense?  Here, the story is more encouraging, to the tune of 9th in average, 7th in home runs, 5th in on-base percentage, 6th in OPS, and the bottom line: 6th in runs scored.

Man, if only we had an everyday player we could trade for some arms, right?

I know what you're thinking...."You can't do that, because without [insert Golden Boy of Choice here], those hitting stats wouldn't be near what they are.  Au contraire, mon frere.  Just for the sake of not spending all day on this, I'll look at Jose Reyes first and come back and examine Wright's numbers later.

If we remove Jose Reyes from the equation as of Sunday morning (i.e., just eliminate his at-bats altogether from the team totals and don't even attempt to account for a replacement), some fascinating things happen.  (Fair warning: What you're about to read may proverbially shake the hell out of your snow globe.)

The "counting" stats (home runs and runs scored) are difficult to compare in this exercise because, if you subtract, say, Reyes' HRs or runs scored from the last-place Mets' totals, how many do you take away from the other teams' to keep the comparison relative?  I'm sure there's an answer, but I'm not going to spend all morning trying to figure out the equation.  Instead, I'll just rely on direct comparison for these, i.e. "how is our guy doing vs. the other team's guys?"

Regarding home runs, it's pretty irrelevant.  Reyes only has one, and that's not really his job anyway.  If your leadoff man jacks one out every now and then, great, because he is going to be in RBI situations during the course of a game, but still, it's not in his job description, so who cares?

In the matter of runs scored, Reyes is currently tied for 13th in the NL.  As there are 16 teams in the league and each of them only has one lead-off hitter any given night, that's not spectacular.  Sure, the argument is always that it's only Reyes' job to get on base and its up to everyone else to knock him in, but 1) see the OBP numbers I'm about to unleash, and 2) even playing devil's advocate, the rest of the team can not drive in one player just as well as they can not drive in another.  If the REAL problem is the heart of the order, what difference does it even make how good your leadoff hitter is?

The "averaging" stats are more easily compared.  You can subtract an individual's totals from the teams and still do the division, which then fairly compares to every other teams' averages.

In our hypothetical world without a Jose Reyes, the last-place Mets' batting average drops from .244 to .233 or from 9th to 15th.  Granted, we don't know what other teams' BAs would look like if you removed THEIR leadoff hitters, but I'm not going there.  Suffice it to say the last-place Mets team batting average suffers by 11 points in Reyes' absence.

It gets even more interesting as you carry the exercise out.  Turns out the last-place Mets OBP actually goes up to 2nd in the National League from its current .323 to .353 in a World Without Reyes (the team currently has 321 hits and 150 walks in 1316 ABs and Reyes accounts for 54 hits and 13 walks in 170 ABs; do the math yourself if you don't trust me).  Also, the team OPS bumps from its current .717 to .722, up a spot and tied for 5th (the last-place Mets have 518 total bases, 95 of which belong to Reyes).

None of those are enormous differences, but that in itself is the point when making an objective assessment.  I don't even much care if the BA, OBP, and OPS without Reyes went up or down, the lack of any earth-shattering change either way is what's important.  Under current conditions, there's not much difference in the last-place Mets offense with or without "The Most Exciting Player in Baseball/Most Dynamic Leadoff Hitter Since Rickey/etc. etc."  To assume there will be one and for that reason subsequently not make a trade that would upgrade the pitching--which is a bigger team-wide concern--would be foolish.

10 May 2011

Seriously? SERIOUSLY?!?

The one last-place Mets* player who can get an RBI (well, besides, the pitcher) had to leave the game tonight because supposedly major league infielders can't catch a fly ball between the plate and the mound without injuring one another.

Again, I'm flummoxed as to how this is possibly going to get worse if certain people are traded.

P.S. The black getup is at its absolute ugliest in the daylight with road pants.

*As a reminder to everyone who insists on pretending this team is better than it is,  it will henceforth be referred to as the "last-place Mets" for as long as they retain the position.  This message brought to you as a public service by ThirdCoastMetsFan.

04 May 2011

Did Terry Collins almost say "balls?"

In tonight's post-game news conference, someone asked Terry Collins if his team's lack of offensive production was more frustrating because there were times early in the game where the Mets had a chance to get some runs across.  Here is Terry's answer, as transcribed by me via DVR review:

[COCKS HEAD, GRIMACES, STROKES CHIN] Well, I think the stat, someone just said, is we're 2-for-29 or 2-for-something with runners in scoring position.  Not just tonight, I mean, that's exactly why we're sitting where we are.  Last night, night before, night before that.  You know, we had Doc on the ropes a couple of times, couldn't get a run in.  I mean, it's just...we've got, we've GOT to bear down.  We've got to have some [sudden, awkward pause].  And again, [throws up hands] you know, I'm the manager. I've got to get 'em better prepared in those big situations.

C'mon, Terry.  Say it.  Somebody has to.

UPDATE: Now with video!

I actually muted Gary, Keith, and Ron

I had to.  About 2 innings into my turning on the game, the topic in the booth turned to the possible trade of Jose Reyes.  Fair enough, but it very quickly devolved into a discussion of "Who can you get to replace what he does?" which of course is not a new question among Mets fandom, and one to which I honestly cannot bear being subjected to anymore.

Let me preface this by again saying I like Reyes.  He's a tremendous talent.  But what everybody--included the three wise men in the booth--keeps missing is that it's not a question of replacing Reyes and what he does.  Clearly, that's a tall if not impossible order.  What you do in that case is get other players who do--wait for it--other, different things that contribute to winning baseball games.

I feel like a jerk for continuing to say this, but it needs to be said: "what Reyes brings" has won this franchise very little.   The Phillies don't have anything close to What Reyes Brings, and they've won the damned division 4 years running.  The Giants barely had an offense at all, much less What Reyes Brings, and they're standing on the Citi Field turf as I type this with a freakin' "World Champions" patch on their sleeves.

I'm sorry, but there's no trophy for having the most dynamic leadoff hitter in the league.  I honestly can't recall a team in my lifetime that's even attempted to build a lineup around a leadoff man.  It's entirely possible for a team to win without What Reyes Brings, and that keeps getting proven over and over.  Hell, the Mets are sitting in last place WITH What Reyes Brings.  How valuable can it possibly be in the grand scheme of things?

02 May 2011

Uniform talk for an off day: How about you meet us halfway, Mets?

In another hit to the Ditch the Black movement, the Mets discovered last night that the overwhelming power of the lucky black jerseys can generate a 2 runs in 14 innings, so I guess we'll be seeing more of them.

Anyway, the past week or so got me thinking about the road set, the dreaded black, and how maybe--just maybe--the Mets could find a happy medium.  I propose this, which I'm pretty sure is a look we've never seen since the black sleeves and socks came to be prior to the adoption of the two-tone as a road cap:
Dave Howard and the merchandise people get to keep their black road hat (which everyone seems to agree is worst of the overabundant three, but that's a different issue entirely), but us old farts get to see the team wearing primarily its, well, PRIMARY color, which I'd like to remind everyone is theoretically still blue.

Wearing a dark cap with road greys while not tinkering with your sleeves and socks isn't unheard of.  The Red Sox have done it.  The Cardinals do it and have for a long time.  Yeah, I know...the Sox and Cards both wear darker belts in that situation, but when I Photoshopped (well, "freeware Photoshop Knockoffed" if we're being honest) the Mets uni that way, it just didn't look very good.  I'd certainly be willing to concede the belt, though, in exchange for the socks and sleeves.

C'mon, Mets.  If you won't get rid of the black, at least meet us in the middle.  This is just one of the many, many, MANY ways to do this better than you're doing it now.

29 April 2011

So I found myself behind this at a red light today...

The photo kinda sucks because we were facing the sun and my windshield isn't the cleanest at the moment, but if you concentrate really hard, you can make out that that license plate reads "METGIRL."  You'll just have to take my word for it that it is, in fact, a Jackson County, Mississippi, tag.

Is Metgirl a transplant from Jackson (the city) during the AA minor league days? Is that Biloxi resident Barry Lyons' daughter or the lady friend of Binghamton pitcher Robert Carson, who's from Hattiesburg? Dunno. Heck, it may not even be a reference to the baseball team for all I know.  Regardless, if you found your way here and know the story behind this, drop me a line.

Report: Wilpons "appear willing to give up some control"

From  the New York Post: "Mets alter game plan."

Duh.  As if somebody's going to put $200 million into something with little say-so about how it's run.  As a potential partner, it can't possibly be that hard to negotiate given the Wilpons' very public position of weakness.  I repeatedly hear pundits saying that someone would buy in just to have a seat at the table, but with each day that passes, the Wilpons are that much closer to having to sell the whole dining set.

HT to MetsBlog.

28 April 2011

Thursday mishmash

Sometime in the past couple of days, I realized my last entry here was after the first game of the winning streak.  It's not that I have nothing to say when things are going well (really!).  It's just that the whole black uni thing--which I'll get to more later--has kept me busy commenting on other sites, I kinda make it a point to not add posts over the weekend just because, and the Mrs. fell ill (she's fine now).  All that said, let me play some catch-up.

TOPIC #1:  The winning streak.  It certainly beats a losing streak, and maybe this season will get back to where I expected from the start, but I'm just not jazzed as I would expect to be when the Mets go on a tear like this.

The biggest problem is that in case anyone's forgotten, we're still only a half-game out of last place with the victory last night, only "up to" a record of11-13, and 5 games out of first with a few days left to go in April.  Shoot, even solely on the matter of 2011 streaks, they have to win tonight just to make it even.

It'll be a little while before I'm convinced this isn't just an anomaly rooted in the combination of inconsistency and chance and the team won't turn around and lose 5 in a row all the same.  Yeah, it's great that the starting pitching is showing something and the bullpen appears to be settling in.  I'm glad Murph is making the most of his time and Bay is back and looking like the guy we signed two offseasons ago.  The recent talk about this team manning up and saying "Enough is enough" warms my heart.  However, one good week on the heels of an equally bad week just isn't enough to sell me just yet.  Win 3 out of every 5 during the first couple of weeks of May, and then maybe I'll let my guard down.

TOPIC #2: The damned black.  If you're reading this, it's probably a safe bet you've already read everything I've had to say about this elsewhere.  I'm a firm supporter of the "Ditch The Black" movement which implores the team to go back to the color scheme it had from the franchise's inception up until it leaped into the late 1990s fad known to us uniform geeks as the Black Plague.  The Butt-Ugly Hybrid Look (tm), seen in my last entry and comprised of the home whites, two-tone caps, and--for some reason known only to God and Charlie Samuels--black sleeves, belts, and socks is just a train wreck.  A jumbled mess.  Or, to borrow LI Phil's word (scroll up a little on the earlier UniWatchBlog link), a "clusterf@*%."  It looks like they got dressed in the dark.  They should've never even tried that look once, much less made it a standard.

The black jerseys, I've always begrudgingly been able to live with after my initial reaction of "WTF?" 13 years ago.  For the same reasons I own a couple of Celine Dion CDs, I own a couple of black Mets jerseys: it seemed like a good idea at the time.  That said, the team wearing the blasted things EVERY SINGLE DAY has just been annoying.  It's as if the team has gone out of its way to prove that even amid a 6-game winning streak, they've simply GOT to give me SOMETHING about which to grumble.  The Celine Dion CDs now sit in the entertainment center collecting dust (only one song comes to mind as standing the test of time; probably because it was already a decade old when Ms. Dion got her hands on it).  So should the Mets black-tainted wardrobe.

A cloudier issue is the mere concept of "riding the hot uniform."  For one thing, that's not what the Mets did.  The win streak started with the Butt-Ugly Hybrid Look (tm), then they switched to the black tops the next night.  Somehow, that ended up making the black jerseys the lucky ones (I'm somewhat thankful given the choice), and we haven't seen another one since.  The whole thing raises questions, like "After 6 wins in a row, do the black alts get a mulligan?"  If they lose tonight, will it just be considered a hiccup and we'll end up seeing the Men In Black again on Friday?  And if they do switch to greys on Friday, do they then go back to black on Saturday if they lose?  And what happens on the home stand next week?  I really, REEEAAAALLLY hope that this streak will be the end of it and they don't adopt a "wear it 'till it loses" policy the rest of the season (well, unless they go on a 138-game winning streak in pinstripes and blue caps, which of course would be totally cool).

21 April 2011

Hey, a win!

The Good:

Mets 9, Astros 1

The Bad:

Angel Pagan injured in the 4th

The Butt-Ugly:

This heaven-forsaken, mix-and-(doesn't)-match, we-got-dressed-in-the-dark uniform combination.

Unfortunately, in the post-game press conference, Collins seemed pretty pleased with himself for coming up with the idea.

Couldn't he have just told the team the game didn't count?

20 April 2011

What's Laster than Last?

 "Making it worse?  How could it get any worse?"

A quick look at the standings shows us that as of this moment, the New York Mets own the worst record in the Eastern Division, the National League, and the entirety of Major League Baseball.

They've so far followed up losing 2 out of 3 to the 2nd-to-last-place team in the East with losing 2 in a row to the last-place team in the Central, a feat that more closely resembles setting the pasture on fire than making hay while the sun shines.

The Mets are the owners of the worst record within the division in intradivision games (tied with the Nationals, to whom they've lost 2 of 3, at 5-7), and within any division in interdivision games (a perfect 0-for-6).  They also have the worst record at home of any MLB team (1-9, a good piece worse than the 2nd-worst Pirates at 1-5) and the worst current 10-game stretch by 2 games (1-9).  The only sub-record onto which the Mets don't hold last pace is road record, where the Red Sox's 1-7 actually blows the Mets' 4-5 out of the water.

Just for a little perspective, the Commissioner's office just took over the Dodgers, and they'd still be 3 games up on the Mets for a12th wildcard spot if such a thing existed.

Gentlemen, we have reached the valley floor.  .278 works out to 45 wins on a season.  The worst 162-game season ever managed 43 (note the 1962 expansion Mets only posted 40 but had 2 games rained out).  These Mets very well may continue to wander and wind their way through the canyon, but lower ground than that upon which they currently tread simply does not exist.  There is no incentive--absolutely none--for this team to NOT seriously shake things up.

18 April 2011

Don't worry. Be happy.

Here's a little song I penned
To all those who'd like the Mets to win
Don't worry
Be happy

Saw David Wright strike out once again
But he's just trying so darned hard to win
So don't worry
Be happy

Don't worry
Be happy, now

Boooo, boo-boo, boo-boo, boo-boo, boo-boo-boo-booo
Don't worry
Boo-boo, boo-boo-boo-booo
Be happy

Don't worry
Be happy

Boooo, boo-boo, boo-boo, boo-boo, boo-boo-boo-booo
Don't worry
Boo-boo, boo-boo-boo-booo
Be happy

Don't worry
Be happy

Ain't won a darned thing since '06
But this won't take much to get fixed
So don't worry
Be happy

The Wipon's bills will all be late
They won't sell controlling stake.
So don't worry
Be happy

(Look at Jeff, he's happy.)

Boooo, boo-boo, boo-boo, boo-boo, boo-boo-boo-booo
Don't worry
Boo-boo, boo-boo-boo-booo
Be happy

(Here, I give you Fred's phone number.  If you worry, call him.  He'll make you happy.)

Boooo, boo-boo, boo-boo, boo-boo, boo-boo-boo-booo
Don't worry
Boo-boo, boo-boo-boo-booo
Be happy

Mets got no sack, they've got no guile
But that Jose', he's got quite a smile
So don't worry
Be happy

'Cause if you trade him, that's too big a blow
They've only lost 7 in a row
So don't worry
Be happy

Don't worry
Be happy, now!

Boooo, boo-boo, boo-boo, boo-boo, boo-boo-boo-booo
Don't worry
Boo-boo, boo-boo-boo-booo
Be happy

16 April 2011

Silly broadcast rules

I'm going to brush aside the futility of the actual team for a bit (pretty much already said all I have to say about that, anyway).  Today (and also tomorrow), my annoyance is the enigmatic, at times seemingly random MLB territorial broadcast rules.

When the Mets play any other team besides the Braves, I can watch the Mets feed via SNY or Pix 11 through DirecTV's Extra Innings (which costs a small fortune, but as I've said before, is worth every penny). For those other 140-odd games not carried by a national network, MLB doesn't care whose feed I watch.  In fact, for ANY MLB game not involving the Braves, I can with rare exception get the home or away feed for both.  Braves games, however, I must watch on the Braves' feed, as my place of residence falls within the Braves' territorial rights (per Google maps, I'm all of roughly 40 miles closer to Turner Field than Minute Maid park in Houston).

The concept behind this is understandable.  The owners of the Braves, like any other team, sink an unholy amount of money into their product and have been granted a designated area in which to sell it.  However, the practical application of this gets downright silly in this day and age of internet and satellite.  Just as one example, as I type this, the game is supposedly only available to me on FoxSportsSouth.  But if I flip over to the Game Mix channel, which simultaneously shows video from 8 different games with your choice of audio, I highlight Mets-Braves and the feed there is from SNY with Gary, Keith, and Ron.  And yes, I've actually gotten so frustrated with the Braves' drama queen announcers before, I finished watching the game on the tiny Game Mix screen, which leads me to my next complaint.

Some of the Braves' games are carried by their so-to-speak in-house network, PeachtreeTV.  PeachtreeTV sucks.  Few things hack me off more than having a wide-screen HD television and a premium baseball package and being forced to watch a game in 4:3 low-def.

Then there's the matter of wild inconsistency.  In addition to the aforementioned Game Mix goofiness, there seems to be different rules for different networks.  As well as Extra Innings, I also have the everyday sports package, which includes most of the local sports networks around the country including SNY, YES, MASN, the regional Fox networks, etc.  For some reason, it's OK for me to see Mets Weekly and Kids' Clubhouse, but every regularly-scheduled Mets Yearbook is blacked out.  It's also inconsistent from network-to-network, with YES being a usual suspect.  Why, oh WHY am I allowed to see YankeeOgraphy, but not Shea Goodbye?  There have even been instances when the SAME Mets-Yankees game from years past has been blacked out as a Mets Classic on SNY but not as a Yankees Classic on YES.  Figure that one out.

13 April 2011

Terry Collins to team: "Grow a pair."

Maybe not in those particular words, but I defy anyone to tell me that's not what he's actually saying.

Read Collins' post-game comments here via MetsBlog.

12 April 2011

The Case for Blowing It Up

Every day, I peruse various Mets blogs and news articles, some of which have comment sections, of which in turn most are pretty spirited. The favored topic of those comments thus far this season--egged on to some extent by the content of the day--is what a disaster it would be if the Mets traded Jose Reyes at the deadline or let him walk over the coming winter. “If you're going to do that, you may as well throw in David Wright, too!” they bellow, dripping with sarcasm.

To which I can only reply while completely devoid of sarcasm, “Exactly.”

The National League has awarded 28 playoff berths since and including 2004, the first season those two homegrown cogs of the lineup took to the left side of the infield together. Of those 28 playoff appearances, the team with Wright and Reyes has made a grand total of 1. Teams without Wright and Reyes have collected the other 27. Obviously, David Wright and Jose Reyes are not necessities when it comes to making the playoffs.

“But it's not their fault,” these emotionally-driven, reality-challenged fans counter, “Reyes and Wright have done their jobs. It's all about the supporting cast and the pitching.”

There's a whale of a lot of truth in that, but the statement itself inherently begs the question of just where this magical supporting cast and above-average rotation and bullpen is going to come from if the Mets aren't willing to give up one of the few things of value they possess in order to get it.

This morning, I actually came across one comment that if the Mets start parting ways with their headliners, they'd be dooming themselves to Pirate-like irrelevancy for something in the neighborhood of the next two decades. Obviously, the premise upon which that statement is grounded is that the Mets still have any relevancy to put at risk in the first place.  That's a hard case to build for a last-place team whose stadium seems to emptying by the hour, the same team whose only media attention derisively--and at times outright laughingly--focuses on its current run of incompetence.

I'm not completely heartless. I enjoy watching Jose Reyes zoom around the bases. I love it when David Wright is locked in and knocking the ball all over the park. But at the end of the day, you could put me out there at shortstop or third base and play just as deeply into October as the Mets have done the past 4 years, with 5 and beyond looking like a pretty safe bet the more the status quo is preserved.  Maybe it does make me callous, but I'm simply not all that attached to a core of guys who have delivered so many lows and so few highs.  Edgardo Alfonzo and Rey Ordonez at 3rd and short conjure up better memories.  When all's said and done, the Mets can trot anybody out there, and I'll still pull for them.

I get that everyone wants the chance to enjoy the fairy tale that is home-grown fan favorites rising to the top of their trade and delivering a championship, but the reality of the situation is that the Reyes-Wright-Beltran core was very good for all of 6 months and has since lived whatever is the polar opposite of “happily every after."

While it may make some folks feel all warm and fuzzy inside to be able to say, “We've got one of the best 5 shortstops in the game! David Wright is special! Yea, us!” where has it gotten the team? We're not talking flukes here. From mid-October 2007 through today is a more than adequate sample size to decide "Yes, this path is working" or "No, it's not."

Overlooked by starry-eyed fans desperate for something to cling to in the absence of actual success is that the San Francisco Giants won the World Series last year without any everyday player even in serious contention for the MVP. (In fact, the last team to actually win a World Series with the MVP on it was those freaking Dodgers of 1988 and Kirk Gibson, who was admittedly given the award based more upon intangibles than eye-popping production.)  In baseball, the whole is often more than the sum of its parts (or on the other end of the spectrum, considerably less). It's entirely possible to have a better team without Jose Reyes or David Wright (I exclude Beltran because he's as good as gone regardless). In fact, every season since 2006, that has indisputably been the case.

I'm not at all saying the team's current state is directly the fault of any particular players, much less these particular ones, but there's little in the way of success to be directly attributed to any of them, either. In an ideal world, we keep Reyes and Wright and surround them with All-Stars, but that's simply not the way it works. You can't get something for nothing, especially when you're still paying Bobby Bonilla for the next 24 years.

The last time the Mets made the playoffs the stock market was setting record highs. This is a photo of a Mets crowd during a September game last season (via the awesomeness that is MetsPolice and taken by David; lots more beginning halfway down the page here). These are the current standings.  How much worse can it possibly get if Sandy Alderson starts testing the waters in a few months?  A trade of Jose Reyes or anyone else isn't going to bring about doomsday.  Doomsday arrived a good while ago and currently sits in the middle of the room much like the proverbial 800-pound gorilla, hidden only from those who choose to not see it.

08 April 2011

One week in, they are who we thought they were

As much as I'd like to drone on about Opening Day at home, work's getting in the way and I'll be relegated to the occasional figurative peek at the radio until the late innings if not for the entire game.  On the bright side, I suppose that exponentially increases the odds of a Dickey no-hitter or some other magical moment taking place.

That said, the Mets roll into Citi Field right at .500, which Rob Dibble & Co.at XM's First Pitch--as well as the Mets own Ed Coleman--treated as cause for celebration this morning.  Me?  I'm overcome with a resounding sense of "meh."

Did I expect more?  No, but I didn't expect much less, either.  They took 2 of 3 from the Stanton-less Marlins (in all fairness, these are Bay-less Mets themselves) and lost 2 out of 3 from the Phillies.  How that could stun anyone but the most pessimistic prognosticators is beyond me.  On the other end, any sign of shocking the world after rattling off 3 straight after taking it to the Phillies in game one ran into a hard dose of reality as the Mets, as if mosquitoes in road greys, were quickly swatted away after buzzing too loudly in Philadelphia's collective ear.

Yes, these Mets are smarter, more aggressive, and spunkier than their recent predecessors, but they also remain for the foreseeable future a team with a right fielder still getting his feet under him, a serviceable but stop-gap pitching staff, and perhaps most importantly, one without an ace.  And they're sitting right at .500 after having already won 3 in a row and lost 2 in a row over 6 games.

In short, for now at least, they're exactly what I'd venture to say is a majority of fans expected.

06 April 2011

It's a start....

Great comeback, blah, blah, blah.  Showed some fight, yadda, yadda, yadda.


It's getting there, but there's still a way to go.  Pulling even after the big deficit was great, but much like no runs followed in the bottom half of the inning after Endy Chavez's Catch, the Phillies were able to just take the lead right back tonight and the whole thing went for naught.  It seems no matter how much fight these Mets can muster, these Phillies always find just a bit more.  Maybe that can change starting with a rubber game tomorrow.

05 April 2011


I'm watching a DVR recording of the game as I type this, having been at work earlier when the game was live and relying on the gametracker on my phone with the occasional listen-in on XM.  Initial excitement when the Mets got 2 on with none out in the 1st was tempered by Hamels getting out of the inning without giving up a run, but more baserunners in the 2nd was encouraging and tided me over until they broke loose in the 3rd--all the while, Chris Young hanging zeros on the board.  I actually heard Emaus' hit that plated the 5th run on the radio, and hearing Larry Andersen disbelievingly utter, "Wow" in in his gravelly voice has already provided a season highlight.

Sure, it's only one game--the 4th of the season--but come on, these guys opened a can Campbell's Whoop-Ass tonight.  Regardless of whether or how long it stands, the Mets finally took the fight to the Phillies (no play on words intended) for once.  I'm sure by the time I get to the post-game show, there will be a parade of Mets denying that tonight sent a message, but whether they think that or not, we're certainly free as fans to feel it.  I've lamented for the past few disastrous seasons that this was quite frankly a hard team to like.  After whimpering through The Collapse, there was plenty of discussion as to what kind of stones this group had--or lacked, as the case may be.  Stepping into Citizens' Bank Park mere days into the season and not only not rolling over but outright planting a boot up the Phillies' collective behinds is a definite sight for tired eyes and a big step in the right direction.

Will it last?  Who knows.  But it's gonna be fun while it does.

01 April 2011

Schedule quirk starts Mets 1/2 game out, media frenzy ensues

With the Nationals and Braves playing their opening tilt 24 hours prior to the Mets taking on the Marlins, it was a foregone conclusion that the Amazin's would roll out of bed on Opening Day 1/2 game behind one or the other.

Unfortunately, that hasn't stopped the baseball writers and talking heads from using this morning's standings to pile on with their continued doomsday assault on the Mets.

"That the Mets could actually manage to fall behind before even playing a game is just more evidence of how pathetic this 4th-rate franchise has become," wrote former Newsday and current ESPN New York columnist Wally Matthews. "MLB would do everyone a favor if they'd just dissolve the team and send Jose Reyes and David Wright to sit on the 27-time World Champion Yankees(tm)' bench where they might learn a thing or two from real baseball stars."

Added George Vecsey of the Times, "Is anybody really surprised?  How can they be?  In fact, I fully expect the Phillies will beat the Astros Friday afternoon, putting the Mets in 3rd place by the time they start their night game.  No fan should have to subject themselves to this.  For the Mets, each day, if not each hour of the season will be a new circle of hell."

The most unique perspective, though, was voiced by Jay Jaffe of the Baseball Prospectus.  "We saw this coming a mile away.  Heck, we had the Mets finishing 1/2 game below .500 on the season.  How prescient is that?"

When Devotions Collide, or "What Sandy Koufax and I Kinda-Sorta Have in Common Today If I Really Stretch It"

The oddity of Friday Opening Day presents me with something of a dilemma. Every Opening Day since 1996—the first Spring of my first real career-type job—I have come home from work, plopped down with a couple of chili dogs, and enjoyed what remained of the first afternoon and night of major league baseball. It started almost accidentally, but the moment just stuck. Over the years, the dogs evolved from Sonic pick-up to home-grilled brats, the celebration time changed from an an early-evening arrival from work to an extended lunch break and/or just calling it a day early (I still refuse to acknowledge that ESPN night-before abomination as a legitimate starting point of the season), and the source of my viewing pleasure has evolved from the mercy of ESPN's national schedule to whichever stadium I wish to peek into via DirecTV's Extra Innings (worth every penny). Once, when the Mets had the honor of opening the 2000 MLB season in Japan, there was even a sausage-dog breakfast at 5 a.m. prior to heading off to teach 9th grade Physical Science (looking back, I'm not sure which part of that equation was more indicative of a significant psychological imbalance). Nonetheless, my little personal tradition has remained for going on 15 seasons now.

This year, however, I face a triple-whammy. First, the Mets open at the Marlins with a night game for some reason Bart Giamatti would surely frown upon. As it happens, I also have a work commitment Friday night, so right off the top, I'll be missing the first pitch of the Mets season. That's disappointing, but easy enough to work around, as there will still be plenty of other baseball on come lunch time, and the very least, even a certified Cubs Curmudgeon such as myself can appreciate at least the sentiment of Opening Day at Wrigley Field as well as elsewhere.

The larger problem is that not only do the Mets open the season on a work night, not only is it on a Friday, but Opening Day falls on a Friday during Lent. Gentlemen and ladies who may be reading this (according to the counter, I had negative-two page views today [*snicker*]), let me set the stage for this one. I'm a lifelong Catholic, largely descended from Sicilians and Acadians. I grew up an altar boy. My senior year of college, I was president the Catholic Student Association. I'm the godfather of my oldest brother's first child and three more adorable children in Jacksonville. How in the world do I in good conscience merge Opening Day chili cheese dogs and a Lenten Friday?

Sure, it's not Sandy Koufax refusing to pitch the opening game of the World Series on Yom Kippur, but it still sucks (and really, anyone who thinks eating seafood as opposed to meat of a land-based origin is a sacrifice never lived in the former Republic of West Florida, anyway). Nonetheless, the effect is still that of someone shaking up the snow globe world I live in for a couple of hours every April. I honestly haven't decided how I'm going to handle this one. Do I hold off on the dogs until game 2 on Saturday? Do I rationalize that any God who doesn't appreciate baseball and hot dogs probably isn't one with whom I want to spend eternity anyway? Maybe I can refrain from peeking at the score and crank up the DVR after midnight or just consider whatever time I get home as no longer being Friday (hey, don't the Jewish folks run things from sundown-to-sundown?). I really don't know.

Anyway, all that said, if you negative-two people out there have any long-standing Opening Day traditions of your own and/or stories of how they started and/or they were or nearly were disrupted somewhere along the way, I'd love to hear them.

30 March 2011

Things are looking up (no, really!)

Optimism. It's not a word often associated with the Mets these days. It seems every mention of the team in the mass media is wrapped in shades of gloom and doom. It's gotten to the point where the negativity itself is a subject of discussion.

However, among Mets fans themselves--the tough, weathered hombres we are--the vibe is a little different. There's just something about this 2011 team that draws us in, makes us wonder “What if...” with a gleam in our collective eye. Are the Mets going to win or even seriously compete for the division title? Not likely. Are they even going to make a wild card run into September? I doubt it. But here are a few reasons why the Mets faithful can safely think the worst is in the rear view mirror and baseball just might be fun again this summer (along with counterpoints that present the possibility that it won't be):

REASON #1: Sandy Alderson. The jury is still out on what the new G.M. will ultimately make of the team under his watch, but merely having a battle-proven, respected individual in the position is worth something. It's been so far, so good on the personnel moves made, and the reports of Alderson's reorganizing and focusing (notice I didn't say “re-” on that one) the franchise have been worthy of applause. If nothing else, we should be able to rest assured Alderson won't follow his manager on a road trip to California just to fire him or go after a reporter in response to one of his underlings making an ass of himself.

WHY IT MAY NOT PAN OUT: Simple: It's just too early to tell. Is Alderson up to the task of managing a high-profile team in front of a ravenous media complex and fans prone to holding grudges against those who do them wrong? We don't know yet.

REASON #2: Terry Collins. When the twice-fired Collins was hired to manage the team, you could hear the proverbial crickets. Since then, however, he's won over fans and players alike. In stark contrast to the publicly aloof Jerry Manuel and the stoic Willie Randolph before him, Collins is a dynamo without an off-switch, someone you get the feeling has more than once slammed into one of those sliding glass doors at the grocery store before it had a chance to open. With the no-nonsense attitude of Gil Hodges and the energy of a tent revival preacher, Collins brings a completely new wrinkle to the clubhouse. He stresses playing ball the right way and as a team, and unlike Randolph or Manuel, you actually get the impression that he means it. In short, Collins possesses that abstract quality every Mets fan has been clamoring for: he's “fiery.” It's hard to say Collins is the sole provocateur, but in listening and watching Carlos Beltran (when did he get so talkative?) and David Wright lately, it appears some of that elusive “edge” this era's Mets have been missing may finally be on the way. Putting it bluntly, the very things that got Collins run out of Houston and Anaheim are likely the very things the Mets need right about now.

WHY IT MAY NOT PAN OUT: That edge may be on the way, but when will it actually arrive? Also, while Collins' full-throttle style may be infectious now, what happens when the team hits a skid? The possibility of the rah-rah juice eventually being replaced with rolling eyes looms large.

REASON #3: Health. A season with neither Jose Reyes nor Carlos Beltran missing large chunks of it due to injury has every potential to pay big dividends for the Mets. Will that happen? Nobody can say, but the law of averages has to catch up eventually. I know everyone's eyes are on Reyes, but to me, Beltran's is the more interesting case. Having experienced a long, roundabout road to recovery from his 2009 injury as well as having surrendered his center field spot & likely auditioning for a future D.H. role, Beltran has every incentive to approach the season as the marathon it is with Collins and the coaching staff following suit. If giving Beltran one day a week off means he doesn't have to miss 2 or 3 weeks at a time, the decision is a no-brainer. And speaking of brains, Jason Bay playing more than 95 games in his Mets sophomore season sure would help a lot.

WHY IT MAY NOT PAN OUT: The Mets are due for a break, but that doesn't mean they'll get one. Beltran's making Opening Day just under the wire and Bay's already flirting with the DL.

REASON #4: The pitching. Sure, there's no Johan, no shutdown ace. That stinks. But what we do have in the way of a rotation is a group of guys who, judging from the previous performances of the returnees and the Spring performances of the additions, isn't exactly shabby. The prospect of older and wiser versions of Mike Pelfrey, Jon Niese, and R.A. Dickey is a promising one. Young and Capuano have been pleasant surprises in Port St. Lucie. On paper, this group certainly isn't the murderer's row the Phillies have assembled, but you don't play the games on paper. This has every chance of being a solid 1-5, especially for the Mets' purposes if the rest of the lineup can stay on the field and out of the doctors' offices.

The bullpen, a maddening Achilles' heel for the Mets in recent memory, is actually looking like a positive as things wind down on Florida's East Coast.  The entire pen has pitched well and the final choices turning out to be difficult ones.

WHY IT MAY NOT PAN OUT: Much like you don't play the games on paper, you don't play them last season or in a minor-league park in March, either. While fans who follow every outing see definite signs and reasons to think the pitching will hold its own, from a distance the same group looks like a staff held together with bent-up clothes hangers and duct tape.

(For the love of all that is good, though, can SOMEBODY please get that no-hitter out of the way? It'd make our season regardless of whatever else happens.)

REASON #5: Oliver Perez. He's gone. No matter what else does or doesn't happen in 2011, there will be no discussion of “Good Ollie” vs. “Bad Ollie” or his refusal to go to Buffalo or a wasted roster spot. By that measure alone, this year will be better than last.

WHY IT MAY NOT PAN OUT: Perez has joined the Nationals and has been sent to AAA. If the Nationals find a way to fix him...oh, who am I kidding? There's no down side to this one.

28 March 2011

MetsPolice mentions BJ's, ReadTheApple invites fans to bring over their meat.

Well, this isn't exactly what I had in mind for my opening entry, but sometimes you just gotta take advantage of a situation.  Read all about it:

MetsPolice: BJ's in Mr. Mets' landing

The Apple: Announcing The Apple's 1st Annual Opening Day Tailgate!