First Impressions of Citi Field

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I made the trek up the East Coast this weekend to see the Mets’ road
spring training lineup take on Josh Johnson and the Marlins. With the
exception of Fernando Martinez’s first hit, double and RBI, there
wasn’t much to crow about as the Marlins won the game handily 7-3.
However, Saturday marked my first chance to catch a game at Citi Field.
So besides telling you that braving the line at Shake Shack is worth
it, here are a couple initial impressions which may or may not be
original thoughts.

1) The Fanwalk is cool: In
2007, fans had an opportunity to purchase engraved bricks with a
customized message that would sit on the plaza outside the entrance to
the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. I had no idea how cool this would be until
I saw it and now I regret not getting one. For a stadium that is
largely a building at this point and not a “Mets” building, the brick
walkway puts a real personal touch on the history of the franchise and
their fans.

2) The Jackie Robinson Rotunda is underwhelming:
I’m all for Jackie Robinson. Aside from Michael Jordan, he was my
favorite person to write a biography about in elementary school. I
completely understand the impact he has had on our game, but the
grandiosity of the rotunda was lost on me. Do you really want the first
thing people see when they walk in a Mets’ ballpark to be a person in a
Dodgers’ uniform? Where’s the Mark Carreon Rotunda? Give me some
history! The whole thing left me feeling cold.

3) Lack of foul territory:
Sure there are the obvious quirks of the fences, cut-outs and all, and
The Pepsi Porch that hangs over the playing field, which is where I
sat, but there is considerably less foul territory here as opposed to
Shea Stadium. It’s one thing to see it on television, but it’s hard to
feel the gravity of it until seeing it in person. For all the talk
about this being a pitchers’ park, opposing batters will certainly get
a few extra swings here. I suppose it counter-balances in some weird
way. As for down the lines, I can’t wait to see a “Bartman moment” in
this place. It’s bound to happen. You know, probably on October 4th
against the Astros with the Phillies and Mets deadlocked in first
place.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.