Scenes from Spring Training: Meet The Mets Part 3

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Press Box View.jpgOver the weekend, the Los Angeles Times’ Dylan Hernandez said that he overheard another reporter in the press box of the Dodgers’ game say “I hate this job. I want to go work in a factory.”  I suppose it’s possible to get tired of anything, but I’m not sure how you can get tired of watching a game from up in the press box.

They’re not the best seats in the house — a little higher than I’d like — but they’re still excellent.  You can’t get a beer, but there’s free soda and no one is patting you down and finding your hip flask if you’re that desperate for booze. You can’t cheer, but you can snark and complain “Mystery Science Theater 3000”-style, and that’s almost as fun, especially given that the people sitting next to you are likely to get the most obscure and inside baseball references you throw out there.  Really, it’s a sweet, sweet deal, and that’s before you even take into account that the reason you’re up there is because you have a job writing about baseball.  After practicing law for 11 years I’m going to say it would take, oh, 59 years of going to the press box every day before I’d get tired of it.

I got up there early, wanting to make sure I got a good seat.  There were name plates on the tables for the Daily News, New York Times, the Post and most of the other outlets that cover the Mets. One guy was already sitting in the only “visiting press” seat I could see, so I sat in the one marked “visiting PR,” figuring that the Nationals wouldn’t send a public relations guy to a road spring training game.

As it got closer and closer to the game starting, something funny happened: the press box didn’t really fill up. There were five or six Nats’ beat writers there and a couple of New York guys, but the majority of the New York guys I’d been watching all morning didn’t even bother.  Most of them were columnist types and not the ones who would have to write the game story, but I still assumed that they’d actually watch the game.

The last guy to come in was Knox Bardeen of AOL FanHouse.  He sat next to me and we talked all game, bonding over the fact that we’re both Internet guys doing something that print-guys still dominate and the fact that we’re both new to press boxes.  Knox has covered a few Braves games and some NFL, but we’re both green as hell when it comes to the beat and are both taking our first working swings through spring training. I was glad to have Knox next to me all game.  Random observations from the box during the game:

  • Reporters do rise for the National Anthem, but they also heckle the singer. It wasn’t the best rendition you’ve ever heard, but man, tough crowd.

  • The official scorer sat in the same box — not sure if they sit separately at major league parks — and helpfully shouts out pitch counts, scoring decisions and player substitutions to the reporters. The informality of spring training was apparent, however, as some of the writers would tell him when they saw a substitution happening before he saw it or would check his pitch counts against theirs and stuff.  Neat dynamic.

  • It was Oliver Perez’s first outing of the spring.  If it’s any indication of how his summer will go, you may want to sell your “Oliver Perez is going to bounce back in 2010” stock right now.  Nothing on his pitches. He threw strikes, but most of them were hammered.

  • Jeff Francoeuer took five straight pitches from Jason Marquis in the second inning to work the walk. Knox and I speculated that we each would have bet something on the order of $750 that we’d never see such a thing.

  • A couple of batters later Omir Santos hit what would be scored as an inside-the-park grand slam. Regardless, what were Mets thinking not signing Molina? this guy can play.  After that play the Mets had five runs on three hits, which I take as a sign that their 2010 offense will be built around lots of walks and inside the park grand slams. It might not work, but hey, at least it’s a philosophy. If you’re curious, here’s video of the Santos slam. It obviously had more to do with the ball getting caught in the corner and Willie Tavares having a bit of a brain lock, but hey, the scorer’s ruling stands.
  • Francoeur gunned down two runners at the plate during the game.  As you all know I’m not much of a Jeff Francoeur fan, but I’ll always love good baseball 100 times more than I’ll dislike anything about it or anyone in it, and there aren’t many more exciting plays in baseball than someone getting nailed at the plate. On the first one I let out a choked cheer, doing everything I could to not break the “no cheering in the press box” rule.  The second time was hopeless — I whooped. No one seemed to care.
  • Hisanori Takahashi is a non-roster invitee of the Mets, and given the presence of Ryota Igarashi, he isn’t even the most celebrated Japanese newcomer on the team.  But he was simply fantastic yesterday, striking out six in three very efficient innings.  I know very little about the guy and you obviously can’t base much on just one outing, but I was pretty impressed.
  • The press box started to clear out around the fifth inning as the clubhouses open up in the middle of the game during spring training so that the veterans can give their quotes to the beat writers and then take off for the golf course or wherever they’re going.  Why anyone wanted to get quotes from Oliver Perez and his ilk is beyond me, because from my perspective that was about the time of the game things got interesting. Why? Because it was when some young prospects who may actually help the Nats and Mets win a lot of ballgames one day got their chances.
  • First up was the Nats’ other first round pick from last year — Drew Storen — who pitched the sixth inning and got three ground ball outs. He may be closing games for the Nats before the year is done. Then came the Mets’ Ike Davis, who entered the game in the seventh and hit a double off Ron Villone. My granny could probably hit a double off Villone these days, but Davis’ was hit to the opposite field, so technically that makes him a “professional hitter,” just like he said earlier in the day. Not a professional base runner, however. After making it to third, he thought about tagging up on a shallow fly ball, changed his mind about 15 feet towards home and then got nailed at the bag while trying to retreat to third.  But did I mention that he’s tall and hits the ball really, really hard?

The game ended with the Mets winning 6-5. The reporters quickly packed up and made a beeline for the elevator. I followed them, a little nervously to be honest. Why? We were on our way to my first ever gang bang.  Curious? Come back in about an hour and I’ll explain.

The Braves are banning outside food. And they’re probably lying about why they’re doing it.

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Here’s a thing a lot of people don’t realize: there are a lot of ballparks that allow you to bring in outside food.

Not all of them, but a lot do. They don’t publicize it, obviously, because they want you to buy their expensive food, but if you go to the concessions policy page on most team’s websites, you can get the scoop. It often lists “soft-sided coolers” under “permitted items,” which is code for “yes, you can bring your own food in.” Some may specifically limit THAT to sealed plastic water bottles, but for the most part, if you can bring soft-sided coolers into the park, that means it’s OK to bring in grandma’s potato salad and a few sandwiches. They may check your coolers, of course, to make sure you’re not bringing in alcohol or whatever.

The Atlanta Braves have always allowed food into the ballpark. But thats going to change in shiny new Sun Trust Park. The AJC reports that the Braves have announced a new policy via which ticket holders will not be allowed to bring in outside food. Exceptions will be made for infant food and for special dietary restriction items.

Which, OK, it’s their park and their rules. If they want to cut out the PB&J for junior and force you to buy him a $9 “kids pack” — or if they want you to forego grandma’s potato salad to buy that pork chop sandwich we mentioned yesterday — that’s their choice. Everything else about the Braves new stadium has been about extracting money from fans, so why not the concessions policy too?

My beef with this is less about the policy. It’s about their stated reason for it:

The changes are a result of tighter security being put into place this season throughout the league, said the Braves spokesperson.

This, as the French say, is horses**t.

We know it is because not all teams are prohibiting outside food. If there are tighter security measures across the board, other teams are implementing them without the food restriction. Even the Yankees, who take security theater to extreme heights as it is, are still allowing fans to bring in their own food.

The Braves, I strongly suspect, are using these measures as an excuse to cut down on competition for their concessions. Which, like I said, go for it. Just be honest about what you’re doing and stop blaming “tightened security” for your cash grab.

Yadier Molina says Adam Jones “has to apologize to the Puerto Rican people”

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After the U.S. won the World Baseball Classic on Wednesday night, Adam Jones told a reporter that he and his teammates were motivated in part by the fact that Puerto Rico already had championship t-shirts printed up and plans for a parade/celebration in Puerto Rico in place beforehand.

Which, OK, whatever you need to motivate you, Adam, but all of that seems complicated by the fact that (a) ALL teams playing for a championship have pre-printed gear, thus enabling them to be put on moments after the final out; and (b) Puerto Rico’s celebration plans were not contingent on winning or losing. In fact, they went ahead and had a parade/celebration even though they lost. The WBC was a big deal to them in ways it simply wasn’t to the U.S., so it makes sense.

Yadier Molina of Team Puerto Rico did not take kindly to Jones’ comments. He tells ESPN Deportes this:

“Adam Jones … is talking about things he doesn’t know about,” Molina told ESPN. “He really has to get informed because he shouldn’t have said those comments, let alone in public and mocking the way [preparations] were made . . . He has to apologize to the Puerto Rican people,” Molina said. “Obviously, you wanted to win; he didn’t know what this means to [our] people.”

Kind of a messy little controversy, eh?

My feeling about it is that Jones probably didn’t know the whole story about Puerto Rico’s plans and misinterpreted celebration for arrogance. I also suspect that most players motivate themselves in all manner of irrational ways like this, but we just don’t hear about it all that much. Jones can do whatever he wants to psych himself up, but it changes the equation a bit when you talk about it to the press. Perceived slights that an athlete uses internally can seem petty once exposed to the light of day.

Either way: Jones does not have a reputation for being insulting or disrespectful, so I seriously doubt that was his intent here. I also think that, while Molina has a right to be miffed, the “he must apologize to the Puerto Rican people” thing is laying it on a bit thick. Maybe Jones can just text Molina and some P.R. players and say he was sorry, followed by a “we’re all good, man” and this can end? That makes the most sense.

If not, well, the Orioles do play the Cardinals in an interleague series this summer, so maybe we’ll see some fireworks.