Friday, December 05, 2008

Mets New Ballpark Looks Really Sharp

Shea Stadium was kind of a nondescript circle of concrete in the middle of the airport's fly zone. But it was also where the Fan saw his first major league game. In one of the few cherished memories about a father who died too young and too early in the Fan's childhood, memories recall seeing the big sphere, a holdover from the World's Fair (and on display in "Men in Black") and the almost pastel colors of Shea.

They were great seats, right behind home plate and you could see all the players close up and even hear what they were saying. The Mets were playing the Pirates and the two things remembered about the game were that Bob Veale was a very big man pitching for the Pirates and Ed Kranepool hit a homerun for the Mets. Very good memories indeed.

The next memories of that stadium were not so good. As a young, now fatherless Fan whose mother now had to work full time, the Fan and his younger brother were often given $5 each on Saturdays to "babysit" themselves. Not a bad deal for a kid. The problem was that the beloved Yankees were banished to Shea for three years while Yankee Stadium was recycled.

The Yankees playing at Shea seemed like the ultimate insult back then. It took away their identity and for all practical purposes, ended beloved Bobby Murcer's career with the Yankees. The former Yankee Stadium slugger did not have Mike Piazza-like power and suddenly found all his "big flies" falling into outfielder's mitts on the warning track of Shea. The Fan recalls that Murcer's homer production fell from 27 or so to 10. Before you could blink a baby blue Shea eye, our hero was traded away to the Giants for Bobby Bonds.

For a new look at the Mets new ball park, click here. It seems like every fan concern was in mind when they built this place. It should be a win/win for the Mets and their fans. And for Yankee fans, at least a new stadium was built for them so they wouldn't have to slum it some where else.

The Fan has had a chance to work out the angst of losing Yankee Stadium in favor of the new one. And reflection seems to bring the reality that the refitting of the Stadium in those lost Shea years was just as much of a trauma back then as a new Stadium is now. Let's face it, the old ball park was not the same after those three years rebuilding it.

The Fan remembers walking into the new, old Yankee Stadium and feeling cheated. The right field foul pole that used to be 297 feet away was now 310. The cavernous center and left center were left as is, except a new, fake wall was built inside the original dimensions which cheapened the experience. Worst of all, the old facade was removed and that was the biggest sin of all. After all, Mickey Mantle hit one of his most memorable homers off that facade. It WAS Yankee Stadium and it was gone. The only comparison that could be given was if the Statue of Liberty was fitted with a mini dress when the grand lady was refitted. It would be the old statue still, but with modern wrinkle that took away from the classic.

The new Stadium seems to be coming at just the right time. The franchise image has taken a beating lately and seemed tired. The old ghosts of the old Stadium no longer worked their magic and the team that always seemed to find a unique way to win was now watching the Marlins and Diamondbacks and Red Sox find those unique ways to beat them. Time will tell if a new mystique surrounds the team now that they are leaving the historic park while a new ownership era begins at the same time.

What is for sure is that the Fan will be watching with interest as both the Yankees and Mets play their first games in the new ball parks. It should be fun.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Hey! A Free Agent Signing!

Finally! Okay, so it was a small signing and the Astros signed Mike Hampton for a year. But at least it was a signing. The free agent thing this year has the Fan chomping at the bit to find out who goes where. Maybe it has always been this long and drawn out, but this year's free agent sweepstakes seems slower than usual. Perhaps the baseball talks starting December 8 will get things moving.

And the Mike Hampton gamble is a good one. Why not? The guy has a lot to prove and not much time left to prove it. And the bonus for Hampton is that he still gets to hit. Only one year is at risk and the Astros have everything to gain and very little to lose.

A one year flyer on Pedro Martinez would also be worth the risk. There just seems to be a feeling that he has one more good year left in him. A recent ESPN post disparages the Mets contract but it was a risk any team would have taken for the prestige and back page story lines. After all, this wasn't like the Braves signing Hampton. Pedro Martinez, love him or hate him for his on the mound, in your face demeanor, was one of the most dominating pitchers in history. Even those who hated him had to respect what he accomplished and his tenacity in accomplishing it.

In other news, Rickey Henderson is on the Hall of Fame ballot. His election is all but assured and a no-brainer. Like Pedro, you either loved him or you hated him, but he was fun to watch either way. For all his skills and accomplishments, the one thing that will be remembered about Rickey more than anything else was how much he enjoyed playing the game.