For the fan in enemy territory

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Five reasons the Mets will finish .500

The New York Mets have been the tale of two teams in this young season. They have been in a word, streaky. The streaks, however, seem to coincide with where they are playing. They have a record of 13-5 at home, 4-8 on the road for a total of 17-13 going into the final game against the San Fransisco Giants on this Mother's Day.

There has been just a little over a month of games played so far and the team has had too many ups and downs to review. The expectations of both the players and their fans have been high after coming off of such a injury plagued season last season. The first month has delivered first place and last place. That is the extent of the streakiness. However, with high expectations also come a long drop if they fail to meet those expectations.

I do not believe that they will meet those expectations for five reasons. First, the team's overall health will be a factor in the final record. They have spent time waiting already this season for several key players such as: Carlos Beltran, Joe Reyes, Daniel Murphy, Luis Castillo, John Maine, Mike Pelfrey among others. All with the exception of Beltran and Murphy have played this season.

The team has done very well despite having both of these players yet to play this season. They have had others fill in, some well, others not so well. Most notably, is Ike Davis who has dispelled Murphy of his starter's position. Others in centerfield have done well defensively, but not so well offensively. This is where the team really misses Beltran.

All reports on Beltran are negative ones. He is still not close to running and the prognosis is just as pessimistic. He was supposed to be ready by around opening day. It is already close to a month and a half after that. If they suffer another major blow, this team will be in trouble. Ownership spent the offseason trying to build up the minors with suitable replacements in the unlikely event that the team sees a reoccurring of last season.

The players that they signed, however, are suitable, but not close to equal value. Can the Mets really trust Henry Blanco everyday? Probably not. He had a wonderful walk-off homerun on Saturday, but he is not the model of consistency. What about Frank Cattalanotto? In no way can they trust him. So what he can play multiple positions, he can't hit.

Do they really think they can trust Gary Matthews Jr? He is a walking injury ward when he plays on a regular basis. At some point health will be an even bigger factor this season than it already is. When that time comes, they may not be able to overcome it without making some moves.

Which brings me to my second reason, Omar Minaya. The Mets Gneral Manager has not shown the ability to make the big in-season trade. He can make a series of head-scratching smaller ones, but never has he made a big one. Every major transaction he has been credited for has happened before the season. He just is not that active in the middle of the season.

Therefore, it could be observed that he is not good at making roster adjustments due to immediate team needs. If he is weak in this area and the team has a major need to fill in midseason, they cannot count on him to make a great move to push them over the top. He may make smaller moves and depend on the manager to utilize them effectively.

Which brings me to my third reason, Jerry Manuel. Manuel is a player's manager, but he is not a manager that will keep the discipline and focus. He will try too hard to keep the peace and a light mood. That is good sometimes, but there is a time and a place for it. This team needs a crack in their tails at times, not a wisecrack. They need to be whipped into focus and play with hustle and heart, not do the hustle with a light heart.

It's good to be loose and to play loose, but when it effects their play on the field, it becomes a problem. The play on the field reflects their manager's style of managing, loose and carefree. His decisions many times are questionable at best. He leaves the average fan wondering why he makes certain moves, especially with the bullpen.

For example, he benched David Wright the other day just to give him an inning off. Why? If Wright has been slumping or if he has been hot, either way he is NOT a player to have on the bench for an inning. You have him on the bench to begin a game, just for a day off and bring him out to pinch hit later perhaps, but not taking him out at the end of the game.

He overworks the bullpen at times, in particular the closer Francisco Rodriguez. The other night he brought K-Rod in for a two-inning save. This is not abnormal, I know, but still the bullpen had some fresh arms as well available for the 8th inning. His style of managing and his decision making will cost this team wins. It already has. When a team goes on the road against their fiercest rival and plays too loose without intensity for the moment, they are bound to lose.

This brings me to my fourth reason, I like to call road heart. As evidenced by their record on the road, they do not play well away from Queens. This is troublesome. The loose style of play translates into lack of discipline. That lack of discipline translates into mental and physical mistakes. Those mistakes translate into losses.

They seem to lose their heart away from Citi Field. A team with heart only half of the time, is not a playoff team. They need to find their unity and intensity in unfriendly circumstances. That alone will separate them from half of the competition that they face this year.

A playoff team must be equally as much of a threat on the road as they are at home, or else they will not have the ability to execute properly as needed to get beyond the regular season. The opposition and the schedule does not get easier in the playoffs. A playoff caliber team must show that they are that caliber.

That will bring me to my final reason. The fifth reason why the New York Mets will not make the playoffs and be only about a .500 team is the youth and inexperience. I know the core that everyone raves about has some limited playoff experience, but the Mets are not relying on them completely.

Especially when a member of that core, Carlos Beltran, may or may not even be there for a late season run. The players that will primarily be relied on are the Ike Davis' and Rod Barajas' of the team. The ones who have very limited experience being on a mediocre team let alone a playoff contender. What experience does Jeff Francuoer have on the matter? Not much as the Atlanta Braves have not done well in several years.

Jason Bay was on a winning team with the Boston Red Sox, but not when they won the world series. Luis Castillo and K-Rod have had championship experience, but not recently. Johan Santana has been on winning team, but always stumbling in the playoffs. The core has also stumbled in the playoffs. The rest of the group can't even have the same said for them as well.

Experience is everything down the stretch. It is what helped the Phillies come back on our beloved Mets the second year because of the confidence that grew in them from the experience of the first year. Experience and confidence go hand in hand. This year will be a stepping block for the youth of the Mets and another level of confidence gained for the core group.

They could come into next season stronger and more experienced, beaming with confidence, but only if there are changes made in this organization that allow for such a mentality of discipline and experience to blossom into success.

L.T. may stand for legal troubles

This past week has been dominated primarily by one story and one man, the former NFL superstar Lawrence Taylor. Taylor has found himself in the midst of yet another whirlwind of legal troubles. It's not tax evasion or drug addictions. This time, as everyone by now probably knows, it is centered around soliciting underaged prostitution.

In the past few days, everyone was weighed in on his guilt or their shock and appalled reactions. Too many opinions and too many observations on his guilt. I will not weigh in on that particular issue. I want to delve deeper into the issue.

The essential question I wish to explore is one that has two parts. First, what would cause someone of his stature to resort to such actions in the first place? Second, as a follow up, why is the reaction of the population so different because of his stature? Let's address the first.

What would cause someone of his stature to resort to such actions in the first place? Over the past few years in the media happy, technology age, there have been too many stories of similar nature. Far too many public figures with wealth and status have gotten into legal troubles because they are unable to control their impulses.

The most prevalent in the collective population's memory is that of Tiger Woods. There have been many more. We could write an entire book based on the stupidity of the celebrity mindset taking a gamble and getting caught. That is not my focus here. I would like to attempt to figure out why the Steve Phillips', Tiger Woods', Jesse James' and Harold Reynolds' of the world take the chance in the first place.

I believe the answer, like the question, is two-fold. It would be simple to just dismiss it as ego run a muck and move onto the next big story. It would be far too convenient to call it pride and start quoting old proverbs. I've already heard the old saying 'pride goeth before the fall'. That's great.

In fact, that's true, but it doesn't help the situation. It only makes it worse. It's like pouring lemon juice on a cut. This is the typical reaction of a judgmental population that has too much time to go scoping through other peoples' lives to make themselves feel better about their own.

I will not judge Taylor. I refuse to be a part of the 'I told you so' crowd. Taylor has issues, both as a man and as a human being. He has shown himself to be a fragmented man both at home and in his personal life outside of the home. But why? Are wealth and stature the only contributing factors?

Perhaps the answer to that is deeper. Perhaps most of these celebrities, athletes included, come into the wealth and the fame without truly being ready for the adjustment in lifestyle. When they do make the adjustments in lifestyle it is with excess help of their own personalized vices. They often bring their old friends into the mix to share in their new found status. That is always a downfall.

Envy and jealousy of friends are just as much of a factor as self-pride or ego. It is as if these celebrities need someone to manage them every second of everyday. In other words, they need a keeper. The population as a whole relishes the opportunity to be that keeper.

But, in the words of Nino Brown in, one of my wife's favorite movies, New Jack City, "Am I my brother's keeper?". The answer to that is no. We are not responsible for anyone but ourselves and our own affairs. The same is true with celebrities and athletes.

Taylor, in this case, was introduced to the pimp by a friend. Taylor, also to my knowledge, has never admitted to knowing that she was underage. But the action overall was irresponsible. Naturally it is our instinct as a society to point the finger and gossip. However, in this case, not all of the facts have been released.

It is commonplace to for us all to come to a conclusion before we have all of the information. It is almost acceptable, but before we all judge a person for the infidelities and their transgressions, let us remember that we all have our own as well. We are not much different. It is with that in mind that I suggest these people need our help, not our chastisement.

From the runaway teenager, to the ex-con pimp all the way to Taylor himself. They need help from a society that has overlooked them for their entire lives. Taylor, in particular has been accepted for his accomplishments, but no one ever accepted him as a person.

That brings me to my second question. Why is the reaction from the population so different because of his stature? I have read so many articles and opinions that show the fan's love and respect for him. The common response has been 'he was great once, so I still love him'. That's a tremendous mentality, but why do we dismiss a person's actions based on their accomplishments?

I for one, will always remember how Taylor dominated the NFL and redefined his position. He led my favorite team to glory. Twice. But is that enough to discard any wrongdoing? No, of course not. However, there are some who act as if it is. The problem with that is by dismissing the action based on a bias, the perpetrator of the action does not get the proper help that they need and deserve.

Taylor may be able to get the help he needs if he decided he had a problem in the first place. He must accept that he has a problem. If all he hears is supportive comments like,' I love you L.T., and it doesn't matter you're still awesome', it will not help him to accept the problem. We cannot just discard the problem.

He was wrong. He admitted it. He may have been set up as well, but he was still willingly in the wrong place at the wrong time. That is an attitude that must be addressed. He must accept responsibility for himself and his actions. We all have to, so why not him? Why is a celebrity exempt from this?

The answer is they're not. But we all treat them as if they were, depending on if we really like the person or not. If we accept the particular celebrity and their accomplishments and those accomplishments are a mainstay in our memories and our lives, then we are willing to give a reprieve to that celebrity for the sake of cherishing or not damaging our fragile psyche.

Are we that shallow that we cannot allow a person the freedom to make mistakes and help themselves learn from those errors? He must get help. I will always remember his contributions to the sport of football and to my youth, but I can also separate the accolades from the actions.

They are two different things. It is with that in mind that I suggest we remember him in our thoughts and prayers. We hope for him to confront his demons and move past them a wiser and stronger person. As should we all.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Going on the field has gone too far

The world of entertainment has unwritten rules that are to followed. Sports is entertainment. Many people often fail to recognize this. The average fan feels that they are entitled to interact with the teams they are watching, simply because they bought a ticket for admission. This is absurd and can no longer go unchecked. In other venues of entertainment, there is an imaginary wall that is not to be crossed.

A wall between the performer and the spectator. It is considered not just unacceptable, but rude to break that wall. When the average person goes to a theater to see a play or a musical, they are not tempted to streak onto the stage during their big production number or the most dramatic scene. They are not prone to run through the auditorium during the curtain call.

They watch the show without creating an interruption or an intrusion. They do not invade the performer's home. It would be like going into the television. Though we always wonder what that would be like, we are content to respect that medium and cherish it. However, there are a number of fans who feel it necessary to invade the sacred home of the athletic performer.

The athlete is an entertainer as well, yet the fan who cheers them on fails to see this. For years now, fans have run onto the field of play just to add to the spectacle and make a fool of themselves. The tradition of this, many have speculated, may have started with the 1969 miracle Mets.

When fans rushed onto the field to be a part of the joyous celebration of a tale of victory over the most difficult of obstacles. The fans raged with emotion to partake in the experience as they didn't know how else to respond and properly show their admiration. It continued through the decades.

In the 70's, it became common place, but with a new twist. The streaker. People running through the field of play completely naked. Then came the kissers. The fans who would run on the field with the sole purpose of getting close to the player they like in order to kiss them. This was a dangerous practice as it led to more and more incidents of fans invading the athletes home.

It led to athletes getting injured and fearing for their safety. Who can blame them? I wouldn't want to stand in front of 50,000 people and have to keep my head on a swivel for fear that a stranger will run up to me with a knife because they didn't like that I struck out with runners on base five weeks ago. The word fan is short for fanatic. This is not a coincidence. It is with good reason.

If someone is fanatical about something, they are without reason. They are without manners. I recall the practice of the fan breaking that wall as being beneficial only handful of times in sports history. The one that is most prevalent to my memory was in the 1986 world series. A fan parachuted into Shea stadium with a banner that read 'let's go Mets'. It drove the crowd nuts.

It is debatable whether it motivated the players, but they did respond to the effort with a series of comebacks on their way to the championship. Outside of that incident, I really do not recall many others that were factors to the teams' success. In past years, we have seen game after game show examples of the improper breakage of these unwritten rules.

The college ranks display such examples more than the professional venues, however, the professional events are not without their own incidents. Every few weeks or so, a story breaks that reveals such stupidity and sheer attention seeking desperation, that it spreads throughout the world like a wildfire.

In this age of technology at our fingertips, we are no longer bound to the six o'clock news. We no longer have to wait for someone to break the story to us several hours later. We find out as it happens. A few nights ago, a fan ran onto the field and the local police of that town were in the stadium and responded by tazing the fan. It has caused an uproar in the sports world to some degree. The main debate has been whether the officers were in the wrong or not.

The problem is that the fan was in the wrong in the first place. It was the fan who broke the rules and it is the fan who deserved to be punished for his actions. I have never been one to defend police actions, but in this particular case, they were in the right. They had to protect the players and subdue this lunatic before he did something unexpected and irrational.

This practice was once thought of as humorous, but now, it is dangerous. It is an action of desperation and attention seeking. As if these people were ten years old and shopping with their mommy and mommy isn't paying attention to them. This juvenile mentality needs to be stopped.

This fan needs to be an example of the precedent that will be set for whoever decides to break this wall again. It will happen again, believe me. It will. The problem is that society as a whole has been steadily deteriorating into this mentality that manners and respect don't matter anymore and that such actions are acceptable and more so, expected.

This can not go on. The next step will be a police officer or security guard being charged with involuntary manslaughter for defending himself or a player. This is madness. Society must collectively decide to have respect for others again. We, as a society, must care about our actions and the perception of our appearance again.

We have lost that as a society, and we must gain that back before there is irreparable damage done to someone's life. After all, if we wouldn't climb into the projector's room at the movie theater, why would we jump onto the field of play. They are the same. The sooner we recognize that, the safer we all will be.