For the fan in enemy territory

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Santana has more than former team on his mind

The New York Mets have been a streaky team this season. They are currently on a hot streak due to home games and weak schedules. The team as a whole is playing with fire and passion. They are making key defensive plays and getting timely hits.

As a team, the Mets are on fire. Individually, however, there are players who have have been even more streaky than the team has been collectively. One such player is Johan Santana. Santana was acquired by the team on January 29, 2008. He arrived with so much fan fare that came with far too much expectation for one person to live up to.

During his time in Minnesota, he won two Cy Young awards ('04 and '06), an award given to the best pitcher in their particular league. He also won a gold glove award ('07), given to the best defensive player at their position in the league. He really has not fully lived up to his and the fan's expectations.

His strikeout to walk ratio has been lower with the Mets (less than a two to one ratio) than it was with the Twins and he has averaged less wins per season (less than one per every two starts) with the Mets as well. He still has performed well in comparison to other pitchers, but given his contract, he was expected to lead the team to more than he has so far.

This season, he has only five wins in 15 starts or one in every three, going into today's game. A game in which he starts against his former team for the first time since that trade in 2008. He will face his former catcher, Joe Mauer, and his former first baseman, Justin Morneau. This must be a distraction for him, as it will surely remind him of better days.

However, this is not the only distraction he must be dealing with when he takes the mound today. According to ESPN New York, he has been dealing with rape allegations from a woman in Florida. Police in the area have refused to charge him in the case, citing lack of evidence. However, this still must be a distraction for him.

Facing the media questions and his own emotions involved from the incident. He must be angry or at least slightly annoyed that this has surfaced. Every time a media member asks him about it, it must irritate him. Although he is free from any legal action and only he and the woman know the truth, still it is a distraction nonetheless.

Then there is the inevitable trade rumor mill constantly swirling. It effects him, though no one has suggested he be a trade candidate. It does effect him though, despite he and several members of the team advocating the Mets make a trade.

If the Mets do pull the trigger on another big name pitcher, such as Cliff Lee or Roy Oswalt, it would be another ace that they add. If the team adds another ace, the competitive juices would certainly have to be boiling over among the pitching staff. That could be good, but it also could be bad. If they add another ace, that means that Santana's role on the team has changed.

It also means that the team has openly admitted that their confidence in him as the ace has been shaken. Although, they would never publicly admit to it, the shear action would speak volumes to the fans and the players. It may cause him to respond with better performances, which I am sure the team hopes for, but it could also cause him to be disgruntled or even cause low morale.

If either of these occur, the pitching staff could be left right back where they started from. They are currently striving to be consistent and turn that consistency into dominance. The team thinks that by adding another starter, they will put the rotation over the top.

They probably would, though they must be careful not to step on anyone's toes in this matter. A disgruntled pitcher is a weakened pitcher. They need a starter, but it must be someone who will come in and fit into the clubhouse in a smooth transition.

Whether that is Lee, Oswalt or someone else, remains to be unseen, but the Mets must consider this when making a move. As Santana takes the mound today, he must block out all of these distractions. That is his job, but they will still be there when he is done.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Frankie goes to Flushing

On Tuesday, June 22, I had the privilege to journey to Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. The stadium is in its' second year in existence and it was my first time seeing it in person. I had been to the previous home of the team, Shea Stadium, a handful of times.

Like most fans, I cherished Shea Stadium and my opinion of the new stadium was that it paled in comparison to the memory of Shea. Each experience there was enchanting and I expected this trip to be nice, but not as exciting as previous ones. This experienced proved to be no less enchanting. It far exceeded any expectations I had formed prior to my visit.

For me, a fan who lives farther away from the action than most fans, the opportunity to immerse myself in the atmosphere is a rare occasion. It is, for me, comparable to a catholic journeying to the Vatican. It is an infrequent event, therefore it is an event that holds extraordinary expectations.

As I approached the stadium, it resembled, to me, a cathedral more than a baseball stadium. With this inspiration in mind, I recalled a line from the movie Bull Durham, "I believe in the church of baseball". It was at this point that I decided that, regardless of the outcome of the day, I was in my church and I would enjoy the sermon.

I was in my element among fellow Mets brethren. It was truly a religious experience. Upon walking into the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, I was in awe. From the moment I saw the gigantic number 42 in his honor, through viewing all of the pictures, quotes and mementos of a legend, I found myself lost in the humility of greatness.

My next experience was nearly indescribable. I found myself entirely submerged into nearly 50 years of history. I was standing in the Mets museum, surrounded by artifacts and items I had only seen in pictures or television. I repeatedly had to wake myself from the hypnotic euphoria of the experience.

I found myself reliving memory after glorious memory from my childhood. Overwhelmed by the magnitude of the history, it was all I could do to prevent being swept away with emotion. After touring the museum, I lost myself, and more money than I intended, in the Mets gift shop.

I have never and probably may never see so many New York Mets logos in one place in my lifetime again. Living deep in southern New Jersey, as with most of the country, Mets apparel i not readily available. I swam from aisle to aisle of collectible nostalgia and Mets inspired keepsakes.

When I finally arrived in the seat I would be residing in for the duration of the experience, I was moved. The ambiance, vantage point and overall warmth of the stadium left me dumbfounded and silent. I was captured by the atmosphere and the excitement of the live experience.

First the national anthem was belted out beautifully, followed by the ceremonial first pitch by my favorite sitcom actor, Kevin James. This was followed by two and a half solid innings, in which the Mets held an advantage. By the bottom of the third inning however, mother nature responded.

Despite a monsoon which led to a rain delay of nearly an hour, my spirits were not dampened. During the delay, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet fellow Daily Stache writer and blogger, Tom Greenhalgh. After a wonderful conversation, and a rare photo-op with Tom, the game resumed.

Despite the attempt of the opponent of the day, the Detroit Tigers, the Mets never allowed the weather to slow them down. They exploded for eight runs in that third inning that lasted more than an hour. As the game developed, so did the crowd's interest and the player's felt it. At one point, center fielder Angel Pagan waived to our section after fans there repeatedly called out for him.

In the sixth inning, I was graced with the presence of another fellow writer and genius, Ash Marshall of the Bleacher Report. He had been there to interview some players for a series of articles he was working on. The team, meanwhile, continued to roll. They went on to win that night 14-6, behind a 4 hit performance from Angel Pagan, who fell just a home run shy of hitting for the cycle.

Many of the fans had left before the end of the game. The rain delay and abnormal explosion of offense in a ballpark with a pitcher friendly reputation led to a late evening for all. Still, I couldn't help but to feel like the majority of the fans there didn't appreciate the evening to its' fullest.

Perhaps many of us take it for granted that the team is right there and so is their stadium. However, that realization did not escape me. As a fan who has to travel a few hours to see my team play at home, I was just humbled to be a part of the overall experience. As I left, I finally felt, as a Mets fan, that I was home for the first time since Shea was demolished.

I left vowing to return. I vowed that I would once again meet with my brethren. I would reunite with my family and relish the unity and warmth in our cathedral, our sanctuary, our home that is Citi Field. The home of our New York Mets.

For more pics from my day at the ball park, scroll down to the bottom of the page. Thank you.