Riding it to the end

FRENCHY’S, CLEARWATER BEACH — We’re tired. All of us. The players, the coaches, the front-office types and, of course, the scribes. We’re beaten down to a bloody pulp like an aimless old pug who has taken one too many shots to the dome.

We zig when we should zag. We’re awake when we should be asleep. We’re in the air when we should be on the ground.

It’s a big pile of something.

And the people who aren’t tired at this point just aren’t trying hard enough. It should ache the bones and one’s eyes should be damn near swollen shut…

Cut me Mick… cut me.

But that’s what it’s really about, isn’t it? Perseverance or some type of happy horsebleep like that. Adrenaline and the attempt to grind out the last couple of miles of the marathon. We’re almost there, folks. It looks like it’s going to end in a blaze of spilled drinks and lots of tears.

Take your pick on the tears: joy or sorrow.

Bloodied and unbowed we keep coming back. Though some of us haven’t slept in weeks and only remember the way family members look based on a digital photographs packed into an iPod, there really isn’t any other place to be.

Send us to Milwaukee? Yeah, we’ll be there.

Los Angeles? What time do we go?

Florida’s Gulf Coast? Tell the shuttle to meet me at the B Gate at Tampa International.

And yet as late Wednesday night melted into early Thursday morning in a small, sweaty room filthy with cameras, recorders and note pads and the ol’ sage held court on one corner, the pitching coach nursed a Corona on an overstuffed couch and the first-base coach finished a late dinner hunched over on a folding chair in his locker, the thought crept in:

This is what we do. We talk, meander, write sentences, and put off going to bed so we can do it all over another day. Oh yes, we’ll get home soon. It’s just that we have to ride this out to the end.

And no one wants to be the first one to leave.

I should have mentioned this earlier, but there will no more live updates on this site until further notice. When everything gets ironed out, there will be notice… maybe even a press release.

Big ups to Kevin Roberts, the stately columnist for the Courier Post, for opening up “Lounge 405” at the Fairfield Bayside in Clearwater. Part after-hours joint and part Algonquin Round Table, the place provided all the comforts of home as well as a complimentary buffet.

The truth is Kev truly is a wonderful host…

And so fastidious! Kevin really keeps a neat room… I, on the other hand, could rival Keith Moon. I don’t know how the cleaning lady is going to get that swamp mud off the drapes.

Just 80 more to go

SheaThere is no easy way to get to Shea Stadium. There are no back routes or shortcuts. Take the Verrazano Bridge through Staten Island and over to Brooklyn and you will get stuck on the Belt Parkway. If you go farther north to the George Washington to cross through the South Bronx over the Triborough into Queens and you’re done before you get off 95.

The best move is to go through the Holland Tunnel and then through Manhattan to the Queens Midtown Tunnel to the Long Island Expressway and finally to the Grand Central. But even that’s a crapshoot depending on all sorts of variables.

If the natives have any secrets to get to the old stadium deep in the heart of Queens, they didn’t trickle down this way.

Nevertheless, the best way to get to Shea to see the Mets is Amtrak to Penn Station and then a short walk over to Grand Central Station to hop on the No. 7 train.

But even that’s stressful, though not the way confirmed moron John Rocker would lead one to believe. The worst part about taking the No. 7 train from Grand Central to Shea isn’t the other people – that’s the best part. In fact, it’s very difficult not to be entertained and/or to make friends on the ride out to Flushing. No, the worst is getting on the local train and making all the damn stops.

It takes forever.

It’s one thing if an arduous journey leads to a magnificent destination, but that’s not the case with Shea. For folks like me with a press pass, Shea is a mess. Even in the press box there are obstructed views, tight quarters in a room with far too few seats and a work area built for a different era when people were the size of Shetland ponies and weren’t lugging around laptop computers.

The media dining room is just as cramped, but at least they have a sundae bar and a real caterer.

It’s not much better for the players, either. Both the home and the visiting clubhouses are small with amenities that clearly aren’t up to date. The dugouts are old, deep and seemingly crumbling.

The elevators don’t work well, the parking is scarce and the location is a drag. Nothing against Flushing or the borough of Queens, but what was Robert Moses thinking? He built all those freeways, bridges and tunnels, uprooted neighborhoods and displaced folks from their homes and he didn’t anticipate the traffic?

Some visionary he was.

blueprintsAnyway, as most folks who follow this sort of thing have heard, this is the last season for the Mets at Shea Stadium before the team moves across the parking lot to spanking new Citi Field. Judging from the way the new ballpark is sprouting over the outfield fence and casting its big shadow over tired, old Shea, it looks as if things are moving as planned.

Thankfully, there are 80 games to go at Shea.

Still, it’s fair to say that Shea Stadium gets a bad rap from guys like me. The truth of the matter is that there are places far worse than Shea that are celebrated with unironic and overwrought prose about the nostalgic ardor about such buildings. From this vantage point, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, the Palestra, Wrigley Field are not great either, but aside from Yankee Stadium there are no plans to replace any of those places.

So here’s the question: did places like Shea Stadium, or RFK or even Veterans Stadium get old really fast? Or did our needs change?

In other words, did we get soft?

Certainly Veterans Stadium limped to the finish line, and clearly RFK was not properly equipped to host Major League Baseball for three years. But Shea hosted a World Series not too long ago and if the more popular and “historic” Yankee Stadium weren’t also being retired at the end of this year, chances are Shea could have been home to this year’s All-Star Game.

But after we get through all the traffic, the crowds, the stress and all that goes with it to find our way out to Queens and Shea Stadium, chances are we’re going to see something interesting. After all, it is New York where even the most mundane occurrences seem to take on greater importance.

And lots of things have happened in the not-so distant past at ol’ Shea. To prove it, I dug up an old essay from two years ago:

It Happened at Shea
The Beatles at Shea In 1964 when Shea Stadium opened, it was probably a really big deal. Right next door was where they were having the World’s Fair, which sounds like it was a pretty big deal. A World’s Fair? Can you imagine such a thing? These days there would be a Serbia and a Montenegro booth.

Nevertheless, there has been a lot of history at Shea Stadium since 1964. In fact, the very first stadium concert occurred there in August of 1965 when the Beatles played on a stage just beyond the infield dirt. In Beatle-insider Peter Brown’s account of the event in The Love You Make, the group was pretty weirded out about being at Shea. You see, back in those days the monitors, microphones, and sound system wasn’t very good. There were no fiber optics, wireless devices or Clair Bros. rigging up the sound. So in 1965 the Beatles had trouble hearing the notes they played or the words they said or sang. Mix that with blinding lights zeroing in on them and the area in front of the stage lined with cops and handicapped kids in order to keep both out of harm’s way, and the Beatles felt as if they were in a Dali painting.

When the Beatles looked out to the audience at Shea, they couldn’t hear even though they were making noise and all they could see was crippled kids and cops just inches away.

Muhammad Ali fought Antonio Inoki at Shea, while Joe Namath and the Jets, the Yankees, Pope John Paul II, and Darryl Strawberry all played there.

Just off the infield dirt behind first base is where Buckner missed the ball and there isn’t even a plaque or a statue to commemorate it.

Better yet, Shea Stadium is where The Clash put the final touches on their conquering of America with two shows in October of 1982 in support of The Who. Soon, after the legendary shows famously documented by filmmaker Don Letts, The Clash officially were dubbed “the only band that matters.”

You’re damned right.

But for the baseball scribes of Philadelphia, Shea is where all the bleep goes down. In 2003, Matt Yallof and Larry Bowa had a bit of run-in along the third-base line in a taped segment of “Bowa Unplugged.” Later, Yallof spent the entire ride back from Queens to Philadelphia performing an interview where yours truly posed as Bowa and he was a old-timey and fast-talking reporter from the 1940s lost in the new century.

After the second hour, the act got a little old but we still pressed on.

BucknerThe fallout from the so-called “Snub,” where Pat Burrell refused to slap five with Bowa by taking the back entrance to the dugout, followed quickly by the Tyler Houston ouster occurred the day after Yallof’s little tiff. I’ll never forget the look on Camden Courier Post columnist Kevin Roberts’ face as he walked out of that tiny little visitor’s clubhouse – the same clubhouse where Bob Costas waited to give Red Sox owner Jean Yawkey the team’s first World Series trophy since 1918 during Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, only to watch as workers scurried to tear down the makeshift podium and protective plastic covering the lockers as the Mets rallied. The workers somehow tore down a podium, protective plastic, removed the champagne and all evidence of an impending celebration in the time it took for the ball to trickle through Buckner’s legs until the team stomped off the field, through the passageway in the dugout and into the clubhouse.

I’ll also never forget what Sully Stansberry said to me when I asked him how he saw Pat Burrell give Bowa the snub.

“I watch the [!] game,” Sully said.

Good idea.

The next year, in 2004, Billy Wagner was tossed from that game on Sept. 11 while 2005 was nearly the scene of the a rumble between some writers and Tomas Perez as he took it upon himself to defend the honor of Miss Venezuela. If the Pie Man won’t stand up for a beauty queen, who will?

What will happen next at Shea? God only knows.

Monday randomness

Things got pretty busy as they are wont to do during a weekend series against the Boston Red Sox, so this is my mea culpa for not offering any posts for a couple of days. I really wanted to, and certainly had plenty of stuff to write, but duty kind of called.

It happens.

So what was so interesting last weekend. Well, Tito Francona was in town, which is always a treat. If anyone deserves success in this game, Francona is up there at the top of the list. He certainly has sacrificed quite a bit during a long career as a player, coach, scout and manager.

Curt Schilling was back in town, too. He’s gone now and certainly the scribes are much happier, though the TV-types kind of like him. In case anyone hasn’t noticed, writers and TV folk are very different. One group works for a living and the other, well… they wear makeup.

Come on, it’s a joke…

Anyway, everytime I see Schilling I think back to the June, 2004 series at Fenway when I asked a former Red Sox pitcher (he’ll remain nameless, though these days he pitches for the Dodgers and had a really good 2004 post-season) if he knew where the “media-friendly” pitcher was.

“Just follow the cameras,” that former Red Sox pitcher said.

As an aside, that trip to Fenway was one of the most fun (in a baseball and work sense) ever. Any trip to Baltimore and Clearwater rates really high, too, but that particular weekend in Boston was really good.

As another aside, trips to Washington, my former hometown, are always a blast, too, though that has nothing to do with the baseball. Put it this way: it’s hard not to have fun in Washington.

Anyway, Schilling was up to his old, teasing, preening and flirtatious ways with the local TV types last weekend. He lead them on, danced around and pretended like he had soooooooo many important things to do. But in the end, did anyone really think he was going to turn away from a rolling TV camera? Curt Schilling?

Of course not.

The writers, for the most part, ignored Schilling. That story has been told too many times, thank you very much. Besides, as erstwhile scribe Dennis Deitch suggested, perhaps it was time for a statute of limitations on Schilling stories. If a player has been out of town for seven years, it’s only proper to ignore him forever. After all, that’s how the IRS works, right?

So yes, Schilling was in town.

Appropos of nothing: Does anyone out there have doubts about that bloody sock?

And David Wells was in Philadelphia, too. In fact, the always chatty and round lefty was in town long enough to kind of, sort of allude to an idea that Phillies’ pinch hitter David Dellucci had used steroids. From watching and listening to Dellucci speak about the comments, it was very obvious that he was very hurt and disappointed with what Wells had to say.

Since I wrote it late on Saturday night when most people were out and about doing stuff or inside sleeping, here’s a reprint of what went down:

Much ado about nothing?
During a pre-game conversation where he discussed everything from his upcoming minor-league rehab assignment, his age, and Barry Bonds’ 714th career home run, controversial Red Sox pitcher David Wells was his typical self. This time, though, Wells brought a former teammates and current Phillie into the mix.

While talking about baseball’s steroid controversy, Wells mentioned David Dellucci and the fact that the Phillies’ top pinch hitter has just one homer a season after stroking 29 a season ago for the Texas Rangers.

“You see a little bitty guy hitting 30 home runs, what, Dellucci, I guess?” Wells told reporters. “How many home runs did he hit last year? 29. Has he ever done that in his career? How many has he hit this year? So, the numbers have gone down tremendously since all this has come up. I know Dave, I’ve never suspected him of doing them.”

After the game, a visibly upset Dellucci cleared his name.

“I’ve been tested. I’ve been tested this offseason. I’ve been tested a number of times last year,” Dellucci said. “I leave the stadium after midnight every night because I’m working out. I do that this year, and I did that in Texas.”

What Wells failed to mention is that Dellucci hit 29 homers last season in 128 games and 516 plate appearances in the hitter-friendly American League. That comes to a home run every 15 at-bats.

This season Dellucci has appeared in 34 games for 40 plate appearances primarily as a pinch hitter. If Dellucci hits a home run in his next time up, he will be averaging one home run for every 16 at-bats.

— John R. Finger

The next day, Wells issued a kind of, sort of mea culpa through the Red Sox PR staff. Francona, in a classy move that shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows him, offered an apology in person to Dellucci. Still, Dellucci was rightly still stinging from Wells’ comment.

As far as the baseball stuff goes, this Red Sox club doesn’t appear to be as strong as the one that stormed through Philadelphia last season, which, for me, was one of the best teams I have watched during my years on the job.

The others (in no particular order):
2001 New York Yankees
2001-02 Arizona Diamondbacks
2003 Seattle Mariners
2004 St. Louis Cardinals
2005 Boston Red Sox

Finally, Kevin Roberts of the Courier Post writes my new, favorite blog.