I’m skipping past the two teams the D-men played between theAll-Star Game and the Mets, because honestly, I have nothing to say about the
Phillies and everything that could possibly be expressed about the sweep of the
Geriatric Giants has already been said. (Even
Vin Scully, usually the king of “If you can’t say something nice about someone,
don’t say anything at all”, couldn’t resist commenting “Folks, this is a very, very old team.”)
I was excited about the Mets series because a) inasmuch as I
can like any team other than the Dodgers, I like the Mets and b) I had tickets
to the first game of the series on 7/19. Not just any old tickets, friends and neighbors. Good field seats down by the
first base line and the Mets dugout. On
the aisle, even. I obtained these from a generous friend and
invited my aunt Kelly to go with me. Although she was a bit apprehensive about being hit with a foul ball,
she agreed to make the trek. That’s
twice in one month that the girls of the House of Baseball Heritage have made
the trip to Chavez Ravine. Alert the
Although Kelly boasted that she’d had seats in the field
area sometime previously (probably around the same time Fernando Valenzuela was
a hot item) it was my first venture out of nosebleed territory and I was like a
hick farmer turned loose in Peewee City on a Saturday
night. The first ticket checkers we
spoke with on the entrance level directed us to the elevators in the
semi-respectful tones they save for the big spenders. The elevators led to a lower level which led
to a escalator entrance where our tickets were checked carefully to make sure we were actual
members of the Elite and not just tacky gatecrashers. Duly admitted to the holy escalators, down into the
bowels we went, to emerge in an entirely new world. One where people sipped beer instead of
chug-a-lugging it. One where most people
appeared to be fully dressed and over the age of 18. One with grilled Dodger Dogs. Stepping forth into this brave new world, we
were amazed to find that the trip down to our seats did *not* involve death-defying
degrees of steepness. Instead, it required nothing more than a gentle slope that went down, down, down to the field itself,
closer than I’d ever seen it. What was
most impressive, though, was the fact that the seats themselves were at least
an inch wider than the seats in pup-tent-and-canteen territory up top. Instead of being wedged in tightly like a
sausage in a casing, I was wedged in loosely and able to move my legs slightly
from side to side. This was the life!
Aside from a slight glint of sun in our eyes for the first
few minutes we were there, our new digs were highly satisfactory. But there was a downside to being so close to
the opposing team’s dugout. We had as
neighbors a surprisingly large number of Mets fans, mostly male, sporting visible
signs of Mets partiality and letting their affiliation be known even before
their boys came on the field. Since I
have a fondness for New York Guys ™ I was willing to tolerate these interlopers
but I wondered how long it would take until they showed their teeth. I didn’t have to wonder
Unlike the Dodgers who warm up tardily and reluctantly, like overweight children (except for Juan Pierre and Nomar, who can be counted on to perform vigorous Jack LaLanne-inspired calisthenics, as if to make up for the lethargy of the rest of the team) the Mets came out of the dugout and took to right field like it was their own. (Considering how many of them are ex-Dodgers, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.) Not only did they form teams and run relays, they also performed death-defying feats such as running backwards (Jose Reyes) and karate-style kicks and chops (Ruben Gotay.) The Mets fans in the crowd went wild. And we hadn’t even sung the National Anthem yet.
In the midst of these antics David Wright and (Caught Looking
caption victim) Paul Lo Duca suddenly approached the wall to sign autographs for fans
not fifty feet from my chair. Realizing that this was
my chance to be a Baseball Photojournalist, I leapt to my feet and headed down to the wall along with twenty or thirty other brave souls, most of them wearing blue and orange.
The first thing that struck me was how weird it seemed that fans are allowed to get that close to the players. I’m a security specialist with a government agency, so perhaps I’m a tad paranoid, but my first thought was "What if one of these kids whips a tire iron or a bowie knife out of their shorts?" However, my fears were apparently unwarranted as the kids and their parents milled in a more or less orderly line to get their balls and programs signed.
I noticed that Wright was working the crowd like a sideshow barker, flashing his pearly white, tusk-like teeth at the giggling groupies wearing tight Wright t-shirts and rumpling the hair of the children as he casually signed a few balls and backsides. Lo Duca, on the other hand, took a workmanlike approach to fan fulfillment, signing balls silently and mechanically without looking up, and wearing an expression that said "I better not see these turn up on Ebay." As I stepped back to get a better angle on Lo Duca, it occurred to me that he and I were standing more or less on the same level and he was definitely no taller than I was. Hmmm…his MLB.com roster page calls him 5′ 10", and I’m 5′ 6" on a tall day. Could it be—??
Not only was the man flirting with Danny DeVito territory, he also had a serious case of Tyrannosaurus Rex arms. At the same time, his head appeared slightly too large for the rest of him. I’d vaguely noticed these, ahem, features before on television; standing a few feet away from him, though, it was dead obvious. Since I’m no looker myself, I sort of liked him more for these imperfections. Tiny twig arms and real-life bobblehead and all, he can still be on my list of future ex-husbands. He’ll just have to get some lifts for his church shoes.
Almost as soon as I took my snaps, he and Wright called it a day and headed back to the dugout. Eventually the game did get underway and if you’re a Dodger fan, you already heard that it went down twisted. The Mets scored 6 before we were even out of the first inning. The Dodgers battled back to score 4 by the end of the second, but with Derek Lowe getting the hook in the third inning after close to a hundred pitches, the whole thing took on a bizarre "guess who will come out of the bullpen next inning" rollercoaster ride. We were always a few back, but never quite out of the game until the last inning. The Mets fans were howling like banshees, the Dodger fans were hollering back, and people were getting ejected left and right. Beach balls were bouncing everywhere, and I managed to catch this one mid-bounce right before it came down on my head:
Some hours into the game (which would have made it around the fourth inning) a particularly rambunctious Mets fan a few rows behind us began a constant barrage of insults that continued on until the game’s last gasp. He had the advantage of being extremely funny, which helped offset the fact that he was extremely irritating. His friend seated next to him, also garbed in Mets gear, was entirely silent, and at many points along the way had a "I can’t believe you said that" look of mixed embarrassment and admiration on his face.
Mets Fan #1, not satisfied with taunting the various Dodger players and fans in the vicinity, began harassing a particularly corpulent peanut vendor around the top of the fifth. I’m not exactly sure what happened, but I think it involved a peanut shell being thrown onto the vendor’s burly back. The vendor (who I had felt a pang of pity for earlier, before I noticed the iPhone hooked to his gnome-like leather belt) whirled around and threatened Mets Fan #1 with an ejection. I believe his exact words were "Keep it up and you’ll be sorry, wiseguy." Kelly and I tittered nervously. Sure enough, Mets Fan #1 continued his jibes and men with headphones and walkie-talkies soon approached. Using his Spidey powers, Mets Fan #1 somehow deflected the blame for the peanut incident on a nearby Dodger fan, who was led away, crestfallen. Mets Fan #1 had the nerve to say "Awwww, I almost feel guilty!" as he continued to harangue nearby fans, leaving his seat at times to better deliver his evangelistic message:
Fortunately, not all the locals were so unfriendly. The two guys on our other side were in a festive mood, posing with my Dodger sock monkey, Moe:
Moe, not used to being manhandled, had to cool off with a refreshing $5.50 beverage:
There were many heartbreaking moments, as chances were missed and errors were made. The gamut of emotions was run. We laughed. We cried.
All we were missing was a Lo Duca meltdown, but we were robbed, because he was lounging uselessly in the dugout for most of the game. The catcher on this night was Ramon Castro, a big, beefy boy who bore a strange resemblance to a certain seasonal favorite of mine:
Although theoretically it should have been easier to follow the game from the field level, in reality it was harder. Not just because Kelly and I both kept losing the ball in the lights, but also the proximity of the players kept distracting us. From where we were sitting, we had a perfect view of first base and we noticed that each Dodger tended to fall into a particular "Pants Category".
Gonzo, Nomar, Kent, Saenz, Saito, Grady and Honeycutt: Overly snug pants. Can they breathe in those things? Are they pants or leotards? The boys need to breathe.
Loney, Pierre: Overly big pants. These guys are both Happy Meals swimming in a Super-size. Doesn’t someone in the dugout notice that they’re wearing Jonathan Broxton’s pajama bottoms?
Furcal, Kemp, Ethier: Overly long pants. The fit isn’t bad but if your inseam is 33, don’t order a 36 in the hope it will make you look taller.
Hendrickson: Just plain weird looking pants. They probably have to sew two pairs together lengthwise to make them long enough, though, so I know I should cut him a pass. However, it doesn’t help that at the same time he appears on the mound in his ill-fitting pant-things, his roster picture on Diamond Vision flashes thirty feet tall and reminds us that he looks like he’d be more at home in a pair of coveralls with a toothpick in his mouth and the theme from Deliverance playing on the 8-track.
Russell Martin: Special multi-mention for pants that are not only overly large and overly long, but from our spot behind first base we were able to discern a patch in the vicinity of his left leg between the knee and the buttock. We theorized that this was the same pair of pants he wore in the game earlier in the year where he fell down and tore them. We think it must be a superstition thing and that he had them repaired. Either that, or the Dodgers are too cheap to buy him another pair.
The Dodgers do have a perfect pants role model right in their very own dugout. From our strategic vantage point, we were able to compare and contrast the sorry state of the pants of most of the Dodgers players with the flawless propriety of first base coach Mariano Duncan’s trousers. Neither too tight nor too baggy, conservatively tailored and immaculately pressed, Duncan’s slacks set an authoritative tone that the younger men on the team would do well to emulate.
Whatever the state of their pants, the men in blue fought valiantly but when the Mets made their 13th run in the 9th inning, it was all over. We went down swinging, though, and the final 13-9 score wasn’t so bad, considering all we’d had to do to get that far. Even though we lost, it was a heck of a fight. Everyone walked out laughing and muttering, and the Dodger talk wrap-up we listened to on the way home described it as "one of the oddest games ever". Although my experience is limited, I’ll second that, but nevertheless say I’m glad I was there.
Well, my aunt warned me that the All-Star games aren’t the most exciting to watch, and she was right. Nevertheless, I did travel to the House Of Baseball Tradition (aka my grandpa’s house) so we could watch the game together.
Before I get to the game, let me say that the night before, I caught the Home Run Derby and enjoyed it more than I’d thought I would. The contestants had a suitably devil-may-care attitude, and everyone in AT&T Park appeared to have benefited from the influence of a few adult beverages, from the spectators to the crazed teammates to the oddball mentally handicapped guy who was handing out face wipings and hugs to everyone who got up to bat. Just about every player scheduled to take part in the All-Star game was camped out in a Barcalounger on the field, usually with two or three small children in tow. It was interesting to see so many players, including the usually deadpan Dodgers, caught in moments of frivolity.
I found myself pulling for Vladimir Guerrero in the HR Derby, because even though he’s an Angel, he’s a Southern California homeboy and therefore rootworthy. Well, a Southern California homeboy by way of the Dominican Republic. After he received that bat from Big Papi (doing his best Don Corleone imitation), there was no stopping the man with the dirtiest batting helmet in baseball.
So, on to the All-Star Game. This being the first one I’d watched, I was unaware that there would be an hour’s pomp and circumstance before any balls got pitched. We had to get through Willie Mays and various and sundry other touching moments before we got to the lineups, When the Dodger men were introduced, great joy reigned in the House of Baseball Heritage. I felt somewhat akin to a proud parent who spots her children onstage during a dull school ceremony. "Look! There’s Brad!" I hollered. "He’s smiling," my aunt said in shocked amazement.
The game finally got underway and the National League players did not disappoint. It felt a bit strange to be cheering for the starter, Peavy, who I’d just seen triumph over the Dodgers the week before at Dodger Stadium, but I quickly adapted. Brad Penny and Saito acquitted themselves well, although the dimwitted hosts called him Takashi Sayito (rhymed with Dorito–guess they’ve had too many seasons of trying to pronounce Puerto Rican and Dominican names). Tragically, Russell Martin had a less than stellar first All-Star game. Every time he got up to bat, the boos of the boorish Giants fans in the stadium were drowned by the enouraging cries of fans all over the Southland, but it did no good. When he struck out, the hearts of fans all over Los Angeles broke a little along with his bat, knowing how disappointed he’d be. It’s amazing how much everyone, even cynics like myself, love this guy. He’s everyone’s son-who-made-good, even when he cusses and spits. No one wants to see his spirit broken. As long as he never gets caught with a dead girl or a live boy, he’s got it made in this town.
We were lucky they let him go as long as they did. I guess even the powers-that-be wanted to see him be the MVP, but it wasn’t in the cards this year. Around the sixth inning they took him out and faith and begorrah, it was you-know-who from the Atlanta Braves. Must I really look at a leprechaun for the next three innings? Aye.
Things weren’t looking good for the National team for most of the last half, but suddenly in the 9th, the players rallied and it almost looked like we could break the American League’s 9 game winning streak. But it was not to be. The AL won, and Ichiro Suzuki got MVP for the inside-the-park home run. I fail to grasp the magic of Ichiro Suzuki, fabulous though he may be. Most baseball players look like they have to buy their uniforms off the Big N’ Husky rack; so far he’s the only one I’ve seen that has to shop the boys’ department. Call me shallow. Go ahead. Everyone else does.
Now for the second half….
Early July, 2007
I knew we were in trouble when I saw the Atlanta
Braves. I just had that feeling. They
had the lean, hungry look of men who intend to win. And we had the desperate, agonized look of
men for whom the All-Star break could not come soon enough. And sure enough, we
lost two out of the three.
have the ejection-prone Bobby Cox; I hoped for some kind of altercation to distract myself from our poor playing, but no
such luck. The hits just kept coming and they weren’t heading our way.
The Braves also have a
catcher with a serious case of leprechaun face. I can’t help it; I’ve had a serious dislike of little red haired men
since I was in third grade and a red-haired boy named Mike Leiber tried to
steal my Welcome Back Kotter lunch box. It’s bad enough that I have to look at this one during the three-game series; I have to look at him during the All-Star game too?
Then it was on to the Marlins and another two-out-of-three
loss. The Marlins are also a team full
of young eager players, and I was particularly impressed with Dontrelle Willis,
who, while not all that young, certainly made for entertaining watching. Although admittedly I’ve not been following baseball
long, I’ve never seen anybody pitch like that. Ever one to value the unusual, I marveled at his unique delivery and apparent total indifference to the presence of the camera. Most pitchers seem to have a self-conscious awareness of being televised, deliberately limiting their self-expression to a) dramatically narrowing their eyes and b) doggedly wiping their faces on their sleeves. Chatting either to himself or to his catcher 60 feet away, gesticulating freely, and gnashing his teeth, Dontrelle was certainly a refreshing change of pace. I clearly lipread the following: "Huh? say that again?" (to the catcher throwing signs) "Oh, man! I can’t believe it!" (shaking head in the direction of the batting coach) and "Praise to God" (to Him, apparently, since no one else was nearby.) Extra wack points to
Dontrelle for almost falling over while making a
shot put pitch in the sixth inning. Love him!
The Dodgers finally grabbed one on July 8th and it wasn’t a minute too soon. These men are (mostly) old and tired and they need rest. I’m glad we ended on a high note. Hopefully the best is yet to come.