Opening Day With Pops

Easter has passed, Passover’s passing, the leftovers are in the fridge and the first game is in the books. I’m glad I was able to get home in time to catch about half of Yanks vs. Sox Part 1 and I feel lousy for JP who had both CC and Beckett going against one another and expected a low scoring affair. I hate to say it but I’m happy I didn’t bet the house on CC or Beckett in my draft/auction this year. I just hate having my pitchers get pummeled by those AL East lineups, especially when they play in favorable hitters parks. A lot of fantasy baseball owners don’t seem to put much stock in that, but it definitely entered my mind when I passed on Beckett in the 3rd round of my keeper league draft and went with Nelson Cruz. I wasn’t aware of Beckett’s 4.53 ERA lifetime at Fenway at the time, but there’s one more ‘actual fact to snack on and chew.’

This morning, I raced my friend over to Kennedy Airport (you know ‘Goodfellas?’ that’s where the Lufthansa Heist was held) so she could catch her flight back to Frisco and I could make it back to my folks house in time for Johann’s first pitch. It’s always a festive atmosphere on opening day over there in Flushing, as Met fans gather with naive optimism and tailgate it up beneath the Northern Boulevard overpass. It may just be another day at the chop shops across the street, but today’s a holiday Flushing and I was glad I could spend some time watching a game with pops.

See my father is old school baseball, like Willy, Mickey and The Duke. He was a high school baseball hero at James Monroe in The Bronx, playing alongside Mets great, Ed Kranepool as both a pitcher and a catcher. Pops lit it up from both sides of the plate and got a look from a few big league scouts. He was on some Hank Greenberg, Original Hebrew Hammer shit. As fate would have it though, he injured his throwing elbow and what might have been a professional baseball career ended prematurely. Of course today he would have had Tommy John Surgery and still might have had a shot at a comeback, but back then it wasn’t even an option. His love for the game never waned and he’s passed it on to me – along with a clear instructions to not throw too many breaking balls. So for better or for worse, (I’d like to think better) there we were in their two bedroom apartment in Flushing, watching the game that he taught me to love.

Pops is a Mets fan and he follows The Yankees too, but he isn’t up on all but the biggest names outside of the two teams respective divisions. He’s still very knowledgeable and has a treasure trove of baseball memories in his head, but he’s not up on  Sabermetrics or “Moneyball,” outside the casual reference a color guy may spit out on TV. Pops likes to hear about my fantasy baseball team even though he’s never heard of half of the guys.

“Fuckin’ Pujols is the best, huh?” he says to me, as we watch the first of Albert’s two, leave Great American Bandbox. “Fuckin’ A right. That’s why I keep him.” I replied. “We use OBP too, so he’s got even more value in my league.”

“So he walks, his OBP goes up, and you get credit? Not just for his average?” He asked, His interest peaked.

“Yeah. He’s always got an insane OBP.”

“Of course. Nobody wants to pitch to him!” He stops and thinks for a few moments.

“So a guy like Swisher’s pretty good in your league then.”

“Yup. Got him too sometime late in the draft. He may drag down my average a bit, but he’s a walk machine and he should be able to hit 30 in the new Yankee Stadium.”

“Man. That place is a lot different than the old Stadium. With death valley in left center. If you could hit it out past the monuments, that’s some shot!”

461 feet out to left center to be exact when pops was growing up over there. Some shot indeed.

“There must have been a lot of extra basehits in that park, huh? Outfielders better have good legs. Like Citi I guess.”

“Of yeah. That’s why The Yanks always had those great, athletic Centerfielders, like The Mick before his knees went.”

“Like Mookie!” My mom chimed in from the kitchen.

Bottom of the 4th. The Mets are leading The Marlins 2 – 0 and threatening with bases loaded and one out. Unfortunately the next better is Alex Cora and not Jose Reyes. The left handed hitting Cora smokes a line drive off of Josh Johnson to the left of second base. The liner looks like it’ll end up a basehit, until Hanley Ramirez lunges to his left to snare the ball about an inch before it hits the infield dirt. Ramirez steps on second to double off Jeff Francoeur, and end the inning.

“Nice play” I say, switching over to Cards – Reds on ESPN. “Hanley’s not really know for his D.”

He wrinkles his bearded mug and waves a dismissive hand, “He’s supposed to make that play. He’s positioned perfectly against the lefty hitter.”

I nod in agreement. Neither Gary, Keith or Ron make any mention of the perfect positioning of the Marlins infield before they go to commercial. To be fair, I wouldn’t be surprised if they mentioned it when they returned from break though, since those guys are pretty much on the ball when it comes to the game within the game.

“The Marlins pitch well. They’re going to be better then The Mets again this year.” Pops says.

“Wouldn’t surprise me. Their D is terrible though. They give away too many outs. With a bullpen as lousy as Florida’s, you can’t do that. They just don’t seem to get the value of defense.” He turns and listens. “That’s the new shit. Like The Rays and The Mariners. Defense is the new OBP. It’s an undervalued commodity. See there are all kinds of new defensive metrics being used now that try to get a better picture of how good a fielder a player really is.”

“Well it’s pretty easy to see. If he drops the ball, he drops the ball.” He laughs.

“That’s not the whole picture though. Sure you want good hands, but what good are they if the guy never gets to the ball?” I shuffle two steps to my right and backhand an imaginary grounder to demonstrate. “What about the guy that never gets to the ball though? He sucks worse than the guy who drops it. At least the guy who drops it, has a chance at it right?”

He sits back and ponders quietly.

“But how do you measure that?” He asks. I’m a little in over my head now but I’ll give it a go.

“Well there are a bunch of guys who record every game and come up with an average. Like player X will get to a ball hit ten feet to his right X number of times… They get an average and then from there you can measure individual players and say Derek Jeter had a rating of 6.6 over the average replacement player last year. That’s called UZR or Ultimate Zone Rating. You add all that in with the player’s offensive Value Over Replacement Player and you can get a more accurate idea of how good a player really is.” I think I’m going a bit to fast but I want to illustrate a point.

“So smart teams are saying, ‘why should I spend 16 and a half mil on a home run hitter like Jason Bay, when I can get a guy who can be about as valuable with their glove, like Mike Cameron for five million.’ Not to say they’re equal, but obviously Cameron’s going to cost a lot less and he’ll help your pitchers a whole lot more.”

He soaks it in for a bit. “So the Marlins should spend what little money they have on defense I guess.”

“Probably. They still get a lot more out of their money than The Mets.”

He shakes his head in bewilderment mutters “Fuckin’ Muts,” before getting up to leave with mom and enjoy the lovely weather. They won 7-1.

2 Responses to Opening Day With Pops

  1. Vikki says:

    Ah, this little ditty sure brought back some memories for me. As a kid, I would go to the baseball games during spring training in Phoenix, with my dad. We of course, had the “Phoenix Giants.”
    My cousin was drafted by the Yankees while he was still in high school (pitcher), so I got to meet so many of the ‘greats’… Willie Mays, Micky Mantle, Roger Maris, Jackie Robinson, Babe Ruth, etc. etc. (Oh I want to commit suicide for playing ball with that baseball signed by all these guys!)….
    You write so well that it seems like I am actually sitting in a room with you, seeing what your saying.

  2. Thanks so much Vikki. Much appreciated. The numbers my change, but the beauty of the game never does.

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