Archive | July, 2014

Hope, Finally

29 Jul

It’s been a while since I’ve felt this, and even longer since I said this out loud. Because of that, I’m kind of scared to. I feel like if I say it then it won’t be so. It’s been so long, though, more than five years, and it feels like even more, and so what the hell. Even if I do jinx things, they really can’t get much worse.

You see, yesterday I spent about twenty minutes on the phone with my brother talking about the Mets. That was during my lunch break. At night I spoke to my dad about the Mets for another ten minutes.

Both conversations were optimistic ones.

I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence.

It kind of snuck up on me. Suddenly, I can go position-by-position and see glimmers of hope, or at least competence at each one. This time last year I couldn’t even name the Mets’ starting lineup. But now…

Now they’ve got Travis d’Arnaud, who apparently has learned how to hit Major League pitching in his grizzled old age.

There’s Lucas Duda at first, who always had a great batting eye, and always showed signs of power, but now, since being give the opportunity to play every day, is putting it all together and seems like he could be one of the better hitting first baseman in the National League (as my dad said yesterday, Ralph Kiner always liked him so maybe we—the Duda doubters, a group that I was a part of—should have all known better).

Daniel Murphy might not be an all-star, even though he was an All Star, but he’s a professional major league hitter and a competent second baseman.

David Wright is David Wright, even if his numbers have fallen a bit.

Juan Lagares is one of the best fielding center fielders in baseball, and the hitting seems to be coming along, albeit slowly.

Curtis Granderson may be overpaid, but he’s still a starting outfielder, which is something the Mets haven’t had many of over the past few years.

And then there’s the pitching, which may cause me to go blind if I keep talking about it. Say Harvey comes back next year and at full strength, which, yes, is a big IF, but nowadays not something that shouldn’t be expected, either. So you’ve got Harvey at the 1; Zack Wheeler (24 year old with a FIP of 3.47 this year and striking out a batter per inning) at the 2; Niese at the 3; and Jacob deGrom (the Mets lead the league in lower-case “d”s at the front of last names)— a 25-year-old who, in his first 87 innings in the major leagues has struck out 83 batters and has an ERA under 3—Bartolo Colon, Dillon Gee and some other cheap veteran who they can sign in the offseason rounding out the rotation.

And not to mention you’ve got 21-year-old Noah Syndergaard dominating hitters despite pitching in the AAA version of Coors Field. Add in a bullpen, which is finally full of hard throwing  young ex-starters—such as Jenria Mejia, Jeurys Familia—instead of pricey vets, and which will also consist of Vic Black, maybe a healthy Bobby Parnell (who Sandy Alderson should have traded last year, but that’s for another time), maybe Rafael Montero, another talented pitching prospect the Mets have who, because of the guys in front of him, is probably headed to the bullpen, or another team (more on that in a bit) sometime soon, and what you have is possibly the best pitching staff in baseball.

Yep, I think I just went blind.

That’s a team that’s ready to compete next year (and yes, I know this year isn’t over but for the post-Madoff Mets it’s always about next year). It’s really only missing two players/parts: an everyday shortstop, and a corner outfielder who can mash. Add in those, and get a healthy Matt Harvey back, and suddenly, somehow, the Mets become legitimate World Series contenders.

I’ve made fun of Sandy Alderson a good amount over the past few years, and I still am baffled by how he handled the whole Jose Reyes thing (imagine if he traded him for a top hitting prospect; if he did, the Mets could be competing for a playoff spot this year), but when a man deserves praise you gotta give it to him.

Unfortunately, all this optimism is directed at next year. This year, well I’m afraid this year is lost. But as long as they keep trying, and Bartolo Colon keeps being really fat and pitching, then I’ll keep watching.

It makes the waiting more exciting.

As for Tulo and CarGo, well, I’m not sure yet.

Some Thoughts on LeBron

15 Jul

On a plane to LA right now and had the urge to write so I decided to jot down some semi-coherent thoughts/rambles on LeBron. Also, I’m on a plane right now and can still use the Internet! I find this crazy, and felt like it was something that shouldn’t go to waste, even though this ride has been bumpier than (insert joke here).

I should preface all this by saying that I’m a huge LeBron James fan. I love watching him play, and I love how he plays. I love the way he embraces his place in the world, speaking up against Donald Sterling and in support of Trayvon Martin, in a way that Michael Jordan, he of the belief that “Republicans buy sneakers, too,” never did or would. I love how LeBron is becoming the Voice of NBA Players, and seems to be on a mission to do all he possibly can to help his constituency reclaim some of the agency that it lost in the latest Collective Bagraining Agreement.

So yeah, to say I’m a fan of LeBron’s would be fair. So when I say that I think he’s skating a bit right now, I want to be clear that I’m doing so from a room nowhere near where Skip Bayless sleeps.

Here’s my problem. Actually, there are a few things I’d like to take issue with, perhaps foremost being that by going back to Cleveland, LeBron allowed Dan Gilbert to win, which pretty much goes contrary to all those praise-worthy actions I mentioned few paragraphs above.

NBA Owner Dan Gilbert is—how should we put this?—a petulant incompetent nincompoop—I love that word!—who, if not for the too-racist-to-call-racist Donald Sterling, might still hold the title of Owner Players Hate the Most. It starts with that letter, you know, the one where he pretty much called LeBron uppity. But it also goes deeper than that. Not only did Dan Gilbert cry after LeBron left for Miami the way a spoiled two-year old does when his toy is taken away, but he also made it his mission to take as many rights away from NBA players as possible.

It was Dan Gilbert who, during the NBA’s latest labor negotiations, was most vocal from the owners’ side about how the league needed to make a hard cap and take away the players’ ability to play with their friends. He got his way, which is the reason the Heat couldn’t built a better roster around LeBron in recent years and hey look what just dropped in Gilbert’s lap because of that.

It was Dan Gilbert who was most vocal about the need to reverse the Lakers trade for Chris Paul. To continue with the poor analogy from above, Dan Gilbert was the two-year-old who thinks that because he had his toy taken away from him, no other two-year-old should be allowed to play with toys either. And make no mistake—Dan Gilbert views the Cavaliers, and their players, as toys.

By going back to Cleveland, LeBron allowed this man to win. He allowed an owner who has gone through more GMs and coaches in the past four years than most teams do in a decade, to now find himself on top of the basketball world, about to see his team compete for championships and his pockets overflow with cash.

This is what LeBron left Miami for. More so, it might be the first time since his initial Decision that LeBron took the easy path. Which is funny, because when he did that last time the public crucified him; this time around there’s only praise.

Are we really sure that the ”I’m coming home” narrative is truly what’s at play here? Maybe I’m just cynical, but it kind of seems like he and his friends decided, for a number of reasons—which you can read about in other places—to head back to Cleveland, and then figured out how to best package the decision so that this time around there would be no vitriol.

LeBron just chose a younger team, and, covertly, lowered the expectation bar about three rungs. In Miami it was championship or bust every year for him; in his essay for SI LeBron went out of his way to say that he’s not thinking about championships yet with his new team. And no one seems to have a problem with this. I’m not saying he did anything wrong, but I also don’t see how you can argue that it’s not a man taking the easier route.

Again, I love LeBron. I still think he has a shot to be the greatest player ever, and I don’t know if there will ever be a player I enjoy watching more. And while I’m kind of disappointed in his decision to go back to the Cavs, it’s not the kind of thing that’s going to make me route against him or turn into Skip Bayless. I just think it’s another example of how we’re all three-dimensional, and the reasoning behind our decisions—whether going home to help the hometown, or joining up with some superstar friends to chase rings—are never as simple as we pretend they are.

One last thought: I think there’s a fascinating study or piece somewhere in here on how absolutely crazy, and, one could say, simple-minded, sports fans are. All it took to come back to LeBron’s side was a well-crafted message. Nuance and looking at a story from all different angles is not the sports fans’ strength.

That Time I Blew off Timothy Geithner

2 Jul

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Monday night and I was on my way home from work. I decided to take the scenic route to the Subway and walk a few extra blocks. I normally get on the Subway at 28th street but on this night I would walk north and get the 4 or 5 train at Grand Central instead. Sitting at a computer and in an office all day can make your body crave movement.

As I waited for the 4 or 5 train to arrive, a man approached me with a question. I was reading Jonah Keri’s latest on Grantland, which I pre-loaded on my phone so that I could read it while on the Wifi-less subway. The man wanted to know what stop the 4 train goes to after 59th street. He was thin and wore a tailored suit. There was a blond woman with him. He had a face that looked familiar, too, though I barely looked up from my Android phone to answer him.

“I’m not really sure exactly where,” I said, and this wasn’t a lie. I knew I had to get to east 86th street, and I knew this train would get me somewhere close to there. Whichever stop wound up being the closest would be the one I used. Of course, I didn’t say any of this to him. I think I mostly just grunted my answer and barely raised my eyes

The man asked the person standing to my right, another man who looked to be in his late 20s. He had a full brown beard and was a bit stocky. He was also wearing a baseball cap and shorts, and was also much more helpful, and polite than I.

“To 86th street,” he said, and that, apparently, was not the answer the man wanted to hear. He, and the woman, walked to the opposite end of the platform and waited for the local 6 train to arrive. A few moments later they were gone.

“Didn’t that guy look a lot like Timothy Geithner?” said the 20-something with the full beard.

That’s when it hit me—yes, it certainly did look like Timothy Geithner, the former United States Secretary of the Treasury, or, for those not up all the happenings of the economics world, the dude played by Billy Crudup in HBO’s Too Big to Fail.

“Yeah, it actually did,” I answered. “Funny call. I thought he looked familiar, too.”

I started to replay what had just happened. Had I just blown off the former Secretary of the United States Treasury because I was too busy reading something breaking down the first half of the Dodgers’ season? Eh, whatever, I thought, partly consoling myself. It probably wasn’t him anyway. No way I wouldn’t recognize that guy and that face and that forehead, and no way he’d be the kind of man who asks for subway directions.

“Was that just Timothy Geithner?” a dark skinned girl who had dashed across the platform said to me and the bearded man to my right. No one, in the history of the world, has ever dashed across a subway platform for a more boring reason. “I’m 99 percent sure that was him.”

Yeah, so apparently I pretty was rude to Timothy Geither on Monday. I’m not sure if I should be embarrassed or proud.