Showing posts from February, 2024

My First Grapefruit League Game of the Year

That first hot dog and beer has to accompany my first game of the year.  Conversely, I never eat hot dogs during the off season. They just seem out of place in the middle of a cold, grey winter.   Yesterday at Port St. Lucie, I caught the Mets hosting the Cardinals.  Perfect weather was just the start at Clover Park. Mets fans have to be thrilled seeing Starling Marte in the lineup, after injuries wrecked his 2023 season. Slugging 1st baseman Pete Alonso enters his walk year hoping to land a contract extension and stay in Flushing.  Miles Mikolas  — last year’s NL leader in hits and earned runs allowed — was the Cardinals starting pitcher -- and tossed a pair of shutout innings. (Above:) Right in front of my seat in Section 4, a nice close-up of Alonso in the field... (Below) St. Louis outfielder Dylan Carlson takes a big cut at a Reid Garrett pitch. Finally, a look at a pair of long-shots to make the Mets roster: (above) If DNA mattered as much as OPS or WAR, Trayce Thompson would

Spring Training Memory: 2009

Today, I punch the rewind button to 2009 and one of Florida's "lost ballparks."  Osceola County Stadium in Kissimee was the Astros pre-season home for 31 years, until they joined the Nationals in a larger, plusher venue in Palm Beach.  On March 18th, 2009, I caught the 'Stros hosting the Yankees -- below, a big swing by  Shelley Duncan , then a promising power hitter and today, about to begin his second season managing the Yanks' top farm club at Scranton-Wilkes Barre.   Above:  Johnny Damon getting ready for his first Yankee season -- which would inaugurate the new Stadium with the franchise's first World Series title since 2000 -- who'd have expected that title to be the Yanks' last one until now??

If Your Birthday is February 23rd...

Image share it with Elston Howard .  The Yankees' first Black player became one of the most respected and beloved members of the Stengel/Berra dynasty.  While it can't be overlooked that the Yankees were one of the last teams to integrate, the man who broke that barrier was both a terrific talent and fan favorite, taking  over for Yogi as the club's catcher and in 1963, making history as the first African-American to be named American League MVP.   The first Black coach for the Yankees, he was both a respected teacher and a calming influence during Billy Martin's tenure as manager.  Go back and check the video of Martin's infamous dugout confrontation with Reggie Jackson.  Ellie is the person standing between them, trying to prevent an ugly moment from spiraling even further out of control.  Had Howard not fallen ill and died young from a heart infection, odds are that he likely would have become the first Black man to manage the Yankees.  His number 32 is retired

Auditioning DH's in Port St. Lucie

  The Mets added to their array of big league veterans trying to hand on as DH's with Monday's signing of Luke Voit .  Baseball's home run champ in the 60-game season of 2020 has yet to return to the level of productivity he enjoyed as a Yankee.  Last summer, he split time between the Brewers, their Nashville farm club and the Mets Triple-A team in Syracuse -- where I snapped this pre-game image.  His minor league numbers weren't bad -- 15 homers in 45 games and an OPS of 1.035.  Voit now goes into the Mets audition pool alongside another hefty onetime 1st baseman, Ji-Man Choi.   Seen here in 2021, the Korea native posted his best US numbers with the Rays -- but endured a failed 2023 campaign split between the Pirates and Padres, where he batted a combined .167.   I'm hoping to get a look at both these vets -- who are in camp on minor league contracts -- next week, when I arrive in Florida. Voit and Choi will be battling Mark Vientos for the Mets DH job.  The Conne

Human League

Referencing that huge '80s hit "Don't You Want Me?," let's zoom in on some talented, appealing and still unsigned free agents.  Cody Bellinger (above, as a 2019 Dodger) leads the pack of everyday players.  Coming off his bounceback season with the Cubs where he hit 26 homers, drove in 97 and posted an OPS of .881, you'd have expected he'd already inked a new deal -- but that's not been the case. Nor has it been for Blake Snell .  Fresh off his second career Cy Young Award, he's remained unclaimed until President's Day.  So where's the hang-up?  He's a bit outspoken, some sources label him immature."  And it is odd that he has never thrown a complete game in eight big league seasons, partly due to his high pitch counts.  But in the case of both Snell and Bellinger, could having uber-agent Scott Boras represent him be the issue? Starting to detect a pattern here?  Add Jordan Montgomery  ( below ) ,  another Boras client to the list.

Spring Training Pre-game: 2014

Running it back a decade, here are candid shots of some Yankee standouts just before the March 6th, 2014 Grapefruit League game against the Phillies at Clearwater. (Above:) Derek Jeter  (Below:) Mark Teixeira (Above:) Alfonso Soriano  (Below:) Masahiro Tanaka

If Your Birthday is February 14th...

Image share it with Mel Allen .  The Voice of the Yankees for a quarter-century, he called the action for a parade of legends from DiMaggio to Mantle.  Mysteriously fired after the 1964 season -- not long after CBS took over ownership of the Yankees -- which was followed by an 11 year absence from the post-season.  In one of George Steinbrenner's wisest moves, Mel was brought back to the booth in 1976, when the Yankees began airing a portion of their schedule on cable TV.  And what do you think happened that season?  Of course -- the Yanks won their first AL East title to snap that playoff drought. Mel Allen also reached an entirely new audience as the longtime narrator of This Week in Baseball  until he passed away in 1996. Fittingly, Mel and Red Barber were the first two recipients of the Baseball Hall of Fame's  Ford Frick Award  for Broadcasting Excellence in 1978.  And you'll find his plaque displayed in Yankee Stadium's Monument Park alongside so many of the pl

Change in Seasons

The Super Bowl is in the books; the focus of sports coverage now pivots from the gridiron to the diamond.  Clubs are reporting to training camps in Florida and Arizona; the first exhibition games are a little over a week away.  Whether your loyalty draws you to Port St. Lucie (above), Tampa (below) or Clearwater (bottom), the countdown toward opening day has begun.  And with the Dodgers and Padres taking a special opening series to Korea next month, we're 37 days from the first games that count. Enjoy these glimpses of spring training. For the next month and change, it's mostly day games... save for a few scheduled at night, for the benefit of hometown fans watching on TV.  Palm trees, warm breezes... and dreams aplenty.

If Your Birthday is February 9th...

Image share it with Vladimir Guerrero, Sr .  The sweet-swinging outfielder batted .318 with 449 homers over 18 seasons.  I caught my only photo of the nine-time All Star during Cactus League action in 2010, when he was a Ranger. Logan O'Hoppe  smacked 14 homers in 51 games in his Angels rookie season that was interrupted by a shoulder injury.  The Long Island, NY native was drafted by the Phillies and moved on to Anaheim in the 2022 deadline deal for Brandon Marsh.  I caught him in action earlier that summer with Reading in a AA game against Binghamton. (Below)  Dioner Navarro caught for 13 seasons in the majors, but made only one All Star team: 2008, while with the Rays.  That summer, baseball's midsummer classic was held at Yankee Stadium and the All Star parade ran right past my office in midtown Manhattan, where I snapped this image.  

On This Date in 1979...

Jesse Orosco becomes the "player to be named later," going to the Mets to complete the trade that sent veteran Jerry Koosman to Minnesota back in December.  Just a year after being drafted from Santa Barbara City College, the young lefty will make his MLB debut that September -- and goes on to pitch in 24 big league seasons, highlighted by recording the final out of the 1986 World Series on the mound at Shea Stadium. Over a career that spans four decades and concludes in the 21st century, Orosco will set the record for pitching in the most games -- 1252 .  He's also the last Mets pitcher to win both ends of a doubleheader.  On July 31st, 1983, the Mets walked off the Pirates twice -- with Jesse recording the last out in the top of what became the final innings. All told, a pretty good return for a franchise that struggled mightily in the late '70s.  

Random Images

Just 10 days before pitchers and catchers begin to report, the free agent market has again slowed to a snail's pace.  Over the weekend, the Mets signed veteran reliever Jake Diekman to a minor league deal -- so maybe this 2012 photo when Diekman was a rookie, proved a bit clairvoyant? You know I'm a big believer that baseball is simply a better game in the daytime.  So the Mets deserve a major attaboy for announcing -- after polling fans -- that all their Saturday home games will be played in the afternoons.  I know that the first big league games I saw were afternoon starts.  Hopefully this strategy will give a chance for more parents to get their kids excited about baseball. I was surprised to find that ranked Luisangel Acuña   as the Mets number-one prospect.  Call it an embarrassment of riches: outfielder Drew Gilbert and shortstop Jett Williams stand two and three.  I'm looking forward to seeing all three in Grapefruit League action in just a few weeks,  

If Your Birthday is February 2nd...

Image share it with the late Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst .  An icon to both St. Louis and Milwaukee fans, the switch-hitter played alongside Stan Musial on the Cardinals' 1946 World Series champs (after spending his rookie year in '45 as Stan's fill-in in left field) and into the mid-'50s.  Sent to the Giants in one of many ill-conceived trades by GM Frank Lane, Red moved onto the Braves early in 1957, and quickly became the final piece in that club's championship puzzle.  After tuberculosis cost him the 1959 season and part of 1960, he returned to St. Louis as a player-coach. Again, he was Stan's teammate -- while hitting .300 hitter coming off the bench in 1961 and '62.  But that wasn't the end of his story: Red succeeded Johnny Keane as Cardinals manager and was the skipper on the 1967 World Champs and '68 NL pennant winners.  He had two brief, later stints as their manager, 1980 and '90 -- serving between the departure of Whitey Herzog a