The Greatest Sports Day Of My Week

Saturday, April 29th began like any regular Saturday. I woke up, made coffee and dropped off my laundry. Cleaned up around the apartment and settled in to watch the Mets because, in the words of Apu, the NY Mets are my favorite squadron.

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As recently as this past Thursday, the Mets’ season looked to be on the brink of complete and total implosion after injuries to Yoenis Cespedes and Noah Syndergaard and, with a weekend showdown against the division-rival Washington Nationals on the agenda, it wasn’t hard to think the Mets could have three feet of dirt shoveled on top of them by Sunday night.

To the shock of everybody, the Mets stormed into the nation’s capital on Friday and defeated defending Cy Young Winner, Max Scherzer thanks in large part to catcher, Travis d’Arnaud’s monster two-homer, five RBI game. It was a nice, surprising way to start the weekend and you hoped – but didn’t expect – for things to continue on Saturday when they’d be pitted against Stephen Strasburg.

Early on, it looked as if it’d be another one of those days for the Metsies, but, in the 5th inning, they finally broke through against Strasburg and hung a 3 on the scoreboard, topped off by Michael Conforto’s two-run homer. Shockingly, they never relinquished the lead and even added a couple of insurance runs thanks to dingers from Jose Reyes (who is apparently back to being a Major Leaguer) and Conforto who added his second of the day as the team held on to a feel-good 5-3 win in DC that, at the very least, gave them the series win with a chance to sweep on Sunday.

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Even better, as if the mood around the Mets hadn’t already done a complete 180 since Thursday, Noah Syndergaard will be starting, says he feels fine and just needed a couple extra days to get himself back together. Now, I never give the Mets the benefit of the doubt on anything when it comes to injuries because of their well-documented track record, but I am willing to buy Thor telling me he’s fine since he hasn’t burned me yet. By 5PM on Saturday afternoon, everything was right in Metsville.

Those of you who know me, know that I’m also a very big hockey fan. While you would think, I’d be a Ranger fan based on where I grew up, that’s simply not the case. I’m actually a Pittsburgh Penguins fan and, yeah, there’s some front-running involved in that.

When I was kid, I didn’t have cable, so I never watched hockey. I didn’t become interested in the sport until the original NHL Hockey game came out on Sega Genesis. My cousin, Mike – a Devils fan – was the first dude I knew with a Genesis and – him growing up on Long Island – was very into hockey since the afterglow of the Islanders’ dynasty was still alive and well. When I’d go over to his house, I’d play the game and just ask who the best team in the game was since I didn’t know any better. It was, obviously the Penguins who were the defending Stanley Cup champs and, the more I played, the more I familiarized myself with their players and – voila! – I was a Pittsburgh Penguins fan for life.

Over the course of being a Pens fan, I certainly have hatred for the Flyers and I think comparing Sid and Ovi is absurd, but I have a genuine dislike for the New York Rangers. And that, obviously, is because of where I grew up. All my friends were Rangers fans and after winning the Cup in 94, the Rangers were the absolute bee’s knees around town. So it was a constant shit-talking situation between all of the kids I went to school with and myself.

To this day, some of the supreme sports shit-talking in my life is over hockey and I take a genuine delight in the Rangers failing just as my friends love to bust my balls when the Pens shit the bed.

I had the Rangers/Senators game on my second TV while the Mets were on Saturday and it warmed the cockles of my heart to see the Rags blow a two-goal lead in the last three minutes of regulation before sealing the deal with a loss in double-overtimes after JG Pageau put his fourth goal of the game behind Henrik Lundqvist to close out a 6-5 win and have the Senators in the driver’s seat with a 2-0 lead in the series.

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I’m not willing to say that this series is over, but four goals in a playoff game is hella impressive and you can’t imagine the joy I get from watching the Rangers fans having a meltdown on my social media timelines.

What a time to be alive.

Just when you thought things couldn’t possibly get better, the Penguins had the night game against the Capitals in their Game 2 matchup in Washington. I’ve said from the beginning, never bet the Caps against the Pens in the playoffs. I don’t care how good they were during the season, I don’t care how much they upgraded their roster. Until they actually finally get over that hump, don’t believe it will ever happen.

The Pens had won Game 1, but you had to figure it would be tough to take both games on the road, especially when the Caps came out flying in the first period and thoroughly dominated all aspects of the game…except they couldn’t score.

They skated complete circles around the Pens, but after 20 minutes, the game was still scoreless thanks to a great effort from Marc-Andre Fleury, the greatest goalie in Penguins history who had been relegated to backup duty late last year after the team called up wunder-prospect Matt Murray to take the reins in net.

Murray backstopped the team to a Stanley Cup last season and was expected to do the same again, but was injured during warm-ups before Game 1 of the Pens’ first-round series against Columbus forcing Fleury back into the starting role. Fleury has been even better than you could have hoped and once the Pens got rolling on Saturday, the man we lovingly call “Flower” was able to make the lead stand up as the Pens took Game 2 with a 6-2 victory.

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As opposed to the Rangers/Senators series, I am willing to go out on the limb and say that, for all intents and purposes, this series is done. Washington looked defeated and you can tell they have that “here we go again” mentality taking over. They threw their very best at the Pens in Game 2 and came away with not only nothing to show for it, but had their doors blown off on the scoreboard to go with it.

I was drinking Tito’s Vodka pretty casually throughout the day and by the time this game ended, I was in a terrific mood. It was simply the greatest sports Saturday I’ve had in…jeez, I don’t even know.

It may never happen again when all the ducks lineup in a row like this, but for one day, it was perfect. Although, now I do need to make a run to liquor store since I’m all out of Tito’s and – let’s be honest – Tito’s is fucking fantastic and you should never be without it.

I doubt very many people got the same enjoyment out this day that I did, but if you did, let’s pretend we watched it all unfold together as things just continually got better as the day got older. Raise your Tito’s and let’s toast to many more happy Saturdays.

Salut.

Twitter: @MaximusSexPower

E-Mail: ShoesOnSports@gmail.com

It’s Not Early, It’s A Blown Opportunity

The calendar still reads April, but the games count just the same as the ones in September. Through the first 19 games of the season, the Mets sport a record of just 8-11 and while the season certainly isn’t over, the team has already failed to capitalize on what was a golden opportunity to take the reigns of the division in the early going and dictate the tempo going forward.

In a strange bit of scheduling, the first 32 games on the Mets’ calendar this season are all played against their division rivals within the NL East. A strong start would have gone a long way to building a cushion at the top of the standings or, at the very least, fatten up on wins against the lesser competition of the Braves and Phillies.

When you come into a season with the expectation of being a World Series contender, you have to beat the bad teams. When those teams play within your division, it gives you an even better chance to distance yourself from the pack that inevitably gathers and scavenges around the Wild Card spots because of the extra intra-divisional games provided by the unbalanced schedule.

Even taking to current rash of injuries into account, we’ve seen very quickly that what was supposed to be the “deepest roster” Terry Collins has had since managing the team is already as thin as a wet paper towel. And not even one of those nice Bounty paper towels.

With Jay Bruce already pressed into duty at first base due to injuries to Lucas Duda and Wilmer Flores, the Mets are forced to keep underperformers Curtis Granderson (of the .145/.205/.254 line) and Jose Reyes (.104/.189/.134) in a lineup that is as desperate for warm bodies as it is for baserunners. Despite a performance in 2016 that featured a reliance on the long ball and routinely fell into slumps and cold streaks, the Mets did nothing to improve the lineup at the major league level and simply brought back an entire roster of players who were with the organization already and depended (hoped…prayed?) they’d all stay healthy.

Since that has already shown to be a pipe dream, the Mets are stuck in an already unenviable position of already hoping for players to get healthy, others to return to form and yet another group to hurry up and take the next step in their development. Despite all that, the biggest deficiency they have isn’t even on the 25 man roster, it’s the man who wears number 10 on the bench: manager Terry Collins.

Look. Terry Collins is one of those baseball-lifer guys you hear all about and respect and knowledge and blah blah blah. Fuck. That. Terry Collins is a half-witted hack and I don’t care how well him and David Wright get along because this is the same guy who has half his bullpen on pace for 200 appearances each in a 162 game season IN FUCKING APRIL!

He sits there after every game talking about how he has to protect the 4 guys in the rotation (I haven’t gotten the feeling that he gives a shit about Gazelle-Man yet), but has no problem making Jerry Blevins throw 2 innings a day. I’m sure he even called down to have Blevins warm up yesterday even though the game was rained out.

Let’s call a spade a spade. Collins sucks. He’s always sucked. Don’t start with that World Series run in 2015. If you paid attention you saw how lucky he was to ride a historic stretch from Yoenis Cespedes down the stretch, then to jump on the Daniel Murphy historic stretch in the postseason before was given enough rope to hang himself in the World Series. Am I saying the Mets would have beaten the Royals with a different manager? Not for sure, but would they have had a better shot with somebody different on the bench? Abso-fucking-lutely.

This idiot gave an already cold-bodied Michael Cuddyer three at-bats in Game 1 when, in all actuality, Cuddyer had absolutely no business even being on the postseason roster at that point. He’s the guy who had Jeurys Familia come into Game 3 to protect a goddamn six-run lead despite having pitched everyday for the previous three months. The same guy who gift-wrapped Game 4 by not pulling Matz after 5 innings and then wasting both of his long relievers in the sixth because Terry Collins has a script of what relievers get to pitch what innings and he’ll be goddamned if he ever alters his script.

I’ve said in the past that the Mets making that run to the Series was great and awful all at the same time. As a fan, all I want is for my team to win a World Series and they got close, but when they didn’t win, it ensured that Collins wasn’t going anywhere because you know a manager isn’t getting fired after an appearance in the Series.

I watch a lot of baseball, but obviously more Mets than anything else. It’s hard to think that there would be another manager in the Major Leagues right now that would be strategically worse than Terry Collins. He constantly refuses to give playing time to younger guys whether it be out of deference for veterans or just plain, old stubbornness. We’ve seen it with Wilmer Flores (who is still only 25 despite the feeling that he’s been a bench player on the big club for the past decade) and now we’ve seen it with Michael Conforto who has been good in the time he’s been given this season despite Collins’ insistence on continuing to run with Granderson because there’s a track record there.

Again, with the injuries that have befallen the team, there aren’t a lot of options to do otherwise right now, but there has never been any creativity or solid decision-making when it comes to filling out a lineup or managing an entire rotation during the Collins regime.

With the amount of free agents the Mets will have following this season and the question marks they will leave in the roster moving forward, the window for success for this team could be closing a lot faster than any of us want to believe. It would certainly behoove the team to find somebody better equipped at holding it open rather than forcing it shut.

It’s only been 19 games thus far, but to be three games under .500 at this point is certainly a failure in a season that was filled with great expectations. Even with the injuries, the team simply has to be better and has to capitalize on games against “second-division teams” as Keith Hernandez likes to say. Without doing so, it could get late awfully early this season.

E-Mail: ShoesOnSports@gmail.com

Twitter: @MaximusSexPower

Jose Fernandez, Statues & The Perils Of Being A Fan

When Jose Fernandez died near the end of last season, like everybody else, I thought it was a great tragedy to have one of the great, young ball players cut down as he was coming into his prime.

And then the police investigation concluded.

In my mind, this no longer was a tragedy, but a matter of pure stupidity. Alcohol and cocaine in his system while operating a boat at way too high a speed with way too little visibility which killed not only himself, but two other men as well.

Sure, it’s still sad to see three lives ended, but you can only feel so bad when the damage is self-inflicted. We all knew the Jose story about how he came over from Cuba. How he dove into the water risking his own life to save his mother who had fallen overboard. It was and still is an amazing tale of the lengths people without freedom will go to to be free. It’s inspiring. It also seems like a waste considering the manner in which he died.

I’m not a Marlins fan, but I am a baseball fan and, as such, truly enjoyed watching him pitch and perform on the baseball field. I also really loved when he hit a homer against the Braves and pimped it so hard that Brian McCann – the self-appointed sheriff of the unwritten rules of the game – took offense and the benches cleared. Because fuck Brian McCann.

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When the news came out last week that the Marlins were planning to erect a statue of Fernandez in his memory outside Marlins Park, I found it an incredibly hard pill to swallow. How could they possibly do such a thing to memorialize a man whose life was cut off so suddenly because of such a dumb decision that left a family without their loved one and an unborn daughter fatherless?

It seemed as if I was in the overwhelming majority on that as well. Most of the comments and reactions I read on articles posted by ESPN and Yahoo and various other sites seemed to convey similar arguments against the statue. I say majority because it wasn’t everybody. There was a noticeable contingent of people, be they Marlins fans, fellow Cubans or just plain, ole Jose Fernandez fans, who were very in favor of the statue because of what the player meant to his team, his community and his people. They were willing to, maybe not overlook the circumstances around his death, but accepting of that as just a footnote to a story of an otherwise beloved individual who impacted them in some way.

And that came off crazy to me.

Until…

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This is Jose Reyes. He came to the Major Leagues in 2003 with MY team, the New York Mets. From the day he arrived, I was a fan. He was young, exciting and seemed to be having the time of his life in every game. He became the best shortstop in the history of my favorite club and when he left for greener pastures as a free agent, I watched many slide shows of his finest Met moments to the tune of Adele’s “Someone Like You”. (Not even a joke.)

Reyes eventually returned to the Mets last season, but under very different circumstances. After the 2015 season, Reyes was involved in an incident while vacationing in Hawaii where he apparently got physical with his wife that resulted in injuries and her being transported to a hospital. There were never charges filed as Mrs. Reyes declined to cooperate with law enforcement, but something happened. Not the good kind of something either.

Jose Reyes was suspended by MLB from the beginning of the 2016 season because of this and – upon his reinstatement – was unconditionally released by the Colorado Rockies who chose to eat the remaining guaranteed money on his contract (a pro-rated $22M for 2016 and $21.46M for 2017) rather than have him remain a member of their ballclub. He was signed by the Mets, the team that raised him, where he had enough goodwill built up with the organization and fan base that it was probably the only destination he could go without the backlash being too severe.

A situation like Jose Reyes’ puts you in a tough position as a fan. You want your team to win. You want your team to get the best players available and, let’s be honest, Jose Reyes was definitely an upgrade on the roster for where the Mets were at the time of his signing. Baseball players – and athletes – in general are no saints. They get into all types of shit just like anybody else. But there’s a fine line between womanizing or partying and beating your spouse to the point where she needs to be hospitalized.

You don’t want to trivialize the situation by any means, but Reyes never had an issue before that. Maybe it was just a one-time thing. But a one-time thing is still very not OK. But remember when Jose was leading off during that awesome 2006 season? You loved him! Yes, but all the evidence seems to point to him beating his wife whether there were charges filed or not.

I want to be able to cheer for Jose Reyes, but every time I do, I catch myself and remember what he – allegedly – did. And that sucks because, as a fan, he’s brought me incredible joy for over a decade. It’s just something I’ll never be able to fully put out of my head while he continues to play for my team.

Which brings me back to Jose Fernandez. The idea that people would support such a statue seemed absolutely ludicrous to me. Until I remembered my own struggle with wanting, trying (choosing?) to remember the best of Jose Reyes.

I can just imagine a little kid in ten years walking with his dad and coming up to the statue of Fernandez and having the following exchange:

Kid: Dad, who’s this?

Dad: This is Jose Fernandez. He was on his way to becoming one of the best pitchers maybe ever before he made some bad decisions and died.

Kid: Oh…how are we supposed to feel about this?

Dad: I don’t know, son. I don’t know.

In this day and age, we know and hear everything about everybody. When it comes to the stories like these, it shows that it’s not always a good thing. Sometimes, you just want your heroes to stay your heroes.

Joe

ShoesOnSports@gmail.com

Twitter: @MaximusSexPower

Yoenis Cespedes, Dingers & The Fun Value

I love baseball. I love the Mets. You know what else I like? Fun. I like having a good time. I like when my baseball is fun baseball and not a boring collection of strikeouts and grinding out walks in long, terrible at-bats no matter the strategic value of said plate appearances.

Enter Yoenis Cespedes.

When he came over to the Mets in the 2015 trade deadline deal from the Detroit Tigers, we knew he was an impact bat, but by no means did we expect this offensive juggernaut that we would embrace as one of ours even close to as quickly as we did and then demand he be brought back for the largest annual value contracts in the history of the team.

Which poses the question: why did we fall in love with Cespedes so quickly? Simple: he makes baseball fun to watch and his time at the plate is must-see, destination viewing. If you miss a Cespedes at-bat, you’re doing yourself a great disservice.

We love characters, we love power, we love larger-than-life personalities and Yoenis checks off all of those boxes. When he launched his first homer last night off of Clay Buchholz to put the Mets ahead 3-0, we marveled at the sheer ferocity with which he swings. When his second of the game shot out to left field, we were in awe of just how hard he could sting a baseball. For most other players, that point of contact would have hooked the ball foul, but not Yoenis. He’s so brutally strong and slammed walloped that ball so viciously that he was able to keep it straight enough long enough before it was able to slow down its flight path and tail toward the wrong side of the foul pole.

How do you top that? Just hit a third one. In a game where it felt like the whole lineup was having a good day, Cespedes still found a way to be the singular person in the spotlight. Three homers. The second time he’s done that as a member of the Mets and the very first Mets player to ever have two such games in the history of the franchise.

For a team that is now in its 56th season, anytime you see a player achieve a “first” in team history is an impressive feat.

Cespedes is better than any of us gave him credit for when he was first brought over during that 2015 season. He single-handedly carried that squad through the last eight weeks on his back to a division title and then followed that with an equally impressive 2016 season even factoring in some time lost to injury.

When people questioned his level of dedication following a huge contract signing this offseason, he reported to spring training in absolutely ridiculous shape and reiterated his desire to not only win a championship (you have to say the political thing), but also to achieve a personal goal of winning the National League MVP award (which is something no Mets player has ever done). Personally, I love that.

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He’s got a flair. He’s got style. He wants to be the best. I don’t care how many different cars he shows up to work in. I don’t care how many horses he owns. I don’t care how often he plays golf during his time off. When it’s time to play, Yoenis Cespedes has always shown up ready to go to work. And he makes things exciting, entertaining and fun when he does. You can’t ask for anything more.