Friday, May 27, 2011

Subway Showdown

Some Major League Baseball regular-season games mean more than others.

Whenever the New York Mets and New York Yankees get together for one of their annual Subway Series matchups, the games carry more weight than just determining wins and losses in the standings. It is a battle for bragging rights -- among the teams and players themselves, among friends, and even among family members.

Mets-Yankees games send New York City into a buzz

The winners have the privilege of chirping about their team's success until the next Subway Series. The losers have to endure the taunts until then.

Last weekend, the Mets and Yankees matched up in their first Subway Series of 2011. The boys from the Bronx took two-of-three games from their Queens counterparts, leaving Mets' fans to wait until Independence Day weekend for a chance at redemption.

The Mets visited Yankee Stadium last weekend, losing two in the three-game series

In the meantime, New York's National League fans are left to reminisce about past success against their intracity foes.


On May 19th, 2006, the Mets and Yankees faced off at Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York. It was the 1st game of their interleague series, so the matchup would set a tone for teams, players and fans alike.

The 7 train makes its way toward Shea Stadium (courtesy of

Both teams were emerging as contenders in their respective leagues. The Mets were 24-16 thus far in the 2006 season, as they hoped to contend for a playoff spot in the National League East. The Yankees entered the game with a 23-16 record, as they sought to continue their impressive streak of American League postseason appearances.

The pitching matchup was a decided mismatch in the Yankees' favor -- on paper, at least. Toeing the rubber for the Yankees was Randy Johnson, owner of 268 victories during his impressive Major League career at the time. The Mets countered with Geremi Gonzalez, a journeyman who during his six years in the Major Leagues, had amassed exactly 26 wins to that point.

Shea Stadium hosted the first installment of the 2006 Subway Series

As a boisterous sold-out crowd of 56,289 settled into their seats, those donning Yankee jerseys and caps got the opportunity to cheer first.

The Bronx Bombers exploded for four runs in the top of the 1st inning, thanks to RBI singles by shortstop Derek Jeter and 3rd baseman Alex Rodriguez...followed by RBI doubles from 2nd baseman Robinson Cano and left fielder Bernie Williams. Gonzalez was overmatched by the powerful Yankee lineup...and before Randy Johnson even had to throw a pitch, he was staked to a 4-0 lead.

Derek Jeter helped stake the Yankees to an early lead

In most years, a 4-run deficit against Johnson was insurmountable. But the "Big Unit" was a big letdown for Yankee fans in 2006, entering the game with a 5-4 record and an ERA hovering around 5.00. The 42-year-old was not the dominant pitcher he had been in the past, causing many to wonder if he was reaching the end of the road.

Randy Johnson struggled during the 2006 season

The Mets did their best to validate that argument during the bottom of the 1st inning. Following a leadoff walk by shortstop Jose Reyes and a single from catcher Paul LoDuca, center fielder Carlos Beltran stepped to the plate. As a slight majority in the crowd chanted "Let's go Mets!," Beltran crushed a Johnson fastball to left field. Everyone in attendance watched as the ball nearly cleared the picnic area bleachers for a 3-run home run!

Johnson allows a 3-run HR to Carlos Beltran in the 1st inning

While Mets' fans cheered, Yankees' fans sulked. The tide had suddenly turned, and those in Shea Stadium's Upper Deck - Section 43 who wore navy blue-and-white were now enduring taunts from their blue-and-orange brethren. The action in the stands was heating up, in accordance with the action on the field itself.

When the Yankees scratched across a run in the top of the 3rd inning, many felt that order was being restored. A Cano sacrifice fly made it a 5-3 ballgame, and the chants of "Let's go Yankees!" started forming among the sizeable Bronx contingent in attendance.

Mets' and Yankees' fans alike packed Shea for the Subway Series

In the bottom half of the inning, however, the boys from Queens would once again prove their resiliency. Following a 2-out single by 3rd baseman David Wright, right fielder Xavier Nady lifted a deep fly ball to right-center field. Yankees' center fielder Johnny Damon and right fielder Melky Cabrera gave chase, then watched helplessly as the ball cleared the fence in front of the scoreboard. It was another homer surrendered by Johnson, and now the game was tied, 5-5!

Xavier Nady's 2-run HR tied the game

Shea Stadium began to shake as Nady rounded the bases...a result of the combination of noise and Mets' fans jumping up-and-down in celebration. Although the upper deck was safe-and-sound, there was a slight sense of fear that the 42-year-old structure would crumble at any minute.

As each team traded runs in the 4th and 5th innings to make it a 6-6 game, Mets' and Yankees' fans in the crowd traded chants and insults. It was an electric atmosphere, thanks to great expectations for both teams. Chants of "Let's go Yankees!" were immediately followed with a "Let's go Mets!" response.

The drama continued to build as the game remained tied

It remained a 6-6 ballgame as the two teams headed into the 9th inning. With the Yankees coming to bat, Mets' closer Billy Wagner came charging in from the bullpen.

Wagner's choice of entrance music added a spark to the already terse rivalry, as Metallica's "Enter Sandman" was typically used by Yankees' closer Mariano Rivera. While Mets' fans reveled in the moment, Yankees' fans passionately booed. They viewed Wagner as a pretender to the closers' throne, unworthy of such a musical selection.

Mets' closer Billy Wagner was pumped up for this game

Apparently fired up by the situation, Wagner was determined to prove them otherwise. Featuring a blazing fastball that approached 100 mph, Wagner blew through Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez and Kelly Stinnett with three consecutive strikeouts. The Mets' fans in the crowd high-fived and celebrated, while the Yankees' fans watched in stunned silence.

Heading into the bottom of the 9th inning, the aforementioned Rivera -- the greatest closer in Major League history -- made his presence. Armed with a 90+ mph cutter that he can spot at will, Rivera had amassed 391 saves at that point in his career. This was not a save situation, however. Yankees' manager Joe Torre was taking a calculated gamble...using Rivera to try and bring the game into extra innings.

Mariano Rivera pitches in the bottom of the 9th inning

As the top of the Mets' order came to bat, fans of both teams were standing at their seats. It was a taste of October in mid-May, as this game had developed a playoff atmosphere.
After a Jose Reyes pop out, Paul LoDuca doubled to left field...igniting the Shea Stadium crowd once again. The winning run was in scoring position, with the heart of the Mets' lineup coming up.

Rivera would temporarily douse the rally, striking out center fielder Carlos Beltran. The Yankees then decided to intentionally walk 1st baseman Carlos Delgado, bringing David Wright to the plate with 2 runners on base and 2 outs.

David Wright bats with the game on the line

Rivera and Wright would battle to a 2-2 count. Everyone in the crowd of 56,000+ was standing, watching and waiting. Rivera took his sign, went into the stretch and delivered his pitch. Wright swung, and lifted a high fly ball to deep center field. As he ran down the 1st base line, Wright began to hop up-and-down...hoping that the ball would evade any-and-all Yankee fielders.

Meanwhile, center fielder Johnny Damon was in a dead-sprint for the ball, running back toward the outfield fence. To every fan in the building, it felt like the ball hung in the sky forever. For Damon, however, it didn't stay up there long enough. The ball bounced off the middle of the warning track. LoDuca scored from 2nd base, and the Mets secured a dramatic 7-6 victory.

The Mets win in dramatic fashion!

As the entire Mets' dugout sprinted onto the field to celebrate, fireworks exploded overhead. The Shea Stadium seating area featured some mixed emotions. Mets' fans were deliriously happy...clapping, high-fiving and hugging. Yankees' fans, on the other hand, either slumped into their seats or quietly headed for the exits.

Haze from the celebratory fireworks hangs over Shea

History will dictate that no matter where the two New York teams are in the standings, the Mets will always be an underdog to the Yankees. That's why Subway Series victories taste that much sweeter for those who back the Flushing franchise. On this night, it was David (Wright) who had slain Goliath...ending one of the most memorable and dramatic games in Subway Series history.

A special night at Shea

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Virginia Is For (Baseball) Lovers

It's been exactly six months since I started this blog...and during that time, I have become extremely proud of it.

So far, there have been over 1,400 views of the 25 previous posts. I can't properly express how grateful I am for all of your support and feedback.

When I came up with this idea, I had no idea if it would be a success. In fact, I wasn't even sure if I could come up with enough stories to sustain it. Hopefully the next six months will be even better than what I've presented to this point.

Thanks once again for reading!

Throughout the country, college baseball teams are wrapping up their regular seasons.

For some schools, this time of year serves as a bridge to higher aspirations. Dreams of winning a conference championship, reaching the NCAA Tournament and even heading to the College World Series remain within reach.

For others, it marks the end of the road. Many senior ballplayers who have spent years practicing and competing are reaching the culmination of their careers. It is an emotional time -- one final chance to go all-out on the baseball field while enjoying the cameraderie of teammates.

Although the level of competition varies, college baseball is all around us

While they fall under the same governing body of the NCAA, not all games are created equal.

In the small and mid-major conferences, the goals are more modest. Qualifying for the NCAA Tournament would make the program's season a profound success. An individual player's goal is to be recognized by the conference for his extend his hopes of playing professionally someday. Attendance at games can occasionally be sparse, and concession options may be limited...but those numbers are a distant second to what happens on the field.

In college baseball's power conferences -- such as the ACC, SEC, Big XII, and Pac-10 -- there are loftier expectations. National rankings and All-America honors are within reach for the elite teams and players. Professional baseball careers are more likely. For the top teams in the country, the "Road to Omaha" isn't just a's a way of life. Anything short of a trip to the College World Series is unacceptable. Attendance can rival that of Minor League Baseball teams, and more attention is given to game presentation and concession sales.

The power conference schools set lofty goals each year

Despite those many differences, the players are the constant...competing with passion and a drive to succeed. The public may determine the game's popularity...but to those on the field, it's one of the most important things in their lives.

Last weekend, I wanted to experience both atmospheres for myself. On Friday, I was in Williamsburg, Virginia to watch William & Mary take on Georgia State in a Colonial Athletic Association matchup. The next day, I traveled to Charlottesville to see Virginia host Miami in a key Atlantic Coast Conference contest.


It was a chilly and damp Friday the 13th upon arriving at William & Mary's Plumeri Park in Williamsburg.

Gray skies dominated the landscape at Plumeri Park

As thick, gray clouds hung overhead, an important baseball game was about to take place. The Georgia State Panthers -- entering the game with a 34-16 overall record and 14-11 conference mark -- were fighting for a spot in the upcoming Colonial Athletic Association Tournament.

The William & Mary Tribe were competing for a CAA Tournament spot as well, though they faced an uphill climb. With a 23-26 overall record -- and 13-12 standing in the conference -- the Tribe would have to leapfrog a couple of schools to qualify for the four-team CAA postseason.

It was an important conference game for both the Tribe and Panthers

The threatening weather kept fans to a minimum. Only 251 people passed through the turnstiles at Plumeri Park on this night, but those in attendance would certainly get their money's worth.

The threatening weather affected attendance

Watching from metal bleacher seats above the 1st base dugout, the Panthers would strike first against Tribe starter Logan Billbrough. A two-out single by catcher Shane Hammond would give Georgia State a 1-0 lead in the 2nd inning.

Georgia State celebrates scoring the 1st run of the game

William & Mary would immediately respond in the bottom of the 2nd, as a leadoff walk to sophomore left fielder Ryan Williams set the tone. The Tribe would rally for 4 runs against the Panthers' Charley a combination of hits, stolen bases and errors rattled the starting pitcher.

William & Mary rallied for four runs in the bottom of the 2nd inning

After allowing a leadoff home run to left fielder Mark Micowski in the 3rd inning, Billbrough would settle in and unleash a gutty performance. Facing a Georgia State team that was collectively batting .312 for the season, the Tribe right-hander posted zeroes on the scoreboard in the middle innings.

Senior Logan Billbrough kept the Georgia State offense in-check

In the bottom of the 6th, William & Mary would add to its lead. Second baseman Jonathan Slattery would start things off by blasting a home run to left field. It would spark another four-run rally, giving the Tribe an 8-2 advantage.

2nd baseman Jonathan Slattery is greeted after his 6th inning home run

Refusing to pack it in, Georgia State scored two runs against Billbrough in the top of the 7th...thanks in part to a botched double play. It was now an 8-4 game...and in a sport that features aluminum bats, the outcome is still in doubt.

Panthers' coaches encourage their players to keep battling

Despite that hiccup, however, Billbrough continued with a mixture of fastballs, sliders and change-ups to keep the Panthers off-balance. During 8 innings of work in a must-win game, Billbrough threw 141 pitches and struck out 12 batters. He left with an 8-4 lead as the game went into the 9th inning.

Billbrough allowed 4 runs over 8 innings -- tossing 141 pitches

Faced with desperation, Georgia State launched a furious comeback attempt in the final frame. A leadoff walk was followed by a single, double, walk, sacrifice fly and throwing error...leading to three Panthers' runs. It was now 8-7, and the tying run was on 2nd base!

Georgia State rallied in the 9th inning

As a light mist began to fall, those who remained in the stands were clapping in rhythm, hoping for a Tribe victory. A loss could very well seal their fate for the season.

With 2 outs, sophomore pinch-hitter Drew Shields stepped up to the plate, representing the go-ahead run. On a 1-1 count, Shields smoked a grounder up the middle...but the ball settled into the glove of William & Mary closer Brett Koehler. He threw Shields out at 1st base, and the Tribe celebrated a hard-fought victory.

The game-ending comebacker to the mound

Although it didn't carry the pedigree of a top-tier college baseball game, William & Mary vs. Georgia State provided some great entertainment.

Tribe fans got a win -- and their money's worth

It was now time to see if Virginia and Miami could live up to the national hype.


The gray clouds persisted over Charlottesville on Saturday afternoon, but nothing would put a damper on this spectacular ACC matchup.

Damp conditions didn't prevent nearly 4,000 from coming to Davenport Field

The Virginia Cavaliers were ranked #1 in the country. Sporting an amazing 43-6 overall record, and 20-5 mark in the ACC, Virginia was far from fighting for their postseason lives. Instead, they were trying to make a statement to the rest of the nation...that they were a legitimate part of the national championship picture.

Virginia was looking to improve upon its 43-6 record

The Miami Hurricanes -- with a 32-16 record and 17-7 conference mark -- were ranked #16 by Baseball America. Ten years removed since its last national championship, Miami was trying to re-establish its elite program status. Winning a road series against the top team in the country would go a long way toward achieving that goal.

The Hurricanes were shooting for a road series win against #1 Virginia

Davenport Field was buzzing with spirit over an hour before the game's first pitch. Ushers handed out navy-and-orange pom-poms to each of the 3,968 people in attendance, to help cheer on the Cavaliers. Merchandise tents were busy selling Virginia hats, t-shirts -- and even replica jerseys. Concession stands featured a steady line of customers. It was an entirely different scene from the previous night.

Merchandise tents had a steady stream of customers throughout the game

As gametime approached, seating areas surrounding the field were becoming swollen with fans. Unlike the William & Mary game -- which featured mostly friends and family members in the stands -- Davenport Field included a mix of young and old, students and alumni, Virginia fans and Miami supporters, and baseball fans in general. It wasn't just an ordinary college baseball game.

No shortage of fans at the Virginia-Miami game

On the field, the pitchers set the tone early. The Hurricanes sent sophomore Eric Whaley -- with his 7-3 record and 2.99 ERA -- to the mound. The Cavaliers countered with senior right-hander Tyler Wilson, who had a 5-0 record and 2.85 ERA on the year.

Tyler Wilson had his unblemished record on the line in this game

After a scoreless first couple of innings, the 'Hoos struck first in the bottom of the 3rd. An error by Miami 2nd baseman Zeke DeVoss allowed senior outfielder John Barr to reach base. Barr then stole 2nd, and came around to score on a 2-out single by junior catcher John Hicks. The entire sequence was indicative of why Virginia is #1 in the nation -- the elite teams take advantage of small openings.

John Hicks lined a single up the middle for the game's 1st run

Meanwhile, Wilson was pitching a gem. Hurricane after Hurricane was being sent back to the dugout with a grimace on their face. For the first 5 innings, Wilson would not allow a baserunner.

Miami would not get a baserunner for the first 5 2/3 innings

The dreams of a perfect game would end with 2 outs in the 6th, however, as Miami catcher Shane Rowland lined a double to the right-center field gap. The crowd stood and applauded Wilson for his effort. Unfazed by the hit, Wilson retired the next batter he faced...and Virginia maintained their 1-0 lead.

Wilson struck out 11, and allowed only 1 hit over 7 2/3 IP

After tacking on insurance runs in the 6th and 7th innings, Virginia held a 3-0 advantage as the game went into the 9th. On the mound was Cavaliers' closer Branden Kline, a sophomore with 13 saves and a 1.57 ERA on the season. It was a daunting task for the #16 Hurricanes.

A great baseball setting in Charlottesville

Much like the previous night, the visiting team would battle to the very end. A leadoff walk, a passed ball, another walk, an RBI single and a sacrifice fly suddenly made it a 3-2 game...with the tying run on 1st base for Miami!

Harold Martinez got the 'Canes on the board with an RBI single in the 9th

As Miami right fielder Ryan Carey stepped into the batter's box, a nervous buzz emanated from the Davenport Field crowd...almost all of them hopeful for a Virginia win. Every player in the Cavaliers' dugout stood and watched, ready to celebrate.

The Virginia dugout watches and waits...

Kline took the sign, went into the stretch and made his pitch. Carey bounced a chopper to shortstop. Sophomore Chris Taylor charged the ball, made the snag and threw on the run to 1st...getting Carey by a step to preserve the 3-2 victory.

Miami's Ryan Carey bounces to short to end the game

With the final out, a happy Virginia dugout ran onto the field to congratulate each other. A dejected Miami dugout hung their heads and quietly packed up their equipment. The fans cheered along as the UVa fight song played over the public address system.

The #1 team in the country holds on at the end

After many fans had left, there was a subtle reminder that despite the professional atmosphere, this was still college baseball. After meeting with their coaches, the entire Virginia team started pulling the tarp onto the field. The #1 team in the nation was its own grounds crew.

The Cavaliers do their own yardwork after the game


Within 24 hours, I had witnessed two college baseball games. The circumstances surrounding each game were very different, as was the game presentation and the amount of interest that was generated.

Still, there was a purity that existed in both games...a "love of the game" mentality that often gets clouded when watching professional sporting events. The entertainment value was there too -- as neither game was truly decided until the final out was recorded.

Going back to school isn't so bad, after all.

My father's birthday present -- some big-time college baseball

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Mother Of A Game

It is safe to say that my mother has been a major part of my baseball life.

Whether it was to drive me to practice as a youngster, wash my constantly dirty uniform, or help shop for that piece of baseball equipment that I just had to was there.

As I grew up, both she and my father pledged their constant support...attending many of my games throughout high school and college -- sometimes driving hundreds of miles to be there.

My mother even played a role in my baseball rooting interests. As a toddler, the men on her side of the family (my grandfather and uncle) attempted to recruit me as a Yankee fan. My mom would have none of it. As a Mets' fan who attended Game 3 of the 1969 World Series at Shea Stadium, she helped guide me toward New York's blue-and-orange team.

In August 1986, my parents took me to my very 1st Major League Baseball game...a Mets' matchup with the St. Louis Cardinals. Almost 24 years later, I was going to return the favor.


It was Mother's Day -- May 9th, 2010. The Mets were set to face the San Francisco Giants at Citi Field in Flushing, New York.

A special day at the ballpark

For my mom, it was a new experience. After attending numerous games at Shea Stadium over the years, she had yet to see one at Citi Field. From the moment we stepped off the "7" train at the Willets Point station, the grand tour was on.

We looked at Shea Stadium's old footprint in the parking lot. We viewed the original Home Run Apple outside Citi Field's main entrance. We walked through the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, and visited the Mets Hall of Fame and Museum. We viewed batting practice from the open concourses around the ballpark. The day was a tribute to both the past and present.

Passing through the Jackie Robinson Rotunda

It was a windy and chilly afternoon in Flushing. As my mother, father and I settled into our seats in Section 516, we were dressed more appropriately for a football game than for baseball. The less-than-ideal conditions were not about to spoil the fun, however.

A cold, but nice day at Citi Field

There were numerous reminders of the holiday throughout Citi Field. The ballpark's scoreboards featured "Happy Mother's Day" messages throughout the course of the game...complete with video messages from Mets' players to their moms.

Pink was the color of the day on the field. Some players on both the Mets and Giants used pink bats while at the plate. Other players (and umpires) wore pink wristbands to display appreciation for not only their mom, but all mothers out there. All of the players wore small pink ribbons on the left side of their button-down jerseys.

The Giants' Pablo Sandoval went with the pink bat and wristbands

Despite the unity shown throughout Major League Baseball for Mother's Day, the games still counted in the standings. The Giants trotted out their ace pitcher, Tim Lincecum, to try and build upon their 17-12 record. Meanwhile, the 17-13 Mets, who were off to a solid start at home, sent struggling pitcher Oliver Perez to the mound.

The Giants didn't have to do much to amass a 4-0 lead by the 4th inning. Perez was wild, walking seven and throwing nearly 100 pitches in just 3 1/3 innings of work. The restless crowd of 35,641 booed loudly as Perez exited the game. It was not a performance that a mom would love.

Oliver Perez couldn't gain his control on this day

With Lincecum -- the two-time defending Cy Young Award winner -- on the mound, few inside Citi Field expected the Mets to put up much of a fight...but mom always told us to never give up.
As the winds gusted, swirling hot dog wrappers and napkins around the playing field...the Mets slowly chipped their way back into the game. RBI singles by 1st baseman Ike Davis and right fielder Jeff Francoeur in the 6th inning cut the Giants' lead in half.

Tim Lincecum sported a pink ribbon above the 2nd "S" in "SAN FRANCISCO"

After 116 pitches in 6 innings, Lincecum left with a 4-2 lead. San Francisco's shaky middle relief would make it anybody's ballgame, however.

Dan Runzler and Sergio Romo were called upon to maintain the Giants' lead in the 7th, but both struggled mightily. Following one Mets' hit and two walks, left fielder Jason Bay came through in the clutch with 2-run single. Just like that, the game was tied! Mets' 3rd baseman David Wright, using a pink bat, followed Bay with a sacrifice fly that put New York ahead 5-4.

David Wright's sacrifice fly (with the pink bat) put the Mets in front

The crowd -- which just three innings ago was booing passionately at the home team's performance -- was now cheering with all their might. The wild afternoon at Citi Field was far from over, however.

The Mets rallied from a 4-0 deficit to take the lead

Highly-touted Mets' pitching prospect Jenrry Mejia was asked to maintain the newly-found lead...but instead, the rookie ran into some growing pains. After a one-out walk, Giants' center fielder Aaron Rowand connected with a fastball, and deposited it into the right-center field bullpen. As Rowand rounded the bases for his 4th home run of the season, the Giants now held a 6-5 lead.

Giants' outfielder Aaron Rowand hit a big 2-run HR late

Rather than boo Mejia as he was lifted for another pitcher, the Citi Field crowd remained relatively silent. Perhaps some of the moms in the ballpark wanted to give the 20-year-old kid a hug...or maybe they were simply shocked by the roller-coaster ride during the last couple innings.

20-year-old Jenrry Mejia ran into trouble in the 8th inning

In the 9th, Mother Nature helped make things interesting. Leading off the inning, Bay lofted a fly ball to left field. As the powerful winds swirled, San Francisco left fielder Andres Torres was fooled. The ball landed in the shallow outfield grass and Bay was aboard with a double! The Mets still had a chance.

Paper wrappers littered the outfield, thanks to the high winds

Giants' closer Brian Wilson shut the door, however...striking out the next three batters to earn San Francisco a 6-5 victory.

Brian Wilson pitched 1 2/3 innings to earn the save

It was a fun game -- not only because it was wildly entertaining -- but also because I was there with Mom and Dad.

A wild Mother's Day at Citi Field

Little did I know that it would almost be the last MLB game my mother would ever attend.
In March, my mother received a serious health scare that placed her in the hospital for two weeks. For a little while, it was a touch-and-go one really knew how things would turn out.

Fortunately, the situation has improved in the month-and-a-half since. She is home and has resumed a normal life. Still, such a scare can put a lot of things into perspective.

This Mother's Day involved the family watching baseball once again, albeit at home. The three of us gathered in the living room around the TV, as the Mets hosted the Los Angeles Dodgers in another afternoon tilt. When the Mets lost, my mom simply said, "I don't like that. I protest!"

All I could do was smile upon hearing that. Just like last year, the game's result was insignificant...all that mattered was that we were able to view it together.

Mom, Dad and myself following the Mets-Giants game