Lucid Culture


Phillies 5, Red Sox 3 6/13/10

When someone offers you tickets to the most beautiful ballpark in the majors, there’s only one conceivable response. Fenway Park is still a shrine, still pretty much lost in a time warp before hip-hop, before cable tv and especially before the game itself took a backseat to advertising at most sports venues. At the new Shea, the ads bombard you between innings at top volume, and everything that happens on the field seems to be sponsored by some corporation. Not so at Fenway. The digital screen above the leftcenterfield bleachers is tiny by comparison to other parks, and the old manual scoreboard at the base of the leftfield Green Monster still draws the eyes far more quickly and comfortably. And sightlines are minor-league quality, in other words, terrific -ordinarily you have to go to a minor-league stadium, like Keyspan out in Coney Island, to feel this close to the action. 

The crowd was also almost shockingly mellow – then again, watching your team enjoy a winning season for the last fifteen years will put you deep in the comfort zone. Fenway these days is just as expensive, maybe even more expensive than the other Major League Baseball stadiums, but the crowd is strikingly blue-collar, although sadly less racially diverse than either the new Shea or Yankee Stadium (then again, Boston has a far more odious history of segregation than New York does). Concessions are expensive, but not as outlandishly priced as they are in Flushing or the Bronx – and there were some bargains. Our crowd went wild over $12 lobster rolls (if you haven’t had one lately, restaurants sometimes charge twice that much), simple grilled hot dog buns filled with generous chunks of meat tossed with a light layer of lo-fat mayo – no excess, gooey mayo filler or cheap, distracting celery. The vegetarian contingent gave the thumbs up to the pricy ($4.75) but tasty veggie dog with the works, including fresh chopped onion. And a $6 bag of caramel popcorn was easily the equivalent of a couple of boxes of Crunch N Munch, just sweet enough that the caramel didn’t overwhelm the saltiness of the popcorn.

Interestingly, the most popular name on the many, many Sox uniform jerseys throughout the crowd was not slugger David Ortiz, or weirdly charismatic closer Jon Papelbon: it was steady, soft-spoken catcher Jason Varitek, followed by overachieving second baseman Dustin Pedroia, with speedy, injured outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury (a special favorite of the girls) close behind. So much for the assumption that all fans care about is home runs or pitchers who throw 100 MPH.

About the game: when veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield resorted to throwing one of his 71 MPH fastballs just six pitches into the first inning, it signaled that he might not have his best stuff. As it turned out, he did, save for one bad inning, the fourth, when the slumping Phils scored all the runs they needed, rapping out four consecutive hits at one point including a two-run homer into the rightfield bullpen by leftfielder Raul Ibanez. Meanwhile, Wakefield’s counterpart, lefty Cole Hamels kept the Red Sox’ hitters off balance, mixing a devastating 78 MPH changeup and a slow curve in along with a blistering fastball that consistently hit 95-96 MPH on the stadium gun. The only damage he allowed was a second-inning solo homer into the Monster seats in left by third baseman Adrian Beltre. This Sox lineup, banged up as it is (first baseman Kevin Youkilis took a Chad Durbin fastball off the wrist yesterday and was out of the lineup; Ellsbury and leftfielder Jeremy Hermida are both out with broken ribs from collisions with Beltre) proved over the past couple of days that it’s capable of mauling a bad pitcher. Today they proved they’re not up to the challenge of overcoming a good one. Hamels stifled the one threat he faced after shortstop Marco Scutaro doubled in the third, then mystifyingly stopped at third base after a Pedroia single. Catcher Victor Martinez (who used his first baseman’s mitt masterfully in corralling the elusive Wakefield knuckler) was then induced to swing at the first pitch, resulting in a harmless infield popup.

Wakefield made it into the eighth on a day when the Sox relief corps, depleted from yesterday’s heavy workload, really needed  a lift. Lefty specialist Dustin Richardson, up from the AAA team at Pawtucket for insurance, made a strong case for a longer stay as he made short work of the Phillies’ lefty sluggers Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, with some help from an overshifted infield.

In the top of the eighth, with reliever Ramon Ramirez on the hill, the Sox’ battery picked the worst possible time to fall asleep on the job. Phillies rightfielder Jayson Werth walked and stole second, then took a big lead off second that nobody except the crowd seemed to notice – and then took third without a throw. He scored with a perfectly executed if ultimately unnecessary hook slide on a flyball to shallow right by designated hitter Ben Francisco as J.D. Drew’s throw to the plate was up the first base line.

In the bottom of the ninth, David Ortiz, of all people, manufactured a run when he doubled into the rightfield corner, took third on a shallow fly to right by first baseman Mike Lowell and then scored on a wild pitch by his old pal J.C. Romero. Romero then walked Drew and was replaced by Brad Lidge. Since Lidge Time has become synonymous with Funtime (for opposing batters), it looked like the Sox might be able to send a sold-out crowd of 39,000 or so home happy, especially when rookie leftfielder Daniel Nava (who’d hit a grand slam the previous day on the first pitch he saw in the majors), singled Drew home. But the normally patient Scutaro couldn’t deliver – even though Lidge was having trouble locating his slider, Scutaro swung early in the count and popped out harmlessly to third.

And when there was music, at least it wasn’t offensive – most of the time (that Neil Diamond ditty is no less awful than it was in 1967, or whenever it came out). Lowell’s signature song, as it turns out, is London Calling (just like the Mets’ Aaron Heilman, before the pitcher chose another to play over the stadium PA at home games – and his career went south). And after the game, organist Josh Kantor ushered the crowd out with a wistful version of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.

June 13, 2010 Posted by | baseball | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Citi Field = Shitty Field

First time at the new ballpark. The first thing that greets you – after the shock of seeing the parking lot where Shea (a dump, but it was OUR dump) used to be is the facade, striking in its cheap resemblance to a roadside stripmall or an ATM. It isn’t even worthy of a little league team, let alone a major league franchise, all paper-thin brick and metal overlay and spray-on faux-adobe. The cheapness is even more evident once you get inside. In an even more brazen display of cost-cutting while ratcheting up ticket prices, there’s vastly less fully enclosed space than there was at Shea, the sky visible from below decks upwards. Meaning that when it’s hot, you’ll be hotter, when it rains, you’ll be wetter and when it’s cold, as it was last night, you’d better bring a jacket or else.

The concessions at Shea were pretty nasty, let’s face it. The new stadium’s are even less inviting, several on the field level with their winding, labyrinthine lines roped off and therefore vastly more difficult to escape should you tire after standing in the same place for half an hour waiting for that $7.50 12-ounce plastic cup of beer (wine is $10). Instead of the anonymous Shea vendors, several national chains are featured along with a local pizza place and numerous bracciole stands. The bathrooms are no nicer than at the old place, although to the Mets’ credit they pipe the radio broadcasts in there now.

And that new rightfield overhang is a nightmare for outfielders, fans and umpires (more on them a bit later). Situated way up on the third tier, about 3/4 down the rightfield line, it was impossible to see anything happening in foul territory down the line, or for that matter about fifteen feet foul behind first base. Was it really worth it to design the place as a graveyard for their current rival Phillies’ lefty power hitters? Call it the House that Utley Built. And he doesn’t even play here more than nine games a year unless you (doubtfully, at this point) count the playoffs.

And about the game. Johan Santana started, a cold mist rolling in along with a nasty garbage-dump smell from somewhere between Flushing and the Rockaways. Although he struck out the side in the first and the third, it didn’t look like he was getting a good grip on the ball, perhaps an explanation for his unusually high walk total (six in six innings along with eleven K’s). The low point was the fourth inning where Johan came unglued after giving up a Strawberry-esque two-run laser shot by Adam Dunn deep to right-center. After walking opposing pitcher Jordan Zimmerman (batting average: .000) to load the bases, he then missed with a 3-1 fastball to the free-swinging Christian Guzman to force in a run and tie the game. He managed to get out of the sixth courtesy of two marvelous, sprinting catches by backup centerfielder Angel Pagan to get Dunn on a ferocious liner and then the pitcher, making an impressive attempt to make his first hit of the season a grand slam. Could have happened – anybody remember Felix Hernandez last year? Against Johan, no less?

Jordan Zimmerman is a star in the making with mid-nineties heat countered by a nasty slider. He made it into the bottom of the sixth in a 3-3 tie as the hapless Nats (a phrase that’s too apt to avoid copying from every other sportswriter out there) threw the ball all over the place. Catcher Wil Nieves dropped an easy pop fly but managed to throw to first to get Ramon Martinez, and Josh Willingham misplayed a Ramon Castro drive into a double that bounced on the chalk down the leftfield line. And then there was the incident along the other foul line, a shot by Daniel Murphy initially ruled a double with Gary Sheffield (a juicer, but he’s OUR juicer) being thrown out at the plate trying to score from first. Then an interminable wait while the umpires reviewed the play, which stumped us as well since all we saw was the bounce after the ball hit…somewhere. Didn’t look like it made it into the visitors’ bullpen, that’s for sure, as the umpires eventually ruled after an least seven-minute delay. But anything that’s good for the Mets is good with us.

The Nats’ bullpen is a joke, and the Mets capitalized, Nats manager Manny Acta mysteriously leaving righthanded one-pitch wonder Jesus Colome in to face the lefty-hitting Murphy with the bases loaded, even though he had Mets nemesis Joe Beimel available. Murphy predictably  responded with a liner that bounced on the warning track in center to drive in a couple of insurance runs. Which turned out useful when with two outs in the ninth, Murphy ably lunged for a Guzman grounder that Carlos Delgado wouldn’t have been able to get to, but then misplayed it. Guzman then stole second without a throw  -and what’s with the stupidest new official scorer fad, “defensive indifference?” The guy scored on Nick Johnson’s single. Guzman rightfully deserves credit for taking the initiative to get into scoring position. K-Rod finally got Ryan Zimmerman (no relation to the pitcher) to take a dubious slider for a called third strike and put Washington out of their misery, 7-4.  Go Mets.

May 28, 2009 Posted by | baseball, Culture, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments