The New York Week That Was (Opening Day Optimism, an Isiah Thomas Aftertaste and the Nets Are Not the Worst Team Ever – They’re Just Bad)
By Jeff Freier on April 2nd, 2010 10:13 AM
Opening day is right around the corner (Sunday for the Yankees, Monday for the Mets). The start of a new baseball season is a time of hope, renewal and optimism (well, unless you’re Brother Theodore – does anybody remember him?). In fact, today I’ll declare myself the Opening Day Optimist. If you’re a Mets fan, it’s no time to think of The Ghosts of Bad Things Past (2009, 2008, 2007, Bobby Bonilla, Vince Coleman – ok, ok, I’ll stop), but only positive memories, players and dates – 1969, 1986, Tom Seaver, Gil Hodges, Joan Payson, Banner Day, Bud Harrelson, Jerry Koosman, the black cat, Donn Clendenon, the shoe polish play, Cleon Jones, Tommie Agee’s catches, Ron Swoboda’s catch, Ralph Kiner, Bob Murphy, Lindsey Nelson, Rusty Staub, Tug McGraw, Ya Gotta Believe, Rube Walker, Joe Pignatano, Eddie Yost, Jerry Grote, Jon Matlack, Ed Kranepool, Felix Millan, the sign guy, Lee Mazzilli, John Stearns, Mr. Met, Mookie Wilson, Darryl Strawberry’s swing, 1985 Dwight Gooden, “Gets by Buckner!”, Ray Knight, Keith Hernandez, Ron Darling, Davey Johnson, a Roger McDowell hot foot, Jesse Orosco, Gary Carter, Howard Johnson, Edgardo Alfonzo, John Olerud, Turk Wendell, mojo rising, Benny Agbayani, the apple, Todd Pratt’s home run, Robin Ventura’s grand single, Bobby Jones’ one-hitter, Mike Piazza’s post-9/11 home run, Endy Chavez’s catch.
We’ll also try not to dwell on the negative for the upcoming season but the positive – Jose Reyes is healthy (kind of), David Wright is healthy, Johan Santana is healthy, Carlos Delgado is no longer on the team, they have Jeff Francoeur’s attitude and leadership for a full season, Jason Bay is in left field and, believe it or not, the Mets have hit more home runs this spring than any other NL team. And let’s make out a wish list/prayer for the upcoming season: May they catch every pop-up, touch every base, run out every batted ball, slide when they need to slide, refrain from hitting into any triple plays, not tear any hamstrings, ligaments or muscles, not come down with any rare diseases, not get beaned in the melon and, please God, no more chokes.
If you’re a Yankee fan, you don’t need goofy concepts like hope, optimism and positive thinking. You have pride, tradition, a joyless yet efficient slogan (“The season’s a failure if we don’t win the World Series”) and money (lots and lots of money). There’s no need for superstition, outside intervention or a ritual such as lining up to rub Hensley Meulens’ head for good luck. You’re the Yankees. Now go out and win – or else you’ll end up like the championship-less Horace Clarke, who lives a happy, peaceful, relaxing existence back home in beautiful St. Croix. Wait, that can’t be right. The consequences have to be a little more threatening and dire than that. Well, whatever, just win.
Here are the top stories in the world of New York sports this past week:
Three Days to Go: Luis Castillo hit a three-run homer on Saturday, which gives us the feeling and anticipation that anything can happen this year. If the banjo-hitting second baseman is popping balls over the fence, let alone past the infield, who knows what positive things are in store for the Mets? But the next day, Mike Pelfrey continued his transition into a home-run hitter’s dream come true this spring, leaving Mets fans with the feeling of dread for the coming season. And should we even mention Oliver Perez’s performance on Tuesday? The Mets feel he’s going through a dead-arm period, while others think it’s more of a dead-brain thing. The rotation this spring looked like one big car crash. I foolishly keep expecting them all to say, “Just kidding, we were just messing with you guys; we weren’t even trying in spring training. We’re all going to win 20 games, trust us.” The opening week rotation is now set (like it or not): Santana, John Maine, Jon Niese, Pelfrey and then Perez. In injury-related news (is there any other kind for the Mets?), Daniel Murphy and Jose Reyes will start the season on the DL, joining Carlos Beltran. So to recap, three starting players are already injured, their pitching has been awful, they’re kicking the ball all over the field, everything is looking like a continuation of 2009 and even Darryl Strawberry was kicked of The Apprentice. But you know what? I don’t care. I refuse to give in to despair . . . at least until the first week of the season.
Two Days to Go: There’s not much going on in Yankees camp, at least compared to the Mets. Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner were officially named the starting center fielder and left fielder, respectively. Mark Teixeira was drilled in the elbow, and Jorge Posada, Francisco Cervelli and Alfredo Aceves are all banged up, but the Yanks are hoping they’ll be ready to open the season. Ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte appeared in a game on Tuesday (can you imagine the insane damage Oliver Perez would do if he could throw with both hands?). And Alex Rodriguez was supposed to leave camp and meet with the FBI, but the powwow never took place. Apparently this keeps dragging on because the feds want to get some background info on A-Rod’s 2009 whereabouts so they’ve been talking to his inner circle from last year – Kate Hudson, Goldie Hawn, the Hudson Brothers, Matt Franco and Kurt Russell. The agents working the case have been stuck in Russell’s home for weeks as he’s been regaling them with a really, really long story on the making of Backdraft. It took the actor four days alone just to remember which Baldwin brother costarred in the movie with him.
When Bad Things Happen to People Who Hire Isiah Thomas: Stephon Marbury and Isiah Thomas linger like a bad aftertaste. The Knicks were eliminated from the playoffs this week, meaning their first-round draft pick goes to Utah, which completes the Marbury deal. Not having to sign a first-rounder gives the team room for two max contracts next year, but still, having to invoke those two nightmare-inducing names from the past always gives me a shudder. We can’t leave you with that frightening reference to the Knicks’ dark past, so we’ll mention Hall-of-Famer Walt Frazier turned 65 this week. That’s a Knick we can feel good about.
They Won’t Go Down in History: The Nets are officially not the worst team ever assembled. They caught fire and won three out of four, with their milestone victory over San Antonio being their 10th win of the year. And now a little arrogance is seeping into their locker room: “The way we’re playing, I think there’s a chance we can catch Minnesota,” said a confident Brook Lopez. The sky’s the limit for them. I’m even catching Nets fever by feeling like I can accomplish anything, too. I won’t be able to catch Minnesota in the standings but maybe I can go there one day and visit my Uncle Ernie. The sky’s the limit for me also.
The Three Amigos: The local hockey teams were all intertwined this week. The Rangers lost to Toronto in OT on Saturday night, with one of their not so unusual sloppy games. The killer was a softie let in by Henrik Lundqvist in the third. They recovered to beat the Islanders on Tuesday, with their big-name guys coming up big. Though desperate for wins, they started the game like they just didn’t care. How does that happen at this time of year? It doesn’t help to have Sean Avery and Ryan Callahan out with knee injuries, but they’ve been remarkably healthy all year long. The Devils clinched a playoff spot for the 13th consecutive season with a 4-2 win over Montreal on Saturday. And what did they do when Ranger fans everywhere actually rooted for them to win a few games? They get crushed by the Flyers on Sunday, 5-1, and lost in OT to the Bruins, 1-0. Thanks for nothing. They were probably trying to lose to stick it to the Rangers. As for the Islanders, they beat Columbus on Saturday, went down in flames to the Rangers on Tuesday and were more accommodating to the Blueshirts than the Devils, by defeating the Flyers last night, 6-4. Blake Comeau‘s been on fire, with four goals in their last two games.