The impact of the US Open on our local economy is frequently overlooked. Like the New York City Marathon, it’s a sports topic doesn’t draw a lot of interest from WFAN radio hosts. Nevertheless, the Open helps fill a lot of hotel rooms in Queens. A number of the Philadelphia sportswriters whom I spoke with at a Phillies game Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park were complaining about the hotel rates they would have to pay in our borough this week, as the Phillies took on the Mets at Citi Field, across Roosevelt Avenue from the Open.Speaking of Citi Field, it’s not a coincidence that Citi’s major New York banking rival, Chase, is a major sponsor of the Open.
If you are looking for signs that 2015 may be a different kind of Mets season, look no further than this past weekend in Denver, where the Amazin’s swept a three-game series against the Rockies. Granted, the Rockies are one of the worst teams in the majors, but Colorado has had plenty of bad teams over the years who have routinely kicked sand in the Mets’ collective faces at Coors Field.
The best part of the weekend from the Mets’ perspective is that they were able to rest Matt Harvey and get a superbly pitched game on Sunday from unheralded Logan Verrett.
In the past when I have written an article on the Mets for the Chronicle’s fall preview issue, the focus has been basically a prognosis of what the team would be during the off-season, since the remaining month of the season was fairly meaningless. This year, however, the Mets are legitimately in contention for a postseason berth. And no matter what happens in September (and longtime Mets fans know that a lot of good and bad has happened in the team’s history the last month of the season) the Amazin’s have made significant progress this year.
Even the most rabid Mets fan will concede that their first-place team has been the beneficiary of the fact that the Washington Nationals, with a vastly superior and expensive roster that has plenty of postseason experience, have badly underachieved this season. Like the Mets, the Nationals lost many of their starting players to lengthy stays on the disabled list. Second-year manager Matt Williams has been roundly criticized for questionable in-game moves and there is a good chance that he may be canned after the season even if the Nationals do overtake the Mets and win the National League East.
My initial reaction when I heard that Jets quarterback Geno Smith broke his jaw after being punched in the face by second-year defensive end IK Enemkpali was “Why would a little-known linebacker risk his NFL career by attacking his team’s starting QB?” My second thought was that Enemkpali automatically became a pariah to his teammates.
NFL training camp fights are not uncommon but they generally take place on the practice field and not in the locker room. What was shocking was that nearly every Jets player who was interviewed placed the blame on Geno Smith who had apparently been humiliating Enemkpali since training camp started. Apparently Smith did not show up for a charity event that IK was running and the linebacker was out $600 because of transportation costs that he had to advance. Geno promised that he would repay the amount, but apparently was not in a hurry to do so.
It seems like a million years ago but it was only last December when the Mets’ big acquisition was outfielder Michael Cuddyer who signed a two-year, $21 million contract. There was some question why the Mets, with their supposedly limited resources, would sign a good hitter but one who was 36 years old and had racked up a lot of time on the disabled list.
While he has not had a great season by his standards, batting .250 with eight home runs as he came off the disabled list Monday, Cuddyer shouldn’t be thought of as a Jason Bay-like bust. (Although to be fair, Bay played hard and probably never achieved his offensive potential because of numerous concussions.)
In all the excitement of the trade deadline and reliever Jenrry Mejia’s second suspension for steroids use last week, the return of third baseman and still Mets franchise face David Wright to Citi Field, even if it was just for informal workouts and to meet with the media, was a big story that kind of got overlooked.
With the exception of the first two weeks of April, David has missed the entire season because of a balky back. Extensive medical tests revealed that he was suffering from a malady called spinal stenosis. This is a condition in which dorsal nerves can become compressed because of a narrowing of space near the spinal column, causing numbness or severe pain.
Tomorrow, July 31, is the annual deadline for baseball teams to make trades.
Generally the wheeling-dealing involves baseball’s haves and have-nots in the standings. Teams vying for the postseason obtain veteran players from those that are basically telling their fans, “Wait till next year.” The teams out of contention are happy to shed significant payroll for the last two months of the season and usually get minor-league prospects in return.
Whitestone native, Archbishop Molloy High School alum and former Mets outfielder Mike Baxter made his return to Citi Field last week as his current team, the Chicago Cubs, swept the Mets in a three-game series.
As he is with the Cubs, Mike was the 25th man on the Mets roster. He did get a few big hits, but will be remembered most for the spectacular catch he made on June 1, 2012, corralling a sharply hit fly ball off the bat of St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina in the seventh inning to preserve Johan Santana’s no-hitter.
Only time will tell whether Latvian center Kristaps Porzingis, selected by the Knicks at last Thursday’s NBA Draft at the Barclays Center, will work out.
Unfortunately for the Knicks, they had the fourth pick in a draft that appeared to have only three almost-certain high-impact players: University of Kentucky forward/center Karl-Anthony Towns, Duke center Jahlil Okafor and Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell.
Top-notch pitching tops the list of the Mets’ strengths. Unfortunately, it’s no guarantee of victories, baseball’s ultimate currency.
For most of their 53-season history, the Mets’ offense has been below average, and this year it’s far worse than usual. Surprisingly though, that may not be their biggest 2015 on-field liability.
San Francisco Giant and former St. John’s University baseball star Joe Panik will always be a part of Citi Field history. He took part in a baseball game there before any Mets did, as St. John’s played Georgetown in a Big East preseason game on March 29, 2009 that was the stadium’s first-ever contest. Last Tuesday Panik was in the Giants lineup as pitcher Chris Heston threw a no-hitter against the Mets.
The second baseman admitted that he probably didn’t make friends in Flushing because he wore out Mets pitching with his bat, as exemplified by a two-run homer against Matt Harvey Wednesday night. “A few Mets fans recognized me outside Citi Field and said that they were booing me every time that I came to the plate. I take that as a compliment since that means that I’m doing my job well,” said the personable Panik with a broad smile.
American Pharoah winning the Triple Crown at Belmont Saturday elicited the same euphoric feelings for spectators that Johan Santana’s no-hitter against the Cardinals at CitiField three years earlier had. The Mets faithful had to wait 50 years to see their team on the upside of a no-hitter while thoroughbred racing fans endured a 37-year drought.
Since Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978 there had been a dozen horses, including California Chrome last year, who won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness but fell short in the toughest race of them all, the Belmont Stakes. There was some concern that many race fans and TV viewers might be indifferent to yet another contender for what was starting to look like an unattainable Holy Grail.
The main reason Mets fans were more optimistic about the 2015 season than they were about things a year earlier was that ace pitcher Matt Harvey would be returning to the mound at CitiField after missing all of 2014 recovering from Tommy John arm surgery.
Harvey’s comeback was not just a New York story but a national one, as he graced the cover of USA Today Sports Weekly and was the subject of an ESPN documentary, “The Dark Knight Returns,” that aired just before the start of the 2015 season. A further tribute to his celebrity power was his appearance last Thursday night on Comedy Central’s “Daily Show,” hosted by rabid Mets fan Jon Stewart.
As down as Mets fans must have felt watching their team get swept in Pittsburgh by the Pirates this past weekend, just about 10 days after they lost four straight in Chicago to the Cubs, it was nothing compared to how they felt hearing that third baseman David Wright was suffering from spinal stenosis.
David played the first two weeks of the season before going on the disabled list for a hamstring injury. He seemed to be recovering but then complained of back pain, and all planned baseball activities were quickly suspended.
The second week of May is when the TV networks present their fall lineups to advertisers and the media at what’s known in the trade as “upfronts.” With viewers now able to watch many shows on their own time, sporting events are more important as they tend to be watched live — a big premium for the advertisers.
ESPN’s president of sales, St. John’s University alum Ed Erhart, happily informed his audience of this fact at his network’s upfront. “The worldwide leader in sports” brought in name athletes as NBA superstar Dwyane Wade and Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis to pose for photos with advertisers at the Minskoff Theater.
It’s safe to say that the WNBA’s New York Liberty, now entering their 19th season, have never gotten as much publicity from the mainstream New York sports media than they did last week when Madison Square Garden CEO James Dolan announced that Isiah Thomas would serve as the president of the team as well as obtain a minority equity stake in it.
Thomas had both a stellar college and NBA playing career and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame 15 years ago. What New Yorkers remember, however, is the damage he inflicted as president of basketball operations of the Knicks, which included numerous bad trades and forfeited lottery draft picks, as well as signing players to bloated contracts that used up all the team’s salary cap room for years.
I guess it’s safe to say that Mets fans have had shortstop issues ever since Jose Reyes was forced to leave the team as a free agent after the 2011 season, as general manager Sandy Alderson failed to make him even a nominal offer to retain his services in spite of winning the National League batting title that year.
Wilmer Flores first arrived in Queens at the end of the 2013 season and then spent roughly half of last year with the Mets. Management felt that he had paid his dues and was ready to be the team’s 2015 Opening Day shortstop. It’s no secret the team’s brain trust had soured on Reyes’ immediate successor, Ruben Tejada.
In an interview with ESPN the Magazine during his 2013 rookie season, Matt Harvey said he wanted to have a career just like Derek Jeter’s. Harvey was impressed with the way the Yankees captain handled himself on and off the field, particularly with the attractive women that he has been linked with over the years.
This past September Harvey infuriated a lot of Mets fans, and probably a lot of Mets executives as well, when he attended Derek Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium. Harvey’s appearance in the Bronx that night may have been more for business reasons than hero worship. The irony is that Yankees fans may have more reason to be irate with their beloved captain than Mets fans had with Harvey.
Before the first week of the 2015 season was over, the Mets learned that Jenrry Mejia, who did a great job as a closer in 2014, would miss the first half of the season for using a banned substance, Stanozolol.
A week later, third baseman David Wright, the face of the franchise, incurred a hamstring injury. He was immediately placed on the disabled list and not expected to return to action for two weeks.
New Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred seems open to ideas for improving the game experience for customers. He is trying to reduce the downtime between innings and making it more difficult for hitters to step out of the batter’s box between pitches. I’d offer another suggestion that would win him plaudits. All early-season games in the Northeast and the Midwest should be played during the daytime.
It was painful to watch Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia, never a great early season pitcher, lumber through six innings on a cold, damp night against the Toronto Blue Jays in front of a sparse Yankee Stadium crowd last Thursday night. The conditions were only slightly better the next evening as the Yanks and Red Sox engaged in a 19-inning marathon that ended at 2 a.m. They played the following day at 1 p.m. Of course there is no way of predicting when one of these elongated games is going to happen but for some strange reason a lot of them have occurred in the early part of the season.
Fans came from as far away as the United Kingdom on on Monday as the New York Mets played their 2015 home opener before the largest regular season crown in Citi Field history.
But the Borough of Queens also was very well represented from Bayside to the Rockaways as the Amazin's shut out their long-time rivals, Philadelphia Phillies, by a final score of 2-0.
You have to wonder if St. John’s University had reached out to arguably its greatest player in history, Chris Mullin, to become its next basketball head coach while Steve Lavin was still in charge. It seemed just a little too convenient that Mullin accepted the job five days after Lavin was dismissed.
Red Storm fans shouldn’t be too concerned about Mullin’s lack of head coaching experience. Given his stellar NBA career and considerable experience as a pro basketball executive it should be a seamless transition for him.
Two weeks ago I titled my column, “Is Lavin’s job in jeopardy?” Last Friday afternoon, which is always a preferred time for companies to publicly reveal bad news, we got the answer, as St. John’s announced that it had dismissed Steve Lavin as its basketball head coach.
It’s somewhat ironic that Lavin was fired after the Red Storm made their first NCAA Tournament appearance in four years. It would be easy to point to their propensity for being one and done in postseason play (four straight quick exits in the Big East Tournament and the equally quick disappearance in the first round of the NCAA two weeks ago) but that would not tell the whole story as to why he got the boot.
Well that was a quick 22 weeks.
I feel it was just yesterday, in the first iteration of Storm Warning this season back on Nov. 6, we were discussing the St. John’s Red Storm’s prospects for the upcoming year. The conversation had barely started on the urgency the school faced as seniors D’Angelo Harrison, Sir’Dominic Pointer and Phil Greene IV entered their collective final season in Queens.
Mets fans are sadly accustomed to bad news about the health of the team’s pitchers. Johan Santana was never the same after throwing a 135-pitch no-hitter, the only one in Mets history, in 2012. In recent years, starters Mike Pelfrey, John Maine, Jon Niese, Dillon Gee and Matt Harvey all have lost anywhere from half a season to an entire one recovering from surgery.
You can now add Zach Wheeler to that infamous list. Wheeler complained of discomfort last year but medical tests, including an MRI, did not reveal any structural damage. The Mets were hoping that off-season rest might be a cure but unfortunately the pain was even worse after throwing in Port St. Lucie this past month. A follow-up MRI revealed a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament in his right arm. So on Wednesday he underwent that well-known baseball medical procedure, Tommy John surgery. Wheeler will miss the entire 2015 season.
I sit firmly in the “college basketball is better than the NBA” camp. That’s always been the case with me. It’s not even about the money or exorbitant salaries though. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but there’s something about college hoops that makes it so much more appealing than pro ball.
But where the NBA has a leg up on the NCAA is in the emotional goodbye department. Take pro stars Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan, for example. For the better part of the last two decades, fans of the Lakers and Spurs, respectively, have watched those two lace up their sneakers and take the floor as members of their favorite teams.
City youngsters receive tennis tips from Hall of Famer Gigi Fernandez.
Tennis greats and performers entertain their young fans at the 20th annual Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day.
Looking to start a new tradition in Long Island City and illuminate environmental issues not…