New York Mets Spring Training – Day 3

Our time in the New York Mets bubble has come to an end.

Back to reality.

No more waking up in the dark, throwing on a wrinkled blue and orange t-shirt and tossing an interlocking “N” and “Y” inscribed hat on my head, preferably backwards, 19 year old frat boy style.

We’re back to khakis and hair gel and spreadsheets.

But another year of memories have been added to the ever growing repository. We’ve already relived them 8 times over and started the 2018 planning. I’m considering creating a binding contract for my wife and kids to ensure they will happily attend these same festivities through 2025. I need to know this will never end and that we will act this young for the foreseeable future.

That bubble I speak of, here is what I mean by that:

We took a detour from fastballs and fungos on Tuesday afternoon and headed for the nearby beach, about 25 minutes away. We’d find a place for lunch and then glance at the ocean for some time before heading back to Mets Land.

We found a great lunch spot and hit up the beach where it was sunny and warm and pleasantly pleasant.

After sufficient breathing in of the salty air, we headed back to the rental vehicle with a brief stop at a bench in the dunes to wash the sand off of our feet.

Within seconds, we were welcomed by a group of five who appeared to be holding some sort of ad hoc religious discussion, complete with pamphlets and funky looking bibles. They were nice folk who appeared to be interested in the fact that we were wearing Mets gear. Of course we were still in Metsville so the fascination seemed like a means to strike up conversation and then solicit our sins.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to confess to slandering Matt Harvey’s reputation and ultimately learned that one of the women was former Met Tim Teufel’s sister in law who was in town to celebrate his 35th wedding anniversary. That’s how things work down there. It is all Mets all the time, and we love every fucking second of it.

Of course once you are armed with this type of intel, you have to take advantage of it. And so yesterday, when Tim Teufel, currently a Mets coach, arrives looking to sign autographs, it is a joy to throw a “Happy 35th wedding anniversary Tim, Rose says Hi” out there just to sit back and observe his dumbfounded reaction.


Day 3 was ultimately a wash out as most of the players remained out on the field for only a short time before heading indoors, and away from the crowd for the remainder of the workout due to the rain.

The rain kept the crowds away which was great, but it also limited our exposure to balls hitting gloves and the sound of wooden bat on ball. The sounds are almost as much of a part of the sensory experience as the sights are.

It is the sound of spring and promise.

We did manage to witness some action, including the daily treat of watching the players run from the main field to other fields where they are greeted by the coaches. The kids all jump in line and await their high-fives.

 

 

The pitchers day consisted of some long toss and a few bunting drills before they disappeared and left us wanting more. I had a lot of fun capturing their long toss sessions through the drizzle.

 

 

 

 

 

Every team should be forced to carry one side-armed pitcher because to watch them pitch defies the laws of physics.

 

Once the pitchers departed, I watched the infielders warm up and even a simple act of tossing a ball back and forth is fascinating to me. It is like art. I could ogle all day.

 

 

Warm up was done and it was time to practice turning double plays. Mets top prospect Amed Rosario has the “it” factor and I made it a point to observe the future for a few minutes.

 

 

 

Soft hands and panache. I like.

Another interesting part of watching practice, is to see which players are working out at positions other than where they normally play. Like Jose Reyes fielding grounders at second base.

Versatility is king as the player gets older.

 

 

We were heading out of the complex by 11:00 and other than a quick stay in the parking lot to see if any players were signing as they vacated the facility, our day and time spent in Port St Lucie was done for 2017.

We agreed to eat lunch before heading to the airport and just as we were about to turn right towards Rt. 95 South, we collectively agreed to take one last peek at the complex. As we pulled up, there was a small crowd gathered by the security gate so we gave ourselves 20 minutes max to wait it out and see who may appear.

The stars were apparently aligned as Mets captain David Wright emerged into the parking lot as the last remaining player. He got in his car, turned it on and then shockingly headed over to the group, willing to sign before heading home. With David battling injuries and Father Time, we knew that this may be the last opportunity to spend this type of time in his presence.

Our travel companion these last two years, Jeanine, nearly hyperventilated. To say she loves “David” is an understatement. She had never met him and had never secured his autograph.

Ladies and gentleman, dreams do come true at Tradition Field.

Who is with us next year?

 

 

 

New York Mets Spring Training – Day 2

Back at it again 5:30 this morning.

The day proceeded not too unlike the day before and come to think of it, not too different from year’s past. We ogled world class athletes while they played a game and then chased them all over the complex so they could scribble their name on an expensive official MLB ball.

And then we complained about lower back pain.

I could go into painful detail about geeky Mets and baseball stuff but that isn’t really appropriate in this forum. Some day soon I’ll start an all Mets publication where like minded nerds can wax poetic about the need for a third lefty in the pen or ensuring there is a balance of lefties available off of the bench or whether or not a six man rotation makes sense.

If you understood any of that, can we be friends?

Even as the chaos unfolded in front of me and I took hundreds of photographs, I felt something more today. I felt present. I stared at my kids and realized this was a special and fleeting moment in time.

My son is 14 and how much longer will he get this excited to take this annual trip?

I could watch him organize his binders and balls all day.

I could watch that shit eating grin when he scores another autograph.

I cherish that fist pump he makes when he thinks no one is watching.

Unbridled enthusiasm and pure elation and I want to drink it in until I’m drunk and falling down.

I felt live in the memories today and while they filled me with warmth, there was a dash of bittersweet in there and I didn’t like it.

May this never end.

Jack with future superstar Amed Rosario.

 

The kids with Zack Wheeler.

 

Jamie and her Jacob deGrom autographed ball.

 

The kids and the joy of a bubble gum bucket.

The lack of sleep, endless waiting and pacing, sharp pain in the calves and disappointment when a potential autograph falls through is all worth it.

Baseball and sunshine and family and friends. That is a good way to spend a day.

Fine, here are a few additional pics for you Mets fans and baseball nerds.

The three-headed monster of a pitching rotation. Syndergaard, DeGrom and Harvey.

 

The beast that is Yoenis Cespedes.

 

Remember kids, Uncle David Wright always says look the ball into your glove.

 

I love me some baseball bats.

 

Manager Terry Collins firing up the boys.

 

Goofy stretching is a rite of passage in baseball.

 

Robert Gsellman signing for Jamie.

 

Mets owner Fred Wilpon.

 

 

New York Mets Spring Training 2017 – Day 1

Pleasant sounding alarm awakes us all at 5:40 AM.

We all slept like shit the night before. 75% of us are battling illness and the cacophony of coughing emanating from room 210 probably kept the entire hotel awake all night.

But Jack and I push on.

We get ready in 7 minutes but bump into every piece of furniture at least twice along the way. The ladies will be up for good as a result but thankfully aren’t dumb enough to accompany us to Tradition Field in the wee hours of the morning.

Quick trip through the Dunkin Donuts drive-thru and we are on our way stocked with caffeine.

It is a 2 minute drive to the park because any further distance away and my son would physically attack us.

The three of us (including Jeanine, our Mets companion for the past two years now) arrive at the park at 6:07 A.M. and there are two other knuckleheads present and as insane as us.

We now wait for the players to arrive in the players only parking lot. The spots in the lot are marked with their uniform numbers so we immediately know who has arrived. Our move is to have me identify the player and then shout it out so Jack and Jeanine can plan accordingly. Some players are worthy of official major league baseballs and others fall down a bit and are worthy of a baseball card.

Within twenty minutes, we strike gold big time. Superstar Yoenis Cespedes agrees to come over and sign for us. Jackpot.

Fan for life.

We only get one more autograph but that is OK. The joy of this morning ritual is what gets us through the winter months in the Northeast U.S. We are diehards and proud of it.

The park opens up at 9:30 A.M, so we have time to head back to the hotel for a bathroom break and pick up my wife and daughter. The five of us are decked in Mets gear and ready to watch millionaires play catch.

Actually before that, there is stretching. Lots of stretching.

As they stretch, we start to sweat in the Florida heat and fucking love it.

The players then all run off to different fields to start the day’s drills.

The Mets lead the league in hair volume by a landslide.

We wander from field to field to watch infield practice.

But eventually settle on watching the pitchers because they are the main attraction for this Mets team and have been for years running now.

As the players run from field to field, we do our best to get in their way and annoy them and give them unsolicited high-fives.

That would be Thor (Noah Syndergaard) and his killer man-bun.

A favorite rite of passage dating back to 2014 is to be completely ignored by Matt Harvey and his ego and this year was no exception.

Swoon. I love a player who plays hard to get.

Practices last under three hours because baseball players are weak. I kid, they do a lot of work inside the facility away from the rabid fans where they don’t have to pretend to enjoy our presence.

And there are moments of intense exertion on the field as well.

As practice winds down, we all take our places in anticipation of the insanity that is autograph signing. And we wait.

And wait some more.

Until some of the players take the time to sign and interact with the fans.

Although, I honestly don’t know how they put up with it all day after day. Oh, they make millions? Scratch that.

We do truly appreciate those who take the time out and sign for the kids as they provide them with a memory for a lifetime. The smile on their collective faces make the trip worth it.

Each signed ball or card now has a back story that we relive throughout the year.

And f it, we’ll do it all again tomorrow morning starting at 5:40 AM once again.

 

 

Friday odds and ends

I started a push to convert the non gardening folk over to our side with an article here.

Who knows if it will go anywhere or do anything but I had to let it out. Feel free to comment on the article to aid in the fight.

The family is heading to Port St Lucie, FL in a few days for our annual trip to Spring Training for the New York Mets. I’ll be writing a daily post that sums up that day’s action so be on the look out for that baseball fans.

I made a left turn with my book writing. I have been busting my hump on a “Perennials” book that I’ll be publishing myself. It will only include perennials I currently have in my garden today along with my personal experiences.

With that in mind, I have a few questions for you all if you would be so kind to provide feedback. While I have a lot of it done, I want to make sure it brings the most value to potential readers.

Would you pay for this in the form of an e-book? How much feels right to you?

The main differentiator is that I cover each perennial from their first appearance in early spring up until they die in winter. Does that pique your interest at all?

Should I stick to natives only?

It is heavy with photos but I think that is a strong draw. Do you concur?

The full list of perennials is at 35. Too much and should I break it up into separate e-books?

A sincere thank you in advance for your consideration and have a great weekend.

 

 

 

Plant combo of the week: Bee balm and ‘Karl Foerster’ grass

You knew it wouldn’t be long before I featured an ornamental grass in a “Plant Combo of the Week” post and you would be correct. This one is brutally simple with the two plants available at every garden center around.

I give you Monarda (Bee Balm) and Calamagrostis acutiflora (Feather Reed Grass) ‘Karl Foerster’.

This combo peeks in early summer when the Bee Balm is in full bloom and smelling deliciously minty and ‘Karl Foerster’ blooms have settled into their long lasting buff color.

Take a step back in my garden and you’ll see that I also have them matched up with Joe Pye Weed which blooms the latest of the three.

But we’ll keep it simple for now and keep Joe Pye Weed and my exquisite design skills out of it.

I’d love to tell you that I masterminded this pairing from the beginning but of course I didn’t. The Karl Foerster grasses have been in this location for years with the only upkeep being a quick trim to the ground in late winter. By that time, new signs of growth are already evident since Karl is a cool season grass.

I should add one more piece of maintenance. Every three years I divide these grasses and as a result, have a ton throughout my garden. It couldn’t be an easier task and the divided sections are so quick to establish, with the only requirement being supplemental watering if divided during a dry time.

The Karl Foerster grasses look great spring, summer and even into fall, when the blooms shine when back lit by the late afternoon sun.

The Bee Balm started as three tiny little plugs that I shoved in an open spot at the end of the gardening season and in three year’s time, they have exploded.

Are they invasive? I would say they are “aggressive spreaders” but I have no issue pulling those that jump out of bounds and planting the piece in another spot or gulp, tossing them into the compost pile.

In case you weren’t already aware, Bee Balm attracts visitors like mad and provides endless hours of entertainment and photo opportunities all summer.

 

 

 

Even after the blooms fully fade in late summer, they still look  great with their brown seed heads.

 

And all the way into winter.

Both plants thrive in my clay soil, don’t mind some wet feet from time to time and are 100% ignored by the deer and rabbits.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plant combo of the week: Ninebark ‘Diablo’ and Astilbe ‘Deutschland’

I know that the plant combo of Ninebark ‘Diablo’ and Astilbe ‘Deutschland’ is fantastic.

Want to know why?

Because Nan Ondra told me so.

The author of one of my favorite gardening books, “The Perennial Matchmaker” featured this combo on page 46 of her book and used one of my photos.

That is some serious validation.

The combination of the dark foliage of the Ninebark and the bright white blooms of the Astilbe personifies the use of color contrast in the garden.

I’ve previously dedicated an individual post to both Astilbe ‘Deutchsland’ and to Ninebark ‘Diablo’ so if you want to read up on either of those plants, now would be a great time to do so.

I’ll wait.

Ninebark ‘Diablo’ typically blooms (here in zone 6B) near the end of May and into early June.

Those blooms quickly devolve into red seed heads that add a different ornamental dimension to this deciduous shrub. At that same time, the Astilbe blooms first emerge.

Personally, I prefer the look of the white blooms with only the dark foliage as the backdrop, after the seed heads have disappeared, or after I, gulp, have removed them by hand.

My combo currently resides in a partial shade location that stays consistently moist and both the Ninebark and Astilbe seem to love it. As you may know, the Astilbe will fry if kept in too much sun or without consistent moisture.

In late winter, I heavily prune the Ninebark ‘Diablo’ by removing about 1/3 of the old branches to the ground in order to keep it in bounds. The Astilbe are all cut to the ground in late winter as well with new foliage emerging in April.

I wouldn’t consider this combo low maintenance yet the one time pruning and water maintenance is well worth it.

 

Plant combo of the week – Daffodil ‘Mt Hood’ and Grape Hyacinth ‘Blue Spike’

Today I am rolling out a new feature on the blog – “Plant Combo of The Week” – where I’ll feature a plant tandem from my own garden that I am digging. We all know that our flowers and foliage look that much better with a partner or foil and I’ll do my best to highlight some of my favorites.

Since today is February 1st and spring is within earshot, I’ll give you a bulb combo I’ve had going for three years now. It is Narcissus (Daffodil) ‘Mount Hood’ and Muscari (Grape Hyacinth) ‘Blue Spike’.

The photo above was taken when both were in peak bloom, near the end of April and into early May here in my zone 6B garden. They typically look like this for a good two weeks. I am desperate for color at that time of year so this vignette is a welcome sight.

I had written a post about Daffodil ‘Mount Hood’ a few years back, so feel free to check that out if you desire more info. One of the more interesting features of ‘Mt Hood’ is that the flowers emerge yellow, and then quickly transform to an ivory white.

 

While this daffodil/hyacinth combo has only been together for 3 years, I’ve had the ‘Mount Hood’ daffodils for 7 years now and they show no signs of slowing down. I let the foliage die back completely and feed the bulbs each summer and I assume that has aided in their longevity.

The Muscari ‘Blue Spike’ foliage emerges in the fall and in the winter (I can see it right now out my front window) depending on intermittent warm spells, often dies back fully and then reemerges in spring. And the rabbits nibble it like mad. But even with that, they still perform and bloom without issue. I haven’t had a bloom chowed on to date.

 

I do have to admit that these are in the one spot where I have good soil drainage because they would never survive the winter with wet feet.

They are also in partial shade and don’t seem to mind even though full sun is the ideal exposure.

The ‘Blue Spike’ blooms get no taller than 6″ and have a decent fragrance but nowhere near that of other hyacinths.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s hear it for Veronica ‘First Love’

Let me kick this off by saying Awwwwww. Is there a better plant/flower name than Veronica ‘First Love’? We need it now, don’t we? I’m blushing as I type this, and you may be puking but that is OK, I think together we can agree this is a sweet looking perennial, no?

Veronica 'First Love'

After a quick glance at my plant spreadsheet, it looks like I first planted this in the spring of 2015. Normally I prefer to snip the flowers off of a plant when first stuck in the ground so the plant’s energy can go into root development, but this one was an exception. I left all of the flowers on my three Veronica ‘First Love’ for immediate impact and haven’t looked back since.

These bloom FOREVER. The photo above (Catmint included) is from the middle of June. The photo below (with Karl Foerster grass, Coneflower ‘Fragrant Angel’) is from a few weeks after that.

Veronica 'First Love'

And then a few weeks after that …

Veronica 'First Love'

… and even hints of color extending into the middle of September.

Veronica 'First Love'

More Veronica ‘First Love’ info:

  • Full sun or partial shade. Mine are in partial shade and performing beautifully.
  • Sizes out at 12″ x 12″, maybe a smidge larger.
  • Deer resistant … so far. Don’t hold me to it.
  • As referenced above, blooms early summer and into fall.
  • Pruning – while I snip my other Veronica regularly, I’ve left these alone so far. I may dabble this upcoming summer. You’ll see the results here for sure.
  • Soil preference seems to run the gamut and as usual, mine are thriving in clay that remains consistently wet.

With their small size, Veronica ‘First Love’ would seem to best used in the front of a border and will have the greatest impact when planted in high numbers. And make sure they are planted in odd numbers or you’ll have 7 years bad luck, or something like that.

The pink blooms mix well with so many other colors and I’m a huge fan of how mine look mixed in with Catmint. Pat on back complete.

So talk to me, who else has this and what do you think?

 

 

 

Baptisia ‘Carolina Moonlight’

Today’s plant recommendation is Baptisia ‘Carolina Moonlight’.

baptisia 'carolina moonlight'

 

Three years ago I purchased a very small plug of this perennial from Bluestone Perennials figuring if I love the purple varieties with such a passion, why not dabble in yellow blooming cultivars as well.

Color me happy to date.

Within only one year’s time, I had myself some blooms and it hasn’t stopped doubling in size ever since. To the shock of no one who has ever read a post on this blog, I like the way it looks best when in combination with ornamental grasses, as seen in the photo below.

baptisia 'carolina moonlight'

 

Some other notable facts about Baptisia ‘Carolina Moonlight’:

  • Maxes out around 3′ to 4′ tall and wide, similar to its purple blooming brethren.
  • To date, it has been 100% deer resistant although I just jinxed it so buyer beware.
  • The blooms emerge in the middle of May and last a good 3-4 weeks in my zone 6B garden.
  • The blooms are a butter yellow so you fans of yellow blooms will dig these big time.
  • Survives in zones 4-9.
  • There is no specific soil preference as it is listed as preferring medium to dry soil but mine has been in wet soil for years now without issue.
  • As with other Baptisia, it is a tough as nails plant once established and it is recommended that it not be moved once established. Even a serial plant relocator like myself knows to leave these in one spot and walk away.

In early spring, the Baptisia stems emerge, not too unlike a peony.

 

The blooms start to emerge in mid April and are almost as impactful as when they are in full bloom.

baptisia 'carolina moonlight'

 

 

And then one day, boom, they’ve arrived.

baptisia 'carolina moonlight'

The dark stems are a nice touch aren’t they?

Baptisia ‘Carolina Moonlight’ has bloomed at the same time as many of my peonies so there is an opportunity for a kick butt color combo.

 

After the bloom period, I prefer to keep all of the spent/dried seedheads on my Baptisia as they retain a level of interest and lend a different look in the garden as the summer wears on and eventually meets autumn.

 

So what do you think?

Do any of you have this in your garden?

Are there any other cultivars you recommend?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Helenium (Sneezeweed) ‘Mariachi Series’

There are very few people in my “circle” who give a rat’s ass about my garden. I know, sad but true.

But I’ll be fine.

Every once in a while, however, a visitor will ask to tour my garden. You would think I’d be all pumped up, but no.

My first instinct is to say “Oh hell no.” Those massive weeds hidden on the side of the house will be exposed. All areas of the garden currently “under construction” will need to be explained away. Can’t we just walk through this blog where all looks perfect? Where I can control what you can and cannot see.

Eventually I will relent and take the visitor by the hand into my little private world of plants. But before any tour commences, I make sure I answer a few questions quietly to myself so I know how to proceed with my visitor.

“When asked ‘what plant is this?’, do I give them the Latin name and sound like a pompous ass or the common name which I actually don’t know in most instances?”

The easiest way to know how to proceed here is to determine the plant knowledge of your visitor. I try and ask them something simple like “What is your favorite plant?” and then study the response. While you may not get all of the necessary intel, it can often be quite telling.

“Do I initiate the walk and the direction it takes or allow my visitor to make that decision?”

I almost always let them take the lead. I like to see if my garden layout and structure naturally leads them where I want them to go. This is where I hope my paths pull them in and make them want to explore what is around the corner.

“Do I allow my visitor to walk IN the garden risking soil compaction or plant stomping or be up front and threaten physical violence should they venture anywhere beyond the lawn?”

I tend to have faith in my visitor and their understanding of garden tour etiquette. However, if it is a dopey male friend, I have no issue laying down the law.

How much is too much information?

This question is ultimately what prompted today’s post. I had originally planned a straight forward piece on a few of my favorite Sneezeweed plants. But then I rememberd back to this past summer when I was walking the garden with a friend who stopped and admired my massing of these Sneezeweed.

“What are these?”

Here were my options for answering:

A. Sneezeweed (common name)

B. Helenium (Latin name)

C. Those are Helenium or Sneezeweed, dwarf in nature and are part of the somewhat newly introduced ‘Mariachi Series’ which includes ‘Sombrero’, ‘Salsa’ and ‘Siesta’.

I answered “C” and lost my visitor’s attention from that point forward.

The lesson here: Always answer “A” and move on.


All kidding aside, I am in love with all of the Helenium ‘Mariachi Series’ plants. They have been thriving for me since year one (three years ago). They bloom profusely all summer into fall, have never been nipped by the deer or rabbits and come back year after year.

Some quick info on these beauties:

  • Size is about 20″ x 24″
  • Survives zone 3-9
  • Prefers full sun
  • Blooms from June to September
  • Likes some moisture but not too wet. Mine have survived a few wet winters to date.

But to really sell these, I’ll allow you to take a look at some photos I’ve taken this past year from summer through fall.

Enjoy.