Tag Archives: New York Mets

California Vacation

It’s been a while, eh?

This has been the longest stretch between posts since I started this tiny venture back in 2010.

Why the 3-week lull you ask? Great question. Here’s a detailed break-out of the causes:

41% – Life getting in the way

19% – Writing malaise

17% – My laptop has issues with uploading photos

15% – Garden malaise

08% – A one week vacation in California

Don’t bother doing the math, it adds up. I’m a stickler for math … and odd numbers.

Thank you to those of you who reached out with concern. Your emails put a big smile on this new-to-45-year old’s face. They are without question the most rewarding aspect of this writing gig. People actually missing my writing is all I could ever ask for. Seriously.

For today, I want to share our recent California vacation with you all and fortunately I’m able to load photos from my phone while the laptop is still under construction.

Enjoy.


It all started at Newark Airport in NJ where we willingly paid a premium to order and pay for lunch from an iPad. Kind of pathetic now that I think about it with a clear mind and not in vacation mode.

We arrived in San Francisco late that first night but made sure to find time to scope out a local “In-N-Out Burger”. It was our first trek there and I have to admit, it was just “good”. I can do without the half hour waits and chaotic parking lots. Shake Shack is still the king of the burger. Sorry left-coasters.

Still, the moment wasn’t lost on us as we took the ever important selfie to commemorate the occasion. Notice my son is missing from the pic. He is down on selfies these days.

The next day was a busy one. First up was an attempt to drive through the campus of Stanford University. That kind of bombed as there was a local high school graduation being held on campus and we got caught in the parade of traffic and over anxious parents and grandparents.

The next stop was much more successful. We took the 1-mile hike through Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park to consume the giant redwood trees. While the park and trees were visually stunning, I’m still consumed with the scent. I may have a deviated septum with little use of my olfactory sense, but this smell punched right through that damaged septum.

A redwood candle order has been placed via Amazon Prime.

From there we made our way to the Santa Cruz boardwalk. The contrast in mood and vibe with the aforementioned redwoods wasn’t lost on us. It was chaotic and loud and sensory overload.

Also a lot of fun in that deliciously cheesy summer boardwalk way.

My son still has no idea that the photo above was taken. Dad for the win.

After a few hours riding roller coasters and eating Thai chicken wraps, we drove the world-famous “17-Mile Drive” along the coast.

Wow. Gorgeous x 10.

We stepped out of the car at least 7 times with only one of those requiring sneaking around a golf course so I could empty my ever shrinking bladder.

The first full day ended with dinner in Carmel and the inevitable collective crash in our hotel room that night in Monterey.

The next two days were spent in Yosemite National Park. I won’t bore you with the written word because words and even photos will never do it justice. It was overwhelming in a good way. I’ve never experienced anything like it. That either means I need to get out more or Yosemite is all that it’s cracked up to be.

My crippling fear of heights was tested over and over not only within the park, but the drive to and from each day. My wife had to console me with gentle words and warnings to not look right or left. I’m thinking guard rails might be a nice addition to some of these harrowing roads.

The last 3-4 days were spent in the city of San Francisco. I was thrilled to get rid of the car and be at the mercy of buses, trains, trolleys and Uber rides.

Here are a few pics from out and about.

I can’t get enough of the Haight-Ashbury district and some day hope to spend some significant time here even if it is a shell of what it used to be.

My daughter is obsessed with the show “Full House” so we had to get a shot of her in front of “The Painted Ladies” which are included in the intro song for the show. By the way, the show is terrible other than the fact that it has the nostalgia of terribly written dialogue and laugh tracks. I hope she doesn’t read this.

When in San Fran, one must ride a trolley. It’s a lot easier when you have a pretty lady on your arm.

Plenty of interaction with that little bridge known as Golden Gate.

 

Alcatraz, that foreboding island that once housed some of the world’s worst criminals. While the history is fascinating and the tour is engaging, I didn’t need to see it again after having been there back in 2000.

So in a brutally selfish way, I ignored everyone and focused on the gardens of Alcatraz Island instead.

And finally, it wouldn’t be a Markowski trip without baseball playing some role so we capped our trip with a Friday night game at AT&T Park (my now personal favorite ballpark) watching the San Francsico Giants play … you guessed it … our New York Mets.

The Mets won easily and broke our streak of, witnessing in person, ten straight Mets losses.

It sucks to be back on the East Coast again and it’s great to be home.

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.

 

 

Why I Love Spring Training

The Markowski family “New York Mets Spring Training 2016 Extravaganza” came to a close earlier this week.

Put it in the books.

It’s outta here.

To say we are hooked on the experience is a gross understatement. It dominated our conversations all three days while we were in Disney World following ST, which is really saying something. Mickey ain’t got nothing on “The Big Sexy”.

bartolo-colon

After returning home late Wednesday night and somehow stumbling into the office on Thursday, I was bombarded with the requisite “How was your trip to Florida?” Normally I’m not a fan of recounting a vacation because you know, it’s over and I’m annoyed and you really don’t care much anyway, you’re just being courteous.

But this time was different.

Without hesitation, I went all tween:

 … and then we like, saw Harvey

I totally got a fist bump from Yo

Oh my gawd, Piazza was there and he looked like way skinny  

Yes I’m 43 and many of the players are of the age where they could be my son. Don’t judge.

As I provided detail after painful detail about the Spring Training experience I could see that my coworkers expected to hear more about Disney, the most wonderful place on earth. Sure it was magical or whatever, but it couldn’t hold a candle to watching overpaid men throw a baseball back and forth.

why i love spring training

At this point you are probably asking yourself, why the love for glorified baseball practice? Thanks so much for asking. You’ve aided in my transition to now listing all of the reasons why. Some will be obvious and others not so much, but collectively I hope I can effectively express why ST is a must-see for any baseball fan.

 

Florida is warm in February. New Jersey is not warm in February. If you hate the cold as much as I do, this is an easy one to grasp. My goal is to figure out how one becomes a snowbird and still keeps their day job at my age.

mets tradition field 2

 

There is no better player access than during Spring Training. I don’t know if all teams provide the same level of access as the Mets do, but it is phenomenal.

mets wright

The kids (and adults if they so wish) get fist bumps as the players race between fields and drills. You can listen in on the conversations between coaches as they watch/evaluate their players. Getting to watch the players hit in the batting cages from just feet away is worth the price of admission. Speaking of admission …

 

There is no admission cost. Yes, you heard that right. Attending ST practice is free, including the parking.

why i love spring training

 

The autographs. Good luck trying to score an autograph at a major league game. Those days have been over for a while now. But during ST, almost all of the players will sign at one time or another. With the success of the Mets last season, the crowds seemed to double in ST this year, as did those seeking autographs. Still, the chase is exciting and most of the players are as accommodating as possible, especially with kids.

mets wheeler signing

My son is an autograph freak. His collection has become super impressive over the past few years. I’m not going to lie, the hunt during ST is a bit like gambling and the rush is a hell of a lot of fun. This year, we were at the stadium for three straight days before 6:30 AM and were the first fans to arrive. Most of the time, the players arrived to the park and just waved, but there were a few who stopped to sign and that was awesome.

We also typically stay until the last player/coach has left the facility and have hit pay dirt from time to time.

Mets Collins

**Negative aside** There was one much more noticeable negative this ST in terms of autographs. We encountered way more “dealers” than last year and I’d have to assume that has to do with the team’s success. They had no problem pushing kids aside and shoving their way to the front of the line. My son is very laid back and not the least bit aggressive or obnoxious when it comes to pursuing an autograph. These a-holes made autograph pursuing a lot less fun this year for him and they don’t know a thing about the Mets to boot.

True story: a group of 5 guys came up to my son and asked him to identify a few players they had on a photo they were looking to get signed. I shit you not, it was Jacob DeGrom and Noah Syndergaard. I’m sorry, if you don’t know who they are by now, stay the hell out of Tradition Field. There should be a basic entry test before one is allowed into the facility. I’ll design it and even implement it next year.

 

Fan camaraderie. This is the most underrated benefit. The majority of the fans at ST are the diehards. Those that remember every Met dating back twenty years. They remember Butch Huskey and Danny Heep. They know who plays second base in AA and what WAR means.

At least 15 casual conversations are had each day with someone you just met and there is that immediate bond. I could listen to stories about how entertaining Rickey Henderson was in ST in 1999 or how much more out of shape the players were upon arriving to ST back in the 80’s. Every fan had a story and one was better than the next.

 

Taking an interest in a player’s personal life. Since the access is so fantastic and often times you get to chat up a player, it makes you interested in the person as much as the player. You feel like you got to know that player on a more intimate level even for a brief moment and it inspires you to want to know more about what makes them tick.

I’ve taken a liking to the Mets relief pitchers, specifically those who are on the bubble for a roster spot. You can see their appreciation for getting another chance and you cannot help but pull for them to make it. During the season you may scream at the TV “How can you walk a .225 hitter?” but then think back to that interaction in ST and realize they are more than just a number on the back of a uniform.

That player for me this year is Buddy Carlyle.

mets - jamie and carlyleSuper nice guy and beyond signing for my daughter, I watched him chat with another little girl who reminded him of his own daughter and all I saw was the human, missing his child, but having no choice if he wanted to continue in his current profession. I’m pulling for him.

 

A chance to watch the “up and comers” before they explode on the scene. Since ST includes those players who will start out in all levels of the minor leagues, you get a chance to get a sneak peak at the future stars. You get to see the players go about their business quietly and humbly since they are just starting out and learning the ropes. You get to see glimpses of their skills and why they were so highly touted in the first place. You get to see them before they have a chance to become hardened to the never ending carousel of fans and media requests. That player was Noah Syndergaard last year.

mets thor 2

Now he is “Thor” and has taken New York by storm in only one year’s time.

mets - thor hitting

 

Your fandom becomes a richer experience. Last year was the perfect example. As the Mets season developed into a special one starting in July and running all of the way through October, I got that feeling of “I was there from the beginning. I literally watched certain players meet on the practice field.”

I watched players get criticized in ST (Ruben Tejada) only to bounce back and play well at times during the season. I watched players come into camp as potential starters only to be gone at season’s end (John Mayberry). I watched pitchers who were up an coming really up and come within no time (Thor).

It’s the reason you start calling the team “we” instead of “the Mets”.

 

On a more personal level, here are additional reasons why I plan on heading down to Port St. Lucie, FL for the foreseeable future:

Photographic opportunities. If you read any of my posts from the past week, this one is obvious. ST allows you to feel like you were granted special access to the players. The photo opps for a wanna be professional photographer like me are endless.

Mets - Wright

 

Inspiration watching someone do what they love. Maybe it’s just me and where I am in age and professionally right now, but I walk away from ST determined to also pursue what I love as a profession. It may not last beyond the plane ride home, but watching these young dudes do something that requires such skill and athleticism and all of it done with a smile on their face is a thing of beauty. You can’t help but get caught up in it. It even extends to the photographers and the beat writers and the security guards and the coaches. It is a contagious thing and I gladly allow myself to soak it in.

 

The crew grows larger year after year. My wife and daughter and another friend attended ST for the first time this year and they have all admittedly been converted to lifers. It’s fun to watch someone experience it for the first time and we hope to up the crowd even more in 2017.

Mets - all of us

Who’s with us?

 

 

 

 

 

2016 Mets Spring Training – Day 3

Quick one today.

Made it to the field by 6:00 and while we greeted almost all of the players, no autographs. Still don’t regret it one bit.

And this may have something to do with it.

mets - field

A gorgeous day for baseball.

And a gorgeous bagel I might add.

mets - bagel

DeGrom and Syndergaard acting like 2 year olds and clearly not listening to a very important message.

mets - pitchers

Batting practice coordination at its best.

mets - teufel bp

Guest instructor Mike Piazza.

mets - piazza

Autograph insanity was the theme of this trip.

mets - autograph

Even the greatest strategy in the world couldn’t make up for it.

mets - strategy

Jamie battled on though.

mets - jamie and carlyle

Kevin Plawecki with the good guy award for the day.

mets - plawecki signing 2

mets - plawecki signing

After three days, insanity kicked in.

mets - kids mrmet

But damn if we didn’t have a good time.

mets - me and jack

mets - train to reign

I could have watched for another week.

mets - granderson

On to Disney.

2016 Mets Spring Training – Day 2

Up at 5:45. We are not good with 4 of us sleeping in the same room. Another rough night of sleep.

In the car by 6:10. Why the hell are we doing this?

At the stadium by 6:20. Oh yeah, this is why.

mets - stadium sunrise

Hot damn I love baseball.

mets - stadium sunrise 2

While we were the first fans to  arrive, a lot of the players were already there. Which means we have no choice but to get there even earlier tomorrow. Don’t challenge us.

Even though we witnessed so many players arriving, only one stopped over to sign for my son. And that was the “Big Sexy” himself, Bartolo Colon. He allegedly never signs for fans so we considered it a big win.

By the time the gate opened for practice, we had already been there for over three hours. The feet burned from all of the standing around but who’s complaining, this is a good time.

The players soon arrived on the field and began their stretching and warm-up routine and I focused solely on Matt Harvey, Jacob DeGrom and Steven Matz.

mets - harvey, degrom, matz

They literally laughed through the entire thing and gave it around 57% effort. Nice way to make a living if you can get it.

mets - harvey, degrom, matz 2

Like I said, a very serious atmosphere.

mets - harvey, degrom, matz 3

Once the 15 minute stretching ended, the players left the field and we all gave them a hero’s welcome.

mets - harvey and team

mets - flores running

mets - verrett

mets - wheeler

We spent the next hour or so jumping from field to field watching the pitchers only as we all know they are the stars of this team. There were a lot of fist bumps and high fives and I’m pretty sure we’re now allowed to say “us” rather than the “Mets.”

mets - familia

mets - matz

mets - thor

Have I mentioned how much I love these pitchers?

mets - thor hitting  mets - matz hittingAs practice started to wind down around 11:15 or so (yes, you read that right, less than 2 hours of practice, my kids work harder in gym each day at school) we headed to the “autograph spot”.

Jacob DeGrom and Matt Harvey walked over to the relatively small crowd ready to sign.

mets - harveyAnd we got neither of them.

Jacob seems a bit shy and eager to run and Matt, well he makes sure the photo opp is there and then bolts. I find myself more and more down on Mr. Harvey each passing day. If David Wright can sign for 20 minutes or more at a time, so can you big shot. Trade him to the Yankees now and get it over with.

While my son was temporarily disappointed, he quickly had that smile back on his face when Yoenis Cespedes picked he and his sister out of the crowd and signed for them both. He is a good dude with the kids and I’ll never forget that. I was so excited that I forgot to snap a picture.

Soon after, Wilmer Flores stopped by and not only signed for a long time, but interacted with the fans in a fun way which reminded us all as to why he has become a fan favorite.

mets - flores signing kids

Yes, that is my son anxiously looking for the next victim signer. I will now remind him to appreciate the moment more.

Done.

But by far the “most patient and willing to sign for all” player was uber-prospect and former 1st round pick Michael Conforto.

mets - conforto

He literally signed until no one was left. Beyond impressive.

And me thinks my wife has a crush on him. Jerk.

One last thing and a really killer one at that.

My daughter was picked to be interviewed by the Mets TV channel – SNY – where she will be featured with other kids throughout the year on the show “Kid’s Clubhouse”. What a natural she was. Comfortable in front of the camera like she had done it many times before.

mets - jamie sny

Get those DVR’s ready people.

One more day to go in Met Town before we turn our attention towards Disney.

Mets - all of us

Who would have guessed that Disney World would be a welcome sight for rest?

The alarm is set for 5:35 tomorrow …

2016 Mets Spring Training – Day 1

Up at 5:55. Horrific night’s sleep.

Breakfast at 6:50. Need to fuel up for the long day ahead. Give me plenty of those funny textured eggs.

Leave the hotel at 7:10. 58 degrees never felt better.

Arrive at the stadium at 7:15. I could live and work down here.

About 15 others are there already. Within 2 minutes I despise 80% of them. They are all “dealers” seeking autographs and are clearly not Mets fans. We enjoy giving them dirty looks throughout the day.

We watched about half of the team arrive for the first full day of camp in ridiculously expensive cars. What a way to make a living. No autographs but fun to get immersed in this world of spring baseball.

By 9:30 the gates open and we are ready to go.

mets - kids

Within minutes, the players are out on the field ready to stretch and warm up.

2016 Mets Spring Training

Yeah, that is the “Captain” David Wright leading the way.

A quick team meeting and then the players scattered among the 5-10 different fields.

2016 Mets Spring Training

Before they arrive, I try to get as many equipment photos as I can.

2016 Mets Spring Training

mets - equipment

A thing of beauty.

Manager Terry Collins runs between fields, tending to his troops.

mets - collins

I spend a good deal of time trying to get candid shots of the players.

Mets - Wright

Mets - Ces

mets - lagares

Mets - Reed

mets - walker

mets - d'arnaud

As practice drew to a close, some of the players started to sign autographs and it was absolute friggin chaos.

Mets - autographs

My kids are buried somewhere in that crowd and while my daughter scored big time with a David Wright signed ball.

mets - wright ball

My son was nearly trampled to death while trying to get a Yoenis Cespedes autograph. He was knocked to the ground by grown men acting like immature 10 year olds. It was an insane scene and completely different from the more laid back atmosphere we experienced last spring. Guess that’s what happens when you go to the World Series.

Mets - Robles

After recovering from the onslaught of overzealous fans, we headed out of the facility with one last stop at the media gate to see if we could hunt down a player or ten.

Mets - Jack media gate

Tomorrow we are getting up at 5:45 with plans to be at the stadium by 6:30. Either a brilliant or asinine move. The goal is to see every player arrive and stalk welcome them.

I’m exhausted but excited already.

Some other tidbits from the day:

  • I am badly sunburned and my face looks like a raccoon. What is this sunscreen you speak of?
  • We admittedly allowed Ruben Tejada to pull out in front of us when leaving, and subsequently chased his car down for an autograph.
  • We saw Wally Backman at lunch after practice and knew to stay the hell away based on his negative body language.
  • Shopping at Walmart in Port St Lucie is remarkably the same as shopping at WalMart in New Jersey.
  • Never underestimate the beauty of a hotel pool for children.
  • Always overestimate the fun time spent at a chain restaurant on a Friday night.

Until tomorrow.

 

New York Mets 2015 season

The New York Mets 2015 season officially came to an end on November 1st.

It still makes me giddy to say that out loud. Playing baseball in November means you had one hell of a season and were one of the top two teams in baseball. I’ll be damned if I saw that coming before the season started.

This past baseball season was without a doubt the most enjoyable I’ve ever experienced in my 43 years on this planet. Even though our beloved New York Mets just fell short and lost in the World Series, it cannot erase the joy it brought to my entire family and all of the memories we’ll have from this season. Each and every one of us was glued to the TV from April through October and I miss the hell out of it already.

I grew up watching the god awful Mets teams of the 70’s and early 80’s on a small black and white TV with my dad always sitting there next to me. It didn’t matter that the team was horrendous, it was a time to just hang with my pops. We didn’t even have to talk much during each game; the game itself was our conversation with only a telepathic communication needed. If a Met player made an error, a glance towards each other spoke volumes. Even attempts at real conversation would go like this:

“How was school today son?”

“Um, good or whatever, Doug Flynn cannot be our shortstop next year.”

Fast forward to 2015 and my son and I watch the Mets in the exact same manner. Except in high def on a big screen TV, while we are simultaneously tweeting via Twitter and discussing the OPS and BABIP for each hitter. Beyond that it was like totally the same.

This year we kicked it up a notch though. We got into it early. Like as early as humanly possible. We attended Spring Training for the first time ever.

new york mets 2015 season

I won’t rehash the story now as you can read about our experience through the following links:

Spring Training Day 1

Spring Training Day 2

Spring Training Day 3

Looking back on it all, it truly was magical from the very beginning. Not only did we get an up close and personal view of the players …

new york mets 2015 season

… and endless autographs for my son

mets thor signing

Yes, that is the Noah Syndergaard. But he also got his first go round on TV and did not disappoint. To this day, I still get people asking me if it was possible that they saw my son on the TV while they were eating dinner or out with friends.

Hells yeah you did.

mets jack sny

Port St Lucie, FL will now be a permanent destination each and every February. And this year we are quadrupling our group by adding friends and family to the mix. It is a must for all hardcore baseball fans.

Allow me to wax poetic even more about America’s past time.

Baseball isn’t for everyone, I know that. It is a slow moving sport and yes, they play 162 games over the course of 6 months. It isn’t the juggernaut that is the NFL and games do lack that “event” feeling, at least up until the playoffs.

But the pace is what makes it so fantastic. It is the background music/soundtrack of spring and summer. It doesn’t ask you to stay riveted to each and every moment. It fits right in with the relaxed and chilled vibe of summer. It is a familiar friend where there is the comfort of knowing you can hang for periods of time without saying a word.

Now having said that, there is a unique drama that only occurs in baseball. Because there are so many games and they are played nearly every day, there is always a new twist or turn to contend with. Especially in larger markets like New York, Chicago or Los Angeles where there are a number of beat reporters who cover the teams on a day to day basis. They need a daily story/angle and do a good job of drumming them up regularly. Why did that guy glare at the manager after his at bat? Why didn’t he run his hardest after hitting that ground ball? Why was so and so benched for a second straight game? Typically not earth shattering stuff, but interesting all the same. Like the kind of family stuff we all encounter on a daily basis. A problem on Tuesday can quickly become a non issue after a good night’s sleep and  a successful game the next day.

Baseball is also a thinking man’s game and if I am anything, I am a thinking man. You can debate lefty/righty splits, bunt or no bunt and defensive substitutions all day and night. The depth of baseball stats is overwhelming but completely fascinating at the same time. Some say it ruins the game, others rely solely on stats when debating the intricacies of the game. No matter where you fall on the spectrum, the game is still being debated after the last out is recorded. I love that.

After we returned from Spring Training, we felt a different kind of connection with the team. These were real people who just happened to have maybe the greatest job in the world. We saw them from day one; literally introducing themselves to each other as they took the field; very cool stuff. And because the Mets are a very young team, you got the feeling like you were there when it was all starting. The initial hype was palpable and frickin exciting.

As this season progressed, and the typical ups and downs occurred, my wife and daughter also became attached. We could discuss any aspect of the team and we all knew exactly what we were talking about. They’ve always enjoyed baseball but this was different. We even knew the names of the Mets players’ children. Again, like family.

By July/August, the Mets kicked it into high gear and we were riveted. Every game was must watch TV. This young and up an coming team was maturing right before our eyes. We knew good things were coming, just not this quickly.

By the time the playoffs started, we all had our assigned positions on the couch. Every ball and strike was the end of the world. As much as I like the slow pacing of the regular season, the playoffs are a different animal. It is insane and all consuming and worth the stress.

I’ll never forget texting with my wife and son from a bar during a game while I was in Florida for work.

I’ll never forget my father-in-law calling my son after every big home run by Daniel Murphy.

I’ll never forget waking up my daughter at 12:30 to allow her to see the Mets celebrate their first trip to the World Series since 2000.

I’ll never forget having my parents over on Halloween night and the highs of the early lead in Game 4 and the absolute agony of losing the game late.

I’ll never forget watching the last minute of commentary after the Mets lost the World Series and the last camera shot of the empty stadium.

I’ll never forget realizing that I will miss it all dearly once the kids get older and leave the house.

Mets-Mr_-Met

Thank you for the New York Mets 2015 season. I dare you to top it all in 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2015 Mets Spring Training: Day 3

The last day of our “Escape to Mets Camp” was Sunday and unlike all of the other days, we were welcomed by this unfamiliar site.

mets tradition field 2

I googled it and learned it is referred to as “sunshine”. What a neat concept. I like it.

So if day one was about the initial excitement and day two was about perseverance, then day three was about … a few different things:

  1. Soaking it all in – while Jack was on the autograph hunt, I reminded myself to take it slow, enjoy the experience, carefully observe and realize just how damn unforgettable this was going to be.
  2. Jealousy – to be so young with your future still out ahead of you. To make a living out of your passion – for the players, coaches and media, etc. To be a 12 year old without a care in the world. Not to mention the joy that is that giant yellow orb in the sky.
  3. Jealousy turning to determination – for my son, I want to do all I can to allow him to pursue his dreams while keeping him on track but not meddling too much. Easy right? For me, even at 42 years of age, I CAN still follow my passions and enjoy the journey.

With that as the backdrop, here is the story of two dudes; one mature/devastatingly handsome/well seasoned/world wise … and the other his father. Read on as they tour Mets spring training camp in Port St. Lucie, FL on March 1, 2015.

Game on at 9:30 AM after having arrived at 8:00, iced coffee in hand, to watch the players arrive in their ridiculously expensive rides. And maybe a scream or ten for an autograph.
mets entrance

 

Since Jack and I were now experts on how to navigate the Mets workout, we wandered off on our own while the players stretched and the majority of the fans looked on in awe.

I decided to capture the calm before the storm on the various fields.
mets equipment

mets bats

mets helmets

mets equipment 2

 

We then regrouped in time to catch the end of the stretch and inspirational message from the coaches.
mets team 3

 

And then they were off to their assigned drills in what appeared to be controlled chaos. One of the cool things here was the high fives given to the kids along the pathways.
mets running

 

While my son wandered to and fro and managed to score some free baseballs from the coaches, I settled in at infield practice. There I witnessed the familiar David Wright field, hop and throw we’ve come accustomed to the past ten years.
mets wright infield 2

mets wright infield

mets wright throwing

 

But even more interesting was watching the Mets manager, Terry Collins, closely monitoring his two shortstops. One of the biggest concerns this season is the defense provided at SS. You could sense the tension as Terry paced the field like an expectant father.
mets collins infield

 

I then followed him to another field where his dynamic pitchers were practicing fielding drills. He said very little and just observed. That said a lot.
mets collins 2

 

A quick stop to watch Bobby Parnell warm-up.  To me, there is something fascinating and almost magical about a pitcher’s wind-up. To see someone throw 90 mph up close is beyond impressive. A true art form.
mets parnell

mets parnell 2

mets parnell 3

 

And then Jack and I made our smartest move of the day. No, it wasn’t putting on sunscreen. We got first in line at the batting cages and just patiently waited for the arrival of the players. One by one they poured in and we had front row access to witness their swings and baseballish banter.

Brandon Nimmo, the nicest and most accessible Met in camp.
mets nimmo

 

Noah Syndergaard in what looks like the perfect baseball pose. I guarantee it is on a future baseball card. And that hair, chin line and beard is kind of awesome. To be in my early 20’s again.
mets thor

 

Seriously, is there a better color combo on a baseball uniform?
mets pitchers

 

I had to convince Jack not to steal a protein shake when no one was looking.
mets wright cuddyer

 

David Wright and Michael Cuddyer, friends from way back in the day, are the true leaders of this team and that was obvious throughout the three days we were there. And they are obviously besties.
mets cuddyer wright

 

And then our strategy paid off big time.

Autograph from David Wright.
mets wright signing

 

And Zack Wheeler.
mets wheeler signing

 

And Noah Syndergaard.
mets thor signing

 

And Wilmer Flores.
mets flores signing

 

After that nice run, there were two players that remained elusive and basically shunned signing for anyone.

That would be Matt Harvey …
mets harvey

 

… and Jacob de Grom.
mets degrom

 

I understand they are the two “hottest” signatures to obtain, but if David Wright can take the time out each practice to sign for all, especially the kids, so can they.

Oh well. A challenge for next spring.

By 12:30, after getting some additional autographs and watching David Wright, Curtis Granderson and Juan Lagares tear it up at batting practice, we called it a day.

We hit up Duffy’s for lunch for a third time and chilled out with our haul and our sunburns. Jack was thrilled with how day three turned out and appeared ready to head back home to the NJ.

After lunch ended, we had about two hours to kill before heading to the airport so I suggested we drive back to Tradition Field and take some pictures of the stadium now that it was empty. Lo and behold, we pulled in and some of our fellow diehards were still there. Apparently some of the players were still in the locker room so the stalkers fans could still get one last glimpse.

As expected, Jack jumped out of the car and took up his favorite position by the media gate.
mets jack media gate

 

And wouldn’t you know it, he got a few more autographs including #3 on the back of his shirt – Curtis Granderson.

Once it was confirmed by the security guard that the last player left, I finally saw Jack admit to himself it was over and let out a sigh.
mets jack

 

Our father/son adventure had come to an end and while we were both exhausted and devastated to see it end, we both knew it exceeded even our lofty expectations. It truly was a time neither of us will ever forget.

Until we do it again next year …

And in 2017 …

Because we know it’s happening.

EPILOGUE

Our flight back to NJ was delayed and we didn’t land in the Trenton airport until 12:20.

We then waited 40 minutes for the staff to de-ice the ramp off of the plane.

Even after that it took 10 minutes just to walk down the ramp.

After an icy walk to the car, I had to remove three inches of ice off of my car and broke the scraper half way through. I chopped the rest with my elbow.

The drive home took an hour and fifteen minutes instead of 35 minutes because of the road conditions.

I almost hit three deer.

We walked into the house at 2:45 AM.

Jack stayed home from school.

I went to work after four hours of sleep.

I still have a stye in my eye.

I hate NJ.

THE END