Welcome to CATCH IT! — Joe Castellano’s personal observations about what’s going on in the world of sports.
The baseball of my childhood is not coming back.
Well, it’s not like I just realized this today, but the reality of it really set in after my recent experience at Citi Field, where I took in a September game between the Mets and Dodgers.
In 1969 when I was 7 years old, I saw my first Major League Baseball game at Shea Stadium, Mets vs Phillies. I can still sense the feeling of a real ticket in my hand and I remember reading the notice on the back about a rain check. I can still smell the big pretzels cooking outside on a hot barbecue. A vendor yelling “Hey, program here, hey yearbook” was the first sound I remember. Of course there was the blaring sound of airplanes flying in and out of LaGuardia airport. Getting a scorecard and sharpened pencil was a huge priority. Gotta buy one of those plastic batting helmets to wear and definitely a mini helmet that holds soft serve ice cream!
I went to several games as a kid many with nose-bleed seats. One time I vividly remember all I could see was the foul pole right in front of us. That didn’t bother me though. The ballpark always felt like home. Shea eventually became a worn and outdated place. It still held its charm for me, but I understand it was time to move on.
As I entered Citi field decades later and went through the post 9/11 frisking process I heard a song I didn’t expect to hear in the entryway.
“￼MEET THE METS,
MEET THE METS,
Step right up and greet the Mets!
Bring your kiddies,
bring your wife;
Guaranteed to have the time of your life,
because the Mets are really sockin’ the ball; knocking those home runs over the wall!
everybody’s coming down
to meet the M-E-T-S Mets of New York town!” Man, that song gave me chills. I used to play it on a 45 record.
You can enter the ballpark in the “Tom Seaver” gate. Very cool. I once had him as a guest during a game when I was the AAA play-by-play announcer for the Rochester Red Wings. He came on the air for an inning and kept playing with the nobs on our audio mixer. He got a real kick out of having the power to turn down my microphone and silence me for a few seconds. Here is this Hall of Famer, one of my childhood idols, playing games with my audio and making me laugh.
At Citi Field there are large photos of Seaver and other Mets greats as you walk towards the concourse. I notice hanging banners of Buddy Harrelson, Ed Kranepool and Jerry Koosman!
At first it looked like the only food choice was hot dogs, peanuts and pretzels. Upon further review, you can find pizza and many other choices including my favorite veggie burgers.
Time to go to my seat in the upper deck. Good view. It only cost $14 for a ticket on the Game Time app and there are plenty of empty seats if I want to move around. I’m a bit surprised. After all, the Mets are in the middle of a chase for a Wild Card berth. However, the intensity of the crowd just isn’t there. No airplane noise either. Did they change the flight patterns for Citi Field? It’s in the same place where Shea was standing and the plane sound used to be deafening.
The noise that makes the most impact now is the piercing sound of music or other chant inducing tones that come out of the public address system speakers during the game. Now, I understand that most people don’t want it to be quiet so that the crack of the bat can be heard from every seat like I do. But, is it really necessary that after every single pitch we need to hear high decibel sounds coming out of those speakers? I don’t mind the “Let’s Go Mets” prompts that they do (although, I wonder why that is needed now, since back when I first went to games the fans themselves initiated those chants). But, it’s all the other sounds that Citi Field entertainment folks think everyone needs to hear every five seconds that make a negative impression to me. Very annoying. And since when did Major League Baseball games want to be so minor league? In-between inning promotions used to be reserved for the minor leagues where fans supposedly need more entertainment because the players aren’t as good. But this is not only the big leagues, it’s New York! I always thought New York fans didn’t need all of that extracurricular stuff, but I’m proven wrong on this night.
During the game you realize that professional baseball in 2019 is all about analytics. Just about every player gets shifted, many to the extreme with three fielders playing on one side of the infield. Players are so inundated with information from data-driven scouting reports now that they carry cards in their pockets. They all look like NFL offensive coordinators, trying to figure out where they should be positioned defensively. At one point I noticed Dodgers third baseman Chris Taylor reaching into his back pocket for one of those cards. He started to study it while walking to his left, then he stopped, studied it some more and turned to his right. Eventually he ended up playing in a conventional spot where third basemen have normally played for over 100 years. All of that data and somehow it seemed like a good idea to play the hitter “straight up.” Chalk one up for old-school baseball.
The most disappointing part of the night on the field came in the late innings of a close game. Mets All-Star first baseman Pete Alonso came to the plate. The kid is a shoo-in for NL Rookie of the year honors. He set the Mets single season home run record and is going to end up with over 50 bombs. An amazing season to say the least.
Recently Sports Illustrated did a feature on Alonso, taking us through this magical season, describing his positive attitude and detailing his work ethic. I had heard so many good things about him so he seems easy to root for especially since everyone would like to see him get out the the slump he is mired in at the moment.
On a routine fly ball to right field, Alonso jogged to first base and didn’t even make it to the bag as the catch was being made. I know this is no big deal to most people and I’m not here to get on Alonso since most major leaguers these days are not running out routine fly balls and ground balls. It’s September too and everyone is worn out from a long season. BUT, it is a close game in a playoff race game and Pete is a 24-year-old rookie. Run it out! What if the right fielder drops the ball? You should be on second base, not barely making it to first base.
Maybe we’ve seen the last of all players hustling on those types of plays. Maybe the PA system is only going to get noisier and louder in future years. Perhaps baseball is a dying sport and to get the younger generation to follow it, this is necessary. Analytics are here to stay. Maybe managers will soon be able to text a player on his cell phone about his defensive positioning.
What’s the next major change in the game?
I’m not sure I want to know.
Artwork courtesy of: Suzie Armagost.