Author Archive

Catch me on MetsPolice this June & July!

Hey Everyone, just a quick heads up:

You’ll be seeing me pop-up on MetsPolice.com once again this year, for two weeks. I’m looking forward to it, and it should be a lot of fun!

If any of you have suggestions or ideas, feel free to email me at Niko@MetsPlus.com, I look forward to seeing you all come June 27th!

Why I Fail to Understand the Mets new Backpack Rule

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Effective last homestand, the Mets implemented a new bag policy for fans entering the stadium.

Previously, the Mets had a rather reasonable policy, allowing anything soft-sided provided that the dimensions do not exceed 16 inches by 16 inches by 8 inches. Briefcases, coolers and other hard-sided bags or containers were not, and are not permitted.

However, for whatever reason, come last homestand, the Mets deemed their security staff incapable of properly screening backpacks, despite being fit to do so during several games between the announcement and the implementation.

I was very frustrated at first, and knew that with the various exceptions provided, this policy is a lazy way to weed out work for staff, and a piss-poor attempt to speed up lines.

I successfully got my backpack through security with no hassle on the first day of the new policy:

So if these exceptions are in place, is this rule here to annoy and turn-away loyal fans for warranted security procedures, or just to speed things up for the workers?

I can’t think of any reason as to why the bags should be banned. The screening was already rather comprehensive, and it doesn’t match the national scale for security.

For example, as an airport worker, I can bring in any type of backpack, luggage, hard-sided briefcase, you name it, though to the airside gates with no security screening, yet the Mets won’t grant backpacks access to the game, even with extra handling or screening.

And you wonder why fans are staying home….

Trip Around the League: PNC Park, Home of the Pirates

As the Mets ventured into the West Coast for the week, MetsPlus also traveled west! Instead of the 2,500 mile cross-country trek to San Diego, we went less than 500 miles away, to the steel city: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; home of Pittsburgh Pirates, to take in some newfound sights and sounds.

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The Pirates play their home games in PNC Park, which opened in 2001, and is currently the seventh oldest park in the National League. The ballpark’s proximity to the city couldn’t be beat, as it’s located right in the heart of Downtown Pittsburgh, off the shores of the Allegheny River. The ballpark has a seating capacity of 38,747, and has held over 40,000 fans at a game, but given the Pirates current trajectory, roughly sees an average of 20,000 fans a game.

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Most of the hotels, shops and restaurants are located across the Roberto Clemente Bridge (renamed from the Sixth Street Bridge in honor of the legendary Pirate) so many fans cross over the bridge (which is closed to vehicular traffic) prior to and after the game. The original bridge was designed by famed architect John A. Roebling, thirty years before he designed the Brooklyn Bridge, arguably the most famous bridge in the world.

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Once nearby, there’s lots of bars, restaurants and live music to get fans excited and ready for the game. Most of these did not appear to be officially sanctioned from the team, which contributes to a very organic and grassroots feel; the perfect atmosphere for a baseball game.

The Pirates (like many other teams in the Major Leagues nowadays, but dissimilar to the Mets) use metal detection upon entry, which was annoying, but rather nominal time-wise. There wasn’t much of a line when we entered, and I never saw a queue at any point during the game.

For a twenty year old ballpark, PNC Park still looks brand new from an aesthetics perspective. Around the exterior of the ballpark stands a series of grand masonry archways, and stunning decorative terra cotta tiled pilasters, which invokes feelings of nostalgia from the club’s former home, Forbes Field.

 

 

PNC Park was also the first ballpark with a two-deck design (as opposed to a three-deck design) to be built in the United States since 1953, which contributes to a very intimate environment, the highest seat is just 88 feet from the playing field, giving every fan in the park an ideal sight line of the action.

In certain stadiums, sitting in the upper level would be nauseating of sorts, whereas that was not the case here. The upper level was arguably better than the main level, with those picturesque views of the Pittsburgh skyline in immediate view.

Wanting to venture around, I took a trip up to the aforementioned upper level to examine the vistas, but was promptly stopped by a somewhat nosy usher, who didn’t want to let me in to the upper deck, over an hour before game time, despite being ticketed in a more expensive seat on the field level.

This is something that I’ve only seen at Citizens Bank Park, and is extremely annoying for all involved, especially considering the stadium was extremely empty throughout the game. Thankfully, an usher a few sections over had no problem with me taking a breath or two in the cheap seats.

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Outside of that one interaction, I found the staff at PNC Park to be rather friendly, but concurrently, clinical to a fault. Like the Mets, the Pirates use Aramark concessions to fulfill food & beverage needs, which means that fans eligible to consume alcoholic beverages get carded no matter their age (which I think is wrong) and their new point-of-sale system, which was installed in April of this year, was rather laggy, causing prolonged wait times at food stands. Thankfully, a little bit of Pittsburgh charm from the staff (or is it a lack of New York rudeness?) kept the smile on the patient fans.

While Citi Field could be described as a culinary oasis of sorts, PNC Park is less-so, with your traditional ballpark classics adorned around the ballpark. On a quest to find some original eats, I stumbled upon Manny’s BBQ.

Named after former Pirates catcher Manny Sanguillen, this barbecue joint is located behind the center field batter’s eye, in an area that feels like you’re outside of the ballpark itself.

The barbecue is prepared in front of you, and there is a visual menu, featuring some of the most blurry and grotesque looking food I’ve ever seen on a public-facing image.

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Thankfully the cuisine looked much better in real life:

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I sampled two of the options, a more complex french-fry pork and onion string concoction, and the more traditional Pulled Pork sandwich.

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Both were tangy and rich with flavorful sauce, but rather lukewarm, mainly in part due to the long wait times caused by the technical difficulties, but considering I ate them at a table directly adjacent to the stand, and it is to be assumed most fans take their food to their seats, it might be worthwhile for the Pirates to pump up the heat a little bit on the smoker.

The other local staple from Pittsburgh was a location of Primanti Brothers (the Shake Shack of Pittsburgh).

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Founded in 1933 by Joe Primanti, this eatery is famous for putting french fries inside the sandwich (not that radical in my eyes, but I digress) and wrapping it in newspaper.

This location serves at the ballpark serves up two of Primanti’s classics, minus the newspaper.

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It was fine, but far from an excitement that my taste buds would want to go back and experience over and over again. Still, this is Pittsburgh’s signature sandwich that has delighted fans for decades. When in Rome, right?

The ballgame experience was fun as well. The Pirates mascot, Pirate Parrot, was busy entertaining fans young and young-at-heart, all throughout the game, and if you weren’t hungry enough from the photos above, there was a pierogi race around the outfield warning track (Chester Cheese won, for those scoring at home).

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The Pirates were also wearing their amazing throwback “steel city yellow & black” uniforms, with a yellow racing stripe on the pant leg, circa 1976. Black pants are all but extinct from the sport, so that was really cool to see.

If only they had kept the yellow batting helmets and the stir-up socks!

While the Pirates might not be the most exciting team in the league, (projected to be in last place with only 79 wins according to FanGraphs) the ballpark experience is on par with the best I’ve seen around the country, and while I find it somewhat arrogant that the Pirates proclaim that PNC Park is the “Best Ballpark in America” (I mean -come on- it’s **right there** in the logo) it does check all the boxes that you’d want to see in a premier ballpark, and I’m already looking to go back to pay the city a Pittsburgh a longer and prolonged visit real soon.

For those of you who would like the PNC Park Experience, you should definitely put the Mets vs. Pirates series in August on your bucket list. Tickets start at just $20, and there’s an amazing firework show after the game, with that picturesque Pittsburgh skyline in the background. You can purchase your tickets by clicking here.

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Travel Considerations Courtesy: MLBAM a.k.t. & MediumBlogs / Photos Courtesy: James Giovan & MLB Digital / All Views & Opinions are my own / Contact: Niko@MetsPlus.com

Special thanks to the Pittsburgh Pirates and the city of Pittsburgh for their generous hospitality. 

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Worth a Read! After The Miracle, by Art Shamsky

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of picking up a copy of 1969 Mets champion Art Shamsky’s book, titled After The Miracle, with additions from longtime famed sportswriter Erik Sherman. The book, the second in Shamsky’s collection (the first being The Magnificent Seasons) perfectly depicts the camaraderie that we are celebrating 50 years after the Miracle Mets took home the commissioners trophy for the first time.

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The story features recollections from five of the Mets’ greats from 1969. Art himself, alongside Tom Seaver, Ron Swoboda, Bud Harrelson and Jerry Koosman. The book truly is a must read, especially in this ceremonial year where we are commemorating the half-centennial of the ’69 team.

Beyond the game of baseball, the book is perfectly tied with the climate of daily life in New York in the late 1960s, as it outlines the Mets successes in 1969, and the trials and tribulations that the team had to overcome as a unit.

I had the enormous pleasure to interview Art a few years ago, and you should definitely check that out, and pick up a copy of the book for yourself!

Have you read “After The Miracle” yet? If so, let us know about your favorite part down below!

 

 

 

 

Holidays are Here! Mets 2019 Holiday Cap Review

As I get ready for Greek Easter this Sunday, I’m starting to get into the festive mood, and with festivities comes lots of color, extravagance and uniqueness.

The same qualities can be said about the Mets Holiday uniforms for 2019, undoubtedly the best since this relatively new tradition was introduced to Major League Baseball.

So let’s look at the special event caps and jerseys and give it an honest critique:

MOTHER’S DAY CAP: B+

The Mother’s Day cap this year in slightly inverted from the previous iteration that we saw in 2018. Instead of the pink panel, we see a pink brim, and a blue top panel. The interlocking “NY” is also in pink. Like last year, regular Mets uniform tops will be worn with the Mother’s Day Ribbons. Overall this is a good look, nothing revolutionary, but good overall.

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ARMED FORCES DAY CAP: C+

What used to be a C- has just turned into a C+, as the camouflage, something I’ve never been fond of in a baseball uniform, is now being worn on the proper corresponding holiday. Unfortunately, that’s the only tangible improvement that can be seen… The cap is rather dark, uninspiring, and, well camo!

I think this will look better on some teams over others, but I still view this as an average cap that I won’t be thrilled to see on-field.

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MEMORIAL DAY CAP: A 

The only cap we don’t have a photo of, this cap is your standard Mets cap with a respectful, Memorial Day MLB patch. In addition, the uniforms have a “lest we forget” poppy, which is also a nice touch when remembering our fallen. The best part of all of this, though? None of this is for sale, so the motive for this (at least in a direct sense) isn’t profit driven.

FATHER’S DAY CAP: A+

This tie-die Mets cap is probably the only one here that I will end up buying myself. I love the sky blue tie-die, and the royal blue brim, it’ll match my socks from a couple years ago. I give this one an A+, while it doesn’t look great for all teams, it’ll look dandy on the Amazin’s.

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INDEPENDENCE DAY CAP: B

Outside of the National League patch, this cap strikes me as rather… unremarkable. The theme here is throwback logos, given the 150th Anniversary of Major League Baseball, but the Mets have never had a radically different cap logo, and even the small differences that would set a 1962 Met cap and a 2019 Met cap apart are not incorporated into the logo. With that being said, the cap itself is still visually pleasing, but I’m sure I’ll have a different thought when it’s juxtaposed with the royal blue Mets uniform.

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What’s your thoughts of the 2019 Holiday Mets uniforms? Let me know in the comments down below, or on Twitter, @NikoGoutakolis.

Mets Home Opener 2019 Review

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Last Thursday, I traveled east to Flushing, Queens to see the Mets take on the Washington Nationals, the game, a one o’clock start, was the Mets Home Opener after a very impressive 5-1 roadtrip to start the season.

I entered through the Jackie Robinson Rotunda at around 11:30am, with moderate lines that you would expect on Opening Day. There were no metal detectors, only wands which seemed to expedite the procedure somewhat.

Unfortunately my ticket didn’t scan, so I had to go to the Ticket Office and get a hard ticket printed out, which I actually prefer. New for this year, mobile tickets replace most of the paper tickets, and it is no longer possible to get a seat location slip upon entry into the ballpark. Thus, I noticed far more people struggling with print-at-homes, and long waits in the office ensued.

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Once inside, I purchased a copy of Mets Magazine from my favorite salesman, and climbed the escalator to see the Mets lineup (in oversized Topps Baseball Cards).

I wanted to try one of the new critically acclaimed food options that had been praised, and I settled upon Sliders & Sinkers, a place with little to no organization. To keep a very long story short, I ordered the Slider combo in a souvenir helmet, and they were out of most anything and everything, which was a big disappointment.

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Eventually, I got some sliders, which, while cold, was rather tasty.

The ceremonies itself were very pleasant, Jacob deGrom got a great reception, and the annual tradition of giving the team a good luck wreath continued into 2019.

Unfortunately, the game itself was rather disappointing, with the Mets not scoring a single run. I did like the new scoreboard, which was recently overhauled.

All in all, while the game was disapointing, it was great to return to Citi Field after the long winter, bask in the sun, and root on the Amazin’s.

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I have high hopes for this team in 2019, and here’s to many more great memories to come at Citi Field.

Six Good Signs We Saw In the First Six Games

To start the 2018 season, the Mets went 11-1. Didn’t think we could beat that? Well, the 2019 New York Mets are 5-1 in their first six games, and this team (arguably) looks better than they did last year!

So let’s tale a closer look at the start of this ball club, and examine exactly what it is that is making this team so promising….

A. The Makeup of the Team

I mentioned last year when David Wright and Jose Reyes left that this would signify the end of an era for the New York Mets, and while it was nice to say farewell to some players that have shaped the history of the team, the flip side of players leaving is new aspiring players coming up, complemented by robust free agent signings.

B. The aggressiveness from the Front Office

I was in absolute shock when they actually went through with their word and gave Pete Alonso a spot on the team. This is one of the many testaments to how aggressive new GM Brodie Van Wagenen has been. It’s interesting to hear that the Mets are still reaching out to Dallas Keuchel; if Brodie were to go after him, that would make this offseason one of the most complete in terms of acquisitions in team history.

C. The Managerial Decisions from Callaway, Complemented by his new Coaching Staff

It’s not only the on-field talent that has a lot of new faces, the coaching staff that surrounds manager Mickey Callaway has gone through a complete overhaul as well. Two of the most well received changes was the addition of long-time National League skipper Jim Riggleman as the bench coach, who some believe might be calling more of the shots than a normal bench coach would, and could potentially replace Callaway if that is ever warranted, and hitting coach Chili Davis, a twenty year Major League veteran, who is promoting small ball play and taking the ball the other way, something you’ve seen Dominic Smith doing with lots of success early on.

D. The Camaraderie between Teams 

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The Mets have never had a hostile roster, but seeing the entire team on the same page with a revived energy is great to see. While Pete Alonso and Dominic Smith are competing for the same first base job, it’s clear that they have the same interests, and are genuinely rooting for each others success. Even bench players like Keon Broxton have been seen rallying the troops on the bench.

E. The Early Success from Jacob deGrom

It’s fair to say that Jacob deGrom has been as close to immaculate as one could be through his first two starts. Through 13 innings, he’s recorded 24 strikeouts, and has yet to give up a run. Some are calling him the undisputed best pitcher in baseball and it certainly makes deGrom’s contract extension look mighty fine.

F. Help is on the way….

I’ve always stated that injuries are a big part of the game, and while this team looks complete, things will only get better with Travis d’Arnaud and Todd Frazier re-joining the team in less than a week, and the (hopefull) return of Yoenis Cespedes in the not-do-distant future.

Next week on MetsPlus, get a comprehensive look into my experience at the Mets Home Opener! 

Opening Day 2019 is Here!

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Otherwise known as the only day that I actually want to be in Washington D.C, the New York Mets season begins in just under an hour, as hope springs eternal comes once again.

This team has rejuvenated energy, camaraderie, and I’m so excited to watch this team succeed in 2019.

It all starts with an exceptional matchup of Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer.

Of course it’s just one game, deGrom could pitch poorly and no one would have a different perception of him, but there’s nothing like clearing out your day, sitting at home, enjoying some ballpark classics, and listening to Gary, Keith and Ron.

Enjoy your Opening Day, everyone!

My Prediction for this Year: 81-81, 4th Place

Playing Pepper 2019: New York Mets

Every year since 2009, Daniel Shoptaw from Cardinals Conclave spends some time before the season starts trying to find out what fanbases are thinking about their team.  It’s so easy to get myopic, especially with Twitter, so it’s a good chance for us (and by us, I mean me) to take a step back and remember there are 29 other Major League Baseball teams.  We’ve got current bloggers, former bloggers that indulge me still, and this year a few media folks chiming in as well.  Get out the bat, ball, and glove: it’s time once again to play some pepper.

New York Mets
77-85, fourth in NL East
Website | Twitter
Last year’s Pepper

Has the tide finally turned?  For so long, it feels like the Mets have been sort of the punch line for a lot of MLB fans.  And while there are still things that some might poke fun at, it feels like new management has breathed a bit of life into this organization.  Is it enough to let them play with the heavyweights?  We’ve got a lot of Mets bloggers here to answer just that.  Well, not JUST that.

C70: What are your thoughts on the offseason? What was good, what was bad, what else should they have done?

Niko: As of this writing, I think the Mets offseason was a success. It was the first look into the vision of our new GM, Brodie Van Wagenen. The big splash this offseason was the trade to bring in one of the most exciting young arms in Baseball, Edwin Diaz, and a household name in Robinson Cano. Complemented with other solid additions, like catcher Wilson Ramos, infielder Jed Lowrie and lefty reliever Justin Wilson, this was a very refreshing offseason for a team, that, at least in recent years, is rather timid in the offseason. Hopefully this aggressive nature translates onto the playing field for the 2019 season.

Mack: There is a lot of good, no bad. and, under their budget restrictions, nothing more they could have done. Our new General Manager probably made the most major and minor league transactions (still going… inked IF Danny Espinosa yesterday) in the league. The best deal was the first one… an all-star closer (Edwin Diaz) and HOF infielder (Robinson Cano) for two dead contract and two undeveloped prospects. There wasn’t a big deal like Bryce Harper, but an off-season of plugging many holes to build a 2019 playoff team.

Michael: Well, the team is drastically different from this point last year, and that all starts with the outside-the-box hiring of agent-turned-GM Brodie Van Wagenen. Since he took the helm, the Mets acquired Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz, brought back Jeurys Familia, signed Justin Wilson, and solidified their lineup with Jed Lowrie and Wilson Ramos. They technically addressed all of their needs, but I am not certain that their position in the standings will change, considering the Phillies had possibly the best offseason of any MLB team, the Braves’ young guns will continue to get better, and the Nationals added Patrick Corbin.

Greg: The Mets appear to be an improved and deeper team than the one that disintegrated early last year. The depth part is critical given how
injuries have undermined them the past two years. Edwin Diaz as closer is a stunning step up. Jeurys Familia returning as not the closer should benefit all concerned. They have leaned a little on veteran savvy, which is a kind way of saying they got some older guys for the lineup. Cano, Ramos and Lowrie are all capable players who were probably better bets a couple of years ago. Win now, I suppose (though Lowrie isn’t playing now and might not for a spell).

Making a bigger splash in the free agent market would have been bold. The idea that Jeff McNeil‘s transition from infield to outfield precluded a run at Bryce Harper is laughable. I guess they worked with what they had.

Paul: The Mets were active this off-season, which automatically puts them ahead of about a third of the teams in MLB that don’t seem interested in winning in 2019. But I’m not sold on their plan of investing big in guys in their 30s who seem likely to spend as much time on the IL as they do on the field. With Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Wilson Ramos and Jed Lowrie, the Mets have more talent than they did in 2018. I’m just not sure it’s enough. They have shockingly little outfield depth, and there’s really no one to turn to if they need to replace a starter, unless they want to weaken the bullpen by taking Seth Lugo. And I think we were all hoping they’d lock Jacob deGrom up with a long-term contract by now.

AC: At first, I was skeptical about the Mets trading for Robinson Cano, he’s older, still owed a lot of money, and is coming off a year where he was suspended for PEDs. But when you look at his career numbers, you can’t help but expect positive results, no pun intended. Adding Edwin Diaz, an All-Star closer, in that deal for Cano addressed a glaring weakness from last season, an ineffective bullpen. And bringing in an offensive-minded catcher in Wilson Ramos, was a great move. I’m also looking forward to see how Chili Davis‘ make-contact approach to hitting will play out for their offense. As for a negative, maybe a veteran fifth starter but it’s not a big concern for me.

Chris: The Mets should have been in on at least one of Manny Machado or Bryce Harper, but they continue to completely avoid acquiring the best players in baseball when they hit the open market. These generational talents should not have been ignored, and the team should have added one of them and made all of the other moves that it did. In isolation, each move they made was good. There’s certainly a revamped roster in place here, but seeing them not go all in on contending is frustrating.

Matthew: Oh boy. Um, well, they certainly could have tried harder to obtain the entire 2018 AL All-Star team. They got three of them, leaving some intriguing names on the table. I mean, sure, I’m joking here, but the list includes Manny Machado, Craig Kimbrel, and Corey Kluber, so it’s partly serious.

Collections aside, they got enough players to field a real major league team, so that’s, good? In all, the new front office picked up more than three dozen players for the majors, minors, and indeterminate points between, so there’s a lot to process here. Honestly, I lost track somewhere around Justin Wilson. They stocked the bullpen, beefed up the infield, got a legitimate starting catcher, and seem to be counting on Yoenis Cespedesreturning sooner rather than later. Yeah, that last part’s kind of a problem. When you start hyping a player’s expected midseason return as being like a big trade deadline deal in January, that’s certainly less than ideal. Until then, enjoy the Jeff McNeil Left Field Experiment.

Jon: The Mets began their offseason by naming Brodie Van Wagenen, an agent with no front office experience, as their general manager. A month later, Van Wagenen traded the Mets’ two top prospects for Robinson Cano, 36 years old with five years left on his massive contract, who was suspended last year for using a banned substance, and star reliever Edwin Diaz. Then there were news reports that the Mets were shopping Noah Syndergaard, which would contradict the apparent strategy of trying to win now with a team built around starting pitching.

But Syndergaard did not get traded, and Van Wagenen started making moves that improved the team without sacrificing the remaining top prospects. He brought back Jeurys Familia, realizing that Diaz alone would not fix the bullpen. He signed Wilson Ramos, realizing that Travis d’Arnaud cannot stay healthy. He signed Jed Lowrie to give the Mets a versatile player who can start at multiple positions. Van Wagenen also acquired players such as Keon Broxton and J.D. Davis.

Now the Mets have a better lineup, more depth, and an improved bullpen. But many of the acquisitions are over 30. With Todd Frazier, 33, hurt, Lowrie could take over third base, except that the soon-to-be-35 Lowrie is hurt as well. Van Wagenen may have made the Mets better for 2019, but he has not made them younger.

C70: Who is the player most likely to pick up the mantle of “face of the franchise” that David Wright laid down?

Niko: This is a great question, one that might not be defined this year, or anytime soon. David Wright was a phenomenal player on the field, but his camaraderie with his teammates and excellent off the field philanthropic work set him apart from the rest of the pack. When David Wright established this title of “face of the franchise” it was immediately following the departure of Mike Piazza, which created a natural segue of sorts. In the future, I’d love to see Jacob deGrom, Michael Conforto, or even Brandon Nimmo reach that level, but only time will tell.

Mack: Some feel that pitcher Jacob deGrom has already done that but Jake’s quiet approach off-field might not make him the right choice. My guess it will be outfielder Michael Conforto. He’s young, talented, already has been an all-star, and (like David) is a heart throb.

Michael: There is no question that this is Jacob DeGrom’s team. Although he’s not quite the “Ra! Ra!” type of personality that Noah Syndergaard is, he leads by example, and he has a Cy Young award to provide that. Now, the Mets need to reward his performance with an extension.

Greg: There won’t be another David Wright for a while, if ever. There wasn’t a David Wright before David Wright, not in the all-around homegrown
player who never left and put himself out there from all angles to represent the team. But I’d be surprised if Michael Conforto doesn’t emerge as the everyday go-to guy, while Noah Syndergaard continues to make himself interesting between starts. Jacob deGrom is clearly the Met who begins every conversation in general.

See? It’s gonna take at least three players to fill the vacuum David left behind.

Paul: Right now, it’s Jacob deGrom….but it’s even money whether he will even be a Met in 2020. Noah Syndergaard maybe? He’s got the larger than life persona to fill the role.

AC: That’s tough to tell. Maybe it will be more of a collective effort from their young players, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, and Amed Rosario. However, if the front office locks up Jacob deGrom to an extension, he would be a good bet to carry that mantle.

Chris: Folks don’t often assign that sort of thing to pitchers, but Jacob deGrom seems to be the most logical choice for that at the moment. More so if the Mets are willing to pay him—one of the best players in baseball, so that’s not a guarantee—what he deserves to sign a long-term deal.

Matthew: Well, the literal interpretation is obvious. If Brandon Nimmo isn’t the Face of the Franchise, it’s not a franchise I want to be a part of. And if you’ve ever met the guy, you could absolutely see him taking over David Wright’s role in the clubhouse. He had a breakout season last year, so hopefully that keeps him in the lineup this season. But this team’s track record with young position players doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence.

Jon: Tom Seaver’s family just announced that the greatest and most important player in Mets history has to retire from public life due to dementia . This sad news comes as the Mets prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the legendary 1969 World Champions, so thoughts and memories of Seaver will once again be front and center in the minds of Mets fans.

C70: Is pitching still the core of this team and the best indicator of how the season will go?

Niko: As we’ve seen from the countless injuries in years past, the analogy “you can never have too much pitching” could not be any more true. With that being said, however, most teams in the National League would only dream of having a rotation with Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz and company, so, yes, pitching is still a strength of this team and should continue to be one for may years to come. If anything, the Mets should be focusing on locking some of these players down long term…. **cough** deGrom **cough**

Mack: Yes. Definitely. And the talent past the top four is thin. This whole team will crumble if injuries set in here.

Michael: Absolutely. Since the offense improved, the pitching will decide how this team does in 2019. Health is paramount, obviously, and what are you going to get out of Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz? Is Wheeler the unpredictable guy we saw prior to the second half last year or has he finally emerged as a top-of-the-rotation guy? As for Matz, can he stay healthy and can he be more consistent? Only time will tell. And then there’s Jason Vargas…ugh.

Greg: Pitching is the strength of this team, what differentiates it from better offensively equipped NL East rivals. If deGrom, Syndergaard, Wheeler and Matz aren’t the best thing about this team, either we’re many games out of first place or we’re experiencing an offensive renaissance unlike any that could be reasonably projected.

Paul: The Mets will rely on their starting five in 2019. Not many teams can boast a better top three than deGrom, Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler. But there’s a pretty big drop off between Wheeler and Steven Matz and Jason Vargas. The rotation’s success will be a key factor in the team’s success, but I think the best indicator of how they are doing will be the IL. If the Mets can keep their regulars in the lineup, I like their chances. If not, well, I don’t like their depth very much.

AC: Yes and no. The starting pitching gives them the best chance to overcome the ultra-competitive NL East. Yet, for them to stay consistent, the offense needs to hold up their end of the bargain and help the starters out.

Chris: Yes. If injuries or performance hamper the starting rotation, or if the bullpen isn’t as deep as it looks on paper, the season will not go well.

Matthew: Yes, but not necessarily for the right reasons. The rotation is the only thing left unchanged from last season (well, that and ownership…), so it’s as close to a known quantity as there is with the Mets. That leaves very little margin for error as the rest of the team finds its footing over the course of the season. Add to that the lack of starting pitching depth and any problem with the rotation could doom the team’s chances. Sure, Chris “Not Good Enough for a Rookie Card from Topps” Flexen is in the best shape of anyone’s life and looks like he can literally carry the team, but it’s mostly question marks and lottery tickets behind the top four starters.

The more subtle indicator to watch for is player utilization. This team is more a collection of odds and ends than a traditional team, so it’s going to take some skill (or a lot of freak injuries) to make the most of the available talent. There should be plenty of opportunities for everyone, but the tendency to play underperforming veterans over up-and-coming young players could keep this team from reaching its full potential. And if Pete Alonso is healthy and in the minors three weeks into the season, something has gone horribly wrong.

Jon: The starters were fairly healthy last year for a change, their 3.54 ERA was fourth best in the league, but the Mets still won just 77 games. That’s what happens when your bullpen is next to last in the NL with a 4.96 ERA. The starting pitching remains the core of the team, but the Mets aren’t going anywhere without a significantly improved bullpen.

C70: What is your general outlook for 2019? Where will they finish in the division?

Niko: I see the Phillies and Braves as superior teams compared to us in Queens, so I don’t see the Mets making the postseason this year, unless if the Central and West are weak, in which case we might be able to squeak into a Wild Card spot. The team is an improvement over years’ past, but the division is simply too competitive, so I foresee a third place finish with 84 to 86 wins.

Mack: Tough to say today. Right now, I have four teams around even here. For me, the pennant winner is the team that snags Harper. Past that, I’d say wild card.

Michael: This is the year for the Mets to take a big step forward, and that starts with competitive baseball in September. If you held a gun to my head, which I prefer you didn’t, I’d say the Mets compete for a Wild Card spot and ultimately fall short in the final weeks of the season. The Phillies will win the Division and the Braves will snag one of the Wild Card spots. I would love to be wrong.

Greg: If the Mets didn’t actually have to play anybody, I’d be convinced they could go far. Because they are going up against three very formidable opponents, I’m in “who the hell knows?” territory. Given the debacles of the past two seasons, a team that competes and possibly contends would represent a welcome chance.

I’m reminded of the preseasons of my youth, in the early and mid-’70s, when I believed the Mets could win, but also understood they could be pretty good (which was generally their ceiling then) and still not win. It’s a tough division.

Paul: If everything breaks perfectly, the Mets could win their division. A little good luck lets them hang around in the wild card race. But my actual prediction is a third place finish with around 85 wins.

AC: I like their chances to stay in the hunt throughout the season. I’d feel more confident in those chances if Bryce Harper signed with a team outside of their division, haha. I’m gonna aim low and say 3rd place.

Chris: I’m as down on this team as I have been at any point over the past several years. They could win the division, but it’s just as easy to see them finishing fourth. I’m sure they will not finish fifth, and I’ll go with an optimistic second-place finish as my prediction here.

Matthew: Ahead of the Marlins. Beyond that, there’s just too much variance to say anything with any certainty. Let’s say 84 wins +/-6 and 3rd place +/-1. The NL East is a division filled with unknowns this year, which should make things interesting. Expect one team to break out in a big way, one to utterly collapse, two to be competitive but come up short, and one to be the Marlins.

Jon: While I remain skeptical about the long-term outlook for the Cano trade, Van Wagenen has built a potential contender for 2019. But the Mets are in a very tough division, so I’ll say 85 wins and third place.

C70: What’s the biggest question for this team going into the season and what’s the answer to it?

Niko: I answer this question the same way each and every year: Injuries. At the end of the day, luck will dictate how this season goes. While there is some promise, the team still lacks depth in many respects, and if we have to dig deep into the minor leagues to replace people, things are going to fall apart like they did the last two years. Luckily, there are some really exciting young prospects, like Peter Alonso, ready to take the reins from Todd Frazier in the not-to-distant future, and I’m excited to see the continued growth of our younger players, like Jeff McNeil and Amed Rosario.

Mack: Our thinnest position is outfield, but that all goes away if converted infielder Jeff McNeil works out there. He was the league leader in batting average last season as a late arriving second baseman. Also, has a 20+ home run history. He would fill the last hole until some guy named Cespedes returns (if ever).

Michael: Who’s the player who needs to break out and take this team to the next level? For me, it’s Michael Conforto. I think he has the talent and skills to be a legitimate candidate for National League MVP. Now I am probably going to be knocked for that, but it’s fine. I don’t believe all of the pressure should be on rookie Pete Alonso. I think Conforto’s not a baby anymore, and it’s time for him to step up and build off of his strong September.

Greg: How will first base shake out? Pete Alonso has impressed in Spring Training, and he’ll probably be given every chance to grab the position, either after service time considerations are accounted for or, heaven forbid, when the season starts. Dominic Smith, former first round draft choice, is on his third iteration of turning the corner, and has inserted himself into the conversation. They both have bats you’d love to see get a real shot.

The lineup in general, sans Cespedes and even without knowing the health status of Lowrie and Frazier, feels like something is missing. A first baseman who is a regular threat to drive in runs would go along way toward cohesiveness.

Paul: Can Yoenis Cespedes come back and play often enough and well enough to impact the pennant race? I’m going to say no….Yo has a very indefinite timeframe for a return, and he’s had so much trouble staying on the field that it’s a big reach to count on him. And the Mets need so many other things to go right to be in a late season pennant race in the first place.

AC: Watching Spring Training so far, their lineup tends to lean to the left. And with the injuries to Todd Frazier and switch-hitting Jed Lowrie, a lot will be asked of right-handed-hitting Wilson Ramos, Amed Rosario, and Pete Alonso, assuming he makes the ballclub Opening Day, to balance things out.

Chris: What do Michael Conforto, Amed Rosario, and Pete Alonso have in store? Even assuming good pitching health, just how good these young guys are this year could make a major difference in how many games the team wins and where it finishes in the division—and whether or not it’ll make the playoffs.

Matthew: At the moment, “Will Jacob deGrom be the next ‘Tom Seaver: Franchise Ace’ or the next ‘Tom Seaver: Midnight Massacre?’” is the big question. I don’t see how the Mets could let deGrom go, but they let Seaver go. Twice. How this plays out will be very telling.

Jon: What, if anything, will the Mets get from Yoenis Cespedes? He underwent surgery on both heels and is out indefinitely. Two months of peak Cespedes in 2015 propelled the Mets to a division title and they went on to the World Series. But with no timetable for his return and the Mets’ poor record of managing injuries, the answer is to plan on being without Cespedes this season.

C70: What do you expect will give you the most joy watching this team on a regular basis this season?

Niko: Watching baseball is always a joy, win or lose, so just going out to the ballpark will be a fun experience, as always. That being said, going out to see Jacob deGrom starts will feel extra special this year, almost with the same allure as Mets’ fans had going to Dwight Gooden starts in the 1980s.

Mack: Well, for me, it’s always been the pitching. Seaver. Gooden. And now deGrom and Syndergaard. Make sure you catch a Noah Syndergaard game. It is so much fun watching him hurl it, especially in his first three innings.

Michael: The development of Amed Rosario should be a big point of emphasis this year. Talk is cheap, and I’ve seen that Gary DisCarcina already compared him to Xander Bogaerts. Of course, we Mets’ fans would love that, but I think Amed needs to stay within himself and he’ll be fine. Sometimes I think he’s a little too much in his own head, and he should just focus on spraying the ball to all fields and playing a consistent defense at short.

Greg: Gary Cohen on TV and Howie Rose on the radio make every season golden. On the field, seeing a youthful core coalesce among Conforto, Nimmo, Rosario and one of the aforementioned first basemen would make it platinum.

Oh, and deGrom. Even a season a little less spectacular than 2018’s would be outstanding.

Paul: Jacob deGrom’s excellence. Amed Rosario’s development. Finding out what Peter Alonso can do.

AC: Watching the projected rotation, one through four, of deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, and Steven Matz. Of course, they all have to stay healthy.

Chris: Jacob deGrom is the easy answer again. Noah Syndergaard should be really fun to watch this year, too, and Edwin Diaz seems like he’ll be a lot of fun because of his mix of personality and sheer dominance. If Rosario breaks out, he’ll be a lot of fun, too, and Brandon Nimmo should keep everyone smiling with his perpetual large grin.

Matthew: Did you say joy? Again, that would be Brandon Nimmo. Really though, it’s great seeing young players come up through the minors and have an impact at the major league level. I see more minor league games than major league games (mainly due to being out of market and too cheap to buy a streaming service plan), so I’ve gotten to see Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, Amed Rosario, Jeff Mcneil, Pete Alonso, and many others at earlier points in their careers. Most never make it to the majors and many more make it but don’t stick. It’s truly special to see a player live up to unreasonable prospect hype or overcome obstacles in the minors to find success with the big league club.

 

OK, I lied. I will almost certainly get the most joy from seeing my greatest creation pop up everywhere I expect and then some. From the moment I captured this clip, I knew it had the makings of something special that conveyed the Mets experience better than anything else. But I never could have imagined that it would resonate with #MetsTwitter quite this much. It’s almost a given that I will see some random person using it 162 times a season. Even if the team goes 162-0 and all of their postseason opponents forfeit in fear, every day will find some reason to bring shame upon the club. And so we hang our heads with Mr. Met (sometimes because of Mr. Met…) and come back the next day full of hope for what will probably be another lost season or a postseason run that just falls painfully short. Because even when everything comes crashing down, there’s a GIF for that. And somehow, that makes it all seem a little bit better.

Jon: Seeing the starting pitchers continue the Mets legacy of excellence established by Seaver. Last year, Jacob deGrom won the Cy Young Award with a 1.70 ERA. Noah Syndergaard went 13-4 in an injury-shortened year. In the second half, Zack Wheeler was 9-1 with a 1.68 ERA. Could the Mets have multiple aces?

Daniel thanks all of these folks for taking some time and talking about the Mets.  (Also, as always, Matthew has his answers illustrated with baseball cards if you are interested in that.) They’ve got a tough task ahead of them in that division but pitching, as we know, goes a long way!

My Trip to Spring Training… 2019 (Part 1)!

I’ve been making the trip down to Spring Training since the year 2013, each year re-energizing me into the spirit of America’s pastime.

This year, I decided to take a three day trip down in to the heart of the Treasure Coast in Florida, and take in games at both FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, Florida, and First Data Field in Port St. Lucie, Florida.

The former, FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, is a brand new facility, which opened in the year 2016, and is home to both the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals.

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The teams essentially flip and flop home games, which means there is a game at the ballpark pretty much every single day, which is great.

On the day I attended, I went to see the New York Mets play the Houston Astros at their facility. Parking was rather simple and intuitive, and was available for $10. After getting settled, we had to take a golf-cart shuttle to the top of the hill where we were met with a long line to purchase tickets.

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Thankfully they opened up one of the Will Call desks, and that sped up the process, somewhat.

Eventually we had our tickets in hand, and went through the metal detectors (grr..)

We decided to disregard the seating location on the ticket stub, and took a nice seat down the left field line, with the intention to bounce around periodically as the game progressed.

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Noah Syndergaard pitched two scoreless innings to start, and some minor league pitchers followed with mixed results.

Despite it being an “Astros home game” the ballpark was filled with Orange & Blue, with (at least) 50% of the crowd being Mets fans.

With that being said, there were plenty of ‘stros fans, including the biggest one of all, Orbit (think of a Astros-loving-astronomical-themed-Philly-Phanatic) doing a great job entertaining the crowd.

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The food in the ballpark was also really, really, good, and all of the stands were in an open-air concourse with a specific name, like “Beachwood Burgers”, which I sampled, and thoroughly enjoyed.

Lastly, there were abundantly different and unique seating locations throughout the ballpark alongside a huge berm that stretched the entire length of the outfield.

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I would highly recommend taking in a game at the Ballpark of The Palm Beaches, especially if you’re looking for a family friendly, easy going environment.. the best kind for Spring Training!