Sports Beat “Matt wins the big matchups”

It’s unlikely that the Mets will be playing meaningful games this coming September but starting pitcher Matt Harvey has singlehandedly given the Flushing faithful a commodity that they have lacked for a long time–hope.

Harvey was the Mets’ top pick (seventh overall) in the 2010 Major League baseball amateur draft. Of course given the Mets’ checkered history with “can’t miss prospects” it’s understandable to take a wait-and-see attitude. He came up for the proverbial cup of coffee with the Mets in August 2012 and was far more impressive than his three-win, five-loss record showed.

When it became clear that Johan Santana would be lost for the 2013 season it was imperative for Mets management that Matt Harvey succeed . He has delivered so far beyond even the most optimistic Mets’ fans wildest dreams as this month he has beaten two of baseball’s best pitchers, the Phillies’ Roy Halladay and Washington Nationals’ phenomenon, Stephen Strasburg. It was the first time that I could recall the Mets winning a game against either pitcher.

A bonus for the Mets is that Matt Harvey is not a wimp in the batter’s box. He is arguably the best hitting pitcher that they have had in ages.

San Diego may have the best year-round climate in the US as it never gets cold in the winter nor hot and humid in the summer. New York baseball fans may want to consider taking lengthy August vacations there as the Yankees will play the Padres the weekend of August 2-4 while the Mets come into Petco Park exactly two weeks later.

There are a lot of great hotels that provide a lot of amenities at reasonable rates and have friendly staff to boot. The West Inn & Suites located in the North San Diego town of Carlsbad is a new boutique hotel that is a short walk from the Pacific Ocean. Its two fine dining restaurants, Bistro West and West Steak And Seafood, are as  popular with the locals as they are with hotel guests.

The historic  Grande Colonial in the La Jolla Village section of San Diego is celebrating its centennial this year. It’s located two blocks from La Jolla Cove where the sea lions and seals like to reside. The Grande Colonial’s 910 Restaurant has won numerous culinary awards for it California cuisine. All of its rooms are quite spacious.

A third option is the Hyatt Regency La Jolla located just off I-5 in the hip University Town Center neighborhood. Its central location, Olympic-sized outdoor swimming pool, and relaxing concierge lounge make it one of my favorite chain hotels.

*****

Mets players are probably still thawing out from their first road trip of the season that included stops in frigid Minneapolis and snowy Denver. Mets relief pitcher LaTroy Hawkins played the first seven years of his big league career for the Twins but they played in a dome stadium back then instead of their current outdoor ballpark, Target Field. “I would never have lasted if I had to play outdoors in April with them!” he told me.

Dillon Gee couldn’t have picked a better time to come up with a big game than last Sunday when he threw nearly six innings of shutout ball against the very potent lineup of the Washington Nationals as the Mets would go on to win 2-0. Gee had been roughed up in his first three starts of the season but it should be noted that he pitched in some very brutal weather.

The annual ESPN Day at the Tribeca Film Festival will take place this Saturday. Among the sports documentaries that will be screened at the Tribeca Cinemas are “Big Shot,” a film about former Islanders owner John Spano who bought the team in 1996 despite having few assets to his name, and “Lenny Cooke,” which recounts the sad tale of the Brooklyn native hoops star who many scouts felt had more natural talent than either LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, or Amar’e Stoudemire when he declared himself eligible for the 2002 NBA Draft. He was not selected by an NBA team that night and he forfeited a college career in the process.

It had been a foregone conclusion that the Jets were going to trade their All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis but getting back only a first-round pick (the thirteenth overall) in Thursday’s NFL Draft as well as a fourth round pick next year from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers does not strike me as a good return for new Jets general manager John Idzik.

The Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League will have some name former major leaguers playing for them this summer. One of the best hitters over the last 20 years, Vladimir Guerrero, will be trying to make a career comeback as will pitcher Dontrelle Willis and former Mets catcher Ramon Castro.

Pat Summerall’s stentorian voice and no-nonsense erudite play-by-play broadcast style disproved the myth that former athletes could only be used in limited game analyst or pre and post-game roles. He was also the first sports anchor on WCBS-AM when that station switched in 1967 from music to the all-news format that continues to this day. Pat had been in declining health in recent years so his passing last week was not unexpected. Nonetheless he will be missed.

The Rangers have been a disappointment in this shortened NHL season but they may be turning things around at the most important time. They looked quite sharp Sunday in defeating the New Jersey Devils 4-1 at the Garden which eliminated the team from Newark from the playoffs. The Blueshirts are holding on to the eighth and final seed in the Eastern Conference as they head into the final weekend of the regular season.

The media will understandably remind all of us about what happened in Boston last week when the New York Marathon comes around next November. There is no way that safety can be guaranteed against psychopaths on a 26.2 mile outdoor route. Law enforcement officials will do their best and we should do ours as well by not cowering in fear and living our lives to the fullest extent.

Hot cereals such as oatmeal tend to be eaten more in the winter than other times of the year. Nonetheless the cardiovascular benefits that come from quality organic oatmeal from brands as Better Oats and One Degree should not be forgotten about in warmer weather. Both Starbucks and Jamba Juice sell oatmeal in their stores if you are out of the house.

As a kid I loved  Cheez Doodles. It is still a guilty junk food pleasure. A cleverly named company from Connecticut however, Sneaky Snacks, has created a healthier alternative with its White Cheddar Baked Super Puffs that are lower in calories and contain more fiber and protein.

Even well-known liquor companies are realizing that more of us are watching our weight. Smirnoff has introduced a Sorbet Light of fruit-flavored vodkas that it is touting as “reduced calorie.” I guess if you can have light beer than why not reduced calorie vodka?

BET, the leading African-American cable television network introduced its fall programming last week to media and advertisers last week. To promote its fledgling Centric Network, which you can think of as a soulful VH-1Classic, BET executives brought out legendary singer Chaka Khan who can still hit the high notes to “Tell Me Something Good” as if it were still 1975.

A new show, “Strive To Thrive,” starring the attractive husband and wife team of Boris Kodjoe and Nicole Ari Parker, will try to educate the public on how to live healthier lives through proper nutrition and realistic exercise ideas. Kodjoe is one of the stars on BET”s biggest hit, “The Real Husbands of Hollywood,” that brilliant parodies the Bravo Network’s endless “Real Wives” franchise.

Posted under Baseball Amateur Draft, Baseball Fans, Checkered History, Cold In The Winter, Cup Of Coffee, Fine Dining Restaurants, Hotel Guests, Johan Santana, Lloyd Carroll, Major League Baseball, Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, Mets Fans, New York Mets, Roy Halladay, Starting Pitcher, Time Hope, Top Story, Washington Nationals, Wildest Dreams, York Baseball

2013 Mets Outlook “Waiting for d’Arnaud (and Wheeler too)

Mets fans have not had much to cheer about in recent years and it’s fairly safe to say that even the most optimistic fans of the Amazin’s cannot picture this team competing for a post-season berth this year.

While the team’s 2013 record will probably be abysmal, there is hope down on the farm. The Mets traded their Cy Young Award-winning pitcher RA Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays during the winter s they did not want to obligate themselves to a long-term, multi-million dollar contract to a 39 year-old knuckleball pitcher.

Normally the fans and media would be up in arms against Mets management for thinking yet again like a parsimonious small market team but the reaction was fairly muted. The key reason that everyone seemed willing to take a wait-and-see attitude were two young players the Mets received in return: pitcher Noah Syndergaard and catcher Travis d’Arnaud.

Syndergaard appears to be at least a full year away, and more likely two, from making the big league team. The timetable for d’Arnaud’s arrival in Flushing is more imminent. He would probably have been the Opening Day catcher but the Mets understandably want to delay his ability to demand both arbitration and free agency so they are stashing him away in their Las Vegas AAA team until late spring.

If scouting reports are accurate, Travis d’Arnaud will be the best catcher the Mets had since Mike Piazza served as their backstop from 1998-2006. That doesn’t mean of course that d’Arnaud will be the second coming of Piazza. Most Mets fans will be content if he is as good as John Stearns, a fine catcher who played in Queens from the mid ‘70s until the early 1980s.

Even though he has not played one game in the majors, d’Arnaud must be a pretty good prospect. He came up through the Phillies organization and was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay. As mentioned previously, he was the key component in the RA Dickey deal.

Sandy Alderson’s first big move as Mets general manager was obtaining pitching prospect Zach Wheeler from the San Francisco Giants in 2011 in exchange for Carlos Beltran whose contract with the Mets would have expired in two more months anyway. Wheeler is probably ready for prime time right now but he is in the same boat as d’Arnaud. The Mets know that they are not going to be winning anything this year so they might as well have both of those young prospects under their control with less economic rights for them as long as possible.

Mets manager should not have trouble slotting in Wheeler into his starting rotation once he is called up to the Mets from Las Vegas. Johan Santana, who missed all of the 2011 season with shoulder surgery, badly struggled with arm problems following his no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals on June 1, 2012. It was the first no-hitter in the Mets’ fifty-year history and it must have angered the baseball gods. Johan was ineffective afterwards as he was pummeled in six straight starts before the Mets decided to put him on the disabled list in August.

Mets executives fantasized that Santana, who would be earning $25.5 million in the final year of his current deal with the Mets, would do what Ponce de Leon couldn’t; namely discover the Fountain of Youth.

Unfortunately that was not meant to be. Santana was understandably treating his left arm, his livelihood, with extreme caution when he reported to the Mets spring training camp in Port St. Lucie, Florida. A frustrated Sandy Alderson groused about his ace not being in pitching shape. Santana, a man of understandable pride, did not take kindly to the criticism and started throwing hard off of the pitching mound probably sooner than he should have.

We’ll never know if Alderson’s stinging comments were to blame but the end result is that Santana reinjured his left shoulder and will probably miss the entire 2013 season. His career is clearly in jeopardy.

The Mets starting pitching staff, while not great is not terrible either. Matt Harvey will be entering his sophomore season and he showed that he was able to dominate hitters with his fastball and curve. Jonathon Niese, who has been basically a .500 pitcher thorough his first three years in the majors. Of course given the Mets’ inept play during that time you can make an argument that Niese has been an All-Star. Dillon Gee missed the second half of the 2012 season with a blood clot in his right arm. Gee was great in 2011 going 13-6 but he struggled in the second half that year, and was mediocre in the first half of 2012. He did inspire confidence in spring training as opposing hitters smacked him around.

Shawn Marcum was a rare free agent for whom the Mets opened their wallets. Marcum has been a very good, though far from dominating, pitcher in his seven-year career with the Toronto Blue Jays and Milwaukee Brewers. Marcum was on the disabled list during 2012 with an injured elbow.  During spring training, Marcum’s elbow was fine but his neck wasn’t. Marcum will start the 2013 season where he ended the 2012 campaign–on the disabled list.

If the Mets starting pitching is questionable, their bullpen is even a bigger mystery. Nominal closer Frank Francisco was a disaster last year and this year he starts the season on the DL with an injured elbow. The Mets probably won’t have that many ninth inning leads to protect this year so their bullpen has not received a lot of scrutiny.

Bobby Parnell, who routinely got beaten up like a pinata in the ninth inning, finally showed that he could handle the pressures of the ninth inning late last season and will be the closer for now according to Mets manager Terry Collins. Newly acquired Brandon Lyon, the other “big” Mets free agent signing, should be getting a lot of eighth inning work. The rest of the relief corps are comprised of obscure journeymen such as Scott Atchison, Greg Burke, Scott Rice, and one-time Yankees pitcher LaTroy Hawkins.

Mets fans won’t have to face a summer asking themselves about what will happen to the face of the franchise. In their most significant move of the off-season, the Mets signed David Wright to an eight-year, $160 million contract. Last month, the perennial All-Star third baseman was named to be the fourth captain in Mets history.

Wright has long been the de facto team leader but the official recognition of those skills by Mets management is a smart thing. This year however David may be sounding as if he is auditioning for “Annie” as he will surely spend a lot of time reassuring fans that the sun will come out tomorrow after every loss and there will be a lot of them.

There hasn’t been a lot of good news for Mets with respect to the 2013 season so let me emphasize one very important upbeat note. First baseman Ike Davis is completely healthy. In the past two years Davis has battled both leg injuries and Valley Fever which sapped his strength. Davis is the Mets’ best power hitter in a lineup with little pop so the odds are that opposing pitchers will not give him much to hit. Ike will have to be patient when batting.

Another player who will have to learn the art of patience at the plate is leftfielder Lucas Duda. He reminds many Mets fans of Dave Kingman, a guy who couldn’t field and struck out with great frequency but would occasionally get a hold of a fastball and hit it a country mile. Duda’s lone asset of belting home runs did not make up for his liabilities last season and he was sent down to the Mets’ AAA Buffalo Bisons farm club.

An argument can be made that Daniel Murphy is the best pure hitter in the Mets lineup. He missed most of spring training with a mysterious injury but appears to be OK now. Given the Mets’ puny offense, manager Terry Collins has no choice but to accept Murphy’s fielding errors at second base in order to have his bat in the lineup. In fairness to Murphy, he has worked hard at the position and is not the egregious liability out there that many feared.

There was a lot of anger emanating from Mets fans at the end of 2011 when the team chose not to make their star shortstop and free agent-to-be, Jose Reyes, even a nominal offer to stay in Flushing. The Mets may have been awful last year but no one could fault Reyes’s understudy, Ruben Tejada, who did a fine job both in the field and on offense last season. Tejada struggled at the plate this past spring however.

A lot has been written about the flimsy Mets outfield. Lucas Duda will be in left while 35 year-old veteran Marlon Byrd, who was suspended for 50 games in 2012 for using a substance that Major League Baseball frowns upon, will be in right. Not much is known about centerfielder Colin Cowgill who is a castoff from the Oakland Athletics. At least Whitestone native and Molloy High School alum Mike Baxter is still on the team and he should see a lot of playing time.

The Mets are excited about Jordany Valdespin who can play both infield and outfield positions and who possesses home run power. Valdespin though is frequently guilty of poor decision-making in the field and at the plate. He became an easy joke for comedians during spring training when he was hit by a fastball in the groin and was not wearing proper protection.

The Mets will surely improve in the coming years but the odds are that current manager Terry Collins will not be around to enjoy them. Collins has done as good a job as can be expected with the limited talent that he has had available. Nonetheless attendance and interest in the team has been down and the odds are that Mets CEO Fred Wilpon, and his son, chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon, will want to have longtime manager-in-waiting, as well as a member of the Mets’ 1986 World Series-winning team, Wally Backman, at the helm next year.

As Terry Collins and most Mets fans know, life is not always fair.

Posted under Aaa Team, Amazin, Cy Young, Cy Young Award, Cy Young Award Winner, Dollar Contract, Knuckleball Pitcher, Late Spring, Lloyd Carroll, Mets Fans, Mid 70s, Mike Piazza, New York Mets, Ra Dickey, Roy Halladay, Scouting Reports, Second Coming, Top Story

Sportsbeat – 4/16/11

When Mets fans look back at the 2011 season I have a feeling that the team’s sixth game of the season–a 11-0 loss at the hands of Roy Halladay and the Phillies–will loom large as a negative turning point.

Getting shut out by Halladay is no disgrace but the Mets were coming into the game with a 3-2 record. If they could have pulled off a miracle and won the game, they would have opened the season at Citi Field with a ton of momentum. Instead, they were reminded why the Phillies are the varsity team while they are lucky to be considered the J.V. Their confidence clearly took a hit and they proceeded to lose six of their first seven games at Citi Field.

I wonder if any Mets fans are secretly missing Luis Castillo after watching Brad “Rule 5″ Emaus play second base?

Mets fans looking for an escape from the dreary reality of their 2011 team should read “162-0: A Mets Perfect Season” (Triumph Books) by veteran sports reporter Howie Karpin. The book is an almanac that highlights the most inspiring Mets victories in their 49-year history on a given date. It is fun to see such forgotten names as Butch Huskey, Ed Bressoud, Bob Aspromonte and Jack Hamilton, among many others.

Bill White was one of the most feared home run hitters of the 1960s but he is best remembered for being the first African-American baseball broadcaster (he was the voice of the Yankees on WPIX in the pre-cable era) as well as president of the National League. He has written a memoir with a rather controversial title, “Uppity.” Aside from making no secret of his contempt for former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent, there is very little negative here. In fact, White has deep praise for the late Phil Rizzuto.

Cable’s Comedy Central has been making a strong push into the world of sports comedy. Earlier this year, they had a weekly half-hour show ESPN Sportscenter spoof called “Onion Sports Dome” that came from the popular humor newspaper, “The Onion.” Taking its Tuesday night slot last week was the debut of “Sports Show with Norm MacDonald.”

Norm MacDonald was the “Weekend Update” anchor on “Saturday Night Live” but his droll wit did not mesh well with the tastes of NBC majordomo Don Ohlmeyer who ordered Lorne Michaels to fire him. While I have always admired MacDonald’s comedy, and it’s great to see him on TV again, he did not seem comfortable hosting “Sports Show.”

One bit that seemed forced had MacDonald taking over LA Clippers forward Blake Griffin”s body and voice. Griffin’s teammates could not figure out why Blake was sounding funny and looking like a spaz during a shootaround. Hilarious, it wasn’t. It seemed even less funny five minutes later when Griffin appeared in a commercial for Subway’s breakfast sandwiches. Coincidence? I think not.

Last year, few people knew much about Tru TV. That was one of the reasons that Turner Entertainment, Tru’s corporate parent, invested in the NCAA men’s Basketball Tournament package. “We are now in high def in 50 million homes that we weren’t last year,” Turner Sports president David Levy told me. This fall Tru TV will have a reality show based on the ups and downs of a semi-professional football team that will be produced by NFL Films. At least they’ll have something to do in case the lockout continues into the fall.

Discovery Networks is hoping to debut a new channel aimed towards men who are in high tax brackets called Velocity this fall. With programming on high-end automobiles, private aircrafts, and top vacation resorts, Discovery executives are hoping that Velocity will be an upscale Spike TV.

The late Arthur Ashe was the kind of athlete that we don’t see very much of anymore. He was a champion on the court and off of it as he believed that helping others was more important then self-enrichment. One of Arthur’s many lasting legacies is the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health whose mission is to educate people on medical issues in non-traditional places such as barbershops and nail salons. The Institute also funds scholarships for high school students seeking careers in medicine and its allied health fields. Among those honored at the annual AAIUH dinner last week was veteran New York Times sports columnist William C. Rhoden.

Under Armour has signed Tom Brady, Michael Phelps and Lindsey Vonn to promote its new line of T-shirts the company calls Charged Cotton. Under Armour claims that Charged Cotton dries five times faster than most other t-shirts after a workout. It was a smart move of UA to hire Vonn as a spokesperson since she is one of the most attractive athletes of all-time. A lot of guys break into a sweat just seeing a photo of her!

It will be interesting to see whether EA reveals who will be on the box cover of Madden ‘12 during the NFL draft in light of the lockout. To its credit, EA, will be aggressively warning of the dangers of concussions in its latest Madden edition.

The story of Bryan Stow, a Giants fan who was nearly beaten to death outside of Dodgers Stadium by a pair of hoodlums because he wore a Giants jacket, is a sick and sad one. The fact that it happened in L.A. was surprising to me but not to film director and Philadelphia native Sean Kirkpatrick whose “Cost of a Soul” opens in theaters next month. “There have been a lot fights at LA stadiums and arenas. The image that every Los Angeles sports fan is mellow and laid-back is a myth fostered by the local media,” claims Kirkpatrick, who acknowledges that Philly fans can be brutal but at least no one has ever wound up in a coma for rooting for the visiting team.

The Islanders did the right thing in rewarding Jack Capuano with a two-year contract as the team’s head coach.

LeBron James is treading into Bill Cosby territory with a new animated feature on YouTube called “The LeBrons” which is clearly modeled after Cosby’s 70s cartoon series, “Fat Albert.”

The Tribeca Film Festival celebrates its tenth year this week. Among the films to debut at Tribeca are a documentaries on infamous Chicago Cubs fan Steve Bartman and transsexual tennis player Renee Richards.

There is a profile of Russia’s answer to the NHL, the Kontinental Hockey League in this month’s issue of Penthouse Magazine while Playboy has an interview with probably the ugliest woman to ever appear in its pages, 90 year-old former White House reporter Helen Thomas who was never a beauty at any age.

Contrary to popular belief, there is a lot going on at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center other than when the US Open is going on. Earlier this month the Longines National Junior Tennis Open took place, while this week, the National Mixed Doubles Tournament gets underway. ESPN’s Mike Greenberg and tennis legend Chris Evert were doubles partners in a match to promote the event. Also occurring at Flushing Meadows in early April was the New York City 13.1 Mile Half-Marathon.

Red Bull has been the undisputed worldwide king of energy drinks but the company is starting to get a run for its money from Liquid Lightning whose sugar-free drink has a better taste than RB in my opinion.

If you want to enjoy some refreshments that will give you a little oomph and yet are much healthier than soda, try Snapple’s latest flavor, Papaya Mango, or a bottle from the newest entrant in the flavored cold tea market, Herbal Mist.

If you are looking for meatless sources of protein that you can toss into the microwave, you have several excellent options. Kettle Cuisine’s Three Bean Chili, Gardein’s Meatless Burgers or Falafel Republic’s Roasted Garlic Falafel are all tasty, filling, and won’t spike your cholesterol.

Finally, if healthier desserts/snacks are of interest to you, pick up Dole’s Fruit Bites and Funky Monkey’s various types of fruit chips.

With Earth Day upon us, there several consumer products that are inexpensive, practical and good for the environment. Ecover and Ecos are competing companies that make toxin-free cleaning and laundry products. Marcal has quietly become a leader in the recycled consumer paper products industry with its Small Steps line of paper towels, napkins, and everyone’s favorite household staple, toilet paper.

ABC’s latest prime time comedy series, “Happy Endings,” which features Casey Wilson who was undeservedly fired from “Saturday Night Live” (Norm MacDonald, you have company!), is the latest in a never-ending parade of “Friends” wannabes. It is doomed.

Posted under American Baseball, Bob Aspromonte, Butch Huskey, Comedy Central, Controversial Title, Espn Sportscenter, Fay Vincent, Former Baseball Commissioner, Home Run Hitters, Jack Hamilton, Lloyd Carroll, Mets Fans, New York Mets, Night Slot, Perfect Season, Phil Rizzuto, Roy Halladay, Sixth Game, Top Story, Triumph Books, Veteran Sports, Voice Of The Yankees

This post was written by Lloyd Carroll on April 17, 2011

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