Wednesday, November 13, 2013

August 11- New York Mets

The New York Mets have been an on-going joke in the New York metropolitan area as well as on social media for the better part of the last 20 years or so. It’s come in the form of subway signs

television shows

and even if the form of logos created by the team which resemble that of Domino’s Pizza.

Nonetheless, a lot of it comes in the form of good fun while other times it appears to be a cyclical internal habit by the Mets themselves. One moment in particular I wrote about on May 4th with now infamous “ice cream” uniforms. At the end of the day though, the Mets should be given a lot more credit. After all, they did win two World Series titles in 1969 and 1986 and they’ve also drafted, brought up, traded for and signed a lot of talent over the years.

And of course there’s also that time Bobby Bonilla became the smartest man to ever sign a Major League contract.

I for one will admit that I haven’t been the most pleasant person to critique the Mets and financial decisions, but I assure you that none of it is done with malice as the intent. The Mets will always have a soft spot in my heart because of Gary Carter and their title run in 1986, my first conscious memory of watching a Major League Baseball game on television. For me, it’s hard to watch a team with so much money and talent come up short every year, even if it is a New York team. Hell, for the last 20 years of my life I’ve had to deal with heartbreak coming from a team who has no money and a vast crop of talent every season, only to see it broken down and rebuilt year after year. That team of course is the Oakland Athletics. The Mets are different though. There are elements of their decisions that are reminiscent of the Athletics teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s in that they have a lot of money, but work with a lot of homegrown talent on top of a few key signings. Unfortunately for the Mets, most of their signings haven’t really panned out. But there is a more specific reason why the current Mets team reminds me so much my beloved A’s teams, their general manager Sandy Alderson. Only time will tell if Alderson can right the slowly sinking ship in Flushing, but his first few major moves are definitely an indication that he’s in it to win.

One deal in particular that is a reflection of the Mets’ willingness to win took place on December 5, 2012 when the team re-signed their 2001 draft pick and multiple All-Star spot-winning third baseman David Wright for an additional eight years on top of his then-current contract. The most interesting aspect of this announcement, for me at least, came during the winter meetings when the Mets took the opportunity to unveil their new All-Star Game uniform patches, a few new jerseys and lastly, this cap.

When I first saw it I didn’t now what to make of it. I either had missed the formal announcement and the unveiling of the cap or the Mets didn’t say anything at all as Wright sat up on the stage to field questions while it sat on his head. The 2013 batting practice cap photos hadn’t been released yet so I just assumed that’s what he was wearing. Not at all. The new Mets hat that Wright was sporting is in fact the Sunday/special event alternate cap that the team has been rocking all season long, and to be honest, I actually dig it.

I was super bummed that the Mets decided to retire their road cap at the end of the 2011 season, but they certainly made a strong effort to make up for it with this cap. The color combo is kind of interesting as it has the same appearance as the Citi Field logo up above, but that’s not exactly a bad thing. Orange is an odd color to work with, especially when it comes to the bill, but it works swimmingly against the royal blue crown. Also, the addition of the orange over the white on the “NY” logo helps keep the focus off of one specific area. Even though it didn’t get much play in 2013 it was still one of the better additions for any team over the last six or seven years.

I’ve written many times about how uniform changes can make or break a team and unfortunately for the Mets this was one of those times where it broke them. They finished with the same record as they did in 2012 under Terry Collins (74-88), but they got a lot of performances out of Wright and a few other up-and-coming stars. I did my best not to pick favorites, but the obvious choices were right in everyone’s face. 

#5- Wright was born in Norfolk, Virginia and raised in Chesapeake where he attended school at Hickory High School and worked extensively with Coach Gregory Friedman of Bellmore JFK. Wright was the 2001 Gatorade Virginia High School Player of the Year and earned All-State honors in 1999, 2000 and 2001. He was also named Virginia All-State Player of the Year in 2001. Over his four-year career at Hickory, Wright hit .438 with 13 home runs and 90 RBIs. Upon graduation Wright planned to attend Georgia Tech and major in engineering, but the opportunity to make the pros stepped into the light.

Wright was chosen 38th overall by the Mets in the 2001 amateur draft during the supplemental round as compensation for the Mets' loss of Mike Hampton to the Colorado Rockies in free agency. Wright was selected after future teammate Aaron Heilman who had been selected with the 18th overall pick. Wright progressed steadily in his first three years of minor league play, winning the Sterling award for best player on the class A St. Lucie Mets in 2003. In 2004, he quickly rose from the AA Binghamton Mets, to the AAA Norfolk Tides, to the Majors when he made his short-awaited debut on July 21st.

I’m still not sure why, but Wright somehow managed to not even receive a vote for the 2004 National League Rookie of the Year Award despite hitting .293, 14 home runs and 40 RBI in 69 games. Granted, the winner, Jason Bay, did have a great season for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but he also played in 120 games. Either way, over the next six years Wright flourished. He made the All-Star team five years in a row from 2005-2010, won back-to-back Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards in 2007 and 2008 and finished in the top-10 for the NL MVP three years in a row from 2006-2008.

Wright had a bit of a down year in 2011, mostly due to injury, but bounced back in 2012 with a sixth place finish for the NL MVP and another nod to the All-Star team. For his career Wright has a .301 average and could potentially be a member of the 3,000 hit club if he’s able to grind out a few 200+ hit seasons along the way. The most impressive thing about Wright is that he holds the franchise record for 11 offensive categories in only 10 seasons of work including hits (1558), runs (853), doubles (345), RBI (876), walks (671) and sacrifice flies (60). He is also a substantially wealthy individual, most of which didn’t come on the baseball field. See, back in 2007 Wright became a spokesman for Vitamin Water which was a product of the Queens, New York based company Glaceau. Rather than receive one paycheck, Wright negotiated a 0.5% ownership of the company. It may not seem like much until Coca-Cola bought Glaceau for $4.1 billion. Athletic AND business savvy!

#28- Just like Wright, Daniel Murphy is a homegrown talent who was plucked from the swamps of Jacksonville University in Florida in the 13th round of the 2006 amateur draft. Murphy’s time in the minors only lasted two years, the first of which was spent in St. Lucie where hit .285 with 11 home runs and 78 RBI in 135 games in 2007. The following season Murphy played at all three levels but made a jump to the Majors on August 2nd after an injury to Marlon Anderson made room for him as the most viable replacement. In his first major league at-bat, against three-time All-Star Roy Oswalt, Murphy hit a single. Later in the same game, he made a difficult catch against the left field wall, throwing out Hunter Pence at second base for a double play to end the inning. As of August 9, 2008, Murphy was only the 5th Mets rookie to record 10 hits in his first 20 at-bats. Murphy hit his first home run in the bottom of the 6th inning against the Florida Marlins at Shea Stadium on August 9. According to Major League Baseball rules, players are no longer considered a rookie if they have had more than 130 at-bats in a single season. Murphy had 131 at-bats for the Mets during the 2008 season, thus making 2008 his rookie season by a single at-bat. He finished the season batting .313, with 2 home runs and 17 RBI.

Murphy, a natural third baseman, moved around in the field, getting a few starts in left field and other in the infield. Since 2009 Murphy has been a regular fixture in the Mets lineup with the exception of 2010 when he missed the entire season due to a MCL tear while trying to turn a double play during a rehab game with the then-AAA affiliate the Buffalo Bisons. Murphy had hurt his knee during a Spring Training game. In 2011 Murphy’s season ended after 109 games after injuring the same MCL that had been repaired. In 2012 he came back at full-strength as the full-time second baseman. His .290 career average is one of the best on the team over the last few years including his 2011 campaign in which he was hitting .320 before his injury.

While I didn’t have the opportunity to meet Wright during my time in the MLB Fan Cave (missed it by two days), I was able to meet and have a few words with Murphy. That day in particular was kind of interesting because Murphy inadvertently violated one of the biggest rules of the Fan Cave: no clothing items from any of the other professional leagues allowed… ESPECIALLY THE NFL.

Even though I knew it would cause beef with the executives I just had to snap a photo, which I was told to never post on social media. In the mean time, one of the interns was sent downstairs immediately to grab a jersey for Murphy out of the “supply closet,” a room full of MLB gear including hats, shirts, autographed baseball and other cool trinkets. 

After that, the mood was a bit more relaxed. Murphy kicked it on the couch for a social media interview while we all waited for our second special guest, Arsenio Hall.

If there’s anyone who I have ever met that wasn’t built with an off switch, it’s definitely Arsenio, and I don’t mean that as an insult. With every question asked him he had a fantastic joke. He was genuine and polite with everyone who came up to talk to him, but he was honest and humble anytime someone asked him about coming up in the comedy game. The concept that the production crew had brought the two of them in for was a fishbowl Q&A, where basically there was a fishbowl filled with strip of paper with questions on them that the two asked one another. The responses were pretty natural, which made for a good segment. Unfortunately most of the best footage was left on the cutting room floor due to language and subject matter. Does that surprise you?

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