A nationally published sport writer's first blog, all about baseball, both in New York and around the MLB scene.

Monday, April 25, 2005

The Mets' Tom Glavine: Pretty inconsistent for a "Hall of Famer"
Photo by Bob Smith

Getting Dizzy Over Diaz

CAN THE YAHOOS who insist that Victor Diaz should play right field for the Mets even after Mike Cameron comes back please calm down? Diaz has gotten off to a nice start, to be sure, but three weeks into a season does not a season make. Diaz has helped a great deal with the stick, but he’s an awful outfielder and has shown poor judgement on the basepaths and at the plate thus far. Of course, Joe Benigno and his mutant listeners on WFAN are already calling for a congressional investigation as to why a gold glove-caliber 30-home run player such as Cameron could ever be considered to start ahead of Diaz. Unreal ... Tom Glavine finally had a nice outing in his last start, but has been frustratingly inconsistent in his two-plus seasons in Flushing ... The Jared Wright signing, as predicted in this column, is starting to look just about as good as the Steve Kemp and Andy Hawkins signings for these 1965 - oops, 2005 Yankees. The team will certainly contend for the Wild Card at the very least, so it’s time to calm down a bit with all the doom and gloom - but, things are going to have to break right for them to get that far, and the law of averages will certainly send a few breaks their way in the days ahead ... The Baltimore Orioles are the best bad team I’ve seen in ages. Their lineup is downright scary, and their “awful” pitching staff has at least six guys on it that I’d take on my team anytime. And wonder of wonders, Flintstones Vitamins spokesman Sammy Sosa seems rejuvenated ... This must be said about Shea Stadium: From the front office employees to the ushers to security to ticket sales personnel to food vendors, the people at Shea, to a man, treat fans like sheep. It’s an absolute disgrace that as ticket sales have improved that customer service hasn’t kept pace. Just awful ... However, it must be said that the yahoo percentile in Flushing is starting a lot to resemble the creepazoids that populate the right field bleachers at Yankee Stadium, another disgrace that’s been allowed to perpetuate unchecked for years ... It should be noted that your humble reporter actually attends games at both Shea and Yankee stadiums, sitting in various locations, to the tune of about 45 contests per annum - not counting out-of-town trips to such places as Boston, Philly and Washington ... Get a life, Bob ... At the time of this writing, the Mets recalled Royce Ring from AAA Norfolk, and designated LHP Mike Matthews, who had been completely ineffective, for assignment. Those Jeromy Burnitz and Roberto Alomar trades are suddenly starting to look very good, aren’t they? Ring put himself back into big league contention with a surprisingly strong spring training followed by good showings at AAA ... If the Yankees are smart, they’ll platoon Andy Phillips and Tino Martinez and first base and not allow Jason Giambi to ever get near anything leathery and soft, unless it‘s Leann Tweeden's overly worked-out ass. At least Phillips brings the Interlocking En Whys some youthful enthusiasm ... It will be interesting to see how the Yanks react to a true quality opponent in the Los Angeles Angels this week. A couple of losses against Vlad Guerrero and El Lay and the old Bronx owner will certainly do something stupid, like fire a couple of coaches (as was reported in New York Newsday this past Sunday). Although it's been said, many times, many ways: George Steinbrenner may spend money to build his team, but he’ll never be a winner.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Hard-working Jason Phillips deserves success
Photo by Bob Smith

Phillips Has Battled Hard For Success

It’s always gratifying to see good things happen to good guys. Jason Phillips was a hard-working, upbeat Met - until the travails of 2004’s .218 embarrassment started getting to him. Phillips is really a AAAA player; he only played so much for the Mets in '03 because of injuries, then shocked just about everyone by finishing the season two points short of a .300 average. In reality, Phillips was a non-prospect who the team misguidedly counted on to be key cog in the offense last year. However, whatever the Mets asked Phillips to do, he did with pride. When asked to try playing first base, he simply grabbed a glove and got to work. He actually made himself, within 30 games, into a better defensive first baseman than Mo Vaughn, and miles better than the sick joke the Mike Piazza Experiment turned out to be. It’s hard to forget how hard Phillips worked in ‘03, picking the brain of former Mets first baseman Ed Kranepool about the first base area at Shea, showing up early for fielding drills, and generally making himself indispensable. Phillips was traded to the Dodgers during spring training for right-handed starter Kaz Ishii. At press time, Phillips was the starting catcher there, hitting .326 for a team that was 12-2, the best start for the team since the Brooklyn days. Yeah, Phillips is AAAA, but he possesses Major League desire, and it’s wonderful when success comes to people who work hard and deserve every bit of good luck they get. Who knows? Perhaps Phillips can hold onto the job the entire year. Good for him ... Conversely, fellow AAA former Mets “phenom” Ty Wigginton was hitting .136 in Pittsburgh, losing much playing time to former Cubs “phenom” Bobby Hill. The Pirates and Devils Rays are repositories for other organizations’ failures ... The Yankees are bouncing back strongly, buoyed by decent starts by Mike Mussina and Carl Pavano. Mariano Rivera and Tom Gordon still look incredibly shaky, and it will be interesting to see if they can bounce all the way back ... Can’t Joe Torre give his starting eight a rest? Even after the Yankees scored 13 runs in the second inning against Tampa Bay three days ago, he kept most of his regulars in the lineup for most of the game. Fatigue’s going to be a real factor for such an old team, and Torre’s reticence to give his regulars a rest was a big reason why his bullpen and offense failed so spectacularly against Boston in the ALCS last year. Guys get tired, Joe ... Torre and Willie Randolph are likable in them, but the current Subway sandwich ad campaign is about as funny as a surgical pilonidal cyst draining ... Anna Benson can self-promote all she wants, but the two most lusted after women in baseball may be the two comely brunettes who serve the behind-the-plate box seat patrons at Toronto’s Rogers Centre during Blue Jays games; they can be seen during virtually every pitch during telecasts. It seems like the sort of thing the boys at Maxim Magazine would jump upon for one of their classic ‘’ordinary girls” photo spreads ... He wasn’t hitting much, but Nomar Garciaparra’s groin injury really was a low blow to the Cubs, especially with second baseman Todd Walker out of action for an extended period as well ... It’s obvious that baseball players need not be build like Adonis, but it’s still hard to believe that players such as Dimitri Young, Ray King, Antonio Alfonseca and C.C. Sabathia are allowed to become so glaringly overweight. King in particular seems to gain 10 pounds every off-season ... Teams looking for releivers such as Tampa Bay’s Denys Baez and Detroit’s Urgeth Urbina need to ask themselves why such teams would trade good setup men and closers when there’s obviously no one out there to replace them ... The veterans are still the best. Sports writers such as Hal Bodley and Hal Bock are still the cream of American baseball scribes ... While we’re giving plaudits, here’s to Lee Ivory and his staff at USA Today Sports Weekly. It was disappointing when Baseball Weekly became Sports Weekly, but writers such as Seth Livingstone are still worth the one and three-quarters greenbacks for each edition ... Sporting News Radio is an excellent listen. It’s so good that naturally it’s no longer broadcast in New York - which also fails to carry such other great radio programs as The House of Blues Radio Hour with Dan Aykroyd. It’s amazing that the greatest city on earth remains a virtual FM wasteland. Thank goodness for satellite radio ... Finally, New York fans continue to moan, and rightfully so, over the Time Warner vs. Cablevision dispute that’s kept Mets cablecasts off their televisions. Once again, we insist: If it wears a tie, don’t trust it.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

The Mets' Eric Valent: Decent, but no ball of fire
Photo by Bob Smith

Frank Layden, We Hardly Knew Ye

What a totally enjoyable baseball week, one which was supposed to have surprised us, the Metro area baseball fans - but since you have actually have gray matter, you weren’t really shocked, were you?

The New York Mets are proving to an even hotter ticket than anyone could have imagined, but those two weekend sellouts against the Marlins were aided by a $2 upper deck seating ticket special that those Masters of Detail, the NYC sports media, completely failed to notice. The New York Yankees are struggling. That was predicted in this column, and we’ll take full props since we told you before the first pitch was even thrown that this is a poorly conceived team. Even if GM Brian Cashman wants to make some moves and rid himself of a few pieces, what other GM would want to add any of the overpriced Yankee stars onto his payroll? It would be easy to say the wheels are coming off the Yankee cart, but the fact is the wheels were already flat during the off-season, when this boring, listless team was being assembled.

The decision to rely on Tanyon Sturtze in long relief only proves the point; the 5.47 ERA he compiled in 2004 somehow convinced Yankee brass he was a top long man. Yes, it’s a team full of All-Stars, but it’s the 1997 All-Stars; relying on past-their-prime players such as Tony Womack, Ray Sanchez, Tom Gordon and Tino Martinez is sheer folly. Since the team, for some reason, decided Miguel Cairo wasn’t the answer at second base, they signed 35-year-old Womack instead of letting prospect Robinson Cano develop at the Major League level - you know, like virtually any other organization would do. Instead, Steinbrenner’s Human Rotisserie Team has to have an All-Star at every position, and that mindset is quickly turning the Yankees into baseball’s version of the Frank Layden-era Knicks; lots of former stars, fading hope, and lots of finger-pointing.

Isn’t it amazing that every time Joe Torre has to actually manage, he reacts as if the walls are falling in around him? Isn’t it just as amazing that he was so amazingly wrong about the Gary Sheffield outfield dust-up with fans? He’s becoming a walking version of the YES Network; call him the YES MAN network. Until he starts showing some real leadership and insists the Yankees get younger and more athletic instead of more expensive, it’s going to be a long season - particularly if Randy Johnson remains as ordinary as he’s been in his starts since the opener. However, since the Yankees and the media live in fantasy land, a "long season" to them means second place and the Wild Card, which seems a likely scenario for this aging group of mercenaries. Stay calm, Yankees fans; any team with Derek Jeter and Hideki Matsui on its roster cannot remain truly awful over 162 games.

Meanwhile, Shea Stadium suddenly doesn’t look like such a dump, does it? It’s actually a pretty park when filled with fans, and the fans are pouring through the Shea turnstiles to see Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran. However, it’s the results on the field that matter most, so the hero of the week is manager Willie Randolph. How he managed to have a 5-1 week with a lineup featuring Chris Woodward, Marlon Anderson and other subs proves he knows what he’s doing.

It’s going to be quite hard to keep such hot streaks coming, however. Cliff "Ouchies" Floyd is the National League equivalent of Rondell "Ron-DL" White- snap, crackle and flop. His replacement, Eric Valent, is starting to look AAAA quite quickly; he's the 2005 version of the 2004 Jason Phillips. The Mets’ bullpen has actually over-performed, but it’s obvious that Manny Aybar and a couple of the others aren’t a long-term answer. Hopefully, Aybar can be jettisoned in favor of Royce Ring and/or Heath Bell, who both are doing well at AAA Norfolk.

This past week’s record seems all the more amazin’ considering the makeup of the current roster. Kazuo Matsui looks like a major flop; the promise of spring training is giving way to cold, depressing reality: He can’t field. Mike Piazza, in spite of his fine weekend, looks poor defensively and seems sluggish overall. And the return of Mike Cameron, whenever the heck that will be, might only succeed in retarding the progress of Victor Diaz and throw a monkey wrench into team chemistry.

However, there are major plusses. Martinez and Beltran are everything they’ve always been. No other team can match the under-24 potential of Diaz, Jose Reyes, and David Wright. And Ramon Castro has been the real surprise; he’s actually a bopper. Get a hold of a record book and check out his work at the AAA level - he was a .335 hitter with real power, and did it twice. In fact, Randolph deserves credit for being a fine judge of talent; he was shrewd enough to eschew retreads such as Kerry Robinson, Gerald Williams and Andres Gallaraga and the goggled but sloth-like Jason Phillips in favor of giving roster spots to Anderson, Castro, and Woodward, who have all contributed. And the signing of the ultra-professional Cairo might have been the best move of them all.

All in all, the hero of the week in the Apple is Randolph, whose calm demeanor and knowledge of the game could very possibly have the Mets exceeding expectations this year instead of next.

After all, Aaron Heilman is now a top-flight starter, right?


Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Rodrigo Lopez: Probably the Orioles' real ace - yet a virtual unknown to NYC's chronically uninformed
Photo by Bob Smith

First-Week Falderal

I love sports writers, particularly today’s breed of gossip-mongering, corporate types. When Rodrigo Lopez of the Orioles pitched well against the Yankees last week, the response from a couple of the NYC tabloid types was “Wha? Who?” Hey, Mr. Muckraker: Lopez was 14-9 with an ERA well under four for a bad team last year. He’s one of only about six starters to already expose the Yanks as the creaky old team they really are ... Did anyone else notice all the “old Yankees” articles in the tabs, a full two weeks after we hit on that before the season started? All that and I can’t find a gig. Unreal ... After just six contests, Philadelphia’s Pat “Met Killer” Burrell had a whopping 15 RBIs ... Looks as if Armando Benitez is turning back into Armando Benitez for the Giants - but if the Pac Bell (oops, SBC) faithful don’t boo Barry Bonds, they won’t get near Mando ... As for the Mets, think about this: In most lineups of late have been Victor Diaz, David Wright and Jose Reyes - not one of them older than 23. That factor alone makes the Mets an exciting, upbeat team, even with their 3-5 record. They may not win, and there will be growing pains, but at least an interesting story is unfolding ... At the time of this writing, the Washington Nationals were tied for first place in the NL East. Ah, spring, time of renewal and hope ... It’s startling how effective the Marlins’ young starters have been. With Josh Beckett and Dontrelle Willis, this is going to be an exceedingly hard team to beat in the senior circuit ... Then again, any season that starts with retreads such as Scott Erickson, Manny Aybar and Bill Pulsipher making MLB staffs proves that there’s still an incredible lack of live arms out there ... It’s also humorous to hear all the “Piazza is finished” and “Bernie should be released” nonsense from the yahoo callers to WFAN sports radio in New York. Morning host Joe Benigno claims that sports writers get on his callers for being, well, complete yahoos, but they prove it time and time again. You can practically hear them mutate as they talk, and it makes for repetitive radio that‘s very hard to listen to. Plusses on the station, however, are the hilarious Chris Carlin and Adam Schein ... It’s very easy to miss Suzyn Walman’s post-game reports on the Yankees on the YES Network. How can you not miss comments like “Quantrill is just heartbroken over his performance tonight, Fred”? ... The Cablevision-Time Warner war over MSG and Fox Sports New York just shows the arrogance and stupidity that breeds when businesses have too much power. In life and sports, one credo is always true: If it wears a tie, don’t trust it.

Friday, April 08, 2005

New York baseball icon Mr. Met. Look at how his head grew, is he on the juice?
Photo by Bob Smith

Of Steak & Steroids

Let’s face it: It certainly seems as if most of the athletic world in the United States is on steroids. Remember, I’m a reporter who hung out with more than my share of professional wrestlers in my time. The difference between wrestlers and baseball players, however, is that wrestlers seem to have learned their lesson.

The famous Vince McMahon steroid trial in the '90s - where the WWE head was cleared after the government clearly failed to prove its case - seems to have straightened up the mat sport for years. Even today, wrestling seems to be much cleaner than it was in the late '80s; with their sculpted, exposed bodies, grapplers realize they are easy targets for law enforcement probes and newspaper scuttlebutt. The boobs who are baseball participants, however, are another story.

And a sordid saga at that. Pampered and held up as heroes their whole lives, Major League Baseball players have responded to receiving an average salary of more than $2 million per year and lifestyles most of us dream about by resorting to cheating, potentially ruining their health, and participating in a “wall of silence” that would make any bad cop blush. Baseball players now chase the almighty buck far more than they have pride in their natural athletic skills. It’s easy to love baseball, but it’s no longer easy to admire the players who participate in it.

The entire baseball/steroid situation is also the worst-covered thing by the sports media in print and broadcast history. When outfielder Alex Sanchez was the first to receive a 10-game suspension from MLB’s new “harsher” steroid policy, the incredible amount of “What? He’s a little guy!” reactions by columnists showed that nobody has researched what steroids do, or why athletes from amateurs to pros use them. And they do, in all sports.

Hey, Mr. Baseball Scribe, please consider this:

Steroids work. Any athlete who has ever used will tell you that steroids make you feel great when things are going well. They elevate mood and performance, thereby making athletes feel strong and confident. After “getting off” steroids, many an athlete soars into either mental depression or in-game slumps.

Steroids aren’t necessarily for building mega-muscles. Athletes don’t always inject or take pills to build big, Barry Bonds-like bodies. Many athletes like steroids because they help workouts become faster and more productive. When the wrestling steroid trial was going on, two of the active stars asked to testify were Roddy Piper and Mike Rotunda - neither of which was the “body beautiful” type. Hasn’t anyone noticed that player names such as Sanchez, Randy Velarde and Marvin Bernard have been brought up in the alleged steroid news stories? Singles hitters need to work out, too.

Ballplayers don’t consider steroids cheating. If baseball players think steroids are a major problem, where is at least the dull roar concerning their continued use? Where are the stars stepping up, saying “I’m clean, let’s get to the bottom of this mess?” Where are the active players rising up as one, calling an emergency meeting, and insisting a new agreement between MLB and the MLBPA for stronger and harsher penalties? Those scenarios won’t happen, because the pampered menials who participate on the field are too busy chasing the money.

It’s clear that nobody will ever know, unless someone speaks up, whether a majority of players are continuing to use, even today. More than a few fans are disappointed that stars such as Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, and so many others are now targets of sordid speculation. To this corner, however, the beauty of baseball is far bigger than the selfish mooks who play it.

I can’t admire any of the men mentioned above, but because of steroids, my lifelong appreciation for former stars of my youth such as Hank Aaron, Ed Kranepool, Tom Seaver, Matty Alou, Gary Peters, Jerry Koosman, Bob Veale, Dean Chance, Willie McCovey and so many others has only intensified. Kranepool, a line drive hitter, hit 118 homers during his Mets career while using nothing more dangerous than steak and eggs.

How many of the “sluggers” of today can we safely say that about?

Saturday, March 26, 2005

He shall be Livan: Hernandez a key to Nationals' fortunes
Photo by Bob Smith

A National Celebration

The Washington Nationals have already exceeded expectations.

Sure, they don’t really have an owner as of yet, and they’re really The Montreal Expos South. However, signs out of spring training are that the Nats (already a cool short nickname) could be a lot better out of the gate than anyone dared to dream.

Nats fans, or boosters of any other club, ponder this: Wouldn’t you feel pretty good if your starting rotation was anchored by Livan Hernandez and Zach Day? If you had an infield with an up-the-middle tandem of Jose Vidro and Christian Guzman? If your closer was Mr. Hat Too Big himself, Chad Cordero? If you had a bopper such as Jose Guillen in your outfield, and the reigning NL RBI champion in Vinny Castilla at third base?

Already, this doesn’t sound like a bad team, does it? Add to that the excitement of a new team in D.C. (reportedly, more than 21,000 SEASON tickets were sold at RFK Stadium as of a month ago, and individual tickets are going briskly as well) and you have the distinct possibility of a big hit right out of the box. Some publications are picking the Nats for fifth place in the NL East, but in a division with the question-mark Mets, the always underachieving Phillies, and the weakened Braves, anything is possible. It’s not out of the question for Washington to finish third or even second.

GOOD STUFF: People seem to forget that Frank Robinson led the Expos to a pretty fine record the year before the mass exodus that featured Vladimir Guerrero. He’s done a remarkable job keeping a team with a lot of AAAA players on its roster competitive, and it will be interesting to see how well the Hall of Famer does now that he has come chips on the table ... Brad Wilkerson smacked 32 home runs last year, and seems capable of repeating that performance. Given the state of the current roster, Robinson would be best served by putting Wilkerson at first base and leaving him there ... Some think Vidro is slowing down a tad, but he’s still more worthy than half the NL second basemen. He’ll blend well with Guzman, who won’t put up great numbers in any category but will be solid all-around ... Cordero is already a tough righty that NL hitters don’t like facing. He struck out 83 in 82.2 innings in ‘04 and should have been made the closer ages ago ... If Guillen can keep his head on straight, he could be a 30/100/.300 player, and that’s always a plus.

MINUSES: A pair of the Nats’ young players ain’t as young anymore, and they’re not living up to expectations. The Yankees constantly hyped Nick Johnson as the “next Don Mattingly,” but he’ll be lucky to be the next Ed Kranepool. He’s got a decent glove, but he’s constantly injured, and a .260 disappointment when he isn’t. Endy Chavez is the player that Robinson hopes takes the bull by the horns in center field, but there’s something missing there; sure, he’s fleet, but his OBP isn’t great and he doesn’t score nearly enough as a leadoff hitter. His glove is below average as well ... There needs to be more consistency from starters such as Tomo Ohka and John Patterson, and you can add Tony Armas Jr. to the list of prospects who never seem to come through in a big way ... Castilla won’t drive in 100 runs again, but he should be adequate. It seemed he was washed up about five years ago, but like players such as Jeromy Burnitz, Julio Franco and Andres Gallaraga, he just keeps on going, doing his job with little fanfare ... Termel Sledge might be the worst defensive left fielder since Gregg Jefferies.

All in all, there’s a lot to be excited about in D.C. For the first time since the 1970s, Washington has an MLB club. The franchise needs an independent owner - and that’s a situation as troubling to baseball as the current steroid hubbub - but for now, things certainly are looking forward. Already, the Nationals lead the NL in merchandise sales, while the Expos were being outdrawn by more than a few class A franchises. At the very least, this team should be competitive.

Prediction: 82-80, fourth place in NL East

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

An opening day view from Yankee Stadium, Upper Reserve Section 19, from 2004: "Is that Derek Jeter or Suzyn Waldman?"
Photo by Bob Smith

New York's Ballparks Ain't Cheap, and Sure Ain't Great

One thing is for sure regarding New York’s Major League Baseball teams: They‘re mired in a quality quandary. They both could be great, and they both could be truly horrid. To these eyes, the Yankees are an All-Star team - unfortunately, the 1997 All-Star team. The Mets will be improved, but probably not ready for prime time or the post-season.
However, if fans could just strip sentimentality away from facts, they’d realize a serious problem: New York’s baseball teams need new ballparks - VERY badly. Spending a day at either Yankee Stadium or Shea Stadium can be depressing, even if your favorite team wins. It’s all about how to buy seats, what to avoid, and what’s wrong with both parks. Here are our opinions about these two crumbling relics that are long overdue for the wrecking ball. We hope this column will help you get the most bang out of your New York ballpark buck.

Yankee Stadium: If you haven’t been to Yankee Stadium in recent years, the first bit of advice we’d like to give you is simply this: Get there early. MEGA early. Anyone who has leisurely tried to “get there at game time” is met with crushing traffic, a serious lack of parking, and the slowest security and ticket takers in the history of the planet (and that includes the seniors who work at spring training parks). The help at Yankee Stadium just doesn’t care. You’re cattle, and you better keep moving. Moooose, indeed.

Since most quality seats at Yankee Stadium for choice games are sold within the first week of the opening sales, what’s left, particularly this season, is pretty slim pickings as far as seat quality goes. Reportedly, more than three millions ducats have already been purchased by fans, but it shows P.T. Barnum was right. The Yankees have pretty much mastered the art of the ticket gouge since the early ’90s, but this year takes the cake: Say hello to the $50 upper deck seat (if purchased on game day), hysterically titled “Tier Box MVP” seats since they are situated from home plate to around halfway down both lines. It’s still an incredible nut for what is a mediocre view at best.

And make no mistake about it: Sitting in the upper deck at Yankee Stadium is among the worst experiences in baseball. The top level, constantly in a state of disarray, is a dump of epic proportions. There’s a horrible lack of facilities, not enough restrooms, the worst and most overpriced food in the majors, and the steepest and most terrifying walks up to “Tier Reserved” seats that fans can imagine. The further down either base line a fan sits (past sections 13 and 14), the sight lines are terrible, and anything past the sixth row up in Reserved is, as Gramps would put it, “way the hell up in the air.” It’s hard to imagine anyone who has watched a game from Section 29, eighteenth row, has any desire to return to the Stadium no matter how good the team may be.

Our advice to serious fans is to try the bleachers in left field. Avoid the right field bleachers, where dateless young men curse, remove their shirts, chant, and basically show up because there was no Mudvayne concert that night. The sight lines from the left field bleachers is surprisingly good, the fans there usually act like baseball fans, and you get a great view of the bullpens.

One of the better seats that’s actually a good deal at Yankee Stadium are called Main Reserved seats, which really are on the field level behind two other levels, Field Box and Main Box. There’s not a bad seat at that level. Since tickets are so hard to come by, we suggest the following sections: Main Reserved, Left Field Bleachers (sections 49-59) and, if you’re lucky enough, anywhere in the Loge, the park’s best all-around seat, with tremendous, unforgettable sight lines of what still ranks as a beautiful playing field.

To all the “Yankee Stadium is a palace” yahoos out there, I submit that those who mouth such ridiculous statements haven’t actually attended a game at the place in years. George Steinbrenner’s idea of building a new park near the old one is a stroke of genius, the only good idea the old man has ever had.

Shea Stadium: God bless Bill Shea, but even that baseball visionary wouldn’t believe that the stadium that bears his name still has seat railings that are the originals. That’s right - in most of the park’s seats, the metal arm rests and frames are the originals used when the park opened in 1964. There’s exposed metal and chipped-away paint everywhere.

To his credit, Fred Wilpon (who made his fortune by taking decrepit properties and pumping new life into them), in conjunction with the New York City Parks Department, has done virtually everything within his power to try to put a prettier face on a building that by all rights should have closed around 1980. Once inside, Shea is simply gray all over, even with the interiors of each level painted to match the color of the seating. They’ve tried, but they can only do so much.

What makes Shea so bad isn’t the sight lines or the view of the field. In fact, the views from the Loge and Mezzanine sections aren’t bad at all, and probably rank as the best in the park. The problems are in design. There’s a walkway on the Field Level that turns a whole bunch of overpriced seats into the worst in the house - at least up to this point; fans in the first two "boxes" of 200 level field box seats have gotten great views of walking fans, but little else. The club recently announced it has raised sections of the back field level to try to resolve that problem, so it will be interesting to see if this longtime major annoyance can be rectified.

The Shea upper deck isn’t nearly as steep as that at Yankee Stadium, and prices are pretty reasonable considering seats from sections 1 through about 20 in lower rows aren’t half bad. Another good deal at Shea are 13 scheduled $5 nights, where fans can sit in the UR seats for a measly five smackers; the Yankees have a similar program running, but $5 for an Upper Deck Stadium seat is still about $4.50 too much.

Shea is also legendary for being a sieve, and fans who pay good money for seats in the Mezz and Loge sections sometimes get drenched from water cascading upon them when it rains. In the boxes in those sections, water can reach ridiculously high levels during rainstorms.

To report on the dingy Shea restrooms would be overkill, but we have to. Bluntly put, anyone who has to take a dump after the third inning would probably have to leave the park. Standing water in the mens’ rooms is everywhere; combine that with the park’s legendary lack of hot water, and you’d be best advised to bring some Wet Naps to every game. Parking is not bad at Shea and the surrounding areas, but public transportation is the way to go for important games such as the opener and the Yankees series. Get there early. MEGA early.

Our advice: Pick up Mezzanine Reserved seats in lower rows in any section, the best value in New York baseball. Yeah, the auto chop shops still reside outside the main parking area. Ugh!

Food, Glorious Food: The sausage stands at Shea are killer. The Famous Famiglia pizza stand directly in front of Yankee Stadium is heavenly. Nathan’s is now the official hot dog of Shea. Yankee Stadium has a pretty fair selection of beers...damn, is it opening day yet?

The war against steroids has been the baseball equivalent of a root canal; they didn’t want to do it, but it had to be done. But even with such ersatz legends like Barry Bonds lousing up the game, the game is bigger than its problems. And yes, if you gave me a seat in Section 29 in the Upper Reserved section at the Stadium, I’d simply have to go. It is baseball, after all.

It’s been a long winter. Opening doggone day can’t get here fast enough.

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