I can't recall a late summer in NYC that has been so warm and beautiful. With chances to see live baseball in this area fading like the summer light, I've been blessed to catch some great games in supremely lovely conditions.
Under a nearly full moon on Tuesday September 10, I saw the Brooklyn Cyclones win their first outright Short Season Class A New York-Penn League title. (They shared a league title in 2001 but because of the 9/11 attacks there was no conclusive game.)
With the Coney Island boardwalk and the Atlantic Ocean visible beyond the outfield, over 3,000 fans at MCU Park cheered the home team as they won a thrilling 4-3 come-from-behind victory over the Lowell Spinners, the Red Sox farm club. It brought a title to Cyclones manager Edgardo Alfonzo, the outstanding and truly beloved former Mets third and second baseman.
The winning 7th inning rally was fueled by hits by former SEC rivals, outfielders Jake Mangum (Miss. State) who led off with a single and raced home on a triple by Antoine Duplessis (LSU). Third baseman Yoel Romero, a 21-year-old from Venezuela in his fifth minor league season, then singled home the tie-breaking run. 32nd round draft pick lefty Andrew Edwards notched a two-inning save.
Although it is only the low minor leagues, Brooklyn can now claim its pro baseball title since Johnny Podres shut out the Yankees in Game 7 of the 1955 World Series. Cyclones starter Nate Jones, Matt Allan (the Mets 2019 number one draft pick), and eventual winner Mitch Ragan who preceded Edwards all pitched effectively.
Lowell used two top Boston prospects from New Jersey that were both drafted out of high school. Recovering from Tommy John surgery, starter and top draft pick Jay Groome (Barnegat) worked only 2 2/3 innings but showed good mound presence and struck out three despite giving up two runs. He left to a warm reception from his home town supporters.
Right fielder Nick Decker (Seneca HS, Tabernacle NJ) walked a couple of times and was pitched very carefully. In his last AB, he was hit by a pitch which left him more than a little peeved. He was removed from the game as a precaution against injury and perhaps to cool him down a little. To me he showed the spunk that makes him someone to watch.
Who knows what the future will hold for any of these players? It is one of the charms of watching baseball on the lower levels. Pat O'Conner, the head of the minor league ruling body the National Association, likes to say that he guarantees you'll see at least one future major leaguer at every MiLB game. The challenge, of course, is to identify who that will be.
Here's a special tip of the cap to Jada Bennett, a member of the Cyclones dance squad who sang the National Anthem beautifully both at the final game and before the semi-final victory over the Hudson Valley Renegades. She brought the song home in tune in not much over one minute and thirty seconds without unnecessary flourishes that far too often make the performance about the singer and not the song.
The parent Mets were not as fortunate as the Cyclones in their Sunday September 15 rubber game against the Dodgers. It was unfortunate that ESPN forced the Mets to move the Sunday Family Day to a 7p start. So there were far fewer fans in attendance than the announced 31,000+
On a warm low-humidity evening, I saw a very well-played game dominated by the starting pitchers, the Mets Zack Wheeler and the Dodgers Walker Buehler who went only five innings but five relievers held the Mets to three hits, only one after the second inning.
(Buehler is another product of the Vanderbilt University pitching factory that has also produced David Price and Sonny Gray who has flourished in Cincinnati with his college pitching coach and away from the bright lights and 24/7/365 intensity of NYC).
As all good teams do, the Dodgers rallied in the late innings once Wheeler left the game after seven strong innings. He had only thrown 97 pitches but had worked out of jams in the sixth and seventh innings, getting his last five outs by strikeout.
I hope I live to see the day when starting pitchers are encouraged to throw more than 100 pitches. Maybe baseball life would have been different if 120 had become the magic number not 100. But generations of pitchers have grown up feeling that seven innings is the outer limit for their efforts.
Kudos to Wheeler and his starting mates Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz who have done their job, along with a revived offense, in fueling the Mets' surprise comeback from 11 games under .500 in July.
Losing a series to the Dodgers, a World Series favorite, is no embarrassment. Too bad they dug such an early season hole. I sure hope the tearful young fan wearing a Pete Alonso jersey who I saw crying in the elevator after the game realizes it hasn't been a lost season for the Mets. I just hope the Mets keep that core of pitchers together in the off-season.
In closing this entry, I want to say a few more words about the loss of Al Jackson, their longtime organizational pitching coach who died in late August at the age of 83.
(There is a tape of a WFAN interview I did about Al on the home page of this website.)
Despite coming up the hard way in the years of segregation and partial integration, Jackson was such a positive presence. You couldn't help learn valuable baseball and life lessons by being about "the little lefty from Waco".
Among my favorite of his aphorisms: "Shower away the day" - leave the last game in the shower whether you've won or lost. When you are toweling off, think of the next game.
"Know the difference between hitter's strikes and pitcher's strikes."
"Don't get beat with your third or fourth best pitch."
The youngest of thirteen children and the last survivor, Al Jackson was buried in his home town on September 7. As Mets former PR chief and current team historian put it so well, he was "our national treasure" and should never be forgotten.
That's all for now. Next time some more thoughts from my pal Teny Ymota who loved the Linda Ronstadt documentary and will be hearing Kelli O'Hara sing this Wednesday Sept 18 with the New York Philharmonic one of the most beautiful pieces I've ever heard, Samuel Barber's "Knoxville, Summer 1915" inspired by the prologue to James Agee's memoir, "A Death in The Family".
Always remember: Take it easy but take it.