Carroll: Panik at Citi Field

(Neil Miller/Sportsday Wire)

San Francisco Giants second baseman and former St. John’s University baseball star Joe Panik will always be a part of Citi Field history. He took part in a baseball game at Citi Field before any Mets did as St. John’s played Georgetown in a Big East preseason contest on March 29, 2009 in the first-ever contest played there. Last Tuesday Panik was in the San Francisco lineup as Giants pitcher Chris Heston threw a no-hitter against the Mets.

Joe admitted that he probably didn’t make friends in Flushing because he wore out Mets pitching with his bat as exemplified by a two-run homer against Matt Harvey Wednesday night. “A few Mets fans recognized me outside Citi Field and said that they were booing me every time that I came to the plate. I take that as a compliment since that means that I’m doing my job well,” said the personable Panik with a broad smile.

Being a St. John’s alum now living on the West Coast, Panik was intrigued by the upheaval in the Red Storm athletics department. Unlike PGA Tour star Keegan Bradley and basketball coaching legend Lou Carnesecca who reportedly were not supporters of SJU athletics director Chris Monasch, Panik told me that he thought that Monasch did a fine job and that he was sorry to hear of his firing.

Incoming SJU men’s basketball head coach Chris Mullin was supposed to bring along his buddy, former Sacramento Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro, east with him to replace Chris Monasch as St. John’s athletic director. Like Mullin, D’Alessandro is a graduate of St. John’s. Last week however D’Alessandro announced that he was leaving the Sacramento Kings but would stay in the NBA as he accepted a front office position with the Denver Nuggets.

The general storyline since his April 8th hiring has been that coaching at his alma mater has long been Chris Mullin’s dream. It’s hard for the New York media to resist a happy homecoming story particularly when it involves a legendary former athlete. Sorry to ruin the feelgood narrative but there is a good chance that Mullin may simply have been out of employment options.

Chris Mullin was fired as VP of basketball operations for the Golden State Warriors in May 2009 and was out of the NBA until new Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive hired him to be an adviser in May 2013. Fast forward to the first quarter of 2015 and Ranadive, tired of experiencing another playoff-less season, brings in former NBA star Vlade Divac to be an adviser. Mullin certainly read the handwriting on the wall.

My guess is that if Mullin could have gotten an executive or head coaching position with another NBA team, he would have grabbed it. Since none was available he had to go with “Plan B” and return to Union Turnpike and Utopia Parkway.

Even the best-hitting teams can be no-hit. What was overlooked in the excitement of Giants pitcher Chris Heston’s no-hitter against our Flushing heroes Tuesday night was the inordinate number of games this season where the Mets have gone to the fifth inning and sometimes even later to get their first hit. My first reaction when I got home and learned that the Mets were victims of a no-hitter, the first against them since 1993, was “How come it hasn’t happened more often to them?”

One quality that you have to admire about the Mets is their resiliency.

The atmosphere in their clubhouse was surprisingly festive the Wednesday afternoon, the day following the no-hitter, as players took turns trying to hit outside shots with a miniature basketball and mini-hoop that is located between two of the players’ lockers.

The Mets couldn’t hold a 3-1 lead with two outs in the ninth inning against the Braves Saturday afternoon and would up losing in eleven innings by a score of 5-3. The next day the Braves jumped over beleaguered starter Dillon Gee for 8 runs in the first four innings. Momentum certainly did not appear to be on the side of the Amazins. Yet against all logic and expectations, the Mets hit four home runs at Citi Field and came back to win by a score of 10-8.

Mets manager Terry Collins was exasperated at his Friday pregame press conference as he had to explain to the media that he is using a five-man rotation and not a six-man rotation. Collins did add that a sixth starter could pop in when there are a lot of games in a short time span.

Collins admitted that upper management wanted him to estimate how many innings each of his starters will throw this year barring injury. Estimated innings pitched and game pitch counts are akin to the accounting concepts of depreciation and budgeting. Depreciation is an artful way of measuring wear and tear in plant assets while budgeting takes into account actual costs versus what was initially projected.

I asked the Mets manager if these kind of accounting concepts were always part of baseball. “Actually it’s one of the changes that have occurred in baseball in recent years. I never knew what a pitch count was until I was working for the Dodgers in their minor league system and they told me to limit Sid Fernandez to no more than 135 pitches in a game.” Of course that is such an incredibly high number for starters nowadays that it’s basically tantamount to not having a pitch count at all.

Mets second baseman Dilson Herrera was at the Theater at Madison Square Garden last Saturday evening to watch Miguel “The Scorpion” Marriaga take on Nicholas Walters in a featherweight championship bout. Both Herrera and Marriaga are from Cartagena, Colombia. The interesting thing is that neither one knew the other on a personal basis until after the fight. Marriaga lost via decision to Walters.

Bedgear, a company that was formed in 2009, and makes custom-fitted pillows, sheets, and mattress protectors, is fittingly the sponsor of the annual Mets sleepover that will take place this Saturday evening, June 20. Mets fans will be able to watch their team take on the Braves in Atlanta that night on the giant centerfield scoreboard.

Major League Baseball celebrated the 50th anniversary of its amateur draft with a luncheon at its headquarters last Monday and a number of baseball luminaries attended.

Former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda told me that managing is a lot harder now because of the increased salaries for players and the increased revenues for ownership that have cast a brighter light on baseball skippers. Lasorda also articulated his disgust that the late former Mets manager and Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman Gil Hodges still has not been admitted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Lee Smith was one of the most dominating relief pitchers in baseball history and had a very solid 18-year career. Mets fans knew that the game was over for their team when Smith came on to pitch the ninth inning and protect a lead for the Cubs or Cardinals. I frankly can’t understand why baseball writers have failed to select Smith for the Hall of Fame when they have given their blessing to Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, and Bruce Suiter. Lee was every bit as good as they were.

I asked him at the Draft luncheon about his mastery over the Mets. Smith, a courtly gentleman from Shreveport, Louisiana, was careful not to rub salt in the wounds of their fans. “Let’s just say that the Mets were very, very good to me!” he said with a broad smile.

If the New York Liberty are going to finally win a WNBA title, then they are going to have to find a way to beat the Washington Mystics who have beaten them twice in the last week. On Sunday night, the Libs were beaten by the Mystics 74-59. New York center Tina Charles had an awful shooting night which contributed to their downfall.

I was saddened to learn of the passing of Virgil Runnels better known as professional wrestler Dusty Rhodes. What made him beloved is that he developed a populist persona that echoed the dreams and frustrations of the working classes. Wrestling promoters liked to pit Rhodes against Ric Flair who played the part of the wealthy snob who had no regard for the concerns of, as the late Leona Helmsley might say, “the little people.” Of course outside the wrestling ring, the two were very good friends.

I get a kick out of the number of obscure promotional days in the calendar such as National Middle Sibling Day, National Cheese Day, and Record Store Day. Last Monday, June 8, was dubbed National Best Friends Day. No one seems to know which individuals or organization were behind it but Pepperidge Farm’s public relations department took advantage by sending out a press release urging that best buddies share a box of Milanos or cut into a Pepperidge Farm layer cake together. I have to admit that anyone who offers me a few Dulce de Leche Milanos is earning friendship points with me.

A new and inexpensive restaurant, Nanoosh, just opened two blocks away from Madison Square Garden at 469 7th Avenue. It serves healthy and tasty Mediterranean cuisine such as hummus, lentil soup, and a wide array of salads.

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