The Week That Was: Mets Injuries Keep On Coming

     The Mets may not be America’s team but they sure seem to be that of Blue Shield Blue Cross. As hard as it is to believe, Mets players are getting hurt at a faster rate than they were in either 2015 or 2016.

     It is a forgone conclusion that pitching ace Noah Syndergaard won’t be back until after the All-Star Game break at the earliest while closer Jeurys Familia will be lucky to get back on the mound by Labor Day. Very few expect team captain and third baseman David Wright to ever play a game again.

     Last Wednesday the Mets suffered a trifecta of injuries in their 9-4 win over the Cubs.

     Starting pitcher Matt Harvey had to be pulled after the fourth inning. He had given up three mammoth homers but was most galling to manager Terry Collins was that he had to ask his pitching coach, Dan Warthen, if Harvey was capable of throwing fastballs because he was unable to crack 90 mph on the radar gun. It turns out that he has a very dead arm and you have to wonder if the one-time toast of the town is over the hill.

     Centerfielder Juan Lagares broke his thumb diving for a ball. If this sounds familiar, it’s because the same thing happened last year. 

     The biggest blow was hot-hitting second baseman Neil Walker tearing a ligament in his leg running out a bunt to first base. Ironically, he had suffered an inflamed knee the week before but was able to avoid the disabled list when the swelling was reduced significantly.

      The one bit of good news was that outfielder Michael Conforto did not have to go on the disabled list after experiencing discomfort in his back ten days ago. He missed three games against the Cubs but returned for the series with the Washington Nationals although he did struggle at the plate when he returned.

    Since a lot of us experience occasional dorsal pain I asked Conforto what he did to recuperate. “I used a heating pad and stretching exercises that were suggested by the Mets’ training staff,” he replied.

    Curtis Granderson suffered through a calf injury in 2016 and needed surgery to repair a torn ligament in his thumb following the 2015 season, but the 36 year-old Mets outfielder has managed to beat the team’s injury jinx so far in 2017.

    Last week, Granderson, one of baseball’s stellar citizens (he was named the recipient of the Roberto Clemente Award for community service by Major League Baseball last October) was nominated for the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award at July’s ESPY Awards slated for the day after the All-Star Game in LA.

     “I probably won’t be there because I have a kids baseball clinic in Chicago (Grandy’s hometown) the next morning. Thank goodness for Skype!” he told me with a smile.

      Last week commemorated a pair of milestone anniversaries for Mets fans with one pleasant and the other not.

      Let’s start with the more upbeat. On June 16, 1997 the Mets defeated the Yankees 6-0 in the first-ever regular season Subway Series game. Dave Mlicki, was the starter winner for the Amazins. When I spoke to him a few years ago he told me that was unquestionably the highlight of his career and he was a pretty good pitcher.

      On June 15, 1977, the Mets traded the greatest player in their history, Tom Seaver, to the Cincinnati Reds after he and then team president M. Donald Grant had a number of disagreements ranging from is compensation to the team’s reluctance to get involved with free agency which had only started two years earlier. Attendance declined dramatically and the team became a cellar-dweller for the rest of the ‘70s and even into the early ‘80s. Discussion of the Seaver trade of 40 years ago still makes Mets fans apoplectic.

      David Ross was a big league catcher for 15 years and called it a career after his last team, the Chicago Cubs, won the World Series last fall. Although he only played two years for the Cubs, he quickly became a beloved player to fans in the Windy City.

     A few days after winning the World Series, a few members of the Cubs, and arguably their biggest celebrity fan, Bill Murray, took part in a pair of “Saturday Night Live” skits. I asked Ross, who is currently a baseball analyst for ESPN and was working Friday night’s Nationals-Mets game, about his recollections of his appearance on SNL.

    “We got to the NBC Studios around 4 PM on Saturday and we quickly had to learn a song-and-dance routine as well as our lines. To say that I was out of my comfort zone was an understatement. My heart was racing. I was going to be on live television in less than eight hours.”

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      Ross performed so well that the producers of ABC’s “Dancing With The Stars” asked him to take part in their spring 2017 episodes and he lasted far longer than most of the other celebrity contestants.

    James Pankow has been the trombonist for the rock band Chicago for 50 years, and he was inducted, along with his bandmate, keyboardist Robert Lamm, into the Songwriters Hall of Fame last Thursday.

     Pankow, not surprisingly is a huge Cubs fan, and he was of course ecstatic about them breaking a 108-year world championship drought last year. Proving that Cubs fans are now no different than other “What have done for me lately?” sports fans, he complained to me about their poor performance in 2017 and how they just lost a series to the Mets.

    He broke into a smile when I told him that some of his 1960s Chicago hit-making music buddies, the Buckinghams, recently sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” before a Cubs game at Wrigley Field.

    Actor John Leguizamo, who grew up in Jackson Heights and is a diehard Mets fan, followed Pankow on the red carpet. He was at the Songwriters Hall of Fame to induct energetic Miami entertainer Pitbull into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

    “Oy, the Mets! I had such high hopes for this season. The injuries have killed us!” Leguizamo said accurately capturing the sentiments of most Mets fans.

    Major League Baseball held their annual Draft Day luncheon at their Park Avenue offices and as per tradition, a number of former players representing the 30 MLB teams, attended.

     Former Mets outfielders Jeff Francouer and Michael Cuddyer were there for the Braves and Twins respectively.

     Jeff told me that he hits the links almost daily and his handicap has dropped dramatically. He is also involved in the fruit business with his family company, Major League Berries.

     Michael does some consulting and scouting work with the Minnesota Twins, the team which he spent the bulk of his career.

     Nick Swisher was the Yankees rep at the lunch and he told me that retiring last year wasn’t as hard a decision as many think. “I have a lot of other interests besides baseball,” he told me. Nick’s wife is actress Joanna Garcia Swisher who appeared in the recent Ice Cube-Charlie Day film, “Fist Fight,” and will be starring in a new ABC show this fall, “The Gospel of Kevin.” Nick is currently one of the personalities on NBC’s Monday night summer athletic competition series, “Spartans.”

     Juan Pierre was a speedy outfielder for a number of teams during his 14-year big league career. When I saw him at the MLB Draft luncheon I joked with him that he could still steal bases on the Mets.

    “Nah!  Nobody steals bases anymore!” he replied with a wistful smile. He then talked about how teams stupidly refuse to play “small ball” to build runs and wait instead for someone to hit a home run.

   Pierre believes that too many hitters refuse to use the entire field and still prefer to pull the ball even when there is a shift employed against them which reduces their odds of getting a hit. He also lamented the decline of the bunt and other forms of productive outs. “The vast majority of .240 hitters would be better off sacrificing and getting runners into scoring position than swing away and either strike or pop out and the runners go nowhere.”

    He’s right. The name of the game is to score more runs than the opposing team and the failure to intelligently manufacture runs has hurt teams as Mets fans can attest.

     Speakers as diverse as Jesse Ventura, Roger Stone, and Rev. Al Sharpton spoke about the need to legalize marijuana in all 50 states at the annual Cannabis World Congress & Business Expo that was held last week in Manhattan.

     One of the exhibitors at the CWCBE was a company called Cannadips that makes chewing marijuana in cans with hopes of their product replacing chewing tobacco. A company spokesperson told me that their products don’t require cancer warning labels.

     I then asked if they have sent any samples to Colorado Rockies players since marijuana is legal there. “We have and a lot of players have told us that they liked it.” The spokesperson did not name the players who could be potential new customers.

    The International Franchise Expo was going on next door to the CWCBE at the Javits Center. The biggest news is that there could be a revival of Roy Rogers restaurants in our area.

     Baby boomers will fondly recall those tasty Roy roast beef sandwiches. Even though the restaurants were successful, they were developed and owned by Marriott Corporation which decided to concentrate on its hotel business and thus sold off the Roy Rogers chain to Hardee’s which ran it into the ground. New owners are starting to open new Roy Rogers around the country.

     I hope that they succeed.

    The Circle Line is a New York institution and last week the company christened two new boats to handle the high summer demand, the Bronx and the Staten Island. The Queens was the first Circle Line boat to be named after a borough.

    Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz attended the ceremony and he is hoping that NY Water Taxi, which is a corporate sibling to Circle Line (they are all part of New York Cruise Lines), along with the help of the city and state, will increase ferry service to connect the Bronx with Queens and Brooklyn. Currently all city ferry service involves Manhattan.

     Pop Television is a CBS-owned cable channel (Channel 175 on Spectrum) that has quietly created some quality comedies with little fanfare. The clever Ali Wentworth sendup of what goes on behind the scenes of late night talk shows, “Nightcap,” has started its second season. The show airs Wednesdays at 8 PM.

    In August, Pop will debut a detective comedy that is being produced by film star Keanu Reeves who will appear in it as well.

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