The Week That Was: Jose Can Still Play

     There haven’t been a lot of upbeat Mets stories this season but the unexpected contributions of outfielder Jose Bautista has been one of them. Mets fans left Citi Field in a good mood Friday night, and that in itself is a rarity, after Bautista clubbed a walkoff grand slam to give the Mets a 5-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.

       In his postgame press conference Mets manager Mickey Callaway acknowledged that he was owed a win in the bottom of the ninth inning after having witnessed a top of the ninth in which the Mets tried to give the game away as they so often have this season.

       Closer Jeurys Familia walked the leadoff batter, gave up a single, and shortly thereafter hit the light-hitting Willy Adames with a pitch after having an 0-2 count on him. With the bases loaded, he induced a ground ball to first baseman Wilmer Flores who made a very high throw to catcher Devin Mesoraco who managed to leap and grab it in a maneuver that would have made a Bolshoi Ballet member proud and stepped on the plate a split second ahead of the Rays’ runner who represented the go-ahead run. All that set the stage for Bautista’s heroics.

      Jose Bautista enjoyed an All-Star career as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays. When his lucrative contract expired after last season, the Blue Jays decided to cut ties with him. After all he’d be 37 years-old in 2018 and they had plenty of younger and thus less expensive outfielders in their minor league system.

      Bautista signed a Major League Baseball minimum contract with the Atlanta Braves during the off-season. The Braves however quickly discovered that they had young outfielders of their own who could play well at the big league level and they released Bautista after just 35 official at-bats.

      When the injury bug started hitting his team, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson realized that desperate times called for desperate measures. The Mets’ farm system didn’t have many position players who were ready for the bg leagues. Since Bautista had a minimum salary contract Alderson figured that he could sign him and discard him if necessary just as he did first baseman Adrian Gonzales.

     Bautista rewarded Alderson’s faith. Yes, he wasn’t the feared slugger who was known as “Joey Bats” in Toronto, but he can still hit. More importantly, he knows when not to hit, as evidenced by the number of walks that he has drawn. He still possesses a great arm. Perhaps most importantly of all, he has shown the younger Mets how a big leaguer is supposed to act both on and off of the field. He has been accessible to his teammates for advice and has been gracious to the media as he’s been willing to speak with even reporters from the smallest outlets.

      Tampa Bay Rays owner Stu Sternberg grew up a Mets fan in Brooklyn and has plenty of fond memories of going to games at Shea Stadium.

      The Rays have not had a lot of success on the field or at the box office and those factors are intertwined in two key ways.

      The first, and most obvious, is that teams that don’t win generally do not draw customers. The other key factor that hurts the Rays is that their home stadium, the domed Tropicana Field, is located not in Tampa but rather in more remote St. Petersburg. The only ways to get to the Trop from the far more populated city of Tampa is to drive over the lengthy and always congested Frrankland or Gandy Bridges. As they say in the restaurant business, the they three keys to success are location, location, and location.

      This past Tuesday the Rays announced plans for a new ballpark in the touristy Tampa neighborhood of Ybor City. That is a great idea but Sternberg told me that he is going to need public financing to get a new home for the Rays built. “We don’t have a corporation like Citibank that pays the Mets over $20 million a year for naming rights,” he said somewhat forlornly.

     The political climate for taxpayers subsidizing stadium construction is not very good and it’s even worse in Florida where Miami citizens are feeling fleeced as they have gotten peanuts, if that, in return for helping to build the Marlins a beautiful stadium in the Little Havana section of Miami.

     Gary Apple, a former WCBS-TV sports anchor who currently is handling those chores on Mets pre and postgame shows on SNY, did a fine job filling in for Gary Cohen, as he did play-by-play for last week’s Blue Jays-Mets two-game series last week. His seamless rapport with analyst Ron Darling made it appear as if he had been calling a lot more baseball games than he actually has.

    Joey Chestnut, as expected, won his eleventh July 4th Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, but it wasn’t without controversy. Joey had a big lead over his nearest competitor, Carmen Cincotti, but the manual count was slow to register the actual count of hot dogs consumed. The elite competitors: Chestnut, Cincotti, and Matt Stonie, were grabbing wieners from two plates and the manual scorers couldn’t keep up. According to the final arbiter, Brooklyn district attorney Eric Gonzalez, Chestnut consumed 74 hot dogs. Major League Eating czar and Nathan’s Dog Eating master of ceremonies George Shea will have to use a computerized scoring system in the future.

      Three cheers to ESPN for televising the Special Olympics. In spite of cognitive issues these Olympians are terrific athletes. Brittany Tagliareni, who has been diagnosed with autism, is a professional tennis player from Sanford, Florida who has won doubles tournaments playing against what most of us would consider to be traditional competitors. It wouldn’t surprise me if Brittany were to qualify for the US Open, if not this year then perhaps in the near future.

     Queens was well-represented at the Fancy Food Show that was held at the Javits Center last week.

    Mansi is a Jamaica-based company that makes juice from the calamansi, a citrus fruit found in the Philippines that tastes like an amalgam of lemon, lime, orange and grapefruit. Unsurprisingly, it’s a great source of Vitamin C.

    LRA Imports from Astoria displayed its wide array of food and beverage products from Italy which included different broads of pasta, sauces, and espresso.

     Long Island City’s Caviar Select helped the Fancy Food Show live up to its name.

     Finally, the company that’s named after the neighborhood where it got its start, Elmhurst, has dropped “Dairy” from its name and is now making milk from various types of nuts exclusively. I have to say that cashew and walnut milk are refreshing and tasty beverages.

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