Saturday, April 19, 2008

Reflections on Mets-Phillies on Friday Night and Moundball

A good friend took me to his company's Diamond Dugout seats on Friday night, a real treat if you ever get to Citizens Bank Park. We sat in the second row behind home plate and took turns in the "TV seat," i.e., the seat that is part of every shot from the center field cameras of the pitcher throwing to the plate.

You enter the stadium through a designated entrance, get a wristband and then descend the stairs to the private dining room. I had a shrimp and steak stir fry dinner (a far cry from the hot dogs I normally have). My friends dined similarly (the food is part of the ticket price), and then we took our seats behind home plate (my son, who was at the game to celebrate a good friend's/Met fan's birthday, had a cheesesteak from Tony Luke's and enjoyed the dining experience immensely).

When we sat down, we started a game of "Mound Ball". Do you know it? Basically, it works like this. First, you get an empty cup. Second, you and your buddies (there were four of us) put in a buck per every half inning. You pass the cup after each at bat, and you want to be holding the cup when the inning ends. Why? Because, if you're holding the cup you have a chance to win the money in the cup. How do you do that? Well, when the half inning ends, you watch the player with the ball. If he rolls it toward the mound and it stays on the mound, you keep the money. If he rolls it toward and the mound and it doesn't stay on the mound, the holder doesn't win, and the money rolls over to the next half inning. Now, if the player keeps the ball, you watch the home plate umpire, and, yes, if the rolls the ball toward the mound and it stays on, well, by now you know the drill. We have a good time with Moundball, and I more than made expenses last night thanks to a good roll by home plate umpire Paul Runge in the middle of the game.

Now that that's done with, I have the following observations:

1. Johan Santana is awesome. Okay, so that's no great revelation, but, I saw him up close. His ball moves, he locates well, he changes speeds well and he gets ahead of the hitters. He was a joy to watch.

2. Ryan Howard had better get a move on (and he was 0-5 with 3 K's in today's game). If he wants a $20 million per year contract, he needs to channel his inner Manny Ramirez and not his inner Dave Kingman. He also was a butcher in the field last night. I don't expect him to be a Gold Glover, but he made two plays that costs the Phillies at least one run and possibly two. I am bullish on Howard, but he needs to be less streaky.

3. Neither bullpen shined. The Phillies was worse, because Brad Lidge couldn't keep the Mets' lead to one run. Aaron Heilman, who was great with my son's friends before the game and tossed them baseballs, looked shaky. But the ageless wonder, Billy Wagner, who's still throwing 97, finished the job nicely for the Mets.

4. The Phillies have a fan confidence problem. I spoke with several fans today who said that the profanity in the stands is getting out of hand, particularly in the more remote sections of the stadium. Two parents told me that they move their families out of their seats recently because of bad behavior and foul language. That's inexcusable, and the Phillies must act on this fact. I have a few suggestions:

a. Stop selling beer at the ballpark. This is draconian, will cost the team a bunch of money, and is unlikely to happen. But if it did, the ballpark probably would be a more pleasant place.

b. Limit the number of beers people can have to 2 (32 ounces of suds in a 3-hour period isn't unreasonable) by giving them wristbands when they come into the ballpark. No wristband, no beer, and the sellers must punch a hole in the wristband then they sell a beer. That could create logistical problems for beer vendors who sell beers to people in their seats, someone in operations could come up with a solution.

c. Stop selling beer after the fifth inning instead of the seventh inning. Again, this would prevent the chuckleheads from acting too stupidly.

No, I'm not a huge temperance guy, per se, but the ballpark should not cater to the lowest common denominator. Philadelphia fans don't have a great reputation, true, but it's usually the case that a few bad apples spoil the barrel. Still, given the complaints that I've heard, there are too many bad apples bopping around Citizens Bank Park. People don't like to go to cesspools, and the Phillies should do their best to keep the park sane and well-mannered.

5. Pitching was the worry at the season's outset, but the hitting hasn't been good at all. The causes: Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino are on the disabled list, and Ryan Howard isn't hitting. As for the pitching, the starters have given a bunch of quality efforts lately. It's just time for the hitters to step it up.

6. Another great night at the ballpark, even if the hometown team lost. Why? It was a warm April night, the company was great, the food was good, and, well, it's hard to have a bad time at the ballpark, isn't it?

Especially when you're sitting in the second row behind home plate.