Friday, September 11, 2015

Lapsed: Confessions of a Mets Fan

I’m a Mets fan.

Actually, I don’t know if that’s true. Anytime I express my allegiance when baseball is concerned, I’d say that I’m a “lapsed” Mets fan. I used to see the team just about all the time. My family had season tickets for a number of years, covering three seats on Sundays in the loge section at Shea Stadium. These days, it’s a challenge to get one ticket to a game at Citi Field, what with the fees and prices for seats, food, etc.

I would present myself as a “lapsed” fan because I couldn’t imagine supporting any other team, yet I wasn’t fully on the Mets’ side. I’ve grown to hate Yankees fans, a group I imagine to be one-third bandwagon hoppers, coasting on the team’s 27 World Series titles. Personally, I only count the championships won in my lifetime. That way, the Yankees are merely up 7-2 on the Mets, and that’s less daunting than 27-2. Also, the Yankees have been playing since 1903, so they had a healthy headstart on the Mets by six decades.

I also consider myself “lapsed” because I couldn’t pick out most of the Mets out individually. Sure, identifying Bartolo Colon – the team’s husky fortysomething pitcher -- would be a breeze, as would singling out the magnificent hair of Jacob deGrom and Noah “Thor” Syndergaard.  But ask me to point out David Wright, the guy who signed a long-term deal with the club because he wanted to win as a Met? I don’t think I could identify him. Pitching wunderkind Matt Harvey? No dice. In the last decade and a half, I’ve burned more brain cells remembering stuff like names and faces of reality show contestants. As the Mets stopped being a “must see” team, they didn’t become a priority for me. I went to two games at Citi Field when it first opened (one of which I wrote about), then it took me six years to get back.

Like most fans of moribund franchises, I tended to identify more with the Mets’ past. In particular, the time between when I first started following the team (1983, at age 7) and the 1990 squad. From 1984-1990, the Mets had the best record in the majors. I went from seeing a perennial cellar dweller to watching a team that managed to contend deep into the season. Keith Hernandez, Darryl Strawberry, Ron Darling, Dwight Gooden (aka “Dr. K”), Gary Carter . . . those were salad days for many Mets fans. The team peaked in 1986, when they ran away with the National League East crown with a 108-54 record, winning two-thirds of their games. They wound up beating the Houston Astros in a fiery six-game National League Championship Series, climaxing with a 16-inning Game 6. After that came the World Series against the Boston Red Sox, where they rallied from a two-game deficit to force the Series back to Shea. With the team down 3-2 in Game 6, and trailing Boston 5-3 in the tenth inning, I couldn’t bear the watch my team lose. What do you want from me? I was ten years old. I wound up missing the Mets tying the game in the bottom of the tenth through three singles (Gary Carter, Kevin Mitchell, Ray Knight) and a wild pitch. I did get to see Mookie Wilson roll a ground ball that scooted under the glove of Bill Buckner. It was way past my bedtime that Saturday night, but I didn’t care. The Mets wound up winning the World Series two nights later. To say I was thrilled was an understatement.

As I grew older, I figured that 1986 might have been a bit of a fluke. At the time, I didn’t know about “The Curse of the Bambino” that brought nothing but bad luck for the Red Sox and their fans prior to 2004. I figured that the Mets were jinxed . . . not in the way that the Cubs and Indians disappointed their rooters, but cursed just the same. In my head, the Mets’ first title in 1969 came in a year where anything could happen; where man could walk on the moon, a cocky quarterback from an upstart league could win a Super Bowl, and a franchise that couldn’t win more than 73 games in a season could win 100, sweep the inaugural NLCS (which nobody talks about), and beat the Baltimore Orioles (109 wins) in five games. 1986? The Red Sox and their fans hadn’t suffered enough. To me, the Mets were a hard luck franchise that puttered out at the worst moments:

  • 1973: The Mets managed an 82-79 season, which is still the weakest record of a World Series-bound team. Look below the surface, and you’ll see a team suffering from bad luck and injuries, rallied by relief pitcher Tug McGraw’s war cry of “You Gotta Believe!” The Mets wound up clinching the NL East on the last day of the season, took it to the limit against the Cincinnati Reds, and came within one game of beating the powerhouse Oakland Athletics because succumbing in seven games.
  • 1988: See 1986, minus eight wins. Also, the Mets hit a speed bump in a Los Angeles Dodgers team that wouldn’t go down without a fight in the NLCS. The Mets led two games to one and were within striking distance of going to 3-1. Instead, the Dodgers went to Los Angeles with a 3-2 lead, and they wound up winning the series in seven games, en route to a five-game World Series victory over the A’s.
  • 1999: This was a wild year for the Mets. They forced a tie for the wild card with the Red by beating the Pirates on the last day of the season at Shea. The next day, Al Leiter pitched a two-hit shutout in Cincinnati, clinching the wild card berth. The day after that, they went to Arizona, where Edgardo Alfonzo’s grand slam led to an 8-4 in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.  Three days, three games, three cities, three victories. The Mets took out the Diamondbacks in four games, only to fall behind 3-0 to the Atlanta Braves (one of whom I’ve said my piece about). The Mets hung tough, forcing a Game 6 in Atlanta, thanks to Robin Ventura’s “grand single” in Game 5, but the Braves wound up winning that game and the series because Kenny Friggin’ Rogers (no, the other one) couldn’t find the strike zone, walking in the decisive run.
  • 2000: The Mets got the wild card once again, and they wound up beating the Giants (in four games) and Cardinals (in five) to advance to the World Series. Unfortunately, they had to face the Yankees in the first postseason “Subway Series” since 1956. The Yankees wound up winning their 26th title, 4-1.
  • 2006: I barely remember this year. I don’t recall the Mets having the best record in the National League, nor can I recollect on their sweep of the Dodgers in the NLDS. All I can remember is Game 7 of the NLCS against the Cardinals, where Yadier Molina homered in the top of the ninth inning to give the Cardinals a 3-1 lead. He had six during the regular season. In the bottom of the inning, the Mets rallied, loading the bases for Carlos Beltr├ín. He wound up looking at a third strike, which knocked the Mets out of the playoffs.
There are so many other indicators that the Mets are a star-crossed team. Dwight Gooden’s drug use, Daryl Strawberry’s off-field issues, the freak hedge clipper accident that almost ended the career of Bob Ojeda in 1988, the epic collapses in 2007 and 2008 which knocked them out of postseason contention, the latter taking place as the last game at Shea was being played  . . . I could go on. And the team’s legacy pales to that of the Yankees, a franchise with twenty retired uniform numbers. By comparison, the Mets have retired three . .  . and none of them were as euphoric as your typical Yankees’ ceremony. Manager Casey Stengel (37) broke his hip in 1965; Gil Hodges (14) dropped dead of a heart attack in 1972 and had his number retired the following year; and Tom Seaver (41) call it quits in 1987 after a third stint as a Met was aborted following a simulated game.

You might ask: How am I handling the Mets’ sudden success? With trepidation. I still remember the last-day-of-the-season crashes from 2007 and 2008. Even with the Mets up 7 ½ games on the Washington Nationals (as I write this), I don’t feel that things will be cut and dried until the season is over and the Mets going into the playoffs for the first time in nine years. If they advance, they would have to face a Dodgers rotation anchored by Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. Beyond that would be a team from the National League Central that will have a better record than the Mets; either the Cardinals, Cubs or Pirates. And if they make it to the World Series (fingers crossed, knock on wood, etc.), they would have to start things on the road (stupid “All-Star Game Means Something”). They could face Toronto and R.A. Dickey, the Cy Young Award winner they cut loose after 2012. Or maybe they’d face the surprisingly good Astros in a rematch of the 1986 NLCS. Or maybe a second Subway Series with the Yankees. So many possibilities. .  . but I try to keep a level head.

I wound up going to Citi Field before the Mets exploded. The team seemed dead in the water, losing to the lowly Marlins. Since then, they’ve found their stride, and I find myself gawking at their highlights. Like Wilmer Flores hitting a walk-off homer days after almost being traded. And Stephen Matz debuting at Citi Field, drawing awe with his arm and bat. And Bartolo Colon’s various feats on the mound and at the plate. And Yoenis Cespedes, who is one great October away from Mets sainthood. For a team that might be jinxed, everything seems to be going right. I wound up getting a ticket to the team’s final game of the season, because I wanted to see the team at their best (that, and the 3 p.m. start time means I don’t have to get out of bed right away). Maybe I should remove the word “lapsed” from my identity.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Scattered Thoughts On The Amazing Race

(Warning: crap-ton of YouTube links to come. Hopefully, they'll stay intact in the time to come. Also, I've writing all this off the top of my head, so coherency might be an issue. My apologies in advance.)

I suppose that in order to talk about the twenty-fifth season of The Amazing Race, you have to start with the epilogue. After basking in one of the more unpredictable seasons in recent memory, viewers of the long-running show had this to look forward to:

Talk about letdowns. FIVE "blind date" teams? ALL "dating couples"? It forces fans to embrace TAR25 that much harder, as TAR26 could be either a dud waiting to happen (at best) or the beginning of the end of the critically-acclaimed series (at worst).

The "silver anniversary" season was worth celebrating. It featured one of the most talented teams in the show's history (dentists Misti & Jim, winners of five legs), another pair that redefined "calm" ("Soul Surfers" Adam & Bethany . . . yes, the Bethany Hamilton who lost her left arm to a shark over a decade ago), and a duo (Brooklyn cyclists Kym & Alli) whose elimination will lead to an inevitable berth in the next "All Star" or "Unfinished Business" season. Add to that mix Brooke & Robbie (wrestlers who were the show's villains at their worst), and the unlikely "Sweet Scientists" Amy & Maya, and you had the makings of one heckuva season.

Sure, the show had its downsides. For one, Brooke whined her way throughout the race, coming off like Flo from the third season, only with more muscles. Jim's refusal to blink in interview segments was distracting. And newlyweds Adam & Bethany were too perfect at times; their faith in each other and God was stronger than anything I might have. Also, the "Switchback" task of herding an ox to find a clue couldn't match the insanity from the fifth season, as seen here (start at the 1:36 mark):

So what went right? Well, Amy & Maya proved to be the ultimate underdogs, even as their 4.50 leg placement average approached that of TAR21 winners Josh & Brent. Kym & Alli sought out fun wherever they went, from dancing outside a pub to making fun of the Dentists (as seen here). Yet another stuntcasted couple from Survivor went out early, as Keith & Whitney went out after five legs, while TAR alumnus Natalie Anderson wound up winning Survivor: San Juan del Sur (avenging her fallen "Twinnie" Nadiya, who was voted out first in the "Blood Vs. Water"-themed season.) Most notably, the more dramatic teams were sent packing before the Race heated up . . . particularly Miami realtors Lisa & Michelle, who swiped a pen out one of the Firefighters' hands (as seen here) at a sign-up board; and the combustible mother/daughter pair of Shelley & Nici, with the latter having a Pit Stop meltdown and the former getting into a verbal fight with Keith. Also: there was the "cupping" Detour option, which may have scared Amy & Maya off massages for life. Warning: hysterical pain, pixilation and unflattering camera angles ahead . . .

(and the clip doesn't include the skin scrapping or application of heated cups on their backs)

What was the turning point? That's easy . . . Kym & Alli electing to go to a surf-based Fast Forward, a task seemingly made for Adam & Bethany. The Cyclists were forced to go back to the regular route, and they were eliminated. If they stuck to the route, they probably would have beaten the Scientists to the Pit Stop, eliminating Amy & Maya. Instead, the Scientists wound up clinging for life, eventually winning the final leg and earning $1 million. Oh, and Maya mounted host Phil Keoghan like a koala bear on a tree (skip to 0:44 for that) . . .

Granted, they were bailed out by a non-elimination leg in the season's penultimate episode, forcing four teams into the final leg for the first time . . . in retrospect, this was a bigger bailout than Flo & Zach surviving the first consecutive non-elimination leg way back in TAR3. After Brooke & Robbie (who finished in first heading into the final leg heading to Los Angeles) were eliminated, it came down to a three-way showdown between Amy, Bethany and Misti at the final Roadblock. Eventually, it was a gimpy Amy that deciphered the clues correctly, allowing her and Maya to advance for the win, their only victory in a leg throughout the season, a feat that had been pulled off three other times in the show's history. I will admit it . . . I never expected the Scientists to win. Worse, my mother told me that they could win, and she will never let me hear the end of it. Still, it was an impressive win. It's a pity that we might not have an impressive TAR26 to build upon such good feelings.

PS: As long as I got TAR on the brain, I might as well post a picture of me with the Twinnies from TARCon 21 two years ago. This was the first time I would get to meet a Survivor champion, past or future. Natalie is the one on the right . . . I think. I have them marked in my album from that TARCon, but I can never remember which "Twinnie" has the nose stud and which has the nose ring.

PPS: (1/13/15) Naturally, CBS pulled the last two videos I posted. However, I did screencap the bit with Maya jumping into Phil's arms, and I offer that moment as proof on how manic she was:

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Regarding Diem: A Letter To Bunim-Murray Productions

The following is a letter I sent to Bunim-Murray Productions, the company behind The Real World and The Challenge. I found the company's contact information, and I sent this message to them. Feel free to write your own letter to their attention.

To Whom It May Concern,

I am not sure whom at Bunim-Murray Productions will be reading this. To be honest, I am hoping to get the attention of Jonathan Murray with this letter. As the title indicates, this is in regard to the late Diem Brown.

I know that Battle Of The Exes 2 will be broadcast no matter what. I know that Diem was cast for it, partnered with her on-again/off-again boyfriend, Chris "CT" Tamburello. And I understand that her cancer relapsed in the first competition of the show. What I'm asking is for the footage to be cut out of the finished product. I'm betting that there is a lot of speculation as to whether or not to show them. The way I see it, we're supposed to be thinking about how Diem lived, as opposed to when things started turning against her for the final time. To see her in pain would negate the vibe of the upcoming special -- "We [Heart] Diem" -- that is slated to air on December 9 on MTV.

If I'm speaking honestly, I have a suspicion that Diem's downfall would be broadcast. I feel that Bunim-Murray Productions will not be satisfied unless somebody passes away on camera. I know . . . it's a horrible thought, but it would explain so much. It would make sense to think about that when you cast a person with a compromised immune system on the same show as someone who looked to ooze twelve diseases at any given time (not to mention his ugly disposition), which is what happened twenty years ago on The Real World: San Francisco. It would explain why Frankie Abernathy (cystic fibrosis) was veered towards RW: San Diego and away from Starting Over, with the idea that she could be cast on The Challenge. Had Andrew died after getting knocked over by Ty in RW: D.C., would you have closed up shop for good? And why else would you have drama cases and Section 8s on the show along with a near-infinite supply of alcohol, if not to increase the likelihood of a fatality? Once again. . . I know it's horrible to contemplate, but I never think about stuff like that happening on, say, Survivor. And that's unusual, given that particular program's use of machetes and volatile cast members.

Do me a favor. Do the audience a favor. Do Diem's friends and family a favor. Do not show her and CT on their final Challenge. I know that ousted cast members have been whitewashed from at least one Challenge (Piggy in The Inferno), and I'm sure that even with a sudden mood change, you can make the "story" work. And while I'm at it: end The Real World and The Challenge for good. The Ex-Plosion and Skeletons seasons show a mawkish lurching towards relevancy, and I feel these "twists" do more harm than good. Also, I feel that "regular" cast members like Arielle would be rejected for future exposure to The Challenge. As far as that show is concerned, I feel that the debauchery you seem to love might be muted in future editions in the wake of Diem's passing, given how no repeat Challenger has ever died before (I know about Michelle Parma, but she just did Extreme Challenge). Also, I've come to regard some cast members (particularly the loathsome "Johnny Bananas") as human beings in the past week, and that might be a sign that it's time to pack it in.

Thanks for your time in reading this. I hope to get a response from BMP in the near future. and I hope that you agree with my options for your franchises.

Jason Borelli

PS: Full disclosure . . . I did send an audition tape for RW: Back to New York, but the preceding letter is not out of bitterness. As somebody who lived near Manhattan at the time and went to school there, I understand the odds of me joining the likes of Coral Smith and Mike Mizanin were very slim at best.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Adventures @ NYCC 2014: Day Four

I had a good day bookended by bad experiences. This morning, I drove to the bus stop, reached into my pocket, and realized I left my Metrocard at home. So I decided to go to the local rail . . . but then I bought a new Metrocard for $20, so I walked back to the bus stop.

After about three hours, I decided to go home. Along with my badge, I had also received a New York Super Card. This is a card that entitles one to a number of discounts, along with other amenities. I decide to walk a long way to a theme restaurant because I thought I'd get a discount.

They didn't have a discount.

Okay, so I know of a place that does accept the Super Card. Problem is, I don't know where it is. I call information, walk, then call 411 again because I forget things. I wind up walk nine blocks and change, but I finally found it.

The place is empty. There's, like, two people there, and neither one notices me.

Shit. So I wind up going to a restaurant where I pay over $20 for a small burger and sweet potato fries. With no discount. And I didn't need the damn fries. But at least I was able to get home.

Parade on Fifth Avenue.

Damn. I ended up walking nine blocks to the bus stop. All in all, it was an exhausting day. I logged in 18,560 steps, tops for the weekend. But you know what? I'm okay. There was little ennui to be had. I managed to have a fun weekend. Sure, I didn't get to do everything I wanted, but I met some familiar faces, got twelve sketches, and I had fun doing it. I'm going to need a few days to decompress, but I don't have to deal with many regrets. All in all, it was a fun four days.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Adventures @ NYCC 2014: Day Three

I had a good day. Logged in 14,860 steps, but I wasn't in much pain. Once again, I had to bail out early to get home at a decent hour. That meant missing another Adult Swim panel block, with Black Dynamite (a favorite cartoon of mine), The Heart She Holler, and Mike Tyson Mysteries (no, for real). I wanted to see it, but it took place at a time where it would let out around 7:30. No dice on that.

I wound up getting three new sketches, making in ten in three days. I spent $40 on an Abin Sur sketch from Dean Kotz, who drew a miniseries I read avidly, Krampus. I've been good about not going overboard with money . . . a little better than Fan Expo in Toronto. I'm going to fall short of my four-day record -- twenty in Comic-Con International 2009 -- but I don't care. One day, I'll have disposable income to spend on the bigger names, but I'm happy with what I get now.

The highlight for me today? Well, first I went to a panel on Disney's Infinity game. When the panel asked for questions, damn near everybody stormed to the back to grab collectable figures that you can play in the game. It was unbelievable to see a horde swarm for the swag. Yes, I was in there, and I got a Rocket Raccoon, but I wasn't hellbent on it.

Then came a panel for DC Comics' "Champions Of Justice." One thing about DC panels is that they give out swag for good questions. And I wanted to get something. Last year, I got a lenticular-covered copy of Forever Evil #1 for wondering how the Court of Owls could breathe in their mouthless masks. It took me a while to formulate something. I managed to get into one of the lines to speak. I saw others walk off with neat stuff. My question: What books would you like to see in a "rub and sniff" format? My question was the last one of the panel. What did I get?

A cape.

Yes . . . a cape. To commemorate Batman's 75th anniversary. I would've wanted another limited release issue or something flashy. But a cape? Oh, well. It was free, and I might wear it on Halloween while greeting trick-or-treaters. It depends on how I feel.

I have one more day. Happily, the ennui that hammered me in Toronto isn't affecting me as bad. I hope that I can last through Sunday without suffering from boredom.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Adventures @ NYCC 2014: Day Two

Well, I had less fun today. A lot of it was timing . . . I gave my sketchbook to an artist, and he didn't come to Artist Alley until 1 p.m. For me, that meant a lot of wandering, killing time until he returned. I picked up a few odds and ends, but I kept looking at my phone, waiting for a call. Not a lot of fun, to be honest.

Also, there was the issue of timing. I had to bail out early because I wanted to get back home by 8, which I did. Problem was, I had to ignore the big-ticket panels, including Agents Of SHIELD and Archer, the latter panel I managed to get to last year. I think it would let out around 8:30, and it would take me forever to get back home. And it turned out that they handed out wristbands far ahead of time, so I would've been shut out anyway.

I did get to spend a few hours basking in Adult Swim goodness . . . they showcased Rick & Morty, Robot Chicken, and a show featuring Jack McBrayer and Triumph the Insult Comedy Dog. I am dead serious. It turns out that Jack and Robert Smiegel (Triumph's creator) have good chemistry together. Look at this clip from Conan which was screened at the panel:

Nice, right? Anyway, the plot has the pair being ex-stars from a Lassie-type show, reunited in California (even though the show is filmed in New York City). To add to the surreal atmosphere, the panel was moderated by Alan Colmes, best know as Sean Hannity's former punching bag.

The other panels (or is it the rest of the uber-panel?) was interesting. Rick and Morty is gearing up for its second season as caustically funny as the first. And I got to see the brains behind Robot Chicken for at least the third year in a row. It was pretty fun with the silly hats and occasional clips. Turns out they'll be doing another Christmas special, titled The Robot Chicken Lots Of Holidays But Don't Worry Christmas Is Still There Too So Pull The Stick Out Of Your Ass Fox News. For real. They were giving away trips to a nearby boat for the best questions. I got to the line too late . .  . I have no sense for those shorts of moments. I was going to ask what the darkest sketch in the history of the show was. The premise comes from this bit from the opening season:

Dark, right? I have a few ideas of what could supplant that, but I didn't get to the microphone in time. Oh, well . . . there's always e-mail.

Aside from the waiting and the panel, I didn't do much. I wound up going to a panel for Vertigo Comics, where I found that Gail Simone was going to be writing a book -- Clean Room -- where she shows off her dark side. Well . . . her darker side. And I got to thank Kurt Busiek for a great story in his creator-owned Vertigo book, Astro City.

Getting home was a hassle. First, I boarded a shuttle bus that was slowed by New York traffic. I took it to Penn Station, where I boarded an express train. I was going to switch to the local to get to the ferry station, but I didn't see any other trains running. At this point, I just wanted to get home, so I wound up taking an express bus to Staten Island, where I walked out of my way to get to my car. My pedometer reached 17,974. Judging from the blisters on my toes, I can believe it.

I have two more days. I'm sure I can make the best of them to have a good weekend.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Adventures @ NYCC 2014: Day One

After feeling not my very best in Toronto, I'm trying to rebound by having a good time at New York Comic Con. This is my ninth time going to NYCC, which is based on the west side of Manhattan. To me, it's too close to home to consider not going. And like Comic-Con International in San Diego, the convention has gotten bigger over time. The organizers wound up throwing a smaller con at the Javits Center -- Special Edition NYC -- several months ago. I wound up spending my first hour there waiting on line to getting my NYCC admission. Not the sign of a sane person, but here I am.

So far, I've been having fun. I wound up taking 14,565 steps, a lot of that was from walking from Sixth Avenue all the way to the Javits Center. I could have taken a shuttle, but I wanted to get off to a healthy start. The convention isn't as spread out as Fan Expo Canada . . . there are three levels of action to be had. The main floor is located upstairs, the ground floor features Artist Alley, and the lower level hosts panels. Once you get the hang of the basics, you're home free. You just have to give yourself enough time for the panels.

THE GOOD: I wound up hitting one panel, on Doctor Who in comic books. It was pretty good. I indulged my Titan blind box habit, winding up with a 1-in-40 figure of Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor. I also got five sketches, which might be a first-day record for me. This time, I'm trying to save my money, so I'm hitting the DC Comics area at Artist Alley for freebies. I also got to meet Gail Simone for the first time since Special Edition. I wound up getting my copy of Batgirl: Future's End autographed . . .

THE BAD: . . . which I ended up losing, because I was using the issue as a reference for a sketch. I think it fell out of my sketchbook. I'll have to check Lost & Found tomorrow, but I'm resigned to getting another copy. Also, I didn't get a freebie sketch from a famed artist. No big deal . . . I wasted a little time, but I knew the odds of me getting something from him were pretty slim.

Things should pick up tomorrow. I won't stay out too long . . . The Amazing Race will be on at 8 p.m., and I want to catch it "live," even thought I'll be DVRing it.