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Monday, July 18, 2011

The New York Mets Are At A Fork In The Road...Which Direction Would You Take?

My definition of a DILEMMA is when you have two or more viable answers to a specific problem.  (No need to check Webster’s Dictionary – take my word for it!) It’s the perennial fork in the road situation…Go to your left, and you might make your trip shorter, but the “tolls” in the road are going to cost you.  Go to the right, and it might take you longer to get to your final destination, and you’re certain to hear plenty of complaints along the way, (Are We There Yet?)  but the road will be filled with breath taking views…which one do you take. 

The second half of the 2011 Major League Baseball season is underway, and the New York Mets brain trust, (GM Sandy Alderson, and The Ownership Group of Wilpon and Einhorn), are facing a dilemma.  A dilemma that could have an effect on the franchise for years to come…an intersection in the road and that annoying voice on their GPS has gone silent! 

The Mets playoff dreams are slowly fading away.  Okay, maybe not so slowly, with a .500 record, they trail the lone National League Wild Card spot by 8 games, and have to leapfrog four teams in front of them.  What’s facing the NY Mets is a decision that could change the face of the organization for years to come. 

Jose Reyes, their All Star Shortstop, is a free agent.  Trade him and you risk the chance of alienating your fan base.  A fan base that has been slowly dwindling over the past years.  Sign him to a lucrative long term contract and you’re way over budget. For the cash strapped team, right now, every dollar counts.  Such is the decision New York Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson, and the Wilpon – Einhorn Group have to make regarding their shortstop.  And the future of the team hangs on this very decision. 

For a team looking for someone to hang their hat on, and the Mets are certainly in need of help, is Jose Reyes that guy?  Since the Omar Minaya days, the Mets have been looking for someone to lead this team…Johann Santana, Carlos Beltran, David Wright, Jason Bay, Jose Reyes…who is the true leader on and off the field of this organization?  It’s funny, but across town, in the Bronx, the Yankees situation is the complete opposite – the nucleus of the team has been with them since 1995, and when you ask the average fan who is the face of the Yankees, no doubt shortstop Derek Jeter’s name will pop up…Do the Mets look to duplicate what the Bronx Bombers have done?  Is Reyes the type of guy you want representing your team? 

Now the situation Met’s management is facing is not new to baseball franchises, or any sports franchise for that matter.  Every now or then, a team will say to their fans, “We’re trading our star player now, to build for the future!”  This has been affectionately known as “The Five Year Plan.”  Trade away a star player, a player that has been with the team since he was drafted as a teenager.  He came up through the farm system, Class A, Double AA, a few weeks in Triple AAA and then, rookie of the year, a couple of years representing the team at the Mid Summer Classic, and then, his contract is up, and it’s time  for him to move on.  So the team trades him to a contender for three or four young players who would, if all works out, help the team make the playoffs five years from the trade. 

The only problem with “The Five Year Plan” is this is New York – the Big Apple – home of the impatient fan, demanding media, and the 28 Championship Trophies in their office, New York Yankees – there is no such thing as The Five Year Plan!  Unless that plan includes four playoff appearances, three National League Crowns and two ticker tape parades.  Trading away your best player for three minor leaguers and a player to be named later will get you hung in effigy, and a whole bunch of season tickets on Stub Hub!  

You're driving down the road, and you come to a fork…to the left is fiscal sanity but you might want to run for cover…to the right, well, let's just say, your budget was just a number, but you’re going to make a lot of people happy (if only for a moment!)

What do you do?  

Monday, July 11, 2011

History With An Exclamation Point!

Imagine staring “Lady Luck” in the eye and looking away?  Finding that “Golden Ticket” and eating the chocolate and throwing away the wrapper (a Willie Wonka and The Chocolate Factory reference!)  Ever pick all the numbers of the winning lottery combination, but forget to go to the convenience store to play your numbers?  Imagine having a life changing opportunity in your hands, but your conscience tells you to give up?

On the afternoon of Saturday, July 10, all of baseball’s eyes were on Yankee Stadium, as the New York Yankees took on the Tampa Bay Rays in an early afternoon game.  (All eyes except FOX’s Baseball Game of The Week who had their crews set up elsewhere.)  The real story, besides the game between two American League Eastern Division rivals who are fighting for a shot at the division crown, was Yankees Captain Derek Jeter’s quest to join the 3,000 Hit Club, (only 27 other members) and become the first Yankee to get 3,000 hits.   

As we all know now, Jeter got his 3,000 hit, a home run in the 3rd inning, and then some, going 5 for 5 and driving in the winning run in a Yankees 5 to 4 victory over the Rays.  But there was another story at Yankee Stadium on that afternoon, a story that took a lot of us by surprise and that was the story of Christian Lopez, a 23 year old Verizon Wireless Salesman from Upstate New York and his role in New York Yankees history. 
Lopez had gotten the tickets as a birthday gift from his girlfriend, Tara Johnson.  The two had been dating since they met at Saint Lawrence University in Canton, New York..  Johnson had purchased the tickets (3 tickets to be exact – one for Christian, one for Tara and one for Raul, Christian’s dad!) on StubHub for $65 a piece.  When the Friday night game was rained out, the couple thought maybe they had a chance to witness Yankees History.  They certainly didn’t consider ever being a part of Yankees History.  After all, Jeter had only hit two home runs all year long.  Still, Christian, Tara and Christian’s dad were happy to be at the game, hoping to see The Captain become the first Yankee to achieve the 3,000 hit milestone. 
Lopez, his girlfriend and his father, took their seats in the first row of Section 236 in the left-field bleachers hoping to see Yankee History unfold before them.  The Stadium had that playoff feeling.   As Jeter stepped up to the plate in the 3rd inning to face Rays lefthander, All Star pitcher David Price, the entire sell out crowd stood up on their feet, many of them with cameras in their hands, waiting to get a photo of the moment Jeter got his 3,000 hit – Christian was one of them.  After running the count to 3 and 2, Jeter turned on a Price curve ball, and sent the ball to the left field bleachers, as the fans in Section 236 around Lopez jostled for position. 

The ball traveled on a line to Section 236…Jeter’s 3,000 hit…The Golden Ticket…The Winning Lottery Numbers…and after bouncing off of the senior Lopez’s hands, there it lay, Jeter’s 3,000 hit…the opportunity that could change someone’s life for the better…in a patch of grass in front of Christian Lopez.  And Christian did what he had done during his college football career at St. Lawrence University when a fumble would lie in front of him – he pounced on it.  Yankee Stadium security guards rushed in, not asking if Lopez was okay, but “more importantly” escorting Lopez from his seat in Section 236 while keeping one eye on Jeter’s 3,000 hit.
Some experts say the Jeter 3,000 Hit is a “game changer” – possibly worth in excess of $200,000 to $300,000.  And some people are saying, there is no way they would give the 3,000 hit ball back without “a little something for the effort!”  (A Caddyshack reference!)  And some people are saying, you’d be a fool not want to be financial rewarded for being at the right place at the right time…
None of those thoughts came across Christian Lopez’s mind, (his girlfriend was thinking of them!)  For him, a life long Yankees fan, this was about something bigger than money – this was about a moment in history, a moment that one man had worked for over the past 16 years, and Christian didn’t want to take that moment away from Derek Jeter.
Now, you can call Christian Lopez foolish, ignorant, senseless, or irresponsible and at 23 years old, perhaps each of us could have been described by one of the words at that age.  But for Christian Lopez, on this Saturday afternoon, the only words that mattered were Yankees History.

What would you do if the winning lottery ticket fell right into your lap…If Lady Luck was staring right at you…?   

Monday, July 4, 2011

Catching Up With Father Time

At some point in life, professionally or personally, it’s going to happen to you.  It’s part of the vicious process called AGING.  You’re going to walk into your office, and there staring in front of you is the next person that is going to take your job.  (By the way, they probably work for you, so to extend your professional career, fire that person now!) One day, your children are going to come home from school and will stop playing with you because it’s not cool anymore.  Heck, even the dog is going to start laying on someone else’s lap because your lap is getting too lumpy.  At some point in your life, you are going to become OBSOLETE! 

There has been an ongoing headline all year long in Major League Baseball that made me think about the inevitable – getting old.   

Since Spring Training, no, actually, since the 2010 off season, the recurring talk in the New York Yankees circle has been the aging of The Core Four…Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada.  Four Yankees that came together in 1995, and except for a brief moment of home sickness, (Andy Pettitte decided to go to home to Houston and play for the Astros from 2004 – 2006), had played together and formed the nucleus of the Yankee Dynasty for over 16 years.  During that stretch, from 1995 to 2010, the New York Yankees had appeared in 7 World Series, walked away with 5 Championship Rings, won the AL East 10 times, and played baseball beyond the regular season in 13 of those years.  Each one of The Core Four had been drafted or signed by the New York Yankees, and except for the 3 years where Pettitte went to Houston, they called The Bronx their home.  And for many of those 16 years, success wasn’t only expected, it was attained.   Now in the twilight of their career, each player would be faced with the inevitable…their playing days are coming to end.  For most Major League Baseball players, the last years of their career is just another phase.  They assume a part time role and if lucky enough, help provide bench leadership long enough to get a couple of extra years out of their skills (and a few more dollars in their bank account.) 

When it comes to The Core Four and the New York Yankees, nothing is status quo on how they will end their careers.  Andy Pettitte took the decision and his fate into his own hands, and decided to call it a career before someone told him to take a seat in the bullpen.  At the beginning of the 2011 season, The Core Four was down to THREE.

Now, as the 2011 Major League Baseball enters the dog days of summer, where the heat, and the toll of playing every day begins to have an effect on your body, the focus has turned to Jorge Posada, and more glaring, the Captain of the New York Yankees, Derek Jeter.  How tough will it be for these players to take the news that their game ain’t what it used to be and it’s time to step aside? 

It was May 14, during a series against the hated Boston Red Sox, when Posada was hit with the news that must have felt like a wild pitch that bounced in the dirt and hit him in the gut… “Jorge, we’re dropping you down in the lineup tonight…you’re  batting ninth.”  Ninth…is that where they put the pitcher?  Ninth…is that usually saved for that light hitting centerfielder what’s his name?  Ninth…is that where you put your worst hitter?    When I first heard about how Posada reacted to the demotion of batting ninth in the Yankees lineup after a miserable start to the season, I, like I’m sure many sports fans thought, Posada acted selfishly and childish.  How could a grow man who is getting paid extremely well to play a game get upset for being demoted in the lineup?  (And even writing about it now, I’m thinking about how Posada acted that day when he met with manager Girardi, and I’m shaking my head!) 

Imagine having earned “STAR” status in your profession for the past 16+ years, performing in a city that eats up its success like warm apple pie…craving it at every meal.   Imaging one day being told, that your skills aren’t what they used to be, that your not as fast as you were a few years ago, you’re not as quick, and sadly, not as needed as you were a few years ago…Imagine that for most of your life, all you have known, wanted and loved, was about to come to a crashing halt…All before the age of 40 years old?  Imagine that what kept you going every day…what got you up in the morning was no longer there for you?  How would you feel?  And it’s all played out on the biggest stage in the country…Talked about on the radio, written about in the newspapers, and posted on every sports blog in the digital world…How would you feel? 

For Derek Jeter, the 2011 season will be marked as the true beginning to the end of his career.  A career that will certainly end up at Cooperstown in The Hall of Fame.  Throughout this season, we have heard how his range at shortstop has become a glaring problem, (they have been saying it for years actually.)  How he leads the league in infield hits (does it really matter), and how he can no longer drive the ball into the outfield.   And, how the New York Yankees and Manager Girardi need to move The Captain down, way down, to the bottom of the lineup. 

Imagine how Jeter is going to feel when he no longer sees his name at the top of the lineup card.  Or when Girardi begins to platoon another shortstop with old Number 2.  For the past 16 years, all Jeter has ever given has been the best he has had to offer.  Imagine what it’s going to be like when the best he has isn’t good enough anymore?    

Imagine how it feels when you’re told you’re no longer needed…Imagine how it feels when you become obsolete…