Archive for New York Mets

Quick Link: Baseball, Childhood Cancer, and a Family Comes Full Circle

This is a story I’ve told before, 4-5 years back, but recently retold over at my other blog, 2 Guys Talking Mets Baseball. The name pretty much says it all.

So I’ll direct you to it. Right this way, people —> Click on this link right here.

A sample of what you’ll find there, my oldest boy, my beautiful wife  . . .

Standing within the gray, concrete hallways of Shea Stadium, I couldn’t help but think of my mother, and how our love of baseball had brought us to this singular moment. My boy, sick with cancer, smiling weakly into the camera, a Sharpie and a signed baseball in his hand. All those games we had watched together, our spirits dashed by defeat and lifted in victory. All of that time and energy invested, all of that life we poured into the game — all of it, truth be told, a little absurd. After all it is just a game. Not life, not death, and certainly not childhood cancer. But standing in that basement of old Shea Stadium, I knew with certainty that it all had been worth it. We will always be grateful to the Mets organization for the kindness of that day.

My New Mets Blog: 2 Guys Talking Mets Baseball

I have a friend whose mother is a huge fan of the New York Mets. Sadly, she’s been losing the battle with Alzheimer’s, can no longer live on her own, and often doesn’t even recognize the face of her own son. This is familiar territory for people my age. We’re watching our parents get old, get sick, get terribly confused, and pass from our lives.

Anyway, my buddy tells me, “You know what’s funny? She still asks about the Mets. She may have forgotten most of her life, but there’s some part of her that still knows the Mets are important.”

And I get that, I get it completely. For starters, my mother is the same way. And I’m the same way, because I’m my mother’s son. In 1969, at age 8, I attended Game 5 of the 1969 World Series — the day the Mets won it all in that miracle year. It remains a central, vivid, defining event for me, a North Star in the constellation of my life.

As I posted on our Mets blog yesterday, I even remember going into school the next day with a knot in my stomach, fearful of my poor excuse for an absence. I missed school for a baseball game? I didn’t think that would fly.

“The following day in class I tried to appear as sickly as possible. But unbeknownst to me, my mother had sent in a note explaining my truancy. Mrs. Thompson came to me and said, “I heard you were at the baseball game!” I confessed that, alas, it was true, figuring myself for a dead man. But to my relief, Mrs. Thompson smiled wide and told me that I was a lucky fellow. And I was lucky, even I knew as much, but I had never expected a teacher to realize it, too. It’s like when you are a kid and ASTONISHED to see a teacher at, say, the supermarket. You’re like, “You’re a human being? That eats . . . food?!” You just didn’t see them as people, exactly. That’s how I felt about Mrs. Thompson. I never figured her for a fan.

The simple truth is, I’m still a huge Mets fan and, down to my bones, “a baseball guy.” Which is a long way of telling you that I’ve cooked up a new side project, a blog about the New York Mets. I’m partnering it with my friend, Michael, mentioned above. It’s called 2 Guys Talking Mets Baseball.

If you’re a fan, come on by and check us out.

What’s that great quote from Jim Bouton?

“You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball

and in the end it turns out

that it was the other way around all the time.”

Celebrating 4 Years of Bloggy Goodness: Baseball, This Invisible Thread

NOTE: I originally posted this back in August, 2008 — before I knew how to insert photos.

——–

I love baseball. It’s kind of ridiculous, I know. But it’s not like I had a choice.

As the youngest of seven children, I remember lying sprawled on the tiles of our playroom floor, the television turned to a ballgame, my mother moving from the washing machine to the dryer, bending, lifting, hauling, then over to the ironing board, then back, again and again.

At one point in her life, before I came along, before preschool was in vogue – this was the 1950s, deep in the post-war suburban dream – my mother had five children below the age of seven. It kept her busy. She was busy still in the 1960s, back when I was a pup.

So there she was, that white-haired mother of mine, rooting for her “Metsies.” I learned their names – Cleon Jones, Tom Terrific, Cool Koos and Eddie Kranepool. My mother, a good Irishwoman, showed a decided preference for Wayne “Red” Garrett, the young third baseman who was an average player on his best days, but handsome in that freckled, honest, Irish way. (It was only in later years, as baseball changed, when her crushes shifted to undersized Spanish-speaking shortstops like “little” Jose Oquendo and Raphael Santana.)

Before my mom went Latino, she always

favored the Irish boys.

I also learned the names of the players on the other side, those Mets-killers who broke our hearts. Their names were Shannon and Perez, Clemente and McCovey, Banks and Aaron.

Today I still repeat my mother’s line, inherited and ingrained, whenever a tough batter steps to the plate: “Uh-oh, he’s trouble.”

In my heart, my mother is linked to the New York Mets, and there are times when I don’t know if my love for one is a confusion for the other; or if, in my affection for the Mets, I am only expressing that childlike love I once carried – and still carry – for my mother, the soft lap I once rested my head upon, her hand in my hair. There she is at the end of the couch, a glass of crushed ice on the table, from which she constantly bites and chews. And the game is on the screen, the announcers’ voices in my ears. I am content, I am at home: the game is on and I’m with my mom.

She taught me how to catch, my mother, how to play. That wasn’t Dad’s department. Blithely indifferent, or just otherwise occupied, he didn’t care about sports. We never played catch, or hardly ever. That’s okay, because Mom did. And I liked Mom, plenty. She had a good arm and soft hands.

My mother taught me how to catch and throw.

But I crushed her at ping pong. No mercy.

I remember as a Little Leaguer asking, “Mom, am I graceful?”

She liked grace, my mother, the smoothness that certain outfielders had when they drifted back to the warning track, glove stretched out, eyes in the clouds, finally cradling that ball to the dull, soft slap of leather.

“Yes,” she’d answer. “Very graceful.”

And today, like her, like then, I still snap off the television in despair when the Mets play poorly. “I can’t watch anymore!” we’ll both exclaim across the years and miles, attached by an invisible thread.

Ten minutes later, both of us will again reach for the clicker, filled with the unquenchable hope that is at the heart of every game.

Now I can see that same sweet dynamic in my own children, particularly the two boys. They follow the game, just as they once obsessed over dinosaurs and super heroes, books and guitars. Now it’s baseball. All mixed up and confused with their love for me, I know.

After all, I should, I helped weave the blanket of baseball that wraps around us.

Sometimes I even hear them say it, when certain sluggers step to the plate, Chipper Jones perhaps, or the redoubtable Albert Pujols:

“Uh-oh, he’s trouble.”

By the late 60′s, my mother most feared

RBI-men Mike Shannon and Tony Perez.

But Mom would agree: this guy broke the hearts

of more Mets fans than any other player.

So How About Dem Mets?

I’m off again to another couple of hotels, and more schools to visit. The trips always turn out nice, and I’m grateful for them, but I’m such a homebody.

And also: I miss my desk, my work, my wife, my kids, my brain.

On a different note, it’s almost baseball season and I’m not optimistic about my New York Mets. I laughed at this piece from The Onion, “Carlos Beltran Has Impressive Day of Not Falling Apart and Dying.

Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran, whose past several seasons have been hampered by nagging injuries, had a successful outing Monday, managing to get through a spring training workout without crumbling into a pile of dust and dying. “It was one of his best days in years, because he was still breathing and alive by the end,” Mets manager Terry Collins said during a press conference, adding that he was amazed with Beltran’s ability to pump blood from his heart to other parts of his body for a whole session of batting practice.

This Week’s Greatest Thing Ever

I’m off to Baltimore, Camden Yards specifically, to see the Mets play the Orioles.

Every year I take a trip with my buddy from Queens. Always to see the Mets. We’ve been to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Chicago and Washington D.C. Our big dream is San Francisco, but that can wait for a while. Last time I was in Baltimore I visited Edgar Allan Poe’s grave. You are supposed to leave a penny or a bottle of bourbon or something like that. Pretty sure I went with the penny.

NOTE: Found this on NPR, just to prove how a reasonable guy (me) can truly mess up his facts:

For decades, three roses and a bottle of cognac mysteriously appeared once a year at the grave of Edgar Allan Poe. Now a 92-year-old man claims it was all a promotional stunt aimed at preserving the Baltimore churchyard where Poe is buried. Sam Porpora, a former advertising executive, says either he or one of his tour guides would drop off the gifts every year on Poe’s birthday. Poe’s fans say only this and nothing more.

Actually, I still might be right about the penny. No time to look into it now, I’ve got a plane to catch!

In the meantime, please — oh, you must! — click on the video below, stick with it a little while, watch the drummer, and let the awesomeness flow over you. Around the 1:00 point should do it.

Funny, I own the same jacket.

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

Fan Mail Wednesday #87

Crazy busy time of year. Spring hits, the family calendar fills up, and we can barely keep up with our day jobs. Quick: Let’s answer a letter.

This one came the old-fashioned way . . . by Pony Express!

I replied:

Dear Madison from Canyon Lake:

Best letter ever. I mean it.

Okay, maybe you share first place with a bunch of other folks, but nobody beats Madison from Canyon Lake. As a children’s book author, there’s nothing better than hearing that maybe you helped someone become enthusiastic about reading.

I love books and I am amazed at the life that has come to me through that love of books. As a kid, I never planned on being a writer. I planned on being an All-Star southpaw pitcher for the New York Mets. (As John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”) These days, I am always reading something, with a long list of books that I’m eager to tackle next. So many books, so little time. It makes me happy to think that you are on the same journey: reading, thinking, learning. Keep up the great work.

The Case of the Buried Treasure is one of my all-time favorite books in the series. There’s a lot of little things that I snuck in there, such as a sly tribute to former NY Mets manager Gil Hodges, and another to Alfred Hitchcock. I also paid tribute to a 1963 movie that was a favorite from back when I was a boy, “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” You can find that in the chapter titled, “The Big Y.” I tend to think young readers don’t notice these things, like small treasures I bury in the story, but it pleases me to include them just the same. I guess I put them in there for the parents who might be reading along — and for myself.

For readers who don’t know the book, here’s the first in a series of riddles that Jigsaw must solve in order to locate the treasure: A man left home. He ran as fast as he could. Then he turned to the left. He ran and turned left again. He ran and turned left again. He headed back for home. He saw two masked men waiting for him. Yet he was not afraid.

Jigsaw’s grandmother, a baseball lover, helps him figure it out.

Thanks for writing. Your friend,

James Preller

Happy Nappy Bloggy Baseball: Around the Horn with Doret

My friend, Doret Canton, of The Happy Nappy Bookseller blog, goes around the horn with nine authors of children’s baseball books. It’s a pretty cool lineup with some heavy hitters, sure to score runs in bunches.

Doret’s come up with a fun, inventive way of sharing her passion for baseball and baseball books, with each author answering interview questions over a series of days.

Here’s the lineup:

1. Gene Fehler, Change-up: Baseball Poems
2. Linda Sue Park, Keeping Score
3. Kurtis Scaletta, Mudville
4. Alan Gratz, Brooklyn Nine
5. Julianna Baggott, The Prince of Fenway Park
6. James Preller, Six Innings
7. Jennifer E. Smith, The Comeback Season
8. Carl Deuker, Painting the Black
9. Mick Cochrane, The Girl Who Threw Butterflies

Alongside this company, I’m like that kid at second base, murmuring to himself, “Don’t screw it up, don’t screw it up, please God don’t let me screw it up.”

Here’s Round One, questions 1-3.

Here’s Round Two, questions 4-6.

Stop on over and check it out.

By the way, I interviewed Doret back about a year ago. She’s a passionate, voracious reader and I love her attitude. You wanna get real? Go talk to Doret. But don’t believe my word for it, decide for yourself.

After spending time with Doret, you’ll definitely want to put on a squeeze play.

Alex Rodriguez Gets a Makeover: “I Had to Look in the Mirror. I Had to Face the Music. I Had to Change.”

In a recent article in the New York Daily News, writer Anthony McCarron describes the rehabilitation of Yankee slugger, Alex Rodriguez.

Soon after helping the Yankees win the 2009 World Series, Rodriguez noted: “A lot of people were very honest with me. I had to look in the mirror. I had to face the music, and I had to to change, and I did that. Kevin Long came to my house in November and said some things that were uncomfortable and I listened, and I changed.”

[Long said:] In order for the team to be together, he had to change and he did. A lot of people tell Alex what he wants to hear. It wasn’t comfortable for me to talk to him like this, but if it ultimately helped us become a better team, that’s what matters.”

Rodriguez changed some little things — made more eye contact with folks he talked to “as opposed to a quick look and his mind already racing to something else,” Long said. He chose the team plane more often, eschewing private jets, and cut down his cell-phone calls at the ballpark. He joined clubhouse conversations, spent time with teammates, tried to be one of the guys.

In a related note, US Weekly recently ran an item noting that Rodriguez had two portraits of himself as a centaur hanging over his bed.

What follows is an attempt to reconstruct the conversation between Long and Rodriguez during that remarkable November visit.

——-

DL: Alex, sit down. It’s time for an intervention. I hate to say this. I know it’s painful. But you’ve got to change. No one on the team likes you.

A-Rod (defensively): You like me.

DL: Actually, no. I’m on your payroll. Otherwise, I’m not here, I’m playing golf with Posada.

A-Rod: Posada?

DL: You’ve got to learn how to be a regular guy in the clubhouse, Alex. Your teammates don’t — Alex, Alex! Could you please stop staring at the mirror. Look at me!

A-Rod (whispering): God, you’re sooooo pretty. I could stare at you all day long.

DL: Alex, that’s still the mirror. Turn around. Eye contact. Look . . . at . . . me.

A-Rod: Why? You’re not as pretty as I am.

DL: Alex, don’t you understand. That’s why I’m here. You act as if you don’t care about anyone but yourself.

A-Rod: How dare you say that! It’s not an act — I really, honestly, sincerely don’t care about anyone besides myself.

DL: Your teammates think you are a self-absorbed egomaniac.

A-Rod: Teammates?

DL: You know, Derek, Jorge, Mariano, Mark . . .

A-Rod: I’m drawing a blank.

DL: C.C., Johnny, Hideki . . .

A-Rod: You mean the Japanese guy? Isn’t he my sushi chef?

DL: No, Jesus, Alex! And Matsui hates when you call him that. These guys are your teammates.

A-Rod: Oh, wait, hold on, I think I know who you’re talking about — you mean the guys who always dress like me?

DL: It’s a uniform, Alex. Everybody wears the same uniform. Alex, another thing . . . could you please put down the cell phone for one freaking minute? Do you have to text right now in the middle of our conversation? Who could be that important?

A-Rod: I wish I had my own airport. Boras promised me that . . .

DL: Alex, for the love of all that is good and holy in this world. Please. It’s time for you to change.

A-Rod: But I want to change!

DL: You do?

A-Rod (jumps up from chair): Yes, desperately. I’m going to change right now!

DL: Alex, Alex? Where are you . . . ? (Long follows Rodriguez into his bedroom, where the Yankee third-baseman changes into a new outfit.) Alex — not that kind of change.

A-Rod: How do I look? Too gypsy?

DL: Jesus, Alex.

A-Rod: Too matchy-matchy?

DL: I don’t know, maybe you could make it work. Do you have a pair of boots or something that highlighted your glistening orbs . . . My God! What am I saying??!!

A-Rod: Man, I wish I could tickle myself. Isn’t it sad? People can’t tickle themselves.

DL: Alex, please, for the love of . . . what the . . . is that a centaur over your bed?

A-Rod: Isn’t it amazing?

DL: Uh, yeah, amazing — that’s a word for it. I mean, there might be other words, too, better words, but — Holy God, there’s another! You have TWO paintings of yourself as a centaur? One wasn’t enough?

A-Rod: I’m not sure if two is enough. I’m hiring a guy to paint a new one of me as a unicorn. Except that instead of a horn coming out of my forehead, it would be my . . .

DL: Alex, please, enough already. Just stop. I’m out of here. I’m  gone. In fact, forget I was ever here. Just, just . . . keep hitting home runs . . . okay? We don’t care about the rest. It’s baseball. It’s not like it’s a real team sport anyway.

A-Rod: Thanks for this talk, Hank. Or, um, Fred? Or, anyway, it was really helpful. I promise you. I’m going to change. Do you think if I tied this sweater around my waist, like this, it makes me look too bloated?

——-

Centaur image from Deadspin.com, courtesy of Jason Fry, from the Faith and Fear in Flushing blog (see sidebar).

James Preller is a life-long Mets fan who, as a third-grader, went to Shea to watch the 5th Game of the 1969 World Series. He is also the author of the ALA Notable Children’s Book, Six Innings.

Glad That’s Over: The Mets Season in Two Photos (For Mets Fans Only)

Allow me to interrupt “The Never-Ending Lewis Buzbee Interview” to bid a not-so-fond adieu to the end of the baseball season for my beloved New York Mets . . .

File this one under: “How It Feels To Be a Mets Fan These Days.”

Hat tip to the hardworking Aaron Gleeman for first commenting on the photo. I’m basically just stealing Aaron’s act right now. As for the photo below. Woof.

That’s how bad it’s been. The longest. Season. Ever. Or at least since the dismal, dispiriting 1979 squad that lost 99 games.

Glad it’s over. And I never say that.

Tonight, I’m a Twins fan . . .

Stories Behind the Story: The Case of the Food Fight

My wonderful editor at Scholastic, Shannon Penney, suggested this title to me. That happens sometimes, when book club editors will come up with a desired theme or vague concept, and Shannon will be assigned with the grim task of conveying it to me: Halloween, snowboarding, Halloween, Ghosts, Halloween, or whatever. I try to be open to them, find ways to make it work. But here was an idea that I instantly hated. “No, no-no, no NO-no NO,” I said. “Jigsaw would never do that, and it’s the last thing I’d want to celebrate in these books.”

Yet I could not completely deny the appeal of flying meatballs. It would be a fun scene to write. I said I’d think about it. Maybe there was a way.

Next I made a phone call to Ellen Mosher, a second-grade teacher at Westmere Elementary. Ellen did not recall witnessing any food fights, but she said there might have been a few isolated incidents of smashed cupcakes, etc. I asked, “What if a food fight happened. Let’s say it was a huge misunderstanding, no one was at truly fault, but it just kind of got out of hand. What would happen next?”

“Oh,” Ellen said. “It would be a very big deal. The principal would definitely get involved. The kids would have to do the cleanup, and write letters of apology.”

Hmmm, I thought. Maybe there was a way into this story after all. It wasn’t so much about the food fight, but about everything that happened next, the consequences. A teachable moment.  And a story I could feel good about telling.

—–

Many Jigsaw Jones books have a connection to the New York Mets, usually in the names of bit players. In this book, the lunch aide’s name is Mrs. Minaya, after the Mets’ General Manager, Omar Minaya. The other lunch aide, Mrs. Randolph, was named after the Mets’ sourpuss manager at the time, Willie Randolph.

For the mystery, Mrs. Randolph mistakenly accuses Joey Pignattano — named after a coach from the Mets (1968-1981), Joe Pignatano, an ex-Brooklyn Dodger famous for growing tomatoes in the bullpen  — of starting the food fight.

“Jigsaw, you’ve got to help me,” Joey pleaded. “I’m innocent!”

Do readers notice any of this? Does anybody care? I kind of doubt it. Mostly it’s just a thing I’ve always done in this series to entertain myself — and possibly some random Mets-loving reader out there. When it comes time to make up the name of a character, I’ll begin my search with former New York Mets.

—–

Around the time of this book, Paris Hilton was on TV with a FOX reality series called “The Simple Life,” a show where two socialites (Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie) attempt to work a series of low-paying jobs, such as doing farm work, working in fast-food restaurants, and so on. That’s where I got the idea of Paris Hilton working as a substitute school nurse. Funny, right? You know, flipping through a magazine while some kid hurls into a garbage pail. I imagined that she’d say something like, “Could you keep it down, I’m trying to polish my toenails.” So I created the character of Nurse Hilton, placed her in the middle of the mystery, and  was on my way. When I added her dog, I had the key to the mystery.

Jigsaw described her this way:

She was impossibly tall and thin. She had blond hair. And long legs that went all the way to the floor.

Jigsaw will eventually discover that Nurse Hilton was hiding Tinkerbell, her pet Chihuahua, in the filing cabinet. In the nurse’s office, Jigsaw takes in the scene:

I glanced around the room. The desktop overflowed with stacks of folders. Some had even fallen on the floor. A travel magazine opened to a photo of Paris. I saw lipstick and a hand mirror.

Why were so many folders on the desk?  Why had there been reports of barking in the lunch room? Jigsaw and Mila figure it all out in time to save Joey. And as for Nurse Hilton, she hasn’t been seen since.