Elster's World

Sunday, April 30, 2006

A Blue, Green and Orange Post-Mortem

There were three very significant sports-related events this weekend. (i) The Rangers were eliminated from the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a four-game sweep by the hated New Jersey Devils, (ii) the New York Jets completed their selections in the 2006 NFL draft, and (iii) the New York Mets took two of three games from the Atlanta Braves.

While not necessarily apparent on the surface, these three events are the cause of great optimism for this fan. I shall explain.

The Rangers: While I am admittedly still reeling from the first round disaster, the truth is that this wasn’t too difficult to call even a week before the regular season was over. The Rangers were the hottest team going into the Olympic break, but came back a different team. Many of their starters looked a little worn down from deep runs in the Torino tournament and the team lacked the same fire they had shown before the Olympics began. And When Henrik Lundqvist went down with his hip injury (among many other factors), the wheels came flying off down the stretch. The first round ouster by the Devils was almost predictable (and in fact was indeed predicted by many, right Joe?) and swiftly became a four game reality.

Yet all that said, this season was, in many ways, a very effective balm for what has been ailing fans of the franchise for the entire playoff-less drought. The Rangers went back to basics. Instead of trying to sign every high priced free agent looking for his last big payoff, the Rangers chose to build around Jaromir Jagr, surrounding him with a number of Czech teammates for comfort, a two high energy checking lines to do all the dirty work like killing penalties and shutting down top lines. The strategy worked. Buying into coach Tom Renney’s system, the team worked hard all year, starting with an opening night shocker in Philly and continuing on for 100 points. Jagr was rejuvenated and the Rangers seem to have found a goalie for the future in Lundqvist.

The biggest positive: The Rangers can simply tweak this team and make it better for next year. Jagr is under contract for another two seasons (not fact checked) and players from within like Jarkko Immonen should be ready to contribute next year. Immonen actually scored in his first two games in his short call up replacing Steve Ruccin. If (and this is a huge if) the Rangers make a smart free agent signing or two, the offense should be in good shape. Defensively, the hope here is that Marc Staal (and to a lesser extent Thomas Pock) will be ready to step in next year and be the steady, two-way players the Rangers so desperately need to lock the defense down for next year.

So while the season flamed out, the Rangers did not crash and burn. Next season should be a bright one as well. Of course, management needs to resist the temptation to try and make a free-agent bought run at the Cup. It never works and will only destroy the carefully crafted team chemistry.

The Jets – I have neither the energy nor the time to delve too deeply into the significance of tight end Jason Pocisak or tackle Titus Adams, I will say that when I saw on the ESPN ticker after Shabbos that the Jets had solidified the offensive line with both D’brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold, I literally jumped for joy. Two solid, if not boring picks. Safe and smart instead of flashy and risky. I approved of both selections. For a full orthodox Jewish breakdown of the 2-day draft event, I encourage everyone to check out Joe’s not yet up post (http://jschick.blogspot.com/).

The Mets beat down of the Braves this weekend was historic. They never win in Atlanta and no one ever has six and seven game leads in their division in April. The Mets are serving notice that they are the team to beat in the East. If the starting pitching holds up, that should be the case the entire season.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Travel Mates

The first post (written by moi) is up Take a look.

Elster's World is Proud To Announce...

As my (very few) regulars know, awhile back I stumbled across a fledgling blog called Traditional Tomfoolery (http://tamponella.blogspot.com/). I was hooked not so much by the story being told (though the story was quite good) but rather by the extremely talented trio of writers who were posting on it. Here were three relatively young women who could actually, gasp!, write.

Needless to say, when the blog shut down in October of ’05, I was quite upset. Luckily, it was nothing that three months in an insane asylum couldn’t take care of.

Having finished the traditional five-month blog mourning process recommended by Traditional Tomfoolery Anonymous, I saw that one of the original members, Tomboy (http://www.blogger.com/profile/11585410), had re-opened the blog. I was ecstatic. With my list of must-read blogs shrinking rapidly, it was nice to see one phoenix from the literary ashes.

I initially contacted Tomboy just to let her know I was happy to see her blog back. After some thought, I was struck with an idea. I suggested a collaboration and dove for cover. She was nice enough to not only not laugh in my face but humor me and agree to give it a shot. Her game attempt at sounding flattered was a nice touch.

The result of some late night back and forth is Travel Mates (http://matestravel.blogspot.com/), a fictional account of two strangers who win a contest. The first post will be going up in a few days (or maybe today if work permits).

What will come of this collaboration? No one knows. At worst it will be so horrendous, the very foundations of the Earth shall be rent asunder and we shall all perish in the fiery pits of the underworld. At best, it will be loads of fun to write and maybe even a good yarn for you to enjoy. Either way, fasten your seatbelts.

Elster.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Curious Case of Victor Zambrano

I almost feel bad writing about nonsense after my last post but not THAT bad – After all, I’m basically 15% serious and 85% nonsense – Just ask Joe:

Ok I’ll say it, even if Willie Randolph and Rick Peterson will not; Victor Zambrano is disgusting out there. Disgraceful. Revolting. You pick. It isn’t just the horrid numbers (1-2, 9+ era, 15 earned runs in 14 innings with 5 gopher balls allowed) but if you have watched him pitch at all this season, you will see a guy with absolutely no confidence. The strike zone seems about three inches wide for this guy. He is not even close to the plate. And now they are sending him to the wolves against Atlanta this weekend? Or are they? There seems to be some disagreement between Rick and Willie on this one.

But here’s my question. Can’t they take Zambrano out of the rotation and replace him with Aaron Heilman? 20 games ago this would have been insane, but with Duaner Sanchez throwing lights out and the pen in general delivering (not you Jorge “Not to be confused with Lugo” Julio), couldn’t the Mets bring in Heath Bell (throwing well in AAA) and really not lose that much? Wouldn’t you rather have Heilman going every 5 days and actually giving the Mets a chance to win? Call me crazy but I would.

Zambrano is the ugly stepchild at this point. Last night, Peterson was interviewed before the Met Giant game in San Fran and was asked about the great start for the staff. He basically went through each starter with praise and then said something like well, Victor hasn’t really gotten off to a great start. Oh really? We hadn’t noticed. You mean 15 earned runs in 14 innings isn’t Cy Young material? Thanks for the news flash Rick.

So here’s an idea. Screw his fragile psyche. The Mets need to admit they made a severe mistake trading Scott Kazimir for Zambrano, take their lumps, and drop his cement covered body into the Hudson before he does any more damage. And yes, I know he will throw a 2 hit, 6 strikeout game against the Braves on Saturday just to spite me. But he will follow that up with a four inning, 122 pitch disaster five days later. Just please out all of us out of out misery. Please. I’m begging here.

In a related story, the Mets promoted Mike Pelfrey to Double-A ball after going 2-1 with a 1.64 era in single A. Will he be in the bigs by, say the All Star break? It’s way too early to tell, but clearly the Mets are trying to make contingency plans. How about mine guys? Bell up, Heilman in, Zambrano in AAA where he can sit with Jose Lima and they can attempt to set the record for highest combined era of all time.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Lost Boys (And Girls)

Note: This post has been sitting in my brain, unwritten, for a long time. It poses a very serious problem facing the Jewish community (specifically the Orthodox Jewish community). it is very long and not very original, but I encourage you to try and get through it. I also encourage responses - something I never really do - as I welcome as many perspectives to this issue as I can get.


There is a major crisis facing our community. It has nothing to do with shidduchim or the escalating cost of yeshiva tuitions. It is neither a new problem nor one which has developed over a short period of time. It lies just beneath a seemingly placid surface of general prosperity, happiness and calm - the public face meant for the world to see – and it is both massive and epic. Many of us read about it in our local Jewish newsprint or hear it discussed in whispered Shabbos table conversations. “Did you hear about X’s son? He was thrown out of his yeshiva in Israel for doing drugs. They have pull so it was all kept hush hush but…”

Then there’s the child who went off the derech. And the one with the drinking problem. And the one with anorexia. Or bulimia. And the girl who cuts.

Perhaps it is incorrect to group all of these problems into one lump sum. But for the purposes of this article, I am taking that liberty. In many ways, these problems, while very different, often come from a uniform source – a failed system. More on this below.

I have been wrestling with writing a post on this subject for some time. What has stopped me has been simple – What can I possible add to this issue? What do I know about the children who suffer from these terrible situations? Honestly and thankfully, not a lot. But my massive ignorance has never stopped me before so why start now?

Recently, I have read three separate and extremely diverse blogs in the jewish umbrella which touched on some of these issues. [Note: I have not asked permission to link to these blogs. I am assuming the authors have no problem with the link and if I am incorrect, I apologize in advance and will remove the link if and when I find out otherwise. It goes without saying that any and all opinions expressed herein are mine and mine alone.]

The first was from Gil Student’s extremely informative Hirhurim site (http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2006_04_01_hirhurim_archive.html - note I could not link to the article directly – you will need to scroll down a bit to get there) in a post entitled Off The Path where Mr. Student reacts to a book he recently read called Off the Derech by a Faranack Margolese. The content of the book and the review by Mr. Student are irrelevant for our purposes. Feel free to check them out for yourself. The topic though, Jewish souls which have fallen from the derech, is what stoked my interest.

The second was from young blogger Chana, who recently reposted a powerful piece she had written called The White Rose: Eating Disorders in (Orthodox) Judaism - in which she recounts the tragic (the ultimately inspiring) story of a girl who suffered from both anorexia and eventually bulimia (http://curiousjew.blogspot.com/2006/04/white-rose-eating-disorders-in.html).

The third source of “inspiration” for this article was a long favorite blog of mine http://tamponella.blogspot.com/ (no specific post, just scroll through any of the last five or so posts to get a general feel). Traditional Tomfoolery, defunct and now returned and re-tooled, provides valuable and terrible insight into the lost generation of youth – those who slip under the radar, but whose problems make the ones we deal with daily seem miniscule by comparison.

I. The Point.

Let’s not fool ourselves or keep the wool pulled securely over our heads any longer. These are huge problems in our society whether they affect anyone in our own personal and immediate universes or not. Just this past Shabbos, my wife pointed out that she couldn’t really think of anyone (or doesn’t really know of anyone) who didn’t have at least one first cousin “off the derech”. I have one first cousin who is no longer frum. My wife has five with the potential for number six currently serving in the Israeli army after being tossed from Hesder for some unspecified reason.

I personally don’t know any young women who are anorexic or bulimic. Sure, I see lots of girls with weight problems – girls who are either much too heavy or seemingly too thin, but I don’t know anyone who has actually been diagnosed with an eating disorder. Nor do I know any people with the telltale scars of cutting for the “Endorphine rush” or track marks from a life of injecting drugs. I’ve seen people who are “messed up” and who probably took drugs at one time or another – but I don’t really know them. Certainly, non of my family members or close friends did. I don’t know people like this, but I’m no longer fooling myself into believing that means that they don’t exist in droves. It just means that I am lucky. I have not had to see the destruction that this brings to the individuals themselves or to their families. Their loved ones - the ones who suffer day in and day out with their real or self-perceived failures. Those who can’t escape the daughter who eats the meal and then, in the quietest bathroom in the house, forces it out in a rush of bile and, eventually, blood and other parts of a broken and self-destructing body. I search my actions daily to see if I’m doing something which will one day push my own little ones so far away.

II. Why Does This Happen?

I have my own theories, which must be taken with a grain of salt. As I mentioned, I don’t know many people with the problems discussed above. The gamut of reasons is broad. But some of the causes are simply logical. I will outline them below in no great depth. Keep in mind, I understand that I’m not exactly breaking new ground here.

1. Parents: My cousin (and at least some of my wife’s cousins) dropped “off the path” because their parents were way too hard on them. “Mother is the name of G-d on the lips of small children”. I heard that in a movie. A parent is a child’s first and foremost source of love. When that source of love yells at you too much, or is constantly berating you – or perhaps even worse, ignores you – the devastation of that act can be total. Some people are not fit to be parents, but there is no law stopping those same people from bringing people into the world - people they can destroy in their own self-image.

And is there anything more depressing than absentee parents? You know, the ones who have twelve-year old kids with credit cards and cell phones while being raised by a nanny with an English vocabulary of less than three hundred words? Is it any wonder that there is an entire generation of messed up kids out there?

2. Schools: Problem A) In many ways Jewish education is all about “the path”. Educators are ill equipped to even spot those who are falling by the wayside, let alone actually help them. There are individuals who have dedicated their lives to catching the broken ones, but these people are much too few and very far between. The average educator will focus on the ones who are shining and quietly ignore those falling.

Problem B) Again with the concept of the path – A student in a certain school is dragged along by the hashkafah of that school, whether such hashkafah fits the individual child or not. The school will certainly not adapt and it creates a tension between the child and the educators. You know who wins in that situation? You guessed it, no one. The system has lost another one and the child is, well, just lost.

Problem C) It sucks to be in high school. It’s an unbelievably difficult time for the average teen. Their bodies are changing, the comforts of elementary school are replaced by a seriously frightening new reality. I went from a school with about 22 kids in my grade to a school with over 100 kids in my grade. While the first few months were a little rocky, I adjusted. Of course, I went to an all-boy’s school. I didn’t really know what girls were at that point and certainly didn’t have to worry about impressing them. I’m sure there were drugs in my school but I never saw them. Again, I realize in retrospect that I had it very easy. My parents, the Lord bless ‘em, would have been worthless in getting me through many of the problems I could have faced.

3. Peer Pressure: This one takes many forms. The pressure to always look good, to be thin enough, pretty enough, dressed the right way. It’s the pressure to take that cig because, well, everyone else smokes after all. Then that first cig becomes that first beer, which in turn becomes the first joint, the first bong hit, the first injection the first tab of X, whatever. The list is endless. And how are you ever going to be popular with boys if you don’t fool around? And if you aren’t a size 2 or less, then you are just too damn fat.

I have quoted this song by Rush before, but it’s so fitting. Subdivisions (from A Show of Hands):

Growing up it all seems so one-sided
Opinions all provided
The future pre-decided
Detached and subdivided
In the mass production zone
Nowhere is the dreamer
Or the misfit so alone
Subdivisions ---In the high school halls
In the shopping malls
Conform or be cast out
Subdivisions ---In the basement bars
In the backs of cars
Be cool or be cast out
Any escape might help to smooth
The unattractive truth
But the suburbs have no charms to soothe
The restless dreams of youth

4. The Jewish Community’s Clear Desire To Sweep All Of Its Problems Under The Proverbial Rug: There’s wife beatings, nasty divorces, philandering spouses, white collar crimes and all of the stuff mentioned above. You know what? That rug is getting pretty darn lumpy. To some extent, the desire to hide these problems is at least partially understandable. The Jewish world is under constant scrutiny from many sources. Most of those are always looking to punch holes in the surface and find the “dirt”. It’s almost a community-wide self defense mechanism to pretend that the problems don’t exist.

But we have been doing this for too long. The damage from widespread intentional ignorance is simply too great. No longer can we all just pretend like it isn’t a problem after all. At-risk youth is a too-large percentage of the community – ergo, they are a large percentage of our future. And when the lost children, ignored for all those years by their parents and educators, decide to leave the derech once and for all, how can we then bemoan it - when all this time we stood hands in pockets, whistling in the dark like a man trying to show he isn’t afraid of the ghosts hovering just above him.

III. What Can We Do About It?

I know the problem. I can theorize as to some of its many origins. But I have no idea how to fix it. I lived most of my life in the veil of ignorance that I set forth above. I do not pretend otherwise. My eyes have been opened to the problems, but not yet the solutions.

I suspect that the answer lies in the individuality of the problems. As each person in the Jewish Community is an individual (as much as we like to pretend that everyone fits nicely into the group dynamic) each problem needs an individual solution. Every lost soul needs it’s own guiding angel to bring it back to the path. How can we make that happen? Is it even possible to think that it can happen? Well, certainly not as we are all currently constructed.

The answer lies in education. Not the educational system, but in the education of the community. The first step to solving a problem is to admit that the problem exists. Community leaders must pick up the torch. People need to have this thrown in their faces. Then, and only then, can the education of parents, teachers and other members of the community begin.

And unless and until this occurs, the Lost Boys (And Girls) will continue to live in the shadows.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Draft Madness

The closer we get to the upcoming NFL draft, the muddier the waters become. Are the Texans seriously considering moving down? Would the Saints really take Matt Leinert at number 2 in light of the fact that they spent a mint on Drew Brees? What will the Titans do at three? All of this, of course, effects how the Jets use their own choice (the #4 pick). Will they trade up? Trade down? Take a quarterback? An offensive lineman? Is AJ Hawk in play?

The problem is, we have reached the point where the only rule that applies is that of Agent Mulder from The X-Files. "Trust No One". Everyone is lying to gain an edge. When the Saints finish meeting with Matt Leinert this week, they will tell anyone who will listen that they think he might very well be the guy at number 2, despite the Bees signing. But as Peter King wrote yesterday, no team in the league selects a QB after signing one to a huge deal. It just doesn't happen. The Saints will not commit huge money to two people at the same position.

And really, what is to be gained from telling the truth anyway? What kind of general manager or coach would want to give away intelligence which, in the wrong hands, could be used against them? A bad general manager or coach, that's who. The key to the whole operation is secrecy, misdirection and subterfuge.

So what will the Jets do with the number four pick? I have absolutely no idea. And that is a very good thing. Because if I knew that, say, the Jets were dying for Vince Young at four, then the raiders know it too. Then the next thing I know, the Raiders have made a draft day trade with the Titans and they are sitting at three and the Commissioner is saying "with the third pick in the draft, the Raiders have selected Vince Young from the University of Texas" and Mike Tannenbaum is sticking a fork in his right eye. And in a panic move, the Jets quickly respond by trading the number four pick to Penn State for the rights to Blair Thomas' next child.

At the end of the day, the Jets can do a lot with their position. Trade up, trade down stay and pick. And there are a number of external actors not yet in play. WILL the Raiders move up to three to get a QB? What about another team? Will the Saints bail on the number 2 pick to move down? Which QB does Tennessee really want? Internally, is the Tannebaum/Mangini braintrust over matched in year one? Does the Pennington/Ramsey duo have enough to convince management that they don't need another QB in the mix and that the Jets could take D' Ferguson at 4 or maybe move down a few spots for AJ Hawk or Winston Justice?

Secrecy, misdirection and subterfuge. It runs deep. In fact, maybe I know exactly what the Jets will do on draft day but I simply can't tell you.

At the end of the day, the Jets has four picks in the top 100 and then another at 103. They have a number of holes to fill (though a couple of nice free agent signings has filled a few holes at least - corner and center to be exact) and need this to be a grand slam. The really really need to nail this draft. And all negative energy aside, the Jets faithful are praying that they do.

Otherwise, all we are left with are those muddy waters.

Who Knew? WE Knew

Who knew throwing together stars such as Mark Recchi, Sergei Gonchar, John LeClair, Lemieux, Zigmund Palffy and Jocelyn Thibault would turn into such an unmitigated disaster in Pittsburgh? - Asks Scott Burnside in an article on ESPN.com discussing the 2005/2006 NHL season's high (and low) lights.

Um, how about every Ranger fan in the world Scotty-Boy? It's funny how easily this actually was to predict. You can't teach old dogs looking for that one last payoff new tricks. You just can't. Being a Ranger fan for the last eight or so years has proven that. This was more of a slam dunk to predict than the inevitable downward career spiral of a Baldwin brother not named Alec.

Speaking of which, if the Rangers defeat the Ottowa Senators this evening they will have clinched the division and the number three seed (and home ice) in the first round of the playoffs. Go Rangers.

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Boys Of Summer

9-2 through eleven games. Wow. Say that again, it sure sounds nice. 9-2 through eleven games. And we aren’t dreaming. The “other” New York baseball team has the best record in baseball.

Sure, it’s early. Sure eleven games is a pretty small sampling of what is a very long season, but you can’t take away from what has been a very promising start for the New York Mets this season. With the pitchers pitching, the hitters hitting and Willie Randolph allowing facial hair, the season is starting to look promising. Now without jinxing the whole shebang (and without getting our hopes up too high too early), here is a look at ten reasons to be excited for the Mets 2006 baseball season.

1. The Yankees are sucking early. Sure this has nothing to do with the Mets but as any Red Sox fan can tell you, when the Mets are three games above a .500 Yankee team that alone is cause for some serious celebration. And when the team owners, the Wilpons, are making a big splash with the new stadium, it will only be a matter of time before Mt. Steinbrenner erupts, starts bulldozing the House that Ruth Built and constructs something to get the press buzzing about the Yankees again. This, in turn, will only make us Yankee haters even happier. It’s a hilariously vicious cycle.

2. The new acquisitions are fitting in. Remember how people were very nervous about Carlos Delgado? Remember this is the guy who was openly critical of Omar Minaya for using the Latin American connection to try and sign him last year. He said he thought Minaya was unprofessional for talking to him in Spanish. He’s also the guy who was critical of the war in Iraq and refused to stand during the National Anthem. He was going to be a disruption in the clubhouse. Oh, and he had achy knees and was a defensive liability at first whose poor glove would affect Jose Reyes and David Wright. Instead, he’s batting .356, 4 and 12. Throw in Xavier Nady and his .366, 3 and 6, and Paul Lo Duca’s over .300 average and defense and you have got yourself some guys who are fitting in just fine. After Delgado smoked his three run insurance job in the eighth inning of the win over the Brewers this afternoon, there he was doing some weird five-step handshake with Reyes and taking a curtain call from the Shea faithful. Not exactly what we would call a clubhouse cancer.

3. So far, so good with the starters. Sure, they are old and brittle, but the starting pitchers are holding true. Tom Glavine has been fantastic. He is 2-0 with a 1.50 era through three starts. His 21 strikeouts in 18 innings, gulp, lead the team. And yes, Pedro still pitches for the Mets. Glavine has been mowing guys down like Jack Bauer running through extras during a 24 shoot-out. Rookie Brian Bannister has been a find. He is 2-0 with a 2.50 era through his three starts. Pedro and his bad toe bounced back from a horrid first start to throw a gem the other night and he’ll toss against the Braves tomorrow. The bottom of the rotation need to pick it up a little but the guess here is that Victor Zambrano will be gone by the all-star break if anyone in the minors shows that they are MLB ready or if the Sanchez/Oliver/Bradford trio can step up enough to allow for Heilman to move to the rotation. Also, if the starters don’t start going seven innings with some regularity, the reliever’s arms are going to start flying off during games.

4. Ditto the relievers. With the exception of Jorge Lugo (whose era is so bloated, it’s beginning to look a little like Hurley from Lost), the pen has been tighter than Ebenezer Scrooge. Heilman has one bad outing but has otherwise been solid (though if you ask me, he has the “I wish I was starting” sour puss on his face whenever he goes out there and it’s wearing a little thin already -either that or he’s always constipated, in which case I take back everything I said), and Duaner Sanchez hasn’t given up a run yet this season. Billy Wagner is rounding into form and the other pitchers are filling their roles as well as the cast of (fill in your favorite show). Minaya spent big to fix this weakness (Wagner was overpaid and two rotation starters [Benson and Seo] were shipped away for players) to they really need to come through for him and the team.

5. The hitters are hitting. On paper this preseason, this lineup was going to be either really good or really not. Reyes still doesn’t walk enough (three so far this season) but he’s batting over .300 and looks more patient at the plate. He also has 5 steals and causes general havoc whenever he’s on the basepaths. LoDuca is a gift from the baseball gods in the number two slot and Carlos Beltran (3 hr, 10 rbi, 10 walks and 13 runs scored) seems reborn in his second year of the Mega Contract. We all hope and pray that the hammy injury is not serious and that Beltran’s sour reaction to the early season booing doesn’t derail what could otherwise be a special year. Delgado is a true number four, Wright (see below) is, well, see below. You can’t ask for better 6 and seven hitters than Cliff Floyd and Nady and Anderson Henrnandez’s glove more than makes up for the weak bat.

6. Take Jeter, add power and a slightly better glove and you have…MVP! Is it too early to hand David Wright some post-season hardware right now? Do we really have to wait for the post-season? In any event, Met fans are getting a look at something they have not had in many years; a homegrown guy with enough talent to be one for the ages. And unlike Gooden and Strawberry, he seems grounded enough to not get derailed by the external factors that destroyed those two. And will there be some sort of ceremony to commemorate the passing of the torch from Jeter or do we all just kind of acknowledge it? Can we get A-Rod to present the award with Mariah Carey to perform the music? And does Wright need to officially change his name to The Next Derek Jeter? So many questions. Like Wright used to say in the goofy commercials for FoxSportsNet last season, “if I had my way, I’d be manning third base for the Mets for the next ten years”. We all totally agree with you David.

7. The Julio Franco Factor. There he is breaking up a brawl. There he is getting Beltran out of the dugout and accepting the curtain call. There he is talking to the young players at batting practice. Is that Methuzelah? No, it’s Julio Franco. What a pickup by Minaya. Franco is just the type of steadying clubhouse type that great teams need. I had heard the Braves wanted to keep him but the Mets made a better offer. Now I believe it.

8. The new ballpark buzz. Sure it won’t be ready for another three years, but THE METS ARE GETTING A NEW PARK! AND IT’S GONNA LOOK LIKE THE POLOGROUNDS AFTER MAJOR PLASTIC SURGERY. Good times for one and all. Imagine, a new ballpark and a successful team. That’s even better than a new ballpark with a crappy team. Or a good team and a crappy park. But I digress.

9. SportsNet NY’s announcing teams. Sure Gary Cohen is a radio fixture, but he’s calling games in the booth now and he’s good. I personally am a fan of Keith Hernandez and as the weather warms up, I will certainly be missing that Walt Fraizer-esqe leather jacket with the fur collar, but what can you do. Ron Darling make some good points, but I’m not loving him.

10. Pedro. The Mets feature one of the best personalities in the game. The great Pedro Martinez. Sure, he’s not even 75% of that guy who may have been the best pitcher in baseball for a stretch of time around 2001, but even this version of Pedro (canny and wily instead of overpowering) is amazing to watch on the mound. When they talk about pitching versus throwing, they are talking about this guy. He is a master. Throw in the zany sense of humor, the fat neck and the wacky hair and he is the ultimate package.

Sure it’s early. There is plenty of time for the wheels to fall off of Glavine and for Pedro’s toe to become too painful to go on. Sure Beltran’s hammy can rip in two and Delgado’s knees can ache to the bench. But it just doesn’t feel like that kind of year for the Mets. And we all need to get on this ride early lest the bandwagon fill up on us.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

I'm Free (Or Am I?)

Can we really feel the freedom?

I have been asking this question around Pesach (Passover) time for the last seven years. Allow me to explain:

Passover commemorates the end of the Jewish people’s bondage in Egypt and the commencement of their journey to the promised land of Israel. Obviously, it is an extremely important period on the Jewish calendar.

We are taught that at the Seder, the most important ceremony of Passover, it is a requirement that each and every one of us feel as though we have just been taken out of bondage; that each and every one of us is, therefore, “free” on that night. Over the course of Jewish history, this has often been difficult to accomplish. While exiled in far-flung places all over the world, seemingly surrounded on all sides by people with hatred in their hearts for us, it must have been difficult for our ancestors to have mustered up a true feeling of freedom in their hearts.

Yet even in today’s world, where freedom is not merely a fleeting dream but a way of life, this is easier said than done. The constant stream of “the real world”, which rushes at us like the never-ending flow of a powerful river, can potentially drown out any real freedom we may feel. Constant worries of money, work, school and just general life pressure clog our brains. I for one find myself waking up on the eve of Pesach, rushing to make my train, going about my business and suddenly realizing “hey, we have the seder tonight”. Sure I help prepare for Pesach. I shlep, I “tovel”, I “kasher”. I’m a one-man Pesach turnover crew. But it’s all done on autopilot. It’s all done while thinking to myself “what do I have to do at work tomorrow?”

I recognize that I am partially to blame for this feeling of disconnect. I often think that if Pesach meant more to me than it does (though I actually do think that the holidays hold very special meanings for me), then I wouldn’t struggle so to find my feeling of freedom. Perhaps if I was not so wrapped up in my own set of problems and was able to fully immerse myself in the coming holiday…But then again, perhaps not. I’m really not sure if the problem lies within me or with the society that I am but a part.

In either case, how, then, can I find my freedom this year? What can I do to make sure that as I recline on the beautiful pillowcase that my five year old daughter made for me in school, that I recline as a truly free man? Perhaps the answer is that it’s all about the mindset of the individual. If the feeling isn’t simply coming to me, then I need to go out and find it. So what makes me feel free? Well, anyone who reads this blog knows what makes me feel chained up. But what connects me to freedom? Well, the answer is simple. I find freedom in the two little ones - five year old daughter and almost three year old son. Watching them experience Pesach will be the salvation in my own eyes. Seeing their pride as they recite the Ma Nishtana or the Baby Moshe song (bet you don’t know the latter). Their laughter as they hide the Afikkomen then spill the beans as to where it is before we even have a chance to look for it.

The little things. That’s where the freedom lies. As U2 says in Miracle Drug – “Freedom, as they said, like the top of a newborn babies head.” If I can’t find the freedom myself, I can find it in my kids.

Chag Kosher V’Sameyach to you all – Happy Passover.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Spring Flings

“Spring” is upon us, which means it’s time for baseball season. Never you mind that it’s 46 degrees outside and raining. [EDITOR’S UPDATE - right now it’s freaking snowing outside, throwing me into an unbelievable funk. It’s April for cripes sakes – this should NOT be happening.] Spring is a state of mind more than it is a physical reality. And so long as it’s lighter later, it’s spring to me.

The Mets looked good in their opening day win over the Washington Nationals. Tom Glavine went 6 innings (the Mets could use seven innings from their starters more regularly however), Aaron Heilman looked shaky but gutted through two more (with a nice assist from the home plate umpire’s missed call) and Billy Wagner did what a closer should do; he closed out the ninth – with a nice assist from Jose Vidro’s brain freeze.

Good pitching and defense. That’s how world series winners are made. Throw in a little luck, the middle of the lineup (which looks pretty tough) and the Xavier Nady Factor, and who knows? Of course, the Mets look more like a high 80’s win team than a world series contender, but at the beginning of spring, anyone can dream…

Another springtime ritual is the NHL playoffs. And for the first time in many years, the Rangers will be joining the party. Last night’s victory clinched a spot at the dance. Not only that, after last night’s gutsy win over the Flyers, they may even do so as Atlantic Division winners (and thus the third place seed). This team continues to surprise me with their grit and tenacity. Even without Jaromir Jagr scoring recently, they continue to fight off the Flyers, now they have 4 points on Philly with an even amount of games to play. After last night, you actually get that ”hey, this is really happening” feeling. Even Kevin Weekes looks good at this point.

Can the Rangers make a serious run in the post season? That’s debatable. Usually, one line teams can be shut down. And honestly, I don’t see how anyone is taking Ottowa in a seven game series. That team is stacked. But can the Rangers make some noise in this, their rebuilding year? Absolutely. And next season the team should be even better.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Short Stop

Below is a short story I started writing yesterday, possibly to submit to a fiction magazine or a similar type venue. The problem is, I got stuck. I stared at the screen for almost an hour before finally realizing that I had nowhere to go. I was so badly stuck in fact, that I have decided to relegate it to the truest of trash bins - my blog. You can see where I got stuck because it just ends in a weird place. So with that fond introduction, enjoy!!



I learned a very important life lesson from Donna Vinateri just minutes before she dumped me in a very expensive Italian restaurant in the City.

“Dave,” she said after shoving a forkful of veal Marsalla down the hatch, “there are some rooms in life that you just can’t get into with polite knocking. You have to crash ‘em down with those smashy things that police guys use when they are ramming into houses occupied by drug dealers.”

“You mean battering rams?”

“Yeah, whatever. The point is, that you are a polite knocker. I’m a door smasher. I don’t let locked doors stand in the way of things I want. I kick those effers down.”

“You certainly do,” I replied, thinking of all the times she had steamrolled people to get what she wanted. When she got herself steamed up, she was an out-of-control freight train. It had been quite a number of times and we had only been dating for a few months. “You’re definitely a battering ram.” I was beginning to wonder if maybe I should have taken her out for pizza.

“Right. And that’s exactly why I can’t see you anymore. I am too much woman for a polite knocker like you. No offense, but I want to live life to the fullest, not slink through.” She had some more veal. She was certainly eating this meal to the fullest. I racked my brain to try and remember break up date etiquette. Was she responsible for half the meal? I definitely was not going to be ordering more wine.

And that was pretty much that. Donna Vinateri and her battering rams were out of my life, but that lesson had stayed with me. In fact, it was the only thing from my relationship with Donna that did. Which, when you think about it, beats the hell out of some other things that could stay with you after a breakup. Like VD for instance. Oh and by the way, she didn’t pay for half the meal. Battering ram-types never do.

But about six months after the Vinateri Experience, that lesson would come back and change my life. This is my story.

SIX MONTH’S LATER:

It was unseasonably cool for May. I sat in the middle of a mostly empty Bryant Park, sipping a large coffee from Dunkin Donuts. The chilly breeze whipped through the light windbreaker I was wearing, collar turned up for extra (minimal) protection. The air was damp with humidity and an upcoming rain threatened to pull the temperatures even lower. I was totally underdressed in the windbreaker, jeans and blue t-shirt. I contemplated what to do with my newfound freedom.

I had just lost my job to a boss who had been a serial stealer of my ideas, passing them off as his own to higher-level management. I never said a word about it, always letting it go, assuming they would realize he was too incompetent to come up with those ideas on his own. I think he probably figured the same thing because last Friday, he had come into my office with the human resources Nazi and they proceeded to explain to me that I was under-performing (100% false), not living up to expectations (who knows?), habitually late (guilty as charged), etc. etc. Basically, I was made out to be a modern day uber-slacker, given fifteen minutes to pack my personable belongings from my cubicle, and was then escorted out of the building by one of the guys from the mailroom. It had all played out like a scene from a movie. But in truth, if it hadn’t been so freaking funny, then it would have been sad. Definitely not a top-ten day on the Dave List.

So I sat there in the cool wetness of the City, directionless and happy, trying to figure out the Next Move.

This One's a 10 Out Of 10 On The Freaky Scale

So last night I was talking to my wife on a staircase in our split level home when all of a sudden, we hear a disembodied voice coming from somewhere. Mrs. Elster reaches into her bag (sitting on the bottom of the step) and curiously pulls out her cell phone. From it comes the following words, spoken in a little girl's voice:

"X run to Imma. X run to Imma."

Here's freaky part A: X just happened to be my son's name. And Imma is what our children call my wife. Coincidence? I should think not.

Here's freaky part B: The phone never rang and we didn't pick it up. It's a flip phone that was never unflipped.

My wife said "That's not Y's (my daughter's) voice." - As though THAT would have been a normal thing to hear. Then I went to check on the kids (both fast asleep).

When we opened up the phone, it showed a call from an unknown number and didn't allow us to dial a callback.

I'm still getting the chills thinking about it now. I'm sure there is a logical explanation. I wracked my brain. I got nothing. If anyone does, PLEASE don't keep it to yourselves.