Chuck 'n' Duck

"I'm a very optimistic person. When you're optimistic, the good opportunities, good fortune, good everything will come with it." - Jae Seo Chuck 'n' Duck: the New York Mets from an Eternal Optimist's P.O.V.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Now THAT'S What I Call Football

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That about sums up my feelings, Mr. Strahan. Thank you.

With the death of Wellington Mara, there were either two ways this season was going to continue on: the Giants would harness these emotions, take the loss of a beloved owner and friend, and turn themselves into a dedicated football playing machine. Or, they'd completely fall apart.

Fearing the latter -- especially against the Washington Redskins, the hated team of my childhood -- I approached the game with a certain trepidation. It just seemed a little too Disney to have the Giants crush the Redskins at home, on Well Mora Memorial Day, in front of his entire family. It just wasn't that likely of a scenario. It was even less likely to have them do it by Running 'n' Defense: the two principles Mora founded many a Giant team on.

And yet, here I am, after a Redskins drubbing at the hands of the Giants to the tune of 36-0, about as Disney as you can get. And I have no desire to see it end. They can keep up this Run of Good Feelings all the way to the Super Bowl, for all I care. And, really, it's entirely possible: the next three games (@ SF, Minnesota, Philadelphia) are all looking pretty winnable in the here and now. The Giants could conceivably be 8-2 when they get to Seattle to face the Seahawks.

All I know is that I haven't felt this good about a Giants team since 2000 -- as those Mets/Giants coincidences continue -- and it's been a long time since I've seen guys like Tiki and Strahan feel this good, as well. I mean, Eli was extremely shaky today and the team still managed 36 points. Imagine what he'll do when he starts getting on his game on a consistent basis. Wow.

Look, obviously, things can still fall apart -- and, trust me, fall apart they have -- but right now, the Giants seem to be a team built to win. They've got just the right mix of everything with the exception of a secondary, though they did hold Santana Moss to four receptions for thirty plus yards yesterday. So, for right now, the Giants seem to be running on all cylinders.

All the way to Detroit?

Hey, it could happen.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Stars of New York

I really do have every intention to post on a more consistent basis, it's just that absolutely nothing is going on with the Mets -- unless you count Doug Mientkiewicz being grumpy as a something.

When Mets news starts picking up, I'm sure I'll have something to say on it.

Until then... how about that Eli Manning? I know that the sports papers are littered with praise for the guy, but as a Giants fan, I feel the need to just continue to heap it on.

New York Giants football has a history of churning out star players: you can't go far into a conversation about the Big Blue teams of the past without hearing about Roosevelt Brown and Frank Gifford, Sam Huff and Lawrence Taylor. The problem with that is, it is history. Since LT, while there've been some great, good and solid players the Giants haven't developed any Hall of Fame talent (though Strahan does seem to be making a good case). Touting Roosevelt Brown or Sam Huff as reasons why the Giants are great is like when Yankees fans say they're the best because they won twenty-six championships -- sure, the team was good in the past, but it doesn't really have any impact on the here and now.

Now, I'm twenty one. Which means I was born at just the right time to not remember anything about the Mets winning the World Series or the Giants winning the Super Bowl in 1986 (what a year that would've been), and barely recall anything about Super Bowl XXV. But what that also means is I wasn't around when Doc Gooden was Doc Gooden or when Lawrence Taylor was LT. Saddest thing of all, by the time I started following baseball, Darryl Strawberry was a Los Angeles Dodger. I didn't even know the guy was a Met until 1995. True story.

My entire sports history has been cluttered with teams that develop solid players and big misses. I have never been a fan of a team that's developed a true superstar. I've been able to follow Mike Piazza for years, but he was never my own -- I always knew there was a person just like me in Los Angeles grinning because his team developed this guy, regardless of where he was putting up his numbers. Meanwhile the Mets were developing Paul Wilson and Bill Pulsipher, Jay Payton and Alex Escobar, and heaven forbid we forget about Geoff Goetz.

The Giants had far more luck: the aforementioned Strahan, Tiki Barber, Amani Toomer, Jeremy Shockey, Luke Petitgout, Ron Day... okay, they weren't all winners. But still, like I said, no Hall of Famers in the bunch -- thus far, at least. That is, until Eli Manning.

Along with David Wright, I am now in the strangest position I've ever been in: watching my NFL and MLB teams develop two players that seem to have HOF written all over them. Two terrific talents, two good guys, and two players that their respective teams huddle around. Manning is my football version of Wright, right down to the slight Southern drawl.

Watching Eli rally the team around him at the end of Sunday's game was like watching David Wright hit a two RBI double to put the Mets up by one -- something I saw numerous times last season. While the Mets season is over for now, and David Wright's development is finished for the winter, I get to watch the same thing happen all over again during this football season. The maturation, the improvement, the education of these two players, playing their first full-seasons at the same point in their careers. Returning confidence and winning ways to two teams in desperate need of both.

If you haven't yet this season, sit down and watch the Giants play next week. Watch Eli play, but give him the whole game. Just like Wright's twenty-four errors in the field last year, Manning will make his mistakes throughout the course of the game. But watch closely. Watch how the stadium rallies around the guy. How the team rallies around the guy. Watch how absolutely calm and collected the guy is when the pressure is on.

And stick around to the end of the game, too. You wouldn't want to miss anything.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Free Agent Files: Closer

For those of you who visit MetsGeek, you may have noticed that the site has been offline a lot recently. This is due to us switching servers, and is extremely frustrating.

Anyways, I posted an article running down closers over there this morning, but because the site's been down the majority of the day, I figured I'd post it here as well:


Below is a list of the top closers in the Free Agent market this offseason. Though not originally planned, it pretty much follows the order in which I feel the Mets should look for their closer. The list is pretty self-explanatory. Also, not included below are Bob Wickman (who has said he's either re-signing with the Indians or retiring), Eddie Guardado (who has both a team and a player option on his contract this season) and Octavio Dotel (who won't be returning to baseball until, at least, mid-June). Also not included are Braden Looper and Matt Mantei, for obvious reasons.

Enjoy.


Name: Billy Wagner
Height: 5-11"
Weight: 202
Throws: Left
Age: 34
Current Salary: $9,000,000
Likely Asking For: $29,000,000 over Three Years

Wagner is the Cream of the Closer Crop. Arguably on the way to his second Rolaids Relief Award, and armed with an overpowering 100 MPH fastball and a hellacious high-80's slider, Wagner is about as close to a sure thing at the end of the game as there was this season. At the age of thirty-four Wagner enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career, striking out 87 in 77.7 IP (10.1 K/9), while walking twenty (2.3 BB/9). Holding opposing hitters to a batting average of .165, Wagner got the job done, amassing thirty-eight saves while blowing only three -- or five less than what Braden Looper blew. It should also be noted that when outside the Homer-Friendly confines of Citizen’s Bank Park, Wagner pitched to an ERA of 0.90, allowing three runs off of twelve hits in thirty innings. Scary.

Still, Wagner is thirty-four and has a history of injuries. He missed the majority of the 2000 and 2003 seasons with various ailments (back spasms, strained rotator cuff, shoulder, groin, inflamed finger, etc.). It should be noted that Wagner rededicated himself to steering clear of injuries last offseason, and made it through the entire year injury-free. Wagner also did not endear himself to the Philadelphia faithful -- though that's not much of a surprise -- because he called them out for booing the team. In the same vein, Wagner has a long history of openly complaining to the media when things aren't going well with the team, something that carried over from his days in Houston. Despite this Wagner is considered a good teammate, and has never been rumored to be a clubhouse cancer.

The fact remains that Wagner is an excellent pitcher, not just a thrower. If the Mets are looking to make the playoffs next season, they desperately need somebody to slam the door at the end of games, especially if they don't make a move for a big hitter in the offseason. Outside of Mariano Rivera and Brad Lidge, Wagner may be the most dominant, and healthy (sorry, Eric Gagne), closer in baseball. He won’t come cheap, but he could certainly be the answer the Mets have been searching for at closer since... ever?


Name: B.J. Ryan
Height: 6-6"
Weight: 249
Throws: Left
Age: 29
Current Salary: $2,600,000
Likely Asking For: $22,000,000 over Four Years

Finally handed the keys to the closer car this season, Ryan did not disappoint. Appearing in sixty-nine games, Ryan threw 70.3 innings and held hitters to a .208 batting average. Even more impressive is his splits against lefties and righties. While Ryan held lefties to a line of .211/.284/.352, he managed to hold righties to a line of .206/.282/.265, meaning it doesn't matter how you swing, you're gonna have trouble against him. BJ also struck out an even one hundred, for a ridiculous 12.8 K/9 rate, while walking 26 (3.3 BB/9). Ryan’s got some nice natural movement on both of his pitches: a low-to-mid 90’s fastball, and a ridiculous sharp breaking slider. When he’s on, he’s as unhittable as they come.

Really, there’s not much to dislike about Ryan. He does have a reputation of being very emotional, and this did get to him on the mound a few times this season. But what’s really the biggest question mark is the amount of money Ryan will command. BJ’s gone on record saying that he would have no problem returning to the setup role that he excelled in in past years, as long as he was pitching for a winner (ie: the Yankees or Red Sox, two teams that have large payrolls and need bullpen help). He also has stated, however, that he’d have no problem pitching for a New York team. If it simply comes down to a bidding war, the Yankees more than likely have the upper hand, though the Mets can offer Ryan something the Yanks can not: a chance to close out games for a playoff-contending team.


Name: Trevor Hoffman
Height: 6-0"
Weight: 215
Throws: Right
Age: 38
Current Salary: $5,000,000
Likely Asking For: $20,000,000 over Two Years

There’s no doubt that Hoffman gets the job done. This past year he passed former Met John Franco on the All Time Saves list, amassing 436 in his thirteen year career -- and only 42 behind leader Lee Smith. Though he’s undergone two surgeries on his shoulder, Hoffman has somehow remained a consistent closer, making the proper adjustments year in and year out to stay at the top of his game. He by no means has overpowering stuff, as he relies on a high-80’s fastball, an average slider, an average curve, but perhaps the second best changeup in the league (behind Pedro Martinez). Hoffman’s reliance on command and so-so stuff doesn’t translate to overpowering punch-outs: he struck out 54 in 57.7 IP (8.4 K/9), though his command is exceptional, only walking 12 (1.9 BB/9). He also managed to hold opponents to a .235 batting average. Hoffman is as unflappable as it gets on the mound, and has been in the Top Ten in the saves category for eleven of his twelve years at the position.

Yet, there are a lot of big negatives against Hoffman. For one, he’s thirty-eight years old, which means the Mets need to be absolutely convinced they can compete if they’re looking to sign Hoffman. Secondly, he’s said to be asking for Mariano Rivera money -- though he won’t likely find a ballclub willing to give it to him. Still, this shows that Hoffman won't be coming cheap. Also, much like Braden Looper, Hoffman had troubles against lefthanders this season. While he held righties to a mind-boggling .179/.213/.316 line, lefties teed off on Hoffman to the tune of .298/.342/.375. Hoffman would make an excellent setup man, but by all indications he has no desire to go down that road just yet. While Hoffman manages to find ways to close out games every year, it doesn’t look like he's a match for the Mets.


Name: Kyle Farnsworth
Height: 6-4"
Weight: 240
Throws: Right
Age: 29
Current Salary: $1,975,000
Likely Asking For: $14,000,000 over Three Years

Farnsworth had long been considered the Closer of the Future for the Chicago Cubs due to two overwhelming fastballs: a four-seamer that is dialed up around 100 MPH, and a two-seam sinker that clocks in at an awe-inspiring 96. But Farnsworth was never able to find a secondary pitch that would make him unhittable until this year when he developed a decent, quick breaking slider. Combining the two, Farnsworth put up the best season of his career, pitching for both the Detroit Tigers and Atlanta Braves. In seventy innings Farnsworth struck out eighty-seven (11.2 K/9), though he sometimes struggled with his command, allowing twenty-seven free passes (3.5 BB/9). Opponents hit a measly .180 off him, with righthanders going .165/.237/.220 off him. Though he held lefties to a .197 batting average, they managed an on-base percentage of .301, due to seventeen walks and a hit batter in 117 at-bats.

Most fans, as well as some General Managers, are starting to grow wary of signing Braves pitchers after terrific seasons, but there is some consolation in the fact that Farnsworth was pitching very well for the Tigers before the trade. Leo Mazzone did get him to cut back some on his walks, and Farnsworth went 10-10 as the closer for the Braves -- that is, until the postseason, ha ha!. Still, plenty of people feel that Farnsworth doesn't have enough of a record of success that the Braves will pay him what he'll eventually be offered by other teams. While Farnsworth's past is filled with shaky command and scary numbers, the development of his slider may have actually turned him into a different pitcher. If the Mets miss out on Wagner and Ryan, he wouldn't be a bad option for a team needing some strikeouts at the end of the game. And, hey, eventually somebody needs to succeed after leaving Atlanta, right?


Name: Todd Jones
Height: 6-3"
Weight: 230
Throws: Right
Age: 37
Current Salary: $1,100,000
Likely Asking For: $5,500,000 over Two Years

After traveling to Rosedale, Mississippi under the full moon at midnight, Todd Jones sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for some pitching ability. Now, Jones -- who hadn't really been a reliable reliever since 2000 -- is in the free agent market once again, looking to capitalize on a nice year at closer. And, really, it was a nice year. Jones appeared in sixty-eight games, throwing seventy-three innings, while striking out sixty-two (7.6 K/9) and walking a miniscule fourteen (1.7 BB/9). He also managed to close out forty games (along with five blown) despite taking over the closer's role at the beginning of May. Jones, known as one of the most prepared pitchers in baseball, is no longer capable of throwing his fastball in the high-90's, therefore relying on a low 90's fastball and a quick breaking slider, while also hurling the occasional changeup and curveball.

Still, Jones is thirty-seven -- turning thirty-eight next April -- and this could very well be a fluke season for the guy. This was without a doubt the best season of his career, posting career lows in walks, hits, earned runs, runs and homeruns. Most revival seasons are the result of a lack of injury or reinventing yourself, but Jones has done neither. He has approached the game with the same plan as he always had, which could very well spell a return to his previous numbers. Also of note would be his late season collapse: through September and October he pitched a total of thirteen innings, allowing nine runs on eighteen hits. Seeing that Jones is reportedly looking for a two year deal worth between five and six million, it might be best for the Mets to let somebody else run the risk on Jones.


Name: Tom Gordon
Height: 5-10"
Weight: 190
Throws: Right
Age: 37
Current Salary: $3,750,000
Likely Asking For: $6,500,000 over Two Years

Gordon, seeking his last big payday, has stated that if the Yankees aren't interested, he'd like to return to closing elsewhere. However, upon further inspection, it would appear he's already made up his mind -- "I had a great time being a setup here. I enjoyed every day with Mo. I still have in my mind that if I got an opportunity again to close that I want to do that. Closing's always going to be a first choice for me." And, honestly, Gordon still has the stuff to get the job done. He's been a closer before -- 46 saves and book by Steven King with the Boston Red Sox in 1998 -- and over the past three years he's been one of the top five best setup men in baseball. Flash features three above-average pitches: a mid-90's fastball, a nice slider, and an excellent curveball. He'll also throw a decent cut-fastball as well as a rarely seen changeup. Utilizing these pitches, Gordon gave up only fifty-nine hits in 80.2 innings pitched, striking out sixty-nine (7.7 K/9) though walking twenty-nine (3.2 BB/9).

Gordon was turned into a setup man by the Cubs after a penchant for blowing saves and his second serious elbow injury in three seasons. Gordon has bucked those injuries now, appearing in the second most games in 2004 and the third most in 2005. But the blown saves issue may still exist -- this season he went 2-9 in save opportunities, as well as struggling in his second straight postseason appearance. A case probably could be made that Gordon might not have the intestinal fortitude to close out games -- though whether that even exists is debatable. Still, Gordon has pitched so long in a setup role that it's fairly unlikely the Mets -- or any other big market team -- will be looking to him as a closer. Unless all other options are nonexistent, Gordon will more than likely stay with the Yankees or be closing for a team like the Orioles next season.


Name: Ugueth Urbina
Height: 6-0"
Weight: 205
Throws: Right
Age: 31
Current Salary: $4,000,000
Likely Asking For: $8,000,000 over Two Years

Urbina is a strange pitcher, in so much as he can’t be counted on in pressure situations, he doesn’t throw particularly hard, and he has below-average command -- yet, everywhere he goes he’s always given a spin as a closer. Urbina’s fastball, which used to be in the high-90’s, now resides in the high-80’s to low-90’s. He couples that with a nice, deceptive changeup and a pretty poor slider. He can be counted on to stay healthy, as his 79.7 innings out of the pen last season will indicate. And though he does still get his strikeouts, ninety seven of ‘em (11.0 K/9), he will walk the ballpark as well (thirty-nine walks, good for a 4.4 BB/9).

Urbina is intent on returning to closing next season, which means that unless Billy Wagner winds up elsewhere, Urbina will be leaving the Phillies. Still, Urbina may be on to something with his insistence to return as a closer. In that role with the Tigers last season he went 10-10 in his save opportunities, holding opponents to a .191 batting average. Still, Urbina is a pretty steep drop from the aforementioned names, mostly due to his inability to throw strikes. If Urbina could command the strike zone better he would have terrific potential in the closer role, but right now the Mets signing him would be a lateral move at best.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Ganbarimasho!

So, the playoffs are upon us. The ALCS and the NLCS, both split at 1-1, with some fun teams to watch and some good baseball to be played. But there's a decidedly Mets-less feel. Jason Isringhausen, Timo Perez, Dan Wheeler and Paul Byrd are the only past Mets on all four, strangely enough with each one on a different team. But none of those can qualify as past Met stars, and only one of them was a guy I've ever rooted for (c'mon, who didn't love Timo during 2000? At least until the World Series started.)

So, where does my allegiance lie?

With the Chiba Lottle Marines, of course!

One win away from the Japan Series, the team managed by Bobby Valentine along with hitting coach Tom Robson (remember him?!) and a team including Benny Agbayani, Matt Franco, Satorou Komiyama (no kidding!) and former Mets minor leaguer Dan Serafini. Now that, my friends, is a team I can get behind.

Of course, I can't read Japanese, so I've got absolutely no idea what is going on. But I do know that Matt Franco won the game with a bases-loaded double that scored two runs, and that Benny Agbyani plated him with a groundout. It's like 1999-2000 all over again! If the Marines win their next game, they go on to the Japan Series to face the dreaded Hanshin Tigers, managed by... Alex Ochoa!

All right, not really, I can't back that one up.

Still, if you've got the time, visit the website: http://www.marines.co.jp. On it you'll find all sorts of stuff, like a video of Bobby Valentine yelling something in Japaense, and then dancing and bowing with giant birds while an entire stadium chants "Bobby! Bobby!"

Seriously. I can back that one up.

So, go, enjoy yourselves! See what you can find while hunting through a foreign language, and if it isn't a foreign language to you, tell me what it says, because I've been trying to Alta Vista this all night, and although Bobby Valentine was always an educated and insightful guy, something tells me "The thinking which the soldier bets to decisive battle in play off eve intense white is done" aren't his exact words.

Oh, and go Marines in 2005!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

You're a Shining Star

New Yorkers have a reputation for wanting to be the biggest. They take pride in living in the Capital of the World, and therefore always want the best. They want the best restaurants, they want the best nightclubs, they want the best hotels. And they always want the best sports team.

Because of that, they typically want the best players to fill those sports teams. And, because 85% of people who follow sports team follow them fairly casually, when names like "Alfonso Soriano" pop up, they go, "Oh, he's supposed to be really good. The Mets need a second baseman, they should get him."

But watching the Angels over the past couple nights -- you know, the team that beat the Best Team in New York in five games -- my eyes couldn't help but wander over to second base, where Adam Kennedy plays. He's by no means the best player in the American League, AL West, or his own team. He's not drafted in the Top 100 or even the Top 200. He's not even well known enough to be Number 1 on Google's "Adam Kennedy" search -- that credit goes to a London-based real estate agent.

But Kennedy hit .300 this year. He played a Gold Glove caliber secondbase. His teammates are in love with him. He always plays hard. And he's considered one of the most clutch players in the American League -- .339/.374/.409 with runners on, .330/.374/.409 with runners in scoring position, .286/.364/.347 with runners in scoring position with two out. And, with a man on third and two out, he's 8 for 16. .500.

Of course, the Angels minor league system has a couple solid second base prospects coupled with some top shortstop prospects that will probably need to switch somewhere else with Orlando Cabrera in their spot for the next three years. And when these guys are talked about, it's usually with the thought process that Adam Kennedy doesn't exactly have the goods to be holding them up.

And though he doesn't light up the room with his talent, what Kennedy does bring to the table is intangibles. He's like a Ty Wigginton who can hit and field. He plays every game all out. He's gritty and always a threat wherever he is on the field. You see, playoff teams are littered with these guys. Look at the teams that have made the postseason, and are continuing on. They've got Adam Kennedys at second. David Ecksteins at short. Brad Ausmuses behind the plate.

It's proof you don't need the brightest star in the galaxy in order to succeed. The Mets have proven this over the past four years with the Mo Vaughns, Roberto Alomars and, yes, even Pedro Martinezes and Carlos Beltrans not bringing the team to a postseason berth. You can go to the Yankee route and keep throwing big money at players in the hopes it'll inch you ever closer, or you can go and utilize the little guys. The guys who'll hit .290 - .300, grind it out every game, and play solid ball.

The Mets don't need an Alfonso Soriano to hit 30 HRs and grab winter backpages when it comes along with subpar defense and yet another sub .300 OBP in the lineup. An Adam Kennedy addition wouldn't be nearly as splashy, that's a given.

But would it make the team better?

Perhaps you can ask the Angels that.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Top o' the Morneau

Although everybody's jumped on the Mike Jacobs bandwagon, I must say I'm not quite sold yet. Did he hit .310 and eleven homers in 100 at-bats? Absolutely. Does that translate to sixty over a full season? You bet. But let us not forget that he's twenty-four, most scouts that have seen him play say his ceiling is as a backup C/1B, and that Shane Spencer set New York afire in 1998 with a .373 batting average and ten homeruns in sixty-seven at-bats.

Do these things amount to anything? Not really, no. I'm just not convinced that he's the answer to our first base problems. I like the guy, and his swing is a thing of beauty, but he could just as easily put up Jason Phillips numbers next season. And not the good season ones.

Besides that, perhaps I've stumbled upon an answer to our first base problems.

Justin Morneau.

Hear me out. Apparently, the Blue Jays and Twins have been talking a Morneau for Koskie swap. The Blue Jays have Aaron Hill on the horizon to play third base, and the Twins are looking for some offense. Morneau had something of a down year last season -- .239/.304/.437 with 22 homeruns and seventy-nine RBIs in 490 at-bats. Not exactly awe-inspiring.

But his minor league numbers tell a different story. One of a guy who hit .310 for his minor league career, or hit 41 homeruns in 568 at-bats over AAA and the Majors last season. And his first go at big league pitching was pretty impressive -- .271/.340/.536 with nineteen homeruns in 280 at-bats. He's long been predicted to be a power bat that will hit for average and -- gasp -- get on base?! Coming into the season, everybody assumed he was the next great Twins power hitter and RBI man. Now, the Twins are looking to deal him.

What would the Mets need to give up for him? Well, apparently not much. Corey Koskie, if you were unaware, went .249/.337/.398 with eleven homers and thirty-nine RBIs in 354 at-bats, and hit just as bad after he came back from his injury then before it. Add that to the fact that he'll be 33 next season and in line for 5.5 million, and you have to think the Mets could offer better than that.

It would almost certainly have to be a package, and the Twins being the Twins won't be interested in taking on a lot of salary. Victor Diaz could be a part of it. Perhaps throw in a guy like Steve Trachsel who can give the Twins some nice innings for the very Twins price of 2.5 million a year. It won't be as much as the Mets would have to give up for Lyle Overbay or Sean Casey, and he might just match -- or exceed -- their potential.

All I know is I'm not interested in another year in which our first basemen hit .210 for the better part of the year.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

It's a Mets Geek Day!

Today's post can be found over at MetsGeek.

It's Part Two of a Five Part Series on Omar Minaya's first offseason at the helm of the New York Mets. I'm proud of it, so if you're a fan of Chuck 'n' Duck, I think you'll enjoy it as well.

Enjoy your Tuesday, folks!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Farewell Mikey

Talk to your Dad sometime about Mickey Mantle's retirement some time. Or your Grandpa about Lou Gehrig. They’ll all say the same thing, it was the end of an era. The history of the Yankees is littered with grand goodbyes. From DiMaggio to Mattingly, the Yankees treated their stars right when it came time to say goodbye.

And the Mets finally had their Franchise First sendoff yesterday, and did it right.

There hasn't been a sendoff for a Great Met during my fandom, and if memory serves correct there had never been one before it. Tom Seaver, the other unquestionable Great Met, left the Mets twice under head-scratching circumstances (a baffling trade and then lost him again by compensation pick due to leaving him unprotected). The closest the Mets have ever come to experiencing this is the goodbye sendoff for Todd Zeile, but to say Toddy never approached Piazza’s level would be an understatement.

I was there to witness Piazza Day, one of the more emotional moments I’ve witnessed on a ball field. We all bitch about Mike Piazza’s lack of an arm, or an increasing inability to get around on pitches he used to crush. We’re all guilty for yelling for his demotion from the three spot to the four spot, then fourth to fifth, and then fifth to sixth. And most of us have, at one point or another, wrote up trade proposals to the Angels or the Rangers or the Orioles for minor leaguers and relief pitching. Piazza has gotten older, like every baseball player that came before him has, and this being New York we weren’t particularly apt to accept it.

But the fact remains that Mike Piazza is the best the Mets have ever had. He was the key that transitioned a solid team in 1997 to a viable playoff contender in 1998, 1999 and 2000 -- and no, Todd Hundley could not have done the same. He took the team on his shoulders and carried them through rough stretches more times than I can count. He came up big when it mattered. He carried himself with a professionalism and a respectfulness that wasn’t associated with the star players of the New York Mets at that point. He became The Franchise. He became The Mets.

And now he’s gone. Mike won’t be back next season. He’ll be replaced by Ramon Hernandez or Bengie Molina or possibly Ramon Castro or Mike Jacobs. But come April 3rd, 2006, for the first time in seven years, you will look at the scoreboard on Opening Day and not see 31 next to C. It’s surreal to imagine.

But now is a time to think of the positives. To look back on the career of a true Met, and appreciate exactly what he did. Top Five in almost every offensive category the Mets have. The most homeruns by a catcher in the history of baseball. His mere acquisition was voted the Eighth Greatest Moment in Met History. I was lucky enough to be there for Mike Piazza’s first at-bat as a New York Met. I was lucky enough to be there for his last.

And when he goes in Cooperstown, with a Mets cap on his head, I'll be lucky enough to be there as well.

Thank you, Mike, for all you've done. And I'll be seeing you on down the line.