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Friday, May 27, 2011

The destruction of the Mets

It's safe to say that Freddie Coupon, also known as Mets chief owner Fred Wilpon, has lost his freakin' mind.

For Freddie Coupon to go on the record and blast his three best players like that in an article written by Jeffrey Toobin in the New Yorker means one thing to me.

He wants to devalue all three, namely Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and David Wright for the sole purpose of making true-blue Met fans believe that they weren't really that good in the first place and it won't be so damaging once all three are sent packing before the trading deadline.

That's the only justification to it. I've been trying to figure out why he would do such a thing in print, unless he's totally lost his mind (quite a possibility for a man in his mid-70s) or he's looking to begin the fire sale.

However, Mr. Coupon forgot one thing. In doing so, he has totally damaged their trade value. If he thinks they're no good _ and he's the owner _ then why would any other team in their right mind give up anything of value in return?

"Hey, Freddie, you said they all suck. So here's some mid-level Class A players and a bag of used balls for them. Hey, you don't want them."

I have no problem with coming to grips with the fact that Beltran is playing in his last few games with the Mets. He's in the last year of his contract and he's not going to re-sign with the Mets. That's a done deal.

But I still can't comprehend the fact that Coupon and Coupon Jr. are going to let Reyes walk. He's a 27-year-old electric shortstop. He's a franchise player. You don't trade franchise players in their prime, not when you're in the biggest market in the universe. You build around him. You make him the cornerstone.

No team is going to give the Mets a top-flight prospect for Reyes now, not after Freddie's insanity. So it's better to re-sign him and keep him.

And if any Met fan thinks we're better off without Reyes, saying that Reyes always gets hurt anyway, take a look at his production when he's healthy. He's the best shortstop this side of Troy Tulowitzki. We're not better off without him. He's the lynchpin of the entire franchise.

So Freddie has opened up his mouth and inserted his penny loafer...Ah, penny loafer, what a perfect name for the Coupon.

We can only hope that the guy who shelled out $200 million today, David Einhorn, can make some suggestions and the first would be to keep Reyes.

If not, my favorite team will be in the state of ruins, if it isn't already. Congrats, Freddie. You said Bernie Madoff wouldn't take you down. Guess what? He most certainly has.

To all the people who have come out and said that baseball rules should be changed because of the nasty injury to Giants' catcher Buster Posey, guess again. The rules have been in place forever, giving the catcher the right to block the plate.

It was a freak injury, the way Posey was bent back, snapping his leg. It wasn't intentional. It was a clean baseball play. It's a shame he's injured and lost for the year, because he's a great player _ and he was my second round draft choice in what has evolved into a fantasy season to forget.

But accidents happen. Injuries happen. If this was Biff Pocoroba who got hurt, no one would be asking to change the rules. But because it's an All-Star on the World Series champs, everyone is up in arms. Rules are rules.

Congrats to the Hoboken Red Wings, who won their NJSIAA North 2, Group I state playoff game today against Brearley Regional, 8-2. The Red Wings now advance to Tuesday's sectional semifinal in what is turning out to be a storybook run. First the county title, now a state run. Pretty impressive.

In closing, former Met catcher and Hall of Famer Gary Carter received some bad news today, that his brain tumors are malignant. Brain cancer is nothing to sneeze at. It's going to be a tough go. It's what destroyed good baseball men like Tug McGraw and Bobby Murcer in the past.

Let's all take a moment to say a little prayer for Carter, who was the final piece to the Mets' puzzle and brought us all back to a World Championship in 1986. A lot of people hated Carter, because he was always smiling and having a good time, but one thing was for sure. He was a gamer who played hurt and led the Mets to the Promised Land.

I got to know Carter a little when he was the manager of the Long Island Ducks a few years ago and he was always a delight to see when I had to go get the starting lineups. It's sad news. My thoughts go out to Carter and his family.

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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Loss of a dear friend

I vivdly recall the day one of my dearest and longest friends, Glenn Gardner, introduced me to the woman who would eventually become his wife, Patti Crocco.

It was the day of the Jersey City St. Patrick's Day parade and it has been a long tradition of mine and my friends to hit our favorite watering hole, the Park Tavern, on the day of the parade.

Glenn brought Patti with him to his favorite joint to meet his friends. And she fit in like a glove, with her beauty, her vibrant smile, her incredible personality and her fanatical devotion to the Mets. She was perfect. She was one of us from the get-go.

As it turned out, Patti was even better than perfect. She was brilliant, knowing so much about a variety of topics, ranging from entertainment, music, Broadway shows and of course, sports.

She loved my friend, a divorced father of two. She married him and gave him two more sons. She accepted his friends like they were her own family. She was loving, caring, giving. A perfect package, someone who provided a sense of stability for my friend, who has been like a brother to me since sixth grade.

As time went on, Patti and I became close friends, talking on the phone constantly about anything and everything. We chatted online almost on a daily basis, either on Yahoo Messenger or later Facebook, which Patti encouraged me to join.

We would share our tales of woe about the Mets or what happened on "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew." One thing is for sure. Patti was definitely the biggest fan of reality television. She gobbled up all those shows and say, "Oh, Haguey, you have to watch Real Housewives of New Jersey." To which I would reply, "Yeah, right."

There were so many instances of laughter and love. Definitely a mutual admiration.

Almost two years ago, we spent an afternoon at CitiField together, watching the Mets beat the Cardinals and Chris Carpenter. Carlos Beltran hurt his knee diving to make a catch that day. We had beers together and shared a glorious summer afternoon with her two sons.

A week later, I called Glenn just to say Hi. He said he was in the hospital, that Patti was sick. I said, "What's wrong?" He said, "It's serious." I insisted he tell me.

"Patti has leukemia," he said.

My heart sank to depths I can't even imagine. He then handed the phone to his wife and said, "Here, tell Hague."

And her first words were typical Patti.

"I guess there must have been something pretty powerful in that beer you bought for me last week," she said.

Amazing. She's been given that kind of diagnosis and she's still cracking jokes.

It began an almost two-year odyssey for Patti in her battle against leukemia, a journey that had its high moments, but were mostly low.

But what the battle against this hideous, nasty, horrendous disease didn't do is diminish Patti Gardner's incredible spirit.

Never did she waver on what she wanted, which was simply to go home and spend time with Glenn and sons Eddie and Johnny. That was always the goal and she was determined to have that happen.

She went through two bone marrow transplant surgeries, thanks to the generosity of her two brothers. The first transplant was believed to be successful. In fact, she called me in January of 2010 to tell me the news.

"The doctor said, 'Mrs. Gardner, you no longer have cancer,'" is what Patti said to me as we cried tears of joy.

I think we all hoped and prayed that it was gone and that Patti was going to get a chance to watch the boys grow up.
She was indeed cancer-free for a time in 2010, but when the cancer returned in August of last year, it came back with a vengeance.

But she endured the countless hours of chemotherapy and treatments. She had to have stent put to her head in order to receive treatment to stop the spread of a chloroma that formed in her brain and she kept going, kept fighting, never giving in.

Cancer is a tough opponent and it usually has a high winning percentage, but Patti wasn't about to let it beat her. I don't know if there was ever a more courageous, a more determined, a more ferocious competitor against cancer than Patti Gardner.

Even when I last spoke to her Sunday to wish her a Happy Mother's Day, she told me of the plans to get home care and a home nurse, provided she had a wheelchair to tool around in.

We spoke of how the boys came to see her earlier that day and how Johnny, her favorite little Wildcat player, showed up at the hospital wearing eye-black for his Tee-ball game later that day.

I said, ``Six year old kids all need eye-black."

She laughed and said that he looked so cute. The kid is definitely one of the cutest things ever produced and proves it every time he's in front of a camera.

We talked for about 10 minutes or so.

"Once I get the house in order, we'll have you over for a visit," she said.

She was not giving in. A day later, the leukemia came back even more and she slipped into a coma.

Patti Crocco Gardner died this morning. She was 45 years old. It's just so unfair that she is no longer with us. She deserved better. She deserved to see her little Wildcat player hit his first homer or to watch Eddie swing like Darryl Strawberry.

Cancer is never fair and doesn't fight fair either. But one thing's for sure. Patti never once gave up that fight. Not for a minute.

The sadness of her passing will remain for a very long time. I can't remember when I've grieved more for someone passing, including my own parents and brother. It's because of the senselessness of it all. She was young, vibrant, alive. She was a loving and caring mother and wife. She was so much fun to be around all the time.

I've cherished getting to know her as well as I have the last 14 or so years, since Glenn brought her into my life that fateful St. Paddy's Day Parade day.

I'll miss the nearly daily chats, the calls, the laughter, the love. I won't know who to call when I needed info on Ozzie Osbourne or Jose Reyes. It's a painful empty ache that has no rhyme or reason.

And I ache for my friend and his little boys. They suffered a far greater loss than anyone else.

I applaud the courage and the strength that Glenn showed through this ordeal. I actually marvel at it. I don't know if I could have done the same.

But I will always remember the courage and the strength that Patti showed in facing her mortality. It was like no other battle I've ever experienced. God, she was so determined to get better.

I'll cherish knowing and loving that remarkable woman. Anyone who ever met her or knew her was much better off having that experience. I thank her for being my friend, not just being the wife of my good friend, but a good friend herself.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Saying goodbye to a legend

A group of people will gather at the Abbey on the campus of the Delbarton School Monday afternoon at 12:30 p.m. to pay farewell to the greatest high school baseball coach the state of New Jersey has ever known.

There will be a memorial service for the late Harry Shatel, the former Morristown baseball coach who won a state record 752 games during his tenure with the Colonials from 1969 through 2006, culminating in the NJSIAA Group III state title in his final year.

Shatel died in his Florida home earlier this month. He was not supposed to leave us all this soon. Although he had retired from coaching baseball, he was still active in Morris County athletics, as the PA announcer and official scorer for hockey games at Mennen Arena and at Aspen Ice for Delbarton games coached by his son Bruce.

And it's the second time in the span of a few weeks that New Jersey lost a baseball titan. First, it was my friend, Ed "The Faa" Ford and now Shatel. It's too much pain and anguish for one sportswriting warhorse to endure in a few weeks.

But in the case of Harry, I won't get a true chance to say goodbye. I'm in Myrtle Beach right now, wishing I could be in attendance Monday to hear all the tributes to Shatel.

I owe a lot to the man. In 1983, I was a 22-year-old sportswriter working for the Daily Record in my first job. I didn't know my left hand from my right, but I tried to learn about Morris County baseball.

I introduced myself to Shatel, who was already a legend by that point. He had won countless state titles and even more Morris County championships by then. He was someone I respected before I knew him.

I thought he might not want to be bothered with some snot-nosed kid learning the business. But it was so the contrary. He appreciated the knowledge I had for the game (especially my knowledge of his best player ever, former Minnesota Twin Rick Sofield.

Harry Shatel embraced me like I was one of his own family and he scolded me when I was wrong, told me when ''you did a good job, Jimbo,'' and was always on my side.

The last time I saw him in January, it was after one of the many snowstorms we had during the winter. I walked over to get the lineups for the Delbarton hockey game. I found myself plucking dog hairs off his fleece sweater.

But I can never forget the warmth, the consideration, the true joy for high school athletics that Harry Shatel had. He was an absolutely joy, a class act every step of the way.

So today, when they gather at Delbarton to say goodbye and fittingly play the Delbarton-Morristown baseball game afterwards, I won't be there. That makes me sad. It also makes me sad that I won't see Harry again.

But just like people who passed in the past year like his friend John Chironna and others who helped me learn my craft, there will never be enough words to thank Harry for what he meant to me.

I was proud and happy to be at the old Harter Road Field dedication last year to honor him with renaming the field after Harry. It was a fitting tribute and now, we'll never forget him.

But I didn't need some field to remember Harry Shatel. He was one of a kind and he will be so sorely missed.
===================================================Congrats to Harrison coach Sean Dolaghan for guiding the Blue Tide to a win over St. Peter's Prep in the newly renamed Ed Ford Memorial Baseball Tournament. No one could have ever imagined that Harrison could beat the Prep in any sport other than soccer. It's a great accomplishment.

As a Met fan, if the owners of the team can't find the money to re-sign Jose Reyes, I'm going to really reconsider being a Met fan. Reyes is the lynchpin who makes the team go. We have to find a way to get his name on a contract for a very long time.
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