Results tagged ‘ Jon Niese ’

Time Wounds All Heels

Albert,_Stuart,_When“Timing is everything.”

How many times have we heard that expression?  It has certainly proven true recently in this house of Mets fans.

The high praise recent lavished upon my husband–while certainly well deserved–is owed, in part at least, to coincidence and excellent timing.
A die-hard Mets fan basically from the infancy of the franchise, my husband never appears happier or more youthful than when attending a Mets game.  He was recently rewarded handsomely for the hefty price of our Season Ticket package, not to mention the expenditure of vast amounts of his personal time spent watching the futility that is the Mets’ offense in general and with the bases loaded in particular:  he got to throw out the Ceremonial First Pitch at Citi Field.

Apparently, the designated First Pitch Thrower du Jour was unable to “go on”, and a suitable “cover” had to be found.  Citi Field officials need have looked no further.

FIRSTPITCH_052214_CJK_0051While Garry showed no signs of being nervous about his assignment, as it got close to his scheduled performance, he did admit to a fear of spiking the ball. And ideally, he added, he would like to throw the ball so that Mets Catcher Anthony Recker would not need to leave his crouch in order to catch the ball.  However, if either scenario were to happen, he reasoned aloud, he would be in good company: he recalled how former Mets ace Tom Seaver had thrown out the first pitch at “Shea Goodbye”–the last game at Shea Stadium–and had spiked the ball.  He also recalled that when Seaver threw out the first pitch at the 2013 All-Star Game, his throw came in quite high and outside and had required former Mets Catcher Mike Piazza to leap to his feet in order to catch it.

Other than these minor concerns, Garry showed no signs of performance anxiety whatsoever.  In fact, he appeared rather poised and purposeful. (See if you don’t agree from the photo!)  Dutifully following the instructions he had been given to “follow David Wright” (!),  he strode onto the field with aplomb.  I will never forget the image of him shadowing Mets Pitcher Jon Niese.

052214.33cropWisely electing to throw from in front of the mound, Garry did one heck of a job, and I was not the only one who thought so.  He did not spike the ball nor did Recker need to leave his crouch in order to catch the ball.  As the two posed for a photo together, Recker even complimented Garry on his pitch.

Later that evening, sitting in our Excelsior Level seats directly in front of WOR announcers Josh Lewin and Howie Rose–with whom we delight in having as our audio accompaniment to each and every home game–Garry found himself somewhat (pleasantly) distracted from the game itself–and his usual scorekeeping ritual–as compliments kept coming in:

Friend, Mets blogger, and auteur exceptionnel Greg Prince came down from the Press Box to personally shake Garry’s hand.  (Later, he would even mention Garry in his blog post about that night!)  Plaudits for Garry’s efforts came over the WOR airwaves and into our earbuds as Howie Rose gave Garry a shout-out and a verbal “pat on the back”, adding that, “D’Arnaud would’ve framed it for a strike.”  As a matter of fact, Howie had begun discussing Garry’s pre-game experience and, before he could finish the story, he was interrupted by the Yasiel Puig Web Gem that would become a viral .gif  before the Seventh Inning Stretch.  Even after that astonishing play that had left everyone in the stands momentarily speechless and, then, had even Mets fans applauding, Howie remembered having introduced Garry’s tale, and returned to the subject. Flattering, to say the least!

Yes, timing was in Garry’s favor on Thursday, May 22nd:  He happened to be at Citi Field earlier than usual for that night’s game in order to sample “Nobu Night” at the Acela Club; therefore, he could assure Mets personnel that he would indeed be on-hand at the prescribed time.

But the fortuitous timing to which I refer was actually tied to a later event.  A few days later.

Still “after glowing” about his unique souvenir, he came home that night to find that word had quickly spread about his special opportunity, and emails demanding explanations and details were coming in at an alarming rate.  He sat down at his computer and composed a short synopsis of how the event had come about, how he thought he had performed, and the critiques he had received.  He attached one of the numerous photos that my daughter and I had each taken of him from our position on the warning track.  He then sent the email out to all potentially interested parties.

Initially, he received a flurry of emails in response .  Friday brought more feedback.  By that weekend, responses had slowed somewhat, but as the work week started on Monday, replies came from those colleagues who had taken a long weekend and not checked their work email since earlier the previous week and, thus, had just found out Garry’s news.

On Tuesday, rapper 50 Cent was given Ceremonial First Pitch honors.  And he proceeded to bring dishonor on himself, frankly.

His throw was so wildly off-course that news of this charade was picked up by national media.  Writers at the Washington Post even drew up a chart of “bests” and “worsts” in Ceremonial First Pitch Hall of Famedom to put his mishap in proper perspective.

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First-pitch-related emails and texts to Garry recommenced.  Friends’ and colleagues’ estimation of Garry’s feat shot up even higher.   It had become quite obvious, even to those not having seen Garry’s throw, how poorly 50 Cent’s performance had measured up to Garry’s highly-touted outing only a few days before.  Even non-Mets and non-baseball fans saw replays of Tuesday’s farce and were all too anxious to acknowledge Garry’s far superior performance.

Comparing the two men’s first pitches later, Howie Rose would even marvel–off the air–to Garry, “Grading on a curve, you are Sandy Koufax.” High praise indeed.

Item_2942_150 Cent has continued to extract from this episode every ounce of media hype possible for himself.  Recently, he provided an attention-getting explanation for his poor outing that night. He also lives in infamy in an hysterical video that has since been created in which Vladimir Guerrero is seen “hitting” that ill-thrown pitch.  Ah, but thanks to 50 Cent’s PR machine, Garry has vicariously continued to enjoy minor celebrity status, exceeding even Andy Warhol‘s predictions.

Serendipity had provided Garry the chance to live out a dream.

Coincidence allowed him to keep the dream alive for  many more days to come.

Let’s Play TWO!

MetVendor copy.jpgI’m exhausted.

And I was not the one performing athletic feats all afternoon and evening.

Sitting through yesterday’s doubleheader at Citi Field–including witnessing a tripleplay and Jon Niese’s one-hitter–made me wonder if ballplayers have specific regimens or diets for a long day such as that.

While not nearly so athletic a feat, I am often asked to perform doubleheaders myself.

The Metropolitan Opera performs seven operas a week during its regular season, including a matinee and an evening performance on Saturdays.  Depending upon which operas are scheduled, I might be called upon to “play two” or not.

The advantage to doing so is that it gets two of the four shows per week dictated by my contract out of the way in one (long) day.  For that reason, many orchestra musicians, if given the choice, prefer to be scheduled for “double Saturdays”.

Unlike ballgames whose endtime is never known, it is relatively easy to determine the approximate running time of an opera, barring any lengthy technical problems onstage or a cancellation by a singer and the necessary time required to get a cover warmed up and into costume.

However, even though the total performance time of the sum of the two operas on a double Saturday is predetermined, the actual time commitment can vary widely depending upon the two operas scheduled and each of their running times.

Yesterday’s doubleheader prompted me to think of some of the more memorable doubleheaders I’ve played. 

  • One double–Verdi’s Otello and Falstaff–represented not only two operas by the same composer but works also both based on Shakespeare and featuring a libretto by Arrigo Boito.
  • A long day in 1997 when I performed as part of a TV telecast of Giordano’s Fedora, followed by Wagner’s Götterdämmerung in the evening.
  • And, probably the longest double I have ever played:  Wagner’s *Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (about six hours), followed by Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (about 4 1/2 hours. 3 1/4 hours.)  I definitely needed some Carmex after that day!
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I’m sure certain games go by much faster than others for the players, depending upon how fast the pitcher works, how many men get on base, how much the weather is an annoyance or distraction, whether it’s a home or away game, or other factors I have not even thought of.

I know that, for me, some operas SEEM longer to me than others that are actually longer, simply because I enjoy playing some operas more than others. 

Clocking in at just over three hours, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly–the ultimate tear-jerker and rarely, in my experience cast well–always seems interminable to me.

Contrast that with the final opera in Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle:  Götterdämmerung.  The first act alone is two hours.  Add two more acts and two intermissions, and you’re looking at a performance that takes just under six hours.  And yet, any time I’ve played that opera, the time has seemed to FLY by. 

Go figure.

*An additional challenge in this opera is that the last act is the longest act at 2 hours and ten minutes.  In fact, the last act by itself is longer than all of La Bohème.

Passing On the Art

alg_mets_koufax.jpgListening to last night’s game on WFAN while in my seat at Citi Field watching the game–my modus operandiI was reminded by Howie Rose that last night’s starter was one of the pitchers on our staff who had been given the unique opportunity of having the legendary Sandy Koufax as a tutor at Port St. Lucie during Spring Training.  Specifically, credit for helping Jon Niese to refine his 12-to-6 curveball supposedly goes to the great Dodger left-hander. (Photo by Simmons for New York Daily News.)

This is not the first spring that Koufax has played mentor to our young pitching staff, but it got me thinking, once again, what a daunting thing it must be to “do your stuff” with any sort of confidence and self-assurance in front of a master of the art such as Koufax.  John Maine was quoted as saying, “I got a little nervous when I heard he would be watching my bullpen session.” 

As my husband and I talked later about the scenario, he exclaimed, “It would be like taking composition lessons with MOZART!”

  • Or like taking piano lessons with BEETHOVEN!

Pianist/composer Carl Czerny‘s father started him on the piano, but he later went on to study with Hummel, Salieri and, yes, Beethoven.  Not only was Beethoven known to have a most disagreeable temperament, but he strikes me as the type of genius that would have trouble relating to and absolutely no patience for those not as gifted as himself.

  • Or like taking oboe lessons with my noted teacher, Richard Woodhams (pictured, at left.)

40025_300.jpgAs a young, aspiring oboe student about to be awarded my Bachelor of Music degree from Wichita State Univesity (alma mater of Mike Pelfrey), I auditioned for and was one of only two students accepted as a graduate oboe major of Mr. Woodhams at Temple University for the fall of 1985.

While I was thrilled and honored to have been accepted and this guy’s oboe playing I had known and worshipped through recordings and broadcasts for years, I found that my first few lessons with him didn’t seem to go so well.  Mr. Woodhams seemed slightly irritated with me…dismissive.  Was he beginning to regret having selected me to be part of his class?

I suspected that my talent and dedication were not in question but that perhaps my inability to play my best in front of him due to my being totally and completely intimidated by this God of the Oboe had something to do with any lack of patience on his part.  My incessant questions and requests for clarification of his suggestions were not helping the matter either.

At this point, I cautioned myself that I was going to be missing out on a unique opportunity to learn, grown, and absorb advice and musical demonstrations if I didn’t alter my approach.  Yes, I told myself, this amazing artist performed daily on the stage of the Academy of Music in Philadephia–where his teacher and his teacher’s teacher had previously held the same post of Principal Oboe–but he obviously sensed I had some potential.  The idolization of this person was standing in the way of my benefitting from his wisdom and expertise.

Asking my teacher how he was producing the sound I was striving so hard to emulate and having him respond, “I don’t KNOW!  It should just sound like THIS!” led me to eventually figure out (1) that he didn’t like being asked to overanalyze his technique and (2) that he wanted me to figure things out on my own through trial-and-error and by using my ears.

Besides learning to keep my questions to a minimum, I also began playing up to my potential during my lessons as I gained self-confidence.

Even figuring out my teacher’s preferred teaching style and being able to summon some false bravado for an hour each week, I never did waken on Sunday mornings–the day of my lessons–feeling anything but a sense of foreboding and apprehension.

Soaking up a reed, putting together my instrument, and blowing a few warm-up notes in front of Richard Woodhams initially felt just as agonizingly foolhardy to me as John Maine and others must have felt putting on a glove, picking up a ball, and stepping on the mound in front of the likes of Sandy Koufax.

***

 In the course of thinking about being a student of the oboe versus being a student of pitching, I had another interesting thought.

TabuteauTosca.gifThe “Cy Young” of oboists–at least in America–is considered to be Marcel Tabuteau (pictured at right with Arturo Toscanini.)  He did play briefly at the Metropolitan Opera, but most of his career was spent as Principal Oboe of the Philadelphia Orchestra and teaching at the Curtis Institute of Music.  Many of his students went on to become eminent oboists and teachers in this country.  One of them, John de Lancie, succeeded his teacher as Principal Oboist in the Philadelphia Orchestra as well as at Curtis, passing along Tabuteau’s teachings and playing style to many future professional oboists, including Woodhams.

While held in great esteem not only by oboists but by woodwind players in general, stories of Tabuteau’s irritability and stinginess have circulated through the years.  Blessed with a real knowledge of reed making and skilled with scraping on and refining oboe reeds–critical to any oboist’s success–he reputedly withheld at least some of this valuable knowledge, even from his own students.  (Photo of one of my reeds, below.)

My reed.jpgScraping on my reed during a series of lessons I had with John de Lancie at the Aspen Music Festival, he told of studying with Tabuteau and him agreeing to scrape on his reeds to try to improve their response, but only after turning his back to the young de Lancie.  By doing so, de Lancie could see neither where on the reed Tabuteau scraped nor how much cane he took off.

For the most part, I think, information about reed making is more generally known and widely available, especially in the Internet age.  But thinking about Tabuteau’s well-guarded reed “secrets” made me wonder what pitching sages–even retired ones–have been possessive of any “tricks of the trade” that they discovered along the way.

From a purely selfish standpoint, I hope the players lucky enough to have spent time with Koufax listened intently, hung on his every word, and absorbed as much as possible from this Hall-of-Famer…half-scared out of their wits or not.

 

 

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