The Long Goodbye

_348476_teletubbies.jpgHow to best describe Game 162 at Citi Field yesterday?

Limited to a one-word description, I guess I’d have to pick “surreal”.
In spite of the disappointing season and the very small gathering of fans (that is to say, not a crowd), those there did not seem the least bit dispirited.
The CitiField staff–from security to ushers to elevator attendants–seemed to possess that giddy “last day of school” feeling.  In fact, in talking with many of the staff with whom we’ve made acquaintance over the past two years, my family and I found out that many of them go on to work at Madison Square Garden or other venues.
The temperature at game time was in the low 60s, winds were blowing in briskly from right field, and batters for each of the non-contending teams were swinging at just about anything.  For players and staff catching flights home that night, not to mention Manager Jerry Manuel and General Manager Omar Minaya whose dismissals were likely to happen Monday (and did), the game probably couldn’t have concluded fast enough.
As luck would have it, though, the game went into extra innings.  
I’d like to say that we stayed because we just couldn’t bring ourselves to say goodbye to CitiField until the very last out had been recorded, but I would be lying.
With my daughter–a professional singer–having upper respiratory issues, it seemed downright foolhardy to stay.  
But we had reason to stay.  We had true incentive to stay until the last out was recorded, even–as we teased her–at the expense of our daughter’s health and singing career.  
We had an inducement compelling us to stay and watch the Mets “B Team”–those playing in extra innings after Manuel pulled Wright and Reyes in a gesture to earn them fan recognition:
Prior to the game, my family and I–along with twenty-four other random fans–had been approached and asked to participate in the “Shirts Off Our Backs” campaign, presented by the Mets Marketing Department as part of its Fan Appreciation activities.  Moments after walking off the field at the conclusion of the game, each player would be removing his jersey, autographing it, and relinquishing it to be given away to a fan, the Mets marketing spokesperson told us.
The spokesperson did feel it necessary to caution us that it was a random drawing out of a hat.  “You might get David Wright’s jersey,” she said, “but you might get Joaquin Arias.”
We, therefore, could not leave before the end of the game. 
We stayed through the tenth inning.  The eleventh.  The twelfth.  The thirteenth.
It was cold and windy, my daughter’s hacking cough wasn’t going away, we were hungry and the food vendors in the Caesar’s Club had closed for the day.  And still we stayed.
We began to kid ourselves that, just watch, we would stay until the bitter end, attend the drawing for a jersey and be rewarded for our efforts with that very Joaquin Arias jersey.  Or, better yet, that of Luis Castillo.  Or Oliver Perez.
Oh, and our daughter would contract pneumonia and miss enough school that she would have to repeat eighth grade.
When it got to the fourteenth inning, Jerry Manuel found himself out of pitchers.  He chose to bring in Oliver Perez.  That is when the atmosphere at CitiField truly became surreal.
While his entrance into the game during any kind of meaningful game would’ve been greeted with frustration and anxiety, on this day the zeal of the crowd was palpable, the smattering of fans present obviously relishing the opportunity to heckle this pitcher who, by declining to go back down to the minor leagues during the season as he arguably should have done, managed to do no more than occupy a roster spot and collect his hefty paycheck for most of the season.
The gaiety and volume only increased as Perez’s outing very quickly started to unravel.  Accompanied by sarcastic chants of “MVP!  MVP!” Oliver Perez proceeded to hit one batter and walk in three batters, resulting in walking in the go-ahead run.
While razzing Perez felt a little mean-spirited, Howie Rose and Ed Coleman were there to remind anyone listening and having such sympathies that Oliver Perez had brought every bit of this groundswell of un-support upon himself.  (Presumably having to catch a plane himself and not having been promised a game-used, autographed player jersey, Wayne Hagin had already exited the WFAN broadcast booth.)
I sensed that the merriment of the crowd stemmed not only from the opportunity to heckle Perez but also from the fact that, at this point in the proceedings, many fans were just as glad to have the game come to an end, even if that meant Perez having a predictably putrid outing to give the game away.  
It was not lost on many of us the irony of a poor showing by Oliver Perez serving as the 2010 season denouement.
And so came the fourteenth inning stretch and, without the Mets scoring at the bottom of the 14th inning, the game, the season, and–finally–the wait for the jersey lottery came to a close.
After being summoned into the Mets Press Room–the very same room in which Jerry Manuel had just given his final post-game press conference–the marketing staff proceeded to call each invitee up to the stage, one at a time, to draw from a Mets helmet one of the slips of paper upon which a player’s name had been written.  Because my daughter’s entry ticket was stamped with the number one, she was the first to pick.  


As my husband and I held our breath, she reached in, took a slip of paper, smiled, and read aloud in a clear, excited voice, “Angel Pagan!”
No offense, Joaquin Arias, but Angel Pagan is definitely my favorite player and one of my daughter’s top three favorites.  Following each fantastic diving catch he made this season, along with each of his extra-base hits, she and I were right there in Section 319, waving our arms up and down slowly in our “angel wings” salute.
If he hadn’t been a beloved player of ours before, he would’ve been once we learned what a devoted father he is.  Because of his concern about a serious eye condition for which his two-year-old daughter Briana is being treated, Pagan was not in the lineup on September 17th so that he could–with the Mets’ approval–be part of a doctor’s consultation regarding his daughter’s condi
, along with his wife.  
Ten days or so later, the night before his daughter was to undergo surgery, Angel sat out of the lineup and stayed home to be with Briana.  He was then at the hospital the next morning, bright and early.  After the surgery had taken place and presumably gone well, Angel was back at CitiField later that day and was in the lineup for both games of a double-header! 


After all twenty-five jerseys (none of which were Castillo’s or Perez’s, by the way), had been claimed, photographs were taken.  Outfielder Chris Carter stopped by to greet and pose for pictures with fans.
It was almost dark when we returned to our car in the practically empty CitiField parking lot.  I asked my husband and daughter if I could take one last  parting shot.  They acquiesced, proudly holding the very jersey Angel Pagan had played in not even an hour before, grass- and dirt-stained, and featuring his signature on his number.
How strange it felt to leave CitiField for the final time of the 2010 season feeling so ebullient. Considering how the team had fared this season, I assumed I would feel sad and empty. 
The reason for my upbeat mood, I rationalized, was the excitement of having received the jersey.  Nothing more, nothing less.  But I couldn’t help but think that there was something more.
Perhaps the game we had just sat through, with Oliver Perez serving as an unintentionally humorous coda to the somber blues anthem that had played over most of the season, had served as a catharsis of sorts.  Could it be that forcing myself to sit through that entire ludicrous game had helped me and perhaps other fans purge some of those latent negative feelings brought on by the season just concluded?


There’s always next year.  And we’ll have a new Manager and General Manager.  And we’ll see those same young, home-grown players that made a lot of this season exciting.
And we’ve got that angel in the outfield.

Off-Season Pick Ups

The New York Mets season is not over…yet.

I did, however, just conclude my eighteenth season at the Metropolitan Opera.

Just as general managers of baseball franchises purchase the contracts of players and make trades in the off season to fill available positions, the end of our season often sees openings created by retirement.

As I write this, many of my colleagues are involved in the culmination of a four-day endeavor to select a new First Horn:  a very key position in any orchestra.

Barring any unforseen circumstances, by today’s end, a new Principal Horn of the MET Orchestra will be named.


Not too many years back, vacancies in orchestras were filled through arrangements between a conductor and a player that he knew from somewhere else or whom that instrument’s section leader knew–usually a student.  It was arranged that the musician would play for the conductor, sometimes as briefly and informally as in the conductor’s dressing room prior to a rehearsal or concert.  He was then handed the job.

I use the pronoun “he” because female conductors as well as female orchestral players were unheard of in the early twentieth century.

Because of the strength of the musicians’ union and because of the general increase in the numbers of capable players worthy of consideration, most positions are now filled through an audition process.

Siegfried.jpgAudition notices are published in the monthly newsletter of the American Federation of Musicians.  Interested candidates may submit a resumé and request to be sent the excerpts–the specific passages from longer works which the committee will hear during the audition.

While such auditions are supposed to be conducted fairly, prejudices often play a part of the decision-making process.  It is understandably difficult to remain objective when serving on an audition committee when one is hearing a player who (1) has been subbing in the position and has been deemed worthy–and deserving–through that informal trial basis, (2) has been his or her student, (3) or is a personal friend or acquaintance.  Further discrimination can occur, consciously or subconsciously, on assumptions made by the age of the candidate, the candidate’s known experience (or lack thereof), the make of instrument on which the candidate plays, or even the gender of the candidate.

The MET does something in its auditions that, to my knowledge, no other orchestra has utilized:  every single round of the audition is conducted with the candidates placed behind a screen.  The committee is then left to evaluate the candidate strictly on the merits of the music the candidate is making.  When, for example, “Number Two” is declared the winner and comes around to meet the committee, his/her identity is not known to the members of the committee.

I think it is hardly a coincidence that our orchestra boasts a large number of women in its ranks as well as extremely accomplished very young players–some of whom won their jobs before they were even out of music school.


Because I’ve always been intrigued that there are so many parallels between playing for a baseball team and playing in an orchestra, I am also very interested when I find or think of distinct differences between being a player on “my” team and a player on a MLB team…beside the issue of payscale, I mean.

I have often wondered what the music world would be like if music directors or general managers of music ensembles orchestrated trades to fill vacancies.  While I have had colleagues who left the MET Orchestra to play in the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, the Boston Symphony, and the San Francisco Symphony, the MET did not receive a player in return for these musicians.

The “Player to be Named Later” was named following an open audition on OUR end.

Spring Training can be a somewhat informal “audition” of sorts, I suppose. Some players will make the team and others will not, of course.  Auditioning for a specific position, while not as common, does happen.  After all, it wasn’t until after Opening Day that Jerry Manuel awarded the Center Field position to Angel Pagan over Gary Matthews, Jr.

But to think of (1) ball players auditioning in a way that did not reveal their identity and/or (2) having them perform certain plays, i.e., throw certain pitches, catch balls going to the left/right, basket catch, shoestring catch, etc.–as a “tryout”, in the manner of prepared excerpts from the orchestral literature, is downright hilarious.

 Imagine a batting cage sheathed in dark cloth so as not to disclose the identity of the batter.

phillies copy.jpgObviously, in order to properly evaulate a prospective player, one has to watch him react, see how tall he is, observe his batting stance, and countless other visual clues to his abilities.

While I believe the MET’s anonymous audition process has worked well as a hiring procedure, I can still fantasize about the scenario of musicians being traded and finding themselves making music in another city with different colleagues with little or no notice (if he or she chose to waive any No-Trade Clause.)

“Hello, Susan?  It’s the Philadelphia Orchestra calling.”


UPDATE:  Colleagues from the brass section responded last night to my inquiries regarding the results of the audition and informed me that the committee had selected Erik Ralske, acting Associate Principal Horn (for the past 5 years) and, prior to that, Third Horn for the New York Yankees, er, New York Philharmonic.

I also neglected to mention in the first publication of this post that the Principal Horn vacancy was created by the retirement of distinguished Principal Horn, Julie Landsman.  Julie is a dynamic, inspiring player that has led that section with distinction since 1985.  She is also on the faculty of the Juilliard School of Music and has former students in many major orchestras, including the MET Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra.