Shocker and Awe

MVP0113201002.JPGI wake up this morning so happy for the Mets and for Mike Pelfrey. 

I’m also feeling a certain pride:  this young pitcher attended and played for my alma mater.  This Wichita State Shocker (pictured below with an unidentified fan, ca. 2005) has shown the New York Mets and Major League baseball just what hardy “Midwestern stock” can do!

Keep it up, Big Pelf! (Pictured at right with my daughter, January 2010.)


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.



Fashion News Flash: The ‘Stache

091407.05.jpgToday’s New York Times Styles section had a feature on the renewed popularity of the mustache. 

Happily married to a mustache-sporting fellow, I am a fan, but I know that it’s a look that doesn’t work for every guy.

I smiled when I read the article because it made me think of having read a fellow Mets blogger’s post a few years ago in which he described the mustache of then-infielder Jose Valentin giving him the look of a “porn star.  According to this article, “porn-star ‘stache” is well-known terminology for the “common mustache”.  Now I know.

The writer made references to ballplayers, citing both Jason Giambi’s “good luck” mustache of last season as well as the 1972 “Hairs vs. Squares” World Series, featuring Rollie Fingers, et al.

Having been featured in a GQ photo spread in their first season as Mets, I figure David Wright and Jose Reyes are probably the most fashion-savvy, trend-conscious players on the team.

How would they look, I wondered, if they show up in Florida participating in this so-called revival?


 by my PhotoShopping, I would say either of these guys could probably pull it off.

I tried the same experiment with Mike Pelfrey, expecting it to look comical, but–lo and behold–it rendered him a Tom Selleck look-alike:


I was pleasantly surprised with Pelfrey’s look, but as the article states, not everyone can pull it off.  If smirks and giggles follow a guy, perhaps it is not working for him.

Speaking of humiliation, don’t ya love those Just for Men commercials in which Keith Hernandez and Walt Frazier razz Emmitt Smith? 

“Your ‘stache is TRASH!”

(Of course Emmitt’s blunder was not the mustache itself but its COLOR.)


Mustache Hankey.jpgJust in time for the retro facial hair rage comes an enterprising seamstress and artist who has created the “mustache handkerchief” and is selling it on the artisan website Etsy.  The item features four different printed mustache silhouettes suitable for “trying on”. 

No expensive photo-editing software and time-consuming photo uploads involved! 

Even better, the hanky could save one the embarassment of enduring the unseemly infant stages of a mustache only to find, upon completion of the hair growth, that one’s appendage is woefully laughable.


Just a hunch:  I don’t think Dan Warthen is a candidate.



Hooray for the Boy from KANSAS!

Pelfrey2.jpgAfter a long hiatus, I return to the blogosphere with kudos for fellow Wichita State University alumnus, Mike Pelfrey!

I just returned from Shea, having watched the Big Pelf’s first-ever complete game of his Major League career and his [ahem] TWELFTH win of the season, leading the team in wins!  (Of course, Santana has pitched extremely well too; his W-L record does not reflect that merely because of our bullpen blow-ups.)

As an extremely ambitious music performance major during my four years on the WSU campus in the early eighties, I spent an awful lot of time in the practice rooms and the Fine Arts Building. 

Regretably, I cannot say that I ever attended a Shocker baseball game.   I did not attend any sporting events, actually.  However, as an announcer at NPR affiliate KMUW-FM–on the WSU campus–I did “run the board” for a few Shocker basketball games…and Xavier McDaniel was in my Radio Production class.

(Yes, the WSU mascot is a strange and not entirely threatening one:  a shock of wheat.  But, then again, a guy with a huge baseball for a head does not exactly instill fear in the opposition either.)

Even if I had made it to Tyler Field sometime during my schooling, considering Mr. Pelfrey was about 16 months old when I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree, about the only thing I might’ve seen the toddler Pelf throw was a sippy-cup.

Pelfrey1.jpgEven so, just knowing that he spent time pitching for my alma mater–and still calls Wichita home–practically stirs me to belt out our college fight song from my Mezzanine Box at Shea whenver he takes the mound!





The Freak vs. Big Pelf

0707_large.jpgWas it the Curse of the Sports Illustrated cover?

Or was it just the Mets bringing back some confidence from Philadelphia and showing the home crowd some major offense?

Who cares?!!

Mike Pelfry outpitched the soon-to-be All Star and the Mets won their fourth game in a row.  The team is now 1 1/2 games behind division leader Philadelphia–tied with the Marlins who lost last night, is now two games above .500, and they handed Tim Lincecum his first loss since April 29th.

Now…what kind of freak of nature would it be if the Mets’ offense could ensure our ace Santana a victory for a change tonight?!

How ’bout it, guys?!


“Ac- cen- tu- ate the Positive.”


Although it’s getting harder and harder to do if you’re a Mets fan, this is my attempt at finding the silver lining in what has been an abyssmal patch of grey clouds that no weather system can seem to push through.  If Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters don’t lift your spirits and level of optimism, consider the following:

1.  Marlon Anderson is being proactive about emphasizing the team’s viability in a pennant race, even with their current record.  That’s not high-on-acquiring-Santana-as-our-ace Carlos Beltran giddily proclaiming the Mets the team to beat, but it is a testament to the fact that the passion is still there–to win and to motivate others to do so–at least in some of the players.

2.  As frustrating as Billy Wagner’s recent performances have been, at least he cannot be accused of being hypocritical:  he’s waited to meet the press after every single disastrous outing for a an honest self-flagellation.

3.  Other than his gaffe resulting in his needing a late pass to Sunday’s game, Ramon Castro has made very positive contributions in his last few starts.

4.  Even though his plate appearances have been inconsistent, Carlos Delgado has shown signs of a renewed commitment to getting his uniform dirty.

5.  Johan Santana did not get seriously hurt when he was hit by a pitch two starts ago, and he didn’t get hit in his start yesterday.

6.  No matter how dreadful Ollie Perez has been lately, at least he pitched more innings in his last start than Joba did in his last outing.

7.  Departing Shea earlier because the bullpen blows it means avoiding late-inning concessions, thereby saving me huge wads of cash and gobs of calories.  Speaking of huge wads of cash, it’s at least worth mentioning how much money our family stands to save if we are not purchasing post-season tickets.

(As I said, I’m looking for the silver lining, however THIN it may be.)

8.  Leaving the game prior to the eighth inning, I can avoid entirely the insipid Eighth Inning Sing-Along to the strains of a lame Monkees song that is pitched in such a low key as to render its sing-along properties more or less useless.

9. An early departure from Shea means I get out of the parking lot quickly and am home in record time.

Wait!  I was attempting to accentuate the POSITIVE! 

O.K., a bonafide reason to be upbeat:

10.  Mike Pelfrey’s awesome start on Wednesday night.

061108.01lowres.jpgPelfrey’s performance had so many feel-good things about it:  the fact that he’s a “home grown” product; the fact that he pitched eight scoreless innings and even got upset with Willie Randolph when he thought he was not going to be allowed to start the ninth; the standing ovation and cheers Pelfrey received when he came out to the on-deck circle to bat in the bottom of the eighth–an obvious indication that Willie had acquiesced to Pelfrey’s insistence he should stay in the game; a standing ovation WHEN HE STRUCK OUT; and–yes–even the chorus of loud boos Willie got when he removed Pelfrey after he allowed the first batter to reach base in the ninth:  indicating a crowd that was really into the game and tremendously supportive of a pitcher for once. 

(Regarding the latter, I am guessing that more fans than not realized the terrible disappointment it would’ve been had Pelfrey allowed another hit and thrown the game away or was given a loss for his remarkable outing.  I sensed the booing was less about questioning Willie’s managerial move than it was a way of showing Pelfrey support.  That’s why I actually felt kinda good about the boos at that particular time.)

Although Pelfrey did not get that win, he showed the fans, he showed Willie Randolph, he showed Rick Peterson, and he showed himself just how far he’s come.

That’s huge for the Mets:  the 2008 Mets and beyond.