New York — If you own Mets season tickets and attended every game at Citi Field this season, you are a person in need of companionship or a hobby.
No, no … we kid the Flushing faithful.
But seriously, if there is someone who has attended every game played at Citi Field this season, assuming they watched all the action on the field and weren’t distracted by the drunken brawls in the stands (OK, kidding again; it’s not as rough as Shea), then you have seen Matt Diaz hit as many homers here as Mets Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Brian Schneider or, yes, Jeff Francoeur. Which isn’t good for the Mets, of course, since Diaz plays for the Braves.
Let me repeat: Matt Diaz has hit as many homers (three) in 23 at-bats during his six games at Citi Field as Beltran has hit here (three homers in 129 at-bats in 34 games), Delgado (three homers in 50 at-bats in 15 games), Schneider (three homers in 66 at-bats in 24 games) or Francoeur (three homers in 119 at-bats in 32 games).
Diaz has hit only two fewer homers in 23 at-bats at Citi Field as Mets star David Wright, who has five homers in 244 at-bats. And only two fewer than Gary Sheffield, who has five in 149 at-bats.
Taken a step further, Brian McCann and Adam LaRoche each has hit two homers in seven games at Citi Field; that’s twice as many as Jose Reyes, who hit one homer in 85 at-bats at the new stadium before he got hurt, like most other Mets not named Wright.
Ryan Church hit one homer in 97 at-bats at Citi Field before the Mets traded him to the Braves.
So maybe it’s not a ballpark thing, necessarily. Maybe it a Mets thing. Maybe they’ve got it in their heads, like Brian Giles and Ryan Klesko and other San Diego players who convinced t anyone else who’d listen that Petco Park in that great city was just about impossible to hit homers out of on a regular basis (Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones and other Braves who hit plenty of them there might disagree).
Now, granted, the Braves might have played most of their games at Citi Field when conditions were better for hitting. Maybe the wind hasn’t blown in, or it’s been warmer for their games, or whatever. But that can’t explain the disparity, why a Diaz can hit three homers at the ballpark, or one every seven at-bats or so, and Wright hits one every 50 or so at-bats.
It should be noted, the Mets rank last in the NL with 47 home runs in their home ballpark. But it should also be noted, they rank last on the road with 41 homers.
So this, too, is noted: The Mets don’t hit many home runs, particularly when so many of their star players have missed much of the season with a variety of injuries, including several injuries that have taken two or three times longer to heal than expected, and two or three times longer than such injuries usually take to heal.
Did we say that? I guess we did.
Can’t say that I blame Mets players for not wanting to rush back to finish out this disaster of a first season in their beautiful new ballpark (and it really is a nice ballpark). What with them 21 games under .500 at this point.
But damn, how ‘bout having Jose Reyes come back to play the last couple weeks, or a couple of games, maybe throw a bone to the season-ticket holders, give them some reason to believe next year might be different?
Between the hundreds of million of dollars that Mets owner Fred Wilpon reportedly lost in the Bernie Madoff investment-fraud scandal, the millions upon millions of dollars tied up in contracts for players who’ve spent most of the season on the DL, and the half-empty ballpark (even when attendance is announced at over 37,000, like last night; that’s tickets sold, not used), it’s not been a good year to be a Mets owner, or fan, new ballpark nothwithstanding.
But, hey, the Braves have too many problems of their own to feel sorry for the Metropolitans, right?
But you gotta think the Mets would like to have Diaz tell them the secret to hitting balls out of their ballpark, right?
♣ Speaking of Diaz: This was the whole point I was going to get to before I got sidetracked by comparing his homers at Citi Field to the puny homer totals of Mets players. And that is, is anyone as surprised as me that Diaz has once again defied skeptics with his production this season?
I must say, I figured after his injury-marred 2008 season, when he hit .244 with two homers and 14 RBI in 135 at-bats, that Diaz had come back to reality and would probably spent the rest of his career bouncing around every few years from organization to organization, with some side trips to Triple-A.
And that would be a bad deal for us writers, since Diaz, 31, is, without question, as down-to-earth, funny, and enjoyable to be around as any athlete I’ve ever covered, in college or professional sports.
But anyway, man was I wrong. About him being headed directly for journeyman status. The dude can flat-out hit, and I’m never going to be surprised again to see him hit well over .300 and rake any and all lefties.
Diaz is hitting .321 with 34 extra-base hits (12 homers) and a .395 OBP in 343 at-bats, and his .501 slugging percentage has his OPS flirting with .900 (.896).
Folks, that’s doing work. And you can bet that the dollars are rising steadily on the salary Diaz should be able to command as a third-year arbitration guy, after making $1.237 million this season.
Since June 30, all he’s done is hit .350 with nine homers, 36 RBI and a .970 OPS in 67 games.
For the season, Diaz ranks third in the majors with a .410 average against lefties, just ahead of some guy named Jeter (.407).
For his career, Diaz has raised his average to .312 with a .359 OBP and .462 slugging percentage, with 35 homers in 1,252 at-bats and 467 games.
After being basically dumped by Kansas City and Tampa Bay, Diaz has thrived since landing with the Braves in a December 2005 trade for minor league pitcher Ricardo Rodriguez that was buried in newspapers outside newspapers, if mentioned at all.
Since coming to the Braves, Diaz has played in 419 games and hit .319 with 56 doubles, eight triples and 33 homers, with a .364 OBP and .470 slugging percentage in 1,133 at-bats.
Yesterday, I was talking to him about other stuff and asked if he could imagine the Braves without Bobby Cox as manager. He looked genuinely stunned for a moment.
“I hadn’t thought about it,” he said. “I honestly haven’t thought about it — is there a possibility of it?”
I said, well, Bobby hasn’t committed to returning, and the Braves haven’t committed to bringing him back, and…
“I don’t know,” Diaz said. “It would be different…. I haven’t even thought to process that.”
Then I asked him about the perception that some outside the organization, particularly fans, have about Cox maybe having lost some of the touch he used to have in terms of motivating players or relating to today’s players, that kind of thing.
Diaz seemed surprised.
“I couldn’t name a more popular manager in baseball to play for than Bobby Cox,” he said. “I mean for right now, or when I first got here four years ago, or from what you hear from … forever. I mean, he’s just … You want to win, and when you don’t, you’re mad you lost and you also feel like you let him down, because you know how bad he wants to win.”
I asked if he could still related to both older players and younger players and motivate them like he always did.
“Yeah, that’s the amazing part,” Diaz said. “The older players, you understand it because they’ve been around it, they’ve won with him. But the younger players, he gets their respect immediately because he respects them.
“I mean, I remember my first year here, he treated me like any of the older guys, and I was shocked by how well I was treated as a first-year guy over here.
“He’s the one who gave me all the confidence in myself to be able to go out and do what I’ve done in Atlanta. And it’s no coincidence that I was a very average player before. I dominated the minor leagues, but I was a very average big-league player before I came here. Because it was a confidence issue.
“When you have a manager like Bobby Cox tell you you’re good, you believe him. And he goes out of his way to tell his players they’re good. I think that’s why you play so hard for him.”
♣ OK, folks, I’m outta time today. I spent part of the day writing a story about the team and Liberty Media ownership going forward, after talking with Terry McGuirk yesterday. That story should be up on the website soon.
Meantime, I’ve gotta get over to the ballpark. Hopefully the rain stopped and water’s receding where you live if you’re in the Atlanta area.
“THE RAIN CAME DOWN” by Steve Earle
The old man loaded up everything that he owned
On a wagon and headed out west
The old woman fearlessly faced the unknown
‘Cause she figured he knew what was best
And they settled down hard on a government grant
With six mouths to feed and forty acres to plant
And the rain came down
Like an angel come down from above
And the rain came down
It’ll wash you away and there ain’t never enough
Fall turned to winter another year gone
Over and over again
Some took their lives from their land and moved on
And some stayed on to plow it back in
And the good Lord he giveth and he taketh away
And the restless shall go and the faithful shall stay
Now my grandaddy died in the room he was born in
Twenty-three summers ago
But I could have sworn he was beside me this morning
When the sheriff showed up at my door
So don’t you come around here with your auctioneer man
‘Cause you can have the machines but you ain’t taking my land