Dominic Smith Deserves Daily Devotion

Dominic Smith Deserves Daily Devotion

The 2021 season is upon us and it is an exciting time to be a fan of the New York Mets. New owner Steve Cohen and his staff have greatly improved the roster in just one offseason. I could name a long list of new faces, but I will just say Francisco Lindor and you can go from there. But it is important to remember the pieces the Mets already had in place before Cohen took over. One of those valuable pieces to the puzzle is Dominic Smith, who needs to see his name in the lineup card every day this season.

Smith was a shining star for the Mets in their abbreviated season, slashing .316 in 50 games with 10 home runs and 42 RBI. More impressively, Smith batted .333 with runners in scoring position which put a band-aid on the Mets’ struggles with ducks on the pond. Had there been a 2020 All-Star Game, Smith surely would have received plenty of votes to play at Dodger Stadium in mid-July. The 2013 11th overall pick hit his stride, and a lot of baseballs, in 2020.

Joining Smith and the Mets’ lineup in 2021 will be Lindor, who gives the lineup a whole new look in the middle of the order. With the likes of Lindor, Michael Conforto, Jeff McNeil, and Pete Alonso around him, Smith has the opportunity to be a part of quite a Mets lineup, possibly the team’s best since the 97-win Mets in 2006. PECOTA projects this season’s Amazins in that same ballpark with 95.5 wins and a first-place finish to boot.

The only thing potentially holding back Smith’s playing time? His defense.

Primarily a first baseman, Smith is not the most mobile of Mets. Of course, you cannot bench Alonso for Smith to play first base every day, so this is where improvising has and will come into play. Mets fans have seen Smith in the outfield with some good and some bad moments, but Smith has seen improvement and increased playing time in left field by the year. 2019 saw Smith make three errors in the outfield in 33 games. Fast forward to 2020 in Smith’s 50 total games, he played 23 of them in left field, and made not a single error.

The other positive? Smith has Luis Rojas back as manager which is more important than it may appear. Before being named Mets manager, Rojas managed Smith in multiple minor league affiliates. To help Smith lose weight, Rojas had an intern film Smith walking around the dugout and field. The future Mets star was embarrassed by what was on tape and the rest is history.

Along with Smith, Rojas worked his way up the organization, becoming the team’s quality control coach in 2019. If I recall correctly, that was the same year we saw the emergence of a certain Mets rookie who rightfully commandeered the first base job. Thus, Smith was sent to the outfield under the astute mentorship of Rojas.

Entering his fifth season in the big leagues, Smith is now a young leader on this revamped Mets roster. Think back to last season for a second. When the Mets needed a big hit, Smith was one Met you wanted to see in the batter’s box. Eight of Smith’s 42 RBI last season came with two outs. That is 19% of his season’s RBI and that is the type of production the Mets need in their lineup daily.

Perhaps the biggest key of all for Smith is to keep the ball off the ground. Although he only hit at a .127 clip on ground balls, Smith smashed .743 on line drives and .548 on fly balls last season. As baseball continues to become more and more centered around home run or bust, the 29 other teams would be in a tizzy to have Smith’s bat in their lineup. The Mets, who are only paying Smith $2.55M in 2021, should be licking their chops to get him in the everyday lineup.

Spring Training has begun, and a lot of noise out of Mets camp is about the new ownership and possible extensions for upcoming free agents Michael Conforto and Francisco Lindor. Let’s put that aside for a moment and appreciate Dominic Smith. A home-grown talent who has the bat and the heart it takes to win in the big leagues. Fans should be excited to see Dominic Smith in 2021, even if Citi Field is at limited capacity. Because let’s remember, the last time fans were at Citi Field, Dominic Smith delivered a magical moment.

Tom Brady Joins Brad Johnson’s Class

Tom Brady Joins Brad Johnson’s Class

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Tom Brady may have seven rings in hand, but number seven put him in rarified territory. By beating the defending champion Chiefs on Super Sunday, Brady became the second Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback to lift the Lombardi Trophy. The first? Brad Johnson, and yes, I did hear the lightbulb turn on in your head.

The year was 2002 and the Buccaneers’ offense did not light up scoreboards by any means. Ranked 18th overall, 15th in passing, and 27th in rushing, Jon Gruden’s club was not flashy, but they got the job done. This came thanks to their top-ranked defense in the league, led by future Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks.

Tampa Bay’s defense tallied 38 takeaways, with 31 of them being interceptions. With their defense tied for third in takeaways and leading the league in interceptions, the Buccaneers’ offense was the benefactor. Starting on average at his own 33-yard line, Brad Johnson went to work.

When I say went to work, I do not mean Johnson threw 50-yard frozen ropes all over the field. Instead, Johnson was rather meticulous and careful with the football. Even as a quarterback, Johnson did not lead the team in interceptions. Cornerback Brian Kelly took home that crown with eight interceptions, while Johnson only threw six picks the entire season. Let that sink in. Johnson threw fewer interceptions than Kelly grabbed. What’s better is that Brooks was right behind Johnson with five interceptions of his own.

Photo Credit: bucsnation.com
Quite the opposite of this year’s title-winning team in Tampa, huh? Brady and the Bucs were a 31 points per game freight train with a defense that turned it up a notch in the playoffs. On the other side, Johnson’s Bucs were built around a conservative offense that did not turn the ball over. It was the defense’s job back in 2002 to make the game-changing and explosive plays.

Brady threw 40 touchdowns this regular season, while Johnson threw only 27 touchdowns the entire 2002 season including the playoffs.

As Tampa Bay bounced the 49ers and Eagles in the playoffs en route to Super Bowl XXXVII, Johnson maintained his meticulous mindset. The 34-year old attempted only 98 passes completing 53 of them for 670 yards throughout the playoffs. With a mediocre stat line of three touchdowns and two interceptions heading into Super Sunday, how were Johnson and the Buccaneers’ offense going to keep up with the Oakland Raiders’ attack led by league MVP Rich Gannon?

With their dynamic defense of course! The Buccaneers’ lock-down defense held the 49ers and Eagles to a combined 16 points. This is insane considering the 49ers and Eagles combined for an average of 25 points per game. And the Buccaneers held them to 16 points total in two games.

The Raiders came into Qualcomm Stadium with the NFL’s second-ranked offense averaging 28 points per game. Super Bowl XXXVII was an old fashion battle between a top defense and top offense. And as the saying goes, defense wins championships.

Gannon deservedly won MVP in 2002, throwing for 4,689 yards and 26 touchdowns, while only throwing 10 interceptions. Little did Gannon know he was in for the nightmare of his life against the lights out Buccaneers defense.

Gannon almost outdid his 10 regular season interceptions in 60 minutes by throwing five on football’s biggest stage. Two interceptions by eventual Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson set up Johnson and the Buccaneers to take control of the game. As usual, Johnson methodically marched his team down the field, and he did it more than once.

After fullback Mike Alstott punched it in from two yards out to go up 13-3, Johnson led back-to-back touchdown drives spanning across the half. Going into and coming out of halftime, Johnson possessed the ball for 11 minutes and seven seconds, ending both drives with touchdown passes to Keenan McCardell to extend Tampa Bay’s lead to 27-3. A lead they would never relinquish.
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The Buccaneers’ elite defense closed out their team’s championship run with the final three of Gannon’s interceptions. And they were all pick-sixes.

Immediately following Johnson’s second touchdown pass to McCardell, defensive back Dwight Smith took Gannon’s pass back for a 44-yard score. Do not worry, you will hear Smith’s name again in a moment.

Fast forwarding to the fourth quarter, the Raiders were hanging on for dear life trailing 34-21 with under two minutes remaining. Derrick Brooks cemented the Super Bowl with a 44-yard pick-six of his own. But wait there’s more.

Leading 41-21 in the final seconds, the Buccaneers were bored of 44-yard pick-sixes. So, Dwight Smith decided to take another Gannon pass back down the sideline, this one going for a 50-yard pick-six.

Tampa Bay went on to win Super Bowl XXXVII 48-21 led by that impenetrable defense and a quarterback who just did not make mistakes, Brad Johnson.

He did not put up the stat lines Tom Brady did, but Brad Johnson delivered the title to Tampa Bay. Wins all count the same in football whether you win by seven or 27. The end goal is to win Lombardi Trophy whether you light up the stat sheets or not.

But let’s remember that before Tom Brady partied with the Lombardi in Tampa Bay, Brad Johnson was a man in rarified air. And now Johnson has some elite company.

#RunItBack You Say?

#RunItBack You Say?

Photo Credit: chicagotribune.com
Super Bowl LV is upon us, as the Chiefs are looking to win back-to-back titles. With a win on Sunday night, the Chiefs would become the first team to win two straight championships since the Patriots won Super Bowls XXXVIII and XXXIX. To fire up the fanbase, the Chiefs have started the rallying cry on social media #RunItBack. Even these days when I hear #RunItBack, I do not think of the Chiefs or any other team. I think of Devin Hester.

Retired since 2017, some people might not remember just how explosive Hester was returning kicks. Originally drafted as a cornerback out of Miami by the Bears in the 2006 NFL Draft, Hester was in Chicago’s plans to be used as a kick returner right from the start. And boy were the Bears on to something.

In his rookie season, Hester lit the league on fire, returning 47 punts for 600 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 12.8 yards per return. Hester’s brilliance did not stop there, as he brought back 20 kickoffs for 528 yards and two touchdowns with an average of 26.4 yards per return. These numbers are simply on a level of their own. Not only is a stat line of 67 returns for 1,128 yards and five touchdowns ridiculous, Hester averaged first down yardage on each of his punt and kickoff returns. A whole first down gained every time Hester touched the football on punt returns. Two first downs every time Hester touched the football on kickoff returns. Astronomical.

Photo Credit: chicagotribune.com
This elite level of kick returning boded well for the Bears’ offense, who on average started drives on their own 33-yard line throughout the season. An offense led by Rex Grossman and Thomas Jones averaged 26.7 points per game as the Bears finished 13-3 record as the NFC’s top seed with the NFL’s second-ranked offense.

After silencing the Seahawks and Saints in the playoffs, the Bears had a Super Bowl XLI date with Peyton Manning and the Colts in the city where Hester played collegiately: Miami.

Super Bowl XLI was truly a rhapsody in the rain, but the Bears would be singing in the rain early thanks to who else, their rookie returner.

Devin Hester became the first and to date only player in NFL history to return the Super Bowl’s opening kickoff for a touchdown. Hester may have run it back 92 yards, but the Colts ran the Bears out of the stadium from that point on. Indianapolis outscored Chicago 29-10 the rest of the way to capture the Super Bowl XLI title 29-17 and caused Hester’s remarkable rookie campaign to fall one win short of glory.

While Hester never got a chance to follow up his act in the Super Bowl, the dynamic returner kept lighting up the stat sheet. Hester earned his second Pro Bowl nod in as many years in 2007 after compiling 1.585 return yards and six touchdowns between 85 punt and kickoff returns. Numbers like these are simply unimaginable.

As Hester’s career in the Windy City rolled along, so did his punt return game. Hester continued his other-worldly play by averaging 10.25 yards per punt return in his final six years in Chicago. Hester’s six-year average does not do his success justice. In 2010 and 2011, Hester ran it back five total times and averaged 17.1 and 16.2 yards per punt return respectively.

In the kickoff department, Hester averaged 25.9 yards per return in those final six seasons with the Bears. 25.9 yards. That is over one quarter of the football field gained in kickoff returns. Hester’s season high for average yardage came in 2010 with a mind-blowing 35.6 yards per kickoff return. Devin Hester was something extra special in 2010. Too bad the Bears fell short to the rival Packers in the NFC Championship Game. Although third-stringer Caleb Hanie did almost bring the Bears back after starter Jay Cutler went down injured and second-stringer Todd Collins was ineffective.

As the Bears’ success slowed down, Hester wanted to keep speeding along. Prior to the 2014 season, Hester signed with the Falcons. Only three games into his Falcons career, Hester made history again.

Hester’s 62-yard scamper to the house was the 20th kick return touchdown of his career, putting him past Deion Sanders for the most all-time. Hester blew by Sanders’ record just as he did to his opponents on the field.

Not to be forgotten is the success Hester had in that 2014 season. Used primarily as a kickoff specialist, Hester was the deep man 45 times and accumulated 1,128 return yards as a 32-year old.

Sadly, 2014 was the final eye-popping year for Hester, as injuries began to ravage the returner. With his final two seasons split between Atlanta, Baltimore, and Seattle, Hester appeared in only 17 games.

Devin Hester finished his 11-year career as a four-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro with 3,695 punt return yards which is third all-time. Mixed in with those yards are 14 punt return touchdowns, an NFL record. For kickoff returns, Hester racked up 7,333 yards to put himself in 11th on the all-time list. Hester ran kickoffs back five times and his six total return touchdowns in 2007 is tied for the NFL single-season record.

Now 38 years old, Devin Hester will look for one more run, but not on the field. Eligible for the Hall of Fame next year, Hester is beyond deserving of votes that would run him straight into Canton. And in typical Devin Hester fashion, he will probably blow right by and take it to the Hall with ease.

Matt Musico’s Rise from the Upper Deck

Matt Musico’s Rise from the Upper Deck

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If watching Mets games is religious practice for you like it is for me, you have heard Gary Cohen talk about the birth of his Mets fandom taking place in the upper deck of Shea Stadium. Baseball writer Matt Musico is no stranger to this emotionally attaching experience. Musico’s earliest memory of going to a Mets game is from 1993, and he quickly found himself becoming metsmerized with the orange and blue.

“My dad would get the paper every day and I would cut out the clippings from the game and tape them into a notebook.” said Musico, whose days as a kid were either made or ruined depending on the outcome of the game, I am sure most Mets fans can relate to that one.

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The young, diehard Mets fan Matt Musico did not have writing as his ultimate goal growing up. A sport management major at Sacred Heart University, Musico originally wanted to be a general manager for an MLB team. “I interned for the Hudson Valley Renegades in the ticket office and I didn’t really like working the long nights.” Musico said. The dislike for long nights put an end to Musico’s run at becoming an MLB General Manager.

While trying to get a job in college sports, Musico started writing a blog just as a hobby. Little did Musico know at the time that his blog was just the launching pad his writing career needed.

Musico’s hobby blog led him to be contacted by FanSided. “I was not even thinking about looking outward to contribute in other places, I didn’t realize that was a thing.” said Musico, who gladly took the position and excelled from there.

Success at FanSided led Musico to multiple writing positions, including Bleacher Report, Collectable, FanDuel, and Yahoo Sports. Dual-employed at Bleacher Report and Yahoo Sports, Musico was writing two articles a week for each website. You guessed it; his articles were all Mets related.

Photo Credit: Matt Musico

“That was one of the most difficult parts of it; coming up with four things a week to write about the Mets. Especially in the offseason, which in 2012-2013 times, they were not doing very much either.” said Musico. The most difficult part in fact, is coming up with ideas to write about.

“When I go for runs, I try and think about Mets stuff, because I can clear my head. I like to have a topic, and think it over for a day so I can formulate what I want to say in my head, so when I have a chance to write, I can get right to work.” said Musico.

This forward-thinking approach has served Musico well over the years. After he began writing, he was offered the role of editor for the website Rising Apple. Musico accepted the position but had repairs to make upon his arrival.

“The site was in disarray. There was a disengaged staff and the social media was not good, so I brought on writers who wanted to write, and the site built itself back up.” said Musico. Build itself back up is exactly what Rising Apple did. The website went from 5,000-10,000 views a month to 50,000 views a month six months into Musico’s tenure as editor.

As a writer for Metsmerized, Musico, well, is metsmerized. Writing Mets articles year-round, Musico is a prominent news source on Mets Twitter. The year 2020 was different and difficult, but Musico kept grinding. “The biggest challenge was finding something different to talk about. All these Mets sites and the beat reporters were all reporting the same thing, it was difficult to find something different to expand upon.” said Musico, who was up to the task.

Photo Credit: Matt Musico

The Metsmerized writer penned a whole article around Sandy Alderson discussing not having to worry as much about the cost of a player and instead focus on if they can help the team. Under the new Steve Cohen regime, the cost of players has not been a setback this offseason.

As many places as he has been and as much time he has devoted to writing, Matt Musico is not a robot. A father of two young boys, Musico has to balance writing and taking care of his kids.

“Doing things as a dad, especially in the middle of a pandemic, it’s very tricky and you have to be very resourceful. I feel like whenever I have a free moment, I’m trying to do some kind of work. A lot of stuff I have written for Metsmerized over the last seven months has been done on my phone while I’m getting my kids to bed.” said Musico. Whether he is in the stands at Citi Field or at home with his kids, Musico takes his writing with him wherever he goes.

From a young fan in the stands, to an established baseball writer. Matt Musico discovered his passion for writing about the orange and blue and ran with it. Despite all the articles he has written and praise he has received, one idea stood out and told Musico he was meant to be a writer. I’ll let him share his secret.

“I always knew I was doing a decent job when nobody called me an idiot on Twitter.”

Jed Lowrie’s Memorable Mets Moment

Jed Lowrie’s Memorable Mets Moment

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The name Jed Lowrie probably makes most Mets fans grumble and wonder what could have been. Had the veteran infielder not been injured during his two years in the Mets’ organization, the Amazins could have had a solid bat and fielder in their lineup. Of course, none of that happened and Lowrie only had eight plate appearances during his time in Queens. Despite Mets fans’ criticism of Lowrie, I for one will never slander him. Why would I, a diehard Mets fan, never criticize Lowrie? I will always have Lowrie on a golden pedestal because one afternoon at Citi Field, Jed Lowrie hit a foul ball I will never forget.
Tis the season of giving, so what better time to tell the tale of Jed Lowrie giving me and another Mets fan a memory of a lifetime. For those who do not know me, I am a tour guide at Citi Field. Back in the summer of 2019, I was giving a tour on game day. One of the people on my tour was a lifelong Mets fan who was making his annual Citi Field visit from Scotland. First off, shoutout to him for wearing a Mets black jersey. Second, the minute I started talking to this fan, I could tell he loved his team. He knew every player and all the Mets’ history. Before we started the tour, he came up to me asking for a favor.

“Hey George, is there any way I can get a ball?” he asked. I told him it was possible, but not definite. We started the tour at the bullpen first where unfortunately no pitchers were having a bullpen session. After the bullpen was out of the question for a ball, batting practice was his best shot.

As we got up to the suite level, we stepped out into the stands where we could watch batting practice from outside. After about five minutes, it was time to continue with the tour. “George, can we stay for one more minute?” asked the fan from Scotland.
As someone who had traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to see his beloved Mets, he was certainly entitled to one more minute. An extra minute that ended up making his day and possibly his year.

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Jed Lowrie was in the batting cage as a left-handed hitter. As we were about to leave the suite level, Lowrie popped a foul ball in our direction on the third base side. I could not believe I was watching that ball fly right towards us. The Mets fan from Scotland was going to get a ball after all, or so we thought.
As the ball came our way, it hit a protective glass window and bounced down to the section below us. We were hit with the tease of all teases. How could we possibly get that ball?
Remember, it was roughly 4:15 so no fans had come into the ballpark yet. As we stared at the ball sitting in the empty section, we spotted a cleaning staff member wiping down the seats a section over. Everyone on the tour started calling him in an effort to get his attention. We kept calling but got no response as we saw he was not looking in our direction. Still, why couldn’t he hear us?
Someone on the tour pointed out that the cleaning staff member was wearing AirPods, so everyone instinctively just started calling him louder. Finally, he heard us and asked what was going on. All of us began motioning towards the ball in the section next to him. Quick to realize what we wanted, the cleaning staffer kindly stopped what he was doing and tossed the ball up to us in the suite level.

Photo Credit: aviewfrommyseat.com

The diehard Mets fan who had come all the way from Scotland got the baseball he coveted, thanks to Jed Lowrie and a kind Citi Field cleaning staff member.

Moments like these are what makes a trip to the ballpark so special. You never know what is going to happen when you walk through the gates to a baseball stadium. As for Jed Lowrie, he may have spent most of his time with the Mets on the injured list, but that one foul ball he hit in batting practice created a lifetime memory for a fan. And it doesn’t get any better than that.