Critic balks at park theme


April 11, 2004|By PETER SCHMUCK

Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia officially debuts tomorrow when the Phillies open their home schedule with an afternoon game against the Cincinnati Reds, but the new ballpark played host to a pair of run-through exhibition games last weekend.

The fans were thrilled. The players were all but unanimous in their praise. There was, however, one major dissenting voice - the architecture critic of the hometown Philadelphia Inquirer.

"It has the pizazz of a suburban office park," wrote Inga Saffron, clearly disappointed that the ballpark was placed in the huge multi-sports complex off Interstate 95 instead of the heart of the city.

Her most scathing complaint, however, was the "unrestrained use of baseball imagery on every available surface in the ballpark's various restaurants and suites. There are balls on walls, bats on bars, bases inscribed on Corian. The decor has the same level of sophistication as a 12-year-old boy's bedroom."

Well, it is a ballpark. If you want to see the Acropolis, go 5,100 miles east and make a right.

Sad news

The New York Yankees added Gary Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez to their starting lineup this year, but the most expensive team in baseball history didn't exactly knock the cover off the ball during the first week of the regular season.

Through the first five games, in fact, Jason Giambi was the only member of the starting lineup who had a batting average over .300, and the rest of the team was struggling to score runs against the supposedly new and improved Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

"I think we're trying too hard, swinging a little bit too hard," manager Joe Torre said.

It probably didn't help to fly 18 hours each way to Japan last week, but the Yankees aren't likely to stay in a slump very long. They probably have the least challenging schedule of any American League East team through the first two weeks of the season.

Black and Blue Jays

The Toronto Blue Jays were pretty optimistic about the 2004 season, until they got blindsided by the red-hot Detroit Tigers, who won as many games in Toronto during the opening series of the season (three) as they won during the entire month of April last year.

The Blue Jays will get a chance to take revenge starting Tuesday, when they open a three-game series at Comerica Park. The baseball world probably will be back on its axis by then.

Erickson's debut delayed

Former Orioles pitcher Scott Erickson suffered a left hamstring strain minutes before he was to make his New York Mets debut on Thursday night, leaving the bad-news Mets to rush reliever Dan Wheeler back to the mound after pitching the night before.

Didn't go well, but what has for the Mets the past couple of years? They had to hold ace Al Leiter out of his first start after he was hit in the head by a line drive last week. Now, their fifth starter has landed on the disabled list for at least the next couple of weeks.

The Atlanta Braves obviously didn't mind. They scored 28 runs in the final two games of the series.

Delicious irony dept.

The Phillies dumped closer Jose Mesa last year, and why not? He had a 10.25 ERA in the second half of last season and was so ineffective manager Larry Bowa finally gave up on him.

So who is the big guy in the opening series between the Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates? New Pirates closer Jose Mesa, who got the save in both Pirates victories and got a chance to thumb his nose at the organization that soured on him.

"So far, so good," Mesa said. "This was a blessing from God. He meant for that big door to open and me to get the save."

That might be, but the Phillies are pretty happy with the way things turned out. They traded for premier closer Billy Wagner over the winter and don't figure to miss Mesa one bit.

Will the real ...

Luis Gonzalez homered twice on Tuesday night, but Luis Gonzalez only homered once.


There was a Luis Gonzalez for both teams on Tuesday night when the Arizona Diamondbacks opened the season against the Colorado Rockies. They combined to go 4-for-9 with three homers and four RBIs. Now, they have to spend the rest of their major league careers being confused with one another.

"He better be the one using the initial in his name," said Arizona's Gonzalez. "I have been here longer."

There's a precedent. The Chicago Cubs and Florida Marlins have dueling shortstops named Alex Gonzalez.

This kind of thing is never a problem when your last name is Schmuck.

Tough decision

Former Orioles pitcher Pat Hentgen could just as easily have been pitching for Detroit as Toronto during the season-opening series between the two clubs.

He weighed offers from the Blue Jays, Tigers and Orioles, then chose to get closer to home. He chose Toronto over Detroit because the Blue Jays were the stronger team, though you wouldn't have known it after the Tigers swept the three-game set.

"They [the Tigers] hadn't yet signed any of the guys they eventually signed," he said. "I think that did have something to do with it, absolutely.

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