Shinblo … Out of Sight

Shinblo

For every phenomenon there must be a pundit, a poet to bring illumination to an ignorant, naïve public. Norman Mailer did Muhammad Ali; Arthur Schlesinger did the Kennedys; Stephen Ambrose did World War II.

Mariyon Robertson does Tsuyoshi Shinjo. Mr. Shinjo, of course, is the erratic and entertaining Japanese right fielder for the erratic and infuriating New York Mets. And Mariyon Robertson, of course, is the 48-year-old executive managing director of the Manhattan real-estate developer Insignia ESG.

Mr. Robertson was born in Japan, played baseball in the Japanese Little League and now makes his home in New York, where he roots for the Mets. That’s enough to qualify him as something of an expert for the local media. An April 15 Daily News feature article about Mr. Shinjo referred to Mr. Robertson as a “longtime observer of Japanese baseball.”

A recent interview at Mr. Robertson’s midtown office confirmed that this poet knows his Tsuyoshi from his Irabu. “He’s just an average player,” Mr. Robertson said of Mr. Shinjo, whom he has never met. “I call him a major Little Leaguer. The way he plays, it just makes you laugh. When he catches the ball, he has to jump. It’s totally unnecessary. Don’t get me wrong: Shinjo is a good guy, but his only concern is to play like a Little Leaguer. He’s an entertainer. Not an athlete. Do we need an entertainer on the Mets? I don’t think so. We need a player.”

Mr. Robertson was born in Tokyo, the son of a Dutch mother and a Scottish-American father who was an engineer. While catching in the Japanese Little League, young Mariyon dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player. Alas, he moved to the United States permanently in 1984 and became a high-powered real-estate executive instead.

Still, Mr. Robertson stayed connected to the game of his youth. Settled in America, he obsessed over players and teams. He befriended Mets co-owner Fred Wilpon. And, in what has become a rite of passage for wealthy baby-boomer businessmen with a secret love for baseball, he tried unsuccessfully to buy the Montreal Expos.

But the Mets have been Mr. Robertson’s team for a long time. He became a fan in 1968, when he accompanied his father on a business trip to New York.

“The Mets played then like Shinjo plays today,” Mr. Robertson said. “They played for fun. There’s a way to lose beautifully, and they were beautiful losers.”

Mr. Robertson’s office is filled with Mets knick-knacks. There’s a miniature replica of the Fenway Park scoreboard on his desk and a Leroy Nieman-style painting of ex-Mets catcher Charlie O’Brien on the wall. Mr. Robertson loves baseball so much that he built a baseball field in the backyard of his weekend house in Milford, N.Y. Once a year, he holds a baseball party for his friends.

“When I’m there by myself, I just turn on the pitching machine and bat by myself,” he said. “And I have three people to get the balls. My daughters.”

Mr. Robertson has some advice for the current Mets, which the night before had lost to ex-teammate Bobby Jones, now pitching for the San Diego Padres. “With Bobby Jones, you can’t swing hard,” he said. “It’s like when you hit a ping-pong ball: If you swing hard, you can’t hit it. It’s the same thing with Bobby Jones. You cannot hit hard. You have to just swing lightly and tap the ball, and it will go far. Don’t punch it. Piazza was doing that yesterday, but he should know better.

“Right now the Mets are like a C-plus, maybe B-minus team,” Mr. Robertson said, “but I love them anyway. They’re like my daughters–A-minus, B-plus, B-minus, C-plus, they’re still my daughters.”

–William Berlind

Out of Sight

George Ashiotis was feeling a bit disoriented. In just a few days, he and his fellow actors would premiere an off-Broadway revival of George Bernard Shaw’s early comedy Misalliance , and Mr. Ashiotis, who was playing the tycoon John Tarleton, was trying to grow comfortable with the production’s blocking. Such issues are commonplace for actors, but they are especially so for Mr. Ashiotis, who is blind. “It’s really just a matter of getting used to the space and knowing exactly where a prop is going to be,” Mr. Ashiotis said later, resting backstage at the Mint Space, a West 43rd Street theater. At his side was his Seeing Eye dog, Royal. “I practice over and over, until it becomes muscle memory.”

Mr. Ashiotis and his fellow blind and partially sighted thespians–members of the Theatre by the Blind, the nation’s only professional theatrical company of its kind–rely on several visual and nonvisual cues to guide themselves onstage. Partially sighted actors can look for marks on high-contrast surfaces, such as a black pen on a white table, but all of the actors will depend on different floor textures for guidance. A carpet runner tells an actor if he is in the center of a room, and a raised lip tells him if he is at edge of the stage. Of course, care is taken to ensure that furniture and props are always located in the same place every time. A typical TBTB production has a mixture of blind, partially blind and sighted actors, and it’s awfully difficult to tell who’s blind and who isn’t. You’re basically left guessing.

Founded in 1979, the New York-based company produces two plays a year, in addition to hosting readings of new works by blind playwrights. The proudly irreverent troupe, about 20 members strong, revels in challenging convention. “There’s so much horrible stuff out there for blind folks,” said Ike Schambelan, the company’s founder and artistic director. “They’re so full of stereotypes. We try to get beyond that.” A few years back, the company put on an original musical revue called What Are You, Blind? replete with such painfully campy numbers as “Out of Sight,” “You Ain’t Nothing But a Guide Dog” and “I Can’t Get No Iris Action.” Said Mr. Ashiotis: “There’s so much fear, hesitation and doubt about coming to see us in the first place, so we try to keep it light.”

But otherwise, working for TBTB is much like working for any other professional theatrical company, actors said. “The big difference is that reading rehearsals take forever,” says Nick Viselli, a sighted actor who has worked with the troupe for several years. Some actors read from Braille scripts, he said; others use giant-type scripts that weigh a ton, and a few work off tape recordings. “But once everyone has the lines and blocking down, it’s really just like any other play.”

–Andrew Blechman

The Rail World

Funny, getting drunk on an illicit subway party to Rockaway Beach sounded like a good idea on a recent, rainy Friday night. We dialed a secret phone number, and a breathy female voice said: “The train rises over the blue moon at noon.” Or something like that. The voice told us to gather at the Chambers Street C-train platform at 11:25 p.m.

We bought 40’s of Coors and Corona and grabbed a subway downtown. On the way, we heard other passengers talking about Chambers Street, too. They looked like us: matted hair, rain slickers, smelly wet cotton.

When we stopped at the C-train platform, there were about 100 people in their early 20’s crowded around, waiting. There were lots of digital video cameras. Girls with braided hair handed out flowers; some guy banged on a drum.

The train was late. After 20 minutes or so, a woman arrived and announced that the party would be going uptown, not downtown; we were instructed to go to the other side of the platform. There was more waiting. Some drunk raver boys urinated on the tracks, and then jumped off the platform and took a photograph of themselves next to the third rail.

Finally, the train arrived. A woman threw flower petals onto us as we boarded the car, which was decorated with streamers. There were hundreds of people aboard, and we pressed up against each other; it felt like rush hour at 8 a.m. People stood on the seats, chatted, drank. It was a little underwhelming, to be honest: A promising night of rebellion had essentially devolved into a Skechers ad.

Then a blond kid in a sweatsuit started spray-painting the inside of our subway car. At that point, we knew it was over. We got off after two stops. We needed to go home and watch more MTV.

–Meghan Sutherland