Archive for July, 2008

A Confession

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

Okay, so the Mets won 10 in a row, in an extraordinary game.  They went into first.  Now they’ve lost two in a row, catching their breath, already causing some anxiety in a deliriously happy but understandably insecure fan base.  You know all this.  You watched or heard these games.  I haven’t.  I have not been in the right time zone.

You see this picture.  It’s me, yesterday.  That’s not Shea stadium behind me.  It’s the bullfighting arena in Pamplona, Spain.  And the bearded guy on the left is arguably the greatest writer about sports in history, Ernest Hemingway. 

What can I say?  I planned this trip long ago.  Even bloggers have lives.  I’m having a great time, by the way.  I am trying to keep up with what’s happening to the Mets.  That’s always been a fun thing to do when you travel.  It used to be that all you had was Armed Forces radio and the International Herald Tribune.  I still think of a square in Venice where I read that the Mets acquired Keith Hernandez as Keith Hernandez Square.  I remember my anguish at the age of 14 when I was travelling with my family and we kept losing reception of the Armed Forces Station (because of Alps or something) and they were announcing that the Mets had finally moved into first place.  There used to be something very cool about how little you could know about what was happening back home, how much you had to infer from each precious box score.  Well, it’s different now.  All you do is log onto the Internet.  You can even read all the articles and blogs.  This is wonderful, but there was something wonderful about the old days too.

Anyway, I will be back in the States on August 4, but I hope to do some blogging even while I’m away.  So, I’m not shutting down.  But regular readers of this blog should please understand that how much I blog will depend on Internet connections in Spanish paradors and French, Dutch, and Irish budget hotels.  It may also depend on the quality of local wine and the mood of a diehard Mets fan who is, well, on vacation.

At the All Star Break

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

The last nine games have altered everything.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like it.  The closest thing I’ve seen to it in recent Mets history is the now largely forgotten almost comeback of 2001.  Oh, people still remember Piazza’s homer in the first game after 9/11, but many seem to have forgotten that starting at the end of August, the Mets went on an 18 out of 21 streak that almost took them past Atlanta, almost redeeming a disappointing season after a pennant-winning year.  A few decent outings from Armando Benitez in a crucial series against Atlanta, and the Mets might have pulled off a miracle that would have been historic on a great many levels, a miracle that might have been a new myth for us to live on for a few decades.  But it didn’t happen. 

The closest analogy to all this in earlier Mets history was 1973.  That did happen.  We were having a garbage season and then we did something like we’re doing now.  Everything came together all at once and we won the pennant and went all the way to the seventh game of the World Series. 

What ’73 and ’01 and ’08 have in common is a sense that there is suddenly a new team on the field, a team that has nothing in common with the team that disappointed us.  Yeah, they have the same names and faces but the similarity ends there.  There is that sharp, audible crack in Carlos Delgado’s bat, there is that sense once again that Jose Reyes is such a unique talent that he will always be finding new records to break, there is that sense that the bullpen will hold, that the bench will shore us up, and there is that sense that for the first time in two decades, we may be able to enjoy that greatest of all Mets pleasures: the dawn of a pitching superstar. 

What’s most fun is having what we had in ’73 and ’01: that sense, that although we were heading for the exits, we have to get back to our seats.  We were, as you may remember, just about ready to turn our attention to the other things is our lives and worlds.  Now the Mets are back, better than ever, it almost seems, possibly better than any team in the National League this year except maybe the Cubs.  I’m sorry to have to qualify everything I’m saying, but you understand why I need to do that.  We’ve been burned a lot lately.  We’ve got a ways to go before we can feel confident in our hope. 

But here we are at the All-Star break, 51-44, a half game out of first.  A month ago, you would not have thought it possible.  67 games are left.  If we can win 39, losing 28, not a tall order for the team we see now, we’ll win the 90 that will probably get us the division title.  Hope for the Mets is no longer just a passionate existential assertion.  It is, kind of rational.  Isn’t it?  Don’t you like what you see?  Don’t you get a kick out of Jerry Manuel’s remarkable cool?  Don’t you get a sense that David Wright is no longer trying to swat something he knows is there but he can’t see?  I think I know what I’m looking at.  I’ve seen games like Pelfrey’s been pitching before.  I remember what it feels like.  I think I know what it means.  
 

Gary, Keith, and Ron Day at the Park

Friday, July 11th, 2008

I don’t know where I was yesterday.  Technically, I was at a baseball game.  But it felt like I was at a picnic.  Several things contributed to this. 

First of all, I was sitting with lots of people wearing Gary, Keith, and Ron t-shirts (for great pictures of this day, including a rare really nice picture of me, click here).  There were people of all ages and sizes but only one baseball loyalty and only one kind of shirt, which definitely made it feel like a family affair.  There were actual families and there were school groups to whom Gary, Keith, and Ron had given free tickets.  In the middle of it all was Gary’s wife Lynn Cohen, who has not only organized garykeithandron.com but continues to run it virtually by herself.  There were also Gary’s mother Joyce, his son Zach, the Burkhardts:  Kevin and Rachel, Mr. Met, (Mrs. Met couldn’t make it, neither could my wife or daughter), Zoe Rice (a smart and sociable novelist-blogger who helps to make the society of Mets bloggers feel like a family and to whom I am grateful for taking great pictures because absented-minded professor-moron forgot his camera again, anyway you can see even more pictures that can accompany this piece on Zoe’s site), Kathy Foronjy and Joe Coburn, whose brilliant film Mathematically Alive defines Mets family feeling for all time.  You see what I mean.  There was the good lazy fun feeling of a daytime ballgame.  Yeah, it was hot in the sun.  Zoe and Lynn had a formidable array of mechanical fans and schpritzers and anti-schvitzing devices.  But, hey, it was the height of midsummer.  Ideal for picnics, for an old-fashioned day game.  It was the opposite of work and obligation.  No competition, nothing sad or mean or even necessary.  Just the kind of good feelings that community and family and shared enthusiasm can bring. 

I felt once again the way this whole GaryKeithandRon thing exemplifies the way in which Mets fans can merge into a family:  by giving us the opportunity to connect, in a human, loving way with the one aspect of the New York Mets about which we never have any complaint.  There are ways in which the New York Mets franchise can sometimes seem like a confused corporate machine.  But by remembering that we’re all family, and that we all connect through the voices and, as in GKR, the spirit of the announcers, from Ralph to Kevin, we somehow remember why, after all of our disappointments, we love to be Mets fans. 

The picnic-y spirit of the day went to my head, somehow.  I kept missing things.  I got there 45 minutes before the game, but just in time to have missed Gary and Ron, who had come to schmooze with the t-shirt crowd.  I had to give a radio interview on “The Locker Room with Kevin Williams” at 3:25 and just as I started to head back to my seat from the one place I had found in the bowels of the stadium where I could do a radio phone interview, I heard the whole structure tremble as Fernando Tatis hit his home run.  Whatever.  I missed it but I still felt good.  At least I got to see what it’s like to be deep in Shea’s innards when a Met hits an important home run.  There was something pre-natal about the experience, and there has been something pre-natal about this whole week.

I probably don’t need to tell you that this current high summer moment is unreal.  You could feel the unreal in the whole stadium, and not just in our happy section, to which SNY cameras gave a couple of seconds of fame (but to which they should have given a Kevin Burkhardt feature).

 

(Photo taken by Zoe Rice off of a TV screen) 

We have been bitching and moaning and complaining for a year now.  We have not been a particularly happy family.  Look at the archives of all of the blogs from before just last weekend.  In between a few little desperate eruptions of hope, there was the steady stench of the expectation of defeat. 

Now suddenly everything is different.  We seem to be different people in a different universe.   And I felt this powerfully in the crowd at Thursday’s ballgame.  We didn’t feel desperate.  We felt glad. We’re not sure yet exactly what we’re glad about.  But we’re glad in the way that a six-game winning streak and a climb up the standings can make people feel.  We’re glad in the way we felt thirty-nine years ago during the big monster Cub series that was a kind of birth or passage to adulthood or whatever metaphor of bright new beginnings you want to use.  I’m not forgetting the bottom of last September.  I’m not forgetting Adam Wainwright’s curveball.  I’m not forgetting any of the other things Mets fans never forget (Scioscia’s homer, Rogers’ walk, Templeton’s homer, Piazza’s ball caught at the wall).  I’m just remembering that eternal Mets thing, that losing of the mind and raising of the spirit:  that sense that bright blue cotton candy good fortune is promised in the sunlight of a summer afternoon.  

 

Now the Season Can Begin

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

After a year of flat and often foolish baseball, are we ready to get excited about the Mets again?

I am, because I’m so sick and tired of not being very excited.  I don’t follow baseball because it is boring and doesn’t involve my emotions.  Most other things are boring.  Baseball is supposed to be exciting.  I am supposed to enjoy it.  The Mets don’t have to win to make me happy.  They just have to engage my interest.  But during the past uninteresting year, I have even had moments where I’ve regretted having written a book about such stupid bullshit.

I can’t think of a moment better than this one for the Mets to break away from all of the sour disappointments and futile anger of the past thirteen months.   We have just taken three out of four from Philadelphia and we are about to play ten consecutive games against mediocre teams before we face Philly again, at home.  There’s every good reason to think that we will be able to win more than two games in a row.  We may even be able to win a few games where we don’t give up a lead or almost give up a lead of historic proportions.  We’ve gained five games on the Phillies in the last couple of weeks.  That’s only two games fewer than they gained on us last September.  We could easily be in first place by the end of the next Philly series.  And if the genuinely risible saga of A-Rod and his mind-controlling mystical girlfriend (control of A-Rod’s brain, imagine what that’s like! Imagine Madonna having control of anyone’s brain, especially if it is by means of an ancient mystical tradition that has been watered down to the point where it can be understood by Madonna and A-Rod!) ever settles down long enough, we may even be able to read about our team on the back pages of the tabloids.   

The Yankees are eight and a half out and we’re two and a half out.  I know that means that the Yankees are still more likely to win their division than we are, but it would be mean and depressing for them to do that.  No one who loves baseball could root for the Yankees to win their division this year.  Even Yankees fans shouldn’t want to beat Tampa Bay.  That would be like taking candy from a baby.  But we deserve to win this year after what happened last year.   Deserve?  A team like this?  With so many holes in their goddamn heads?  Yes, deserve.  We deserve to enjoy them.  They are not a particularly impressive baseball team.  But a very large number of them are now playing well.  We deserve to enjoy the pleasure of seeing them win. 

P.S.  If you are going to either Wednesday night’s game or Thursday’s day game and you have taken the 7 train or the LIRR and are walking down the subway staircase, look to your right.  There you will see me in front of my 2002 green Subaru, between two “Mets Fan” posters.  I will be sitting in a blue fold-up chair behind a little table with copies of my book.  If you want to get a signed copy of my book for one-third less than the price on Amazon, or if you just want to say “hi,” please come and say hello.  I will be very happy to meet you. 

0-6, 2.48 ERA

Saturday, July 5th, 2008

Metsblog reports that over Johan Santan’s last six decisions, the Mets are 0-6, although Santana has an ERA of 2.48.

Even by Mets historical standards, this is impressive.  I know that these numbers aren’t directly comparable, since Santana himself is not 0-6 over those six starts, but this reminds me of:

1962 Roger Craig 5-22, 3.78 ERA 

1973 Jerry Koosman 14-15, 2.84 ERA 

1974 Jon Matlack 13-15, 2.41 ERA 

1977 Jerry Koosman 8-20, 3.49 ERA 

We used to call someone who pitched well but wasn’t getting wins a “hard luck pitcher.”  Somehow, though, I would find it hard to call Johan Santana a hard luck anything.  I think things are going to be fine in the long run, but we are definitely in one of those old-fashioned Mets vortexes here.    

That Is, You Can’t, You Know, Tune In, But It’s All Right

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

Since June 17, when Jerry Manuel became manager, the Mets have lost one and won one, won one and lost one, won one and lost two and won two and lost two, and won one and lost one and won one and lost one. 

I’m not getting on Manuel for this.  I have great hopes for him.  The Mets were playing like this, pretty much, before he came.  And there was plenty of ire and gall about Willie’s excessively even temper, and Rick Peterson’s equanimity.

I don’t know if I have ever seen a Mets .500 team that played so close to .500 so consistently.  These Mets may not even have had a day all season when they have had a runs scored total that was more than five runs away from their runs scored against total.  There’s getting to be something freaky about this.

In the past, it has generally been different.  Mets .500 teams usually look at some point in the season as if they are more or less than a .500 team.  The .500 they end up with is usually the result of some sort of concluding streak or slump.  This was true of all of those .500 teams at the start of the ‘70s and it was true of the 2005 team, which wildly gyrated at the end. 

Of course the season isn’t over, but it has certainly acquired a personality by this point.  It has a give with one hand, take back with the other personality, a marching in place personality, a fits and starts personality, something that from a distance looks like a wave pattern even if, from day to day, it feels like something that may actually go in just one direction.  After awhile, we get so dulled by this maddeningly repetitive pattern that we feel that no good game really means anything (look at the several good games we’ve had this week) and no bad game means anything either (look at the ones this week too).  Meaning is the sum.  And the sum is a flat landscape exactly halfway between heaven and hell.  In such a place, it is hard to understand anything, and it’s hard to be anything.

And it’s all the more meaningless because we’re only four games out.  The Mets are not being rewarded for the way they’re playing, but they’re not really being penalized either.  The division will probably go to the team that can manage a September streak. 

So, here we are in July.  Nothing is real and there’s nothing to get hung about.  There’s just a repetitive hum.  Like an engine getting primed, ready to start moving.  Or like some torture technique.  One or the other.