Archive for September, 2008

My First Reactions

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

I should have a piece up by tomorrow on the Last Game.  I have to collect my thoughts and emotions.  If you want to hear my first reactions, you can listen to the two interviews I did on radio/podcasts last night, right after they kicked me out of Shea.  So live from the Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot just north of the Whitestone Bridge on the Hutchinson River Parkway: 

Shea Goodbye at New York Baseball Digest  I come on around minute 33.

Anniversary Show and Shea Goodbye at Seven Train to Shea  I come on around minute 56. 

Both shows have great guests, but I haven’t had a chance yet to listen to the whole things.

Going to the Game on September 27

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

“This seemed like a good idea six weeks ago,”  Lynn Cohen observed as she snapped a picture of me and my mother and my wife at a picnic table in the picnic area.  Lynn wasn’t seriously complaining.  Her fundraiser for her charity was an enormous success.  The whole picnic tent, and soon the whole warning track, and the whole picnic area were filling up with people wearing Gary, Keith, and Ron t-shirts.  I was in the tent, with my mom, my wife, my daughter, and my sister.  We also had my father’s old Mets cap.  So he was with us at our last game together as a family at Shea.  At his actual last game, Melvin Mora came home from third on a wild pitch and the Mets tied for the 1999 Wild Card. 

It was thanks to Lynn that we were all there.  Lynn had read my Mother’s Day blog piece about how much of a Mets fan my mother was.  She knew that my mother had gone to National League games in New York since the thirties but that she wasn’t planning to go to any more games because she couldn’t walk well enough.  Lynn convinced me to try and bring her to her fundraiser.  I did and I will never regret it.

I had a meltdown as we were waiting with all the other GKR t-shirt wearers to go onto the warning track for the Star Spangled Banner.  There I was under a grey sky at Shea, right by the home run apple, standing behind my 80-year old mother in her wheelchair.  Here I was, for one of the last times, at a place I had been coming to since I was 9 and she was 35 and my dad was 39 and what the hell was all this and what the hell had happened?   And where was big Shea going to go now and what were they going to do with it and how many things that were once real can become memories before you just want to jump off a bridge?  I asked my mother how she was doing and she said she was so happy. 

They opened the outfield fence and I wheeled her onto the warning track and we looked and there was the wet and noisy stadium and there was the smooth, soft, bright green wonder of the field.  We just looked, seeing it all from this side for the first time.  Here is where it all had happened.  Over there is where we watched it from.  Here is the spot where Cleon caught the last ball of the series.  There’s the wall that Endy climbed.  There’s the right field line, made so famous by a single unforgettable moment.  Here it all is and now we turn around and go back through the wall.  Shea will live a little longer if we win today.  But soon it is finished.  And none of what is right here right now will ever be here again.

We rode up to our seats in a strange little elevator.  We got settled and there it was again, all before us.  My mother asked, looking to the left, “That’s the bullpen?”  “Yeah.”  “They should put a lock on it,” she muttered with disgust.

First we cheered for Jerry Koosman, as he took down the second-to-last number.  Then we cheered for Cleon Jones who threw out the first pitch.   My mother puts her hand on my arm and says, “I’m so glad to be here.  I love it here.”  Then after the first inning, when that voice tells you that the New York Mets appreciate your support, my mother said “If they appreciate our support, they shouldn’t aggravate us so much.” 

This is true.  But this is the way it is.  The Mets got two runs up onto the board really quick, but how could I avoid the sense that aggravation was on its way?  Johan Santana, as good as he was, had thrown 125 pitches only 3 days ago.  There was no way to avoid aggravation.  What if we could only score two runs?

As the game went on, and as the lights came on, there was a general brightening of our souls.  Blessed with a particularly magical change-up, Santana held the Marlins speechless.  They were lost.  For all that they hated us, they could do us no harm.  I began to feel, and the crowd began to feel, that we were watching the gutsiest most brilliant and most important Mets pitching performance since Leiter’s two-hit shut-out in Cincinnati that won us the Wild Card in 1999.  We were cheering every strike and booing every umpire mistake.  We were swiveling our many hips to the Carlos Santana song that is Johan’s trademark.  We were chanting “Johan, Johan, Johan, Johan.”  The rest of the Mets were out there, but we were riveted by this one single superhuman effort.  I watched him through the dim soda fuzz of the rain on my glasses.  I couldn’t believe what was happening but I heard it and felt it in the stamping of the picnic bleachers.  “We’re gonna have to clone him,” my mother pointed out.

We roared with approval when he came to bat in the seventh.  In the eighth, we sang “I’m a Believer,” with proud, loud belief.  “Are they singing about Tom Seaver?”  my mother wondered.  They might as well have been.  That’s who it looked like on the mound.  It’s true that we never scored a run beyond the two we got early.  But as the ninth began, we really believed that it didn’t matter.  Endy came out to stand in front of us and we welcomed him.  You could tell from the way Johan stood on the mound that he would not be denied.  He was stepping up, and in our great communal gratitude, we pounded and cheered and chanted.  There was an uninterrupted wall of sound in the ninth.   Everyone was standing, except my mother, who couldn’t.  I stayed sitting down with her and it was as if we were hiding in a meadow during a storm of locusts.  All around us, people were so happy they were screaming.  And then there was a double.  And at the last minute, a ball was hit terrifyingly deep into left field.  But Endy caught it against the wall.  Once again he saved us.  We slapped each others’ hands.  We slapped strangers hands.  But it seemed, in the picnic area, as if there were no strangers.  Every one in those t-shirts were as much my family as the four women around me.  I was so happy, so grateful, and so surprised.  The Mets had lived.  The Mets would continue.  Shea wasn’t over.

My mother and I went down in that sound-proof, slow-moving elevator.  She nodded happily to me.  “That was a wonderful game,” she said.  “Thank you so much for taking me.  But I didn’t see the end.  They were all standing up.  But I don’t blame them.  I would too if I was them.  They should have stood up.  It was wonderful.  At least they weren’t doing that stupid wave.” 

I’ll be there tomorrow.  And if there has to be a Monday, I will do what I can to be there as well.  I will stand.  I will go to the window.  I will do what I can to help Shea live as long as it can. 

000_0012 by you.




Saturday, September 27th, 2008

If it happens, it will be like 1999.  I can’t remember what I felt going into that last weekend.  But I remember what I felt like when I was at the stadium and Melvin Mora came home on that wild pitch.  I have to admit to you that I don’t believe.  But I want it so badly. 

Saturday in the Picnic Area

Friday, September 26th, 2008

I’ll be at the Gary, Keith, and Ron event in the picnic area tomorrow, with my mom (who’s been a New York National League baseball fan since the ’30s), my wife, my daughter, and my sister.  If you’ll be there too, please come by and say hello.  I’d love to meet you.  I hope we’ll all be able to celebrate together.

September 25

Friday, September 26th, 2008

You know, when you live through a game like last night (9/24), you begin to wonder if you’ll ever see the Mets come back or come through again.  It doesn’t seem possible to hit a fly ball with a runner on third and nobody out.  There’s no real reason to feel this way.  Even Wednesday night’s game had something as wonderful and as not-really-expected as Carlos Delgado’s grand slam.  But you know how it is.  You think, we’re toast.  We’ve always been toast.  Toast is our essence.

And then you see something as unbelievable, and dare I say it, as redemptive as what just happened in the rain and wind of Thursday.   You actually saw something you may often dream about but that never happens.  Ryan Church was dead at the plate and he didn’t run into the catcher, he ran around him and reached back and touched the plate.  You saw the two most minor of all the Mets get two consecutive and vital run-building hits.  And you saw Carlos Beltran, who will never forget the at-bat we will never forget, continuing his life-long mission to make up for it.

It’s amazing how happy a baseball game can make you.  Wet and muddy, the Mets danced up and down, with that bounce you only see at a clinching.  The small crowd of diehards was so wet and so loud and so tireless.  This is the Shea way.  The fans, as Jerry Manuel said after the game, were demanding it.  As we’ve demanded it in the past.  Demanding with love.  Demanding to see that dance again on Sunday.

I’m Feeling Better

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

I’m feeling better.  Who isn’t?  Santana’s the best.  So is Reyes.  And so is Wright.  I’d be tempted to say that that was the game that turned us around.  But I’d have to lose a few more brain cells to say that.  We did good tonight.  We must do good tomorrow.  Everything is one day at a time.  I’m going tomorrow night, to sit in the picnic area at Shea (for the first time) at the Goodbye to Shea event that my fellow Mets author Matt Silverman is sponsoring.  Matt still has a few tickets available so visit his site if you want to be a part of it.  And if you’re going, I’ll see you there.

Buying a Piece of Shea

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

As everybody knows, they’re not just selling the seats, they’re selling everything from the napkin holders to the foul poles.  Shea stadium is becoming the site of the biggest sale of holy relics since the Middle Ages.  It’s not going to implode and crumble into the Flushing Meadows.  It is about to be scattered through the dens, basements, and attics of Greater New York and beyond.

Nevertheless, a lot of the things I might want the most from old Shea are not for sale.   At least I don’t see them on the 500-page price list that has been sent out by the Meigray Group, the memorabilia company that is selling it all.  Here’s my list of the stuff I’d really consider buying.

1)      Those blue and orange ruffly pieces of metal that used to hang on the stadium in the Sixties
2)      Empty bottles of champagne certified by the Meigray Group to have actually been opened and either sprayed or consumed during celebrations in 1969, 1973, 1986, 1988, 1999, 2000, or 2006.
3)      Comparably authenticated Keith Hernandez cigarette butts
4)      Any watercoolers or batting helmets damaged in anger
5)      The stadium’s original wooden seats.
6)      Bobby Valentine’s glasses and moustache disguise
7)      Gil Hodges’s pocket bottle of shoe polish
8)      Howard Johnson bats with cork centers
9)      Discarded and used Mr. Mets heads
10)  Anything that might have been part of Mrs. Met or Lady Met, who made a few appearances but hasn’t been seen at the stadium for more than 40 years
11)  The deer they used to have in the vegetable garden in the bullpen
12)   Pieces of the U-Haul tower, now forever obscured
13)   The carriage, pulled by the mule Met-Al,  in which Whitney and Bebe de Roulet used to ride down the right field line to the bullpen
14)   Anything associated with Met-Al or with the Mets’ first animal mascot, the basset hound Homer, e.g. leashes, harnesses, pooper scoopers 
15)   The very learned-looking library backdrop of the Kiner’s Korner set
16)   The futuristic white Shea stadium World’s Fair bus shelters by the bay
17)    Those magic toy security wands the guys wave over you before they pronounce you fit to enter the stadium
18)    The Flo-Max signs over the urinals that ask you why you’ve come back again
19)    Those nets they put out during batting practice to make sure that nobody gets hit by anything
20)    Any extant “Sign Man” signs
21)    Used cowbells
22)    The electronic console whose buttons play the trumpet sounding the charge, everybody clap your hands, etc.
23)    Pieces of the old subway ramp
24)    Turk Wendell’s rosin bags
25)    Davey Johnson’s 1980s era computer
26)    Pieces of the original scoreboard, especially the video screen that never worked
27)    Pieces of the big old Rheingold sign, especially the foam, which made me want to grow up fast so that I could drink beer

28)    Used Conehead cones
29)    Pieces of broken bats, particularly if they are shaped in such a way that they have been mistaken for baseballs and thrown at anyone
30)    Any stray cats, lucky or otherwise
31)    The brooms that get dragged over the infield
32)    The dirty water buckets that keep the hot dogs warm, especially if they are really old and beat up, I mean the buckets, not the hot dogs
33)    The old Longines clock
34)    Any of the banners people used to hang that made Shea feel so messy and fun and unique
35)    The pickle pin from the Heinz pavilion at the World’s Fair that I lost at Shea in 1964
36)  Various ghosts, spells, curses, and ectoplasmic epiphenomena

 I’m not going to buy anything.  As I said, I don’t do relics.  But if any of the above were available, I’d be tempted.




Monday, September 15th, 2008

 vertigo3 by you.

 In Alfred Hitchcock’s great film Vertigo (1958), Jimmy Stewart plays a police detective haunted by his memory of falling from a rooftop while chasing a criminal.  Unable to get past his fear of heights, Stewart can no longer work for the police force.  An old college friend hires Stewart as a private detective to follow his wife, who appears to be haunted by the conviction that she is the resurrection of a beautiful young woman who had died a century before.  She has a compulsion to kill herself, to die at the same age as that young woman.  She does kill herself, jumping off a tower.  Stewart is unable to prevent her from jumping because of his debilitating fear of heights.  Then, when he sees a woman on the street who reminds him of the woman he couldn’t save, he tries to arrange something that is essentially a re-enactment of the moment in which he failed to save the first woman.  Except this time, he thinks, he will save her.  She will not jump.  As those who know this film are aware, I’m leaving certain things out and I am not mentioning a very surprising plot twist.  I do this so as not to ruin the movie for those who have not seen it.  But here’s my point:  we’re in this movie. 

In Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “William Wilson,” a man is haunted by the perpetual reappearance of someone who looks exactly like him.  The double, who has the same name, prevents him from doing what he wants to do.  Frustrated and violently enraged, the man stabs the perpetually reappearing double.  Having done so, he sees a broken mirror at his feet and finds a note asking him to observe how thoroughly he has murdered himself.  We’re in this story. 

There are three pennant races going on here.  In one, we are a half-game ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies in a battle for first place in the NL East.  In the other, we are a half-game ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers in a battle for the National League Wild Card.

In the third, we are haunted by a phantom who looks like ourselves, or perhaps like someone or something we’ve seen before.  We’re haunted by a trauma, by a terrifying event in the past, by a deadly demon demanding to be resurrected.  We are haunted by a need for the past event to be re-enacted, for it to come out right this time.  This is an obsession, a dark fear that breathes on our neck and wakes us at night.  We have to save her this time.  We have to conquer our own terror.  We can’t kill the double.  We have to make it go away.  It is not just the Phillies and Brewers that are chasing us.  It’s something out of Hitchcock and Poe.  It is something in ourselves that will kill us if it can.


Bouncing Off the Scoreboard

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

I’ve been talking to Mets fans all week.  I’m sure you have too.  The most extraordinary thing about this season is that everyone seems to be saying the same thing:  they feel more excited and hopeful about this year’s team than they did at any point about last year’s team, even though last year we were solidly ahead all season, and this year, we are only two and a half games ahead of the Phillies on September 10.  

Last year was a bummer.  Even before the collapse.  Look at the archives of all the blogs.  You’ll see this.  No one could have predicted that collapse.  But all of us seemed to feel that it was coming.  When we settled into that .500 groove after Memorial Day and could not climb out of it, we could not enjoy ourselves.  We didn’t think that we’d be passed by the mediocre Phillies.  But we knew that we didn’t deserve the pennant.  And we were sure that someone would cream us in the postseason. 

This year is different.  And tonight’s game illustrates how it is different.  The 2008 Mets are not an overwhelming baseball presence.  They are not like the Mets championship teams and they are not as formidable as the teams that came so close around the turn of the millennium.  They have no closer and they barely have a bullpen.  They’ve lost Maine for the season and who the hell knows what’s up with Pedro.  They fall way behind, they squander leads, they play, with some frequency, as if they aren’t any good.  

But they are good.  Unlike last year’s team, they seem to want to be in control of their destiny.  If they fall behind, they can come back.  If they have slumps, they come out of them.  They have the exuberance of the 2006 season.  And it is not just the resurgence of Delgado, even if it is mostly the resurgence of Delgado.

What Carlos Delgado has done, as I said the other day, and as Gary Cohen mentioned tonight, is virtually unprecedented.  Something like this has never happened to a Met.  He seems to be doing it himself, even though no ballplayer ever does it himself.  But what Carlos Delgado is doing right now makes me feel how completely the mind determines what the body is capable of.  I can’t imagine what it is like to be as physically talented as these ballplayers.  But somehow I can feel what it might be like to be lost at the plate and then to turn around after a nine RBI game and feel that you’ve entered a new place on the other side of the old place.  Because of what Carlos Delgado is doing, I seem to know what it is like to reach so deeply into yourself that the bat and ball become extensions of a kind of unconscious imagination.  I can enter a state or a trance where the balls I hit bounce off of the scoreboard or climb to the mezzanine or bounce back into the bullpen after hitting the Azek sign.  I don’t know exactly what I mean to say.  But somehow, in some kind of dream, what Delgado is doing makes me feel as if I have become him.  That I have hit his home runs.  That I am going to carry this team to a championship. 

As I write this, I am watching Carlos Delgado being interviewed in the Mets locker room.  He is happy and confident, but he is controlled and contained.  He wants to feel good, but he will not allow himself the uncontrolled exuberance I am feeling.  He is hitting the home runs.  I am just experiencing a sense of having hit them.  His state of mind is better for what he needs to do.  And my state of mind is better for what I need to do.  This is why I want curtain calls and he wants them to remain rare and special and brief.  We are fans.  We get to experience all this joy.  But these men have work to do.


Carlos Delgado’s Second Act

Monday, September 8th, 2008

In the 46-year history of the New York Mets, there has never been a veteran player, who appeared to be washed up, who has come back to life to lead the team to a title or a championship.  This is actually a very rare story, and when it happens, it is a beautiful thing to see.    

The 1973 pennant involved the revival of a slumping ballplayer, but that doesn’t count.  At 28, no one thought Tug was on his way out.  We hoped for this story from Mike Piazza after 2001, but it didn’t happen.  His decline was our decline.  When Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter started going down, they didn’t come back up.  Other guys were good enough to keep the team afloat for a couple of years, but once Keith and Gary were over, the team of the eighties was over. 

It hasn’t happened to us before, but it is happening right now.  If Carlos Delgado takes us to the top this year, it will be fitting.  The last year of Shea is in many ways about death, about losing something beloved.  It would be perfect if the real baseball story of the season was a resurrection.

It would also be so wonderful because it would mean that the Mets of 2006 came back to life.  Remember 2006?  Remember how Carlos Delgado was the center of that team, the main guy surrounded by talented children and leading by his example?  Well how would you have felt, or I guess how would you feel if 2006 had no successful follow-up?  How would 1969 have been remembered if there hadn’t been 1973?  It would just have been an isolated event, a miracle that might as well have been an illusion.  If we have what we could very well have in 2008, 2006 will not be an illusion.  2007 would be the illusion.

Carlos Delgado will stand for this.  He would mean this.  The 2006-8 Mets would be the Delgado Mets, remembered forever.  He has found his swing again, we’re told.  He just had an off year, his first ever.  Don’t tell anyone, but it wasn’t all that bad of an off year.  Most ballplayers have much worse and most ballplayers aren’t anywhere near as consistent as Delgado has been.  But it sure felt like a bad off year.  I don’t really know why it felt so bad, but I remember that it did.  And I remember giving up on him in June, when I had given up on the whole team.

There’s no reason to give up anything now.  Carlos, the unfairly maligned, the abandoned, the despised, has returned to form.  He does things worth taking a curtain call for.   And when he smiles that broad, bright, soothing smile he has, we smile back.

Come September

Friday, September 5th, 2008

Do you remember when you didn’t really believe in them?

Do you remember how you’d put on a happy face and say that they could do it, but you knew inside that they wouldn’t?

Do you remember when you’d no longer laugh at talk of trading Jose Reyes, when part of you would thought that it might be worth getting rid of the headache?

Do you remember when you were so pissed at Carlos Delgado for burning out so soon, and just when we needed him the most?

Do you remember when you were even beginning to get bored with David Wright?

Do you remember when you thought that Mike Pelfrey was just another overhyped Mets prospect and you were wondering which of the guys traded instead of him was going to make it into the Hall of Fame?

Do you remember when it wasn’t any fun?

Do you remember being reconciled to the fact that you’d never hear 55,600 open throats at top volume again?

Do you remember when you thought you’d never feel the stadium bounce again?

Do you remember when you thought that old Shea was just going to die, stiffly, sadly, after some bitter final ceremonies?

Well how do you like this?

How do you like sweeping the Brewers in Milwaukee?

Shea is alive with the energy of something that is rallying in its final moments.  Shea is ready for it.  We are too.  It all comes down to one final month, with a fabulous team and a patchwork bullpen.

And we’ll get to hear what we can sound like, in this place, under this sky.

One last time.