Road trips are a very important part of American culture. For some reason, our writers and filmmakers are particularly attracted to the idea of an unpredictable journey without a clear destination, in which people who aren’t sure of their identity bang around looking for it.
Every year, in the middle of May, the Mets go on a road trip to the West Coast. More than any other road trip, West Coast road trips feel like road trips because the games are on so late that you really feel as if the team is “away.” And if you stay up for the games, you are sleep-deprived for a whole week and that makes you feel as if you’re away too.
For some reason I have never been able to understand, the West Coast road trip is often weird. And it often seems weird in a significant way because by the time you’re in the middle of May you feel as if the games should tell you something about what is going to happen with the season.
So what is significant? The astonishing play of the San Francisco series or the peculiar combination of surprisingly effective pitching and absolute Throneberry-esque chaos on the field and the basepaths in the Dodgers series?
What is significant? The fact that the New York Mets right now lead the National League in batting average (have they ever done that before, even for a few days?) or the fact that they are last in home runs (could anyone have ever guessed that of this team)? The fact that for two weeks they make a habit of coming back from behind? Or the fact that they can suddenly stop doing it for a while?
What is significant? The fact that we are only a game out of first place, behind a team that has no discernible pitching staff? The fact that Beltran and Wright are vying for an MVP? Or the fact that the team seems so easy to screw up in the head (if there were such a thing as a team balk, the Mets could have one called on them)?
The Mets are banging around looking for their identity all right. And like all good American heroes on road trips, they are not really going to find it. We’re along on this trip and we’ve got to get used to the fact that there’s going to be something we couldn’t have anticipated on every stretch of this highway. We’re going to have some fun, we’re going to have some adventures. And at several points we’re going to get sick to our stomachs. Is there any possibility that we could stop worrying about our team’s identity and just take things as they come? I don’t think teams have identities in any consistent way. After years of teaching books about people in search of their identity on road trips, I don’t think the idea of consistent identity is particularly helpful. The Mets will be what the Mets will be. I don’t mean to go all Buddhist on your ass, but that’s the whole story.
I’m looking forward to the Boston series because I have a gut feeling that the road to the World Championship this season will have to lead through Boston. So I want the Mets to get comfortable there. There’s no reason why they couldn’t be. There’s no reason why the team that played that totally five-error, missed-third-base insane game the other night couldn’t win the World Championship this year. That’s what’s so strange.
I really need it this year. I can live with the Mets not being great. No team in the National League is great. I just want the Mets to be the flawed National League team that really gets somewhere this year. I don’t want, you know what I don’t want. I don’t want another bloody Sunday. I been there before.