I went to the ballgame with my daughter Sonia today. I did this on the spur of the moment, out of a kind of morbid curiosity. I wanted to see what Citi Field felt like on the day after a loss that felt like the proverbial fork entering the roasting flesh. Here we are trying to hopeful, trying to be happy with our crumbs of hope. And our relievers, a day after holding the fort so valiantly and keeping us in another ballgame we could have won, give up the ghost and a grand slam besides. And Luis Castillo, one of the few left standing, one of the few reasons to celebrate this season, falls down the stairs. Other people can fall down a few steps and not be grievously hurt. But Luis is a member of a baseball team called the New York Mets and this is the year 2009.
It was a hot humid day, the kind we used to have in New York until this summer. There were a lot of people at the ballpark. I tried to take their temperature. They were hot. And they were happy.
This surprised me. I went to Shea a lot in its last two seasons and I could tell when people were happy and hopeful and I could really tell when they weren’t. I’m not saying that the people at Citi Field today were hopeful. But they were happy to be at the ballpark. Everybody was eating food, and taking pictures, and wearing their Mets regalia and their Mets tattoos. It was a day game and that generally means more than the usual number of old people and more than the usual number of kids. Old people and kids are always just happy to be at a ballpark. Watch them. They don’t need as much to make them happy. We can learn from them.
Today, of course, had its share of disasters. We are used to this, as Londoners were used to bombardment in the Blitz. Today Jon Niese, an extremely exciting and very young pitcher I was looking forward to following for the rest of the season, went down. Today we learned that Jose Reyes has all this scar tissue behind his knee and won’t come back this season. Gary Sheffield, who just came back, is now hurt again. It continues.
But marvelous things can happen. Except for the daily disasters, the game was filled with wonders and marvels from the beginning to the end. David Wright hit a home run into the bullpen. Nelson Figueroa, whom we gave up for dead just two days before, pitched magnificently, saving, for a little while more, his sad, sweet, fragile career. And he hit a triple! All day long Mets hitters were hitting balls far into the immense gaps of the outfield. And we were scoring runs in these satisfying little rallies and giving none up. Bobby Parnell even contributed and raised his career average to three times that of Babe Ruth or Ted Williams. Hey, if he doesn’t come up again this season that means that … Now I’m just being silly. But the game was enough to make you giddy and the crowd I was with enjoyed every minute of it. I sat in the shade high up under the overhang at the top of the Promenade and we were all having a ball. The ancient gentleman in front of us, in kibbutznik shorts and a hat that said Mets in Hebrew, stood up when Angel Pagan hit his home run and waved his arms as if he was conducting an orchestra. Two home runs in a game! Whoever is in charge of the Home Run Apple was caught by surprise and the Apple only rose as Pagan crossed the plate, and it just stood there as if it couldn’t believe it had been woken up again. When it was all over, the score was 9-0, as if the Cardinals had forfeited. And as we walked out of the stadium you saw the victory bounce in the walk of the fans.
We got into the hot car and inched out of the parking lot. I turned on WFAN as I normally do because I like to listen to the recap of a game I just saw because I kind of feel like I own it. I also need to listen because there’s always a lot you couldn’t understand (what happened to Niese and Sheffield, what was that bit about trying to hit Wright?). They had Benigno and Roberts on, because the regular guy, Mike Francesa, has his summers off, like a professor (to write and do research?). I have to admit that I find listening to Benigno and Roberts as trying as listening to Francesa, even though they’re Mets fans. They talked about the game as if it was such a joke because it didn’t mean anything, the Mets were still done, and all anybody was going to pay attention to in “this town” was the Yankees for the next few months. Even though they’re Mets fans, they apparently have the same view of Mets fans as Chipper Jones did a few years ago when he said that when the Mets were out of it, they would just go put their Yankee stuff on. Yeah, uh huh. Mine is all the way in the back of my closet. They didn’t have anything much to say about what the crowd felt for Jon Niese, what it felt like to see a Wright home run. They weren’t impressed with the drama of Figgy’s miraculous resurrection. They didn’t feel as I felt or as the people around me felt. They just offered people in air-conditioned cars the bland, unimaginative, (and they think) manly cynicism that has become the stock in trade of WFAN. The beauty and uniqueness of the game? The fascinating drama of guys trying to save their careers and show us something worth watching even though the team is nine and a half games out? The way that the bullpen came through as it did the night before last and not last night? Were they going to talk about any of that? Nah. Who do you think these guys are, Gary Cohen or Howie Rose?
Fuck that shit, I say, as I turn off the stupid radio so we can listen to Sonia’s I-pod. I enjoyed that ballgame. I enjoyed rooting for my team. I enjoyed being in that crowd. Sonia enjoyed finding exactly the right Mets blue headband to wear with her vintage orange Mets shirt. How often do you see a relief pitcher get a hit and then score a run in his first major league at-bat? How often do you see a pitcher hit a triple and pitch four shutout innings two days after he gives up six runs in less than two innings. How often do you see a team so decimated by injuries dominate an old foe so completely in a ballgame? I loved the little rallies and the balls hit into the gaps. Even Brian Schneider got a hit. The afternoon was magic. The game was filled with pleasure.
And now they go on a Western trip, playing two teams they often beat on the road. Hey, where will we be if we win six out of seven? I’m not an idiot. I know we have almost no chance, but as a matter of pride, a Mets fan, after the 2007 season, cannot consider the Mets completely done for if they are nine and a half games out, with fifty-five games to play.
So is the season a disaster? Is it a debacle? No. It’s fun. It’s still fun. This is almost certainly not the year for a championship or for playoffs, but all kinds of things can happen that will be worth paying attention to. And for me and millions of others, anything they do will be more interesting than whatever happens to the Yankees.
The truck in the picture says “Young Jewish Farmers Changing the World, One Pickle at a Time.” Sonia took this picture with her phone as we were driving back from the ballgame on 684.
My new book, The Last Days of Shea: Delight and Despair in the Life of a Mets Fan can be pre-ordered on Amazon for $11.53. You will have it in your hands before the end of August. In the meantime, you can read samples and blurbs here.