The Captain and the Epileptic Chopstick

No matter how you sliced it, the summer of 2009 was not a good one for me.

First came Swine Flu, which, if you were at summer camp seven hours from home, was no mean feat to deal with. I awoke one morning and staggered out the cabin door, into the wind blowing in from the lake.

“Steve,” I groaned to my counselor, “I’ve gotta go to the infirmary.”

“Hold on, Jimbo,” he said. Then I threw up on the stairs.

I returned happy and healthy a week later. A few days after that, on the eve of Visiting Day, our group leader, having decided that our space was unfit for parental viewing, ordered us to begin a mass garbage pickup.

I was kneeling near the stairs removing trash from the mulch when something hit me in the back of the head. In a twist of fate that to this day defies logic, a fellow member of my group had, seconds before, lost a ping pong match. In his anger, he’d flung his paddle in the air. It had soared over the cabin and landed, in optimal skull crushing position, on my head.

When my parents arrived the next day, they’d already been told what had happened, but the two staples plainly protruding from my head still couldn’t have been fun to look at.

But one week later, I had put all that behind me: we were in Bar Harbor, the annual trip for our age group, and we were having the time of our lives. We stayed up late the last night of the trip, huddled around a dying fire cooking increasingly ineffective s’mores. Eventually, the counselors enforced authority and sent us off to bed.

When I awoke, I was in the hospital. A seizure, they told me. Here, take these pills. Let me put in this IV drip, there you go. Now go to sleep.

I did. I remember turning on the Red Sox game, just after its 7:10 start, and then waking up after 9:00 the next morning. It remains the longest I’ve ever slept.

Of course, had I known what was coming to me, I might not have been quite so relaxed.

**********

While I was making this sizable entry on my health history form, my ball club, brought low by multiple injuries of their own, was foundering. And it wasn’t just injuries, either: something had happened to David Wright’s power.

Wright was my favorite player then; today, seven years later, we’ve both been through our share of ups and downs, but that hasn’t changed. He’d been my favorite since just about the first time I’d seen him, in August 2004, when he lined out to short in his first at-bat; he’d remained my baseball hero through four seasons of next-to-Godliness. He could do everything: he could hit, hit for power, field, throw, and run. In fact, with two Gold Gloves, four seasons batting over .300, and membership in the 30/30 club, there was quantifiable proof that he was exemplary at each of these things.

As my baseball hero, I did my best to emulate Wright: I played third base in little league, and wore number five. My glove was the David Wright game model, the $20 Wilson knockoff, which I would later give up, after a particularly generous haul of birthday presents, for the game model A2K. Posters from the pages of Mets Magazine and Sports Illustrated Kids covered the walls of my room, and Wright was represented multiple times.

But as the 2009 season reached the Summer, the Mets chugging along with a losing record, it was clear: something had gone wrong.

Like my summer, multiple things had failed for him — one could have been handled, but three were too many.

First, Wright moved into a new ballpark — a stadium of ridiculous, almost comedic proportions. “It’s a damn joke,” a teammate grumbled. Wright, of course, didn’t complain: as a matter of course, he doesn’t. But Citi Field was not Shea Stadium, where he’d had his glory years. It was far, far bigger.

Then Wright lost his protection in the lineup. With Mets dropping like flies, pitchers could attack him with impunity. He worked to fight it off, but his exposure in the lineup proved another problem.

Then finally, in August of that year, days after I returned home, Wright was batting against Matt Cain of the Giants. For me, it had been a seizure that had landed the knockout punch. For Wright, it was a fastball to the head. He was down for two minutes. Then, with help from the trainer, he stood and walked off the field.

Wright returned to the lineup on September first, as if nothing had happened. But seizures and beanings have a way of making bad situations worse.

**********

Around the time that Wright was returning to the lineup a few weeks later, blissfully unaware that the course of his career had been fundamentally diverted, I was at an appointment with a neurologist, learning that I would be put on medication.

“Epilepsy is like a guy lighting matches in a forest and dropping them,” he said, a metaphor that I’ve heard repeated at least once on every subsequent visit. “What we don’t want to do is start a fire. This medicine is pouring water on the ground.”

It was a small pill, only 500 milligrams. I would take it every night at 8:00. Pretty simple.

Every summer, I had another seizure, and every summer, the dosage went up.

“He gets pretty active at camp,” the neurologist said as he doubled the dosage to 1000 milligrams. “He burns through the medicine pretty fast.”

That didn’t work. So they decided to do it again.

“We’ve got some athletes, some really big guys, they’re on much more than this,” he said nonchalantly as he added a third pill to get to 1500 milligrams. I was about five feet tall at the time, with the build of a chopstick.

It was a simple, cause-and-effect relationship. The cause was my annual summer seizure. The effect was a 500 milligram increase. It never failed.

“Do you know,” I was often tempted to ask, although I never did, “what the definition of ‘insane’ is?”

If they did, they didn’t let on. My dosage crept up until it reached 2500 milligrams plus a vitamin supplement, five pills in total.

“He’s running around all day at camp,” came the same explanation, now with a hint of resignedness. “Running around in the sun all day, it really tires you out.”

Also at the first appointment, in late summer 2009, I began undergoing testing for brain activity, a truly onerous process was equally mentally and physically debilitating. I would go into the office. In a back room, a technician would smear my head with sticky, superconducting paste. On top of that, he’d attach metal nodes with surgical tape. He’d secure the whole apparatus with a turban of gauze, and plug the wires protruding from my head into a storage bank, which went in a bag that I carried over my shoulder.

He would turn on a bright, flashing light and direct it into my eyes. Then he’d hand me a pinwheel.

“Breathe as quickly as you can,” he’d say. And I would. I would hyperventilate into the pinwheel, making it spin as quickly as I could while the light flashed in front of me, breathing myself to the point of light-headedness, until he told me to stop and I collapsed backwards in the chair.

Then I was free to go, but unable to do much else. With wires still running from my head to the bag over my shoulder, I couldn’t run or throw, sit comfortably or appear in public. It was a constant battle of adjustments, scratching the tape that came down over my ears, picking at the nodes that, for some reason, were be taped on my chest, lying in bed trying to fall asleep with a bag on my shoulder and a mass of metal and gauze on my head.

And I would go back to the office the next morning, and have the device removed. And a few weeks later, we’d go in for a follow-up appointment. The results were always the same.

“There’s no change,” the neurologist would say. “We’re going to stay the course.”

Is this even worth it, I sometimes wondered? But even as the results failed to change, I kept going back. I was going to beat epilepsy — beat it squarely, and leave no doubt that it had tried to knock me down, but it had failed.

**********

In 2010, and the years that followed, David Wright became an enigma, a fuzzy projection of his former self. Sometimes, the Wright of the glory years was visible. And other times, through a haze of back and shoulder pain, you could barely remember who he’d once been.

Wright and I went through our good times and bad. From the beginning of the 2012 season to August of 2013, Wright played like the superstar of old. After 2012, he earned himself a new contract, assuring that he would remain in New York longer than almost anyone else has, and hold almost every record of note to anyone who’s watching. Then, of course, his hard-working style of play did him in again. On August third, 2013, busting down the line to beat out an infield hit (despite everything else, he was safe), he pulled his hamstring, ending what remains the last star season of his career.

Just a week later, a seizure ended my one year streak — on the last night of camp, this time working as a counselor, I awoke in the hospital once again. But with the end of Wright’s two year, renewed burst of stardom, I’d apparently earned some luck of my own. Summer 2014 came and went without so much as an involuntary flick of the wrist, my fortunes on the upswing even as Wright suffered through another parade of injuries.

One year was down, and it might as well have been two, since if anything was going to happen, it would almost certainly wait until summer. Summer 2015 was the benchmark, the magic number. Two years seizure free is an important point: the possibilities open up. After two years and a clean brain scan, you become eligible to take a driving test. You begin the process of weaning from medication. And eventually, you might just be declared epilepsy-free.

It would all come down to the summer of 2015 — for both of us.

**********

“I’m going to give everything I have out there to bring a championship back to Queens,” Wright said at a December 2012 press conference. The conference had been called to announce Wright’s eight year contract extension, the largest in Mets history. It would keep him in New York through the 2020 season.

Mets fans like to complain about David Wright: he’s injured too much, he’s overrated, he’s old, he’s washed up, he should just retire already. Me, I just don’t get it. Wright is a good player — that much is obvious — but more than that, he’s so clearly a good person. Sure, he may have had some of the worst lucky any ballplayer ever has: does that somehow detract from all he’s given to his team? I would say not; you decide. He’s been unlucky, among players. As fans, being able to watch him, listen to him, experience a team that he captains, we’ve been, perhaps, among the luckiest.

“I take a lot of pride in going out in front of those fans every day,” he said, later in his remarks. “There’s a lot of good times to come.”

As 2015 began, it seemed that Wright’s promise would finally come true. The Mets had put the pieces together: now, if they could just make them work, a championship could very well be within reach.

On April 14th, Wright slid into second and tweaked his hamstring. What started off as a mild injury worsened, and Wright couldn’t play through the pain. It was Spinal Stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal cord, an injury that has, in the past, ended players’ careers. Wright would go on to miss 115 games.

There went the summer of 2015 for one of us.

He was beyond eager to get back on the field, but the injury was unwilling to heal. He visited a back specialist in Los Angeles every week for months, but the verdict was always the same. No change.

They worked with treatments; maybe, they thought, if they just did more of what they were doing, it would accelerate the healing process. And what was more, they would try to protect him from future injuries by increasing all the protection he’d worn before.

“Do they know,” I asked myself, “what the definition of ‘insane’ is?”

And as the summer began, and Wright’s weekly diagnoses of wait-and-see-and-come-back-later refused to improve, a new thought entered my mind, one that I suppose had been fermenting for years, but was now exposed as the equivalencies became obvious.

“Damn,” I thought. “I know how that feels.”

**********

On July 4th, in a summer tradition, our campers took a trip to our sister camp for some dancing — which you’d believe was purely friendly, if you avoided the older groups — and then a fireworks show. I was one of the chaperones. Already the outcome is obvious.

You know the old joke:

What do you get an epileptic for Christmas?

Nothing too flashy!

I’d been through this event before, but this time, the pyrotechnicians had upgraded their act. The explosions were louder; the flashes brighter. And everyone but me was absolutely thrilled.

I woke up early the next morning in the infirmary, a nearly two year streak at an end.

There went summer of 2015 for both of us.

***********

David Wright wasn’t on my mind as I entered Citi Field on May 27th, 2016, and saw his name displayed in the starting lineup. Chase Utley was. He was returning to Queens after breaking Ruben Tejada’s leg, and — I hoped — he would be made to look foolish, one way or another. I made my way to my seat behind first base in the upper deck and sat down.

Jacob deGrom was on the hill. Among Mets starters, deGrom must be among the top two or three I’ve ever seen. It’s amazing what you take for granted when you’ve got a strong pitching staff — because I remembered, ten years earlier, sitting in the stands at Shea and watching Dave Williams pitch. We’d won that game too. Wright had been 24; I’d been 9; Wright probably hadn’t known the word “stenosis;” I hadn’t known what epilepsy meant, or been concerned about missing my bedtime.

Those had been happier times for both of us.

But I’d gotten through it all, and now, despite seizures, invasive tests, and emergency medicines whose potential administrations I didn’t even want to imagine, I was back in the stands, happy as could be, the first of three games in three days. You’d hardly have known me for an epileptic.

And Wright had made it as well; on the field below, he took grounders, not betraying even a hint of pain or stiffness. I knew he was being bothered by a neck issue, but it was invisible: he was out there, playing the children’s game as if he was overjoyed to have the chance to do so, which he probably was. If you’d stayed away from the news, you’d have sworn he was 24 years old again, never injured in his life.

We’d been through obstacle after obstacle suddenly thrown into our paths in 2009, and increased treatment that had never seemed to work as the years went on. We’d each had our two year streaks, one after the other, that ultimately had failed to last. And we’d each lost our chance at redemption in the summer of 2015. But neither of us had let it get in our way.

Wright hadn’t let his 115 game absence affect him — the Spinal Stenosis that had tried to knock him down had failed. With the first swing he’d taken after four and a half months of excruciatingly patient recovery, he’d homered into the upper deck in Philadelphia. In the division clincher against the Reds, he’d homered in the eighth to ice the win, and I’d shed a tear as he’d rounded the bases. And a month later, he’d hit the first World Series home run of his career.

And me — well, I was back as well. I hadn’t let the crushing loss of my near two-year stretch get to me either. I’d finished out the summer working at camp. I’d gone off to school and continued to prove wrong the neurologist who constantly worried that epilepsy could affect my learning ability. And now, I was back at Citi Field.

“I take positives out of negatives all the time,” Wright once said, and whether consciously or not, I’d been inspired by the same sentiment. I’d used epilepsy as a conversation starter and a punch-line, an excuse to stay in or go out, and once, not that I’m particularly proud of this, to win over the judges in a debate.

Was I studying up on David Wright, spending my free time learning his quotes and analyzing his suitability as a role model? Of course not. But the way he played rubbed off — I could always tell. I saw it in the way he hustled down the line to first when others jogged, or always fielded the ball with two hands before throwing, just like you were supposed to.

He played the game the right way, and lived his life the right way too. And that meant getting back up when things went wrong. And for that same reason, with the spirit I built up playing third base on little league fields and carried through one neurological problem after another, after waking up early on the morning of July 5th to find my two year stretch scuttled and all thoughts of finally returning to normalcy ruined, I pulled myself out of the infirmary bed and got down to the ropes course to work by the time first period started.

Really, it’s a different Wright quote that defined my attitude towards what I’ve come to see as the minor inconvenience of epilepsy.

“Whether you have a great game or a terrible game, tomorrow’s another day and you’ve got to come out here and compete,” he once said. He was David Wright, my hero since 2004, and a fellow piece of damaged goods since 2009. I’d watched him work back from injury to play again while I’d adjusted to medication, and then, having ended a seizure-free stretch in crushing fashion, I’d shrugged it off and started a new one, just as I’d watched him go through the same process I’d been going through since 2009, in increments of weeks instead of six months.

“No change,” would come the inevitable responses. “Keep doing the same thing.”

But as Wright once said, tomorrow’s another day, and you’ve got to come out here and compete. After bad times for both of us, he’d come back to beat Spinal Stenosis, and I’d come from behind to declare that epilepsy would not rule my life after all.

Baseball heroes can teach a seven year old how to field a grounder, and David Wright did just that. But he also taught a twelve year old that malady was not permanent, and that with determination, a return to normalcy, whether the norm was a .300 batting average or a driver’s license, was within reach.

Both were important. But lots of players can field grounders. For resilience, determination, and recovery, David Wright alone set the standard that I followed.

**********

David Wright has by no means vanished from my life, or my room. I’ve got a poster of his on one wall, and a giant foam cutout of his face on another. In my closet, I’ve got a blue WRIGHT #5 jersey, the first one I ever bought: somehow, it still fits perfectly. As I type, I’m wearing a gray WRIGHT #5 t-shirt.

I don’t expect David Wright to always be a star, or to hit every time up: nobody does that. David Wright isn’t Ted Williams; few people are. Then again, did Ted Williams ever spend time with sick children? Did Ted Williams’ smile ever light up a room? I thought not. Ted Williams did, on the other hand, give the ballgame in front of him absolutely everything he had, every time he took the field. That’s what I expect from ballplayers; from David Wright more than any of them. So far, he hasn’t disappointed.

OCaptainMetsCaptain

That day, deGrom pitching against the Dodgers, was no exception. Wright struck out in the first, then flied deep to center in the second. The highlight of the game, at that point, was Chase Utley being thrown out stealing. In the bottom of the fourth, Wright came up with two outs. And on the third pitch of the at-bat, he took the swing we’ve all grown to love.

The ball shot towards right-center. “Get out!” I shouted. It kept flying. Joc Pedersen turned around. And finally, the ball landed, ten feet over the right-centerfield fence.

It was Wright’s seventh home run of the season, and the 242nd of his career. And at the time, it wasn’t even the most memorable one of the night.

I went down to the field level in the top of the ninth to watch Jeurys Familia seal it up. I should have stayed put. Up 5-1, he gave up a run, and loaded the bases. Utley was up. I knew what was going to happen. It did.

The ball rolled up the gap, towards the right-center field fence where Wright had homered five innings before. “That’s going to tie the game,” I said offhandedly to the stranger standing next to me, craning my neck over four layers of fans to watch the ball that I already knew Granderson wouldn’t get to in time.

Then, the bottom of the ninth, and one of those endings you just can’t predict: Curtis Granderson led off. He hit the second pitch he saw out of sight — or, rather, out of view, because I could barely see anything. I watched the sliver of the right-field corner that I could see. Seconds later, the ball landed in the stands. Fair. Ballgame over.

Granderson, in the immediate aftermath, was the hero of that game, deGrom second, Wright, probably a distant third. It took a long time for things to change. It was only when Wright hit the disabled list a few days later; when his absence was extended from weeks to months to indefinite; when his readiness for the 2017 season came into question, then became a thing of the past; that I realized that the shot he’d hit over the right-centerfield fence as I’d watched was the last home run he’d hit.

Have I seen the last home run of David Wright’s long, storied, utterly beautiful career? I don’t know; I have a sneaking suspicion that I haven’t. David Wright has never been one for involuntary exits. Every time he’s been knocked down, he’s come back, often with a monstrous home run. David will be back, and he will play again in orange and blue. And if I’m wrong…well, I’ll be devastated. We all will. But I won’t fault him. He’s our captain. He’s already done enough.

Mets Fan On The Take

So there I was, sitting in the Upper Deck at Citi Field, holding a sign that said “Hunter Pence is a rotten cornet player,” hoping that the Mets could avoid being no-hit by the Giants, but knowing that they couldn’t.

It wasn’t supposed to be this easy. No team was supposed to be this bad. As a fan of a Major League Baseball team of ostensibly competitive quality, I wasn’t supposed to be able to text my friend in the middle of the seventh inning that we were going to be no-hit, fully secure in the knowledge that there was not a batter remaining in our lineup with any realistic chance of hitting so much as a single.

But I was — of course I was. Sometimes, you just know.

So I watched, and hoped that one of our three guys would somehow manage to get a hit, which, if you were in the stadium and could sense the energy of the game, was a little bit like hoping the Falcons could hold on to win Super Bowl LI. The paid attendance that night was 23,155. A small fraction of that number remained. Of the fans still in attendance, a sizable number were Giants’ fans. Regardless of personal preference, every fan in the stands knew exactly what was going to happen next.

So of course, as tends to happen when the thing that everyone knows will happen next will be bad for the Mets, it happened exactly as it was supposed to. The Mets sent up four batters that inning. The first was hit by a pitch; his batting average was .149. The next three Mets struck out; their averages were .100, .232, and a veritable standout .284. None was a pitcher: each player that the Mets sent up to bat, in the ninth inning of a Major League Baseball game, was a player that was on the team because of his offensive ability.

As I left my seat, the Mets having been no-hit by Chris Heston, one of exactly two complete games Heston has thrown in his career to date, I tore my Hunter Pence sign in half. An older fan, sitting a row behind me, chuckled.

“One day,” he said, “you’ll be glad you were here.”

***

I don’t know when I realized that the guy behind me was right — it could have been in the subway on the way home — but now, it seems obvious. Eventually, after my anger at the Mets’ offensive — in more ways than one — incompetence abated, I was glad I’d been there. I was glad for the experience, of course, because not everyone can say they’ve seen a no-hitter, but perhaps even more than that, I was glad I’d learned all the lessons that game had taught me.

Sometimes, you just get no-hit. It can happen to a Mets team that couldn’t hit the side of a barn, just as it could have happened, for all I know, to the Murderer’s Row. The terminology makes it unique to baseball, but the experience can happen to anyone: sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t get anything right.

I probably already knew that, especially having watched the Mets for 11 years prior to Heston’s no-hitter, but that game drove it home, especially when the Mets went on to rebound spectacularly, win two playoff series, and come within a few bad bounces of a World Series title. It’s a lesson every inspirational figure I’ve ever heard of has attempted to impart, in some form or another: it’s not how you fall, it’s how you get back up. Watching the Mets get no-hit pounded that principle home in my mind better than any coach’s speech I’d ever seen. And it’s far from the only lesson the Mets have taught me.

When I was six, the Mets taught me to debate. I walked into my first-grade classroom armed with an unassailable piece of knowledge my dad had imparted to me on the walk to school: “Mike Piazza’s batting .300.”

The only other Mets fan in my class scoffed. “That’s not that good,” he said. “You can bat all the way to a thousand.”

He was right, I was wrong, and my debating skills needed some work. But it was a start.

A few years later, the Mets taught me that nothing could last forever. I was in the park, watching a soccer game, when I turned on the radio to hear that Mike Piazza, after being ahead in the count 3-0, had struck out. I was stunned. Piazza left the Mets on good terms a few months later. I was just surprised that Mike Piazza, from what I’d heard, a god among men, could strike out, particularly after being up 3-0.

When I was 14, the Mets taught me to always accept challenges, even those that seem impossible, because you might just succeed. It was September 24th, 2011 at Citi Field, and I was in the stands. The Mets were down 1-0 in the seventh, facing Cole Hamels, in the midst of the best season of his career, when Valentino Pascucci strode to the plate. Pascucci, a 32-year-old journeyman, had not appeared in the major leagues since 2004, and he hit the second pitch he saw into the left-field stands to tie the game. The Mets won two innings later. I’ve seen walk-offs, great pitching performances, and dazzling defensive plays since then, but I don’t know that I’ve seen anything quite as beautiful as Val Pascucci, a 32-year-old with a swing so power-dependent that he couldn’t make it as a major league ballplayer, rounding the bases in temporary, glorious triumph.

The 2012 Mets taught me two important lessons. In August, they taught me that false hope is just that — false, and only hope. Things looked bleak — we were losing 5-2 to the Rockies going to the bottom of the ninth.

“We may be losing,” yelled a fan in the stands next to me, “but you have to go back to Colorado, so who’s the real winner?”

Suddenly, a glimmer of excitement: two men on, the tying run at the plate. Ronny Cedeño was the batter, and Ronny Cedeño never hit home runs. He gave this one a ride, and the few thousand fans that were left rose to their feet, but it settled into Carlos Gonzalez’s glove at the warning track. Since that game, I’ve been careful, almost to the point of paranoia, to be certain before proclaiming that a ball is gone.

But the 2012 Mets also taught me a different, more important lesson: that sometimes, baseball can be everything you’ve ever wanted, and then some. On June 1st, 2012, I was watching the game in my parents’ room, Johan Santana pitching against the Cardinals. As my mother urged me to go to bed and my dad skillfully avoided taking a position on the matter, Santana motored through the Cardinals’ lineup without giving up a hit. The ninth came around; two fly balls provided the first two outs. With a full count on David Freese, Santana threw a change-up in the dirt, and Freese swung over it.

I jumped in the air in triumph, hugged my parents, and promptly went back to my room to lie in bed and soak in the moment, listening to Mets talk on the radio for at least an hour. I learned just how wonderful a baseball moment could be that night, but I also learned two other things. The first was the importance of pushing one’s boundaries: Santana had been informally capped at 115 pitches, and had thrown 134 in completing the effort. The second was somewhat different: in my excitement over the Mets game, I had completely abandoned studying for the Biology SAT II the next day. The Mets taught me, that night, that in a world where Johan Santana could throw a no-hitter and fill millions of Mets fans with joy, maybe test scores weren’t quite so important.

***

Life lessons are one part of being a Mets fan, but they’re not the only part. The other — almost certainly, I would concede, the more important — is obvious: the games. The wins and losses. The players with whom we form irrationally familiar bonds. The championship teams, the so-so squads, the dumpster fires. The Mets have had all of them, and true Mets fans love them equally.

As it happened — and being a Mets fan, I should have anticipated this rotten stroke of luck — I left New York just as the Mets were beginning to embark on their quest to retake the city. In the six and a half seasons from 2009 to the middle of 2015, the prime years of my childhood and the period of my life when I had far and away the most time for fandom, the Mets’ winning percentage was .468. In the year and a half since I’ve been largely unable to attend games, it’s .560. After six years of losing teams, in the year and a half I’ve been gone, I’ve missed two playoff clinchers, a wildcard game, two playoff series wins, and a World Series appearance. In the process, I’ve also missed what may in hindsight have seemed inevitable, but certainly didn’t seem likely four years ago: the retaking of the city by Mets fans.

After a poll taken a few years ago showed that the Yankees were the favorite team in every single neighborhood in New York, the Mets overreacted spectacularly, distributing a “loyalty letter” among fans and instantly becoming the subject of unabated mockery. Recently, a new poll came out, with dramatically different findings: within the five boroughs of the city, the Mets had overtaken the Yankees for fan support, 45 percent to 43. It’s a slim margin of victory, fully within the margin of error, and with the inherent inferiority complex that seems to come with being a Mets fan, I can’t help but think that the poll, somehow, got it wrong. But either way, it’s undeniable: among city fans, the Mets are surging.

But could any of these newly-supportive fans have appreciated the 2015 team as much as I did? I don’t think so. They didn’t sit through the years and years of mediocrity, the rotations filled with pitchers with E.R.A.s in the fives, the lineups with .190 hitters batting cleanup, or the inexplicable injuries, one after another, knocking off our players as if they’d been commissioned to do so. They hadn’t been brought to the edge of tears when Luis Castillo had dropped Mark Texeira’s pop-up at Yankee Stadium in the bottom of the ninth, turning a surefire win into a walk-off loss: in fact, they’d probably been on the other side of the aisle for that one. They hadn’t learned what it felt like to have been involved with Bernie Madoff, of all people, and see your payroll contract by 50%. And, of course, they hadn’t experienced what it felt like to suffer through six years of losing before finally hitting the big-time.

How could any of these fans have loved 2015 or 2016 as much as I did? What could it mean for them to watch the Mets clinch a division if they hadn’t watched it the last time it had happened, nine years before, and hoped for it without fruition ever since? It might mean something — but it couldn’t mean much.

There are two reactions, every time I attend a Mets game, or even listen to one on the radio. First, there’s the immediate reaction: joy, contentedness, sadness, or — in extreme cases like former reviled Met Jon Niese moving over to the Pirates, and, in the midst of a 5.50 E.R.A. season, taking on the Mets and shutting us down over seven scoreless innings — anger. This invariably abates fairly quickly: as everyone knows, the beauty of baseball season is that for six months of the year, there’s always another game tomorrow. Even after the Mets lost the World Series, or their wildcard game, my glumness didn’t last for long.

That’s when the second reaction kicks in, and this one, unlike the first, is almost always the same: for the most part, it’s simple gladness, happiness to have been a part of Mets history and excitement for the parts still to come. Ask me about any game you can think of, the worst memories buried away in the Mets fan’s closet of horror. Chris Heston’s no-hitter. Castillo dropping the pop-up. Niese shutting us down. David Wright getting hurt, any of the many times that he has. Connor Gillaspie shoving a dagger into our hearts in the 2016 Wildcard game, or eternally lovable Bartolo giving the Royals the lead in game five of the 2015 World Series. Of course, I regret that they happened — I wish they could have gone differently, and I’m still unable to watch the highlights from any of them without steeling myself first. But they happened, and I’m glad I was there, in spirit or at the stadium, when they did.

Being a Mets fan is no walk in the park — no one ever said it would be. It’s an emotional journey that only a lifetime of continuous rooting can prepare you for, and the fans now attaching themselves to the Mets’ playoff wagon are in for a rude awakening when the wheels fall off, which is why we’ll almost certainly see far fewer of them in August 2021, when the Mets have a 47-68 record and a pitching staff whose arms are either not strong enough or falling off. But the real fans, the true fans, will still be there. I’ll still be there, rooting on our guys in the stands just like we always do. And we’ll be there for three reasons.

First, we’re Mets fans. This is just what we do. We’ve done it all our lives, and a bad team isn’t going to keep the most steadfast of us away.

Second, it really doesn’t matter all that much what our record is. We love watching a 9-o blowout just as much as a division-clinching win, because it’s a night at Citi Field, outside in the warm Queens air in jerseys we wish we were good enough to wear for a living, eating whatever ballpark food we want and pretending that whatever Summer it is will last forever.

And third, we’ll be there because each game, no matter the result, instantly becomes a part of Mets history, and a part of our collective experience. If we want to be happier than we ever knew we were capable of feeling when the Mets finally win a World Series, we have to understand what it’s like when we’re not winning. If we want that eventual championship trophy to be worth it, we’ve got to know what it feels like to watch Yankees baserunners circle the bases as our infielders fling the ball around in disarray. And what’s more, we’ll be glad that we were there to see it. Does remembering Luis Castillo’s tenure with the Mets make me happy? Of course not — I can barely stand hearing his name. But I’m glad the pop-up that he dropped drove a stake through my heart — because that was one more stake that vanished as Jeurys Familia dropped to his knees five years later, having struck out Dexter Fowler and secured us a trip to the World Series.

***

At this point, having watched the Mets for as long as I have, the Mets are essentially a TV show. You know what they say about TV episodes: there are only so many stories that you can tell so many different ways, so until the writers come up with a groundbreaking new story, you’ve just got to watch the old ones with different spins on them. That’s what the Mets are. And I love TV shows.

There are only so many plots that a Mets game can have. Of course, in general, baseball games can go all sorts of ways, but for games that you just know that only the Mets could play, there are a few really specific plots, storylines that never fail to leave fans either jubilant, barely able to keep themselves from skipping as they descend the Citi Field steps, or dumbstruck, shaking their bowed heads and smiling sadly.

There’s the inexplicable, sudden loss, for example: Castillo’s error is an obvious example, but there’s also D.J. Carrasco issuing a walk-off balk, to use a name I wish I didn’t have to remember. Then there’s the storyline where our bats suddenly turn to splinters, and you just know without being told that if the fate of the world depended on it we still wouldn’t score a run today, and you want to somehow slap yourself awake and out of this nightmare, but you can’t, so you content yourself with wanting to slap whatever mediocre pitcher is inexplicably shutting us down. Jon Niese comes to mind here, or Livan Hernandez, bane of Mets fans of a certain age, or any of those pitchers the Phillies grab off the scrap heap with, I’m convinced, the express purpose of being especially infuriating when we fail to hit against them. Ask any Mets fan about this sudden offensive futility: they’ll have their own example, and they’ll probably slap their forehead in exasperation.

But there are positive plot lines too: the kind that on TV, we call too unrealistic. The unlikely hero, for example: Val Pascucci is the embodiment of this story, but there’s also Justin Ruggiano, career minor leaguer, who in 2016 came to bat with the bases loaded against Madison Bumgarner, and, 30 seconds after Twitter began warning other fans, jokingly, to watch out for the Justin Ruggiano grand slam, actually hit a grand slam, then, a few days later, hit the disabled list, and hasn’t played since. Pitchers live out this plotline too: in 2016, when our pitching rotation needed some help in the worst way, Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman came out of nowhere to each post E.R.A.s under 3.00, and pave our way to the wildcard. Or there’s Bobby Jones, who in the midst of a 5.06 E.R.A. season in 2000 threw a one-hitter in the NLDS to help us on our way to the World series.

Then, of course, there are the ordinary games: the games you lose 4-2 or win 6-3 where nothing especially noteworthy happens but everyone has a good time and it’s a fun way to spend three hours. If a game is nothing else, positive or negative, it’s at least this, an unequivocal positive itself. There are TV episodes like this too: nothing outlandish, just a good way to relax.

I’ve only ever caught one foul ball at Citi Field. It was 2013 or 2014, and the Mets were playing the Nationals, and our record was so bad that I was almost alone in my section, the second level right behind home plate, in a seat that costs about $70 with a winning team, that I’d paid maybe $25 for. Anthony Rendon fought a pitch off backwards, and it hit me in the hands. I stowed it in my backpack, and when I got home, put it on display on my desk, inside a ziplock bag.

They say that a good TV series is one that lets viewers take something different away from each episode. That time, the taking was literal. But I’ve taken something away from every Mets game I’ve ever been to, from memories of April 2004 and an 8-1 loss to the Pirates to a t-shirt that I caught during the 14th inning of a game in 2014. Some of the taking is mental: a lot more is completely intangible, and can’t be quantified in any significant way. It’s the memories, the experiences, the emotions. I’ve taken enough of those from Shea Stadium and Citi Field to last a lifetime, and I’ve enjoyed every moment of it, no matter the score. And I don’t plan on stopping any time soon.

The last Mets game I went to was last September, when we were still lagging behind in our pursuit of a wildcard. We gave it our best, but ultimately came up short and lost 6-4.

That game wasn’t particularly spectacular: it was a loss, but not a crushing one. Even so, I took almost more from that game than I could carry. Leaving the stadium, rhetorically asking other fans whether our 2.5 game deficit with 28 games to play was really that bad, I was carrying memories. Memories of Jay Bruce breaking out of a spectacular slump to hit a home run and an RBI single; Asdrubal Cabrera coming in to pinch-hit and homering in the ninth; Jacob deGrom giving it all he had but leaving the game with a mysterious medical ailment; a conversation I’d had with my seatmate, a fellow Mets fanatic, about middle relievers of years past. I was carrying emotions: moderate disappointment at the loss, slightly deeper disappointment that this was the last game of the season that I would see in person, happiness that the Giants, our competitors for a wildcard spot, had lost, and excitement for the wildcard chase that was just beginning, one that I knew would be one for the ages. I was carrying all that as I left Citi Field, from a game that hadn’t even been particularly exciting. And, of course, I was carrying an enormous picture of David Wright’s face printed on foam, because I needed something new to hang on my wall.

April Jay

When I explained why a bat flip from the previous September could result in an intentionally errant (if that’s not an oxymoron) pitch in April, a less baseball-savvy observer responded sensibly.

“It was in September,” she said. “Get over it.”

I tried to explain that in baseball, you don’t get over it — I managed to do it without invoking Chase Utley — but obviously, my arguments were completely insubstantial. Speaking strictly logically, there’s absolutely no reason that how Asdrubal Cabrera celebrated after hitting a walk-off home run last September should affect how the same pitcher pitches to him a few months and a calendar year later. You could make a fairly convincing argument that it shouldn’t have mattered even last September. That much depends on where you stand in the whole debate over bat flips, but we can probably all agree that there’s no reason a bat flip should result in a pitch behind a batter’s head.

So, the game continued, and a few minutes later, justice was carried out almost perfectly. In fact, I don’t know that there is any more perfect form of revenge for a misguided psuedo-beaning. Consider how it happened:

After Ramos threw behind Cabrera’s head, he proceeded to walk him, looking lost in the process. Thus, his headhunting had its first negative consequence.

Ramos then struck out Cespedes, reassuring anxious Phillies fans that the walk might not be their downfall after all.

Jay Bruce then came to bat against a lefty, further calming the frayed nerves of Phillies’ fans, and fell behind 0-2.

We all know what happened next: Bruce hit the ball a mile, and put the Mets on top by two. Ramos was charged with exactly one run. That run, obviously, belonged to Asdrubal Cabrera.

So, is there a lesson here? Probably, and it sounds something like this: if you plan to seek vengeance against the Mets, A) stay away from the head, and B) don’t think we won’t have our say. It’s a good lesson to learn, and an even better lesson to know that our team has the capability of teaching. And as far as April 10th goes, it’s just about as fun a way to win a game as there is.

And while we’re at it, how about a great big kudos for Jay Bruce, constantly decried — including by me myself — as not suited for New York, or over the hill, or just plain bad. Bruce, as inexplicable offensive heroes ranging from Collin Cowgill to John Buck always seem to do, has somehow become the rock in our offense, the one rock-solid figure around the rest of the lineup operates.  I didn’t expect this, and it’s certainly no boon to Michael Conforto’s chances, but regardless, no one’s complaining about having a tough-talkin’, shot-sluggin’, redemption-seekin’ outfielder in the middle of our lineup.

Will Bruce keep this up? Doubtful, somehow. But hell, one win against a particularly pestilential group of Phillies is good enough for now.

The Robin Is Here

I woke up twice this morning before my alarm went off. I didn’t get to bed until 2:00 last night, but sleep always takes a backseat around these occasions. It’s like when you were a kid, and you wouldn’t be able to fall asleep the night before you went on a trip. I woke up thinking about the Mets.

Maybe this had something to do with my alarm itself, which, in the mornings, usually plays “Meet The Mets.” It was fun the first few times; now I’ve gotten used to it, and it’s hardly a novelty. Opening Day, I thought, deserved something more. When the clock struck 8:00, Terry Cashman started singing from the shelf behind my bed.

I’ve counted the days, in a Winter haze, since the leaves began to fall,

Now it won’t be long ’til the sun comes shining through…

Put on my WRIGHT 5 jersey, went to class, got some pancakes, grabbed a few packages that had been waiting for me over Spring Break. Some t-shirts and a book. Everything was passing in a sort of haze, maybe even going more quickly than usual. That in itself is strange, because for five months, not to mention 20 years, off-seasons have moved far more slowly than they should, if my sense of time is at all accurate. Whatever. I’m not complaining.

Came back to my room and knocked out the last bit of homework I had, which was barely homework at all. I had to read four Bill Simmons columns, and with more pressing sports matters on my mind, those went quickly. Some time after that, it occurred to me that maybe Bill Simmons was onto something with his chronicling of game seven of the 2004 World Series. Bill Simmons, I figure, has to be doing something right. Everyone tells me I should write like him, not that I’ve ever tried prior to today, or even read much of his stuff. But at first glance, it seems like he’s got an idea of how things work, and then some. So, an Opening Day Diary. That’s what I’ll do.

12:15: After TuneIn Radio redirects me to the Fox News Talk station (“But they think you’ll like it!” my girlfriend says), I tune into MLB Gameday Audio and find Pete McCarthy interviewing Jose Reyes. His first Opening Day with the Mets since 2011. Seems like it’s my first Opening Day in about six years too. For Reyes, it must seem like dozens.

12:17: Ty Wigginton was the last Met to start an Opening Day game at third base before David Wright. I don’t know how this makes me feel.

12:19: It occurs to me that the weather is cooperating again. It feels cold after three days in Florida, but really, it couldn’t be nicer outside. Maybe I’ll work in the weather when I finally write my column on making Opening Day a National Holiday. I’ve got my window open, for the first time all year: there’s a breeze blowing through my room, and it’s not the least bit unpleasant.

When the camps start breakin’ my spirits awaken to an irresistible call,

Of an old American song, that’s always new…

12:22: Twitter tells me that Steven Matz has a flexor tendon strain. I’m not entirely sure what a flexor tendon is, but I am wondering what this means for Matz’s immediate future, and also trying to remember whether or not I drafted him to my fantasy team.

12:25: It occurs to me that around this time is when Mets Extra! with Ed Coleman used to start at this time for day games, before we moved over to WOR. For the second time today, I’m not sure how to feel.

12:26: Wayne Randazzo announces that coming up, we’ll hear Howie Rose on the radio making player introductions, thus assuaging my more or less constant fear that I’ll miss player introductions, which as far as Opening Day goes are about as good as it gets.

12:30: The 2017 WOR introduction montage plays for the first time, and I’m hooked instantly, not that I hadn’t previously been interested.

12:31: Josh Lewin announces gleefully that it is, in fact, Opening Day.

12:33: Josh Lewin informs me that Julio Teheran had a lower WHIP than Noah Syndergaard last year, while pausing before saying “WHIP” to indicate a healthy dose of skepticism. Howie Rose, he continues to promise, is still just a few minutes away. Twitter confirms as much.

12:35: I look out the window, and determine that most of Terry Cashman’s lyrics continue to ring true, although I haven’t seen a Robin yet.

And the Robin is here, and the sky is so blue…

12:38: I give my girlfriend her Opening Day gift, a stuffed brown bear in a Mets jersey. She wants to name him after Brandon Nimmo, but can’t, because she’s already done so to a different stuffed animal.

12:41: Howie Rose welcomes back family members of William Shea, a beautiful tradition that I manage to forget about every year. Bill DeBlasio gets a dose of what might be cheers or boos; police and fire officials are welcomed as well.

12:42: Howie announces that he’ll introduce the Braves. Mets fans hear, “almost time to introduce Bartolo.”

12:44: R.A. Dickey gets an ovation. I can only imagine what Bartolo will do. Dickey is — somewhat unceremoniously — immediately followed by Anthony Recker, who if I remember correctly I once watched hit a double, and Eric O’Flagherty, who as far as I remember never did anything of note.

12:45: Bartolo Colón is announced, and the crowd, from what I can hear, is standing and cheering. The ovation lasts a solid 25 seconds. He is followed by Ian Kroll, who is booed for not being Bartolo.

12:47: Nick Markakis is batting 5th for the Braves. #VoteMarkakis.

12:50: The crowd cheers loudly for Wilmer Flores, whose charm apparently still hasn’t worn off. The crowd cheers even louder the number five, the captain, David Wright, whose charm doesn’t seem likely to wear off any time soon. “We hope he’ll be back soon,” Howie says, as if that motion didn’t already enjoy unanimous consent.

12:54: At Yoenis Cespedes’ introduction, the crowd roars. This isn’t a cheer, a salutation, or anything of the sort; this is the kind of thing you hear at rock concerts and in manipulative dictatorships. In this context, it’s entirely acceptable, because come on, it’s Yoenis Cespedes.

There’s a band, there’s music, and the flags are flying too…

12:57: A beautiful rendition of the National Anthem is performed over the radio as I walk to my girlfriend’s room to watch the game on TV.

1:05: Josh Lewin compares Noah Syndergaard to Bruno Mars. I don’t know how to feel about this, take three.

1:07: Out of nowhere, a montage of Mets working out and delivering inspirational quotes comes on to the MLB.tv broadcast. Some things are certain in life: death, taxes, and the fact that any season, whether dominant, mediocre, or god-awful, will yield an inspirational-style highlight montage.

1:11: Noah Syndergaard takes the mound. “Look at that hair,” my girlfriend says. “He’d make a pretty woman.”

1:13: “Beautiful day, temperature in the mid 50s,” Gary Cohen says. “All you could ask for in early April.” We see a shot of the field, the actual field, for the first time.

The grass is so green, it’s like never before…

1:21: Jose Reyes is already wasting pitches like a pro. Julio Teheran is throwing maybe 93 tops, which must look like a change-up, pardon the cliche, after watching Thor from the field. Noah, it should be noted, set the record, in the first inning (if Twitter can be believed, which we’ll run with for now), for hardest Opening Day first-pitch of all time.

1:22: Asdrubal Cabrera gets the Mets’ first hit of the season. I’m fairly sure he’s also on my fantasy team.

1:25: Cespedes is still hanging in there. Meanwhile, I’m still marveling at how green the grass is. Do I say this every year? Probably. Is it true every year. I don’t know — but maybe. The green of the grass is just one of those things, like player intros, or Opening Day in general: it just doesn’t get old.

1:30: The bottom of the first ends with no score, leading me to make the ultimate silver-lining realization that hey, at least we’re getting Teheran’s pitch count up there.

1:38: Thor won’t throw a no-hitter today. I had considered writing earlier that I thought he might; I suppose it’s a good thing I didn’t, because I would have been both wrong, and to blame for Brandon Phillips singling just now. I considered writing it anyway, because my leg was leaning up against a wooden table, which might have thrown some superstitious wrinkles into the mix, but ultimately decided against it. You tell me what I should have done.

1:42: We see Bartolo in the Braves’ dugout for the first time. I would describe the emotion of the moment as a kind of state of bittersweet hilarity.

1:47: “This feels like the kind of game where Rene Rivera homers,” I think to myself.

1:49: Rene Rivera comes about three feet away from an opposite-field home run.

2:04: Asdrubal Cabrera has another single. I don’t even want to know how well my fantasy team is doing — assuming my memory of drafting Cabrera is correct.

2:07: We still haven’t scored, but man, Julio Teheran’s pitch count is getting up there.

2:13: Update on Jay Bruce’s search for a fresh start: after almost falling down playing a ball off the right field wall, it’s not going to well. Bruce showed nothing special when he grounded out in the second, and indeed, took one of the uglier swings anyone has ever seen: how long can he last? I mean, this is the team that gave Luis Castillo and Ollie Perez long term deals, but those were different people! These people are smart: they let Justin Turner go, traded away Angel Pagan, signed Michael Cuddyer, etc. So, how long can Jay Bruce last if he plays as Jay Bruce always has? Answer: who the hell knows?

2:23: Curtis Granderson gets a hit to the opposite field against the shift. In my mind, I let loose a sinister cackle. When will everyone start bunting against the shift? Literally, bunt every time until they stop shifting — is there any reason why this wouldn’t work? And what does it say about me that I’ve spent hours studying a method I created to beat a shift I’ll never play against?

2:28: Jay Bruce draws a walk, and adds a small positive notch to his quest for a fresh start.

2:29: Gary Cohen agrees with my assessment that while we have not yet scored, Julio Teheran’s pitch count is certainly rising quickly.

2:48: We’re still chugging along, no score. Teheran’s pitch count keeps rising, but this doesn’t seem to have produced any runs yet. Cespedes hits a fly ball that gets the crowd excited, but Ender Inciarte catches it on the warning track. I’m struck by the undeniable fact that this world would be a better place in the absence of Ender Inciarte. Is that rude? Probably, especially if you’re a friend of his. But he’ll be ok; he’s got a pestilential career ahead of him, tormenting us time after time after time. He can live with a little rudeness.

2:56: Why ever pitch to Freddie Freeman? Seriously, I’ll bet he’s worth more than one base per at-bat when you pitch to him…just put him on!

3:03: Thor gets out of trouble again (#VoteMarkakis). Thank goodness the Braves’ lineup is Freddie Freeman and company. Well, actually, maybe not — but to Noah, it seems that way. He’s at 86 pitches or so — does he get another? Goodness, I hope so. Today is not a day for the Hansel Robleses of the world, based on what we’ve seen.

3:06: Thor has a blister on his thumb? Jesus Christ, what next? All the ailments, the weird injuries…and, I should add, please keep Ray Ramirez and his quackery away from that Norse God of pitching.  Jeez. Wednesday: Matt Harvey out with injury sustained while piercing his eyebrow. Or something like that.

3:09: I’m rooting for Thor to get the win, so we’ve gotta score here. Jay Bruce has walked — maybe there’s something to that fresh start after all. So Thor’s decision comes down to Lucas Duda? Wonderful.

3:10: Duda flies out. #KillTheWin, or just hit better.

3:12: So, Robles is in. Obviously, great start for Thor, but I know Robles — this is the kind of game he blows. When the Braves score this inning, I will await your acknowledgement. “This is where he belongs in a game,” says Keith. Man, I hope so.

3:15: Two outs — can Robles get it done?

3:17: Robles is pausing at the top of his motion, which brings to mind Satchel Paige and the “hesitation pitch.” It was eventually declared illegal, I believe, and as far as today’s game goes, it’s probably the least of our worries right now. But any mention of Satchel Paige is a worthwhile one.

3:18: I can’t tell what color Robles’ hair is. It’s either a red, a brown, or maybe a blond. Somehow, this seems to me an incredibly apt metaphor for what Robles has done as a pitcher.

3:19: Robles gets it done. Sometimes, I’m glad to be wrong.

3:22: The game’s in a commercial, but for some reason, I’m feeling really great right now. It’s Opening Day! It’s baseball season! It’s warm outside, and today, there’s not a thing in the world to worry about except having a good time. But, obviously, don’t expect me to keep this up if we lose.

3:23: Second pitch, Rene Rivera is going to homer. You heard it here first.

3:23: Rivera takes the second pitch at his feet.

3:24: Rivera singles, which isn’t exactly what I predicted either time I predicted an outcome for him, but it’s something. I should add that it seems that getting Teheran’s pitch count up may turn in our favor after all.

3:26: Gary Cohen confirms my earlier suspicion: “no one got a bigger ovation than Wilmer Flores.” Boy, we Mets fans love a man who cries.

3:28: d’Arnaud slides WAY past the bag breaking up a double play, but no objection from the Braves…honestly, it’s only a matter of time before the Utley Rule works its magic against us, as everything ultimately does. We’re never going to get Chase Utley out again, are we?

3:31: This is a classic Reyes at-bat…lots of fouls, fighting everything off. All we need is a single — of course, because Wilmer Flores is the runner, it’ll have to be a single that gets stuck in the outfield fence.

3:32: Come on, Asdrubal. Do it for the Mets — and the fantasy team, the Loyal Order of Raccoons.

3:33: I mean, what do you expect? Wilmer Flores is literally the slowest player in the game — was there any other outcome possible? Replay looks like he’s safe — but I gotta trust my instinct, I doubt this gets overturned.

3:35: Add “a catcher two or three behind home plate” to the list of things Keith has never seen before.

3:35: I’m wrong, he’s safe — my predictions are way off today, and I’m loving it.

3:38: Apparently, Noah left the game with multiple blisters. Let’s recap: valley fever, spinal stenosis, herniated back fragments, finger blisters…all in the last two years? How does Ray Ramirez do it?

3:41: Eric O’Flaherty enters for the Braves. Poetic justice says we should absolutely smash him — so obviously, he’s going to shut us down. Amazing how that always happens — although, as we’ve seen, my predictions have been off today.

3:45: Granderson hits a sac fly off O’Flaherty, which isn’t exactly the ideal embarrassing meltdown inning I was looking for. I was hoping for, you know, an RBI walk, a run-scoring balk, a grand slam. But this is something. No need to be overly vengeful towards Eric O’Flaherty — we made the World Series anyway, despite his best efforts.

3:50: THERE we go. O’Flaherty walks Bruce to drive home Cabrera. Some guys never change — even though most guys like O’Flaherty get inexplicably better after leaving Queens. O’Flaherty remaining solidly sub-average is, I must say, an entirely pleasant change of pace.

3:52: Eric O’Flaherty has imploded. I was wrong again, but this time, it seems like there was a kernel of correctness in there. Maybe. Why can’t Ollie P. ever have one of these complete meltdowns against us?

3:54: Travis d’Arnaud walks. (“That is teríble,” says Keith).Immediately, my mind zooms ahead: maybe d’Arnaud is going to be a big piece! Maybe his batter’s eye has improved! I can see him hitting .270, maybe 20 homers — then I remember he won’t be facing Eric O’Flaherty every time out.

3:57: Just struck me that we’re still waiting for the answer to the trivia question. I don’t even remember what the question was, or whether I knew the answer.

3:58: As Keith notes, Tyler Flowers’ bad tag on Flores at the plate completely changed the course of the game. Huge break for us, in other words. Hey — maybe our luck is turning! I’ve only said that about 12,000 times in my life; this time might be for real.

4:02: Fernando Salas is in. Let’s get six outs.

4:09: Salas gets the job done. It’s hard not to love going to the bottom of the eighth with the lead — one more chance to score, then in comes Addison. Things are looking fine.

4:15: Here’s yet another montage, this time with a voice over from Sandy Alderson. I mean — why not? Headed to the ninth.

4:19: Time to check the scoreboard — Nationals win, Marlins lose, Phillies just getting started. Rob Gsellman is in to pitch — three outs, and we’ve got a win. They just answered the trivia question — I had the answer the whole time. Cliff Floyd — brings back memories.

4:26: Well…wow. Mets turn a 1—3—6 double play to end it. Tapper out in front of the mound, Gsvllman throws to first, Duda throws in behind at second, and Kemp is out. So maybe I was right after all — maybe our luck is turning in a new direction after all. I can hear “Back in the New York Groove” playing in the background — that means it’s time for me to take my leave.

4:28: Well, a good game all around. Shut-out pitching, solid situational hitting, and, of course, Asdrubal Cabrera racking up the fantasy points. The sun is shining, the grass is green, the robins are out, and the Mets are winning. So saddle up, Mets fans — Wednesday night, and then for six months after that, we’ve got baseball to watch.

It’s Opening Day,

I can be

A kid once more.

Dispatches from Spring Training: Day Two

Bryce Harper is no longer blond. Seth Lugo is. Was there any question who would come out on top?

The same question, I suppose, can be asked about Trea Turner, and Ryan Zimmerman, and all those infernal Nationals who got to Seth and our subsequent pitchers on a day that clearly was not ours. Our seats today were in the first row, right behind the Nationals’ bullpen: I was there as Max Scherzer warmed up. Everyone nearby could hear him grunting as he tossed. Scherzer was going all out. It showed.

The family of Nationals’ fans next to us were pleasant seat mates, at least as far as Nationals’ fans go. They were two parents and a daughter. Early on, between innings, I was nearly nailed in the head by Bryce Harper as I scrolled through twitter. The throw was meant for the daughter — allegedly. I suppose you can’t hate a player who gives a kid a ball, close as it came to denting my cap.

When Travis Taijeron broke up Scherzer’s bid for a Spring Training no-hitter, I mused to my friend that this Spring Training was probably the first time we’d ever had two players named Travis in the same lineup. That theory remains unconfirmed. What I can confirm absolutely certainly is this: the other Travis, d’Arnaud, might as well not have been there. Even from my seat, I could clearly see, on multiple occasions, the ugliness of his swing. But then again, it was a bad day for everyone — we all have them.

The later innings were a who’s-who of vaguely familiar names from the reaches of our farm system — Desmond Lindsay, Luis Carpio, Andres Giminez, Grant Cone, David Roseboom. They fared hardly better than the regulars. A Tim Tebow strikeout sealed the deal, also regrettably ending what had the chance to be the most dramatic home run in a 6-0 Spring Training game of all time.

My friend and I were happy as we crossed the parking lot, walking back to our hotel. “That’s what I love about Spring Training,” he said. “When you lose, you don’t really feel bad.” Need I write a better ending than that?

Dispatches From Spring Training: Day One

When we got to our hotel last night, we entered an empty lobby to find a Mets-shirted employee behind the front desk. It was then, give or take, that I knew our trip would be a good one. There’s a Matt Harvey Fathead in our hotel lobby. You don’t see that too often. My friend and I both took pictures with it. I’ve got a Matt Harvey Fathead in my room at home, but this is different.

Arriving at First Data Field this morning to see the real Matt Harvey, my first impression was surprising, even to me. It reminded me of Shea. I couldn’t tell why, and I said as much; my friend agreed with me, in that he couldn’t tell why either.

Maybe it’s just an intuition thing. That building’s been around since 1988. Keith and Carter played there, as did Doc and Darryl. People played in that building who played with people who were playing in 1962. It doesn’t seem like much, but since Shea closed, First Data Field — albeit under several different names — is now the oldest home ballpark the Mets have. Could I feel that in the air as we approached? Maybe.

Then we got inside, and I saw exactly what reminded me of Shea. If you’ve been there, it’s obvious. The concourses are narrow; maybe ten feet wide, not at all meant to handle a crowd. The lines at concession stands spill out into the crowds walking by. The seats are too small; they don’t do that thing Citi Field does where they angle towards the infield; you can tell that the place was built before comfort became all the rage.

Did I care? Not much. Actually, I thought it was pretty nice. Some things go beyond comfort, and reminding me of Shea is one of them.

We took our seats, in the back half of the stands behind first base. Around us, on each side and behind, sat a family, composed of a son at his first baseball game, a father making loud noises, several women who may have been from Atlanta, and a grandfather who was very interested in discussing the game with me, if not entirely knowledgeable about how it went. He asked me where Tim Tebow was, and who was that guy on the mound. Wilmer Flores, he told me, would hit if he ever just learned to hit the ball.

The child, meanwhile, was young — really young. How young was he? At one point, he asked, non-ironically, “Why was six afraid of seven?”

“Because seven eight nine,” one of the women responded.

“Get it?” he asked. “Because ‘eight’ starts with ‘ate.’”

The two women, when they weren’t having blatantly counterfactual conversations about the Subway Series (“we went a few years ago, I think it was when they first started it”) or Tim Tebow’s whereabouts (“this is the minors, but I think they sent him under the minors because it’s his first time playing baseball”), talked to the child about fandom. At some points, they almost made me cringe.

“You’ve got roots in New York, so you root for New York,” they said, “and you’ve got family in Atlanta, so you root for the Braves too.” I wanted to correct them. I wanted to say, “nope.” Or, “you can’t.” I didn’t say anything. Nor did I immediately say anything when one of them asked, of the Mets’ first base coach, “is that Doc Goodwin?”

Matt Harvey, meanwhile, was a show all by himself, even as he pitched well but not spectacularly. Any experienced baseball fan will know the feeling of hearing the crowd make a collective noise; a shout after a bad call or a yell after a ball clears the fence. Today, as Harvey pitched, the crowd was making a different kind of collective noise. With each pitch he delivered, through at least the first few innings, you could hear the crowd looking breathlessly at the radar gun in center field, then murmuring about its reading.

When Harvey hit 97 in the first inning, whispers of “ninety-seven!” ran through the stands. That was the only time he threw that hard. But he looked fine nonetheless. His velocity was up and down — but up is the important part, because after it went down, it came back up again. Harvey was still throwing hard in the fourth, and managed to pitch through the sixth. One of his two runs, as a matter a fact, should never have happened; the catalyst, a pop-up, fell between three players that all thought the others would catch it.

We were down 2-1 in the bottom of the fifth when Jose Reyes decided to show flashes of 2006. He drove a liner into the right field corner, just like he did some time back in ’06 or ’07 at Shea, the first time I remember doing the “Jose” chant myself.

“Three!” I was shouting as he rounded first. He knew it. He was in there, and Kevin Plawecki had scored. A few pitches later, Cabrera drove Reyes home to tie the game.

We kept scoring, and pitching, and eventually, I found out that I was intimately familiar with the Mets’ spring training roster. This happened in the seventh, as Kevin Plawecki doubled and left for a pinch runner. I thought it was Patrick Biondi; I swear I did. So when I heard that Dale Burdick had scored, I was almost shocked.

“Well, what happened to Patrick Biondi?” I was thinking, as if by pinch-running a few times when I’ve been watching, he’s earned the title of default Spring Training pinch runner. Something I actually said to myself today, when Biondi himself finally came in a little while later, was “Finally, THERE’S Patrick Biondi.”

There are all these little moments, when you’re watching a game in Port St. Lucie, that remind you you’re not at Citi Field. At the seventh inning stretch, they played “Take me out to the ballgame,” but didn’t display the slightly modified Citi Field lyrics on the scoreboard to go with them. Apparently, chanting “root, root, root for the Me-ets” isn’t something people do if the scoreboard doesn’t prompt them. It was strange to watch, let alone hear; it’s the first time I’ve ever heard that line of the song, not followed by a confused murmur of thousands of fans unsure of what to say.

We kept hitting, and we kept hitting, and we kept hitting — besides catcher Jeff Glenn, who reminded me of Valentino Pascucci in the on-deck circle, and who thus earned a home run call from me, before popping up to the Braves’ catcher — and eventually, Josh Smoker was pitching to close it out. Smoker had two strikes on Adam Walker, when the sun, which had gone in behind a cloud, came out again.

It probably would have meant something, if the sun had shined on the last pitch of the game. The sun was rising just as the game was ending; the clouds over Opening Day were departing, something like that. But it wasn’t. That perfect ending just wasn’t there. Smoker threw a few more pitches; Walker fouled them off. Smoker got the strikeout eventually — but it wasn’t quite the storybook, sunny-last-pitch ending that a writer might have written.

Eh. Ah well. Baseball doesn’t have to be perfect; it rarely ever is. Often, it’s enough for it to simply be there.

Dispatches from Spring Training: Prologue

Perhaps you’ve noticed that the heralds of Shea Bridge Report haven’t been bearing much news lately. I have myself, and before going any further, I must say that there are a few reasons for this.

For one, my writing energies lately have been occupied with an academic project, or to be more precise, a 5,000 some-odd word feature on a college baseball player you’ll see, more likely than not, signing a professional contract around draft time. I don’t know whether you’ll ever read this feature; just as it could appear nationwide in a week, it may never see the light of day. Lots of fun to write; just as much fun to read, from the limited feedback that I’ve received; inconsequential to the Mets either way.

For another, there just hasn’t been much going on that I haven’t already said. My Spring Training reservoir of creativity is pretty much tapped out; there’s only so much you can say about ballplayers congregating in Florida in February and March that you haven’t said the year before, or in a different media outlet, or to others in person. You can capture the energy; the nostalgia; the history; the sun. But you can’t do it so many times, or every day. It gets old eventually, like girl scout cookies or David Wright, who you likewise can only capture in writing so many times, as I’ve learned from experience.

So when you combine all the factors, the schoolwork, the absorption in hitherto unknown personal endeavors, the simple lack of anything new to say about things that are barely happening, I simply didn’t see a new post coming down the wire. But maybe that had something to do with what the month was building to. Because starting tomorrow, I see posts coming, daily or more, for a few days at least.

As of a few hours and a long cab ride ago, I’m in Port St. Lucie, within walking distance of First Data Field, tickets to our next three games in hand and a new Spring Training jersey in my suitcase. I’m still in need of sunscreen; what I’m no longer missing is Mets baseball to cover.

So starting tomorrow, tune in daily or on some basis close to that, for Dispatches from Spring Training, parts one, two, and three. Opening Day is coming up — but that doesn’t mean things can’t happen in the meantime.