Beni and the Mets

I was going over depth charts earlier tonight, getting ready for my fantasy baseball draft tomorrow night, when I came across Andrew Benintendi’s name midway down the outfielder chart. I moved it up a few spots as soon as I saw it. And in that moment, I almost shivered with excitement for baseball season.

I saw one of Benintendi’s first games, back in April 2017. He didn’t have a hit that day, but already, Boston was excited about their new, lefty-hitting outfielder, maybe because that description sounds pretty familiar. I checked in on him occasionally as the season went on, and when it ended, his numbers were right about where you expected them: .271/.352/.424, 20 homers, 20 steals.

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I don’t know how the Red Sox find these guys. Honestly, I don’t. Whether it’s Benintendi or Dustin Pedroia or Kevin Youkilis or Jason Varitek or Bill Mueller, they always manage to find players who make you love baseball even more than you already do. Guys who aren’t superstars but are hard workers, who won’t win MVP (usually) but will play the game the right way, and leave it all on the field. Sure they’re clichés, but the facts are unimpeachable.

How can you not love a guy like Andrew Benintendi? Whether or not he grows into a star this year, or merely has a repeat, solid performance, the kid’s already a captain in the making. He doesn’t play David Wright’s position, but he certainly reminds me of the early days of David’s career. He’ll be a solid outfielder for a while yet; that much seems fairly easy to believe. But along the way, he might just become the face of the Red Sox, and when your team has a new face, it’s always worth getting excited about.

Which brings me to the Mets, who’ve found themselves in need of a face recently. Sure, we’ve got five pitchers who might have qualified at one time, or might qualify in the future, but for some reason, I just don’t see any of them as the face of our team right now. They haven’t been around long enough, or might not be around much longer, or just haven’t been all that good. Obviously, there’s David Wright, who’ll be our captain until the day he retires. But he may never play again, and won’t for at least eight weeks. So much as it pains me to say it, he’s not the face of the Mets either. There’s Michael Conforto, but he won’t play until May either, and despite the beauty of his swing, he’s played for a few years now, and hasn’t managed to put together a full, star-level season.

So who’s the young, up-and-coming face of our team? Our Andrew Benintendi? I see two fairly obvious candidates, so obvious, in fact, that I’m giving it to each of them as a co-award: Brandon Nimmo and Amed Rosario. For an eternal optimist like me, at least, it’s hard not to be excited about either one of them. You’ve got Nimmo in the outfield, wearing high socks, always smiling, taking a walk every game and shooting the ball all over the field. You’ve got Amed at short, covering ground like a jackrabbit, hitting line drives from whichever spot in the order he’s been given, and always coming off the field happy.

They’re not Andrew Benintendi. But we’re the Mets; we don’t really get guys like Andrew Benintendi. Each of our guys is flawed; neither has hit for much power so far, Nimmo hasn’t proven himself yet, and Amed doesn’t walk enough. But they’ve got every chance in the world to turn into quality everyday players this year, and a decent shot after that to anchor our lineup for years to come. And even if it all ends up coming to nothing, for now, I’d say that’s something to be excited about.

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It’s Always Warm Somewhere

I know this much about Port St. Lucie today: it was cloudy.

I wish I could say that I knew this because I was there and saw the clouds in person. Watching Noah Syndergaard tossing his bullpen, sometimes glancing over at Rafael Montero throwing behind him, and others still further back, I might have noticed that the pitchers’ shadows weren’t as well-defined as they’d been a few minutes before, and I would have looked up, and realized that clouds had hidden the sky.

But I can’t say that, because everything I know about Port St. Lucie today, I learned from a picture I looked at while I waited in line for lunch. This was around 2:00 in the afternoon, and I was still trying to shake myself dry, since it was raining outside, in addition to being far too cold. So I went on Twitter because I’d heard that there was some activity in Port St. Lucie, and sure enough, there were Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero throwing in the bullpen, although I got the feeling that the person who’d taken the photograph had really only been focused on one of them. And it was cloudy there too.

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Tidbits fluttered in over the Spring Training wire all day, and most of them made me wish I was there. Some people mentioned how nice the weather was, which I thought was rude, considering what the northeast was enduring. Then there were pictures of Zack Wheeler with a beard and our big four starters in shorts, news that Wheeler had been injecting himself with some kind of bone growth drug for the last six months, and not a single sign of David Wright, which made the ache I felt when I thought about how I wanted to be there just a little bit better.

There was also an update on a bowling trip, an interview with Rob Gsellman, some arguments about Jay Bruce, and some jokes about the Yankees from Anthony Swarzak, who seems like a swell guy. After each of these, I imagined finally getting back to Citi Field. Meanwhile, in Rhode Island, the rain just refused to let up. Later in the afternoon, all of a sudden, someone mentioned baseball cards, and I found myself thinking of the blown-up cards you find all over Citi Field, hanging here and there, arranged without any sort of order. That made me think of just how badly I wanted baseball to come back, and that made me realize that Spring Training games were only a week and change away.

Here is a fact: there are 45 days until Opening Day. I know this because not long after I learned that I would be in attendance, I downloaded a countdown app and Opening Day was the first date I plugged in. There are 45 days and 11 hours, give or take, left until Thursday, March 29th at 1:00 p.m. This might sound strange until you realize that the clocks will jump ahead that extra hour exactly one month from today, and catapult us closer to baseball season.

But about those 45-days: between this moment and the first pitch of the first game of the first season of the rest of our lives, there is also an eternity. In 45 days, I will laugh when I remember what I called an eternity 45 days ago, but today, that eternity is still ahead. There’s Valentine’s Day and President’s Day and papers and stories and applications to get done, and only after all that will we catch our first glimpse of our guys on their home turf. Unless, that is, you’re going to the Mets Welcome Home Dinner, which I got an email about late last night. I noticed that there was an option to sit at a table with Noah Syndergaard, but then I saw that this option — with an inventory of one, you’d think, unless they’ve got Noah sprinting back and forth — was sold out. The table with Mickey Calloway was still available, but I didn’t think $35,000 was worth it. I scrolled down the list to find the cheapest ticket available, and saw that it was $1500, which was still about 50 times what I was willing to pay.

The price didn’t matter after I checked the date of the dinner, because I already had plans. Billy Joel is in town that night, and I’ve got two tickets and a date. And we’ve got plans the next day too. They start the moment we wake up and end when we leave Citi Field after an Opening Day win. And I thought of these plans as I sat in bed reading Emily Brontë and pining for baseball season, and knew that that the regular season would start like it does every year, and until it did, I would be just fine.

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A Queens Love Affair

As I left the subway station that morning in April, I reached the bottom of the stairs and stepped out into the sun. It was earlier and colder than I was used to; barely past 10:30 in the morning, maybe 60 degrees. But the crowds were gathered anyway, and I joined them in line.

There were lines outside Citi Field, actual, longish lines, the first ones I’d ever seen this early before a game. You could sense the love in the line, and the joy. Two pin enthusiasts were comparing collections behind me, and sharing stories of hard-to-find pins. “So they said, ‘it’s one of those pin guys,’” one told the other, “and they sent me up to the top level, they said they had a few more up there.” He pointed to a pin on his heavily bedecked lanyard. He was also wearing a hat covered in pins, over a hat without any pins at all.

“You think they let me in with this?” the other asked, as he pulled out a plastic bag full of pins. They talked about that for a while, but didn’t settle on an answer.

They opened the doors eventually, and I had two hours to kill before first pitch. I spun the inaugural Mets Prize Wheel, and ate a grilled cheese with steak from a brand new concession stand. Then, long before game time but with nothing else to do, I took my seat, first base side of home plate in the upper deck, and waited. A bearded man across the aisle from me asked if I’d be sitting in these seats all year, and I told him, unfortunately not.

Finally, the teams took the field for introductions, and it was everything I’d dreamed of. The red, white, and blue bunting hanging off the stands; the logo, the same as the one on the pin and commemorative ball I’d bought, spray painted on the grass; Howie Rose at the podium in the middle of the infield. There was Daniel Murphy, the perennial solid hitter. There was Jacob deGrom, coming off his Rookie of the Year award, getting ready to start. And of course, there was the captain, ready to do what he’d always done, and play ball.

It was a textbook 2015 Mets performance; a combined shutout, a Familia save, a few runs eked out on sac flies and singles. After Familia shut the door, I took the subway home. Then I wrote the first home game recap in Shea Bridge Report history.

We all remember what happened next; the thrilling early-season winning streak, the slide into mediocrity, the trading deadline pandemonium that left us without Carlos Gomez but with Yoenis Cespedes, the climb into first place, and the drive to the World Series that braked a few days too soon. But I remember that day, Opening Day of 2015, in particular. It’s not every day, after all, that a passionate love affair begins.

 *           *           *

Things tend to get lonely during the offseason, especially if you don’t have much of a team to look back on. It’s six months without so much as a glimpse of the team we love, getting by on scattered tv appearances, the occasional media announcement, and lots and lots of twitter. Being a Mets fan isn’t quite comparable to a love affair; it’s more like a long distance relationship. Six months on, six months off, being apart for far too long, and sometimes, really hard to manage, but nevertheless, worth it all the while.

I’d loved the Mets before 2015, obviously; I’d loved the Mets since around noon on April 18th, 2004, when my little league bus pulled into the Shea Stadium parking lot and I saw the building in all its royal blue glory for the first time. But things changed in 2015. The love became different. I was thinking differently about the Mets, and I was writing differently too. Suddenly, I was one of those baseball philosophers. Baseball was everything; baseball was love, joy, childhood, America. The whole lot.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that the Mets were winning, and winning a lot. No matter how it ended, the 2015 season was the best one I can remember, and maybe the best one of my life. I’m nowhere near old enough to remember 1999 or 2000, but I can’t imagine either of them topping 2015 by a substantial margin.

But it wasn’t just the winning that changed things; my life changed too. I played my last season of competitive baseball (“played” is too generous a word; I had three at-bats and played a few innings at first base), and wrote about my first. I went off to school, and started taking writing classes: I read John Updike and Hunter S. Thompson, and outside of class, I read Roger Angell.

Then 2015 turned to 2016, and the Mets weren’t quite as good, but they were still a helluva fun team to follow. That September, I went off to school again; as I was on the treadmill on my first day, I heard Matt Reynolds, allegedly coming off a series of plane rides and only 45 minutes sleep, hit a home run against the Reds to lead us to a crucial win in our pursuit of the wild card. Of course, it was a wildcard we’d go on to lose in excruciating fashion, but nevertheless, it was another easy team to love.

We should have been in the World Series again in 2016. If we’d beaten the Giants, we’d surely have beaten the Cubs and their paltry bullpen, then the Dodgers, who we’ve proven we can beat, then the World Series…but we didn’t. So it was the Cubs who were playing game four of the World Series on Saturday, October 29th, 2016. It was a blowout. The Indians took the lead in the top of the second, and didn’t look back.

But later that night, out for burgers, one more thing happened that changed the way I thought about life and baseball. Across the cafeteria, I saw a girl in a dress that immediately caught my eye.

How I found out who she was is a long story; given how many times I’ve been made to retell it, I’ll save it for later right now. But later that week, we started talking. And naturally, my mind turned to baseball. She wasn’t much of a fan, it turned out. Didn’t know the game too well — but she knew what she knew. She knew about Justin Verlander. She knew that the World Series was going on. She knew that Bartolo Colón was ugly, because I sent her a picture and she laughed out loud.

We met in person for the first time the next weekend, and saw each other every day. Soon enough, we left for Winter break. One night over the long vacation, she sent me a message. And I realized that I’d fallen in love for the second time in my life.

*           *           *

“Cause I’ve been in love before // and I’ve found that love is more // than just holding hands,” go the lyrics by the greatest band of all time. So the question is: what is love?

It’s hard to define, probably for a reason, and a good reason at that. It’s different for different people, as it should be. But there are some things it always does, or always should do. It drags itself to the front of your mind despite attempts to think about other things. It transcends rational thought. It becomes everything.

Sound familiar? Sounds an awful lot like being a Mets fan. And it is, I’ve learned. Sometimes, they’re even the same.

I took her to her first Mets game a few weeks into the 2017 season, her first baseball game ever besides the Red Sox game we’d been to the weekend before. They lost. We’d come back twice more in August before she’d get her first win. By then there weren’t too many players left from the 2015 team that I’d fallen in love with on a whole new level. Cespedes was there, and Conforto, and Flores, and Rafael Montero doesn’t count. But besides that? It was all newbies. Rookies and free agents and Hansel Robles. And I loved the team on the field ever bit as much as I had two years before.

Transcends rational thought — check. What else would you call it? We fall in and out of love with individual players we’ve never met, based on who they play for or how they’re doing, which can change from one inning to the next. We stake our health and happiness on the outcome of the game on the field, the game we’re not good enough to play anymore, but we’re happy to watch. Sometimes, it’s frustrating; sometimes, it’s downright painful. But we keep at it. And everyone who’s reading this knows exactly why we do it. We keep at it because keeping at it makes the result worth it, no matter what that result may be. It’s a logical fallacy in its finest form.

But here’s the thing: we’d never in a lifetime stop, even if we could. Who wants to live in a world without anything illogical? For everything completely inexplicable, midnight frenzies for book releases and millions of fans of baseball teams and walking aimlessly in the woods simply because you enjoy the person you’re with, there are millions of stories of people made happy, inexplicable and illogical as it may be. Which brings us back to love and being a Mets fan.

I sent her a Mets cap, and bought her a Conforto t-shirt, her favorite player. It’s important to have a favorite player, I told her early on; David Wright will always be mine, but you gotta pick your own, whether it’s David Wright or someone else. She’d never seen David Wright play; still never has, in fact. Travis d’Arnaud won best-looking, edging out Brandon Nimmo, but overall favorite came down to a different set. And after Walker and Reed left, Conforto officially secured the honor. In turn, she took up the Mets on her own time.

Early on, she’d picked up on my thing for David Wright. The giant David Wright head I displayed on my wall may have clued her in; I never thought to ask. When we’d been texting, early on, she’d briefly thought I was gay — when I talked about David Wright. It goes to show, I guess, that she’s incredibly perceptive. She read Greg Prince’s memoir, one of the great Mets companions of all time. For my birthday, she gave me an enormous Citi Field puzzle that we assembled on the floor under my bed. She also ordered me a Mets t-shirt — but it came in the wrong size. So she kept it for herself, and got me another.

So sometime around then, when I found myself asking what love really was, I had two definitions. First it’s a ballclub that can tear you down and lift you right back up again, a team that brings together old and young in mutual celebration and despair. It’s a team that sometimes wins and sometimes loses but always gives everything it has; a group of players working together to bring a trophy back to Queens, unlikely as it may seem; a collective conscience that tells us to stand with two strikes and two outs, to applaud when a pitcher leaves the game, and to forgive Daniel Murphy for leaving, since it really wasn’t his choice to make. Love is a team in Queens that will always be there for us, even if we’re not there to watch it, and love is why we’ll always come back.

And it’s other things too. Love is someone who appreciates good food like Ralph Kramden, a good baseball story like Roger Angell, a fun game like Seth Lugo, and good fundamentals like Keith Hernandez. It’s someone with a sense of adventure like Harry Potter and a sense of humor like Jerry Seinfeld. Someone as loyal as Noah Syndergaard, as naive and innocent as Calvin and Hobbes, as immature as Roger McDowell, and as happy as David Wright when the Mets win the pennant. And it’s someone who understands every single one of those references.

*           *           *

Everything was perfect. There was just one problem: she was two years ahead of me.

In mid-May, I took my last exam, then went home for a few days. I took in a game while I was home, a 7-5 win over the Angels. Jose Reyes was three for four, Conforto doubled, Reed got the save. She would have loved it, I thought to myself.

Then, a few days later, I was back at school for graduation. A few extra days — but nearly long enough. Soon, it was Monday morning, and the dorms were closing. She drove off early in the morning; I lay in bed for a few hours, immobile and barely thinking, almost bludgeoned by sadness, then took the train back to New York. I watched The Office the entire ride. That helped a little.

I was back at Citi Field the next day for Tyler Pill’s major league debut. In the bottom of the 12th, Jay Bruce drove home T.J. Rivera for the walk-off win. She loved Jay Bruce; ever since I’d predicted that he’d be bad, and then he’d turned out ok, she’d treasured his success all the more. That RBI helped a lot.

I went away to work for the Summer, and she stayed home in Michigan working, but then, later on in the Summer, she came to town again. We went to two more games; she got her first win, an 8-1 blowout, and was introduced to the pitching phenomenon that is Rafael Montero. We drove back to Michigan and spent a week; we even took in a Tigers game, marred slightly by the fact that the Yankees beat them 10-2. But all too soon, I was on a plane back to New York. Then there was a semester apart, but for a brief visit at Thanksgiving, and then Winter Break started. In the middle of all this, the 2018 schedule was released; Opening Day was Thursday, March 29th, the Thursday of my Spring Break. Did she have enough vacation days to make the trip? It appeared so.

As I write this, I’m sitting at her desk in her office in her home state of Michigan, near the end of a ten day trip. We’ve seen two movies, lots of Seinfeld episodes, and a Red Wings game; we’ve escaped a room, eaten a free dinner, gone bowling, set a high score on a local arcade’s football throwing game, and gotten several incredible sandwiches. But all too soon, I’ll be on another plane, headed back home again.

I hope I have a window seat on that plane, but even if I don’t, I’ll make do. And as we fly into Laguardia, I’ll gaze out the window at the ground, where Citi Field might just be visible, and I’ll think of my two loves, and of Opening Day 2018, when I’ll be with both of them again.

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Putting the Bruce in Backbone

Call all the newspapers, shout it to the world, and get David Wright in the room, because the Mets have discovered a miracle spinal solution. No, I’m not speaking literally — but almost. Jay Bruce is back, and with him, a semblance of legitimacy.

The deal came together late last night in a sudden, rapid flood of  information; minutes after learning that Bruce was close to a deal with a mystery team, we learned that the mystery team was us. We reacted like we always do: disjointedly. We were thrilled, quietly appeased, dejected, revolted. Some of us couldn’t quite tell why.

Me, I used to get excited about deals like this, back when they were all we had to look forward to; deals like Bartolo Colón and Michael Cuddyer and Luís Castillo. Not Cespedes deals, not hundreds of millions, but not Anthony Swarzak either, not nobodies. I don’t exactly get excited about deals like these anymore — it’s more of a reassuring feeling of contentment. And I’m not even sure which is better.

You know what they say about championship teams (or at least, what I say about championship teams, that I think they should say too); on offense, all you need is a lineup with no easy outs. You get that done, and you already have the advantage. It’s why players like Steven Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, in one year of slightly above averageness, can bring the Red Sox to the World Series, and why Kelly Johnson and a slightly improved Curtis Granderson can bring us there as well. Sure we had the pitching — but the offense has to do something. And it starts with not giving away a single batter.

Like in 2006, when we didn’t have a second baseman until Jose Valentín started hitting like a starter, and suddenly we did. Or 1986 and Wally Backman. Or 1969 and Ken Boswell. The superstars, the Carlos Beltrans and the Doc Goodens and the Tom Seavers of the world, keep the team gunning furiously for the top spot. But they can’t get there without eight hitters, five starters, seven relievers, and a bench, and that’s where the rest of the team and Jay Bruce come in.

Jay Bruce won’t win us a World Series on his own. He’s a career .249 hitter with some power, some leadership, and some Texas upbringing. But what he can do is contribute. He can drive home Conforto from second with a single, or from third with a sac fly, or even see a few more pitches, so the opposition has to dig into its bullpen a batter early. Or, of course, he could hit the ball over the fence, as he’s done 69 times in the last two years, and 29 times last year before he departed for Cleveland, seemingly oblivious to the home run graveyard that is Citi Field.

All of which is to say: Jay Bruce isn’t great. But he’s competent. And you can’t win until you’re competent, and stocked up with players like Jay Bruce. Put the best pitchers in the world on the mound, and bat Eric Campbell fourth and John Mayberry fifth, and we’ve all seen what happens. But Jay Bruce and another competent bat…well, now we’ve got a chance.

Not that a chance is all we should have, or all we deserve; I don’t mean to say we’ve done enough, and in fact, I mean the very opposite. We should do more: more like this. More hitters who can hit and pitchers who can pitch. If we don’t do more, we may well be sunk; Jay Bruce can’t bring a team back to competence, let alone competition, by himself. But he can contribute, and that’s all any one player in this wonderful game of ours can do.

Baseball’s a team sport — the ultimate team sport. You get on base, and unless you can steal the next three, there’s not much you can do. So you need teammates who can help you out and bring you home, but they can’t all be superstars. Some of them are just going to be Jay Bruce: hitters who know how to hit and work hard at it, doing their best to win and not usually thrilling, but sometimes succeeding.

Sports are known for their players, and among those players, the best ones stand out: it’s unavoidable, and not at all undesirable. But sometimes, it also makes us forget how the game works. Three or four players can do the bulk of the work for a team, but they can’t do it all: they need the rest of the team’s help. And Jay Bruce, and players like him, the guys on deals that aren’t too short but aren’t too long, who can hit and throw well enough to help out, are happy to provide the help. Jay Bruce will do his work, have his occasional moments, and help our team as much as he can, quietly, along with hundreds of other players like him, serving as the backbone of our national pastime.

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Boycott Meets World

In August of 2002, as Major League Baseball appeared headed for a strike, Bill Simmons had a solution: a boycott.

“Fans have to take matters into their own hands. And there’s only one thing to do. Yup. Strike. Turn our backs and walk away,” he wrote. “And couldn’t you? Couldn’t we all? Isn’t there enough happening in our lives where we could collectively say, ‘Screw it, we’re not buying tickets anymore’?”

He wasn’t alone: angry at the prospect of another debilitating strike, only eight years after a labor stoppage had forced Major League Baseball to cancel a postseason for the first time since 1904, thousands of fans had taken up arms to avert a similar result. Heather Holdridge organized a one-day boycott of baseball on July 11th. Don Wadewitz created http://www.mlbfanstrike.com, cited by Simmons in his column, and a similar website, http://www.wethefans.com, was created by an internet personality nicknamed Commando Dave.

And the idea of boycotting to save baseball was nothing new. Rob Godfrey, founder of the National Baseball Fan Association, organized a walkout from Veteran’s Stadium in 1985, just as the prospect of a strike loomed. Eric Yaverbaum, founder of the anti-strike organization Strike Back, organized a letter-writing campaign, urging fans to promise that for every game canceled, they would skip a game once the strike ended. The 1985 strike ended in only two days.

In 1990, as a strike once again loomed and Spring Training was canceled, boycotts once again came to the fore. Robert Johnson, an accountant from Huntington Beach, California, started the “Orange County Fan Revolt.” Yaverbaum’s organization gathered more than 10,000 letters. Godfrey announced his support for any group that boycotted baseball, and collected letters urging the game to resume, which he planned to dump on then-commissioner Fay Vincent’s porch. In 1990, crisis was averted, but just barely: the lockout didn’t end until March 19th, which forced the cancellation of Spring Training and moved Opening Day back by a week.

In all of these cases, of course, there were dissenting voices. Often, the argument was that boycotts simply weren’t effective: in 1990, the Los Angeles Times reported that “fan unrest has had little effect,” and in 2002, ABC News cited Bruce Johnson, an economics professor at Centre College in Kentucky, in reporting that “A July 11 baseball boycott might give angry fans a way to blow off steam, but probably won’t achieve much more.” Even Bill Simmons found the idea far-fetched, at first: in a column announcing his support for a boycott, he asked, rhetorically, “A baseball strike by fans? That would never work. Something like 20 million fans attend baseball games every season … how could you get them all on the same page?”

But there was another, related issue as well: people didn’t want to boycott. Angry as they were, it didn’t seem right to give up on baseball. “One thing stops us from making that fateful leap off the bandwagon, a collective forcefield of memories and affection,” Bill Simmons wrote. “There’s too much history here. You can’t turn your back on baseball. It’s sacrilege.”

But nevertheless, Simmons thought the necessity of the boycott could trump fans’ desire for baseball. For one, he wrote, they could still follow the game through TV, radio, and newspaper reporting, only stopping short of giving money to the teams. And for another, baseball wasn’t such a big part of life anyway. “I only attend eight to 10 Red Sox games per season, partly because it’s impossible to find tickets, partly because of the price ($55 and up for good seats), partly because the allure of Fenway Park has faded for me over the years (when a baseball park doubles as an insufferable, uncomfortable dump, that tends to happen),” he wrote. “So what’s that? Eight nights a year where I have to find something else to do? I could handle that, couldn’t I?”

Maybe he could have, or maybe not. We never got to find out. On August 30th, 2002, a strike was averted, and the game could go on, boycott free. Everyone was happy, fans came back to the seats, and two years later, Bill Simmons’ Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years.

***

Calls to boycott are nothing new to Mets fans. We’re a team that’s usually bad, with an internet presence that is volatile, reactive, and highly invested, with owners who couldn’t appear more malevolent or downright villainous if they tried. It’s almost the perfect storm.

Looking around google, I found calls for boycott in 2009, 2010, and 2012, and I’m sure I’m missing more than a few. There are certainly others: my memory isn’t fanciful enough to conjure up all the calls for boycott I’m sure I remember in the last few years. Even in 2015, Mike Vaccaro was writing about Mets fans, “so many of them angry at the owners, angry at the GM, angry at the manager, angry at just about everything, so many of them calling for boycotts…” A change.org petition calls on Mets fans to boycott the team next season until the Mets reach the top five in payroll.

On Twitter, the calls for a boycott come daily, or more. They’ve gained steam recently: with Marc Carig’s recent column in Newsday possibly serving as a catalyst, the #MetsBoycott movement, also attached to #MetsFansUnited, has reportedly gained more than 300 members in less than two days.

Maybe you’re waiting for my thesis; in a way, I am too. But here it is, as best I can phrase it, and as best I understand it in its current form: a boycott is a difficult process, and a sincerely honorable one for fans willing to go to great lengths to express their displeasure — their correct displeasure — with the way the Mets are being run. But as important a process as it is, there is simply no way I could ever take part.

I love the Mets more than just about anything. Sitting here, on this cold December night, any thought of baseball, any passing thought of anything like it at all, brings a temporary rush of happiness, and evokes memories of sitting in the upper deck on a warm August evening, the sun setting as the Mets play down on the field. I can’t and won’t give that up, not even if it might make my team better. I love the Mets with all my heart no matter how many games they win, and honestly, that seems like the end of it. I’m too much of a Mets fan to boycott, because I can’t help but think that watching a bad team is better than not watching a team at all. It may seem overly simplistic, but that’s just the truth.

It’s incredibly easy to hate everything the Wilpons have done; they’ve left us broke and barren, unable to afford the players we desperately need, all but the laughingstock of a league we once routinely ruled. But the Mets aren’t the Wilpons. The Wilpons are temporary obstacles, who will be gone eventually, and that day can’t come soon enough. I’m not willing to let them keep me from my team.

I don’t claim to know Bill Simmons particularly well, but I do think I know this: he doesn’t really believe himself when he says that the allure of Fenway Park has faded, or when he writes that it “doubles as an insufferable, uncomfortable dump.” I’m not even a Red Sox fan, and I know that that’s not Fenway. And Citi Field is no Fenway Park — but its allure still hasn’t worn off on me. It’s easy to be angry; as a Mets fan, I’m angry most days, for one reason or another. But it’s not nearly as easy to boycott the team I love.

Boycott with my blessing, not that you need it; the Wilpons should certainly be exposed to the anger Mets fans hold towards them, and a boycott is a fine way to accomplish that. But I can’t join you. I’m a Mets fan, so I go to Mets games, and much as I’d like to express my displeasure with the way things are run, I can’t, and won’t, stop going to games to do so. Putting on the orange and blue, taking the seven to Citi, and eating a hot dog in the stands is as close to perfect as life can be, and that’s what I’ll do, even if the Mets aren’t as good as I’d like.

It’s not a rational decision; nothing about being a Mets fan is. It’s strictly emotional, borne of the simple realization that nothing accomplished by any boycott, whether the sale of the team or a World Series title, would be worth isolating myself from the Mets. Some people may feel differently; I’m not here to call them wrong. But my opinion stands.

Would Bill Simmons have gone through with his threat to boycott the Red Sox, if the players had gone on strike? I don’t know, but I do know this: I have appreciated every Mets game I’ve ever been to, and they all play into the lifelong, constantly-evolving story of what makes me a fan. And I’m not willing to give that up, not even for a necessary boycott. You call it irrational; I call it loving the Mets, the most ineptly-managed wonderful team I know. It doesn’t make much sense to love such a team so much, especially when ownership drives us into a ditch and doesn’t seem intent on moving forward any time soon. But that won’t stop me from giving it my best shot.

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A Loyal Fan

I don’t make a habit of leaving Mets games early. I’ve done it only once in my life voluntarily. It was June 2012 in the Bronx; Johan Santana gave up three home runs in three batters early in the game against the Yankees, Elvin Ramirez couldn’t find the strike zone, and down 9-0 in the bottom of the eighth, I decided that leaving the stadium amidst a crowd of 50,000 rowdy, celebrating Yankee fans wouldn’t be in my best interests. Of course, the Mets scored their only run of the night the inning after we left, which only goes to prove that leaving early is never really a good idea.

But besides that game, and away from Yankee Stadium, I leave early only when I’m with someone who needs to leave early. Needs, not wants. I make it clear with every ballpark invitation I issue that leaving early isn’t to be taken lightly. You want to do it, you’d better have a damn good reason. I’ve stayed ’til the end every time I’ve been able, and along the way, I’ve done some waiting that might have been too much for a lesser fan.

Friday, March 23rd, 2014: a rain delay started in about the fourth inning of a game against the Diamondbacks. I stood there, in the upper deck and then on the field level, knowing full well that there was no way we would play, but waiting until it was official. The stadium was just about full when the game started, and still fairly crowded when the rain started; two hours later, it had emptied out. But at least the stragglers’ loyalty was rewarded; in the Flushing subway station, we told an MTA worker what had happened, and he radioed someone in charge to say hey, the Mets game just ended, Express service starts now. No, not two hours ago, that was just people leaving, it ended just now.

Or there was the time I waited, with my father and brother, fourteen innings in the cold shade of April 2014, for the Mets to beat the Braves. We were in the field level, but during the t-shirt launch at the 7th-inning stretch, we couldn’t catch anything. By the 14th-inning stretch — my first! — the stadium was so empty that we caught three or four shirts, wandering from row to row and gathering them up. And once again, the baseball gods rewarded the stragglers for their loyalty.

I’ve waited through thrilling wins like that one, and mind-numbing blowout losses, like this June, when we lost to the Pirates 11-1…and the Nationals 8-3…or last May, when we lost to the Dodgers 9-1…and the Nationals 9-1…and the Nationals 7-1…the blowout losses blend together until I can only remember them by the notes I’ve taken down in my log book (or its electronic equivalent, the MLB ballpark app), and yet, I keep waiting through them, hoping that one of these days, one of them will end well and all that loyalty will be rewarded, but knowing that even if it’s not, I’ll keep waiting anyway, because that’s what fans do.

At the first game I ever attended fully independently — bought my own ticket, made my own way through the New York subway system, paid for my own food and everything — the Mets were losing late. It was April 20th, 2013: we were up against the Marlins, and a young pitcher of theirs who was making his major league debut. His name was Jose Fernandez.

When John Buck struck out to strand David Wright and end the bottom of the eighth, people started filing out. In front of me, down near the field, a sign man was standing. A bootleg, not the original, although he did have a “sign man” jersey and a frequently rotating array of printed messages to display. Now, he was holding up a sign I hadn’t seen yet.

“Real fans stay ’til the end,” it said. And I wasn’t going anywhere. An inning later, Ruben Tejada was hit by a pitch, Kirk Nieuwenhuis singled, the runners moved to second and third on an errant throw, and Marlon Byrd drove them both home. And the real fans were there to see it.

Real fans stay ’til the end — it’s such a simple sentiment, and one that could be so obvious, but somehow, never holds true. People are always leaving. The seventh or eighth inning ends, and people head for the exits, no matter the score. Sometimes, there’s a reason, and even real fans can be excused for this; you have a child who’s fallen asleep, tomorrow is a school day, I’m going out to meet a friend. Sometimes, there’s a reason, but not a good one; the game is boring, the Mets are losing, the traffic is bad, the Mets suck. And sometimes, there’s no reason at all: people, it seems, have just taken to leaving baseball games, as if the rest of the game doesn’t matter and you’re only there to watch a few innings and then move on to another activity.

Sometimes, you have to leave. But the important thing is that real fans — real Mets fans — never want to leave. You leave for the kids, or for the parents, or for your friend who has to catch an early train tomorrow, or your friend who’s just tired. Leaving with a friend is a kind of loyalty just like staying until the end is, and it’s one of the few kinds that’s just as important. But leaving when it’s not absolutely essential — I can’t even imagine that.

It was 2004 the first time I was dragged away from a Mets game against my will. Heath Bell was pitching, and it was Shea, so as we walked toward the exit ramps, I got quick glances at the field each time we passed the entrance to a new section. I didn’t want to leave; even then, I had my priorities in order. I was crying as we drove away from the stadium, and my mom promised me that next time, no matter how long the game went, we’d stay until the last out.

***

Lots of things make Mets fans unique. There’s the connection I’m convinced is unparalleled; the personal investment in our team’s fortunes; the attachment to the club that lets itself out on twitter amusingly and sometimes downright alarmingly. But there’s also the loyalty. That may be what defines us. Because more than anything else, Mets fans are loyal.

They’re always asking us what makes a Mets fan, and we’re always telling them. But they never seem to believe us. We pour our hearts out explaining how we’re truer, bluer, and closer to our team than anyone else in the league, or the country, and at the end of it all, they scoff, or crack a Jason Bay joke, and we realize they were only laughing at us. We explain how much we’ve been through, and how, after it all, we still manage to troop out to the ballpark for another game, and somehow, it doesn’t seem to register at all.

Maybe that’s because every city and every fan base feels closer to their team than anyone. I certainly won’t tell fans of the San Diego Padres that we’re better fans than they are; that would be mean-spirited, and frankly irresponsible. Somewhere in San Diego tonight, there’s a kid listening to sports radio on a transistor under his pillow as he pretends to be asleep, hoping desperately that he’ll hear something about his ballclub. There are good, loyal, die-hard fans in every city that has a team, and some that don’t.

But that same loyalty could be exactly why Mets fans are different. Lots of fans of all kinds of teams are loyal because that’s how they are. Mets fans are loyal because we’ve become that way — after submitting ourselves to the grueling rigors of Mets fandom, we come out, whatever’s left of us, as bastions of loyalty to a team we love unconditionally. We have to, if we’re going to put up with the shenanigans they put on.

Really — how can you be a Mets fan and not be a loyal one? If you’re a Mets fan — that is, if you’re still a Mets fan — you’ve been through head-pounding, face-palming nonsense from all sides. From the owners — Bernie Madoff, Bobby Bonilla, Jeff Wilpon getting sued, Citi Field forgetting it was the Mets who played there. From the players — valley fever, refusing MRIs, taxi accidents, brawls with onlooking relatives. And from people whose names fans of ordinary teams don’t even know — Ray Ramirez, Mike Barwis, Jay Horwitz, Eric Langill, Charlie Samuels, Tony Bernazard — Tony Bernazard! Ordinary fans don’t deal with things like this, and Mets fans aren’t ordinary fans. If you’re still here after everything we’ve been through, you’ve proven your loyalty beyond a reasonable doubt.

I own lots of shirts from The 7 Line, but somehow, I don’t believe they have one with their slogan printed on it. If they do, I don’t have it yet. “Loyal ’til the last out,” it would say, loudly and proudly across the front. Which means: you can leave after the sixth, and grab some friends and go out for a drink, and you’ll probably have a lot of fun doing it. Or you can stay in your seat in the upper deck during a 12-2 loss, and watch a reliever with a 7.29 E.R.A. pitch to some hitter whose name you’ve forgotten on a team that doesn’t even matter. Both are fine options. But if you want to be a true, orange and blue fan, you pick the second option.

***

“Loyal ’til the last out” is good. It’s better than good; it’s great, and it’s essential. But it’s only a starting point.

Sometimes, it’s easy to be loyal ’til the last out, when everything is good and the last out is cause for celebration. It was certainly easy to refrain from leaving early in 2015, when usually, the last out meant we’d won. In winning seasons, even when the last out means one game hasn’t fallen your way, it also usually means that you can look forward to another win tomorrow.

Hell, even in a bad year, it’s easy enough to stay until the game ends. Well, it’s easy enough for me; usually, I find that ballgames, even the worst ones you can imagine, go by far too quickly. But even for people who find baseball dull — they really exist, and I can’t stand them — staying for the entirety of one game isn’t usually too trying a task.

Real Mets fans, the truest among us, are loyal to the last out, and then more. We’re loyal to the next week, the next month, the next season. If you’re loyal to the last out, or the next game, only so long as the Mets are winning…well, so long, it was nice to have you. Here’s some news: the Mets aren’t winning very often. We’re all still here. We’re not loyal to the last out — we’re loyal to the last breath. Morbid? Sure. But there’s nothing I can imagine turning off my devotion to Mets baseball, nor many of the fans I’ve encountered, so it seems fairly accurate.

The loyalty Mets fans have showed sometimes impresses even me — and I’ve showed it myself (I like to think). Think about it. Starting in 2004, we witnessed an almost embarrassingly bad trade of our hottest pitching prospect, a pitcher whose party-prone wife couldn’t handle New York, a pitcher who was disappointed but not devastated, a 3:00 a.m. call to the West Coast, a season wracked by injury after injury after injury, a new ballpark whose dimensions were a joke and whose aesthetics were almost nonsensical, several players who were so bad they defy description (Oliver Perez, Francisco Rodriguez, Luis Castillo), Jason Bay, a five-way race for the second-baseman’s job that landed on Brad Emaus — Brad Emaus! — and a first baseman who returned only to be named an HGH user, a star pitcher who threw a no-hitter only to injure himself by the end of the month and never pitch again, owners shedding payroll after being involved with the largest Ponzi scheme in history, a star third baseman who, in the midst of legging out an infield hit, injured himself and hasn’t been the same since, the antics of Jose Valverde and Kyle Farnsworth, Terry Collins making decision after decision that may have cost us a World Series trophy, a heartbreaking loss in a wildcard game, and another season that fell apart after multiple injuries, and turned into our worst season since 2009.

My head hurts reading and writing that. And yet I’m still here, Mets cap and jacket at the ready, hoping like hell that the offseason passes quickly so I can get back to Citi Field and watch Mets baseball again.

We’re all still here, for the same reason that we’re still in the stands in the ninth inning of a game we have no shot at winning: it’s still baseball. It’s still Mets baseball. We’re Mets fans. We watch the Mets, and we love every moment of it, even the ones that are really unbearable. What else are we going to do?

***

Why do we love David Wright so much?

Is it because of his offense? His defense? The way he carries himself off the field? His beautiful smile? Well, those all play their parts. But I don’t think any of them explains it in full.

It’s not just his offense or his defense: Mike Piazza had better offensive numbers as a Met, and lots of people have been better defenders. It’s not his gleaming smile: we’ve had — maybe — better looking guys than David (have we? I can’t think of any, but we must have). And it’s not just his off-the-field bearing: David sure is a boy scout, but we’ve had lots of those. David Wright is quite possibly the most beloved New York Met since Tom Seaver — why?

Well, maybe it’s because we know what loyalty means to us. We, the loyal Mets fans, appreciate loyalty too. We’ve sat through the bad hoping for the good, and out there, playing third or stretching out in the clubhouse or rehabbing his back and his shoulder, David has done the same. Really, he’s just like one of us: He stays ’til the end because he’s a Met. That’s what he is, so that’s what he’ll do.

Not to bash Tom Seaver, but David may be the most loyal Met in team history. When ownership got tired of the Franchise, Tom demanded a trade. When Fred Wilpon said that David wasn’t a superstar, David signed an eight year contract.

As a child, I looked at David Wright and saw a star, a legend, an icon. I look at him now, and I still see all that. But I see something else too.

David Wright is a Mets fan. There’s no other way to tell it. He opted to stay here, in Queens, at a discount rate, because he was loyal to this team. His team. He wanted to win a championship — he said as much. But he wanted to win it as a Met.

St. Louis Cardinals v New York Mets

David Wright, our captain and, it seems, our fellow loyal fan.

So why do Mets fans love this? Because we’re loyal too. David’s here to stay. So are we. And we respect that. Just look at David’s remarks after he signed the contract that was all but guaranteed to make him one of the longest tenured Mets in club history. He’s talking straight to the most loyal of the fans.

“I can honestly say I’ve never pictured myself in a different uniform,” he said, echoing what we fans think all the time, especially when someone’s asking what we’re doing rooting for a team that makes us pull our hair out. I’ve never pictured myself in a different uniform either; I’ll wear the orange and blue, with as much pride as I can muster, whether there’s anything to be proud of or not. And David Wright echoed that, when he said, at the same press conference, “I knew this was where I wanted to be. It made the decision pretty easy. I think that my friends and family knew that putting this uniform on was important to me, start to finish.”

He knew this was where he wanted to be; so did I. So do all the fans who wait out the ninth inning of an unsalvageable game because it’s a few more minutes at Citi Field with our guys. And putting on the uniform is important to us too.

There’s another quote that I remember, maybe from the same press conference, but I can’t find the source. It seems like something David would say, though, so I think I have it right. It’s pretty simple; in fact, I can only remember the first half.

“I’ve been through some good,” he says, “some bad, and a whole lot of ugly.” Then he goes on to explain that good things are coming, and he’s going to keep working hard, and eventually, all that work will pay off. And as you listen to something like that, it becomes clear.

David Wright is more than our captain, our third baseman, our star, our favorite player — he’s all of us. He’s every Mets fan. And there he is, sitting in the upper deck in a game that hasn’t gone his way, not leaving, but looking forward to tomorrow, or next month, or next season, when maybe fortunes will turn his way again. But I get the feeling that he’ll be here with us regardless. We’ll be here to watch, no matter how the season’s going, and he’ll be here to play. He’s a Met. We’re Mets fans. What else would he do?

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A Lid On Old Memories

I’ve been reading Garrison Keillor’s column in the Washington Post lately; maybe you have too. You should be, because it’s a gem, nothing more or less. There’s something about rhythmic, lyrically arranged words on a page or a screen that makes your mind relax and your heart smile, and soon the day passes you’re saving your files and gathering your things, happy to be heading home.

I found myself thinking, the other day, about time travel. I’m no scientist, and this wasn’t a pipe dream or science fiction; this was a column Garrison Keillor wrote the other day, or the other week, about spaces where time doesn’t pass. The Grand Central Oyster Bar, he wrote. I would add: Fenway Park, Strand bookstore on 12th Street, the den when my brother and my father and I watch The Honeymooners, and maybe the beach we used to go on Summer weekends, before life got in the way.

I’d just gotten home from Washington for Thanksgiving; I was on my way out the door, in a Porzingis jersey, to see the Knicks. My girlfriend, Emily, was there too; she’d just gotten in from Michigan, and she was wearing a Porzingis jersey, on her way out our door to see the Knicks. I was rummaging around on a shelf in my closet, looking for a Knicks hat, but never quite finding the letters or logos I wanted, even though there was plenty of orange and blue. And that’s when the time travel started.

I picked up my Shea Stadium cap, limited edition, one of only 144 ever made, constructed from baseball leather with red stitching, and it was the end of the 2014 season. We were mediocre, but on the upswing. I was in a hotel room in Boston on Saturday night, and the next day, as our season was ending, I walked around Harvard Yard and then went to Fenway Park and saw the Red Sox play the Yankees while I wore a Mets shirt. Talk about time never passing. I never wear that cap; it’s mostly ceremonial. I put it aside.

A group of caps took me back even further. The old Veteran’s Day camo, my first classic blue and orange, the interview cap with stylistic rips on the brim, the orange-brimmed alternate that David Wright wore when he announced his re-signing…it was December 2012 or so, and I was in the process of becoming independent. I bought the caps my heroes wore, or the ones that looked good…either way. For the first time, I was buying my own tickets, going to my own games, filling my own metro cards. And it felt good, even if Frank Francisco at the back end of the bullpen didn’t do much to fill any seats besides mine. I lingered on those caps for a while, but I was still looking for a Knicks hat, so I kept rifling through.

I kept finding different caps and different memories. There was my green cap, the time I forced my way through St. Patrick’s Day Parade traffic to make it to the Mets Clubhouse Store; my updated classic home blue, with the 2015 World Series patch; the rest of the caps from the 2015 postseason, remnants of a hopeful, fist-pumping few months that has yet to come to full fruition; a battered, dusty black cap that I bought at a Lids in New Hampshire in July of 2011, during one of the most interesting weeks of my life. I didn’t find a Knicks hat, but I did remember all the Mets caps I’d been missing.

I don’t have a Mets cap in Washington. I forgot to bring one, or we didn’t have space in the car; really, it could have been anything. It probably didn’t seem consequential, at the time. I wear a suit four or five days a week, and on the weekends I’m here and there, back and forth, and nobody seems to notice what I wear. But you remember how great it is to wear a Mets cap, when you wear one for the first time in a while; the slight, tight pressure around the side of your head (7 1/4 fits pretty snugly when my hair is long, as it is now in anticipation of winter), is a constant, comfortable reminder that you’re a proud Mets fan, and the entire world can see it. You can feel the orange and blue, or the “Mets,” or the cartoon Mr. Met, shining out at the world, and you know that whatever else may happen, you’re happy to be yourself. So I’ll be bringing a cap back to Washington with me, or maybe a few.

We saw the Knicks, and then it was Thanksgiving, and then we saw the Rangers, and they were two great wins. Then, Saturday night, we saw School of Rock, the musical, and it was a win as well. We fought our way through Times Square crowds for eight blocks because the 50th Street Subway Station was closed, and finally we got on the express uptown and got out at 96th Street and went to find a diner. As we were walking, we passed a man I didn’t know, wearing a thick blue jacket with a hood, and under the hood, I could just see the bottom of an orange NY.

I don’t even know what it was; his clothes, or the way he was walking, or the temperature outside, or something. But suddenly it was 2004 again, and I was just becoming a Mets fan, and I was noticing whenever adults or cool kids wore Mets caps, and the graphics at Shea were still stuck in the ‘90s, but were all the better for it. We got to a diner with walls covered in photos of old New York, but somehow, we sat near the front, and our walls were nearly bare, so my illusion didn’t waver, and for a while after that, I kept thinking about how it must have been in the early 2000s, when the Mets were a powerhouse that could never deliver, and when it was still okay to be a Mets fan, and we still had some names and some stars and some fun moments, but everyone realized we were sunk. Those weren’t exactly high points in Mets history, but it was fun to think about nonetheless, because there were scores of baseball memories to pore over, and outside, it was so cold it could have been snowing.

Then the night ended, and the new day began, and soon enough I was standing at Laguardia airport, waving goodbye and saying “See you in January” as Emily got on a plane back to Michigan. I took the  cap I was wearing off my head and looked at it, and it was one of the new ones, high tech fiber and all, and all of a sudden it was November 2017, and the Mets were coming off 92 losses and wouldn’t play again for four months. And that put me down for a second. Then I saw a plush David Wright doll in an airport store window, and bought it as a Christmas gift. The lights of Citi Field were just visible in the mirrors as we drove away from the airport, and towards the 2018 season. Maybe I’ll get a new cap then, and a season’s worth of memories to go with it. And as I’ve been learning recently, four months is next to nothing.

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