The Stuff Of Legend

No one was sure, in the immediate aftermath of the 2015 World Series, how exactly the season would fade to memory.

We know how Mets memory works: we’ve all seen the videos of ’86 and ’69, even if, like me, we weren’t there in person.  I was there for ’06, if not as fully invested as I would become.  Either way, all of those seasons are memory now.  They’re the past, reviewed and sealed, and we know how and why they played out the way they did.

But 2015…I have a hard time imagining it ever being relegated to fond memory status.  It wasn’t my first season as a die hard, nor my first rooting for a winning team.  But with everything that the 2015 Mets brought to the table, I can’t imagine any future Mets ball club taking over as my base, the team against which all others are measured.

It wasn’t always that way.  For the longest time, my team was the 2004 Mets, the first one I ever saw.  I went to four games in 2004.  At my first game of 2005, I was shocked as the Mets took the field.

“Here they are,” called the P.A. announcer.  “Your 2005 New York Mets.”

To that point, I’d heard only of 2004.  I hadn’t even considered that it could change.  The Mets were the 2004 Mets: I simply didn’t know of anything else they could be.

I adjusted, though, as I assume all fans have: sooner or later, we all come to the inevitable conclusion that as much as we’d like it, one baseball season can’t last forever.  The players change.  The numbers change.  On rare occasions, the colors change, or even the stadium.  But the memories last.

Like the memory, that afternoon in April, of hearing them introduced for the first time.  “Ladies and gentlemen, your 2004 New York Mets.”

I’m no longer taken by surprise when, at my first game of a new season, the year announced sounds different from the last game I went to.  I’m no longer surprised by roster moves: the internet makes me a hell of a lot more aware in 2016 than I was in 2004.  Even Citi Field, which for a long time I thought I would never accept, has taken firm root in my mind as home.

Yes, those surprises have died down.  But some things have, instead, been amplified in their effects.  The sight of Daniel Murphy in a Nationals jersey.  The National League Champions pennant that I’m sure will be on prominent display come April at Citi Field.  And even more, the emotions that the pennant brings with it, both positive, in terms of how far we went, and negative: the one place we failed to go.

The emotions of the World Series still haven’t completely worn off.  Remembering watching Eric Hosmer break down the line as our captain threw across the diamond, then watching helplessly as Duda’s throw sailed wide, I still find myself shaking my head, or closing my eyes in despair.  The 2015 Mets were a genuinely special team, the kind that doesn’t come around too often.  Not the kind of team you forget over a few cold months.  Not the Mets of Willie Harris and Andres Torres.  These Mets, or at least, our memories of them, are there for the long haul.

This week, I finally sat down, cleared my schedule, and watched Fox Sports’ Tears of Joy: 2015 Mets.  I hadn’t, up to this point, for a variety of reasons.  I was too busy.  I didn’t have any time.  I didn’t need to watch the season; I remembered it all.

Or at least, that was what I told myself.  Inside, maybe I just couldn’t take reliving the heartbreak once again.

Nevertheless, I did it: for 43 minutes, I relived the 2015 season.  A lump came to my throat.  I watched sadly, almost unwillingly, as ten years of pent-up hope and energy came to a furious crescendo, before crashing down with one bad throw.

And I came out of it with an important realization: 2015 is indeed becoming the stuff that memories are made of.

I watched the Wilmer Flores home run more times than I could possibly count during the 2015 season.  You could say the same thing about the seven run comeback against the Nationals, or Murph’s two-out, game-tying blast against the Braves, or the ball-off-the-foot play, or Familia striking out Fowler to end it, or any of the dozens of ridiculous moments that the 2015 season produced.  Even after Davis got Flores looking to end it, that didn’t stop.  I watched the 2015 Mets until I couldn’t watch anymore, which is to say that I watched the highlights pretty much continuously.

But I hadn’t relived the season — not until now.  I hadn’t taken a comprehensive look back, reviewing what had happened chronologically and conclusively, resubmitting myself to the highs and lows of the season.  And now that I had, I found that 2015 had, sure enough, taken on the quality that precious few Mets moments can claim.

Some of it no doubt has to do with the production of the film — the Fox Sports crew could undoubtedly make a creative, moving documentary about an insurance company, so it’s no surprise that they were able to do what they did with one of the greater Mets seasons of all time.  But that can’t account for all of it.  Because it’s there, no doubt about it.  And no matter how many video editors you have, you can’t turn ordinary baseball extraordinary.

The 2015 Mets provided the extraordinary themselves.

The film confirmed it, for me: 2015 has, in a few short months, become Mets history, living and breathing, but also remembered for exactly what it was.  You can see it and hear it in the little things: the energy of the fans, the rough, frenzied edge to the voices of the commentators, the emotions of the players as deficit after deficit turns into a lead, often with one swing of the bat.

The 11 game win streak.  Lagares homering against the Braves, to give the Mets a lead that had appeared lost.  Syndergaard’s homer.  Matz’s four RBIs.  Conforto’s beautiful swing producing opposite-field home runs.  Uribe’s walk-off against the Dodgers; Wilmer’s against the Blue Jays; Cuddyer’s against the Giants.  Murphy’s flip to Torres, Cespedes’ double down the line, Wright’s blast into the second deck.

And of course, that’s not even to mention the wild ride of the postseason, which we know will become legend.  Mets World Series runs don’t happen nearly often enough: when they do, they’re not forgotten.  The greatest seasons are the ones we remember not for their end results, but for their moments.  And 2015 had plenty of those.

It ended on a strikeout that was merely a formality.  For all intents and purposes, it ended when Addison Reed couldn’t get Christian Colón.  Either way, it ended in a storm of defeat and heartbreak on a cold November night.

But that’s not all it was: we, who lived through it, know that better than anyone.  And while Duda’s throw will perhaps live on in Mets infamy, held up beside it as shining moments will be all the greatness that 2015 exposed.  2015 is history now, and it’s not coming back.  But quickly, it’s  become the stuff of Mets legend.  We may not repeat.  We may fade out.  2015 may be our lone gasp at stardom.  But we’ll have the season to remember, just as 20 years from now, fans who are 15 then will look back on 2015 and wish they could have seen it.

But even after all of that, I’m a Mets fan, and there’s a cock-eyed, wildly optimistic, ya-gotta-believer inside my head.  And that guy’s saying that as great as 2015 was, 2016 may be even better.


Waiting On The Grass To Change

And so, the inevitable Spring Fever has set in again, as images of Mets cavorting in sun-soaked Port St. Lucie pour in and the season seems to have stalled in its advance.  It happens every year, but that doesn’t make it any less unbearable.

Spring games start a week from yesterday; practically nothing.  And yet, as it always seems to do, time has slowed down, and I just know that this next week, one of the most unbearable of the year, will take just about as long as the entire 2015 season, the greatest seven month period of my life so far.

The good times are gone too quickly; the bad ones are here too long.  It’s the most basic tenet of childhood wisdom, but that doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it.

In six days, we’ll be watching baseball, that, even if it doesn’t count, will be miles ahead of anything else that goes on from November to early March.  Until then, we’ll do more of the same: photos and videos, one after another in an unstoppable flood, all communicating the same message.

It’s Spring somewhere.  There’s perfect baseball weather somewhere.  Just not around you.

It’s the double-edged sword of modern technology – and by “modern,” I mean since 1960 or so.  With color photography came, for the first time, accurate pictures of what we fans who were unable to make the annual pilgrimage to Florida were missing.  Informal workouts, players schmoozing with fans, kids climbing the fence and catching a ball casually tossed their way by their hero.  I wouldn’t know, since I’ve never been, but it’s got to be one of the most immersive baseball experiences there is; fields on all sides, dozens of players working out; major leaguers, everywhere you look.

And for those who make the trip, it’s nothing less, I have to assume, than one of those experiences whose memories last for a lifetime.  But for those who don’t, it’s quite simply a protracted exercise in simultaneous blinding excitement and torture.

With every photo that comes in, we have the supreme satisfaction of seeing our Mets in action once again, just as we feel the wrenching frustration of not being able to see any more than a few cursory snapshots.  Even if we can’t get to the game at Citi Field one night, we can watch every frame of every pitch on TV.  Spring Training is different: it’s a unique baseball experience, but besides those who attend, none are entirely privy to its entirety.

I’ve been lobbying for a trip to Spring Training for just about as long as I can remember, which is to say about since Mike Piazza had just stopped being a routine top-five MVP finisher.  We’ve still never gone.  Some combination of not having time, the family being unmotivated, and everyone but myself actively not wanting to go has left me in the dust.  I’ll get down there eventually, some year or another.

Some year or another.  How uncertain and vague that sounds, especially when I’ll freely admit that just getting through the next week without baseball will be a chore.  I’m not yet at the age where the passage of years at a time becomes inevitable: I’m still taking things one day at a time, making the most of every minute.

It’s a lifestyle that works well when you’ve got an evening to spend watching a ballgame at Citi Field, and hope to make it last a lifetime, but it’s markedly less successful when the only activity available is waiting for time to give up and move on.

But there’s only a week left, no matter how much like eons it seems, and that time will pass.  It always has; it always will.  And soon, it will be November again, and we’ll look back wistfully on the end of February, when Spring Training was just around the corner and we had a rollicking season to look forward to.

Because you know what they say: the grass is always greener on the other side.  And never has it been more true than when it’s referring to the grass in Port St. Lucie, which, right now, is much, much greener than the grass in Providence, Rhode Island.

They’ll even out soon, though.  Just give it a few weeks, and we’ll have clear skies and warm air and a light breeze that’s just perfect for baseball.  And at that point, the grass that’s now dark and muddy, both literally and figuratively, will be, with Opening Day on the mind, plenty green for me.


Here’s To Nineteen More

In what’s been, so far, a relatively short life, I’ve been through my share and then some of Mets baseball.  I’ve been through wins and losses, triumphs and tragedies, comebacks and collapses.  I’ve seen both ends of the elusive Mets spectrum — I was there for Luis Castillo and Dae Sun Koo, Marlon Anderson and Oliver Perez, R.A. Dickey and Mo Vaughn.

And today, I’ve been through one more thing: namely, one more year than yesterday.

That’s right: nineteen years ago today, a Mets fan came into the world, and immediately started wondering how we could have traded Rico Brogna, while also getting excited about the addition of John Olerud.

That Mets fan was me.  And I had no idea what I was in for.

Now, it’s nineteen years later.  Since February 24th, 1997, the Mets are 1561-1517.  That’s a winning percentage of 50.7%.

At games I’ve attended, the Mets are 36-33.  That’s a winning percentage of 52.2%.  So that fan, born nineteen years ago today, was, among other things, a good luck charm.

I’ve been, as you’ve already discerned if you’ve got any mental calculation skills, to 69 Mets games in my first nineteen years of fandom.  In my next nineteen, I’ll beat that number significantly.  But with Mets fandom, as with many other things, it’s hard to imagine any subsequent nineteen years beating the first ones.

First Mets game: that’s an experience that’s hard to beat.  First – and, seeing as I couldn’t get back to New York for the postseason last Fall, only – postseason game: that’s another.  Baseball is a game of firsts, for players and teams but also individuals.  That obscure, intangible force, that some call magic and others simply can’t describe, diminishes over time.  It’s strongest at the start.

“Youth is wasted on the young.”  There’s a reason George Bernard Shaw’s quote is so often repeated; in most parts of life, it’s undeniably true.  But baseball, I think, is an acception.

Baseball is all about the young — young teams taking divisions by storm, young players jumping on the scene and exceeding everyone’s expectations, young fans getting their first taste of authentic ballpark fare.  In that encyclopedia that everyone’s always referring to, which lists terms and then images that define them, the photo next to the entry for “baseball” is a simple one.

It’s a child, six or seven years old, in the stands at a ballpark.  It’s not posed: it’s taken by a parent, from the side.  The child, it immediately becomes clear, it completely focused on and enthralled by the action on the field: they’re looking toward the side of the picture, just beyond which a ballgame is being played.

In April 2004, that was me.  In 2014 it was my brother.  From April to October, it’s happening all over the country, just about every day.  Even in New York, first baseball games, or first Mets caps or first mitts or first player jerseys, happen constantly.  The father and son buying a jersey in Modells, the kid on the seven train with his grandparents, the first grader with a glove in his backpack for the first time.  They’re all part of that baseball magic.  And together, they signal me that my next nineteen years of Mets fandom, fun though they will surely be, can’t possibly beat my first nineteen, my sometimes brutal, sometimes glorious introduction into the whirlwind of emotions that is being a Mets fan.

That’s not to say that there aren’t advantages to entering one’s second nineteen years of fandom as opposed to the first, of course.  There are upsides to being 19-38 as opposed to 0-18, with perhaps the most important being that with age comes autonomy, and with autonomy comes the ability to head off to a game in the spur of the moment, as opposed to turning the trip into a whole ordeal requiring special plans for meals, transportation, sun protection, etc.  So if nothing else, I’ll take in more Mets baseball in my next nineteen years than my first.

Really, the most shocking thing about turning nineteen has nothing to do with baseball: I’m almost halfway to middle age.  Right now, you could call me a specimen.  I could, if I wanted to, go out and play nine innings of baseball, and wake up tomorrow and never have felt better.  From all I’ve heard about being 38, let alone entering the 40s and beyond…well, I’ll quote Dave Barry, describing being 40: “If I attempt to throw a softball without carefully warming up, I have to wait until approximately the next presidential administration before I can attempt to do this again.”

For now, though, I’m not as worried about that, though from all I’ve heard, middle age sneaks up on you like nobody’s business.  The Mets are a more worrying concern — and more specifically, how much they’ve changed.

I’ve seen nineteen years worth of Mets.  Based on the technology we’re all hearing about, I may have the chance to see five or six times that in my life.  Around Shea Stadium, and later, Citi Field, I’ve already seen enough to fill several books.  I’ve got a full Mets life ahead of me.  When I do write the book, these nineteen years, the years that currently hold an entire life’s worth of memories, will be reduced to a few chapters.

I’m not as young as I once was; that much is obvious.  What seems like a few months ago, I was sixteen or seventeen, still largely free to do what I wanted in what spare time I had.  Now, I’m a year from my twenties…the decade where everything turns real.  My parents were in their twenties when I was born.  I never thought I’d be as old as living memories of my parents.

Even worse: soon, in two or three years, the Mets will introduce some hot prospect.  He may be down on the farm; he may not yet have been drafted.  He’ll be introduced, and we’ll all applaud, because there’s very little more exciting in baseball, the game of youth, than a prospect who has a 20 year career ahead of him.  He’ll jog out to his position in the field, warm up.  The seven year old kids in the stands will be in awe.  He’ll be a monster, a myth, a god to them.

That prospect will be younger than me.

I’ve got a few years left to watch the Mets with some semblance of awe, some small sense of amazement.  Then, suddenly, I’ll be no longer watching my heroes, but my contemporaries.

But for now, there’s no need to worry about that.  It’s my birthday, a day that should be happy, and we have plenty of things to be happy about.  I’ve got a new Mets jacket, and we’ve got a helluva team, Spring Training to watch, and a brand new baseball season approaching.

Only 39 days remain until Opening Day — practically nothing.  And whether I’m nine, nineteen, or ninety, that’s the best birthday present I could possibly ask for.  Even with age, some things just don’t change.


Childhood’s End

(Preface: this is one of very few things that I’ll break my unspoken commitment to write only about the Mets for.  This is a short reflection on learning that a pizza place in the town where I’ve spent my summers since 2007 has closed.  It may be uninteresting for those who don’t know the place personally; I’ll be back to the Mets as soon as I have something else to say about them.)

Apparently nostalgia counts for nothing anymore.

Or at least, that’s the only explanation I can think of. Because if Main Street Variety can close, and just like that, cease to exist, it means just about nothing is certain.

Background on this: Main Street Variety is a variety store located near the center of Bridgton, Maine, where I’ve spent the greater part of every summer since 2007. It’s as close to perfect as you can get. The walls are plastered with pictures of old-time celebrities, one side housed a giant, antique jukebox, and there was a big fridge, prominently displayed in the front, filled with nothing but Moxie, still in the glass bottles.

I drank plenty of Moxie, but I never did figure out whether that Juke worked.

It was the essence of Maine, and also the essence of a simpler time. As I visited more and more often, it became, quite simply, one of my favorite places to be.

How perfect was Main Street Variety? I’ll tell you: so perfect that Stephen King wrote it into one of his more prominent novels. Early on in The Dark Tower (The Dark Tower #7), Roland and Eddie find themselves in Bridgton, where Stephen King lived at the time. They look around, and King describes their surroundings.


“The Bridgton Town Square was bounded by a drug store and a pizza joint on one side; a movie theater (the Magic Lantern) and a department store (Reny’s) on the other.”

I’ve been to all four of those places multiple times. By the time I get back there, only three will remain.

That Pizza joint, which Stephen King now calls his favorite place to visit when he’s in Bridgton, was Main Street Variety. It had been around for longer than anyone knew. The building has been there since before 1890. Now, it’s gone. To open in September, the new owners promise, as a pub or a tavern.

I don’t know why all the best places have to disappear like this. Maybe it didn’t bring in enough to stay above water. Maybe the owners were ready to let it go. Maybe the buyers made an offer the sellers couldn’t refuse.

It could be any of them; I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter much.

Having read the news, I sent the article to friends who know Main Street Variety the same way I do, with a message including, among other things, “I’m honestly really unhappy about this.”

My older, wiser friend read my message.

“Welcome to getting old,” he responded.

And that summed it up pretty well.

I don’t want to get old; no one does. And for something like this to be the first indicator that time has, in fact, kept ticking, sometimes with consequences like this? That didn’t make it any better.

I remember exactly the last time I visited Main Street. It was Monday, August 11th, 2015. Just after lunch, around 1:30. We drove into town. We stopped at the bank. While one of our number went into the bank to cash a check, I ran down the block to Main Street. I bought some local, Maine fudge and a Moxie. I left.

I didn’t know, at the time, that I would never be back, but even if I had, I don’t know that I would have done anything differently. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the perfect last memory of Main Street Variety: a quick stop in, a purchase of Moxie, a friendly greeting, and an exit. That’s what happened every time we were there; it’s the perfect way to remember it.

Which makes it doubly hard to realize that it won’t be happening again.


The Gang’s All Here

The Mets tweeted out a picture today that almost made me cry.

“David Wright’s smile means it’s officially baseball season,” read the caption.  It was accompanied by a photo of the captain in all his glory, presumably taken today.  Through all he’s been through, David Wright has retained the face of an upstart kid.  In the picture, he’s stretching, limbering up.  All evidence of the debilitation his body has suffered as he’s repeatedly put himself on the line for the good of the team is either concealed or simply not present.


Or maybe it’s just that Spring Training began today, and everything looks that much better because of it.

People, or at least too many of them, claim that Spring Training doesn’t matter.  It’s boring, it’s meaningless, it doesn’t help predict the season, or, indeed, do much of anything.  It’s nothing more than an extended warm-up exercise, no fun to watch and little more to participate in.

Spring Training began becoming the norm in the 1890s, and ever since, has occupied a special place in the heart of the baseball fan who needs something, anything, to break the monotony of winter without baseball.  Christie Mathewson devoted an entire chapter of his 1912 book, Pitching in a Pinch, to explaining what happened when ballplayers congregated in Florida to prepare for the season.  Spring Training is nearly as old as the National League itself.

If it’s so meaningless, and so impossible to get excited about, you’d think the fans who keep getting excited about it would have figured that out by now.

How can Spring Training possibly fail to excite the truest fans among us?  It’s baseball, isn’t it?  The guys we’re all counting on to bring us home a championship, or at least a good time, are back on the field.  Our team, gone these last four months, is coming together again, although it will be 50 days before we see the finished product in competitive action.

It’s interesting; those who claim that Spring Training is meaningless often compare it to the regular season, which, in comparison, is just about the most important thing in the world – a view I usually agree with.  But they’re not mutually exclusive.  Beyond the statistical import of 162 games played from April to October, there’s room to get excited for the annual arrival of Spring.

None of us are baseball fans because of the trophies.  We watch because it’s the greatest game in the world, our national pastime.  We watched from 2009 to 2014 as the Mets played what could hardly have been called meaningful baseball.  We watched as they finished out the season after clinching the division – in terms of trophies won, that wasn’t particularly meaningful either.

So really, why not the Spring?  No, Spring games don’t count in the standings, but they’re still baseball, and better baseball than we’re going to have until after Spring Training is over.  They don’t count in the standings – Spring games, instead, count only in the hearts of the thousands of fans who, having watched a World Series run come up short, are hungrier than ever to see the summer game played once again.

But okay, absolutely.  Besides that, Spring Training is meaningless.

As I’ve said time and again, I’m not here for the championships; they’re just a bonus, if things happen to fall our way.  I’m here for the stories, the connections, the players we’ve watched over the years as they’ve developed into professionals.  I’m here to watch a baseball season, one that starts when Spring Training does and ends as late as possible.  Whether it ends with a trophy or not, I’ll be proud to have been there.

Or maybe that’s just naivety, brought on by Spring Training euphoria.  But I don’t think so; it’s happened before.  2009-2014 happened, and I couldn’t be prouder to have watched those seasons unfold, even the way they happened to do so.

So yes, I may be caught up in the thrill of Spring Training, making promises of happiness that I won’t cash in if or when the season turns downhill.  But if so, I’ve got good reason for it.  I’m a Mets fan, and a damn true fan at that.  And with that label, which I fully embrace, any occasion that brings a smile to David Wright’s face makes me happy as well.


A Baseball Life

Loss.  Separation.  Heartbreak.  They’re all unavoidable parts of life and baseball, but that doesn’t make them any easier to deal with.

I’ll break your heart right off the bat.  One day, in ten or twelve or fourteen years, Jacob deGrom will retire, and we’ll all look back on that youthful, twenty-something kid with the flowing hair, and wonder where he went.  Then we’ll look at the rest of the field, and see our hottest prospect, 22 years old and just called up from AAA.

Right now, that prospect is ten years old.

That’s just an example, of course, and it’s one of the more jarring ones to consider for good reason.  Saying goodbye, and moving on, is part of baseball.  It’s part of life too, but among the kind of people whose hearts are broken at the thought of Jacob deGrom’s retirement, it’s most likely to be found on the diamond.

Sports: Illustrated ran a piece recently about the possibility of the National League adopting the designated hitter.  I hope they don’t; I suspect they won’t; I worry that they will.  But it doesn’t matter.  I only cite the piece to put forward a quote from the article.

“I say true baseball fans,” wrote the author, “not to claim some higher ground among tweed-jacket-wearing, baseball-as-a-metaphor-for-life traditionalists.”

Traditionalists have been disparaged by the sabermetrics crowd, and rightly so: you can’t run a ballclub on nostalgia.  But while there’s certainly little space for Roger Angell in the front office, why not in the stands?  Why, even among fans, are “baseball-as-a-metaphor-for-life traditionalists” disparaged?  Portrayed as nothing more than naive, irrational fans, desperately clinging to the last vestiges of a game that has moved inexorably forward?  What did traditionalists ever do to you?

I’ll call myself a traditionalist in a second, and be damned proud of it.  Is baseball a metaphor for life?  Absolutely it is.  Career arcs, season fluctuations, and team histories all mirror the highs and lows of a long, full life.  And all the emotions of life are present, in more than ample amounts, on the baseball field.

Field Of Dreams.  The Natural.  For Love Of The Game.  There’s a reason traditionalists are moved to tears by some of these movies.  We see our lives, as children, young adults, and old, grizzled veterans, played out on the screen.  We feel the emotions inspired by the raw energy of the game – America’s game, that is, or in other words, Baseball – and remember the lives that we’ve lived.  And more likely than not, baseball has played a prominent role.

Even the little things, the moments that end faster than you can see and repeat themselves relatively rarely, tap human emotions.  Jose Reyes leaving for the Marlins.  Daniel Murphy leaving for those damn Nationals, despite a public desire to stay.  It’s happened to all of us.  A friend leaves, for reasons beyond either of our control, and while we respect their freedom, and know that they’ll do whatever is best for their own selves, we can’t help but want them to stay forever, or at least as long as they can manage.  A family member moves across the country, and we wonder whether we’ll ever see them again even as we try to convince ourselves that nothing’s wrong.

And you’re going to tell me that baseball is anything less than the perfect metaphor for life?

Of course, that may not be why we watch.  We travel to Citi Field in droves and watch our guys do battle with malevolent opponents because it’s a good time for all.  It’s fun, relaxed, friendly.  Everything a life well lived should be, in short.  But while we’re watching deGrom shut down the Phillies, or Colón implode against the Braves, we’re not – probably – thinking about overly deep emotions.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  Being too swept up in a whirlwind of a season to notice the symbolism behind it is no crime.

The offseason – that’s when the metaphors kick in.  Watching as old players leave and new ones enter, just as old friends drift apart and new ones enter the picture in ways you had never expected, it’s impossible not to feel.  Some deny it.  Some call it silly, or misguided.  Some say they’re the mature ones.

Others are honest.  They’re the hardcore baseball fans, and they alone recognize the full depth of the interconnections of emotion in baseball and life.  And having experienced both a lifetime of everyday, normal emotions, and a lifetime with the emotions of a Mets fan, it’s hard to separate the two of them.

In 2015, the Mets, finally, were aggressive.  They were forward about exactly what they wanted.  They wanted an outfielder, so they went out on the market, made their intentions clear, and failed to get one.  And we all thought they were the same old Mets.

But then they caught our attention, and made a game-changing move.  The kind of move we didn’t think they could make anymore.  The kind of move that can turn a season around.

Around the same time, or perhaps slightly after the Mets attempt at forwardness and aggression came up just short, I did the same.  For the first time, I made my intentions clear.  I was open about what I wanted, and I put my thoughts on the table and waited for a verdict.

Like the Mets, I came up just short.  But I tried it out, and it worked.  It worked better than convincing myself that Brad Emaus could be a legitimate second baseman, and far better than pretending that Eric Young Jr. had a chance to develop into an outfielder for a contender.

It’s the oldest cliche in the book, so old and tired that I’m wary of using it even with the disclaimer that I’m not using it genuinely.  But somehow, after however long it’s been, it still holds true.

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.

We aimed high, and we didn’t get there, but when all the dust has settled, we’re pretty damn close.  We were finally forward about what was and wasn’t a suitable, playoff-caliber baseball team, and having taken that step, we’ve got one.  And as for me…well, it’s a long story, much like our Mets’, that didn’t end entirely the way I’d hoped.  But I took the advice, and now I’m among the stars as well, no World Champion, but no perennial cellar-dweller either.

Baseball doesn’t have to be a metaphor for your life, but don’t insist that it can’t fill that role for anyone else.  Plenty of people – you could call them “traditionalists,” I call them true fans – have lived the baseball life, and will gladly attest to it.

No, you don’t have to accept the emotions of baseball as a profound, long-enduring representation of the ups and downs of any fully-lived life.  But please, don’t think less of those who do.


Behind The Highlights

It’s Hallmark Quarterly Profit Increase Day – sorry, Valentine’s Day – and that intangible, inexplicable phenomenon is in the air once again.  Not that you asked, but I think the impending baseball season has something to do with it.

There are barely two days until Pitchers and Catchers, although seeing as the important ones seem to have already reported, that date is mostly ceremonial. After that, it’s one date after another, and when all is said and done, we’ll look back on this whirlwind of information, discovery, and baseball in the sun, and be shocked that 50 days could pass so quickly.

Until then, however, we need to get some things straight, because a baseball season is fun only if everyone involved is working towards the same ends.

Valentine’s Day is about gaudy, tacky, bright red decorations and cards with ridiculous pre-written messages.  Looking at Valentine’s cards the other day, I texted a friend:

Valentine’s Cards are like presidential candidates — there aren’t any moderate ones anymore.

But even though the spirit of the day has been corrupted, its values remain, or at least, they should.  Honesty.  Trust.  Caring.  And above all, being open and forward about what we want from each other.

(And, by the way, the fact that I refer to my ball club as part of “each other” should give you a hint as to how exactly my Valentine’s Day is going.)

What do we want from our 2016 Mets?  We want a World Series.  Everyone does.  The fans, the players, the owners, the officials.  At that level, it’s not hard to see that we want the same things.

But beyond the general, simplistic purview that all we want is winning, it does get a little more complicated.

What if we don’t win?  What if Cespedes gets hurt and all our pitchers lose their stuff and Neil Walker bats .190 and Asdrubal Cabrera just doesn’t have it?  It’s dreadful to imagine, and I’m not for one second predicting that it will happen, but what if it does?  Devoid of a winning team, as we no doubt will be at some point, whether in two, ten, or twenty years, what do we want from this team?

And that’s where it starts to get complicated.  Because as much as we like to think we all want the same things, some people just don’t.

There are those people that just want winning.  The ones who boo when the team is bad, rather than when the team isn’t trying their hardest.  The people who start the wave when the game bores them, never mind the young super athlete down on the field throwing the ball towards the batter at speeds higher than their car has ever moved.

And then there are the real fans.  And they — or, we — want something else entirely.

To those fans, the real ones, the fans who are there for the good and remember the bad, the ones who loved that magical 2015 but loved watching Ronny Paulino in 2011 just as much, the ones who will head out to Citi Field in a heartbeat whether the Mets are pitching Matt Harvey or Matt Ginter, winning is a reward, but not the reward.  The reward, in fortunes fickle and fair, is watching a team as fun as the Mets we’re so fortunate to have.

So, speaking for the truest of fans, which I hope I have sufficient license to do, here’s what we want, whether we romp back to the World Series or trudge back down to the basement.

We want to keep the identity.  We want to see not just a ball club, but a Mets ball club.  We want the same kind of players we’ve been fortunate enough to have in the past, Nails and Mex and Teuf and Wally, who play the game the right way — not the Chase Utley right way, but the real, competitive but not mean-spirited right way — on the field and off it.

Michael Cuddyer’s 2015 season was quite possibly the most negative thing to come out of the year, but I never soured on Michael Cuddyer the man, if seeing him in left field day after day did get tiresome.  He never deflected blame.  He always answered questions openly and honestly, never tried to make excuses for his diminished play, and, to top it off, retired when he felt he could no longer give the team his best.

For the longest time, people said the Mets weren’t cool enough.  They weren’t the Yankees.  They weren’t the greatest in the world.  They weren’t the cool kids, doing whatever they want and damn the consequences.  Well, now we’re coming off a World Series run, and the coolness factor suddenly seems to matter a lot less.

So here, in the end, is all I want from the season.  By all means, be cool – have fun, celebrate wins, take the city by storm, and be the new guys, the ones that everyone is suddenly latching onto because they just got around to hearing that we were in the World Series.  Be the prototypical stars, the traditional Yankee way if you want.  Don’t be afraid to be noticed for being the best, because going to the World Series, even if we didn’t win, or, in fact, barely competed, is worth celebrating.

But while you’re busy being the cool kids, the toast of the town, the superstars, remember your identity.  Remember the history.  Remember that there’s more to a team than wins and losses, because a team is more than runs scored and prevented.  Remember that you’re people as well as players, and remember that we, the fans, know that.  Remember that, like Michael Cuddyer and his magic tricks or Jeurys Familia and his love of Step Brothers, it’s fine to be nerdy, or dorky, or whatever anyone who didn’t just go to the World Freaking Series wants to call it.  Just be authentic, genuine people.  We’re Mets fans: we loved Marvelous Marv and Choo Choo every bit as much as the Yankees adored Jorge Posada and His Lordship Tino Martinez.  All we ask is authenticity.

Yoenis Cespedes has a hoverboard.  David Wright loves his dogs.  Matt Harvey appeared on Watch What Happens Live.  None are stereotypical of the proverbial athletic superstar, but they’re what defines a season and a team, far more than wins, losses, and unfortunate back injuries that always seem to come at just the worst times.

So, to the Mets, know this.  Know that some of us, at least, care less about seeing robotic, focus-grouped players producing wins and polished interviews, and more about the real people behind the results.  We’d all love another World Series appearance, and even more than that, a win.  But to me — and for all I know, I’m in the minority — I’d like even better to see our players having fun on the field, enjoying being young and free, and being dorky or suave, ugly or David Wright, bad-haired or Noah Syndergaard, thin or Bartolo Colón.  They’re all awesome people, as countless interviews and off-the-field stories have shown.  They get the job done on the field.  Off of it, they’ve earned the right to live as they like.

Our guys, those 25 players who make up the team we’ve all resigned ourselves to following for the long haul, are human beings too.  We don’t — and most definitely should not — label them as attention seekers, dumb jocks, or dorky misfits.  Even with star athletes, there’s more to a person than a superficial glance can possibly show.  Having been exposed, through the magic of the 2015 season, to the human sides of all of these players, there’s nothing I’d rather see than respect for them as people before statistical producers, and allowance, on our part, for each and every one of them to conduct themselves just as they choose to, without judgement from the rest of us, none of whom could come close to doing anything resembling what these players do day in and day out.

The entire 25 man roster has earned my respect on the field, but that doesn’t even matter.  We have a team of human beings, and every player on our roster has long since earned the right to go about their life without being judged for nonsense.

Baseball player, in short, is a profession, not a lifestyle.  Our guys, off the field, can do anything and everything that they want.  It’s not our job to judge.  Instead, it’s our job to accept, respect, and appreciate the human beings behind the highlight reels.


Waiting, Waiting…

I left the Super Bowl at the end of the third quarter and returned to my room.  On the board attached to my door, I wrote a message.

Super Bowl Over


Officially Baseball Season

I forgot about the message on my door for a while, as my attention was consumed with people who had consumed a few too many refreshing beverages and needed help walking around, but when I returned to my room and finally got to sleep, I remembered what I’d written again.

It’s strangely fitting, but also disconcerting.  During the Super Bowl, the entire room got an email.  We all opened it.  In deference to the impending snow, school had been canceled on Monday.

How did college kids respond?  Well, how do you think they responded?  Their minds raced furiously as they calculated whether they could get alcohol, how much later they could be up, and whether they would still have to go to lab tomorrow if the class would not happen.

I responded in a different way, which is to say, not at all: I continued watching Cam Newton miss his receivers, while realizing that I would have the first day of baseball anticipation season entirely free.

Somehow, it seems that my first however many months of school have been an almost exact reflection of the Mets successes and failures.  Some of that is probably based on my moods when the Mets lose, compared to when they win.  Some more of it simply cannot be, and can’t be anything but coincidence, but sure is strange to think about.

I’ve had a whole host of days that I’d call important this year.  September 26th, 2015 was an important day.  It also happened to be the day the Mets clinched the division.  November 15th was an important day, for more than one reason.  It was also the day I saw Bill Maher, a part-owner, performing live.

And what happened just a few days ago?  The Mets held a press conference making the signing of Yoenis Cespedes official, and affirming that they’re ready to be a legitimate contender once again.  And while I won’t get into them, some pretty important things happened on that day as well.

Suffice it to say that for the longest time, by which I mean 2009 to June 2015, my luck seemed about where the Mets’ was – barely there at all.  But the Mets are different now.  They’re strong.  They’re confident.  They’re finally for real.

And I’m not trying to imbue myself with all of these attributes, but things sure do seem to be changing.

The Mets figure to have some good luck coming their way, what with the much improved team and the rotten luck in the World Series and the improvement of their BABIP to and above the mean, at least based on Line Drive Percentage, which I’ve been told can be indicative of luck.  I’m looking ahead, hoping for a 2016 just as fortunate as the Mets’.  But regardless of whether the Mets are preparing for 100 wins or 100 losses, the first day of baseball anticipation is one to celebrate.

In less than two weeks, we’ll hit the first mandatory reporting date.  In less than a month, we’ll watch our first game of the Spring.  And in 55 days, we’ll all be breathless with anticipation, killing time until we get underway versus the Royals in Kansas City.  And let me tell you, we’re going to win that game for poetic justice.

But really, 55 days.  Eight weeks.  We spent nine weeks, from August to October, leading the division.  That passed in mere seconds.  Eight weeks is nothing.  It’s a cakewalk.

We’ve got nine days until Pitchers and Catchers, an event which by itself is enough to merit celebration.  When Pitchers and Catchers starts, we’ll have six and a half weeks until Opening Day.

After Pitchers and Catchers, we’ve got a week until full squad workouts, and then another six days until the Spring opener, versus the Nationals.  On the day of the Spring opener, less than a month from now, we’ll have only four and a half weeks to wait.  And that time will pass like nobody’s business, because in the Spring time, when the living is easy, everyone is happy, and the time simply flies.

And then Baseball will be back, and we’ll wonder how we could possibly have survived such an absence.  We’ll be back to everything it is that baseball season entails, which, for me, is not a short list.  Quickly checking the game during Poli Sci.  Listening on the radio while reviewing a Spanish essay for concordance errors.  Wrapping up a late game, grabbing a late-night sandwich, and calling it a night well spent.

It’s a veritable explosion of cliches; college, baseball, even late night sandwiches.  But no one ever said that cliches aren’t fun to live through.  And in one day fewer than eight weeks, we’ll be living through a 162 game journey once again: the biggest — and best — cliché of them all.

It does seem like a long time to wait, but that’s exactly why we give it its own season.  The day after the Super Bowl to the day before Opening Day.  Baseball Anticipation Season.  What else are we going to do?


Back In The New York Groove

How do you know that the worst has finally past?  How can you tell whether our team will continue to perform at the superb level it did during the second half of 2015, or regress to prior levels?

In short, how do we really know whether we’re good enough?

I don’t know, because surely, at its most concrete level, that must come down to analytics: wins per dollar, strikes per plate appearance, bases per out, however you measure it.

You know what analytics can’t measure?  Smiles per game.  Life-defining experiences per inning.  Happiness per fan.  But I’ll let that go for the moment.

The Mets held a press conference today, and introduced a player who I’ll stop just short of calling a superstar because somehow, it seems like no one likes when you call players superstars, just in case they suddenly turn bad again.  I’ll meet those people halfway, and say that today, the Mets held a press conference, and introduced a player who we can surely agree is very good.

The last time they did that, besides David Wright, who is on a whole different level?  Probably Jason Bay.

Now, let me stop you before you get there, because I am NOT comparing the two.  Jason Bay’s average dipped from .286 in 2008 to .267 in 2009, and apparently no one noticed the trend.  Bay was going downhill the whole time: anyone could have seen it, and professional baseball executives probably should have.

Cespedes is coming off a career year.  He’s a year younger than Bay was when we signed him, and coming off a great year.  Not that he’ll keep producing at his 2015 level, necessarily, but we know one thing: he hasn’t started regressing yet.

Even more than the player we’re getting, however, there’s a significance to the move, and the press conference, that goes beyond the team on the field.  We’re legitimate again.  We’re a – the – team to beat.  We’re a great place to play.

We are, in short, once again the New York freaking Mets.

For a while, from the ‘80s through about 2009, it seemed like we had a shot at every free agent who hit the market.  We usually did, sometimes to our detriment.  Then we went through five years of hurt where our biggest free agent signings were the likes of Frank Francisco and Collin Cowgill.

And then we got Cespedes, and we went to the World Series.  And here we are, three months later, and we’ve got, finally, a helluva team put together, ready to hit the season running.

Back when the Nationals signed Jayson Werth, everyone said that they were sending a message.  They were ready to spend; they were ready to compete; they were ready to win.  It didn’t matter that the contract ultimately became a flop: it was the thought that counted.

Well, I like to think – and, in the case of divisional records, I know for a fact – that we’re better than the Nationals.  Is Yoenis Cespedes a message?  Maybe.  It certainly sent a message to the fans, that we’re ready to get going again.  But just as he’s more than just a very good player, he’s also more than a message: he’s both.  We’re smart.  We’ve got good people in our offices, and Yoenis Cespedes is here because they thought he would be valuable.  So do I, come to think of it.

So no, I can’t know for sure whether we’ve really reached the promised land of long-term competition and having a fighting chance year in and year out.  Anything can happen.  We could lose a pitcher or three, or, just as likely, three of our pitchers could have 20-win seasons.  Maybe Michael Conforto’s development will falter, or, just as likely, he’ll turn into a perennial 30 home run, .300 batting average hitter.  I don’t know; you don’t know; an outfit calling itself zIPS doesn’t know.

But, thanks to today’s press conference, we do know a few things.  We’re spending money again.  We’ve got smart people in charge of giving that money away.  And we’ve got a pool of players ready to take that money.

And as I said, neither you nor I know anything for certain, not least whether we’re ready to take a repeat run to the World Series and, this time, come away with a title.  But with those three things in place, I know one thing: we’ve got, at least, a good chance to do so.

And sometimes, that’s all you need.  It’s all we needed in 2015, and it may be all we need to do it again this year.  And if we can be even better than we were, not even Fangraphs can predict how far we’ll go.


More Than Warmth

I was walking across the green, searching the recesses of my mind for a topic to write one thousand words on, when it dawned on me that the weather had warmed up.   The sun, albeit somewhat weakly, was shining.  It felt like early Spring, when it’s too cold for baseball but you can tell that it won’t be for much longer.

In other words, it was Mets jacket weather.

Not that I really need an excuse to bring out a Mets jacket, of course.  Since around Christmas 2004, I’ve worn one any time it’s been near possible.  But the fact that Mets attire is once again convenient to the weather is more than a springboard of childhood Mets jacket memories: it’s a sign, both metaphorically and literally, that the season is on its way.

On Christmas day 2004, I unwrapped my first Mets jacket, a present from my grandmother.  It was too big, but my mom said I’d grow into it.  I loved it either way.  It became my primary jacket, and kept the role for the next six years, give or take.  Interestingly, at least as far as jackets go, its retirement was as memorable as its debut.

I remember quite vividly the last time I wore my first Mets jacket. September 28th, 2011.  Closing Day.  And, far more importantly in my 14 year old mind, the final day of the Jose Reyes era, although that part wasn’t official yet.

At home that morning, I threw on every piece of Mets gear I could before leaving for school.  Once the game had started, I followed it as it progressed.  I watched in semi-disbelief as Reyes bunted for a hit and was immediately removed.  I kept listening, and as school ended, I walked home and listened on the radio as the Mets put the game away.

It was your classic 2011 Mets game.  They scored in the fourth when Nick Evans drove in Willie Harris, and again in the fifth when Mike Baxter homered to drive in Josh Satin.  Meanwhile, after allowing a single in the first and a double in the second, Miguel Batista pitched seven no-hit innings to seal the win, and I went into the offseason as happy as a 2011 Mets fan could be.

Mike Baxter?  Ronnie Paulino?  Jason Pridie?  Ah, those were the days.

That jacket is in the front closet now, waiting for my brother to grow into it and claim it as his own.  Over the 2011-12 offseason, I would replace the original jacket with a new, updated model.  It may not have been the best move: the new jacket, although I didn’t know it at the time, was a remnant of the early 2000s, the black uniform era.  It’s symbolic of the Mets big-spending-without-championships era, when the Mets tried and failed to look and play like the Yankees.  Among uniform obsessives, and you know who you are, it’s been derided to no end.

I wore it today, when I saw that the sun had come out.  I don’t mind the color implications, so long as it’s got “Mets” in orange and blue across the front.

The new jacket wasn’t as warm as the first, so it couldn’t be the default.  No matter, though; it became my summer garment of choice, a perfect jacket for mild weather, and an absolute necessity when I was rushing to a game and there was rain in the forecast.

And even further, as I grew older and made Mets fandom my full-time occupation, I decided that one Mets jacket might not suffice.

I first supplemented my collection in September 2012, as R.A. Dickey was making his way toward 20 wins.  It was the Mets-iest garment I’d ever owned, to that point – a blue-bodied, white-sleeved varsity jacket with championship years and patches embroidered on the arms, and a garishly huge Mets logo displayed across almost the entire back.  My mother was afraid I would be mocked, but ultimately, no one minded much.  Quickly, I had a new jacket of choice, only this time, it was even better: this time, my jacket was, simultaneously, a ringing proclamation of Mets fandom and a connection to Mets history.  In the old-fashioned ribbed knit collar, I felt like I wouldn’t have been out of place as a Mets fan walking the streets of New York in 1986, or 1969.

However, that jacket didn’t age well, although I still don it occasionally, so in December 2014, I made the final – for now – addition to my collection, one that was eye-catching even for me.  GIII had recently re-released the classic starter jacket, and as far as the Mets model went, I was hooked on sight.  It’s a classic piece of clothing, and among Mets fans, a description is hardly necessary: the blue satin coloring, the buttons down the front, the soft orange lining and knit collar make it nothing less than an icon.  While I don’t intend to advertise anything here, this was a living piece of Mets history, even if, strictly speaking, it had been part of a rerelease, and was no more authentically retro than any previous incarnations of my primary Mets jacket.

And so, today, I had a choice of three jackets in which to brave the rising sun.  Well, five if you include non-Mets jackets, which, on the first warm day of the year, I do not, so the choice was three.  The fact that dorm rooms only have so much closet space, which necessitated leaving one of my jackets at home, brought my choice down to two.  But still, being uncertain which Mets jacket to wear, like too much competition for middle infield spots, is a good problem to have.

And although this is a Mets fan’s response to a certain event, it’s certainly not an event that’s inaccessible to the general public.  It’s the impending onset of Spring.  Everyone loves Spring.  Some celebrate by looking for robins, others by tossing a football around outside, still others by realizing that whatever some crazy, optimistic to the point of delusion Mets fan says, February first is not the start of spring, and that winter will, in all likelihood, make one or two more unpleasant comebacks before retiring for good.

I don’t care.  I don’t listen to them; I’m a Mets fan coming off a World Series run, and given our luck – well, combined with global climate change – anything is possible, both meteorologically and in terms of baseball.  So yes, the Mets jacket is coming out on February first.  Spring may not be here, but today, it’s close enough, and as far as I can see, there’s no reason not to pretend otherwise.