Why, on an October afternoon that could have passed for late summer if you didn’t realize quite how cold it was, was I thinking about the Winter? I wasn’t sure myself.
Obviously, it was Closing Day, which will tend to make fans like me — and if you’re a fan like me, you know what I’m saying — somewhat reflective. What feels like it started — I can’t repeat this enough — just yesterday, is coming to an end for a good few months. It really is the beginning of winter: playoffs, or whatever part of them we’re able to participate in, notwithstanding, there’s not much difference between late October and early January. Either way, it’s almost certainly too cold for baseball.
So I suppose it pays to be ready for winter, or, more accurately for my case, excited for a cliched version of winter, and conveniently forgetful of the less pleasant aspects of the season until they confront me sometime in December and force me to shove my hands in my pockets and curse the wind and the snow. But I guess that in looking towards winter, I was hedging my bets.
So I did; I thought about Winter. I thought about light snows and green and red lights and Christmas music everywhere, walking the streets of New York and everyone being happy, ice skating and hot chocolate and heavy winter jackets that make you feel like you’re not even outdoors. Knicks games, Rangers games, football out in the snow, walking down to 84th and 3rd to buy a Christmas Tree and lugging it back to the apartment, wearing gloves so your hands don’t get covered in tree bark and sap. It’s not quite baseball season, or more accurately, it’s nowhere near, but it’s not all bad.
But it wasn’t Winter yet: we still had a game to play, and at least one more after that, but if we’re honest, that’s hardly anything. April through August or early September is the best part of baseball season, when you can turn off a game regardless of the result and look forward to another chance tomorrow. We don’t have that anymore, but postseason baseball certainly isn’t nothing.
But meanwhile, we had a game to play, but even more than that, a game to watch. I didn’t care how we played it; I don’t think anyone really did. We clinched a playoff spot yesterday: today was just one more day for send-offs. Sending off the regular season. Sending off the Phillies, whose promise to ruin our season came up just a bit short, and Ryan Howard, who may have ruined years past for us, but not this one. Sending off Gary and Keith, who won’t broadcast the postseason because life is unfair that way, and sending off Ron, who wasn’t in the booth but was there in spirit.
Of course, there was one send off that wasn’t even in Philadelphia today, but may have been preeminent among all of them: in San Francisco, Vin Scully called his last game. Vin Scully has been broadcasting baseball since 1950, or, in other words, since before so many things that seem inconceivable. Vin Scully has been calling Dodgers games since before my grandparents had ever met; since before the Interstate Highway system; since before rock ’n’ roll existed; since Billy Joel was born. Vin Scully has been around forever: for the longest time, it seemed like that would be true for the future as well as the past and the present.
Well, it’s not, after today: as of around 3:00 p.m. Pacific Time, after a blowout loss for the Dodgers and a parting message that only Vin Scully could deliver, Vin left the booth. That sendoff wasn’t as tough for me as I imagine it was for others. The twelve year old kid in Los Angeles who falls asleep with the Dodgers on the radio hidden under the pillow; the middle-aged fans who’ve listened to no one but Vin Scully; the 70 year old guy in Brooklyn who remembers when Vin was just starting out before Walter O’Malley went and ruined everything. I’m none of those; I’m just a fan.
A Mets fan, to be exact, which made sending the September 2016 Mets off into memory was what I was focused on. And even in a loss, there sure were some things to take away. There was Kevin Plawecki doubling after what must have been about thirty four consecutive ground-outs to third. There was Matt Reynolds, whose early 2016 debut had satisfied my two or three year desire to see him play in the bigs, hitting a Texas double down the line, and De Aza driving him in. De Aza? I didn’t know he could hit. Boy, things have changed.
And then there was the completely meaningless play that, to me, was the highlight of the day: Brandon Nimmo coming to bat as a pinch-hitter in the top of the ninth and singling. We left him at second two batters later; it affected the outcome of the game not one bit. But it stuck in my mind.
Brandon Nimmo just looks like a ballplayer. In the tighter than average pants, reminiscent of the 90’s and early 2000’s, with the crew cut, the wrist bands, and the tight lefty swing, that kid’s going to hit. We’ve got a player on our hands: sometimes, you can just tell.
And then there’s that smile, which seems as omnipresent as Bartolo’s belly or Asdrubal’s blond hair: he doesn’t go anywhere without it. As Nimmo came to the plate this afternoon, here’s what we saw:
He’s got all the tools, and he’s got the demeanor as well. Brandon Nimmo, it seems, is making his case for future favorite player.
But I’ll deal with that when we get there.
For now, we had more immediate concerns to deal with. We lost, our regular season ended, and the three-day, heart pounding wait commenced. In the meantime, I listened to the end of Vin Scully’s call of the Dodgers and Giants, then scrolled through each game in progress, listening until each ended, then moving on to another.
We’ve got postseason baseball coming up, but the regular season is a whole different animal. The regular season is where fans are made. Only during the regular season can you flip from one game to another, mindless of who’s playing or whether they need to win, worried only about listening, one play after another, as a game takes shape. So that’s what I did.
One more day of pure, fun baseball; then the furious race to the finish begins. Who am I to waste this last opportunity? There are only so many games left that we’ll play; indeed, maybe just one. Even if the season turns out better than any Mets season anyone has ever been a part of, after today, we’ll play no more than 21 games. And if that should happen, we’ll be happier than we’ve ever been, but even then, it will be bittersweet.
Baseball is unfair that way. No matter how well a season ends, you can’t play anymore once it does.
So, load up on baseball while you can, which is to say, I did while I could, which ended a few minutes after the Mets lost. And that was it for the regular season. The next time we’ll hit that pleasant, relaxing rhythm of hey, we’ve got another game tomorrow, isn’t for six months. No matter how long you put that eternity off, it begins eventually, and better to have those few more memories of the season to look back on when it does.
But eventually you realize, as I did when I was 17 or 18, that the winter will pass — faster and faster each year, it seems — and Spring Training will start, and before you know it it’s Opening Day, and a team that looks mighty familiar to the one you last saw a few months ago is playing games again. And you want to ask yourself whether it can really be a whole new season since it feels like this very same team was playing only yesterday, but you don’t ask, because you know there’s no real explanation. You simply content yourself with knowing that once again, it’s baseball season, and if it’s not, then soon, it will be.
So farewell, so long, and off into that great unknown that is postseason baseball with you. We’ll be there every step of the way, and when those steps stop and real, true winter sets in, we’ll be there still. And even as one season ends, whatever should happen when the postseason commences, soon enough, it will be all too clear that Opening Day is once again right around the corner.