New York On Sunday

There’s a day, every winter, when it becomes clear that cold days are on the way out, and day by day, baseball season is inching closer.  That day was yesterday, Sunday in New York.  A relatively unimportant calendar date; not a recognized milestone by any stretch of the imagination.   The hot stove was quiet; we hadn’t added a player or announced a big change; things were proceeding just about as they tend to during an offseason, or, in other words, painfully slowly.  But that old cliche is still true.  Sometimes, you just know.

At the north end of the reservoir in Central Park on Sunday, the Sun came out.  It may have been out before then, but that’s when I noticed it.  The air was no longer frigid.  The park, while no blissful Summer paradise, took on a brightness usually associated with June or July.  A few degrees warmer, and I swear I could have deluded myself into thinking it was Mets Jacket Weather.

January, 2017.  Two years ago, January 2015, I made almost exactly the same walk.  This time, it was a lap, starting and ending on the West Side.  That time, I walked from East to West, coming home from an interview with a Yankees fan.  The differences are superficial.  It was the same walk.  And the same thing happened.

That time, two years ago, the sun was out as I walked across the park, and I knew that baseball season couldn’t wait much longer.  This time, for the most part, was the same.  The sun was out, the worst of Winter appeared over, and it struck me that it was two weeks until first workouts, then a few more until games, then a few weeks after that until I would wake up early, filled with energy in a way that’s rare now that I’m no longer the young and restless kid I once was, knowing that later that day, we would play a game that would count for real.  Baseball, in short, would be back.  It was true then.  It’s even truer today.

I wore my new Mets cap as I walked.  The new caps have taken the internet by storm, or rather, the particular segments of the internet interested in such things; they are a combination of the alternate orange cap, which seemed new only yesterday and whose shine I’m still a fan of, and the classic blue background, orange letters.  Four winters ago, David Wright was introduced at the press conference for his new contract, and the new orange brims were worn in public for the first time.

Those caps, whatever the cap-interested public thought of them, are gone now.  The white-shadowed NY remains; the brim, however, is no longer orange, but blue.  Among the die-hards, the white shadow alone is cause for alarm.  The drop-shadow of the 90s and 2000s was poorly received, and in hindsight is even more reviled; is this too close to that?  Should we be making changes to our caps at all?  And, for that matter, what’s the deal with those road uniforms and caps with that strange combination of blue, orange, and light gray?

I didn’t think about that as I walked from East to West, enjoying the sun, little warmth though it actually provided.  My new cap was beautiful.  It still is; it’s on my head right now.  My new t-shirt, purchased at the same time, orange and blue NY on a gray background, is just as much so.  It’s only January — February soon, but still January.  And I’m already set for baseball season.  Well, I’m always set for baseball season.  But a new cap and t-shirt can go a long way towards giving a Sunday in January that special baseball feeling.

It’s fitting, I suppose, that this took place around 2:30 or 3:00 in the afternoon on a Sunday in New York.  In ten weeks exactly, we’ll be at Citi Field, hearing Bobby Darin’s old-time classic on the speakers while the smells of ballpark food drift through the air.  Well, actually, we won’t, because ESPN pushed that Sunday’s game back to 8:00 — thanks very much, ESPN, for ruining things that seem meant to be.  But regardless, Sunday afternoon games are as close to an essential part of the season as possible.

Sunday afternoon at the ballpark — a day in the sun, watching my ballclub, Citi Field’s vast selection up for grabs for lunch, and all in all, about as perfect an end to a weekend as possible.  And soon enough, it will all be back.

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Bobby Darin, all those years ago, was absolutely right.  New York on Sunday really is just what he says: a big city takin’ a nap, especially if the Sunday in question happens to fall in the middle of Winter.  New York was sleeping; the empty fields, paths, and tennis courts in Central Park made that much obvious.  But no one sleeps forever, and the sun always comes out eventually.  We’re a big city, takin’ a nap through this long long winter of an offseason.  But in New York, on a Sunday, just about as far from baseball season as you can get, I realized that our nap was quickly coming to an end, and that when we woke up, more quickly than we realized, there would be baseball.

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That Was Pretty Good

Hey you, you boys in orange and blue (to borrow and slightly paraphrase a British football chant that I’m told is quite popular).  It was some year with you fellas.  But having been through it, and come out safely at the other end, I think I can safely say that I’m in it for the long haul, and you’ll be around for just about as long as I can manage.

For the most part, everyone hated 2016, and not entirely without reason, although the logic behind blaming a temporal unit for the events that occur during it seems hazy at best.  But in Met land, 2016 wasn’t too bad.  Actually, it was pretty great.

We won 87 games in 2016.  In 16 other seasons, our Mets have exceeded or matched that number.  In 55 years of Mets history, we’ve won 87 games or more while making the playoffs only seven times.  So, yes.  2016 was pretty good, if you stuck with what you saw at the ballpark.

And even if it wasn’t: now, it’s over.  2016’s end came as 2017 began, which meant that the 2016 season’s end, which itself had come on a fly ball off T.J. Rivera’s bat, was receding into the past, as the beginning of the 2017 season, which, in all probability, will come with a Noah Syndergaard fastball exploding into the mitt of whoever we’ve got behind the plate that day, was itself drawing nearer.  It seems complicated; it’s not.  The last time it was 2016, there was no baseball left in the year.  Now it’s 2017, and we’ve got approximately a full season and then some before the year changes again.  A year with no baseball, to a year with as much baseball as you can have.  It takes neither Roger Angell nor a sabermetrician to tell you that that’s a deal you’ll take any day of the week.

So, the end of 2016, and 2017’s associated beginning, is unquestionably a positive step, both in terms of approaching baseball season and ending all the weirdness the former seemed to bring with it.  But let’s not pretend that 2016 was all bad, because before some things happened that turned 2016’s aftertaste sour, we had a pretty good thing going, especially if “we” is taken to mean those Flushing Faithful who remember Jesse Gonder and can recite the concession stands within Citi Field in order of wait time.  For a while, things got pretty good for us — those people.

For one, we had a team that was easy to love, and not only because of a 27-13 run.  We had quirky rookies contributing, heartwarming reunion stories paying dividends, superstars doing their things, and previously reliably ordinary players coming forward and making the season one to remember.  We had Matt Reynolds hitting a home run on 45 minutes of sleep, Seth Lugo setting a record for, basically, dirtiest curveball in a good few years, Syndergaard and Cespedes doing their respective things, Asdrubal Cabrera turning, for a month, into Ernie Banks.  On the field, 2016 had nearly anything we could have wanted, short of a World Series title we weren’t going to pick up anyway.

And then there was the year off the field — “behind the scenes,” I would call it, except that implies a certain celebrity that’s simply not present — at Shea Bridge Report.  I wrote more about the Mets in 2016 than ever before, and certainly than in any previous year.  I addressed what it meant to be a fan.  I summed up Mike Piazza’s induction to the Hall of Fame.  I attempted to express just what it was about David Wright that made him today and always my favorite player.

I can’t tell yet whether 2016 represented a turning point, a defining moment in the way I write and think about the Mets.  I think it may have; on the other hand, maybe it was just another year.  I don’t know yet; I may not for a while.  I’m not sure it really matters.  It happened; now it’s done.  Now we move on to 2017, and see what happens then.

2016, as years tend to do, featured good, bad, ugly, and downright inexplicable.  So we move on to 2017, certain only of the fact that we have no idea what will happen, or how.

Well, actually we can be certain of one more thing.  Soon, there will be baseball.  And that itself is reason to be happy in the new year.

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A Visit To MetLove Stadium

I love the Mets.  You know them, that pesky ballclub from Queens?  I’m in love with ‘em.

I was thinking this today — well, I’m always thinking this, but it came up today in particular — as I left Metlife Stadium and attempted to remember where we had parked and how to get there, and also to warm my hands.  Those are three problems you never have as you leave, enter, or spend time at Citi Field.  And hell, this was after a win.  It’s a damn good thing the Jets didn’t lose on top of everything else.

Leaving a stadium, like leaving a restaurant or a close friend’s house, should be a content yet vaguely bittersweet experience.  Hey, we’ve gotta split…yeah, this was fun, food was great, I’m really satisfied…wish we could stay a little longer, but we really gotta go…yeah, of course, we’ll do this again soon.  Leaving a stadium, you’ve seen what you came to see, but wish it hadn’t ended so soon, and that you could just hang around in your seat a few more minutes, finish off a packet of cracker jacks, maybe a souvenir soda.  You’re content, in other words — you wish you weren’t leaving, but you’re glad you got to be there as long as you did.

Metlife stadium is almost the opposite.  Maybe that’s why I’m not a football fan, or maybe it’s because I’m not a football fan.  Either way, Metlife Stadium, despite the uncharacteristically compelling game played on its turf and its superb services, amenities, perks, etc., simply was not the place to be.

It was cold; too cold, in fact, to waste any time talking about the game we’d just watched or where the Jets would go from here.  The Jets’ season was over, and it was a far cry from the happy, perked-up, “at least we’re here” ending of seasons like the 2014 Mets’.  The Jets have no hope in sight, and everybody knows it.  And what’s more, they let on that they know it, and let it show.  There’s no hope in Metlife stadium.  There’s anger and passion and debate and happiness when the Jets score a touchdown, but no one’s making any bets on the future.

Too often, that’s been true of the Mets as well.  We didn’t have much hope as the 2012 season wound down.  We had David Wright at the top of his game; Matt Harvey throwing bullets; Ike Davis slugging down the stretch; R.A. Dickey closing out the year with his 20th win and a Cy Young Award a few weeks later.  But still, we couldn’t win.  It was hopeless.  And sure enough, no improvement would present itself; we finished 2013 with the same 74 wins we’d had the previous year.

But honestly, who cared?  We had our team, whoever made up the roster, and we had our home building, and we had the fans all around us.  We had the familiarity of pulling on a t-shirt, a jersey, and our favorite cap, driving past Flushing Bay and turning into the parking lot, buying a program in the rotunda, and then studying the giant cards to see who was playing that day.  Who cared what would happen in 2013?  Why not be happy that we’d just won a game?  Why not be happy even if we’d lost?

Mets fans — or at least, many of them — seem, in a certain illogical and patently ridiculous way, resigned to happiness.  Even the ones you see writing angry comments, demanding we trade this guy or that, yelling about the payroll…what are they really angry about?  It’s not players, or wins, or dollar figures — it’s that they’re being forced to be happy about these things.

You’re going to make me sit in the warm summer sun with a bunch of happy people around me, plenty of food, plenty to drink, cheering for my team on the field…you’re going to make me do that and not even put a good team forward?  Well dammit, Fred Wilpon, I guess I’ll do it.

A serious question — how unhappy, even angry, is it really possible to be while watching a Mets game?  I can answer that question on my own part: the angriest I’ve ever been while watching my guys play was June 9th, 2015, when Chris Heston threw a no hitter.  When the final out was recorded, I broke my Hunter Pence sign over my knee.

An older guy, somewhere in the mostly empty row behind me, chuckled.  He was wearing Mets gear, but he was smiling.

“One day, you’ll be glad you were here to see this,” he said.  Eventually, days or weeks later, I would find that he’d been right.  That game remains the angriest I’ve ever been in the aftermath of a loss — and subsequently, I’ve seen some pretty bad losses — and will continue to hold that spot, because win or lose, I just can’t get mad at the Mets.

So as I contemplated my love for the Mets while I walked across one Metlife Stadium parking lot after another, that’s what I was thinking of.  I’m always happy leaving Citi Field.  Walking down the stairs, coming out behind first base, weaving between people, walking past the fan bricks and the flower beds, slightly thirsty after ballpark food but feeling fine all the same, Mets Extra! (or whatever the postgame show is called now; the name still hasn’t changed for me) playing from the speakers on the rotunda awning, and then clambering up the steps to the subway station, moving quickly past the masses and turning right because everyone else takes the turnstiles on the left, getting on the super-express, and soon afterwards, arriving home, but before all that, always, always, turning back for one last glance at the ballpark.  The one last glance that says, ah, to hell with it, I love this team.

That, we’ll always have.  After a win or a loss, after a good season or 2007, when the future is bleak and when hope springs eternal.  That one last glance, looking back over your shoulder as you make your way into the subway station and knowing that whatever happened, and whatever will happen in the future, they’ll play again tomorrow…that’s what it means to love a ballclub.

We don’t have that right now.  The offseason cruelly continues, and shows no sign of abating.  But we’ll get through yet.  We’ll make it.  And after the months of waiting, we’ll find, as we always do, that the time we’re forced to spend apart only makes us love this team even more.

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