So Here’s How It Happened

I GOT OFF the plane around midnight and no one spoke as I crossed the dark runway to the terminal. The air was thick and hot, like wandering into a steam bath. Inside, people hugged each other and shook hands … big grins and a whoop here and there: “By God! You old bastard! Good to see you, boy! Damn good … and I mean it!”

It didn’t take long, the first time I read Hunter S. Thompson, to recognize a new favorite. This was a year and change ago, in January 2017, when I was looking through the syllabus for a class on Sportswriting and trying to find something worth reading. There was some Angell, some Plimpton, a few Bill Simmons columns. But then I came across a title I couldn’t ignore. “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved.” Well, you just know that’s going to be something interesting.

It was, sure enough. It wasn’t until later that I learned that this was a landmark piece of sportswriting and all writing, the birth of gonzo journalism and some of the most groundbreaking work of the century. But I loved it from the first time I read it. It was almost perfect. Favorites have a way of presenting themselves. You see them and you just know.

It is with that principle in mind that I write today, not as a reader but as a watcher of baseball and a Mets fan. I cannot say that I have a new favorite player, because until further notice David Wright remains a member of the Mets roster and his slot at the top of my list is guaranteed and without expiration. But I can say this much: the queue has a new member, who will be my favorite active player until the captain returns, and then, hopefully, for a long while after he hangs it up.

Among those who know me, this will come as no surprise. I’ve always been somewhat old-fashioned, in tastes if not in views. When I played baseball, I wore my socks high. The music I listen to is dominated by the years between 1953 and 1989. I have seen the entire Honeymooners Classic 39. And every once in a while, I still get upset that the Dodgers left. How old fashioned am I? Hell, it’s the name of my drink of choice, one that I’ve had only a few times in my life, but still bears an inscrutable attraction. And now I can make one with Jim Beam, Official Bourbon of the New York Mets!

Given Brandon Nimmo’s strict religiosity, combined with my complete ignorance of whatever he happens to believe, I’m not quite sure whether or not he’s allowed to drink at all. If he did, though, I have to think he’d enjoy an Old Fashioned, just as he wears his pants high and — I assume — enjoys old music and TV shows and at least the idea of Ebbets Field. And this is part of why, as you’ve inferred by now, Brandon Nimmo is quickly becoming my favorite Met.

Arizona Diamondbacks  v New York Mets

We all have our own tastes in favorite players. Mine was Mike Piazza, then he left and Reyes and Wright shared the honor for very different reasons. Then Reyes left and Wright took sole possession, and now Wright has been on the sidelines for what will be, on Sunday, two years exactly. So, at least until Wright’s rumored upcoming meeting with his doctor, someone else will fill the role. This is not automatic: for most of the time since David hit the DL two years ago, I have gone without a favorite active player. But recently, I realized that Brandon Nimmo was my favorite Met and had been for a while now, just about since Opening Day 2018. And this is strictly an emotional decision, so trusting my gut was the extent of my decision-making.

How did it happen? I don’t think it’s too hard to say. Brandon Nimmo plays the game the right way — not the obnoxious Chase Utley right way, nor the puerile Bryce Harper right way, but the real right way, the way the game should actually be played. He’s got all the exuberance of Reyes in his prime with the cerebral plate presence of David Wright at his best, and a smile that beats them both. He’ll steal a few bases, hit a few bombs, walk every second at-bat, hustling all the way.

And that smile, that godforsaken smile…it may not be hyperbole to say that Nimmo could have smiled his way into the hearts of Mets fans even if his On-Base Percentage was significantly lower than his current .423 mark. The smile is merely the most outwardly noticeable element of Nimmo’s larger approach to baseball: playing the game like a child. Having fun. Always hustling. Waiting for your pitch. Wearing the uniform right. And so on, and so forth…you name it, and Brandon Nimmo does it the right way.

“I can’t play being mad. I go out there and have fun,” Ken Griffey Jr. once said. “It’s a game, and that’s how I am going to treat it.” It’s nice to have a player to root for who’s not a pitcher, one you follow even more closely than the rest of the team, one whose every at-bat you follow pitch by pitch hoping for a hit, or in Nimmo’s case, a walk. It is even nicer to have one who is 25 years old and works the count to a tune of an OBP north of .400. And it’s nicer still to root every day for a player who plays like Ken Griffey Jr. and never leaves the children’s game behind. Brandon Nimmo is here, and he’s a heckuva ballplayer in every sense of the word. Let my fandom commence.

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