Although I didn’t want to, I rode a roller coaster last week. I was at Funtown/Spashtown in Maine, where the American Family comes to play, and in my capacity as a camp counselor, I was duty-bound to board an Arthurian coaster car with one camper who wanted to ride. We were dragged up a rickety wooden structure, hurled down the other side, then thrown back and forth like crash test dummies for three minutes. Then, all of a sudden, it was over, and besides being a little happier and a little more nauseated, I was more or less the same as I’d been before.
What I’m saying, I suppose, is that I was well-prepared for yesterday’s Trading Deadline, and now I am ready for what it looks like the Mets plan to throw at me: glimmers of hope, brief elation, confusion, discomfort, and eventually, probably, nausea. We’re in that place the Mets always seem to bring us, the place we allow ourselves to be led even though no one in their right mind would ever go there. It is August first and the Mets have decided that their best hope is to cobble together half a good team and blindly forge ahead. The roller coaster has left the station.
All we have done, in a literal sense, is swap out Jason Vargas for Marcus Stroman. I’m a fan of the move — Stroman can really pitch, and you always got the sense that Vargas, competent as he suddenly seemed, was a few bad bounces away from an implosion of unprecedented scale — but it’s not a complete game-changer. Our rotation is slightly better now, we hope, and our offense has been competent of late, and somehow the bullpen has too. “When we get Lowrie and Cespedes back,” you can imagine Jeff Wilpon saying gleefully, “it’s like adding two All-Stars to a team that’s already in the hunt for a playoff spot.”
But the team is the team, and but for Stroman and Bradley Wilpon’s old college buddy, it hasn’t changed much. Something has, though. Maybe it’s the mindset that comes with suddenly trading for Marcus Stroman in the midst of what is now a six-game winning streak, or maybe it’s the fact that since we started winning, our playoff odds have gone from near one percent to about 20. I’ll be honest: it feels right now like the Mets are in the early stages of making a run, which means that already, this season is something different.
J.D. Davis, my alt-rock favorite Met, is hitting everything he sees. Amed Rosario has been hitting like a star for a month. Michael Conforto is rock-solid. We’re winning even as Pete and McNeil slump, and when they come around our offense will be even better. Todd Frazier is — dare I say it? — not completely awful; Wilson Ramos is underwhelming but professional.
With Marcus Stroman in the mix, the rotation gives us a chance every game. If the Mets can cobble together quality stretches from a few relievers at a time, and if Edwin Díaz can show a little bit of that elite ability that he surely still has, the bullpen will hold down a lead every so often. It’s amazing how often I say this, but if things break right, we might really be onto something.
Of course, you don’t ride a roller coaster because it breaks right, literally or figuratively. A roller coaster is tangible, literal affirmation of the principle that the journey is more important than the destination. The journey is different in every amusement park, but the destination — the pavement at the exit, with the path that leads back around to the coaster entrance — is more or less the same. We Mets fans spend October to April on that path every winter, and come Opening Day, we’re back on the coaster, another journey, ready for whichever way it might throw us this time.
Let’s say we all like roller coasters (and honestly, if you’re a Mets fan, you probably do by now). We just added Marcus Stroman, an exhilarating, stomach-churning tight corner. We’ve won six straight, a slow climb towards a wild, unpredictable drop. This afternoon we go for seven, another small step towards the thrill of the ride. Each trade, each game, each at-bat is another twist thrown in, another sudden bump or screaming turn. We’re in the early stages of this ride, and we don’t know where it will take us, or high the peaks will be, or how low the valleys. But at the very least, this has happened: the season has gone, in a few weeks, from nothing at all to the very small start of a roller coaster that, hopefully, will get bigger and more nauseating by the day. So settle in.
I rode the Excalibur coaster in Maine with one camper, who was nauseous for the rest of the day. But he was thrilled that he’d ridden it. Beaten down by the journey, the sudden drops, the twists and turns…but so happy to have been along for the ride, even though the destination was the same as it had always been.