We’ll Remember Sam Haggerty

You probably know that MLB doesn’t let the Mets wear first responder hats on September 11th each year, but that wasn’t going to stop me. I’m an American and a New Yorker, after all, and a fan of the team that did once wear those hats in play, even if once wasn’t nearly enough. So I bought an FDNY hat, dark blue with red lettering, from the Citi Field promenade store, then took the stairs down to my seat just as the pregame ceremony was starting.

Hundreds of police officers and firefighters in uniform were lining the warning track, and just as I got down to my level, the music started. A video, then a moment of silence; the camera panning past one uniform after another, then the national anthem, performed by the Cops & Kids Chorus. Then I blinked a few times and bought a pretzel and made my way back to my seat, and it was time to play baseball.

September 11th, 2001, was my first day of pre-k, but besides the sense that all the adults seemed distracted, I don’t remember anything. My friend heard that there was an emergency, and set up all the model ambulances and fire trucks around a block tower he’d built. It wasn’t until a long while later that I heard about what had happened, at least as far as I can remember. I certainly didn’t remember what happened ten days later, on September 21st, when baseball came back to Shea Stadium. Two and a half years after that, give or take, a new baseball season started and I was finally old enough to focus full-time on the Mets, and I started remembering game results. But that hadn’t happened yet.

For me, it’s hard to find anything that doesn’t have some sort of association with the Mets. But I think most of New York has at least some idea of how much the Mets figured into the days after 9/11. Supplies in the Shea parking lot, players and coaches loading trucks…and then, of course, the Mets returning, Liza Minelli singing, Mike Piazza homering, and everything being okay, if only for a second.

I’d never been to a September 11thgame before, so I don’t have any reference point, but this one was exquisitely done. The pregame ceremony left me grinning and blinking, remembering all that we’d been through and proud of what we’d done. It was the perfect place to be. Baseball in early September, stands full of police officers and firefighters, flag flying over the outfield, a large, cold glass of lemonade. It doesn’t get any more American, in the best way possible, than that. And what’s more, I was sure we were going to win. It was a New York event. It was ours for the taking. Mets baseball in New York on September 11th is little more than a celebration of how much our city overcame, and how far we’ve come since. We weren’t going to lose.

I was even more sure one batter in. Amed led off, and he smacked a ball down the left field line faster than anyone could see. Immediately, I thought of Jose Reyes’ leadoff double in the last game of David Wright’s career. There are moments when when baseball comes to life, when the story takes off on its own and you know it can’t possibly be derailed. That was one of them, and this was another. We weren’t going to lose.

With one out, McNeil was hit by a pitch. Then he and Amed executed the most fundamentally beautiful double-steal I’d ever seen. Now the entire crowd could feel it. This was one of those games. Things were going our way. Ramos hit a grounder to second that would have been an inning-ending double play but for the double steal; instead, it brought in a run. J.D. Davis singled; McNeil scored. Frazier drove a ball over that damned Wall of Flushing. After a mound visit, Nimmo, too, put the first pitch he saw into the bullpen.

Even when things got dicey, the outcome was never really in doubt. Steven Matz walked the first three hitters, he saw in the second, then induced a strikeout and a double play. Of course, I thought to myself. McNeil hit a ball 440 feet into the Coca Cola corner. Obviously. In the third, Frazier hit another one. Why not?

You know how we’re almost always waiting for that one day when things just go right? We’ll be down 5-2 in the eighth, say, and we’ll put two men on, and you’ll think to yourself, all we need is three hits in a row to tie this game right up…but you know those three hits aren’t coming, because it’s just not our day? Today, finally, was our day. We recovered from 9/11, which meant the Arizona Diamondbacks weren’t going to present much of a challenge. Hell, the stands were full of police, and even the Diamondbacks know that the New York City Police and Fire Departments, on September 11th, deserve to see a win.

Diamondback liners found gloves. Ground balls came just when we needed them. Each time he seemed lost, Matz found himself — and then Familia, Sewald, and Bashlor did too. Two home runs each from Frazier and McNeil, two hits each for Nimmo and J.D. Davis, six shutout innings with seven strikeouts for Matz. To the bottom of the eighth, still 9-0. Game in the bag, uncertain as the Mets bullpen may often be. But then something interesting happened.

Mickey Callaway was subbing out his regulars for defensive replacements, and Sewald needed a pinch-hitter. Up came Sam Haggerty. 25 years old, just up from Syracuse, somewhat familiar to Mets fans for the video of his call-up even if, in general, he’s a complete unknown. He had already pinch-run, but now he was coming up for his first career at-bat. And in the stands, fans were standing and cheering.

I said that it didn’t get any more American, in the best way possible, than a ballgame with the flag flying. I was wrong. This made it perfect. Cheering for the perfect coming-of-age story, the American Dream’s American Dream…as Sam Haggerty stepped up to the plate to finally achieve the goal he’s been working towards all his life, I don’t know that I’ve ever rooted harder. Sam Haggerty had to get a hit. He had to make the night perfect.

He didn’t. He took two balls, fouled off two tough pitches, then swung through strike three. No perfection for Sam Haggerty — at least, not yet. But then Sam Haggerty walked back to a major league dugout and a major league manager slapped him conciliatorily, a major league batting line now to his name. The chance to watch the moment a player finally takes the ultimate step, and takes a major league at-bat…it’s a special occasion, regardless of the outcome.

Soon after Haggerty struck out, Tyler Bashlor inched his way around some erratic fastballs and closed the deal. We won 9-0, and moved within 2.5 games of the second wildcard. Jeff McNeil and Todd Frazier had 20 home runs each on the season. J.D. Davis was batting .305. Steven Matz got his 10th win.

I just missed my subway train at the platform in Times Square, and stood waiting for the next one. It could have been any day and any game, besides my FDNY cap and the pride that was running through me. Proud American, proud New Yorker, proud Mets fan. We Americans…for all our faults, sometimes we can do beautiful things, and on nights like tonight, baseball is a great example. Dreams come true, stories play out, cities find solace — all on a baseball field. Sure, it will end eventually, but the things that matter will stick with us. All games end and all seasons fall apart, but the memories…well, you might say we’ll never forget.

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The Lonely and the Strong

Welcome to Mets fandom.

It’s tempting to say that we just saw the Mets at their absolute lowest. But I wouldn’t be so sure. There’s always another step down, a further descent into hell. Yes, the Mets season is almost certainly — ah, to hell with it, certainly — over. But seasons have ended before. We’ve seen worse, unless we haven’t, in which case we will eventually. There’s only one rule when you follow the Mets, and that is that things can always get worse. See exhibit A: Paul Sewald. But I digress.

The crucial fact that we all should have understood long before tonight is that the 2019 Mets are Mets. Like all Mets teams, they’re cursed to fall prey to something or other. They’re good, but not good enough to defy the inexplicable weight that drags us down every year. This was always going to happen. We’re the Mets. Honestly, I’m surprised I’m surprised.

Sure, they gave us hints every now and again that maybe something was really happening here. Winning fifteen out of sixteen on things like Luis Guillorme pinch-hit home runs will do that. But there were always signs that we would fall back to earth. We lost every game that we seemed absolutely certain to lose, which in Mets parlance means that good as we may have been, we weren’t good enough.

You’re not telling me you didn’t have some doubt. When Mickey pulled Lugo, I doubted. When Sewald entered, and looked like Sewald, I doubted. When Sewald was followed by Avilan, and Avilan was followed by the 2019 version of Edwin Díaz, I doubted. And when Díaz did what Díaz does, I was absolutely certain. When there’s that much doubt, there’s really no doubt at all.

The fact that our hopes and dreams were just crushed by Kurt Suzuki is a damn shame — there’s no getting around it. But none of us, I don’t think, ever expected to get around it. We’re Mets fans. This is what we do. Yes, this one hurts. But at this point, who wasn’t ready for it?

This is what being a Mets fan is like, and if you weren’t ready for this, you will be soon enough. Our manager will make bad decisions. Our biggest acquisitions will founder and fail. Playoff pushes will come up short, or they’ll succeed and then end prematurely. Brandon Nimmo will pull his hamstring then ruin his back. Jeurys Familia will lose whatever he once had.

That’s Mets fandom. No one knows why, exactly — meddling owners? Cruel Gods? Lack of investment in player development? A Nolan Ryan jersey buried under the 7 train? But regardless, it happens, and it’s not going to stop. And it’s why Mets fandom is such a noble endeavor.

We’re the ones who go through this, and the whole world knows it. We don’t call ourselves the best fans in baseball the way Cardinals’ fans do — I live by the principle that one should always do the opposite of what a Cardinals’ fan would do — but it’s starting to seem that way. The rest of the country couldn’t survive what we’ve been through. We Mets fans — those who are left of us — are the superbacteria of American baseball fandom. Everyone else laughs at us. Because they know we’re stronger.

On Friday night, I’ll be back at Citi Field. I’ll wear a Mets jersey and a Mets cap, and I’ll cheer for our boys as if nothing was ever wrong. I’ll watch this great American game and root for this wonderful damnable team and get myself a hot dog and a beer. If I’ve ever been sure of anything, I’m sure that Edwin Díaz won’t ruin the Mets for me. We Mets fans, after all, are way too strong for that.

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