A Loyal Fan

I don’t make a habit of leaving Mets games early. I’ve done it only once in my life voluntarily. It was June 2012 in the Bronx; Johan Santana gave up three home runs in three batters early in the game against the Yankees, Elvin Ramirez couldn’t find the strike zone, and down 9-0 in the bottom of the eighth, I decided that leaving the stadium amidst a crowd of 50,000 rowdy, celebrating Yankee fans wouldn’t be in my best interests. Of course, the Mets scored their only run of the night the inning after we left, which only goes to prove that leaving early is never really a good idea.

But besides that game, and away from Yankee Stadium, I leave early only when I’m with someone who needs to leave early. Needs, not wants. I make it clear with every ballpark invitation I issue that leaving early isn’t to be taken lightly. You want to do it, you’d better have a damn good reason. I’ve stayed ’til the end every time I’ve been able, and along the way, I’ve done some waiting that might have been too much for a lesser fan.

Friday, March 23rd, 2014: a rain delay started in about the fourth inning of a game against the Diamondbacks. I stood there, in the upper deck and then on the field level, knowing full well that there was no way we would play, but waiting until it was official. The stadium was just about full when the game started, and still fairly crowded when the rain started; two hours later, it had emptied out. But at least the stragglers’ loyalty was rewarded; in the Flushing subway station, we told an MTA worker what had happened, and he radioed someone in charge to say hey, the Mets game just ended, Express service starts now. No, not two hours ago, that was just people leaving, it ended just now.

Or there was the time I waited, with my father and brother, fourteen innings in the cold shade of April 2014, for the Mets to beat the Braves. We were in the field level, but during the t-shirt launch at the 7th-inning stretch, we couldn’t catch anything. By the 14th-inning stretch — my first! — the stadium was so empty that we caught three or four shirts, wandering from row to row and gathering them up. And once again, the baseball gods rewarded the stragglers for their loyalty.

I’ve waited through thrilling wins like that one, and mind-numbing blowout losses, like this June, when we lost to the Pirates 11-1…and the Nationals 8-3…or last May, when we lost to the Dodgers 9-1…and the Nationals 9-1…and the Nationals 7-1…the blowout losses blend together until I can only remember them by the notes I’ve taken down in my log book (or its electronic equivalent, the MLB ballpark app), and yet, I keep waiting through them, hoping that one of these days, one of them will end well and all that loyalty will be rewarded, but knowing that even if it’s not, I’ll keep waiting anyway, because that’s what fans do.

At the first game I ever attended fully independently — bought my own ticket, made my own way through the New York subway system, paid for my own food and everything — the Mets were losing late. It was April 20th, 2013: we were up against the Marlins, and a young pitcher of theirs who was making his major league debut. His name was Jose Fernandez.

When John Buck struck out to strand David Wright and end the bottom of the eighth, people started filing out. In front of me, down near the field, a sign man was standing. A bootleg, not the original, although he did have a “sign man” jersey and a frequently rotating array of printed messages to display. Now, he was holding up a sign I hadn’t seen yet.

“Real fans stay ’til the end,” it said. And I wasn’t going anywhere. An inning later, Ruben Tejada was hit by a pitch, Kirk Nieuwenhuis singled, the runners moved to second and third on an errant throw, and Marlon Byrd drove them both home. And the real fans were there to see it.

Real fans stay ’til the end — it’s such a simple sentiment, and one that could be so obvious, but somehow, never holds true. People are always leaving. The seventh or eighth inning ends, and people head for the exits, no matter the score. Sometimes, there’s a reason, and even real fans can be excused for this; you have a child who’s fallen asleep, tomorrow is a school day, I’m going out to meet a friend. Sometimes, there’s a reason, but not a good one; the game is boring, the Mets are losing, the traffic is bad, the Mets suck. And sometimes, there’s no reason at all: people, it seems, have just taken to leaving baseball games, as if the rest of the game doesn’t matter and you’re only there to watch a few innings and then move on to another activity.

Sometimes, you have to leave. But the important thing is that real fans — real Mets fans — never want to leave. You leave for the kids, or for the parents, or for your friend who has to catch an early train tomorrow, or your friend who’s just tired. Leaving with a friend is a kind of loyalty just like staying until the end is, and it’s one of the few kinds that’s just as important. But leaving when it’s not absolutely essential — I can’t even imagine that.

It was 2004 the first time I was dragged away from a Mets game against my will. Heath Bell was pitching, and it was Shea, so as we walked toward the exit ramps, I got quick glances at the field each time we passed the entrance to a new section. I didn’t want to leave; even then, I had my priorities in order. I was crying as we drove away from the stadium, and my mom promised me that next time, no matter how long the game went, we’d stay until the last out.


Lots of things make Mets fans unique. There’s the connection I’m convinced is unparalleled; the personal investment in our team’s fortunes; the attachment to the club that lets itself out on twitter amusingly and sometimes downright alarmingly. But there’s also the loyalty. That may be what defines us. Because more than anything else, Mets fans are loyal.

They’re always asking us what makes a Mets fan, and we’re always telling them. But they never seem to believe us. We pour our hearts out explaining how we’re truer, bluer, and closer to our team than anyone else in the league, or the country, and at the end of it all, they scoff, or crack a Jason Bay joke, and we realize they were only laughing at us. We explain how much we’ve been through, and how, after it all, we still manage to troop out to the ballpark for another game, and somehow, it doesn’t seem to register at all.

Maybe that’s because every city and every fan base feels closer to their team than anyone. I certainly won’t tell fans of the San Diego Padres that we’re better fans than they are; that would be mean-spirited, and frankly irresponsible. Somewhere in San Diego tonight, there’s a kid listening to sports radio on a transistor under his pillow as he pretends to be asleep, hoping desperately that he’ll hear something about his ballclub. There are good, loyal, die-hard fans in every city that has a team, and some that don’t.

But that same loyalty could be exactly why Mets fans are different. Lots of fans of all kinds of teams are loyal because that’s how they are. Mets fans are loyal because we’ve become that way — after submitting ourselves to the grueling rigors of Mets fandom, we come out, whatever’s left of us, as bastions of loyalty to a team we love unconditionally. We have to, if we’re going to put up with the shenanigans they put on.

Really — how can you be a Mets fan and not be a loyal one? If you’re a Mets fan — that is, if you’re still a Mets fan — you’ve been through head-pounding, face-palming nonsense from all sides. From the owners — Bernie Madoff, Bobby Bonilla, Jeff Wilpon getting sued, Citi Field forgetting it was the Mets who played there. From the players — valley fever, refusing MRIs, taxi accidents, brawls with onlooking relatives. And from people whose names fans of ordinary teams don’t even know — Ray Ramirez, Mike Barwis, Jay Horwitz, Eric Langill, Charlie Samuels, Tony Bernazard — Tony Bernazard! Ordinary fans don’t deal with things like this, and Mets fans aren’t ordinary fans. If you’re still here after everything we’ve been through, you’ve proven your loyalty beyond a reasonable doubt.

I own lots of shirts from The 7 Line, but somehow, I don’t believe they have one with their slogan printed on it. If they do, I don’t have it yet. “Loyal ’til the last out,” it would say, loudly and proudly across the front. Which means: you can leave after the sixth, and grab some friends and go out for a drink, and you’ll probably have a lot of fun doing it. Or you can stay in your seat in the upper deck during a 12-2 loss, and watch a reliever with a 7.29 E.R.A. pitch to some hitter whose name you’ve forgotten on a team that doesn’t even matter. Both are fine options. But if you want to be a true, orange and blue fan, you pick the second option.


“Loyal ’til the last out” is good. It’s better than good; it’s great, and it’s essential. But it’s only a starting point.

Sometimes, it’s easy to be loyal ’til the last out, when everything is good and the last out is cause for celebration. It was certainly easy to refrain from leaving early in 2015, when usually, the last out meant we’d won. In winning seasons, even when the last out means one game hasn’t fallen your way, it also usually means that you can look forward to another win tomorrow.

Hell, even in a bad year, it’s easy enough to stay until the game ends. Well, it’s easy enough for me; usually, I find that ballgames, even the worst ones you can imagine, go by far too quickly. But even for people who find baseball dull — they really exist, and I can’t stand them — staying for the entirety of one game isn’t usually too trying a task.

Real Mets fans, the truest among us, are loyal to the last out, and then more. We’re loyal to the next week, the next month, the next season. If you’re loyal to the last out, or the next game, only so long as the Mets are winning…well, so long, it was nice to have you. Here’s some news: the Mets aren’t winning very often. We’re all still here. We’re not loyal to the last out — we’re loyal to the last breath. Morbid? Sure. But there’s nothing I can imagine turning off my devotion to Mets baseball, nor many of the fans I’ve encountered, so it seems fairly accurate.

The loyalty Mets fans have showed sometimes impresses even me — and I’ve showed it myself (I like to think). Think about it. Starting in 2004, we witnessed an almost embarrassingly bad trade of our hottest pitching prospect, a pitcher whose party-prone wife couldn’t handle New York, a pitcher who was disappointed but not devastated, a 3:00 a.m. call to the West Coast, a season wracked by injury after injury after injury, a new ballpark whose dimensions were a joke and whose aesthetics were almost nonsensical, several players who were so bad they defy description (Oliver Perez, Francisco Rodriguez, Luis Castillo), Jason Bay, a five-way race for the second-baseman’s job that landed on Brad Emaus — Brad Emaus! — and a first baseman who returned only to be named an HGH user, a star pitcher who threw a no-hitter only to injure himself by the end of the month and never pitch again, owners shedding payroll after being involved with the largest Ponzi scheme in history, a star third baseman who, in the midst of legging out an infield hit, injured himself and hasn’t been the same since, the antics of Jose Valverde and Kyle Farnsworth, Terry Collins making decision after decision that may have cost us a World Series trophy, a heartbreaking loss in a wildcard game, and another season that fell apart after multiple injuries, and turned into our worst season since 2009.

My head hurts reading and writing that. And yet I’m still here, Mets cap and jacket at the ready, hoping like hell that the offseason passes quickly so I can get back to Citi Field and watch Mets baseball again.

We’re all still here, for the same reason that we’re still in the stands in the ninth inning of a game we have no shot at winning: it’s still baseball. It’s still Mets baseball. We’re Mets fans. We watch the Mets, and we love every moment of it, even the ones that are really unbearable. What else are we going to do?


Why do we love David Wright so much?

Is it because of his offense? His defense? The way he carries himself off the field? His beautiful smile? Well, those all play their parts. But I don’t think any of them explains it in full.

It’s not just his offense or his defense: Mike Piazza had better offensive numbers as a Met, and lots of people have been better defenders. It’s not his gleaming smile: we’ve had — maybe — better looking guys than David (have we? I can’t think of any, but we must have). And it’s not just his off-the-field bearing: David sure is a boy scout, but we’ve had lots of those. David Wright is quite possibly the most beloved New York Met since Tom Seaver — why?

Well, maybe it’s because we know what loyalty means to us. We, the loyal Mets fans, appreciate loyalty too. We’ve sat through the bad hoping for the good, and out there, playing third or stretching out in the clubhouse or rehabbing his back and his shoulder, David has done the same. Really, he’s just like one of us: He stays ’til the end because he’s a Met. That’s what he is, so that’s what he’ll do.

Not to bash Tom Seaver, but David may be the most loyal Met in team history. When ownership got tired of the Franchise, Tom demanded a trade. When Fred Wilpon said that David wasn’t a superstar, David signed an eight year contract.

As a child, I looked at David Wright and saw a star, a legend, an icon. I look at him now, and I still see all that. But I see something else too.

David Wright is a Mets fan. There’s no other way to tell it. He opted to stay here, in Queens, at a discount rate, because he was loyal to this team. His team. He wanted to win a championship — he said as much. But he wanted to win it as a Met.

St. Louis Cardinals v New York Mets

David Wright, our captain and, it seems, our fellow loyal fan.

So why do Mets fans love this? Because we’re loyal too. David’s here to stay. So are we. And we respect that. Just look at David’s remarks after he signed the contract that was all but guaranteed to make him one of the longest tenured Mets in club history. He’s talking straight to the most loyal of the fans.

“I can honestly say I’ve never pictured myself in a different uniform,” he said, echoing what we fans think all the time, especially when someone’s asking what we’re doing rooting for a team that makes us pull our hair out. I’ve never pictured myself in a different uniform either; I’ll wear the orange and blue, with as much pride as I can muster, whether there’s anything to be proud of or not. And David Wright echoed that, when he said, at the same press conference, “I knew this was where I wanted to be. It made the decision pretty easy. I think that my friends and family knew that putting this uniform on was important to me, start to finish.”

He knew this was where he wanted to be; so did I. So do all the fans who wait out the ninth inning of an unsalvageable game because it’s a few more minutes at Citi Field with our guys. And putting on the uniform is important to us too.

There’s another quote that I remember, maybe from the same press conference, but I can’t find the source. It seems like something David would say, though, so I think I have it right. It’s pretty simple; in fact, I can only remember the first half.

“I’ve been through some good,” he says, “some bad, and a whole lot of ugly.” Then he goes on to explain that good things are coming, and he’s going to keep working hard, and eventually, all that work will pay off. And as you listen to something like that, it becomes clear.

David Wright is more than our captain, our third baseman, our star, our favorite player — he’s all of us. He’s every Mets fan. And there he is, sitting in the upper deck in a game that hasn’t gone his way, not leaving, but looking forward to tomorrow, or next month, or next season, when maybe fortunes will turn his way again. But I get the feeling that he’ll be here with us regardless. We’ll be here to watch, no matter how the season’s going, and he’ll be here to play. He’s a Met. We’re Mets fans. What else would he do?


A Lid On Old Memories

I’ve been reading Garrison Keillor’s column in the Washington Post lately; maybe you have too. You should be, because it’s a gem, nothing more or less. There’s something about rhythmic, lyrically arranged words on a page or a screen that makes your mind relax and your heart smile, and soon the day passes you’re saving your files and gathering your things, happy to be heading home.

I found myself thinking, the other day, about time travel. I’m no scientist, and this wasn’t a pipe dream or science fiction; this was a column Garrison Keillor wrote the other day, or the other week, about spaces where time doesn’t pass. The Grand Central Oyster Bar, he wrote. I would add: Fenway Park, Strand bookstore on 12th Street, the den when my brother and my father and I watch The Honeymooners, and maybe the beach we used to go on Summer weekends, before life got in the way.

I’d just gotten home from Washington for Thanksgiving; I was on my way out the door, in a Porzingis jersey, to see the Knicks. My girlfriend, Emily, was there too; she’d just gotten in from Michigan, and she was wearing a Porzingis jersey, on her way out our door to see the Knicks. I was rummaging around on a shelf in my closet, looking for a Knicks hat, but never quite finding the letters or logos I wanted, even though there was plenty of orange and blue. And that’s when the time travel started.

I picked up my Shea Stadium cap, limited edition, one of only 144 ever made, constructed from baseball leather with red stitching, and it was the end of the 2014 season. We were mediocre, but on the upswing. I was in a hotel room in Boston on Saturday night, and the next day, as our season was ending, I walked around Harvard Yard and then went to Fenway Park and saw the Red Sox play the Yankees while I wore a Mets shirt. Talk about time never passing. I never wear that cap; it’s mostly ceremonial. I put it aside.

A group of caps took me back even further. The old Veteran’s Day camo, my first classic blue and orange, the interview cap with stylistic rips on the brim, the orange-brimmed alternate that David Wright wore when he announced his re-signing…it was December 2012 or so, and I was in the process of becoming independent. I bought the caps my heroes wore, or the ones that looked good…either way. For the first time, I was buying my own tickets, going to my own games, filling my own metro cards. And it felt good, even if Frank Francisco at the back end of the bullpen didn’t do much to fill any seats besides mine. I lingered on those caps for a while, but I was still looking for a Knicks hat, so I kept rifling through.

I kept finding different caps and different memories. There was my green cap, the time I forced my way through St. Patrick’s Day Parade traffic to make it to the Mets Clubhouse Store; my updated classic home blue, with the 2015 World Series patch; the rest of the caps from the 2015 postseason, remnants of a hopeful, fist-pumping few months that has yet to come to full fruition; a battered, dusty black cap that I bought at a Lids in New Hampshire in July of 2011, during one of the most interesting weeks of my life. I didn’t find a Knicks hat, but I did remember all the Mets caps I’d been missing.

I don’t have a Mets cap in Washington. I forgot to bring one, or we didn’t have space in the car; really, it could have been anything. It probably didn’t seem consequential, at the time. I wear a suit four or five days a week, and on the weekends I’m here and there, back and forth, and nobody seems to notice what I wear. But you remember how great it is to wear a Mets cap, when you wear one for the first time in a while; the slight, tight pressure around the side of your head (7 1/4 fits pretty snugly when my hair is long, as it is now in anticipation of winter), is a constant, comfortable reminder that you’re a proud Mets fan, and the entire world can see it. You can feel the orange and blue, or the “Mets,” or the cartoon Mr. Met, shining out at the world, and you know that whatever else may happen, you’re happy to be yourself. So I’ll be bringing a cap back to Washington with me, or maybe a few.

We saw the Knicks, and then it was Thanksgiving, and then we saw the Rangers, and they were two great wins. Then, Saturday night, we saw School of Rock, the musical, and it was a win as well. We fought our way through Times Square crowds for eight blocks because the 50th Street Subway Station was closed, and finally we got on the express uptown and got out at 96th Street and went to find a diner. As we were walking, we passed a man I didn’t know, wearing a thick blue jacket with a hood, and under the hood, I could just see the bottom of an orange NY.

I don’t even know what it was; his clothes, or the way he was walking, or the temperature outside, or something. But suddenly it was 2004 again, and I was just becoming a Mets fan, and I was noticing whenever adults or cool kids wore Mets caps, and the graphics at Shea were still stuck in the ‘90s, but were all the better for it. We got to a diner with walls covered in photos of old New York, but somehow, we sat near the front, and our walls were nearly bare, so my illusion didn’t waver, and for a while after that, I kept thinking about how it must have been in the early 2000s, when the Mets were a powerhouse that could never deliver, and when it was still okay to be a Mets fan, and we still had some names and some stars and some fun moments, but everyone realized we were sunk. Those weren’t exactly high points in Mets history, but it was fun to think about nonetheless, because there were scores of baseball memories to pore over, and outside, it was so cold it could have been snowing.

Then the night ended, and the new day began, and soon enough I was standing at Laguardia airport, waving goodbye and saying “See you in January” as Emily got on a plane back to Michigan. I took the  cap I was wearing off my head and looked at it, and it was one of the new ones, high tech fiber and all, and all of a sudden it was November 2017, and the Mets were coming off 92 losses and wouldn’t play again for four months. And that put me down for a second. Then I saw a plush David Wright doll in an airport store window, and bought it as a Christmas gift. The lights of Citi Field were just visible in the mirrors as we drove away from the airport, and towards the 2018 season. Maybe I’ll get a new cap then, and a season’s worth of memories to go with it. And as I’ve been learning recently, four months is next to nothing.


Get It Right the First Time

I haven’t made any secret of my qualms with the BBWAA. The organization has proven itself inconsistent, often misinformed, and almost indecently condescending to the fans for whom they write. There’s been improvement recently, as the world comes to accept advanced statistics and those who don’t slowly leave the BBWAA’s ranks, but the Hall of Fame’s voting body is far from perfect.

That’s why debate about Carlos Beltran’s future Hall of Fame candidacy began the moment — or perhaps, before the moment — he announced his retirement, and will continue until the day he is inducted or removed from the ballot. As CBS Sports reported this week:

Whenever a high-caliber player retires, the obvious question that follows is whether or not they will be inducted into the Hall of Fame once they become eligible. With Carlos Beltran announcing his retirement on Monday, thus ending a 20-year career that was capped by his first World Series victory, this represents as good of a time as any to take a look at his candidacy.

The short version is that Beltran has a legitimate case for enshrinement. The long version is that Beltran has a legitimate case for enshrinement, but could become a polarizing figure on the ballot.

Sure, Beltran never reached 500 home runs, 3000 hits, or an MVP award. But as we’ve come to learn, those numbers don’t matter. Carlos Beltran belongs in the Hall of Fame. The BBWAA, I think, will recognize this — eventually — but it’s worth going over just how strong his case is.

Here is a list of players with 400 career home runs and 300 stolen bases: Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Alex Rodriguez, and Andre Dawson. Four Hall of Famers. Oh, and Carlos Beltran, whose numbers are equal to or better than Dawson’s in almost every conceivable way, both traditional and sabermetric.

Andre Dawson: .279/.323/.482, 438 HR, 314 SB, 64.5 WAR

Carlos Beltran: .279/.350/.486, 435 HR, 312 SB, 69.8 WAR

And, of course, Beltran did it as a switch-hitter. Can you name another switch-hitter with 400 home runs and 300 stolen bases? Me neither — tell that to the next person who says that Beltran “didn’t make his mark on the game,” or whatever the argument is these days.

And let’s not forget about Beltran’s other claim to fame: his postseason numbers. Looking at Beltran’s playoff career, compared to other players of his caliber, he becomes even more impressive:

Beltran: .307/.412/.609, 16 HR, 11 SB

Dawson: .186/.238/.237, 0 HR, 2 SB

Mays: .247/.323/.337, 1 HR, 3 SB

Bonds: .245/.433/.503, 9 HR, 9 SB

Rodriguez: .259/.365/.457, 13 HR, 8 SB

So, for those of you keeping score at home: Carlos Beltran has better postseason numbers than several of the greatest hitters of all time, is the best power/speed switch hitter of all time, has better career numbers than an already-enshrined player of identical type, and, lest we forget, won three Gold Gloves. So, if you’re going to argue that Beltran didn’t do enough to merit Hall of Fame induction, I have one question: what more does a power/speed switch hitter need to do?


Good Enough to Dream

This being the offseason, and the Mets being the Mets, it’s no surprise that we’re simultaneously being treated to A) rumors that the Mets are in on all the hottest free agent commodities, and B) explanations as to why these rumors cannot possibly be true. It’s a tradition about as old as free agency itself, which encompasses names as varied as Michael Bourn, Aroldis Chapman, and Norihiro Nakamura. But this time, it’s different — the rumors are even more salacious than usual, and even more enticing.

It’s hard to look at Shohei Otani and see anything but greatness. He’s 23 years old, has pitched like a superstar in Japan for the last three years, and is an offensive force. He’s been called the Japanese Babe Ruth, but that seems an insult to his physique, if nothing else. Shohei Otani is the real deal — you don’t need to look at a list of suitors (which is, for the most part, just a list of every baseball team) to know that.

That’s why it was disappointing when, during the 2017 season, the Mets neglected to send a scout to watch Otani in person. And it’s also why it was pleasantly surprising, and vaguely electrifying, to wake up to this reporting from Newsday:

Mets officials know that the competition will be fierce for Japanese megastar Shohei Otani. They begin the process with the understanding that they’ll likely be long shots to win a battle that includes most every other team in baseball.

Yet, general manager Sandy Alderson on Wednesday did not hide his level of intrigue in Otani, the pitching and hitting dual-threat star who has been hailed as the Japanese equivalent of Babe Ruth.

“There’s still a lot to be learned to be in his situation and how it potentially will unfold,” Alderson said before departing the general managers’ meetings. “But to sit here today and say ‘no, we’re not interested,’ would be foolish.”

Several things are obvious, right off the bat. There’s no chance, none in the world, that Shohei Otani lands in Queens, except maybe at Laguardia Airport on his way to the Bronx. The Mets have played this game before, recently enough that we can all remember it: as far as I can remember, the Mets have expressed moderate interest in roughly every high-level free agent ever, and as the record will attest, our success rate has been far from optimal.

But I’m a Mets fan — aren’t we all? I’ve learned to get over past disappointments, and forge on into tomorrow still expecting the best. With this team, after all, getting over past disappointments isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. And we know it, and they know it too — why else would this ludicrous, infeasible interest in Shohei Otani be making the rounds just as the winter starts to get cold, if not to jog interest in a fanbase that’s proven itself gullible time and again?

Well, maybe there’s another reason — and here, gullible time and again comes into distinct focus. Maybe it’s real. Maybe, this time, it’s the real thing.

Time for some disclosure: I’m all-in on Shohei Otani. I can’t think of anything I want more than to see him wearing the orange and blue in Queens next March. Do I like the homegrown group of talent we’ve cobbled together? Sure — who doesn’t? But I also liked 2006, when we put together a team of overpaid free agent superstars and kicked opponents to the curb every night. Maybe 2006 was too much of a good thing, as 2009-2014 indicated — but there’s got to be a balance. And in that balance, right in that grey area that’s not too organically assembled and not too dream-teamy, Shohei Otani is waiting.

We can tweet and comment and grouse as much as we like about how we’ll never see the likes of Shohei Otani again, but what we’re unable to do is conceal just how much we want him. How much we want a superstar who’s sold out the stadium before he’s thrown a pitch, a player whose jersey starts appearing all over the five boroughs you can’t help but be excited. An established superstar, with nothing to prove and everything to show off. It’s been a while since we’ve had one of those, and I’d say the time is ripe for another.

And I know, there’s no chance in hell that it happens. But consider this my formal plea. Mets management: give us hope. Give us a spark. Give us a reason to get out of bed in the morning, and give us something to dream about at night. Give us a wing, a prayer, and a rocket powered arm.

Give us Shohei Otani. And let the dreaming commence.


Just a Bit Outside

Alex Bregman stood at the plate, his team down three runs, two men already out, facing a 1-2 count against the best pitcher in the world. I don’t know what was going through his head at that moment, but here’s what he was not thinking: next close pitch I see, I’ll let it go. Everyone knows that; its the first thing they tell you in little league. Better to go down swinging than looking. Bregman couldn’t even be sure what the strike zone was: the first pitch of the at-bat, he’d taken a curve inches off the outside corner for a called strike.

Joe Buck was talking about Clayton Kershaw’s command, but Bregman couldn’t hear him. He just waited, waited, standing silently in the batter’s box as he tried to out-think the Dodgers’ ace. “He’s one out away from breathing easier,” Joe Buck said.

Kershaw wound. He fired. It was a changeup, coming in at 88, off the outside corner at the knees, a pitch you just can’t help but ground weakly back to the pitcher. Bregman knew this. He knew that it might be strike three. And he knew that if he reached base, Jose Altuve would follow. So his bat didn’t leave his shoulder.

Austin Barnes caught the ball, and the crowd gasped, the kind of purely involuntary group reaction you just can’t avoid when everything’s on the line. But Bill Miller didn’t move. The pitch was outside. The count was 2-2. And Barnes tossed the ball back to Kershaw.

Suddenly, Buck was worried. “Look at the pitch count for Kershaw, up to 90,” he said. “You get the sense that this is going to be it.” Bregman hit two foul balls. He took a fastball outside for ball three, and a ball in the dirt for ball four. Out came Dave Roberts, and in came Kenta Maeda. Six pitches later, Jose Altuve, at bat as the tying run, launched a ball down the left field line. It landed in the seats, foul. But the next one didn’t.


Shea Serrano published a charming piece this morning on The Ringer, entitled “A First-Time Baseball Fan’s Guide to the Craziest World Series Ever.” Serrano had never watched baseball, he said — never, until this series.

“Baseball (I’m told) is made up of 1,000,000 tiny moments that are all monumentally important,” he wrote. He described his favorite one of those moments, Brad Peacock’s throw to third in the top of the seventh off a Kike Hernández sac bunt, to nab Justin Turner after a leadoff double, as Brian McCann shouted “three!” in the background. “If I ever become a real and actual baseball fan,” he said, “it’s going to be because of little things like that.”

Bregman’s 1-2 take wasn’t exactly his highlight of the night. About three hours later, he drove a line drive to left that brought home Derek Fisher ahead of Andre Ethier’s throw, and the Astros won game five. With Justin Verlander ready to take the hill in game six, Bregman’s hit gave the Astros as good a chance as any to take home a World Series trophy.

But walk-offs just happen; they happen, then they’re over. They’re not like the other moments, much harder to see but so much more rewarding to appreciate; moments, like Peacock firing to third, or Bregman laying off a change-up a few inches outside, that keep echoing after they’re over, and leave signs of their presence long after the next batter has come to the plate. Alex Bregman could have taken a swing at the 1-2 pitch, that for all he knew might have ended his at-bat, but would have been better than going down looking. But he didn’t. And then, all those hours and innings later, he finally took that swing, this time not off the greatest starter in the world but maybe the best reliever, and won his team the game.

Which was more important? You tell me. Probably the walk-off. But this is why it’s impossible not to love baseball: even at the end of October, in a game 1400 miles from home, with the happiness or devastation of millions pending on the outcome (“This game will be heartbreaking for one of these teams,” Joe Buck noted at one point — correctly, in my view), we can look back, in a day, a week, or twenty years, and remember the time that Alex Bregman got the walk-off hit — but we can also remember the time, earlier that same game, he did nothing, and in the seemingly inconspicuous process, set the gears of baseball in motion, and ultimately set the stage for a dramatic, triumphant moment five innings later.

A million little moments, each and every one monumentally important, all coming together to present the final product: a baseball game, and an instant classic at that. And look: there’s another game tomorrow, and more quirky, nonsensical, beautiful moments to look forward to.


Blue Moon of October

So, the Red Sox are sunk. This happened the other day, as I was following along, quietly hoping for a win but knowing strictly based on intuition that this wasn’t the kind of series for it. The Sox were the kind of team they always were; tough, gutsy, full of players you love to love. Just not, it would seem, a team meant for playoff greatness. Even when they seemed good, in hindsight it was always clear, at some subconscious level, that they weren’t good enough.

Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks have lost in three straight, as seemed inevitable for that kind of team. What do the Diamondbacks have going for them? Sure, they’ve got Paul Goldschmidt and J.D. Martinez (my candidate for N.L. MVP!) anchoring the lineup and Zach Greinke and Robbie Ray and all kinds of successful roll players you tend to find on teams with 93 wins. But are they really a winning team? Were they the kind of team to go on a magical, improbable run, dethroning the presumptive pennant-winning Dodgers in the process? The answers are maybe, and certainly not. The Diamondbacks were good, but they weren’t special — and good doesn’t always cut it. Certainly not when the Dodgers rotation is involved, at any rate.

Meanwhile, the Cubs and the Nationals continue to jockey for a spot in the championship series; the Nationals having never won a playoff series, game five later today takes on a special emotional significance to those who can recall Jonathan Papelbon choking Bryce Harper in the dugout; that is to say, Mets fans. The Cubs on their own are an easy enough team to root for: their World Series win last season brought joy to a city that had been lacking for far too long, and their cohort of young, seemingly-affable talent, with elder statesmen thrown in every now and again to provide the balance that playoff teams so often display in abundance. The Cubs are a likable team; that much is hard to doubt. But they’re certainly not the team they were last year, as their trouble in dispatching the Nationals demonstrates: even against an ailing Stephen Strasburg, the Cubs mustered nothing. Whether that augurs well for game five, I couldn’t tell you. That’s baseball.

Likable as they are, though, the Cubs affability can’t help but diminish in the face of their tepid play: they’ve allowed the eternally loathsome and veritably mediocre Nationals to hang around in a series that should be long gone. The Nationals are like the Sox without the heart: they’ve got the talent, but there’s nothing special there: the nothing is emphatic. There’s no heart down in Washington, no zing, no fire: the Nationals are nothing more than a group of highly talented baseball players doing well because they’re good. I’ve been to two of their games in person; jostling for position on the train ride home was more exciting, and maybe louder. If the Nationals should win the series, and send the Cubs to an early and surely painful offseason (nobody likes an early exit after a big year; just ask Mets fans about that), I will momentarily reflect on the sad truth that they will no longer have never won a playoff series, and a prime line of mockery against their scant fanbase will be moot. Then I will look forward, and contentedly anticipate their demolition, a process I expect will be nothing more or less than absolute and systematic destruction, at the hands of the Dodgers. The bums, no longer in Brooklyn and far less special for it, aren’t exactly a Cinderella team themselves, but they’re good enough to win anyway. They’ve got the character of the Diamondbacks, and far more than that of the Nationals, and what’s more, they’re simply eons more talented.

And of course, having beaten the Red Sox, the Astros wait in Houston to start their championship series against the Yankees, who I worry can’t possibly lose even as I reassure myself can’t possibly win. The Yankees have all kinds of series, and can announce which type they’ll play at any time, in any manner: just as it is eminently possible that the Bums (used pejoratively) from the Bronx storm out to a lead in game one and never look back — in fact, I often lie awake late into the night, contemplating this fearful possibility — I can only too easily remember the 2012 ALCS, when the Yankees stormed in after a rollicking Division Series and lost to the Tigers in spectacularly unimpressive fashion. The Yankees teams were different, and the opponents even more so, but the fact remains: any and all possibilities remain in play.

That’s what happens in playoff baseball, when great hitters lose their touch, aces’ fingers betray their minds, and slick fielders develop a drag to their glove hand. Baseball in October brings out the best in some, the worst in others, and nothing in particular in most: where each of these will come from depends almost entirely on which particular October it is. In October 2017, there’s still half a month and change remaining: what happens, and which names will be remembered, and how, is entirely up to the players on the field, and the skippers in the dugout. That’s the magic of October, even when your team has gone home for an early winter break: it’s nothing more than a 30 day blitz, a high-speed hodge podge of news and development and analysis and “wow, you think so?” Because that’s baseball for you: anything can happen, and often, it does.

So, onward we go, on to tense nights and tired eyes and glasses half full, left forgotten on the window sill as the game continues into its fourth hour and it feels wrong to get up and fill your water. It’s the National pastime in October, showcased at its finest: it’s playoff baseball. Buckle up and let the best team win. Just let the Yankees lose first.


Going to the End of the Line

Editor’s note: I originally wrote this for Faith and Fear in Flushing, the best darn Mets blog there is. A few days having passed, here’s my report from Philadelphia on the final day of the 2017 Mets’ season, in all their abysmal glory.


“Philly, coming up! Twenty minutes to Philly!” called the conductor from behind me as he barged through the car, snatching up seat tags as he went. So I marked my place in my Hunter S. Thompson collection, packed it up in my bag, and started getting ready to watch the Mets season end.

I still wasn’t sure how it would feel. 2017 had been a season of mixed emotions, of deep ties and bitter disappointment. When it started, I was closer to my team than ever: for the first time, I made the pilgrimage down to Spring Training. I saw Jose Reyes smash extra-base hits; Matt Harvey pitch like he didn’t during the regular season, which is to say well; I got to watch the Mets bullpen up close (literally, from the front row down the left field line); and I saw Lucas Duda smash a three-run homer off Adam Wainwright. I also — and I’m one of few people who can say this — saw Tim Tebow in a Mets uniform, and watched him face off against Max Scherzer. Even if you don’t remember it, you can probably guess how that went.

Then came Opening Day, where I was as invested as I’d ever been; a promising start, that had me salivating over a division title; some Terry Collins bullpen blunders, and a slide into mediocrity that seemed never to end, but only to vary slightly in grade. But still, this was my team. Even as we shed talent for minor league relievers, I dutifully learned their names. As starting pitchers came and went (Milone, Pill, Wilk, Flexen), I kept track of their accomplishments. My interest waned every so slightly in mid-Summer, as it always does when I’m essentially isolated for eight weeks, but it was back in full force as August came to an end, even as we stood no chance in hell of achieving anything worth writing home about.

And now, here I was, pulling into a train station in Philadelphia to watch the end of a season that seemed like it hadn’t really started. I certainly didn’t know how I would feel when it was over.

I had to find my way to Citizens Bank Park first, which should have been easy. You could say it was, in that I followed the directions and they led me to the ballpark; but the trip wasn’t exactly efficient. I spent enough time waiting on the platforms for my two trains to decide that if train service in Philly was this slow, I would avoid the city like the plague — as if I needed another reason. But I made it to the park, and climbed off an escalator and out of the subway station to find a bright blue sky, with only the slightest hint of Fall in the breeze reminding me that this wasn’t just any other game in June.

A family with two young children ambled on behind me as I walked toward the park. Maybe the kids saw me; maybe it was just their attitude. “Boo, Mets!” they were chanting. “Go, Phillies!”

It was Closing Day for them too, I thought to myself. Almost certainly, they weren’t old enough to realize; much more likely, they’d scratch their heads one night in early January and ask, “Why isn’t there any baseball?”

“There’s no baseball in Winter,” one of their parents would reply, and they would laugh and move on, because you can do that when you’re young.

I scanned my ticket, and accepted the 2018 Phillies schedule that an usher handed it to me. I gave it a perfunctory scan as I made my way to my seat, and found the 19 NYM squares, which were the only games on the page that I cared about. Well, besides the one in front of me; all technicalities aside, and despite what Twitter was telling me, it wasn’t 2018 yet.


Citizens Bank Park, I decided as I looked around before first pitch, was nicer than I’d expected. I’d been anticipating a droll, heartless ballpark befitting the Phillies, but this place was just pleasant. The red brick construction in the outfield, with retired numbers painted in red, gave the place a kind of rustic charm, and the flowers and ivy on the outfield wall added the color that some ballparks are missing. The enormous outline of the Liberty Bell complemented the park’s aesthetic, as did the light towers rising above the upper deck, painted an almost rusted reddish-brown. I’m still not quite sure what they evoked — it wasn’t the golden age of Ebbets Field, but it was something like that.

Now, the Phillies were taking the field, and I focused on Chris Pivetta, their starting pitcher. His ERA was 6.26: just the kind of guy, I thought, who would, if history was any guide, completely and inexplicably shut us down. Nori Aoki, the guy who, as I’ve come to describe him, is a better James Loney than James Loney ever was, struck out, but Phillip Evans took a pitch in the gut and jogged down to first. After Brandon Nimmo, smiling down on the crowd from the scoreboard, popped up to short, up came Dominic Smith.

The two fans behind me, Phillies lifers the both of them, had been offering running commentary during the first few at-bats, which I was now hearing clearly for the first time. “Guy’s batting .201,” one of them said.

“Mario Mendoza,” replied the other, not deigning to add any qualifiers or clarifications, probably assuming that everyone would just understand him, which of course I did.

These fans spent most of the game learning about what had gone on with the Mets all season, and occasionally, stabbing me in the heart. “Did David Wright play a game all season?” one of them asked, out of the blue, as Matt Reynolds (“No relation to Mark Reynolds, I can tell you”) batted in the top of the second.

“No, I don’t think so,” said the other. I wanted to turn back, and tell him he was right, but then he continued with “he’s like Chase Utley,” and I didn’t have to hear where the comparison was going to decide that this fan wasn’t deserving of my insight.

There wasn’t much to see, throughout the first few innings, unless you were the kind of person enthralled by Mets minutia, so I was occupied. There was Gavin Cecchini (“Ketchini,” the Phillies PA guy pronounced it, as opposed to Czechini), who hit a softball-style slap single in the top of the second, after making a slick diving pickup in the first (“you gotta give that to him,” said one of the guys behind me, “wow”). Cecchini was having a day on the last day of the season, as players will tend to do the moment it becomes completely unhelpful. There was Rhys Hoskins, perhaps the Rookie of the Last Few Months, who earned the loudest applause I’d heard so far when he strode to the plate in the bottom of the first. Hoskins had hit 18 home runs in less than half a season, but his batting average had steadily declined from above .300 to .259 by day’s end. I listened to the cheering, and thought back to Ike Davis, and smiled. Then I thought even further back, to Mike Jacobs, and almost laughed at what Phillies fans were setting themselves up for.

And then, of course, there was Noah Syndergaard, pitching beyond the first inning for the first time since April. Watching Thor’s warmups, I started to get nervous; maybe it had just been a while, but he didn’t look quite the same. His motion looked shorter, less natural. Then Cesar Hernandez stepped in, and Thor started him off with a fastball at 99 MPH, and I stopped worrying. An inning later, Syndergaard ended the second with a fastball with inhuman movement that painted the inside corner at the knees at 101 MPH, and I leaned back in my seat, satisfied that if nothing else, we had something to look forward to.


When I checked the news on Twitter after Thor ended his sparkling two innings, I saw that the inevitable had become official. Terry Collins was on his way out of the manager’s office (and headed for a front office job, but you have to think he’ll do far less damage from up there). Thus, what I’d already been looking forward to became the story of the game: each action Terry took had the potential to be his last in a Mets uniform.

After Thor left, Chris Flexen navigated the bottom of the third. He started the fourth, but you got the sense that he was tiring: he gave up a leadoff double, then with one out, walked Nick Williams (who?) to bring up Maikel Franco. Flexen had already thrown more pitches than a normal relief outing. I looked toward the Mets dugout. There was no sign of movement. I’d seen this movie before, and I knew the ending.

It was hardly even Flexen’s fault. But after Dan Warthen visited the mound in what would become his last move as pitching coach, things took a turn. There was a single up the middle, a sac bunt that Dom threw away, and then a slow grounder to first that Dom fielded perfectly, and flipped to Flexen. Flexen, unfortunately, was nowhere near first base. His face as he caught a flip he couldn’t possibly have anticipated, displayed close-up on the video board, was as succinct a summation of the Mets season as I’d seen. Then there was another RBI single, a clean hit this time.

Out came Terry. On the scoreboard, his expression was in plain view: he looked not so much like a deer in the headlights, as a deer uncertain what headlights are, but vaguely aware that they’re nothing good. As Terry waited for Kevin McGowan, I thought about the situation. Here was Terry Collins, in the last game of his Mets managerial career, standing on the mound in the middle of an inning that had gone to hell, making a pitching change four batters too late. And as I took this incredibly representative situation in, I couldn’t help but smile again.


A little while after McGowan had put the inning to bed, I got up for some food. I came back to my seat with Cracker Jacks and lemonade; some of the last I’d have of each, I figured, until late March. I didn’t miss any action — the Mets, it would turn out, didn’t have a hit after the fifth — but I returned in time for the seventh-inning stretch.

Out came the Phanatic, accompanied by a host of female Phillies employees, dancing to “We Are Family.” But this wasn’t just any game. This was Fan Appreciation Day, and something special was happening.

“Stop the music!” said the PA announcer. “To thank you for your support, the Phanatic would like to give the shirt off his back to one lucky fan…”

He undid his jersey, and, finding himself wearing nothing but green fur, launched into some nudity-based slapstick. I’m no Phanatic devotee, but it was harmless, and, indeed, funny; just the thing for Closing Day, when juvenility and innocence make one last stand against the forces of maturation and civility. The Phanatic shuffled off the field, covering whatever he had.

“If we were in New York right now,” one of the guys behind me said, “on the last day of the season, Mr. Met comes out and gives everyone the finger.”

The Mets, it seemed, were determined to carry out Mr. Met’s work: they were intent on giving the finger to every fan they had. After they went down 1-2-3 in the seventh, I attempted to strike a bargain.

“Two more shots,” I thought to myself. “Let’s just score one. Let’s get a run, make the season a few batters longer.”

Rafael Montero made his way through the bottom of the seventh, but in the eighth, we went down without a whimper. Montero came back out for the bottom of the eighth and walked the leadoff man. Pinch-hitting, Ty Kelly, of former Las Vegas fame, popped out, but Montero walked Cesar Hernandez. I looked towards the Mets dugout. No one moved.

“There’s no way this goes well,” I muttered.

A ground-rule double, an RBI groundout, a walk, and an inside-the-park home run that looked like it may have cleared the fence but no one bothered to check later, Terry Collins was back out at the mound, making a pitching change sane people everywhere had known he should have made four batters earlier. Terry’s earlier maneuver, I supposed, hadn’t been the last move of his Mets career: this was. But really, how much difference was there?


All too soon, the ninth came along, and we were down to our last three outs of the season. It was Amed, Plawecki, and Cecchini.

Amed, the shortstop of the future we’re all counting on, smacked a line drive. J. P. Crawford snagged it out of the air. One out.

Up came Kevin Plawecki, pinch-hitting for Jamie Callahan. The last time Thor had made a legitimate start, Plawecki had pitched the final innings; now, here he was, helping out the Norse god in a different way. Plawecki, the former first-round pick…Plawecki, once a solid minor-league hitter…could he pull something off?

It was his signature move, a slow three-hopper to short. Crawford threw him out. Two down.

Now, Cecchini (“Ketchini”). Once a prospect; now, a kid with a weird swing and an only slightly less weird future. He can field — can he hit? We’ll find out. Well, not today, because he hit another ball right to Crawford, and just like that, the season was over.

I made my way up the steps to the concourse, but stopped at the top and looked back. The Phillies were already shaking hands and slapping backs; the Mets, meanwhile, were nowhere to be seen. Eventually, it struck me that they weren’t coming out. They were in hostile territory and had just been demolished.

I turned away from the field and left. It was getting colder: there was a chill in the air that couldn’t have been there moments before. On the way out of the stadium, I saw a family of Mets fans, a son maybe eight or nine years old. He was wearing a graphic David Wright t-shirt, decorated with a big number five, but also David’s face, and outlines of his swing. I started to smile, and then I realized that the kid had no idea whether his hero would ever play again. I didn’t either. Suddenly, the air felt even colder.


It was past 10:00 by the time I got to my Metro stop, and finally got above ground. Now, it was genuinely cold. As I started on my way back to my apartment, stepping on dead leaves as I walked, I pulled my winter hat out of my pocket and put it on. The top half of my body was clad in orange and blue, but the hat was a departure: it was emblazoned, with the red, blue, and gray of the New York Rangers.

The season was over, and there was only one thing to do. When I got back to my apartment, I opened up my computer and checked my calendars. It all fit. So I texted my girlfriend.

“Hey,” I said. “You want to go to Opening Day next season?”

“Obviously,” she said.

And with that, I started my offseason by looking forward to the end of it, even after a 70-92 season that was the worst since I was barely five feet tall. The Mets come and go as the schedule decrees, but they never truly leave us. This same team that had me smiling in the midst of an absolutely embarrassing 11-0 loss will be back in 2018, and hell, maybe we’ll even be better. But whether we are or not, to me it hardly matters. Old seasons end and new ones start, but Mets baseball continues, no matter what kind of season it is. And come March 2018, whether we’re set for 61 wins or 101, I’ll be there to see it. Closing Day? What Closing Day? There was a ballgame today. And soon enough, there will be another one tomorrow.