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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Culture Club

We should all be able to introduce ourselves amid resounding employer-generated fanfare when changing careers the way Brodie Van Wagenen did as he left superagenting and shifted into hopefully super general managing. We should all have the kind of top shelf opportunity available to us when we tire of succeeding in our previous career.

If Van Wagenen is pretty good let alone super as Mets GM, it won’t seem weird that this is what he’s doing or that he’s doing it for us. If Van Wagenen is miscast in his new role, the results will transcend the weirdness. For now, it’s still weird. If we’d heard of Van Wagenen prior to his appointment as general manager, it was as somebody trying to put the lucre in lucrative for his baseball-playing clients, negotiating on behalf of individual Mets and prospective Mets with the Mets organization. Now he personifies the Mets organization and we will perceive him as we perceived Sandy Alderson, Omar Minaya and all their predecessors. Many contribute to the construction of a baseball team. We focus on one man. Sandy’s gotta make a move. Omar’s gotta go. What on earth is everybody from George Weiss to Jim Duquette thinking?

What all those fellas had in common was they had been GMs for somebody else, or assistant GMs for the Mets, or some kind of executive within the infrastructure that pieces together a baseball team. Van Wagenen has been in baseball, but organization-adjacent. Think about those medical salespeople you see flitting in and out of doctor’s offices while you wait to be called into the examining room. Now think about that slickly coiffed salesperson suddenly greeting you on the inside, telling you to turn and cough.

Not a perfect analogy. There is none. It is weird. Yet it doesn’t strike me as unreasonable that the guy who brings the latest in high-end baseball personnel to the reception window of a baseball organization has framed himself for that organization as the latest in must-have material. I’ve sold you on pitchers. I’ve sold you on hitters. Now for something completely different, let me sell you on me…

It apparently worked on the Wilpons like Lyle Lanley’s promise of municipal makeover via monorail worked on Springfield. Brodie Van Wagenen sold himself to the Mets. The weirdness will take care of itself one way or another. I hope it takes care of itself with parades on top of pennants. I have no idea if it will, but that would be the optimal outcome of the Van Wagenen wager. The Mets are betting on articulateness, connectedness and intelligence piling high and deep enough to cover any gaps in job-specific experience.

There’s something to be said for articulateness, connectedness and intelligence. There are many current, former and deputy general managers out there. Most of them guide or have guided baseball teams that haven’t won championships. Thirty organizations, one championship per year…that leaves behind a lot of coulda-beens and wanna-bes not to mention used-to-bes. There’s only so much ultimate winning to go around, no matter how hard you try to cultivate it. There are, no doubt, many fine front offices dotting the baseball landscape, yet the only one anybody’s writing odes to this week belongs to the Red Sox. Last year it was the Astros who could do no wrong; the year before that, the Cubs. Reach any further back, and you’re no longer winning. You won. Past tense.

I’m capable of taking a certain degree of comfort in what has been won whenever it was won. Sandy Alderson’s tenure as general manager may or may not have been splendid on the whole, but 2015 sated me where his track record is concerned. Getting to that World Series recontextualized the miserable seasons he oversaw as growing pains. Whatever came after, as in 2017 and 2018…hey, lay off Sandy, he got us to the World Series! Still, we ended the Alderson Era bogged down in misery. I’m aware 2015 occurred. I will always appreciate 2015 (and 2016). But I know the approach of 2019 puts ever greater distance between the resounding victories from then and the lesser circumstances defining now.

Did Alderson and the operations he helmed until late June leave us in a worse place than we were in when Alderson succeeded Omar Minaya in the autumn of 2010? It’s hard to say. The 2015 World Series really did include the New York Mets. So did the 2016 postseason. They were great years. Alas, the tickets that admitted us to those festive falls won’t scan anymore. Everything’s been on the fritz since Conor Gillaspie took Jeurys Familia distressingly deep. Something completely different might very well be the order of the day.

Upon his introduction, as he attempted to transition from weird choice to impressive as hell, Van Wagenen invoked the c-word: culture. The man who has never run a baseball organization stressed that what this one needs most, besides an injection of him, is a changed culture. “A winning culture.” “A culture of positivity.” So much culture that Free Yogurt Friday will henceforth anchor the promotional schedule. Mickey Callaway emphasized culture when he was hired to manage in 2017. Boy George didn’t talk up culture as much as fresh Met management does — and he was in Culture Club. I guess it’s not much of a selling point to come into a troubled situation and declare an intention to relentlessly stay the course. In Van Wagenen’s case, I wonder if he was pointedly interpreting the whispers of his erstwhile Met clients that Brodie, dude, everything here is really effed up; or if he found himself practically tripping over sluggards and layabouts in the hallways when he returned for a second interview; or if he was just slinging the usual BS that gets slung at how-do-ya-do press conferences.

I honestly don’t know what “culture” means in the context of building a baseball team that consistently wins far more often than it loses, perhaps because I’ve had so little recent experience closely following a baseball team that does that. I don’t remember a word about the Mets’ awesome culture in 2015. I mostly remember Alderson trading for Van Wagenen’s client Yoenis Cespedes. A far more winning and positive culture developed once we stopped depending on Eric Campbell and John Mayberry, Jr., for RBIs. There was probably some pretty decent culture clicking on all cylinders for a while to catapult us from crummy when Alderson got here to the World Series once Alderson put down roots. The warranty on the gears must have lapsed later.

Engineer all the culture you can, Brodie. Or get lucky and reverse-engineer the story after the fact. I don’t really care how the Mets get better as long as the Mets get markedly better fairly soon and don’t fall apart shortly thereafter. Win like the presently irreproachable Red Sox did by getting good, then staying good, then escalating to magnificent. Or win like the Astros or Cubs did, by giving into temporary grimness in the name of eventual greatness. Or do whatever the Royals did, besides beating the Mets. Bulk up the analytics. Use an abacus. Meaningfully increase the payroll. Spend sparingly but wisely. Collaborate so everybody’s core competencies are activated, actualized and optimized — ask the usher who jealously guards field level seats during rain delays for his theories on defensive positioning; he’s pretty good at keeping anybody from advancing. Or puzzle it out all by yourself while you’re stuck on the LIE and give yourself a bonus and title bump for every World Series captured.

There were other more traditional candidates for GM. Even the relatively unorthodox candidates were run of the mill compared to Van Wagenen. It’s no longer about who wasn’t picked, though. It’s not even about the fellow who was. We’ll trust in Brodie because we have to. We trusted in Sandy. We trusted in Omar. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it will work again.

Sometimes it won’t. Mets Fan Culture hasn’t yet fully suspended reality-based rooting. Cynicism, skepticism, pessimism and fatalism have become as formidable a rotation for us as deGrom, Syndergaard, Wheeler and Matz (along with Vargas, who is capable of blending in with either quartet). Two years when most everything went wrong will explain hesitation to all out embrace the uncertain like it’s a sure thing. Plus six years when little went right prior to the sunny interregnum of 2015 and ’16. Plus not winning The Big One for nearly a third-of-a-century. Plus, until and unless proven otherwise, the owners who hired the new GM. General managers enter and exit. Somehow the culture keeps requiring transformation. Go figure.

Better yet, go Mets. “I want to give Mets fans hope,” BVW said by way of LGM in a tidy Twitter video. “I want to create optimism. I want to change the narrative that this franchise doesn’t succeed. I want them to believe we’re going to succeed now and every year to come.” I’m not hip to how Brodie’s negotiations usually proceed, but I’ll make a proposition to him: we’ll believe a little now, you succeed a little soon and we’ll both do our best to ramp up exponentially from there.

Do we have a deal?

Postseason to Offseason to Next Season

On Van Wagenen’s Eve, when all we Whos in Whoville gathered around the great big archetype and tried to divine how exactly a superagent morphed overnight into a general manager, we reflected briefly on how we stayed engaged by Metsless baseball for the better part of a month.

We hailed the conquering Red Sox as they just kept conquering. Down go the Astros! Down go the Dodgers! Up goes another Commissioner’s Trophy on the shelf at Fenway, the fourth in fifteen years! Little known fact: it wasn’t always that easy to win the World Series in Boston.

We played the world’s tiniest violin on behalf of Chase Utley and the Dodgers, losers of consecutive World Series, both years at home, this year going down in five, two games sooner than the year before, this time with Utley left off the active roster, but he was still around, so no wonder our violin is so tiny. Six division titles in six seasons for these Dodgers, yet no grand prize since 1988 (if they didn’t want 1988 to hang over their heads for thirty years, they shouldn’t have beaten us thirty years ago). Little known fact: it’s not that easy to win your division every year.

We fell in briefly with the Milwaukee Brewers during their NLDS triumph and NLCS heartbreak. I did, anyway. Less the Brewers than their broadcasts, led by Mr. Baseball, Bob Uecker. It should be a widely known fact that Ueck, butt of his own jokes on the national scene for decades, is an outstanding play-by-play man. Different from what we’re used to around here, but a delight from a distance in an October when we had nothing around here. Uecker rooted hard for his Brewers without being unreasonable to their opponents. I listened so much to Ueck and sidekick Jeff Levering that I grew wise to their tics: which fly balls were headed out of Miller Park, which were mere cans of corn, which cans of Miller beer would go great with a Usinger’s or a Johnsonville or a Sheboyagan brat. Brewers radio is nothing if not a sausage party.

At one point, spanning September and October, the Crew (as Ueck unfailingly referred to them) won a dozen in a row and earned all of Wisconsin free hamburgers. Yet despite all the meat in the air, the Brewers could only go so far. At the end of NLCS Game Seven in Milwaukee, the one that sent L.A. to the pennant, Ueck transmitted less enthusiasm for the final out than Howard Cosell probably did when asking to be passed the ketchup. It was an honest reaction. Why should you be happy when your season is over?

Or when baseball ends altogether, as it has for the rest of us, from Southern California to New England? The postseason was a baseball bacchanal if you gave yourself over to it. The teams that kept going reminded me of what Crash Davis said of the women you meet when you make the big leagues. They all had long legs and brains. Hanging with the Brewers and the Dodgers in the NLCS and the Astros and the Red Sox in the ALCS and then pulling all-nighters in the World Series brought me into extended contact with the kind of baseball I didn’t experience much as a Mets fan this season. These teams were in another league, on another plane. With the possible exception of Manny Machado (who built himself into a Pete Rose-style villain, save for the Hustle branding), everybody was out to win at all costs. That included the managers, who kept seeking every edge, analytical, sensical and otherwise. These teams played well into morning if they had to. It was all we could do to stay awake. It was to our detriment if we went to sleep.

The bacchanal ceased Sunday night when Chris Sale struck out Machado with two out in the bottom of the ninth, the Red Sox leading the Fall Classic by two and Game Five by four. Sale was pitching relief. David Price had started, though he wasn’t scheduled to. Sale was. Or so we thought. Price had been a bad bet in the postseason. Or so we thought. We were mistaken. We were mistaken about many standard assumptions during this postseason. We were mistaken if we thought (as I did) that the Red Sox weren’t necessarily world championship material. I should have known 108 wins don’t lie. It’s a good number to take into postseason. The Mets played the Sox hard in September, winning one and nearly taking another. Maybe that’s why I didn’t think they were unbeatable.

Yet they more or less were, and I was happy for them. When that last out was made, I was low-grade giddy, not so much out of any affinity for the Red Sox (I gave myself over to their fate in 1978 and never again) but just because watching a baseball team celebrate felt right. Pour champagne. Pour beer. Fire up the grills in the parking lot, per Uecker. Congratulate Alex Cora with oomph he never encountered during his two seasons as a Met. Give Justin Turner another atta boy, just like those he received for giving it his all during his four non-championship seasons as a Met. Keep a light on for Curtis Granderson, whose last chance for a world championship was likely snuffed out when the Brewers tapped out. Tip a cap toward the Astros, who I thought would continue to defend a world title indefinitely, but like I said, I was mistaken.

It was good to be inundated by baseball despite my baseball team having stopped playing baseball at the close of September. Like young Ed Charles when Jackie Robinson’s train pulled out of town, I put my ear to the tracks to hear what I could. Metaphorically I did, at any rate. Whatever passed for a bulletin, I devoured. Jacob deGrom was named to multiple postseason All-Star teams. Noah Syndergaard and Robert Gsellman traveled to Europe and attended a soccer match. Brandon Nimmo was spotted on the sidelines at a Jets game. Lenny Dykstra pleaded not guilty in Elizabeth. Ty Kelly filed for minor league free agency. Syracuse officially became our Triple-A affiliate. Endy Chavez made an Endy Chavez catch in Venezuela. Daniel Zamora became a dad. Pat Mahomes’s son became a star.

And, as the Red Sox were drying off and flying east, we got ourselves a general manager. Many a name was bandied about. Many a provisional archetype was constructed. The older guy. The numbers guy. The agent guy. Ultimately, it was that last one, personified in real life by Brodie Van Wagenen, who emerged as the actual GM. The Mets announced it Monday and will introduce him Tuesday. We have no idea what he’ll do and how we’ll do because of what he does, but he’s here, meaning the hot stove flickers to life in earnest and a new era is at hand. The Van Wagenen Era commences even as it overlaps with other ongoing eras that won’t necessarily cease because Brodie’s come to Flushing. This stuff never categorizes itself quite that neatly.

But what fun to begin to put the pieces together all over again. Goodbye baseball for 2018. Hello baseball for 2019. It’s so nice to have you back where you belong.

Hail the Conquering Red Sox

A happy and healthy Elimination Day to you and yours. Some sects observe this most joyous holiday as part of a larger Autumnal Festival of Sheadenfreude, a vicarious celebration of the October shortcomings of others near and not so dear to us, recognizing as sacred blessed events emanating from outcomes directly demoralizing a plurality of parishioners in Washington, Philadelphia or, as is merrily the case this year, Atlanta. In ancient times, the ritual reveling in the baseball misfortune of others extended as far west as St. Louis. I understand some orthodox practitioners of the faith still symbolically re-enact the Smiting of the Cardinals by taking out chicken from Popeyes while directing epithets toward Whitey Herzog. They get some looks from the cashier, but their hearts are surely pure.

No matter how pious or secular, observance of Elimination Day is a personal matter, yet it seems only proper for one and all to express a Green Monster-sized thank you to our spiritual brethren the Boston Red Sox for making its arrival timely and definitive. A shoutout of gratitude as well to those Mets fans who visited Fenway Park in September and strongly suggested defeating the New York Yankees in the American League Division Series would be an excellent way to consecrate the 2018 postseason. Perhaps the 108-win Red Sox would have figured it out for themselves, but a little amen corner of “YANKEES SUCK” coming from a third party never hurts.

Congratulations as well to our fraternal twins, the transplanted and better off for it Houston Astros, who were poised to serve as our backstop and failsafe had anything gone awry in the Northeastern portion of the ALDS. The former Colt .45s — sired, like us, by a Senior Circuit expansion decision 58 falls ago — were poised to tie up any loose ends that would have dangled over October and made it a messier month than necessary. Because it hasn’t happened in so long, you might not remember what New York can be like when the Yankees qualify for never mind prevail in the World Series. It wasn’t pretty then, it wouldn’t have been pretty now. Huzzah for the Houstonians even as we send our best to the Bostonians. Either one will make a formidable opponent for the winner of the National League tournament, which has thus far produced an appealing finalist from the Team We Don’t Mind bracket (Milwaukee over Colorado) to go up against an appalling combatant from the Team We Can’t Stand side of the board (Los Angeles over aforementioned Atlanta; too bad the Braves and Dodgers both couldn’t lose).

Once the local baseball postseason was resolved to the satisfaction of decent folk from Toms River to Riverhead, the New York Metropolitan Area’s major sports league championship drought reached 2,437 days, the driest it’s been in these parts since our forebears waited on John McGraw’s Giants to reclaim their throne nearly a century ago. We can handle our one-ninth share of the civic shame, grateful that the streak was not snapped by the most overbearing hands imaginable. Maybe Super Bowl LIII will represent our regional salvation. Perhaps lightning in an NHL or NBA bottle will be captured come June. As long as we’re dreaming, Next October in Flushing sounds ideal.

Until then, we are simply thankful for the blessings bestowed by an expeditious Elimination Day. Dodgers at Brewers; Red Sox at Astros; Yankees at liberty. We’re Mets fans. We’ll take what we can get.

Relentlessly It Ends

The baseball season ended Sunday, you might have noticed. Maybe you didn’t if you’re one of those people who insists you stopped watching the Mets by June, a good month to have looked away, I suppose. I never stopped looking, never stopped noticing, never stopped doing all the things implicit in the act of Mets fandom. I never shake those feelings we are inhabited by all through winter, the ones that have us counting down to the various iterations of Spring, the ones that lead us so gratefully to Opening Day.

Spiritually, I have 162 of those. Maybe not on the same scale of “oh boy, at last the Mets are playing,” but the thread extends six months in my mind. Excited that 7:10 is coming, that 1:10 is coming, that prior to Game 162 3:10 is coming.

It came and then it went. Now it is gone. Seventy-seven wins of it, eighty-five losses as well. The latter outweighing the former is never a good sign. You want Column W to overwhelm Column L. The Mets piled their losses inequitably. There were too many of them casting shadows from their May and June accumulation to make the relative plethora of late-season victories mean very much in the scheme of things. Sort of like the shadows you get at Citi Field from the light stanchions in the middle innings when you start a game at 3:10 at the end of September.

But never mind the scheme and enjoy the things. That’s the only way to navigate a 77-85 season as it is ending. That’s how I felt Sunday bearing in-person witness to the Mets’ seventy-seventh win. I never turn my nose up at the last game of a fairly lousy year. Or any year.

I embrace Closing Day every season. I have attended Closing Day — final regularly scheduled home game, that is — for 24 consecutive seasons, 26 in all. I’m not nearly as stringent about Opening Day. Opening Day is fantastic, but there’s a parade of days behind it. Closing Day couldn’t be more literal, save maybe for seasons that choose a “post” instead of an “off” as its defining suffix.

Twenty Eighteen wasn’t one of those seasons. Viewed most favorably, the totality of 2018 landed at the outskirts of OK. Could have been worse. Seriously. It was a lot worse in the first half after the fever dream of the first two weeks wore off. Then there was some muddling along until a lunge at competency proved semi-successful. The video board at Citi Field informed us Sunday that the Mets had won their most September games in thirty years. If only that, like 11-1 out of the gate, had been the objective.

We’ll leave firming up our sagging midsections for another season, hopefully the very next one. For now, it’s enough that the 2018 baseball season simply was. It was every night and every day, even when it rained. Especially when it rained. For my own edification, I kept track of many numbers and observations this season — as if writing a second, not particularly punctuated blog — and one of the strands of data I noted to myself was how many and long the rain delays were. They were often long (an epic 5:35 on September 12) and they were definitely many (twenty-one different games affected, including one that paused unofficially for eighteen minutes on May 16 so the mound could be doused with drying agent). I can’t compare it to other years, since it never occurred to me to keep track before, but I can tell you that in 2018, the Mets waited out more than 25 hours of baseball-averse weather before tarps came off fields or other arrangements were agreed upon. That doesn’t count the couple of occasions when it was decided in advance that baseball couldn’t be played in such weather. That actually happened, too.

Yet the games went on, all 162 of them. Rain didn’t stop them. Life didn’t stop them. Careers winding down didn’t stop them. It struck me how relentless baseball is about completing its business during the 160th game, the first in David Wright’s career since May 27, 2016 (a date that, like No. 5, we can now retire), the second-to-last he would play. Wright coming back to materially participate in a box score was a huge deal to us, suddenly the story of the season, right up there with Jacob deGrom seeking and sealing his Cy Young. SNY stayed with its telecast, ignoring a commercial break, just so we could watch Wright travel the last steps in his long journey from stubbornly disabled, to feasibly rehabilitated, to properly stretched, to the dugout, to the on-deck circle, to the plate to lead off the home fifth. Batting for the eternally winless Paul Sewald, David swung at the first pitch he saw in 28 months, grounding it to Marlins third baseman Brian Anderson, who threw it to not yet vilified first baseman Peter O’Brien for the first out of the inning.

It was the most intensely applauded 5-3 in Flushing since October 16, 1969, when the Mets beat the Orioles by that tally to claim a world championship. David had done it. He had won his own personal World Series. He had made it back. He had it in him to be a part of baseball once or twice more. Wherever we watched from, we recognized it and we embraced it and we celebrated it.

Then the TV cameras trained their attention on Brandon Nimmo, who was up next. Our announcers followed in kind. There was a game that had to be played. Nimmo was batting; Rosario was on deck; the Mets were trailing, 3-1; Drew Gagnon was getting warm in the bullpen. Not even the Captain could order baseball to a full stop.

Only Closing Day can do that. Our baseball kept going until it couldn’t on Sunday. In that moment when you don’t want it to go away, naturally it took off as swiftly as it could. Game 162 was the fastest of the Mets’ season, taking only two hours and ten minutes. No rain delays, just one replay challenge. It would have been nice to have challenged baseball to have stuck around a little longer in Queens, but I don’t think that’s how the rule works.

We cheer nothing as hard as we cheer David Wright these last few days (he continued to be received warmly in DNP territory on those couple of instances when CitiVision featured him), but we do cheer excellent, efficient pitching with uncommon conviction. That’s what we got from Noah Syndergaard on Sunday. Nine innings, no runs. That hardly ever arises from the arm of a starting pitcher anymore, but when it does, there’s a decent chance it’s happening on Closing Day. Nelson Figueroa gave us a Closing Day shutout in 2009. Miguel Batista did the same in 2011. Those games were also over far too soon, yet you couldn’t have in good conscience recommended they go on further. We’re Mets fans who show up at the bitter end. Of course we want the most there is to cheer, even if it comes from pitching that shortens our final precious minutes in the ballpark.

There wasn’t much to cheer from the offense. The Mets totaled only four hits versus Miami, but two of them produced one run, enough for Noah, whom I’ve decided to no longer reference by his comic book name because I think he pitches better when I don’t. Noah threw two complete games in September. That’s plenty superheroic for baseball.

The afterglow of David’s farewell Saturday bathed another less spectacular adieu in a generous light Sunday. Ideally, David Wright and Jose Reyes might have left the playing field for good in tandem, each and both rating a simultaneous monumental bon voyage from a stadium packed to its gills with Mets fans. But since when does Mets fandom unfurl as ideal? The ideal of No. 5 + No. 7 = 4EVA took a right turn into the dugout on September 28, 2011, the Closing Day Batista threw his shutout. It wasn’t that Reyes departed that Game 162 in the first inning to preserve his batting crown. It wasn’t even the way he did it, vamoosing from the action before anybody quite comprehended what happened. It was leaving the Mets altogether, following the money to Miami.

That wasn’t bad business on Jose’s part. It wasn’t like the Mets were negotiating hard to maintain the services of one-half of the best position-player duo they ever developed. But it did change the equation. Among many other things, it guaranteed that what David Wright did — pursing an entire stellar baseball career as nothing but a New York Met — would be without parallel and go down without precedent. Reyes’s journey went wayward. So did Wright’s, really, but for reasons far more out of his control. David stuck to one uniform. Jose went on a more typical tour of big league changing rooms. Perhaps it made him appreciate being a Met more than he had when free agency’s lucrative siren song beckoned, because he sure seemed happy to be back when he finally returned.

Jose’s final season as a Met, perhaps as a big leaguer, was mostly miserable. In the end, he got more or less what he merited. Saturday night, the franchise’s all-time shortstop — leader in stolen bases and triples probably forever more — enthusiastically adopted the role of lovable sidekick to the Captain. It wasn’t his night, but he was intrinsic to its magic. Nobody else should have been at short when Wright said goodbye to third. Nobody else should have received the first and most meaningful on-field hug. Nobody else did, and I’m glad.

Sunday afternoon, Jose’s sendoff was more muted, less universally recognized and saluted. No press conference declared it in advance, but word got out in the morning. The choreography was better than it was when he went out in 2011, 148-point difference in batting average notwithstanding. Once more starting at short. Once more in the leadoff position. Once more into the dugout after running to first, though this time sans bunt or base hit. One final musical cue for “HoZay…” One final leap from the dugout and wave to a crowd that was more than polite, less than adoring. Then, as with the demands of Friday and even Saturday, the game went on. Nothing quite up to what Wright got as goodbye. There was only one Wright. There’s also only one Reyes. I’m glad we had both.

I’m also glad I invested in my 24th consecutive Closing Day, not to mention my 50th consecutive season. I entered Metsdom somewhere late in the summer of 1969, liked what I gleaned it was all about, and decided on the spot to stick around without end. Even when seasons end. Even when ballparks end. This year made ten years without Shea Stadium. Citi Field turned into our natural home so gradually I didn’t even notice. Well, that’s not quite accurate. I did kick and scream a lot in 2009 and didn’t really calm down until 2015, but here I am, my antennae still tuned toward more or less the same address. I have my ups and downs at the ballpark like any fan. My record was 7-11, which seems reasonable when set against the Mets’ overall Citi Field record of 37-44. I could have had better luck, but so could have the Mets.

My one revelation on Sunday regarding trying to enjoy a Mets game to its fullest at a place other than Shea is how this place is all about the between-innings upsell. It’s not enough that I bought a pair of tickets to sit inside Citi Field and heartily support your main product. I should find out about special premium seats. I should ask into season ticket packages. If I buy this many tickets, I get a replica jersey. If I buy this many more tickets, I get an authentic jersey. I should be impressed by perks. Look at all those people and their perks perking. That could be me if I ante up. It won’t be me if I don’t. I don’t know that this is any different from any other year, but after eighteen games encompassing eleven losses subject to the between-innings upsell, it finally got on my nerves.

Just when the Mets didn’t, too, apparently the result of that competent September, if not much of a non-deGrominant nature before it. The 2018 Mets Reyes is leaving are literally no better than the 2011 Mets Reyes left. Mickey Callaway’s first edition compiled the same record as Terry Collins’s. Collins ended his initial campaign in our midst fighting off tears in trying to explain why it was important to let Reyes come out for a pinch-runner. Callaway seemed emotional, too, in his postgame media meet, but in a different way. He’d been given a provisional vote of confidence by Jeff Wilpon earlier in the day, something to the effect of, “gosh, Mickey, ownership likes you, but it’s not up to us whether you’re back next year,” which may be a first in baseball annals. True, the new GM (we’re not close to having one yet) shouldn’t be saddled with a field manager he doesn’t want, but leaving Callaway hanging after the best if not exactly most significant September since 1988 seems atonal.

Callaway swore he’d be on board with whatever the fates had in store for him. He’s part of the Mets, he said, and he’ll do whatever’s best for the Mets, even if that means not being manager of the Mets…which would imply he won’t be part of the Mets anymore, but let Mickey have his emotions and his moment. It could have gotten a whole lot worse after June and it didn’t.

So I don’t know for sure who will manage the Mets in 2019 or who will call the shots in the front office (besides Jeff Wilpon). I can only partly ascertain who will compose the team they are running and I am following. All I can do is keep watching, keep listening, keep going and keep track for my own edification and maybe your engagement. Twenty Eighteen completes fourteen seasons of Faith and Fear in Flushing, though unlike the magnetic schedule, we don’t reach an end. I’ll be here all winter, winter in our vernacular having begun at 5:20 PM Sunday.

But this is the end of our more or less daily habit, which is as much of a shame in my mind as not having 7:10 and 1:10 and assorted other oddball starting times. The Mets have played 2,268 regular-season games since April 4, 2005, and some combination of Jason and I have written a recap of every one of them. The Mets’ record since we joined the beat is 1,134-1,134. Win some, lose some, rinse and repeat.

Nah. Just as I concluded immediately in September of 1969 and again in April of 2005, this right here is a winning formula. I no longer remember what it is to root for the Mets without blogging about the Mets. I do, but I can’t relate to it. Sometimes during this season, I’ll admit to you, I’ve felt like I’m talking to myself in this space (“does anybody else really care that the Mets were delayed by rain a total of more than twenty-four hours?”), but I keep talking, keep writing and assume kindred Met spirits are consuming if not always directly responding. Writing about the Mets on a daily basis may resonate more when the Mets win, but I honestly can’t say I find the act of writing about the Mets less rewarding when they lose. I love doing this, win or lose. If you were with us this whole season now completed or just came back around at the end, I love that you’ve sought us out.

Thank you for the company. See you this offseason. Hell, we’re already there.

Special

July 21, 2004 was a hot and sticky day in New York, with the temperature in the high 80s and a night that didn’t promise to be much more comfortable. The Mets were bumping along around .500, and sort of battling for a National League East that no team particularly seemed to want to claim. That night at Shea they were scheduled to play the Expos, who’d escaped contraction but been reduced to Major League Baseball’s wards and were widely expected to be moved out of Montreal as soon as could be arranged.

None of that was particularly compelling, but I was going, because the Mets had called up a third baseman billed as their brightest hitting prospect in years, a Virginia kid named David Wright. The Mets had drafted Wright as compensation for Mike Hampton becoming enamored of the schools in Colorado and he’d torn up minor-league pitching, first at Binghamton and then at Norfolk. He had nothing left to prove down there; it was time to see what he could do under the bright lights.

I talked my friend Tim into going and secured seats behind home plate in the upper deck. They were the red seats, but boxes — not too far from the field and set apart from the upper reaches of Shea, which during sparsely attended games belonged to smokers, drunks, weirdos and guys who’d come to the park hoping to find someone to fight. My seat cost $23.

Wright fielded a grounder in the first, throwing over to Ty Wigginton, whose job he’d taken, to retire Jose Vidro. In the second he came to the plate for the first time in the big leagues. That first at-bat wasn’t what he’d hoped for during all those nights dreaming about what might be: he was retired on a pop-up in foul territory, with Expos catcher Brian Schneider making a nifty catch that ended with him flipped over the dugout railing. Wright made outs in his other three at-bats as well: a groundout, a pop to short and a fly ball to right. The Mets won by a single run.

Not a debut heavy on fireworks, but as Tim and I left Shea I made sure to tuck my ticket stub deeper in my pocket. When I got home, I filed it in a cubby of my desk instead of tossing it in with the recycling. Everything I’d heard and seen had convinced me this player would be special.

And he was. That’s understating things rather dramatically. Wright quickly developed into a precocious hitter who was never out of an at-bat, combining a jeweler’s eye for the strike zone with superlative natural gifts and an indomitable work ethic. Within a couple of years, he’d become the face of the franchise, and I knew that one day I’d clear my calendar to see his final game, and then again to see the Mets retire his number 5. That number had belonged to some illustrious Mets over the years: Ed Charles wore it dancing near the mound as Jerry Koosman jackknifed into Jerry Grote‘s arms, Davey Johnson had it on his back while out-scheming Whitey Herzog and John McNamara and everyone else, and John Olerud had donned it as part of the Best Infield in Baseball. But all of that was in the past — 5 belonged to David Wright now, and would never belong to any other New York Met.

It was on Wright’s back for a lot of memories. There he was, willing a drive to center over the head of Johnny Damon at Shea. And drenched in champagne next to Jose Reyes, the other young star we became used to seeing to Wright’s left. It was on his back as he flew through the air one night in San Diego, coming down with a ball in his bare hand.

Not all of those memories were happy ones. Wright wore 5 as the Mets shut down Shea in a sendoff turned funeral, and in a new park whose dimensions might as well have been engineered to undermine him as an offensive force. He was wearing it when he took a fastball to the head, and when he went sprawling in the dirt to tag a runner at third, and as his body started to balk at his commands and betray him.

But he was wearing it again the night he returned in Philadelphia and announced himself with a missile into the upper deck on the third pitch he saw. He was wearing it when he crossed the plate in D.C. and flung his fist out in exultation. He was wearing it as the Mets obliterated the Cubs in Wrigley, and when he christened Citi Field as a World Series venue with a home run.

Yeah, he was special all right — off the field as well as on. We heard innumerable stories about Wright’s kindness and fundamental decency, and for every one we learned about we knew that there were two or three more that had remained private. There was Max Rubin, the kid with Down Syndrome who asked Wright to hit a home run against the Yankees, to which David replied “I’ll try” and then did just that. After the game Max gathered Wright up in a hug, radiant with happiness — and then the camera pulled back to show that Wright’s smile was even bigger.

Or there was the story that was my favorite, because it was such a small thing: an affectionate portrait of Jay Horwitz revealed that the Mets PR legend had chronic trouble with email addresses, and his careless autocompletes meant Wright routinely got messages intended for a Horwitz colleague with a similar email address. All of which Wright dutifully ensured wound up where they belonged. What multimillionaire athlete does that? Heck, you probably have someone in your office who doesn’t care enough to do that.

Before this week, we’d last seen Wright on a baseball field in May 2016. Every so often we’d get an update, and they were unrelentingly grim: a surgery, a period of enforced inactivity, all of them accompanied by Wright insisting that this was not the end and he was optimistic. We learned how hard he worked to fight his body to a draw, and how a draw wasn’t possible. He became a baseball Job, and though we’d learned never to bet against David Wright, we all sensed that there were some obstacles not even David Wright could overcome.

And so, simultaneously cruelly and mercifully, an endgame was crafted — a pair of cameos, an orchestrated farewell. Saturday night’s game became a sellout within a couple of hours of the plan’s announcement. The date I’d imagined as part of some distant hazy future — often I’d pictured it including my son Joshua, impossibly grown up and playing hooky from college — had arrived, far earlier than it should have and with a fair amount of bitter mixed in with the sweet.

But I knew I had to be there. I’d been there at the beginning, after all. And after David Wright had brought me so much joy, how couldn’t I be there at the end?

As it happened, my companion wasn’t Joshua but Emily. We arrived nearly an hour before game time, wary about how prepared the Mets would be for a packed house, and found ourselves amid throngs of people wearing WRIGHT 5 shirts, some of them carrying placards — to use a term I’ve only ever heard used by flight attendants and Casey Stengel — expressing thanks, love and devotion. (Let it be noted that Citi Field was fully staffed and running far more efficiently than most nights, though the cupboards were bare of food and drink by the late innings.)

We watched from the Promenade as Wright’s pregame gamboling in the outfield drew standing ovations and as he scooped up a first pitch from his daughter Olivia Shea before scooping her up as well. We stood and yelled and clapped as he ran out to his position alone, then was joined by his teammates. We looked at the big screen to see the joy on his face and that of Reyes as the two embraced — my feelings about Reyes are now complicated, to say the least, but his delight in playing beside his friend was genuine and impossible to resist. We rose again as Wright came to the plate for this first at-bat, and marveled at the patience he showed in working out a walk. We cheered madly when he fielded a grounder and threw sidearm for a putout at first. And there we were on our feet again when he led off in the fourth.

The second pitch from Miami’s Trevor Richards was a high fastball; Wright swung and popped it up outside first. I tried to will it into the seats. So did 44,000 other people. It was not to be — the ball came down in Peter O’Brien‘s glove. Wright smiled a little sheepishly, though you could see he was ticked, and headed for the dugout.

He was back at his position for the top of the fifth, and I let myself dream. I imagined that after the foul out he’d told Mickey Callaway that he was moving around fine out there and Mickey had asked him if he wanted one more at-bat. I didn’t need to wonder what the answer would have been. So I was reluctant — unwilling, almost — to register that Callaway had left the dugout and stopped near home to speak with the umpire.

That had been the plan, and there would be no reprieve. Wright hugged his teammates and waved, while the Mets and Marlins both clapped, and then he vanished into the dugout. And I realized what had pierced me most deeply that night wasn’t the highlights of heroic days, but the tiny little things that would never make a YouTube clip.

I could queue up Wright scoring in Washington or homering in Philadelphia whenever I wanted. But it would be harder to find a recording of all his little mannerisms, which I’d committed to memory years ago and could recognize even from a distant vantage point. The way he came in on a grounder, eyeing it like it was prey, or scuffed the dirt near third with his feet in a bit of nervous, meticulous grooming. The way he’d reseal his batting gloves before arriving at the plate, then raise his bat like a knight with a broadsword, exhale deeply, and get to work. Even the way he’d loosen up in the outfield before the game started, arms swinging and feet shuffling. Those were the things that crushed me on Saturday night — instantly recognizable tics and tells I’d seen a thousand times, come to take for granted, and realized I would never see again.

Wright left the field in the fifth, as planned, and the Mets and Marlins played on and on and on, a scoreless game that ground along in low gear until the Mets won by a single run. We saw the video tribute the Mets had produced — typically, it was both good-hearted and overproduced — and then Wright himself returned for a few words. He was impeccably gracious, of course — thanking all of us for coming out to thank him. He was competitive, of course — his first words were satisfaction that his team had won. And best of all, he seemed at peace with an ending he had fought so hard to avoid.

And then he went back into the dugout, followed by the camera. Looking from the big board to the field, I could just spot the white square of his jersey, then a bit of his shoulder. I looked back at the video board and there he was, making his way down the dugout, until he reached the steps, and then he was gone. He was gone and it was time to go home.

Wright’s final at-bat wasn’t what he’d hoped for during all those days of grueling rehab work in St. Lucie: he was retired on a pop-up in foul territory. But everything that came before, between that hot July night back in 2004 and that cool September evening in 2018? It was special. That’s understating things rather dramatically. And as Emily and I left Citi Field, beneath the glow of fireworks, I made sure to tuck my printed ticket deeper into my pocket.

Another David

Closing Day beckons, a day for one David above all to be noticed, to be sure. I assume, anyway. I know David Wright is not supposed to play after what’s billed hard and fast as his final game tonight. Regardless, I will sit where I usually sit on Closing Day and hope for a change of heart, perhaps an ease of back. “Hey, Skip,” I’d like to imagine Wright informing Mickey Callaway, “I can pinch-hit if you need me,” and Callaway doing the Wright thing. That would be sweet.

It will also be unlikely, which I reluctantly accept. David getting into one going on two games at the tail end of his career — a career that didn’t necessarily appear guaranteed to receive a tail end — has been enough to behold.

There’s another David, though, a David I know won’t be there Sunday, which is a shame. To be fair, I don’t know, even if circumstances had allowed it, that he would have been. One Closing Day he was, though. It was a surprise and a delight and, as it turned out, the last time I saw him at Citi Field, the place I embrace seeing just about everybody who means anything to me.

David Roth (not to be confused with the Deadspin writer of the same name) was my friend-in-law. That’s the phrase that would best describe our relationship to one another. Friend of a friend would also do, but that sounds a little too far removed. The friend who was our conduit was Jeff Hysen. Jeff knew David for decades, dating back to when they both worked for the City of New York during the Koch administration. Then Jeff moved to take a job in D.C., but the two of them (Jeff and David, not Jeff and Ed Koch) stayed close and grew closer. I assume that’s what happened. I didn’t meet Jeff until 2007, but distance has never meaningfully separated us either.

Jeff, up from Maryland for a weekend eight years ago, arranged for us all to go to a Mets game together. David and I shook hands by the Home Run Apple. He seemed nice enough. The Mets lost to the Phillies. That seemed typical for 2010. The highlight, so to speak, was Frankie Rodriguez returning from suspension after punching a man described in press accounts as his father-in-law. Given that Rodriguez wasn’t married to the guy’s daughter, they weren’t technically related, just as David and I weren’t. Still, they were connected (if not thrilled with one another). Anyway, some fans cheered Frankie Rodriguez upon his return. Not a lot, but enough, which hit me as atonal. That’s what I remember most about that game. That and David wearing a Shea Stadium Final Season pin on his golf shirt. Nice touch, I thought.

A few weeks later, I learned far more about David than I would have expected or, given the context, wanted. Jeff relayed to me the shocking news that his friend of his I’d just met, while on vacation out west, had been felled by an aneurysm. Felled? Is that the right word if something doesn’t kill you right away? Maybe struck? Does an aneurysm strike, like a high, inside fastball? The nomenclature doesn’t matter. The aneurysm did. The diagnosis that followed revealed a malignant brain tumor. David, as Jeff explained it, was close to death.

But still alive. And kicking.

“When the Colorado doctor saw that he was from New York,” Jeff told me, “he asked if he was a Yankees fan, and David, despite his condition and pain, objected and said that he was a Mets fan.”

It was too heavy a situation to invoke the bromide about whatever doesn’t kill a Mets fan makes a Mets fan stronger, but David Roth in 2010, sort of like David Wright in 2018, made a sensational comeback. Cancer remained a fact of his life, but so did his life. Intermittently over the next half-dozen years I’d see David out and about, almost as if nothing terrible had happened to him. Usually I’d see David because Jeff was around. Jeff’s a comedian when he isn’t a lawyer (he’s funny being both). His Manhattan comedy dates would bring David and me into the same dimly lit clubs, straining to politely laugh at the other comics while we waited for our shared pal to go on. Jeff’s desire to once in a while commune with his ballclub put us in recurring proximity as well. I’d see David at games with Jeff. I’d see David at QBC with Jeff. While I was moderating another panel, they sat through a deep dive on uniforms and uniform accessories that introduced them to the term squatchee. That’s the thing on the top of a baseball cap…as if David didn’t already know enough about what goes on inside a head.

A few times David and I engaged without Jeff present. We were all supposed to go to a game in 2014, but Jeff had a family matter, so David and I and one of Jeff’s comedy colleagues sat Jefflessly in Promenade together, shivering as the Mets outlasted the Marlins. A transportation specialist (David continued to work for a city agency), a comic and a scribe, all of whom who knew each other without really knowing each other; the friend-in-laws, directed by Jeff Hysen. The weirdest part about it was it wasn’t really weird. We all rooted for the same team and we all knew very well a really good guy.

David came to one of my book events with Jeff and another without Jeff, which I thought was the menschiest of moves since, though his identification with Mets fandom was as strong as his will to live, he wasn’t really that big a day-by-day fan. Not big enough, for example, to have noticed that Mookie Wilson had been coaching first base throughout 2011. I learned of that slight gap in his Met knowledge on September 1 of that year. David and I were together in Queens, sans Jeff, but with David’s wife Bonnie (wearing a still-fashionable black WRIGHT 5 jersey), David’s friend Roger, Roger’s son Josh and my photographer friend Sharon. In the moment, that day represented a pinnacle of Mets fandom for all of us. We were on the field at Citi Field, present for batting practice. The long story is detailed and illustrated, but in essence, Roger had climbed a very tall mountain in the name of David to help raise funds and awareness for Team McGraw, part of the Tug McGraw Foundation, an organization dedicated to fighting brain cancer, a group in which Sharon was involved. I was on hand simply to stand back and supplement with words what Sharon was taking care of with pictures.

It was such a great late afternoon watching all these people having a ballpark experience to which relatively few are treated. The whole deal was engineered by a couple of terrific stalwarts of the Mets communications department, one of them Shannon Forde, who’d worked there a long time by then. A year later, Shannon would be diagnosed with breast cancer. She’d soon be back around the ballpark as much as possible, still doing great things for people, before dying in 2016.

What is it one of the Team McGraw honchos liked to say in his blog posts? Oh yeah: “Cancer sucks.”

The last time I saw David Roth was the last time I saw David Wright. Not the same space but on the same day, May 21, 2016, the Saturday when David Wright lashed a game-winning hit to beat the Brewers at Citi Field. That’s the game when Sharon and her husband Kevin invited Stephanie and me to join them and a plethora of other friends to sit in the M&M’s Sweet Seats, a perch from which we would not have dreamed of departing prior to Wright’s ninth-inning RBI unless we had something else pulling us away. Alas, we did. Jeff was performing at Broadway Comedy Club somewhere in the middle innings in the West Fifties. We tried to split the difference, get some of the game in, apologetically bolt in time for Jeff’s set.

We missed Wright’s walkoff hit because we left early and we missed Jeff’s killer bits because we didn’t leave early enough, arriving at Broadway after he’d dropped the mic. But we did hang out somewhere off from the main room for quite a while with Jeff, who was in cooldown mode. It was an odd logistical situation in that Jeff’s wife Sue was still at a table deep inside the club, beyond the reach of hand signals, which meant we couldn’t all leave ASAP. David was there, too, at a table near the stage and spotted Stephanie and me. He helpfully tried to guide us to join him. We had to make like then third base coach Tim Teufel and give him the stop sign because though we’d only just shown up, we didn’t want to sit down and subject ourselves to a two-drink minimum, given that Jeff was done joking. (Also, we had a Mets game to follow by phone.) David politely hung in there with the other acts for a spell before joining us during a comic changeover. Jeff would arrange Sue’s release by text and eventually we’d all get something to eat.

I didn’t know our postshow dinner at a nearby diner would be the last time I’d see David Roth. At some point in the relatively near future, cancer — which generally fails to take offense at the insulting things well-meaning people say about it and therefore continues to suck — made itself felt again. On a rainy day this past spring, Jeff came up from Maryland to visit David at a hospice facility in Brooklyn. Later, at Jeff’s behest, we tried to collaborate on a couple of bits based on some awful commercial he kept seeing on TV while David napped and what Jeff’s Uber driver said to him about praying to Allah for his friend’s recovery. None of what we came up with was hilarious, but Jeff had lost his mother at the outset of the 2018 baseball season and now his best friend was in his final months. When attempting to withstand an ongoing emotional onslaught, laughing surely beats the alternatives.

On the First of September, seven years to the day we were on the field for batting practice, Jeff, himself out west to see his son and the Mets, roughly in that order, learned David had died. A few days later he eulogized him at a synagogue in Brooklyn. Jeff’s theme was not only were he and David like brothers, but they were often mistaken for brothers. At his very first comedy show, when Koch was still mayor, the MC doing what is known in the business as crowdwork picked on David, basing his shtick on that very understandable sibling assumption. As Jeff explained in his eulogy, his actual brother was sitting at the same table as David, but Jeff and David probably looked more alike than the two Hysen boys did.

The MC asked David of Jeff, “Is he funny at home? Are you proud of him?” David, never breaking character from his seat, replied, “Yes, he’s funny at home. Yes, we’re proud of him.” No wonder the MC proceeded to point at David and introduce Jeff as “this guy’s brother”.

The Mets were also invoked in the eulogy. No mistake there.

Tomorrow I’ll be at the ballpark, in Excelsior, Section 327, more or less where Stephanie and I were sitting three years ago on Closing Day. On October 4, 2015, the Mets chalked up their 90th and final win of the regular season, 1-0. When it was over, David Wright grabbed a microphone, thanked us for our support and promised that the team would do its best to beat L.A. I go to Closing Day every year, but I mention that one now because in the middle of that game, as Stephanie was off on a concessions mission and Terry Collins was rapidly changing pitchers in order to keep his staff sharp for the upcoming playoffs, I received a text. Or was it a call? Honestly, I don’t remember anymore. Whichever mode of communication was being deployed, I do remember that the deployer was David Roth, letting me know he and a friend who wasn’t Jeff were also at the ballpark, could they come by to where I was and say hi? David knew I’d be at Citi Field from Jeff, though it’s not like anybody really needs inside information to ascertain my whereabouts on Closing Day.

Sure, I told him, though I warned him that my being in Excelsior might mean security would hassle them, given that they were sitting in Promenade, and Promenade tickets are not recognized as valid visas for passage by the gatekeepers of certain other sections. Undeterred, David followed my directions and headed for the Excelsior entrance in left field. I got up to meet him and his friend and chat for a few minutes. I don’t remember what we talked about. We talked about the Eastern Division champion Mets, presumably, since they were the ones playing in front of us. It wasn’t a long or deep conversation, but I do remember I was touched that he thought enough of me to go out of his way there to say hi.

It’s only right I take a moment here to say bye.

Dress Rehearsal

The highlight of Friday night’s meaningless Mets-Marlins game? It was a first-pitch groundout to third.

LOLMets and all that, but those of us who were there to see it were thrilled — because those 10 or so seconds represented the return of David Wright to the place he is most fully himself, the place he belongs, and the place that, for all that, he will never get to be again after Saturday night.

That’s a lot to unpack, whether it’s in a sentence, in the air of a stadium during the night game, or in a Mets fan’s heart. But I’ll try.

I read about the plan for Wright’s farewell Friday afternoon: that he’d be the Mets first pinch-hitter that night, then start at third Saturday and get a few innings and a couple of at-bats. After which, nothing.

“Nothing” isn’t right there. Wright will be a dad and a husband and a son and a friend and a neighbor and a lot of other things that we have to remember are infinitely more important than baseball games. But the baseball player part of his life will be over, for him and for us.

Over, but not quite yet. Still, when I heard Wright would be pinch-hitting Friday, I sped over to StubHub and made sure I would be there. The pinch-hitting assignment was a dress rehearsal of sorts, a chance for Wright to calm his nerves so he could enjoy Saturday more. That was a good idea — from everything he’s said, he needed it. And frankly, given the emotional tonnage on the way Saturday, so did I.

And I also thought of it as insurance. As Wright has explained stoically and ruefully and patiently, he has relatively good days where only one part of his body hurts and must be negotiated with, and he has bad days where everything hurts and nothing is going to work. Now, I can’t imagine what combination of ailments would have to arise to keep David Wright from his Saturday curtain call. But once upon a time I also couldn’t imagine a cascade of cruelty that would deprive this player, of all players — this man universally praised as a genuinely thoughtful and decent person — of the game he has loved so much for his entire life.

So just in case, I was going to be there.

All right, there were secondary reasons too. I was keenly aware that the Mets’ season was all but gone, and that soon “go see a baseball game” wasn’t going to be an option no matter how badly I needed it to be. It was a nice night after a grim rainy morning. And tickets were cheap and I wanted a chance to take in a game from behind the new expanse of netting installed to protect fans. (On Saturday night Emily and I will be in more danger from low-flying planes than foul balls.)

Put all that together and there I was a few rows behind the Marlins’ dugout as play began, looking out at the Mets in their dumb blue tops (please tell me Wright’s final appearance will at least be in a real uniform) and squinting quizzically at that protective netting. I tried to play devil’s advocate by convincing myself it annoyed me, but failed to do so. From my vantage point, it was invisible when looking at the batter and easily ignored when looking elsewhere. I can’t say the same about the lower stretches of netting protecting the outfield lines, on the other hand — that material is thicker, with what struck me as an annoying number of poles. Maybe at the end of the next lousy season I’ll go sit in those seats.

Anyway, with my net-inspection mission complete and a spicy chicken sandwich consumed, I and the fairly decent-sized crowd got down to the business of waiting for someone to pinch-hit.

That was a new one for me, and I suspect for everyone else. With Corey Oswalt on the mound, I figured the moment would come fairly early — hopefully in the fifth, after Oswalt had qualified for a win. That didn’t happen — Oswalt was fairly obviously out of pitches by the bottom of the fourth, and my eyes and lots of other people’s went to the scoreboard, where he was scheduled to hit fifth.

Possible? Maybe, particularly after a Dom Smith single. And indeed, with two out Kevin Plawecki strolled to the plate and all attention went to the on-deck circle, where that was indeed Wright limbering up — a sight whose bland ordinariness turned it piercing.

Plawecki grounded out and we had to wait — wait, it turned out, for the dogged and doomed Paul Sewald to do Sewaldian things that put the Mets in a 3-1 hole. And then it was time. We stood and we clapped and we cheered and we yelled, and I tried not to think of how quickly this was all going away.

In the end the drama was far more about anticipation than action: Wright swung at Jose Urena‘s first pitch and smacked it to third, a grounder whose velocity you could feel grow in the telling even before it cleared the grass. It wasn’t hit hard. It was a mildly tough hop, the kind of play a good third baseman is forgiven for not making but really should make.

Brian Anderson made the play and then we were left with half of a baseball game that had become ostentatiously and almost offensively pointless. It was like hanging around a wedding after the bride and groom have left, if you’re ever invited to a wedding where the bride and groom decamp during the fish course, take the band and the bartenders with them, and nobody gets cake.

The Mets made various errors, Jose Lobaton got to hit (twice!), and a parade of interchangeable young Met relievers who will be forgotten by 2021 were interchangeably terrible. I sat there and used my AMAZIN’ giveaway t-shirt (which should have said UNDERWHELMIN’, since it looks like an intern designed it on the first half of his lunch hour) to play peek-a-boo with a baby in the row in front of me, the Mets lost, and then I went home.

Could I have done that earlier? Yes, with no discernible difference in my evening. (Granted, I would have missed seeing Jack Reinheimer in the flesh.) But I didn’t and I knew I wouldn’t. I don’t go in for fire-and-brimstone Thou Shalt Not Leave a Ballgame Early doctrine, but I think I’ve always had a reasonably compelling reason for departing — spousal illness, toddler meltdown, truly awful weather, etc. When your team’s season has shrunk to 60-odd outs and six-odd hours, there are no reasonably compelling reasons.

When that’s all that’s left, you sit there. So what if it was 8-1? Every baseball-free day of every stupid winter is like being down 8-1, and good luck getting excused that duty. I sat there, and I’ll be sitting there again tomorrow — all too keenly aware of what I’ll never get to see again.

A Small Stuffed Bear Is Still, Technically, a Bear

Jason Vargas headed into winter in style Thursday night, allowing three hits and no runs over seven innings as the Mets beat the Braves. In fact, Mets starting pitchers allowed the Braves exactly zero runs in the two teams’ final series of the year.

Asterisk time! Vargas may have shaved nearly three runs off his ERA after finally finding a rhythm in August, but that ERA still ended up at 5.77. With a division title captured, the Braves were resting their regulars and their mental faculties before the next game that matters. The Mets’ four runs all came on home runs by Devin Mesoraco and Kevin Plawecki, yet you won’t find 2019 spring training thick with suggestions that Jerry Grote, Gary Carter and Mike Piazza make room in the pantheon.

But consolation prizes are still prizes, even if they’re not the ones that brought you to the fair. The Mets’ bedrock strength — which might lead them to a 2019 title and might lead them to halfheartedly chase the illusion of one — is their starting pitching, and every indication that the starting pitchers could be healthy and on point next spring is a reason to hope.

I collected one of my desired consolation prizes when Jacob deGrom ended his season with a flourish on Wednesday night before me. Greg and the rest of a small but rapturous crowd — the baseball descendants of the hardy faithful who showed up at the end of 2012 to see R.A. Dickey seek and attain a 20th win. (Followed by a Cy Young, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.) I’ll be in the park Saturday night to see David Wright say farewell, a bittersweet consolation prize, to be sure, but one I immediately knew I needed for so many reasons, starting with the fact that 14 summers ago I discarded my plans and hurried to Shea Stadium because Wright was making his long-awaited debut and I had to be there. And I have one more consolation prize in mind, one that’s neither secured nor scripted and so will go unmentioned.

Another consolation prize, now that I think about it, has already been delivered. The Mets were bad in May and really bad in June, sinking their season. (Perhaps you’ve heard.) But their revived, reignited play in August and September has cushioned the blow, and as the season dwindles to nothing I find myself, to my surprise, wanting more. That hasn’t been true in previous wrecked seasons — it’s often been a mercy to be spared further bad decisions and ownership double-talk and losses, losses, losses. But this season has redeemed itself. These Mets aren’t winning anything, and their last packed house is a sellout for the saddest of reasons, but I’ll miss them when they’re gone. And I’ll make room on my shelf for that.

Rockabye Sweet Baby Jake

Like Red on the bus to Fort Hancock, Tex., in The Shawshank Redemption, I found I was so excited at Citi Field as the Mets game wore on Wednesday night, I could barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it was the excitement only a Mets fan could feel, a Mets fan at the end of a long journey whose conclusion is certain.

We knew our team wasn’t going anywhere in the traditional sense. We’ve known that for months. Yet we were rolling along, late in an otherwise lost season, clinging to a purpose all our own: meeting our friend Jake in Zihuatanejo, where we hoped to find him buffing and polishing his Cy Young Award.

We hoped. And we made it, I’m pretty sure.

If we can keep two thoughts in our head, it’s that 1) you can keep the Mets’ 2018; and 2) they can’t take Jacob deGrom’s 2018 away from us. A great individual campaign executed as part and parcel of a team’s quest for greater glory doesn’t take much understanding. As illustrious as Doc Gooden’s oft-referenced 1985 was, you almost didn’t fully appreciate it while it ensued because you always kept one eye on the out-of-town scoreboard to track what the Cardinals were doing. Doc was other-worldly, no question, but so were Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez and Darryl Strawberry, and we didn’t limit our immersion in what they and their teammates were doing to one night out of every five.

By contrast, Jacob pitching practically on his own has represented a phenomenon in a vacuum. Four nights out of every five, no disrespect to any other Met starting pitcher of the moment, we’re just slobs on the couch looking up from our phones from time to time. On the fifth night — culminating in the fifth-to-last night of 2018, as it turned out — we’re puttin’ on our top hat, tyin’ up our white tie, brushin’ off our tails. We’re the belle of the ball, the toast of the Met Gala. Everybody playing in deGrom’s orchestra strives to look sharp and tries to hit notes higher than they are accustomed to reaching. They don’t want to let down their conductor. Neither do we.

One could imagine the post-fete dialogue as we temporary Cinderellas return to our humdrum existences.

“Where’ve you been?”
“At the Mets game. It was magical!”
“The Mets? Don’t they suck?”
“Not when deGrom is pitching.”
“So they won?”
“Not necessarily.”

You’d have to be a Mets fan, a Mets fan in 2018, to understand. You’d have to be a Mets fan to understand what it means to show up on a late September night, threat of rain in the forecast, to sit outside and treat the 158th game the fourth-place Mets were mandated to play as if it was the 32nd game of a six-month World Series. We had to make Jake’s going-away party the best it could be. We knew Jake would. We didn’t know if he would win or if the Mets would win, but we knew there was no way any of us could lose.

Jacob deGrom has spent 2018 redefining for us what a great season looks like. If you’ve grown up reciting sets of numbers like 25-and-7 and grown older pairing it with 24-and-4, you’ve trained yourself to reflexively dismiss plebian digits like 10-and-9. Or 9-and-9. Or 8-and-9. Yet in 2018, as informed as our habits may have been by the successes of Seaver and Gooden at their winningest, we learned how much beauty can blossom if you have the sense to peek beyond the most obvious, least revealing numerals.

Nothing about deGrom’s already resplendent season was going to look substantively different whether or not Jake “beat the Braves” on Wednesday night. We still use that kind of language. He beat them; they beat him. One man versus nine batters, as if the game is designed for the pitcher to control every possibly outcome, including that which is memorialized in the standings every morning. As silly as it sounds, we’ve institutionally bought into it forever. Even if we let our logic flag fly in theory, we’d rally around the W’s if there were enough of them for a couple of minyans. Six Septembers ago, when the Mets were similarly closer to last place than first, we flocked to Citi Field to urge R.A. Dickey on to his 20th win. It’s not like we didn’t already know wins were of limited utility in measuring the full effectiveness of a pitcher, but we finally had somebody sitting on 19 of them and, goddammit, we wanted that 20th for him and us.

This September, within the context of deGrom and the Cy we seek in his name, 10 sort of became of the new 20 — though even that formulation is a reach. We knew when Jake’s won-lost record was 8-9 that it didn’t reflect his truth. How would 10-9 somehow certify that the best pitcher in the sport had gotten exponentially better over a span of less that two weeks? It wouldn’t, but superficiality doesn’t probe that deeply. We wanted Jake to have the best possible record, no matter how ultimately pointless a pitching metric “record” is.

For generations we dwelled unquestioningly in the valley of decisions. Wins. Losses. No-decisions either desperately bargained for or grudgingly accepted as the cost of doing business. It’s been the hardest of habits to break. I don’t know that we’ll ever fully rid ourselves of the inclination to overvalue the W’s and cringe too hard at the L’s. As long as the former is available, we will want them for our pitchers. As long as the latter loom as possibilities, we will recoil at their intrusion. And we’ll still treat no-decisions as fickly as we can, welcoming or resenting them on a purely situational basis.

Jacob deGrom is a winner in practically every inning he pitches, the victor in virtually every mano-a-mano in which he’s engaged. Evaluating him by the game seems inadequate. Seaver and Gooden and others threw great games. DeGrom prevails batter after batter after batter. You’re surprised when somebody reaches base. You’re shocked when anybody comes around to score. In the universe he has created, the aberration upsets your soul. The stray RBI hit stands out as the act of a vandal. Madison Bumgarner, Lewis Brinson, Brock Holt…they might as well have been the Scioscias and Pendletons of the sputtering summer of 2018. They didn’t knock the Mets perilously off stride amid a pennant push. They didn’t rewrite the narrative of a would-be world champion.

No, they had the temerity to tick Jacob deGrom’s earned run average ever so slightly upward. When that would happen, we were all Ralph Branca burying our face in the nearest cement staircase.

Yet not for long, because Jake was resilient, taking on another batter and another inning and emerging victorious in those encounters. It showed up everywhere in the box score except maybe where they print the W’s…which should be marked as a loss for the win, because it simply doesn’t reflect the greatness of deGrom.

Wednesday night was for the fans who hadn’t had enough of the 2018 Mets and couldn’t get enough of 2018 Jacob deGrom. Those of us who showed up at Citi Field (a dedicated cohort that included Jason and me if not tens and tens of thousands of others) received an evening that reflected accurately everything that has made deGrom synonymous with greatness. There was a Brave base hit to begin the game. There was another to begin the second inning.

And that was it where Brave hitting not to mention walking was concerned. One Brave got to first on a wild pitch and misguided heave after a strikeout, but he didn’t stay long. Jacob, ever the maestro, saw the runner, Ronald Acuña, had rounded first as the ball Devin Mesoraco flung had trickled away. The pitcher directed Jeff McNeil to throw to first, where Dom Smith tagged him out, thus transforming the evening’s only audible groan into a cheer.

Jacob struck out ten Braves in eight innings. The tenth was the thousandth of his career, which seemed to make the pitcher uncommonly happy. Good for him — he should be happy enough so that we can pick up on it. What Jay Bruce said about deGrom after his previous start, that he’s “very, very boring in the best way possible,” extends to his answers about how very, very excellent he is in the best way possible. Jake’s affable as all get out, cooperating to the fullest extent of politeness with every inquiry of what it was like out there tonight, et al, but his responses generally don’t change speeds like his pitches do. Yes, he felt good. Sure, he’d like to have won. No, he can only control so much and looks forward to his next start.

I didn’t realize until the video boards flashed the bulletin that Jake had been one strikeout away from 1,000 when he fired the last of his 2018 pitches past Ozzie Albies. He sure knew, though. No. 1,000 brought the biggest smile I’ve seen from him since he lowered Daniel Murphy’s chair while Murph attempted to address the media at Dodger Stadium during the 2015 NLDS. He was sneaky fast after the game that night, just as he was overwhelming during the game that preceded it.

Jake was a really good pitcher in 2014 and 2015, pretty darn beguiling even when dogged by injury in 2016. He was among the best anywhere in 2017. And he’s gotten better. He was more or less at the top of his craft by the All-Star break and has improved since then. Not only was it fitting that he walked off the mound for presumably the final time this year on a strikeout that left Albies looking at air, it was apropos that the called strike three made it twenty consecutive batters making an out. DeGrom may have been one start away from throwing a perfect game. Or one month away from throwing a perfect month.

For a change of pace, he had help. McNeil didn’t require deGrom pointing which way to go in the seventh when on the hardest-hit Brave ball of the night, off the bat of the perennially treacherous Ender Inciarte, Jeff dove into the middle of the diamond and snagged the closest thing Atlanta would manage to a base hit post-second inning. And two Mets — Smith and Michael Conforto — conjured actual offense. Conforto doubled down the right field line in the sixth and Smith singled him home for a 1-0 lead. In the eighth, Conforto rearranged the deck chairs on the Citi Pavilion, the branded seating area just south of Shea Bridge. One out later, Smith went opposite field for another solo homer.

It was 3-0, Mets, yet the crowd soon expressed its displeasure. Not for the score but for the on-deck circle, where Bruce stood instead of deGrom. One-hundred ten pitches were in the books. We’d see no more of Jacob on the mound. When the perfectly likable and usually effective Seth Lugo came trotting out of the bullpen in advance of the ninth, we booed. Nothing personal, Seth. Surely you understand.

Three outs later, we and Jake got his 10th win of the season. A perfect 10th. Incidental to the other numbers, to be sure. The strikeout total had topped out at 269, one more than Doc K’d in 1985, fourth-most in Mets history. The ERA had plunged to 1.70, six-hundredths less than Tom posted in 1971, second-best in Mets history. It took me a while to realize why 1.70 seemed so familiar. It eventually registered that 1.70 was Tug McGraw’s ERA in 1971 and 1972, the seasons that established him as one of the best relievers in the league, the seasons that made his struggles through most of 1973 so unbelievable. Tug put up his twin 1.70’s a little bit at a time, albeit with a workload that a modern closer couldn’t comprehend: 111 IP in ’71, 106 IP in ’72. Over two seasons and 217 innings, in 105 appearances (one of them a start), Tug could hardly be touched.

Jacob deGrom threw exactly that many innings in 2018, 217. After that one game on May 2 when he left after four with a hyperextended elbow (and we all hyperventilated) and the game after that when he test-drove the elbow for one excruciatingly stressful inning (45 pitches, three walks, no runs), he never stayed out there less than six innings. Just one complete game, which is a shame for the romantics among us, but in contemporary baseball we understand how closely managers and coaches count pitches. During eleven August and September starts, Jacob never threw fewer than 98 of them. The earned run average that dazzled at 1.68 in advance of the All-Star break barely budged.

We’ve got stats in our eyes when it comes to Jacob deGrom. The Mets media department transmitted a sheath of notes attesting to his achievements a little more than half-an-hour after the ink had dried on them. Some, but not all, are…

• Three runs or fewer allowed in 29 consecutive starts

• 24 consecutive quality starts

• Allowed one or no runs in 18 starts

• ERA of 0.88 in six starts versus the division champion Braves

• Only season in modern major league history to encompass at least 260 strikeouts, 50 or fewer walks, 10 or fewer home runs allowed and a sub-2.00 ERA.

And so on.

The statistics do neatly encapsulate his case for the Cy Young, if that’s your priority. Who are we kidding? Of course we want it for him and us, and it seems highly likely he’ll be collecting it come November. What’s at least as rewarding as any award, however, is the feeling we got from Jacob deGrom pitching. Anytime, any start, but especially Wednesday night in his last start if you were at Citi Field.

It wasn’t just the season Jake had. It was the season the Mets had. One of those seasons. You didn’t need a reason to remain on top of things in 1969 when Tom was going 25-7 and the Mets were en route to 100-62 and so much more. You didn’t need to explain yourself to yourself as Doc was building up to 24-4 in service to the Mets pulling up just short of a division title at 98-64. Empty seats were the exception in those Septembers. This September, they are in abundance. Even last night they were plentiful. But those of us filling the minority of Citi’s chairs…we got it. We got Jake. We got what it means to have one Met excel regardless of what the other Mets have been doing.

Conforto. McNeil. Rosario. Nimmo and, on a good night, Smith. If you squint, you can almost make out a team around Jake. Don’t look too closely at center field or third base. Imagine a catcher who can do more than receive. Dream of a bullpen you aren’t by instinct moved to boo. Yet the Mets have been getting incrementally less bad as a rule. No longer does it seem Jacob and the rest of the rotation would be better off hiring their own hitters and taking off on a barnstorming tour. No longer does Jake necessarily resemble a Big Brother graciously volunteering his time with the neighborhood kids, stepping off the rubber and watching them try their best despite knowing that they’ll never really get the hang of the sport he mastered many moons ago.

When a season of overall disappointment winds down, we Mets fans who seek out nights like Jacob deGrom’s final start can’t say what the next season will bring for the team, but we can isolate what has been most special about the season somehow still in progress, expressing our appreciation forcefully and reveling in it jubilantly. No question we’d go last night. No wonder we stood and applauded as long as we could. No wonder we remained giddy as we departed, arrival of that anticipated rain be damned. As with Jake getting batters out, it’s just what we do, it’s just how we are.

Homeward Bound

When David Wright and his employers announced his projected return to active duty, I did what I assume many Mets fans did: I checked StubHub. The cheapest tickets available for Saturday, September 29, were priced at about eight times what the cheapest tickets for every other game I’ve shopped in the second half of 2018. I decided my dream of No. 5 jogging out to third base — accompanied by No. 7 heading for shortstop — coming to fruition would have to be experienced via television. That’s OK. A lot of Mets fans share the same dream and Mets television, as is documented regularly, is pretty Amazin’. The important thing is it’s supposed to happen. David Wright is supposed to play third base in a few days. Play third base and bat. We and he got a good deal of advance notice because it’s an occasion. The last of its kind.

Mickey Callaway allowed several times in the runup to David’s actual activation Tuesday that the most accomplished position player the Mets ever developed and held on to throughout a long career would also be available to pinch-hit. Maybe once. Maybe twice. Made sense to give him at least one at-bat along the way, I figured. Given that he hasn’t faced a major league pitcher in a major league game in twenty-eight months, a reintroductory period seemed in order. A few pitches here, a few pitches there, let him get used to the feeling again. Plus, if he’s well enough to swing a bat, the bat could possibly find its way to the ball. David Wright recorded 1,777 base hits as a New York Met between 2004 and 2016. Muscle memory alone might generate a single into shallow left field.

Considering the entire 2018 Mets season has been a bucket of cold water, the first opportunity Callaway had to insert David into a game came and went with inaction. It wasn’t surprising. Before Tuesday’s game, co-co-co-GM John Ricco said the sanctity of the race for home field advantage, in which the opposition Braves are competing, would somehow be violated if an active player with 1,777 career base hits was allowed to bat. Instead, the dreary game the Mets played went on predictably sans Wright. Noah Syndergaard pitched very well for six innings while he was sick with some undefined malady (hands, feet and mouth not reported complicit) and then several members of the bullpen came along to undo his fine work. The Mets led, 3-0, through six, yet lost, 7-3. Oh, and it rained some. The story of Citi Field in its tenth season…the rainy season in more ways than one.

Seeing Wright be a ballplayer, even for an instant (provided he was feeling up for it), would have been a treat for the hundreds in attendance as well as the dead-enders like myself viewing from home. It’s not a crime against baseball that it didn’t happen — it’s understood that this whole thing is a weird situation — but looking forward to David Wright makes a Mets fan look forward to David Wright.

I got to thinking about when seeing David Wright play for the Mets was no big whoop. The whoop was large on July 22, 2004, the first time I saw him in person. It was his second game. He got the first of those 1,777 hits, a double off Zach Day of the Montreal Expos. You remember the Expos? Our most recently activated Met played against them. We have two guys who did so, counting Reyes. Next to having Bartolo Colon, the last extant ex-Expo, on your roster, that’s a pretty good Montreal memorial for 2018.

The great part about seeing young David Wright that midsummer midweek afternoon was knowing this was the beginning of something. We had waited for David to come up through the first half of ’04, and then, at last, he appeared. Now we knew he would keep appearing, keep being penciled in by Art Howe (one thing Howe could manage without self-inflicted controversy). We had our third baseman of the future in the present.

The present went on and on like that, No. 5, the third baseman, David Wright. Crowds surged and ebbed. Other Mets came and went. David Wright stayed and stayed, played and played. You came to see David Wright like you came to see the blue walls and the red Apple and the green, green grass of Shea. They were all part of the attraction if not something that necessarily grabbed your attention after a while. He was more than “just there,” but he also wasn’t going anywhere.

A dive into The Log, the steno notebook I began keeping fairly early in my Sheagoing experience so I’d always be able to accurately identify which games I attended, supplemented by Baseball-Reference’s handy guide to daily defensive lineups, has confirmed a hunch for me. When I went to Shea from July 22, 2004, until September 28, 2008, after which I could go to Shea no more (happy melancholy tenth anniversary, by the way), I pretty much couldn’t look at third base in the top of an inning without seeing David Wright. The Log tells me I was at 129 regular-season home games during this stretch. Baseball-Reference tells me David Wright started 125 of them at third base, including the first 48 when he and I were active at Shea at the same time.

There wasn’t a game that didn’t start with Wright at third and me at or hustling to my seat until September 24, 2006. The date checks out as logical. The Mets had clinched the National League East earlier that week. Skipper Willie Randolph was strategically resting his regulars, whether they wanted the pine or not. On that Sunday, grizzled veteran David, about three months shy of twenty-four years old, was directed to a seat in the dugout. Chris Woodward, a superutility supernova in the mid-2000s Met narrative, got the start instead. The Mets lost to the Nationals, many of whom had recently been Expos.

On a sunny afternoon the following May, Randolph dared give his three standout stalwarts a simultaneous breather. No Wright, Reyes or Beltran for those of us who showed up at Shea. Reyes had aggravated a hammy the night before. The other stars, Willie decided, simply needed a blow. Then, in the ninth, with the visiting Cubs up by four, the Mets needed a couple of blows, so the two of them pinch-hit. Carlos walked. David singled. The Mets scored five and won. It remains intensely memorable to me for how it ended, and maybe a touch for who didn’t start.

A couple of weeks later, Wright experienced pregame back spasms. Foreshadowing? It didn’t seem like anything alarming on June 1, 2007. Julio Franco, speaking of grizzled, trotted out to third base. The Mets lost to the Diamondbacks. On September 9 of that season, just as the Mets were preparing to pull away from the Phillies and salt away a second consecutive division title, Randolph insisted on resting Wright one more time during the stretch run. It wasn’t the storyline of the day in the stands. Pedro Martinez was. Pedro was making his first home start of the season, having just come off the disabled list in Cincinnati to fortify the rotation ahead of the postseason. Pedro gripped us all in his palm as he defeated the Astros, then a member of the National League Central.

Wright would be in the lineup every day the rest of 2007, including all those days I’d be on hand for. Best laid plans went awry that September, but not the ones that included No. 5 at third base, doing his best to ward off bad vibes. He didn’t yield a whit of starting time at third in 2008 during my 44 visits, either. Every day at Shea, right down to Shea Goodbye, was day to say hello again to David Wright.

They opened a new ballpark in 2009. The walls weren’t blue. The original red Apple was stashed in a dark corner. Yet the grass was still green and the third baseman was still all Wright virtually all the time. I went to 36 games during Citi Field’s inaugural season. Wright started 33 of them. The outliers were Matt Cain’s fault, a fastball of his that got too up and too in and relegated the third baseman to the DL for the first time in our lives. David wasn’t quite the same batter when he came back, but he came back ASAP. And he stayed put in 2010, business more or less usual. I went to 27 games at Citi Field that second year. One time Mike Hessman started at third. Twenty-six other times, including Closing Day, David’s domain remained sacrosanct. Jerry Manuel was managing by then, calling the shots of his last game on October 3. In the midst of a tie, in a late inning, Jerry made a show of removing Wright from third and Reyes from short. We stood to applaud then sat to endure. The game went into extras, with Hessman in relief of Wright and Joaquin Arias taking over at second so Ruben Tejada could shift to shortstop. Eventually we had a fourteenth inning, an unlikely Oliver Perez sighting and a final loss for Ollie & Jerry and us to take home for winter.

The first eight games I attended in 2011 were unremarkable in the third base sense. David Wright started there. He always had, he always would. Remarkable player, remarkable consistency, but nobody and nothing you didn’t expect to see. No. 5, exactly where you were conditioned to look for him in his eighth season. Through May 8, 2011, in the previous 200 regular-season Mets home games I saw, David Wright had started 192 of them. Two stadiums, one third baseman.

Then, on May 28, 2011, I went to a game when something wasn’t Wright. It was third base, as ascertained from a seat down the line left field. I clearly remember peering straight ahead at the Met going into a defensive crouch. He was wearing No. 2. No. 2, I decided there and then, was a strange number for a baseball player to wear. Marv Throneberry. Jim Fregosi. Wayne Housie. It was fine for Bobby Valentine to manage in, but what were we doing with a No. 2 at third?

The third baseman of the moment was Justin Turner. He wasn’t exactly new. He’d been tearing it up for a spell at second base. He could play there while Daniel Murphy played first, a necessity because Ike Davis, the first baseman of the future, had a mysterious run-in with an infield fly in Colorado. But once David felt something in his back that May, more than a spasm, he was DL-bound again and a void developed at third. On the team whose birth pangs delivered us Don Zimmer and eight immediate 1962 successors, no such thing had materialized in forever, yet this was the new reality of 2011. Of course No. 2 looked strange. Any number that wasn’t No. 5 would have at third base.

May 28’s was the first of ten consecutive games I attended in 2011 when David Wright didn’t start at third base. It took some getting used to. Then it got shaken off, because he was whole again, starting at third at Citi Field through August and September. I went to eleven games; he started ten of them. Normality reigned in 2012: twenty-eight games I went to, twenty-eight games Wright started at third. The first twenty I hit in 2013 as well, until early August. A hamstring issue arose. Wright was gone from my sight until the final game of the year, the Captain returning to his station as the Mets inducted Mike Piazza into their Hall of Fame. David had played with Mike. By 2013, it was bracing to realize how far David’s career reached in the backward direction. Piazza. Franco. Leiter. Zeile. They were all 2004 Mets alongside Wright, a 2013 Met by now alone in his engagement with franchise history. The 2000 Mets had one final connection through which they could touch the present: No. 5, the third baseman.

It would have been bracing to realize how little David’s career would lunge forward. David had been signed in 2012 to remain a Met through 2020. A dicey proposition in theory, but c’mon. David Wright wasn’t all that old and he was definitely all that Met. Games weren’t so different to go at first in 2014. Wright was at third base for the first eighteen I saw. August, however, would lay him low again. He’d peek his sore neck and shoulder into the lineup a couple more times between inactive stints, but proved mostly done in another year that was mostly done from its beginning.

Finally, 2015, the year the Mets began to look like something different. A 2-3 launch on the road, but a homestand taking on a life of its own directly thereafter. David started at third on the home version of Opening Day. I wasn’t there. I was there the next night, though. So was David…until the ever present third baseman had to exit the game of April 14, 2015, having done something unfortunate to a hamstring while stealing second base. Terry Collins was out of legitimate third base substitutes, so catcher Anthony Recker replaced him for the rest of the game. Recker became the 154th third baseman in Mets history, as asterisky as he could be. Songs had been written to celebrate the revolving door of Mets third basemen during their first quarter-century. Wright, the 129th in the line of Zimmerian succession, stuck his foot in the door early in the franchise’s fifth decade. Enough, he said. You’d get the odd Woodward or Turner or Hessman passing through now and then, but it barely meaningfully nudged from 2004 until 2015.

Twenty Fifteen changed our perception of third base forever more. The hamstring absence revealed something more insidious, a spinal condition that had entered David’s anatomy in 2011, when he first missed a significant chunk of time. Stenosis it was called. You didn’t say you wanted a revolution, but revolve the door would. The third baseman you saw at Citi Field if you attended games as 2015 wore on depended on the day of the week. I saw Eric Campbell. I saw Daniel Murphy. I saw Ruben Tejada. I seem to have missed Danny Muno, but he was around. Juan Uribe, too. Him I saw. For old times’ sake, on September 15 and October 4, I saw David Wright start. Suddenly, provided the Captain didn’t push himself irresponsibly, he could be our third baseman again. He’d be our third baseman in the postseason. Yes, that was back, too, for the first time since 2006. I attended my and Citi Field’s first World Series game on October 30, 2015. I and everybody else there saw David Wright hit his and the ballpark’s first World Series home run. It was beautiful.

It couldn’t last. It didn’t. We lost the World Series. We kept David Wright. He was ours on a very long-term contract. He couldn’t imagine leaving us and we would have had to have gone on the disabled list with a conniption fit had he been permitted to depart. In 2016, David was the Opening Day third baseman, Away and Home, as he’d been every Opening Day since 2005. Collins said he’d handle Wright’s body with kid gloves. Stenosis demanded it. Wright seemed to play whenever I showed up anyway. Other than a day game after a night game when Wilmer Flores got the start, David and I were together at Citi Field like always as defense of our National League pennant got rolling.

I went to the Saturday afternoon affair of May 21, 2016, Mets versus Brewers. Nothing unusual there. As can be inferred, I’ve gone to a lot of Mets games. David Wright started at third base. It wasn’t as automatic a fact of life as it had been when Shea was closing and Citi was opening, but there he was. It was my seventh game of the season, my sixth time seeing David. That was a 2006-level rate, except David was deep into his thirties and some lesser third baseman spelling him was no longer a novelty. Still, he was in the lineup on May 21 and, come the ninth inning, he’d get the game-winning hit. It was cause for high-fives and hugs but not that unusual. David was always good for a game-winning hit.

I had to leave the game early that Saturday — a whole other story — so I didn’t see David drive in Eric Campbell with the winning run in the bottom of the ninth. I experienced my own raft of high-fives and hugs when he came through, because I was in the company of Mets fans somewhere west of Citi Field. It wasn’t the same as being there to take it in live, but I didn’t think much of it. I’d seen so much David Wright in my life. What was one more game?

Haven’t seen him play third at Citi Field since. I was on my way to the ballpark a week later when I learned via Twitter that he’d been scratched. Oh well, next time, I figured. As you’ve no doubt calculated, there was no next time. There was only the disabled list and a trickling of dispiriting bulletins that 2016 was over where David Wright was concerned. At third there was Campbell or Flores or Ty Kelly or Kelly Johnson or T.J. Rivera or, as if out of a twilight sleep, Jose Reyes. Wrightlessly we hung in there and made it to the playoffs. One of game of them, to be precise.

David would be back in 2017. That was the word. He played in Spring Training. Surely we’d see him at third base on Opening Day. Third base on Opening Day was where we knew we could find No. 5. Alas, he never got past the first base foul line, another non-playing member of the home team, getting introduced in the company of assistant trainers, clubhouse staff and fungible relievers before disappearing into the netherworld of rehab. Wright received a warmer ovation than Fernando Salas and Josh Smoker, but nothing that shook Flushing to its foundation. The Captain would be back soon, we assumed.

Assume nothing. I went to seventeen games at Citi Field in 2017. The Mets won ten of them. David Wright played in none of them. None away from home, either. There were a few late-summer stabs at third base in Port St. Lucie. All they told the Captain was he wasn’t ready to reboard his ship. Come 2018, the wayward vessel sailed on without him. A new full-time third baseman, Todd Frazier, was signed. He wasn’t a stopgap. He was present-day reality, the 167th third baseman in Mets history, a tally that reached 171 in August with the emergence of Jack Reinheimer. We’ve had McNeil, Bautista and Guillorme make debuts there this year as well. And Evans, d’Arnaud, Walker and Cabrera last year. Mostly Frazier this year, though. The Mets needed a third baseman for the season ahead because, we had to face it, the face of the franchise…the face of baseball, per the results of a silly Twitter exercise…wasn’t going to be showing his face anytime soon at third base for us.

Now he will. For a night at the end of September. Maybe for a cameo at the plate if the Riccos and Callaways can align their strategies with David’s spine. Give him a chance to get loose. Maybe give him a chance to swing tonight. I’ll be there tonight. I don’t really expect to see David play. The grass may still be green, the red Apple from Shea may be more prominently placed, the walls may have been returned to blue, but times have irreversibly changed.