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Edge of a Dream

Posted By Greg Prince On March 10, 2005 @ 2:57 pm In Main Page | Comments Disabled

The first time I saw David Wright in the flesh was his second game, the one in which he got his first hit. On the scoreboard a bit later, when they greeted groups and individuals, a message flashed: THE METS WELCOME JIMMY DIAMOND. That's what I privately called Young Mr. Wright for the next month. Every time he'd get on base, I'd yell, “the Mets welcome Jimmy Diamond!” I later morphed it to Diamond Dave for clarity's sake.

Not to ride this pony too hard or too often, but our Diamond Dave sparkles too brightly to be believed. Watching Fran Healy interview on him on the Mets Spring Training Report (sorry, don't mean to sound like I'm showing off here in Cablevision territory — we'll get screwed next year), Diamond Dave made Healy seem cynical and a mite downbeat.

David Wright loves his teammates. David Wright loves his coaches. David Wright loves the coaches he had in the minors. David Wright loves everything about the Mets and everything about being one of the Mets. David Wright, as you probably have heard, grew up a Mets fan, but that can't possibly explain his giddy fealty to the cause. If he were really that much one of us, he'd say something like, “I just don't want to stink up the joint like Bill Pecota.”

I don't think ballplayers who grew up as fans of a team are the same as people like you and me and the way we grew up fans of a team. Those boys were out playing under the streetlamp until Ma called them in. Or they begged Dad for one more round of catch in the backyard and then, I swear, I'll do my math homework. (Or they were taking meetings with agents who regularly haunted Little League combines; things have probably changed since our youth.) We've heard so many players say they were too busy playing ball as kids to be fans that we're surprised to find there are a few who actually did watch ball.

On the other hand, guys like us were told to go out and get some fresh air when we were far more interested in sitting ourselves in front of Channel 9 or our dog-eared copy of Screwball. We knew our future was in spouting statistics — there were only like three of them then — and pulling charming anecdotes from our respective vaults. I played ball, enthusiastically, regularly, comically, until I got to college. But the thing I loved to do was watch ball.

Tom Verducci has straddled that line in the current Sports Illustrated, a total must-read article, even if John Gibbons (manager) and John Valentin (Double-A coach) are the only Mets referenced. He spent five days as a Toronto Blue Jay, culminating in his appearance in an intrasquad game. Wore No. 2 and everything.

Verducci didn't necessarily break any news (after all, what's said there stays there), but it's comforting to know that after all this time, ballplayers are still pretty much ballplayers, which is to say kids who haven't quite got all growed up yet. I particularly like the effort the relatively starless Jays — no $16K earrings mentioned — put into giving the insiders' section of their clubhouse a proper title while the nicknames they slap on each other are the essence of no-brainers. If David Wright were a Blue Jay (and let's be glad he's not), he'd be Wright-O. Toronto leftfielder Reed Johnson, for example, is Reeder, like Rick Reed was Reeder. The Utne Reader would be, I assume, Reeder. Or Ut-Hut.

After reading (or Reedering) Verducci's piece, I can understand why a Brian Daubach or a Joey Hamilton wants to hang on. Being a Big Leaguer gots ta be the good life. And why shouldn't it be? For every fifth outfielder we mock, for every last dreary middle reliever we pencil in and erase and then replace with a body double, these guys are great ballplayers. Well, great compared to you or me or anybody we'll run into in the course of our daily functioning. David Wright should be ecstatic and Brian Daubach should be angling for an in, whatever his past war crimes are.

Ya do wonder who knows who in a situation like this. There has to be some kind of degrees-of-separation deal to get from apparently washed up first baseman or pitcher to a tryout with the Mets instead of, say, the Diamondbacks or the Ducks. “Hey Omar, you don't know me, but you do know Frank Robinson who knows Tom McCraw who knows Todd Hundley who hated my guts. Anyway, Frank said I should call you for a tryout…”

Funny you should mention the Hundley-Sheffield throwdown. I was at that game in 1993. It had the potential to be momentous for me and me alone. To that point, my lifetime regular-season games-at-Shea record was 32-33. I was on the cusp of reaching .500 for the first time since I had fallen to 3-3 in 1977. Alas, when the dust settled, the Padres, on a run in the eighth off some promising young hurler named Anthony Young, won 9-8. It marked the beginning of a shameful 6-18 stretch with me in attendance and I didn't reach .500 until 1998, didn't top it for good (pending future horrible losing streak) until 1999. For the record, I stand at 157-125 entering the new season.

I'm fairly certain guys who grow up to be ballplayers don't keep track of these things.


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