Barring hail, frogs, locusts, murrain and whatever other plagues Cablevision brings on viewers, a pretend Mets game will air on MSG Friday night. Seeing as how darkness was one of the Top Ten Plagues of The Week brought forth on the Egyptians by The Big Guy (God, not Chris Berman), I wonder why the hell they play so many spring-training games at night.
I've heard the reasoning, that the regular season is predominantly night games, so the players need to get used to the dark. To which I say hogwash. The most embarrassing individual Opening Day (Day, not night) performance I can remember was Keith Miller looking lost under fly balls in center in 1990. Maybe he was a victim of all those damn night games in St. Lucie. After Opening Day, does anybody truly attribute anybody's performance to what happened in spring training?
Besides, nobody — nobody — gets goose-pimply at the idea of soaking up some of that Florida moon. And when the frost is still on the parking lot as it is around here, a night game sends a diluted message of hope. I'm all for having baseball on TV at night, even in March, but play it during the day and tape it for evening airing.
That reminds me of perhaps the strangest arrangement I can recall in Mets broadcast history. Ten years ago, in the midst of the false spring of replacement baseball, WFAN was obligated to run a certain number of exhibition games. What they did was tape-delay 'em. By a lot. I have a clear memory of making my way south down some newly discovered secondary road in Nassau County at around midnight with Murph and Gary dutifully describing the futile motions being gone through by a lost battalion of Replace-Mets, but allowing that at least it was brilliantly sunny out. Whoever our scabs were playing had Doug Corbett pitching for them. Only thing is, Terry, Doug Corbett retired in 1987.
We've all got our personal archvillains — mini-Chippers and tiny Rockets whose mere existence in our midst set us off into a flurry of BOOOOOOOOOs. Then you're disappointed to learn nobody else in the stadium shares your antipathy and you have to explain to your seatmate why you've apparently lost your mind the way Kenny Rogers lost the plate late one evening in Atlanta. One of those guys for me is the mysteriously present Manny Aybar. I should hope you know why.
OK, if you've forgotten, I'll remind you. It's April 25, 2000. It's the Reds at Mets. It's Ken Griffey, Jr.'s New York National League debut. And it's colder than a Mitchell's hit (you know, Kevin Mitchell, his hit against the Red Sox in Game Six, which they must've found pretty, uh, cold). I'm there with you and Emily because we deemed this a historic occasion. We thought that because of Griffey, but instead we wound up debating whether this night was more frigid than Jackie Robinson Night. Even if it wasn't, it was no night to sit around and wait for some idiot relief pitcher to take his time “warming” up and then pause for Trachselian lengths between every pitch.
That idiot relief pitcher was Manny Aybar. And every time Manny Aybar's name is announced, no matter the temperature, I rub my hands together and loudly curse the day he was born. (His mother was in labor for 54 hours…had to be.) Finding out he is at least fleetingly one of ours sends shivers down my spine.
One of my many peeves regarding Mets fans who aren't me is their tendency to throw ex-Mets overboard without a second glance. Bobby Jones returned as a Padre in May 2001 to the most tepid applause imaginable. The same man who seven months earlier pitched a one-hit shutout to clinch a playoff series (it was cold as a bastid then, too, come to think of it) was now just another Padre to these people. Don't even get me started on the failure to properly adulate Fonzie with flowers and chocolates in 2003. What's just as ignorant is the inability to pick out of a crowd them that done us wrong. A few weeks after the Aybar/Griffey chillout, I was at a game against the Diamondbacks when Russ Springer strolled to the mound for Arizona. I booed. My companion, while jotting the pitcher's name in his scorebook, asked “what do you have against Russ Springer?”
Oh, nothing. Except on a Tuesday night the previous October at Turner Field, Russ Springer took the ball in the top of the eleventh and retired John Olerud, Shawon Dunston and Robin Ventura in all too easy order, preserving a 9-9 tie and telling me in all too clear terms that whatever Mr. Rogers did in the bottom of the eleventh, 1999 was probably at its end. That's all.
If that's not worth vilification, I don't know what is.
[My thanks to big-time agent David Sloane and the continual amusement he has provided so many of us with his bizarre representation of mighta-been Met Carlos Delgado. It was in his honor that every other headline posted here this week was the title of a Joe Cocker song. For more on what Joe's up to, visit cocker.com]