Before we get to tonight's game, a few more words about the never-to-be-called-that Mets Ballpark. I know you and I pretty much agree on Shea at this point — it's crumbling, rusty, spills strange substances on you, the escalators don't work, the plumbing backs up, the batter's eye breaks between innings, fuses blow and knock TV networks off the air, key parts of home-run apples get lost, old children's parks molder behind the outfield fence…if something can go wrong at an old, ugly ballpark, it's probably going wrong at Shea this very instant. When those not fortunate enough to have enjoyed its charms ask me to describe Shea, I invariably say it's like a DMV with a ballgame in the middle of it.
So why are you offering valedictions while I'm offloading venom? I guess the difference is you can still find some sentiment for the old rattletrap, while I have none to spare. Mets memories? I have good ones by the bushelful, but for me they're bound up with the people (in player uniform and fan uniform), with precious little left over for the place. A parking lot? Sounds like a vast improvement.
Particularly considering where the people parking those cars will go. The new stadium is gorgeous, and not just because I've wanted me one of these for a long, long time. I've wanted one since I ascended a working, relatively speedy escalator and found a comfy seat in Camden Yards. Since I wandered Turner Field and found the concourses filled with monitors and the radio feed playing in the bathroom. Since Emily returned from a trip to Denver raving about Coors Field. Since I heard your hosannas for the Stadium Formerly Known as Pac Bell. Since I had to watch the Phillies — whose fans deserve nothing nice, whose old park had a freaking jail in it — get one. I never saw Ebbets Field, so I'm not going to get too choked up about the rotunda (that said, Fred Wilpon's emotional recollection of going there with his Dad was a nice moment), but I love that too. The wide concourses, the green seats, the lights, the nod to the bridges … I love it all.
And I want it now! Since I can't get that, I want to wallow in all the wonderfully silly stuff of a new ballpark coming to town. I want to see the pols holding silver shovels and making stupid baseball references. I want to see the new park rising beyond the bullpen, then watch long home runs bounce off of it in 2008, a la whatever they call Cincy's nice new ballpark. I want countdowns with old Met heroes unveiling each new lower number. I want to spend way too much money for bricks with my name and my wife's name and my kid's name. I'm ready. And if they let me at a sledgehammer, I'll help dispense with the old barn myself.
What's that? Oh, the game.
Every so often I've had the experience of introducing someone who's never seen baseball to the Grand Old Game. In these situations you pray for a barn-burner, something with twists and turns and hope and heartbreak and some rancor along the way. You want a 9-8 doozy, not some 5-1 snoozer that alternates between arcane vocabulary and batters wandering around the batters' box before grounding out. One of the best introductory games I remember came years ago, with a German visitor named Joachim as a guest at my parents' house in Florida — a Mets/Cardinals battle royal at Busch, with Tony Pena confiscating HoJo's bat after a home run. (Perhaps it was this 1987 game?) Joachim began sitting paralyzed on the couch, parsing all the bizarre rules and trying just to keep track of the action, and wound up yelling and screaming in wild joy along with my Mom and Dad and me.
Tonight would have been a perfect introduction. So, in honor of Joachim, here's a conversation that didn't take place but should have.
Joachim: This pitcher, this Pedro? Why did he hit the National in the back with a fastball?
Well, Joachim, officially that pitch slipped. Unofficially, Jose Guillen has been having his way with Pedro, and Pedro doesn't like that. One would think that would settle their accounts.
I hear Pedro is wearing some kind of special shoe. What's the story with that?
It's a long one, but watch — here. See the way he finishes his pitching motion? Imagine doing that 100+ times every fifth day, for years and years and years. We think it's finally fixed, but you'll excuse us if we're saying a few quiet prayers over here. And keep watching, Joachim, because Pedro hasn't thrown enough pitches this spring to keep from getting real tired before this one is over.
Now the other team's pitcher is trying to hit David Wright, the one all the fans like! This shouldn't be!
That's the code — you hit our guy, we're either going to hit you or hit your best player. And did you know Ramon Ortiz, the Nats' pitcher, grew up idolizing Pedro? You'll find baseball's full of ironies like that. Anyway, let's see what David does. Look at that! Lined a base hit! That's the way you deal with these things. Hey Joachim, did you know in the American League pitchers don't bat? It's true! Yes, it is ridiculous!
That ball the hawk-faced player with the odd name hit seemed to have bounced off the pitcher's foot and come right down in another fielder's glove! What a strange play! Wait, as I understand it he should be out, shouldn't he?
Frank Robinson seems to think so. Watch Frank, Joachim. He is a very angry man. I get very angry about once a month and then invariably sleep for about 10 hours. Frank gets very angry about once an hour.
My goodness, Pedro got a base hit! Is there anything he can't do?
That was incredible! Though actually, Joachim, when it comes to hitting, Pedro…no, never mind. You're absolutely right. There isn't anything Pedro can't do.
Why are all the fans cheering for that mistake the Nationals made? As I understand it, that was a foul ball. So it wouldn't matter, right?
No, Lo Duca would have been out. Now, because Schneider dropped the ball in foul territory, he gets to hit again.
Whoa! And he hit into what you call a double play! So…wait. He would have been better off being out the first time, wouldn't he?
Yes, he would have. That's pretty funny, actually. Poor Lo Duca. There's a lot of funny stuff that happens in baseball if you're paying attention.
Wait! Pedro has hit another National! It is the same one he hit before, Guillen! Are there going to be fisticuffs?
Hmm. Apparently not. Amazingly enough, the Mets haven't had an actual on-field brawl since May 11, 1996. Though hitting an extremely high-strung young player twice in one game generally leads to one.
Why are there players running in from behind the outfield fence? They seem to be huffing and puffing.
Those are the relief pitchers arriving too late to punch anybody. The fight's officially over if the bullpen catchers reach the infield, usually because everybody else has to stop and laugh at them.
Wait a minute, isn't that man calming down Guillen a Met?
Yes. That is Julio Franco. He is 169 years old, yet very wise.
Is it normal for players on enemy teams to talk reasonably like this during a fight?
No. But it's interesting, isn't it?
Oh my goodness! The round National with the terrible mustache hit that ball a long way! Now the score is close again.
Yes. Remember Pedro hit Nick Johnson earlier this game, too. That's the way you answer these things. Well done, Mr. Johnson.
Why has the game stopped? Where are the umpires?
Um…I'm not sure. This is very strange.
This Ryan Zimmerman is having a terrible game. He just hit that ball straight up, so he won't drive in a run, and Pedro kept throwing the ball by him earlier.
Yeah, but yesterday he helped beat us. He's just young. A year from now he won't have too many nights like this.
Wow! That was the other Carlos's first hit of the year! A home run! Why isn't he coming out to acknowledge the fans' cheers? He looks very angry.
You know, I don't really blame him. The fans have treated him horribly, Joachim. It's quite a story — he was injured most of last year and didn't tell anybody, and did his best, and the fans booed and booed. Then they gave him a pass after he was badly hurt in this terrifying head-to-head crash, but now they're on his case again for no reason. It's wrong and embarrassing, and I'm actually kind of glad to see that Beltran is finally letting us see that he's human, that he's good and pissed off at being treated this shabbily.
But shouldn't he come out? Won't this make things worse?
Yes. This is what passes for a peace offering in New York. He'd better take it.
The old wise player is talking to Carlos — and now he's coming out to wave. Does the old wise player ever actually play?
Yes, but not tonight. He's new here, but I'm beginning to appreciate him.
My goodness, that National tried to hit Lo Duca. And now he did hit him! What is the umpire doing?
He's throwing the pitcher out of the game. See, both benches were warned, earlier —
But the Met pitcher with the glasses hit the National with the strange mustache who hit the home run, and he didn't get thrown out. That seems strange.
Yes, it does.
You're right, this man Frank Robinson is VERY angry. I'm a little worried about him.
So are we.
That Met is extremely fast! He seems to really enjoy playing baseball!
Yep. That's Jose Reyes. And boy do we enjoy watching him play.
Wow, young Mister Zimmerman struck out AGAIN. Is that it? Is that the end?
Afraid so, Joachim. 10-5, Mets. We're 2-1. Pedro gets the win. And the Marlins come to town tomorrow.
You mean you get to watch something this dramatic and fun and strange and wonderful EVERY NIGHT?
Joachim, I think you're gonna like it here.