Gary Cohen is a sharp guy. When the Mets visited Phoenix in 2000, Todd Pratt came to bat in front of Diamondbacks fans for the first time since October 9, 1999. Reaction was muted, to say the least. How, Gary asked Ed Coleman, can these fans not be booing the man who put them out of the playoffs ten months ago?
Yesterday, he inverted the question as Pratt caught the day game after the night game for the Braves. Tank, he noted, got less than a hero's welcome Monday when he stepped in to pinch-hit in the ninth. How, he asked Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez, can these fans boo the man who is rightly remembered for knocking that home run over the wall?
I love the romantic notion that Todd Pratt should be above reproach, but Pratt's a Brave now and, more importantly, someone who attempted to stand in the way of a key victory (he struck out to end Pedro's 200th). He's been slipping in and out of town since the summer of 2001, usually getting a start or an at-bat in one 8-2 Mets-Phillies game after another. He'd always received a hand because there was no harm in having him up.
It was different the day after Turk Wendell was traded to the Phillies from the Mets in the middle of a series between the two. He came into a tight spot at Shea against his old team with the outcome of that particular game hanging in the palm of his right hand. His old fans, the people who thrilled to every slam of Turk's rosin bag, understood this and he generated an ambivalent response; it's one thing to applaud an “enemy” hitter in the top of the second, it's another to celebrate the other guys' pitcher in the ninth if the score is tied. When Robin Ventura ended his and the Phillies' day with a walkoff wallop, I remember the cheering felt much more intense than if he had hit it off the likes of Rheal Cormier.
Turk hadn't done anything wrong in July of '01 except get traded and go to work. Tank didn't do anything wrong this week except continue his career by associating with a most unsavory cast of characters. Yet we as Mets fans can't have that when we're trying to make magic. Who are these players who dare spoil the trick? Traitors! Even if we calm down and realize they're just professionals pursuing their craft, we can't look at them and any longer see guys who are paid to help us win ballgames and, if we may dream, championships.
Which brings us to the cleanup batter for the other team tonight.
In a matter of minutes, I'll turn on SNY and see Mike Piazza in a Mets game for the first time since August 21, 1997 wearing something other than a Mets uniform. It's not an unprecedented happenstance but we're out of practice at witnessing it, so it'll be weird.
But I have the feeling it won't be that weird. I'm surprised at how little I've thought of Mike Piazza lately. If the Padres weren't on the schedule, he would have faded even further from contemporary consciousness. When he does occur to me, he shows up as a hero, all right, but a hero from the last century, maybe the very beginning of this one. He's as relevant to where my Mets head is right now as Duffy Dyer — good guy, he helped, what's next?
He would have to charge the mound to make me dislike him and I know he never would and I never could. I'll be happy to get a look at him. I wish him well. But Mike will be out there trying to beat us. He's one of the Thems now. I've got my mind set on Us.