Sunday Night Baseball is a contrivance. It was created for ESPN in 1990 and smacks of football, something we'd all keep out of our beloved pastoral pastime if given the choice…which we as fans rarely are. If we are one of its participants, it screws up our weekend rhythms completely. Wake to a gorgeous Sunday morning, count the hours to 1:10 PM — or, perhaps, wake to a gorgeous Sunday afternoon and click on the bedside radio, first or second inning already in progress — that's what summer is all about. Instead, thanks to MLB's deals with devils, it's not there. Your Sunday afternoon is a void. You're left loitering for seven hours, all the way to Sunday night when your rhythms tell you you have other things to do, whether it's dreading Monday or savoring HBO. To top it off, sometimes there's little warning. It's one thing when they saddle you with 8:05 in the pocket schedule; you can plan. But when they pull the plug on 1:10 because some network, which you know would rather be fawning on the Red Sox (or Steelers) 24/7, needs some between-X-Games filler? It's ghastly, I tell you. Ghastly.
I believe everything I've just said. Yet none of it meant a damn thing last night. I fucking love these Sunday night games. They're practically the only ones I go to that the Mets win.
Thanks to my friend Dan, whom Omar didn't mind selling a prorated Sunday plan, I was tucked into a happy corner of the loge for something I'd been missing all season. I finally got to see the Mets have one of those explosive innings that I'd only witnessed on TV, the kind they apparently meet and decide in advance not to have if they know I'm not going to be there.
The Mets' overall record's the thing, and taking the last two has suddenly dwindled our magic number to Casey Kasem proportions: 40. But this habit I'd had thrust upon me of trudging home in 2006 on the wrong end of one 9-3 score after another had made me cranky: Hot dogs, green grass all out at Shea, everybody but me (4-8) guaranteed to have a heckuva day.
Hence, they should play every home game on Sunday night; I'm 2-0, for crissake. And to think when Dan invited me for what was originally listed as an afternoon affair and we found out it had been switched, there was discontent in the air. Silly fans, day games are for kids.
You gotta understand that Dan and I have been jinxing each other for the past five seasons. We meet up inside and B.J. Surhoff in right throws out Jeff D'Amico at first. We wander in together and our September swoon receives a lethal injection. If we even know we're in the park at the same time, Bronson Arroyo shuts us down. The only times the Mets seemed to win games Dan and I attended was when we weren't aware of each other's presence. Oh, you were at that scintillating Seo-Maddux duel, too? I didn't know that! No wonder we won.
Neither of us lacks for logic, but we were convinced we were a whammy, Mets fans who couldn't go to Mets games in tandem, buddies forever cursed to end these affairs with “well, it was fun except for the result.” I hate that. So does Dan.
But Sunday Night Baseball changed all that. On Sunday night, we watched a rookie pitcher (ours, not theirs) squirm out of one unpleasant situation early and then cruise like Smokey Robinson the rest of his way. On Sunday night, we watched another rookie pitcher (theirs, not ours) show he had been studying fielding at the feet of Jon Lieber. On Sunday night, the Mets of John Valentin were finally buried deep in our past while the Mets of Jose Valentin delivered a joyful present right before our very eyes.
Most of all, Sunday night was the night we got to see what the future could and should look like at the Shea to be Named Later. David Wright, who can buy us all copious amounts peanuts and Cracker Jack and not care if he gets change back, lashed that huge double down the left field line. Lastings Milledge, looking like the guy none of us wanted to let go for just any pitcher, scorched one up the middle. And Professor Reyes earned his doctorate in bases-loaded home run hitting. The three of them, combined age barely enough to be Julio Franco's big brother, were primarily responsible (well, them and Mathieson's E-1) for the seven-run fourth. They'll be back for more.
After they did their young and frisky thing, Dan and I could no longer deny that maybe, just maybe, we weren't a mutual jinx, that the obstructed loge right field view is just about perfect, that Sunday night at 8:05 is not only convenient but appropriate, that ESPN can tell us to start whenever it wants from now on.
With nearly 40,000 compatriots a-hootin' and a-hollerin' and making Philadelphia feel like Punxsutawney (tiny and wondering where the hell its shadow went), you don't have to delineate between Sheas and anti-Sheas for me. In the context of my recent travels, Shea is the anti-Busch. It's not nice. It's not polite. It's not monochromatic. It is, however, on Sunday nights like these, pretty freaking awesome.