It's been a long time since I rock and rolled,
It's been a long time since I did the stroll.
Ooh, let me get it back, let me get it back, let me get it back,
Baby where I come from.
It's been a long time, been a long time,
Been a long lonely lonely lonely lonely lonely time.
I didn't think I'd been nervous until I started realizing just how many things I'd forgotten.
Like where was my hat? Normally if there's a game to be played I've got my beloved, faded, battered Cyclones hat on my head. Or, failing that, my gray Mets hat with the NY in stars and stripes. (I don't know why, I just like that one.) Or, should neither of those seem lucky, the blue and orange NEW YORK one, or the blue and red BROOKLYN one. Or those old standbys, the black NY hat or the hat that was a Met hat when it never occurred to marketers that there could be more than one. Not today. I came back from my office bathroom having changed into my black away uni, rummaged through my bag and realized I didn't have my hat. How could I leave the house today of all days without it?
(As an incompetence bookend: I brought the digital camera, pulled it out of my bag in a happy Shea Stadium, turned it on and saw a beautiful image of the field and the happy baseball team below. Atop it, strange words: NO MEMORY CARD. Oops.)
The champagne didn't make it either, though I did remember it. I'd loaded my bag up Greg-style for camoflague — work shirt, t-shirt, book, printed manuscript pages, umbrella (no rain in forecast), the memory-card-free camera, and miscellaneous crap grabbed from my office to put the largest number of barriers between the eyes/hands of a security guard and the moderate-sized bottle of
Verve Veuve Clicquot I'd found in a cabinet during a hasty search on Friday night. By the time I was done it was like carrying a cinderblock.
I knew I wouldn't make it, though: The security guard dug through that bag like he was fricking Heinrich Schliemann while I waited for the inevitable. Finally he held up the champagne and simply shook his head, pleasant but implacable. I mumbled something lame about a dinner and BYOB, surrendered my bottle, and trudged into Shea with my enormous load of now utterly useless crap making me list to port. (Happy ending: Faith and Fear friend Laurie came through with mini-bottles smuggled in one of those umbrella carriers some bags have on the bottom. She's a crafty one, that Laurie. Oh, and her camera had a memory card in it.)
Everything else went just fine, of course. The Cubs put up crookeder and crookeder numbers, the Mets played crisply, and the crowd was going full throttle, ready to push the team across any finish line it came near. Up in the mezzanine, Greg and I fretted and then stop fretting and started wondering if Steve Trachsel, who often pitches the way continents meander across oceans, could possibly beat the news from Philadelphia. He could and he did — pitched wonderfully, in fact, and in near-record time. For all the attention Pedro's abortive return got on Friday night, Trachsel's storyline had to be just as compelling. He's never going to be loved at Shea, not with his water-torture pace and his head-down trudge to and from the dugout (the 5+ ERA doesn't help either), and he stands slightly apart on this team, a holdover from previous administrations who can't plead that he merely arrived early. But did he ever do his job when it needed to be done. It was disappointing that Trachsel couldn't tip his cap or wave his hand to the crowd that gave him a standing ovation — what was there to visualize at that point, Steve? — but what the heck, he probably didn't know what to do when confronted by a Shea standing ovation. Here's hoping he gets to ignore some more standing Os.
The rest? Signs premature (NL EAST DIVISION CHAMPS before we were), to the point (CLINCH) and irritatingly off-point (BRING ON THE YANKEES). Public-address messages that would have seemed like jinxes in other years — we were entreated not to go on the field (“illegal and dangerous”) before the top of the ninth. Yankee fans got booed — my favorite target was a teenage girl in a camoflague Yanks hat whose walk around the mezzanine was paced, metronome-style, by a section-by-section YANKEES SUCK! chant. Various Mets were treated to unofficial MVP lobbying; “Around the Majors” showed highlights from the completely meaningless Reds-Astros game, a dose of habitual Shea incompetence that was somehow comforting; and Reyes and Valentin were serenaded with their shared first name. (“Jose Jose Jose Jose! Other Jose, Other Jose!” Greg and I improvised cleverly.)
And, of course, there was a final line drive and a lot of yelling and drinking of warm, properly smuggled champagne and a long, happy subway ride home with the exhilirated faithful. After a game I like watching the Met share of my fellow riders slowly decrease as the distance from Shea increases and people peel off for the near-infinite number of familiar routes taking them from Shea to their homes, until I'm down to knots of Met fans and then scattered sightings and finally the one or two fans who happen to live where I live and happened to have left the stadium at the same time I did, a coincidence that usually allows for a brief exchange of happiness or reassurance or commiseration before we go back to our non-baseball lives.
Tonight my 7 car was filled with booming Mets chants all the way to 42nd Street, despite various Met rooters being disgorged for the LIRR, the 4/5/6 and the B/D/F. They were still chanting on the 2/3 platform at 42nd, and I could hear them all the way down to 14th. (LET'S! GO! METS!) and then Chambers (LET'S! GO! METS!), the chants and sightings gradually dwindling until finally I got off at Clark Street and there was just me.
Just me, but I wasn't exactly alone. There was my uniform shirt and the astonishingly heavy bag and the flush of yelling and booze and victory and the season of blissful memories so far and the now-official glee and hope and anxiety for the future — that marvelous collection of things that come with being, at long last, NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST CHAMPS.
It's been a long time since I rock and rolled,