Yeah, winter is without use. Evaluating every milepost along its dreary way, from Halloween through April Fool's — it's all winter until Opening Day — only serves to remind us that there's no new baseball immediately en route. How anybody can invest anticipation toward anything that doesn't start with a first pitch is beyond me.
Good news is the Mets have assured us of a shorter winter than that to which we've become accustomed. When was the final out of 2006? Too soon is the correct answer, but technically somewhere around 11:45 PM, October 19. Thanks to the irony cops, we open in St. Louis on April 2 at, I'm guessing, 4:05 PM Eastern (the Cardinals will probably have some unsavory, self-congratulatory rituals to muddle through). So if I've calculated correctly, the Baseball Equinox will occur in Metsopotamia on Wednesday, January 10 at around 7:55 AM. That will represent the approximate midpoint between the last curve broken off by Adam Wainwright and the first fastball fired by Chris Carpenter.
Progress? You bet. Last year's Baseball Equinox arrived in the wee hours eight days earlier, indicative that the 2005 regular season closed without playoff ado. This year we were granted 18 extra days of summer. That's something to keep in mind as the sun begins to regularly drop from the sky at two every afternoon. And on that frigid second Wednesday morning of January, as you scrape that newest layer of frost from your windshield, just remember that the worst has melted.
Until then, until next year, there is what is suddenly last year. It's not going anywhere…not if I have anything to say about it.
Y'know what I ran across in my mess of stuff a little while back? A requiem, if you will, for the 1988 season that I wrote the night the Dodgers shut the Mets out in that year's distressing Game Seven. I wrote down all the things that were worth remembering, including the Pedro Guerrero incident…Lenny's hand in the air…HoJo's shot off Gott…Kevin + Darryl: 5 RBIs apiece in Philly…Elster's two off Leary…
If I strain really hard, I kind of think I remember what the hell most of those things were, but I'm not altogether positive. 1988 had been a fantastic season. Its postseason left a little to be desired, but we won a hundred games and a division title by 15 lengths. Today that's an afterthought. Today that's a shame. How many runaway romps do we have in our scrapbook anyway? 1988's was, at most, our third. The one we just witnessed was our fourth. I'm hangin' on to this one for now.
Lest you think me the neighbor who won't take down the Christmas lights, allow me to elaborate on the shortsightedness of relentlessly adhering to the long view.
On Opening Day 1987, the Mets threw themselves a lovely ceremony to distribute jewelry and raise a flag. My mother offered to videotape it for me. Nah, I said, that's about last year. I want to focus on this year.
It was a popular theme that spring. With Darryl having been accused of this and Doc having been caught doing that, the Mets made a lot of noise about leaving this and that in the past and moving full steam ahead. George Vecsey suggested the team's slogan be something along the lines of “The 1987 Mets: We're Putting It Behind Us.”
The Mets wouldn't be in a World Series for 14 more years. That one, 2000, didn't go as swimmingly as '86's. Several changes were made. Those Mets who were new for 2001 weren't part of the National League champs. Those Mets who remained were guys who lost the World Series. The Daily News slapped a conventional wisdom headline, “Mets make World go away,” over a thoughtful Lisa Olson column in which she reported the mood in St. Lucie had morphed over the winter from “what ifs?” to “what nows?”.
2001 was, essentially, as successful as 1987. The Mets had moved on from their predecessor seasons with only another year of age to show for it. 2000, like 1986, faded because it was time to move on.
We're always waiting 'til next year, even immediately after years when we were completely fulfilled or darn close to it. Next year looks awfully good every year when this year has lapsed into last year, but I'm not about next year. Not just yet. I'm not done with this/last year. In fact, I'm bringing it out for a curtain call.
Besides, I couldn't tell you a damn thing about 2007 even if I wanted to, save maybe that unless it goes wonderfully well, I'll be spending a good bit of it missing 2006. No reason to start doing that at this early stage.
I ask those of you who are already burying what we just lived through in the closet of your subconscious because a) it's over and b) it didn't end exactly the way you wanted it to, what's your hurry? What's your rush? Why move on so soon? Before you know it, you'll have forgotten more of 2006 than you realized you remembered. And that, too, will be a shame.
Don't let one disappointing series get the best of you. Don't let the sting of four games at extended-summer's end — really just two ninth innings, Games Two and Seven — wreck the otherwise beautiful greensward on which we danced 'neath the cover of October skies. Don't think this wasn't terrific, stupendous or, in the most overused word in sports these days, tremendous. Don't sink deep into the sofa of denial when somebody wants to talk about 2006. Don't mope that it's too depressing or grumble that it's too infuriating or insist that it's too frustrating. Don't be like that.
It wasn't. It isn't.
Sure, we missed out on the totally, totally awesome experience. We've only had two of those in 45 seasons (batting .044 in the ultimate prize department). It wasn't even as good as getting to the final plateau. No world championship or pennant. In stark terms, it means 2006 was undeniably not as good as 1986, 1969, 2000 or 1973. It couldn't be. It didn't go as far.
But that's it. In my judgment, this year beat all others in franchise annals. I give 2006 fifth place on points over 1999 (a little closer to the World Series plus a division title) and 1988 (one playoff series win more, albeit in a form unavailable 18 autumns ago). Even if you don't buy that edge, even if you hold out for '99 (greater drama) and '88 (stronger pitching) as a wee bit better for some reason, then this was no worse than the seventh-best season in Mets history.
However you slice it, it's upper-tier material, the top 16th-percentile. We didn't get definitively fitted for the brass ring nor did we get to remain on Fox for an extra week, but we did everything else. We did more than we did the year before and the year before that and more than 27 of 29 other teams in captivity did this year.
Good stuff. Very good stuff. Excellent stuff. Extraordinary stuff.
So don't get over it. Because with one or two glaring exceptions, there's nothing to get over.
I'm going to dwell on 2006 this week. I don't think it's unreasonable. I just dwelled on 1986 over 43 consecutive Fridays. I spent several days on 2005 in October 2005 and we won 83 games in 2005. I took two days in December 2005 to dwell on 1979 and we won 63 games in 1979. There's a lot to be said for living in the present and for the future, but face it: baseball means something to us because of the past. The past — what happened 30 years ago, 20 years ago, 10 years ago, two weeks ago — is what made us who we are and fuels us toward what we will become.
All my agos keep growing wider. When April 2 rolls around, the Mets' last league championship will be seven years ago, the Mets' last world championship will be 21 years ago and the day I first fondled a baseball card and was intrigued by that four-letter word under Ed Kranepool's picture will be 40 (!) years ago. I suppose I should be dismayed that time is doing a number on me.
But piling up all these agos also means I've witnessed more history to this juncture in my life than I ever had before. More baseball history, more Mets history, a library of recollection whose latest bulging volume is marked 2006. Let's recall it and revel in it before the hazy Shea of winter plows its most vivid details hard to the side of the road.