I read this phrase somewhere when I was a kid:
If ifs and buts were candies and nuts, then every day would be Christmas.
I’ve seen it worded slightly differently over the years but I’ve always identified with it. As you can’t be a Mets fan for very long without invoking “if” or “but,” it’s good advice.
Especially as it pertains to nuts.
Let’s go back to when the world was young. It’s October 12, the first night of what will eventually prove an eight-night festival of lights. The National League Championship Series has just begun. It’s Tom Glavine versus Jeff Weaver in the early throes (and throws) of a duel producing nothing but zeroes.
And this, according to my co-blogger, is what happens next:
[T]he worst thing was actually poor Greg getting nailed in the face by a vendor’s bag-of-peanuts missile, but that was really just startling. He was fine and the guy behind us, for whom the peanuts were intended, felt so bad that he shared them.
So much happened in the hours and days afterward that I never really followed up on — if I may provide a straight line fit for Howard Stern — the nut sack that got me square in the face.
It hurt. It hurt plenty. It didn’t hurt for that long, but I was really pissed off about it. Not so pissed off for it to overwhelm the occasion (the same reason, I figure, that Piazza didn’t rush the mound in October 2000 despite dealing with his own missile issues), but I was definitely taken out of the NLCS moment.
Yes, the guy who ordered the peanuts, already one sheet to the wind and heading for second, did attempt a drunken makegood. He poured me two handfuls of nuts which I accepted because I felt I was entitled. I don’t like peanuts, not the kind you have to shell. The mindless shelling of peanuts by my neighbors is one of those baseball conventions I heartily despise. Every other game I go to, I look down at my feet and discover my shoes and my bag and perhaps my condensation-laden $4.50 soda cup is drowning in somebody else’s shells. I do not find it charming.
But I was damn sure accepting what was coming to me, maybe 10 nuts in all. I gave one to Jason. I clumsily opened another. I stuffed the other eight in my jacket pocket.
The night went on. Beltran went deep off Weaver. Glavine gave way to the bullpen. We won 2-0. By the time I got to my computer, I was giddily lost in the one-game lead we had taken on the Cardinals, lost enough to forget that there was an afterlife to the peanuts.
It was well after midnight when I walked in the front door and then into the kitchen. I reached into my left jacket pocket and found the handful of peanuts. I placed them on a paper towel on the counter, hung up my jacket and trotted upstairs to see if Stephanie could be at all stirred so I could tell her what a great time and great game it was. She could not. So I changed out of my remaining Mets gear, skipped downstairs and back to the kitchen for beverages to blog by.
That’s when I noticed there were only two peanuts on the counter. Didn’t take a village to figure out what happened to the remainder.
Yes, my adorable, playful, hellion of a kitten — just then learning and demonstrating the ability to leap onto high places with the greatest of ease — was attracted to the nuts. Like whatever Weaver tried to sneak past Beltran, they were eminently battable to him. That was Avery’s interest, turning them into toys. I worried for a moment that cats may have Bill Haverchuck-type allergies to peanuts, but I saw no evidence. Besides, if he was eating them, it would take him a while to claw the shell into submission (at which point he’d be chewing on the shell for a couple of hours). Avery, I surmised, batted them into AveryLand, the destination for everything that is tiny and left unattended.
I grabbed the extant nuts and hid them in a cabinet. Why I’m not sure. I didn’t want them. I didn’t think Stephanie would want them. The cats weren’t getting them. I threw ‘em out the next day.
Fast-forward a bit. It’s Friday afternoon, October 27. The NLCS has come and gone, sadly. The World Series is in progress, St. Louis up three games to one. I’m in a weeklong funk, trying to take my and maybe your mind off what went wrong by conducting the final Flashback Friday quiz. I’m in my office sorting through the entries when I smell gas. It doesn’t seem to be coming from our apartment. I’m thinking the floor below. This is a co-op with some elderly residents and I’m concerned. I call the gas company.
Guy from Keyspan gets here. He pulls the oven out from the wall to check for a leak. There’s no leak. But you know what there are?
Peanuts. Three peanuts. (Also, a cadre of stuffed cat toys, the long-missing remote control for our XM radio, a pen and some paper clips.) That’s where those stupid nuts went. Didn’t have much time to dwell on it, though. We still didn’t know where the gas was coming from. It took a couple of hours of knocking on doors and gaining entry to apartments and other nonsense to turn off what needed to be turned off before I could get back to blogging and breathing easily.
Fast-forward again. It’s the week before last, somewhere around December 13, I think. I wander into the kitchen. And on the floor? Another peanut. No gas, no need to make emergency calls or anything. Just a nut. Avery has dragged another one to the fore.
It lies there. And it all comes rushing back.
The whap in the face comes back.
The Beltran homer comes back.
The feeling of invincibility at one-oh in the series comes back.
The orange Mr. Met jacket that I didn’t want to go anywhere without comes back.
The nightly ritual of parking at the station, boarding an LIRR train full of Mets fans and marching en masse with them to Shea comes back.
The hope that was more like certainty that we’d go up two-oh on Friday night comes back.
The early lead in Game Two comes back.
John Maine not holding the early lead in Game Two comes back.
Guillermo Mota’s inability to strike out Scott Spiezio and Shawn Green’s inability to catch a ball he got a glove on comes back.
Fucking So Taguchi comes back.
Trachsel comes back.
The icy shiv of Game Five comes back.
The faith vigil from the day of Game Six comes back.
The glow of Game Six — footstomping, rollicking, upbeat Game Six — comes back.
Billy Wagner’s near sky-high blow of Game Six comes back.
The relief of Billy Wagner not blowing Game Six comes back.
Game Seven’s restless preshow comes back.
Oliver comes back.
Endy comes back.
Suppan comes back.
Yadier Fucking Molina…
I don’t remember if Molina had finished rounding the bases or pumping his fists when the enormity of what had just transpired occurred to me. If it hadn’t, it couldn’t have been long after his teammates pounded him silly.
Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan famously admonished a weepy Evelyn Gardner that there’s no crying in baseball. Like fun there isn’t. I learned a long time ago that there’s loads of crying in baseball. There’s a certain respectability to it, provided you cry for the right reason.
When I was in fifth grade, I had a really bad day. First I couldn’t find my glove. Then I lost out on some classroom award for outstanding achievement in the field of excellence. I was bummed about the glove. I was really bummed about the award. A couple of the character cops in my class noticed I was a bit tearful over the whole megillah. Preparing to kick my ass for being the kind of kid who would cry over not winning an academic honor, I said, no, it’s not that. It’s my glove. I brought it in for gym and now it’s lost.
“It’s all right. He lost his glove.”
That was acceptable. A guy loses a piece of vital equipment, of course it’s a tragedy. But when the same guy’s glove is found a few minutes later and he’s still crying, we now rejoin the regularly scheduled ass-kicking, already in progress.
Anyway, I have cried over baseball. Gracefully. Poignantly. Appropriately. Afterwards.
That’s the key. It’s all well and good to reflect on a game or a season or a career and give yourself over to it. It may not be as manly as making bucks, getting exercise, working outside, but it’s in the ballpark of what men do.
Crying because you’re losing? I believe you get your ass kicked for doin’ something like that, man.
I find the Game One peanut that Avery has excavated from under the stove or microwave cart or wherever he hides the refrigerator magnets, and Yadier Fucking Molina comes back from Game Seven.
He’s thrilled. I’m not.
He’s joyful. I’m not.
He’s triumphant. I’m not.
They’re going to the World Series. We’re not.
As Rolen crossed the plate to make it 2-1 and Molina followed to make it 3-1, it was so goddamn over. This season, the one we’d waited six or seven or eighteen or twenty years for, depending on your count, was done. The superior Mets were second to someone at last. They hadn’t been the superior Mets since the night I brought the peanuts home, actually, having never held another series lead after Game One. And if you watched them religiously as I had, you sensed that the Mets had peaked in early September. They had been frighteningly ordinary as they went about whittling their magic number, attempting to clinch, running out the clock. Marvelous as the results may have been, they weren’t even all that crisp in sweeping the Dodgers. How many times had the Cardinals tied or passed the Mets in this series alone? The Mets of middle October were not nearly enough like the Mets of April and May and June and July and August. Not nearly enough.
Thus it shouldn’t have been shocking to realize it could all end at any moment. But it was. The numbers had been on our side, 97 regular-season wins versus 83. The aura had been on our side. The home-field advantage had been on our side. We had been on our side. The runup to Game Six was so faithful to the cause and it paid off. How could we not be rewarded? How could this end in defeat?
Our season, I was sure, had died. I commenced to beat the rush and started mourning immediately.
No sobbing. No wailing. These ninth inning tears were in a league of their own. I don’t think even Stephanie a few feet away noticed them. There were no accompanying noises coming out of me, save for maybe the furtive dab of a tissue. It had been mausoleum-silent since Molina left the yard. I didn’t want to make a big thing about my emotions, not to Stephanie, not to myself, not to the Mets. My conflict was multifaceted. I was dismayed and disgusted with myself as a grown-up fifth-grader for giving into this lachrymose instinct, dismayed and disgusted with myself for not waiting the inevitable five outs for ocular moisture, dismayed and disgusted that it was 3-1 Cardinals.
The whole night had left me puzzled about what to do. It was the only home playoff game for which I wasn’t at Shea. There it was easy to figure out my next move: when in doubt, stand and shout. In the living room, I felt stifled. I walked around most of the night inventing impromptu voodoo — solemnly rubbing the NY on whichever Mets cap was handy, for instance (the more Suppan pitched, the more I switched), or balancing a throw cushion behind my head between the insides of my elbows and the top sides of my shoulders. It was my very own yoke of offensive futility.
I don’t think the crying lasted all that long, probably for what remained of the top of the ninth. Ronnie Belliard and John Rodriguez went out. I dried up. There was still a bottom of the ninth to be played. I made it clear to my brain that these Mets were capable of two to tie, three to win.
My brain understood even if my heart wasn’t really listening.
Then Valentin and Chavez single and Wainwright is maybe Schiraldi and I lost faith approximately 19 years and 51 weeks earlier and boy was I delightedly wrong then and now…what was I crying about anyway? I wasn’t crying. I was yelling C’MON CLIFF!
It seemed too good to be true that we could turn this thing around like we did with Buckner. You can’t be thinking Buckner if you ever want to have anything like it again. I wasn’t thinking Buckner when Mookie stepped in against Stanley. I wasn’t thinking so much as just hoping. That was a long time ago. I’d seen too much in the intervening two decades to count on my brain acting enough the ingénue to allow me to be surprised by anything the Mets might do.
Cliff striking out comes back.
Jose lining not hard enough, not soft enough to Edmonds comes back.
Stephanie leaving the living room and barricading herself in the upstairs bathroom because she can’t take it anymore comes back.
Lo Duca walking to fill the bases comes back.
Hernandez pinch-running comes back.
Beltran comes up.
I suppose it’s fashionable to dwell on that called strike three, The Look Seen ‘Round The World. We were down two in the bottom of the ninth. All we wanted was a chance to score two runs. Could there have been a better chance? Even with the two wasted outs between Chavez’s single and Lo Duca’s walk, who wouldn’t have, in the parlance of afternoon sports talk radio, signed for Beltran up against some rookie with the postseason on the line? Carlos Beltran built a fortune by cleaning up in these situations, right in this month, October. He earned a good bit of it in Game One and Game Four. Beltran versus Wainwright, bases loaded, down two, two out? After Yadier Fucking Molina, I would have signed for it in blood.
Yet I don’t come back to Beltran. The pitch was too hellacious to do a lot about. Do you really ask a disciplined Major League hitter to abandon the eye that got him the mansion in which he lives today to swing at something that appears to him to be breaking inside? I mean you could and maybe you should, but it was not unreasonable for Beltran to take an unhittable pitch. By definition, unhittable pitches aren’t strikes. So he got it wrong. So we lost. It was the living, breathing embodiment of whaddayagonnado?
Ultimately, I don’t come back to Beltran because it was so surprising that it got to him. After Molina, how did the Mets manage to send up six batters anyway? They were dead! 2006 was dead! I’d already loosened the waterworks, called the funeral home and was picking out a black armband. They lived three batters longer than I would have imagined ten minutes earlier. I’m disappointed he didn’t connect but, I dunno, I’m not that mad that he didn’t swing.
Besides, what earthly business does a team that loads the bases right after a catch like Endy’s and doesn’t score have to believe they can save themselves at the very last turn? Like I said, these Mets of October had already shown themselves to be something less than the Mets of months prior. We asked them to turn back the clock. They didn’t. As a result, not a single one of us has ripped open a Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa or Winter Solstice gift to find a WORLD CHAMPION METS sweatshirt or something else that would have fit oh so perfectly.
We didn’t come back.
I’ve accepted it.
I’ll never be over it.
If precedent (’73/’88/’99/’00) provides a template, not ever.
All that came back courtesy of Avery and the rogue peanut. Stupid cat.
But don’t blame him for what he found underneath his own version of the hot stove league or me for revisiting this bitter end, because I come back to you with these as my definitive and, I suppose, final words on 2006 while it’s still this year:
Fuckin’ A. We had a great season.
I still wouldn’t trade it for anything short of something slightly better — and something slightly better than a divisional romp, a first-round knockout and a seventh-game staredown that winds up no more than feet, perhaps inches, from Detroit doesn’t come along very often.
Maybe I’m just a the-glass-is-3/7ths-full kind of fan, but when I saw that peanut, what really came back to stay was not the sorrow of a tepid final few innings, but the glow from a season in the sun. That peanut said Shea Stadium. It said orange Mr. Met jacket. It said excitement and gratification and faith by the busload. It said great times and great games and great friends, the kind of baseball memories you crave in the cold of a December night, the kind you don’t expect to discover amid the flotsam of what the cat dragged in.
It said 2006, a Mets year that — regardless of its finish — deserves to be remembered and remembered well by each and every one of us. I will surely remember it that way.
And I don’t even like peanuts, not the kind you have to shell.