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March Metness: Getaway Day

The weekend that makes March Metness [1] the memory-laden free-for-all that it is came to an end Sunday, with the final eight qualifiers for the Rick Sweet 16 earning their trips to the next round. While some pack for home, others pack for quintessence. Here’s who and/or what [2] made it to Getaway Day and what they did once they got there.

MIRACLE REGIONAL
Ball Off The Wall (6) vs Banner Day (3)
Ball Off The Wall gave Mets fans every reason to Believe. The one-of-a-kind bounce (score it Fence-7-5-2) allowed the Mets to move within a half-game of first place on September 20, 1973, a position they’d seize the next night and, improbably, never let loose of the rest of that year. It’s moments like those that make fans want to scribble uplifting message on bedsheets for years to come. Funny thing, though, is the Banner Day banners came out in seasons far removed from 1973. No matter how much the Mets fan outlook is informed by a play as perfect and perfectly bizarre as Ball Off The Wall, the banner phenomenon was in place 11 years before Richie Zisk succumbed to Ron Hodges’ well-placed tag. There were banners and placards flying through the Polo Grounds before the Mets could ever dream of reaching .500 let alone reaching a game below .500 — which is where their record stood when Hodges drove in John Milner in the bottom of the inning when he outed Zisk. This, like that game, was a battle that lasted a full 13 innings, but when it was over, Banner Day slid home with the winning score.
Marvelous Marv (7) vs Rheingold The Dry Beer (2)
“CRANBERRY! STRAWBERRY! WE LOVE THRONEBERRY!” So went the chant at the Polo Grounds in 1962. What were those fans…drunk? Only on love for the quintessential 1962 Met. Or perhaps a little on the sponsor’s product. We can’t tell from here. It is ironic, in light of this matchup, that Marvelous Marv Throneberry’s latter-day fame would come from his starring in a beer commercial. It’s too bad it wasn’t for Rheingold The Dry Beer, a brand that disappeared from the market by the time Miller Lite was hiring old athletes to demonstrate the manliness of being calorie-conscious. The Mets would find other cult heroes, other first basemen, even another fan-magnet whose name ended in berry. They’d also take their business to Schaefer and, once the company that brewed it evaporated, Budweiser. But does anybody think of Mets and beer without thinking of Rheingold? Anybody over 40 at least? Even somewhat under 40? The sudsy connection is too strong to be watered down, even at the stone hands of Marvelous Marv. Rheingold The Dry Beer wins — it will take on Banner Day — and graciously throws a victory party for everyone to enjoy. Everyone? Even Throneberry? Well, they wuz going to give Marv a cold one, but they wuz afraid he’d drop it.

MAGIC REGIONAL
Mettle The Mule (11) vs Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game? (3)
Some futility is cuter than other futility. 1962 futility, as painful as it was to have lived through for the uniformed personnel of the New York Mets, lives on fondly recalled because there is a mulligan and an innocence to be applied to first-year expansion teams, particularly one helmed by someone as eminently quotable as Charles Dillon “Casey” Stengel. When he rhetorically asked, “can’t anybody here play this game?” all anybody could do was laugh (and, in Jimmy Breslin’s case, take copious notes). But there is nothing cute or innocent or funny about an eighteenth-year expansion team. That was what the Mets had become by 1979, and the introduction of Mettle The Mule as mascot and de facto grounds crew helper underscored that sad, sad fact. It’s not Mettle’s fault the Mets lost 99 games in ’79. Nor were the jokes that followed his removal from the Shea scene — usually involving that strange meatlike dish they were serving in the press room — in good taste. He was just a mule stuck where no more than 788,905 persons chose to be in 1979. Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game? may have been a question born of frustration, but it advances here for having left behind the happier legacy. One Hundred Twenty losses, yes, but nobody ever had to clean up after it.
Jose! Jose! Jose! Jose! (7) vs Bill Shea’s Floral Horseshoe (15)
Is the lowest seed to make it out of the first round any more than an early season wonder? Bill Shea deserves to be remembered longer than the stadium that bears his name will stand, and it is fervently hoped that the Shea family’s tradition of offering the Mets’ manager a good luck floral horseshoe every Home Opener will survive into Citi Field. It is also hoped that the new joint will vibrate just as the current one did in 2006 with cries of Jose! Jose! Jose! Jose! and then some. The Sheas did New York proud by returning National League baseball to the city where it belongs. Jose Reyes and those who encourage his exploits are ready to keep the pride going. A happy new tradition edges a beloved and well-meaning established ritual. The four Jose!s next set their sights on answering Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?

BELIEVE REGIONAL
The Happy Recap (1) vs John Rocker (9)
The mere thought of “Hi everybody!” emanating from the tinniest of transistor speakers obliterates every ugly thought associated with the ugliest buffoon to disgrace Shea Stadium in all of its 43 seasons. If Bob Murphy can dismember John Rocker at the beginning of his broadcast, imagine what The Happy Recap would do to him. Murph moves forward. Rocker can buy a MetroCard.
Revised Yearbook (12) vs Seinfeld (4)
Given in-season trading deadlines, waiver wire pickups and minor league recalls, it would figure the Mets’ always colorful annuals with their suitable-for-framing team pictures would require a Revised Yearbook. Seinfeld, on the other hand, was Mets-friendly from the beginning. The fifth scene in the pilot episode, when the show was still called The Seinfeld Chronicles, showed Jerry picking up a ringing phone and anxiously telling his caller, “If you know what happened in the Mets game, don’t say anything, I taped it,” before ever mentioning “hello”. Now that’s media that had its priorities start from the first run. Seinfeld is already lobbying for its next gig, against the Happy Recap to be scheduled for — when else? — Thursday at 9.

AMAZIN’ REGIONAL
Mr. Met (1) vs Serval Zipper (9)
The Queens skyline hasn’t been quite the same since the Serval Zipper sign came down. Mr. Met is sympathetic for the loss, but notes he doesn’t bother with zippers. He’s a stitch man himself. And let’s be honest: In your life as a fan, you might peer over the fence and notice Serval Zipper. You might notice U-Haul. You might even notice the occasionally blazing car fire in what’s left of the parking lot. But when he pads on by, you can’t take your eyes off Mr. Met…especially if he stops and sits right in front of you. For now, he stands at the head of his bracket.
Pete Rose (5) vs 1964 World’s Fair (4)
While Shea Stadium and the 1964 World’s Fair are linked by birth, boardwalk and Marina, they were not a single-admission ticket. Shea was considered a commercial success, boosting Mets attendance by 650,000 versus the last year at the Polo Grounds and instantly attracting attention among tourists and locals with rides and exhibits like the 32-inning doubleheader, the Jim Bunning perfect game and Ron Hunt’s start in the All-Star Game. Robert Moses’ other Flushing Meadows project didn’t, uh, fare quite as well. The ’64 version was not as well received as its 1939 predecessor, did not attract the crowds predicted for it and, not long after it was over, its grounds did not maintain itself as any kind of cohesive going concern — as the New York Pavilion’s Gilkeyesque gag cameo in Men In Black illustrated. Pete Rose never called the Shea area home, but as a visitor, he was hardly an alien presence. You gotta have somebody to root against, and for a quarter-century nobody ever quite filled the despicable shoes of Mets Opponent as did Rose. He takes it to the Fair and will bet all he has that he can upset Mr. Met the way he upset Mets fans for a quarter-century.