My friend Tom was kind enough to offer tickets he couldn't use. Emily (approached somewhat tentatively) thought it was a great idea. And so it was Emily and Joshua and I were suddenly off to Shea, Land of the Pink Visor to the First 25,000 Female Fans, for Mother's Day.
Joshua was excited. He's got his Reyes/Wright combo picture now, he's following the game much more closely (presented as evidence: “Daddy, what's a good hitter's count?”) and he's learning his Mets, thanks largely to our wiffle-ball sessions in Cadman Plaza Park. He's usually the Mets. I've been, at various times, the Tigers, Phillies and Brewers. I flatly refuse to be the Yankees, no matter how I'm beseeched, cajoled or threatened. (I'm 38. Why do you ask?)
So the kid knew we'd been beaten but good on Saturday, and was eager to see the Mets make a better showing of it. He was also eager for treats — Shea, to him, is a verdant garden of forbidden nutritional delights, from its helmet cups of soft-serve to its giant Q-tips of cotton candy to whatever else he might be able to wear down parents into buying. And for the adventure of it: How were we getting there? Does the LIRR go aboveground? Does the 7? Why doesn't the 2/3? How many stops are there on the 7? (2/3 to the 7, it turned out. Yes, but irrelevant. Yes. Because. Several billion.)
So we arrived in time to see Oliver Perez make it 2-1 on Rickie Weeks, and I looked at the scoreboard and the little players and blinked. 27? Newhan? No, Newhan's 17 because they torment Keith about it all the time. Ben Johnson? Isn't he hurt? It's obviously not Lastings. Could it be? Holy cow, it is — it's Carlos Gomez! That's when I began to feel lucky — Gomez is one of those prospects whose debut I would have dropped everything that could reasonably be dropped to see, and I hadn't had to drop a thing.
Oliver Perez is something to witness, with that ungodly stuff of his and his equally iffy location. That turned out to be a great fit for an aggressive club like the Brewers. Leaving the house, Emily had asked why I was bringing my radio, and I'd raised an eyebrow and offered: “The kid's melting down and we have to leave in the 7th in the middle of the first no-hitter in Met history, I'm going to be glad I brought this radio.” That looked mildly prescient as Oliver rolled through the Midwesterners like a combine, until Capuano's ridiculous little dunker. Of course I brought up the radio conversation later and noted that he'd nearly done it. This little speech came with one out in the ninth and promptly yielded Bill Hall's dinger and Oliver's departure. He got a well-deserved standing O. I got a well-deserved scolding. From now on I shut my yap until things are in the books.
The amazing thing about Perez isn't his pitching like his hair's on fire (a description I suppose can now only apply to Aaron Sele), but that I've come to expect him to take the no-hit countdown at least into mildly interesting territory — and wouldn't be surprised at all if he's finally the one to dismantle the Clubhouse of Curses. It's taken us a while to evaluate Perez fairly, probably because he arrived in the emergency trade Omar made after Sanchez's car accident. At the time we were depressed at exiling the likable Xavier Nady to the NL Central, stunned that Duaner Sanchez had suddenly been downgraded into Roberto Hernandez II, and barely noticed that we'd also taken on a wild reclamation project. Given a couple of years, I think most Met fans will struggle to recall that Hernandez was part of the deal, or that it sprang from odd circumstances. It'll be the Oliver Perez trade, and rightly viewed as one of this club's great fleecings. Should you ever need a reason to trust Omar, there's one: Forced to make a midnight trade from a horribly weak position, he turned a platoon outfielder into a potential ace.
Granted, Oliver got help. Our vantage point behind third base in the mezzanine was perfect to see the geometry of Beltran, Endy and young Mr. Gomez going from Points A to whatever Points B were required. Gaps? There were no gaps today — while Endy's leap and Gomez's diving self-rescue made the highlight reels, I kept watching balls head for the alleys, then wind up in an outfielder's glove with another outfielder in range. The batwork of Shawn Green and Moises Alou has been more or less beyond reproach, but this one might have turned out a lot differently with the two of them manning the corners.
So we all had a blast — Joshua got to see the apple go up twice, screamed his head off for Ramon Castro and the rest of the blue and orange (“it makes them happy to hear me,” he said very seriously, and I let that statement stand, remembering saying much the same thing myself), got his ice cream and kept most of it off his mother on her special day, and was endlessly entertained by our section mates.
Oh, our sectionmates. Our section was the domain (perhaps just today, though I suspect regularly) of a youth named Kowalski, who had a scarifying voice borrowed from death metal's Cookie Monster vocals (no, really), married with the energy of a sugared-up 10-year-old. If Kowalski wasn't already a folk hero to his section, he is now — if he wasn't bellowing harsh-sounding but supportive entreaties at various Mets, he was spinning his Mets belt buckle or just soaking up the adulation of his fans, who divided their time between spelling out his name in chants and general adoration. (Yeesh, he's on Flickr. The Internet is fricking scary.)
Kowalski was terrifying at first but ultimately kind of sweet — he knew his stuff and somehow never managed to blunder into vendors or other fans while rushing to the head of the section to bellow something at the field. Well, with one significant exception: At one point he felt compelled to roar “Happy Mother's Day, bitch!” at some unfortunate Brewer (the only thing he said all day that I frowned to have my kid hear) and a young woman walking up from the mezzanine boxes somehow concluded, despite Kowalski's having supplied 110-decibel evidence to the contrary for at least an hour, that he'd yelled this specifically at her mother. Off she went flying to get security, who after a brief confab forced Kowalski's exit. That infuriated Kowalski's girlfriend, turned the crowd on his accuser (later dubbed the Unhappiest Woman in the Universe by me and Emily), and brought various security functionaries back to mill around bemusedly, trying to keep not just the girlfriend but the entire section from turning on Kowalski's prosecutor.
After about 10 minutes Kowalski returned, to thunderous cheers as the security guys tried not to laugh. After a few minutes of barking support at the field, he threw his arms heavenward and roared “HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY … EVERYBODY!”, after which it's possible he could have carried Flushing (or at least Sections 16 and 18) in a mayoral election. The rest of our time in the kingdom of Kowalski was a merry farce, complete with the Unhappiest Woman in the Universe storming up from her mezzanine box to further accuse Kowalski as the boos rained down on her, Kowalski's girlfriend becoming indignant all over again, the security guys trying (with less success this time) not to snicker, and Mets circling the bases pell-mell to turn a taut affair into a laugher. Through it all Kowalski just looked mildly bewildered — at one point, while the UWITU was berating security for their failure to overreact, he wound up chatting, apparently perfectly genially, with the supposedly wronged mother. On the way out I slapped hands with him (he wasn't letting anyone in the section leave without a celebratory high-five) and asked Joshua if he wanted to do the same. Kowalski, proving his bark had absolutely no relation to his bite, offered Joshua a high-five that was perfectly calibrated for a kid — gentle but not patronizing.
But it was that kind of day — the reclamation project was an ace, the phenom was a phenom, security did the right thing and even the local Visigoth turned out to be pretty nice. Happy Mother's Day … EVERYBODY!