So I sat through 28 solid innings of certifiable suck at Shea Stadium this weekend. Went to all three games, absorbed all three losses and came away with this conclusion:
I had it better than a lot of people.
I got to attend three baseball games featuring the team I root for with people I like in the stadium I love.
That the results were, on none of these occasions, the ones I would have chosen is undeniable. But other than that, I had it pretty good.
When I heard the weekly playing of “God Bless America” in the seventh-inning stretch, a ritual that I think is misplaced in this setting (but that, too, is another blog), I thought of those men and women on whose behalf we are directed to sing it and who are elsewhere these days. They would probably welcome the chance to watch their team get swept while schmoozing with friends in the ballpark of their choice.
When I landed in Mezzanine 18 and discovered I was in the land of Kowalski (and his legion of Kowannabes), I thought of Jason, who is making the most of his trip to London, to be sure, but definitely would have rather been home or here (or both) with Emily and Joshua. Kowalski, I fear, kind of ran out of steam and disappeared not long after our team did. But six innings of Kowalski goes a long way.
When I was asked several times why I was wearing a Montreal Expos cap, I thought of those fans in Quebec, however many or few there were, who were left without a team to cheer on, without the option of a Sunday or Saturday or Friday of baseball. I wear the cap now and then to remember something that was a part of our baseball lives for so long and is now gone. I also wanted to change our luck (the Expos' only postseason series victory was over Philadelphia in 1981). Plus I feel it's pretty sharp.
When I was walking toward the 7, and a couple of older Phillies fans — not at all in bearing like the frat house jerks who represented the City of Brotherly Love on Saturday — asked me about the Expos cap, I asked them in response and without rancor, “so…are you guys gonna make the playoffs?” Instead of strutting around like they were a few days from ownership of the East (god knows they'd be entitled), they were all “not if San Diego keeps winning”. They began to tell me the Padres' schedule and remind me that it's been a long time since their team won anything. Maybe they were playing it down for risk of inciting the ire of a New Yorker in his moment of despair (we're at our most dangerous when we're cornered), but mostly they seemed resigned to this sweep meaning their eventual disappointment had been postponed three days. “Good luck,” I said. I only meant it as far as I could tell these were True Believers and on some level, we're all in this fan business together.
They won three and they seemed pretty glum. We lost three and I was…happy to have been there. Three baseball games at the tail end of summer, one evening and two afternoons with friends, a full weekend of doing what is ensconced at No. 1 on my All-Time list of things I want to be doing where I want to be doing it.
I must be out of my mind. These were horrible losses. We lost Friday because we couldn't score three. We score three Saturday and we lost because we couldn't score five. We score five on Sunday — the third, fourth and fifth of them in energizing, uplifting fashion — and we lose because we allow five more than that immediately.
Friday I grumbled and pointed fingers.
Saturday I lashed out at those who would dare take pleasure in what had occurred; I actually had to take a long walk before finding the train home to blow off steam so I wouldn't be tempted to take out my frustrations on supporters of the opposition.
Sunday…I know I should be mad and fuming and intricately deconstructing a disaster that encompassed eleven walks, six errors and no more than one clutch swing (Beltran's fleetingly epic blast) by the home club, but the worse it got, the more I gave in to the inevitable — that I was attending all three thirds of a sweep of the Mets. And after Jorge Sosa gave up Guillermo Mota's grand slam to Greg Dobbs that more or less ensured this weekend was lost, lost, lost, I was left thinking…
…that's the way it goes sometimes.
How can I say I had a horrendous time when:
• I, along with my Sunday benefactors, the eternally gracious Chapmans of Central Jersey, sat in the KOWALSKI section? That meant lots of Ah! LOOOUUU! chants and, when Moises delivered, that meant lots of TIP YOUR CAP KOWALSKI — TIP YOUR CAP! curtain calls. Tip your cap, indeed, you and your backup, the guy in the WHOLE MILK jersey, and the gal on loan from Fenway wearing a t-shirt that explained in 25 words or more how the Mets would play the Red Sox in the 2007 World Series for the sake of Bill Buckner. You guys are fun when the game is close and know when enough is enough when it isn't.
• I got up to visit Laurie, seated far away from Kowalski Kountry, and met, at last, the prodigy Jordan who, at 7, is not only totally her aunt's niece (Mets are No. 1, Yankees are No. 0, she reminded me), but is totally a daughter of Long Island? (With Jimmy Rollins at bat: “I'm going to get my daddy to drive his truck over him.”)
• I had not one but two encounters with Coop, the second time even better than the first because we traded cat pictures and she introduced me to a guy whose first words to me were “I'm so drunk,” which removed any potential awkwardness right off the bat?
• I tasted Protein Tastees Gourmet Crackers, a foodstuff handed out for free before the game and abandoned in droves during it? Protein Tastees Gourmet Crackers would fail in a taste test versus drywall, but like Ah! LOOOUUU! swatting fly balls as Billy Smith did pucks in his prime, they should be experienced once just for the wonder of it.
This stuff doesn't happen in real life. There are no Kowalskis leading us in vocal battle with Section 16 when I'm on a conference call. There are no Jordans counting off all her different Met “hotties” when I'm at Pathmark deciding whether four bananas are sufficient given their ripeness. Coop and Zoe don't break into luxury boxes as I ante up for my Visa bill. And I don't while away hours with people like Sharon and Kevin and Ross on Sunday and Charlie on Saturday and Rich and his mom on Friday if I'm not at Shea Stadium.
This, when I don't have something else I must do, is what I want to do: go to Mets games and enjoy them. Management is not responsible if the Mets don't cooperate to make it a fully optimal experience.
Bad baseball on the Mets' part? No doubt, no duh. Hurt them in the short/long run? I dunno. We're still in better position than the Phillies (to say nothing of the Expos). Our team wants to clinch a division and play in October, they'll go to Washington and beat the Nationals and then Miami and do the same to the Marlins. Due respect to 93% of our remaining schedule, but we couldn't ask for an easier slate to finish up with. If the Mets are serious about providing more than a pleasant diversion for another two weekends, then they'll win some games starting now.
If they don't, they don't. I can't break it down any better than that. They have problems. They need Delgado back. They need at least two more relievers to reveal themselves as at least risky (because risk implies the possibility of reward — right now all Mota and Sosa and probably Schoeneweis amount to is guaranteed failure). They need to stop gripping the handles of their Louisville Sluggers as if they're paid to produce sawdust. They need to bring the shortstop into the cage to work on his mental approach to everything. They need to drown out the suggestions that they are MVPs and the like because it seems the more they hear it, the more they desperately try to live up to it. They need to stop running for a minute so they can stop and think.
They need to catch the ball.
There's really nothing new that can be said about the Mets' sudden downfall, because we've seen it. We've seen them go down and we've seen them come up. We thought the last uprising meant the cycle was complete and that we had this season figured out. But now it's Phillie vu all over again and questions abound. Three-and-a-half may be too many to give up in two weeks' time, but otherwise we've been here before. After the mid-June swoon. After the Rockie/Astro sleepwalk prior to the break. After the determined mediocrity versus the Bucs and Nats at the end of July. After that previous Phillie melodrama. There's always a temporarily happy ending to those grim bedtime tales.
Now another chilling chapter has unfolded. I have no idea whether we get through it safely or if this is the one that trips us up…the end. I don't know. I'm still trying to figure out how the Mets lost three consecutive games right in front of me and I left Shea after the last of them feeling pretty good about life.
This fan business can be strange stuff.