“This is the train to…LONG BEACH. The next stop is…LONG BEACH.”
Ever since the Long Island Rail Road began employing automated voice systems, I'd never heard that kind of redundancy on an eastbound train. I'd never ridden to the final stop.
But there I was last night, on the 11:54 to Long Beach, my old hometown. Well, I thought as we pulled out of Island Park and I heard that computerized announcement, this figures.
We're coming to the end of the line.
And so it goes in these waning days of a baseball season and these desperate hours of this unwanted pennant race. The end of the line is nigh. Four games left. Almost no lead remaining.
Now don't it feel like you're a rider on a downbound train?
My car was parked in LB because I had made a southern excursion in the afternoon to meet Dana Brand, author of Mets Fan, a book for which I reiterate my previous recommendation. He was giving a little talk at the Long Beach Public Library and from there, he and I were going to Gino's for the world's best pizza and Shea for the world's worst baseball.
The company and the pizza were outstanding. The Mets were not.
This was the first of my four planned trips to the future home of the Citi Field parking lot this week. I wasn't banking on being there for the clinching. I thought the clinching would be taken care of already. Mostly I'd looked forward to the socializing. The social aspect of my Mets season has far outdistanced my Mets. I thought the last week of the year would be cause for the world's largest outdoor Diet Pepsi party. We'd drink, we'd nosh, we'd chat…Oh look! The Mets are tuning up for the playoffs!
Ta-ta to that notion.
Dana, like so many of those with whom I've shared a soft drink this season, was a better reason to go to a Mets game than the featured attraction. Shea itself is a better reason to go to Shea than the featured attraction. Even Future Shock Park Propaganda Plaza was pleasant in comparison to the Mets.
Curiosity drove us to the Citi Field Preview Center (which shouldn't be open this week, dammit) early enough to beat the crowds for the virtual tour of the luxury suites we'll likely never really sit in. It hardly matters when your season is crumpling up and blowing away, but boy was that thing scary. I used to work for a corporation that introduced initiatives in town hall meetings the way the Mets are previewing Citi Field. “You'll like it a lot. You don't have any questions. Now get back to your desks.” Seriously, I thought I'd have to file paperwork with the Mets to take the night off so I could go to the game.
• We voluntarily stood in a line reminiscent of the way happy earthlings voluntarily stood in a line for the spaceship that would take them to the home planet of their veritable saviors, the Kanamits, a race that had eliminated war and famine among humans. As every Twilight Zone aficionado knows, the Citi Field literature that is titled “To Serve Mets Fans” is actually a cookbook.
• We saw a meeting in progress in the conference room where a PowerPoint was up that trumpeted the improvement in the Mets' “on-field product” across 2006 and 2007. Must have been an old slide. I imagine a new deck will be in use by tonight, one that exclaims that the Mets scored 12 runs in the 5 innings that spanned the end of Tuesday and the beginning of Wednesday.
• We visited a replica of the Excelsior Club, which I think is where all the upstanding civic leaders in Stepford convened to plan their next move.
• We sat in all the different seats Citi Field has to offer. Some were more luxurious than others. It was no coincidence. The more you pay, the more padded the seat you will get. The least you pay, you get no padding. Every fan decidedly not a king.
• We were told that no inquiries about the “relocation process” for current season ticket holders could be answered at this time. I can think of a few European countries in the last century that trafficked in that kind of euphemism. I suppose it couldn't be addressed since the Mets are expending all their energy against the relocation process that is shifting them from the penthouse to the outhouse.
• We were not shown the time machine that would make it possible for us to adjust our career choices in order to earn what it will take to afford a seat at the Excelsior Club conference table.
I wouldn't make any presumptions about those Mets fans who joined us on the virtual tour, but I didn't sense a lot of Fortune 500 types were along for the ride. I have to wonder why the Mets sales department didn't tweak this dog-and-pony show for the common folk…something to whet our appetites beyond “your seat will not be padded.”
One thing that will be a vast upgrade over Shea Stadium when Citi Field opens in 2009 is it will not include the 2007 New York Mets.
My wife works with a woman whose first question and comment to her yesterday was, “How is your husband doing? He must be so upset with the way the Mets are playing.” Great — it's back: the autumnal rite of sending along Greg must be taking this very hard precautionary condolences; I received them with leaf-peeping regularity in my mid-to-late thirties. Thanks for asking, but I'm with Jason as regards the current Zeitgeist. Go ahead, dare me to be upset in the 1998 sense that this club has six-sevenths of its erstwhile margin stuck in its windpipe. 1998's five-loss choke job was brutal because we hadn't been to the playoffs in a decade. It hurt because we were being deprived of what we could only imagine.
Amid's 2007's disquieting gaggery, the saving grace is the relatively recent 2006 memory that lingers lovelier as this year's days grow short. Never mind that it's a lot of the same guys. Never mind that '06 ended as it did. You never believed for half a second that those Mets were “complacent”. If their immediate successors are satisfied that winning a division once and a division series once confirms their talent and permits their complacence, then maybe it's fine for us, the fans, to dismiss this 2007 edition as a fraud and rest on laurels constructed of 2006 National League East Champions pennants and t-shirts. (If there are any left over, we can weave our own Citi seat padding.)
We're not entitled to a postseason per se, but I don't think we deserve to party like it's the year before 1999. We're not trotting Brian McRae and Tony Phillips out there. But how can you look at this relentlessly helpless outfit and see anything but a choke in progress? Philip Humber justified my conditional faith by appearing to know what he was doing for a couple of innings, as if he'd been pitching all his life. Then it became apparent he wasn't ready or he was too rusty or the Beltway Behemoths were just too massive a challenge at this tender stage of his development. I hope to see him again some day.
The same I cannot say for Joe Smith, at least not until he spends some quality time at Binghamton or somewhere. Imagine that your defending N.L. East champs' potential to repeat came down on the final Wednesday of 2007 to Philip Humber and Joe Smith, an untested rookie and a failed rookie. All that payroll, all that padding and no experience to rely on.
When we're paying whatever we're paying for whatever seating's available at Citi Field (suddenly the Mets don't loom as such a long-term hot ticket), I will be endorsing a new philosophy for management: Don't skimp on pitching. When Chad Bradford got the three-year deal from Baltimore, I thought of course you should let him go. How do you give a non-closer three years? They're all interchangeable and you can't commit that long to such an uncertain quantity.
Forget that. Give the next Bradford three years. Give the next Darren Oliver two years. It's chump change when you consider the stakes. If it doesn't work, then eat it. It's better than hoping a Joe Smith will be up to the task of retiring Major League batters (after everybody's taken his measure) at crucial junctures in his second professional season.
This is not a license to re-sign Guillermo Mota or give Scott Schoeneweis (who has improved enough of late to rate his own PowerPoint page) three years. But I'm done worrying about the Mets' budget. I've seen the future. I've seen the Excelsior Club. They can pay worthy* relievers any premium they demand.
While Dana and I chatted the early innings away, pausing just long enough to standing-ovate for Beltran and Alou, it was all good. This had sure-thinginess written all over it…Sodaman! Diet Pepsi all around! Then I happened to notice it was 6-2 and there were Nationals on base. Then 6-4 and more runners on base. Hey, we could lose this game. It was the strangest realization. Even after this endless, shapeless, nightmarish stretch of endless, shapeless, nightmarish ball when you're praying the hinges on the bullpen gate aren't oiled — it's real “The Lady, or the Tiger?” stuff behind that door right now — I thought a 5-0 lead was safe for a team that has so much talent that it sometimes gets bored with the work involved in preserving its leads. Then I thought a 6-2 lead was reasonably golden. Then I thought this is pretty much the worst I've ever seen my team perform when you factor in context.
Tipping point, set and match. Phillies cruised. Nationals crushed. Mets crumbled. The pen eventually resembled competent, just in time for the offense to take a batnap (until Wagner). And the lead is suffering from the kind of shrinkage normally associated with a frightened turtle.
Are the Mets “blowing” this or are they merely losing a lot of games while their closest opponent is winning many? If you don't have enough wins at the end of the year, did you “blow” it or did it just not add up for you? I don't want to dissect that line of thinking just yet. I don't want to come to the end of the line just yet. I don't want to have confront real life without baseball just yet.
*word added upon further consideration of subject matter