Joshua and I came back from the piney woods of Maine tired, happy and full of food courtesy of his grandmother. Oh, and ready to watch some baseball.
Maine is a wonderful place, except for the fact that in my folks' summer house across the river from Wiscasset baseball is strictly a nighttime affair. Not “nighttime” as in we're busy during the day — the whole idea of Maine is to remember what it's like not being so darn busy — but nighttime as in WFAN only comes in after the sun is well and truly down. Day game? Forget it. Night game? Depends when it starts. A 10:05 start on the West Coast (oh, sorry Omar — that's a 7:05 start and I'm creating a negative perception) can be listened to more or less as you would at home, except for the wow and flutter of random atmospheric phenomena. A 7:10 New York start, though, is going to be nothing but static until the middle innings at the earliest.
Over the years of our visits I've gotten used to this — it's the way things are, so you accept it as part of vacation time, and even come to enjoy it as a departure from the home-front hurry-up. It's getting dark, the dishes are cleared, the chipmunks and turkeys have given way to mosquitos tapping at the screens and big moths thumping at the windows. Let's find out how those Mets are doing.
Except they weren't doing well. Saturday's game was assessed via a quick listen before going out to dinner (if it had been a Western, I would have heard the part where Pedro's horse threw him, he landed on a rattler and slid rapidly toward the edge of the cliff) and confirmed later via a text message to Google on the cellphone. Sunday's outcome was discerned in the car on the way back from a restaurant in Rockland, with general happiness in Howie Rose's voice and the brief phrase “back to .500” emerging from the static to answer the what if not the how. I sat by the radio for the final inning of Monday night's debacle. Tuesday night I reported for duty late, after letting Joshua stay up two extra hours to chase and capture fireflies. (All later released — we're kindly sorts.) The FAN told me Ibanez had hit a homer just over Trot Nixon's head, which was clearly bad. I wondered what the score was before I realized I was hearing the recap, and soon enough the grim duty in Wayne Hagin's voice strongly suggested the Ibanez shot had not been an isolated blemish.
In this age of MLB.TV and Extra Innings and HD and GameCasts and blogs run by multiple obsessives it's briefly fun to go back to the way it used to be, to rely on your knowledge of the pitch of announcers' voices and your ability to piece together a narrative from one word in four to follow a ballgame that's taking place on the edge of radio range. And it's easy to forget how much has changed. One night about 15 years ago, during an ill-advised marathon drive, I listened to the Mets win on a car radio in the Georgia hills, FAN turned as loud as it would go, the faintest bits of syllables sneaking through borderline-explosive fusillades of static. Last fall I watched the Mets lose on a laptop computer while pondering the lights of France across Lake Geneva on an autumn evening. That's a long way to come — and all of it in the career of, say, Carlos Delgado.
But this evening the time for nostalgia was over. Joshua and I had missed our Mets, even with all their maddening habits. And so at 7:10 there they were — and why, we could barely understand what the fuss had been about. Jose Reyes ran wild. A rather perky-looking David Wright swung heavy lumber. The Mariners showed no particular inclination to field or, for a while, to hit. (And didn't it seem for a moment like this might be the night? John Maine stepping on a losing streak, the Mets refusing to get swept, the Mariners about to hit the road? But of course it's never the night.) The umpires umpired peaceably. The fans did not resemble bags of fertilizer, even to the newshound with the most overly sensitive nose. What had been all the trouble we'd heard rumor of from afar?
OK, so perhaps it's that the bats went eerily quiet after the early doings and the team's still under .500 and the
third fourth installment of the Worst Day in the History of the Baseball World is about to be upon us. There's all that, I suppose. But after piecing together news by technological hook and static-ridden crook and finding the dispatches almost universally grim, we felt welcomed home.