In the last couple of years, I’ve gotten a number of amusing reactions to our “Numbers” shirt. No, they’re not lottery numbers that came in for me (though that would be nice) and no, they don’t have anything to do with the plot of “Lost.” I’ve learned that the actual answer to the real question being asked will almost always disappoint the asker. “They’re the numbers retired by the New York Mets” means next to nothing to the vast majority of people, a small amount to a decided minority of people, and a great deal to a much smaller minority of that minority. Caring enough about those numbers to put them on a garment? You lost most folks a while ago.
Which is fine — what good’s a secret handshake if it’s obvious to every Tiger, Diamondback and Highlander you might meet? When Greg and I agreed to make up Numbers shirts (an idea actually borrowed from the very fine Padres blog Gaslamp Ball), my biggest hope was that people would think they were cool. I’d like to say I saw right off that they were a perfect fit for what we do on our blog. But I’m not that smart. I got lucky.
Those numbers — the orange 37 14 41 and the red 42 — can’t instantly be understood at a glance. Even when they were on the wall at Shea (they’re gone now, with so much else), they were somewhat mysterious. They didn’t come with names attached, nor should they have. (The Cardinals are doing it wrong.) They have meaning, that’s obvious — meaning that goes to the heart of the history of the New York Mets, and all the elation and disappointment that’s threaded through that history. They’re a mystery, one that’s unlocked by knowledge obtained through devotion.
But here’s the thing about that knowledge and that devotion: It can be passed on. It should be passed on. And that’s what we do and who we are. By which I mean not just me and Greg, but everybody who likes to come visit, whether it’s to comment or just to read and in doing so, reminisce about what’s been and hope (or worry) about what might be. That’s passing it on, too — the daily conversation that’s a part of the history of the franchise, right alongside the chronicle of games and seasons and players.
In my old career I sometimes got tapped to talk to business-side folks about various blog ideas, and the thriving community of Mets bloggers made for a good object lesson whenever I sensed someone had drunk a bit too much buzzword Kool-Aid. “What kind of blog are you talking about?” I’d ask, and if they looked puzzled, I’d take them on a quick tour around the Met blogosphere. Within a couple of minutes, they’d see blogs that are one-stop news sources and blogs that dig into cool new stats and blogs that await no-hitters and blogs that celebrate walk-offs and blogs that lend themselves to in-game chats and blogs that scout minor leaguers and blogs that break down upcoming enemy pitchers and blogs that are personal reminiscences. They’d see that even within a world bound by the narrow confines of Met fanaticism, there were a great many varieties of blog.
Including ours. What we do is watch and cheer and worry while enmeshed in history — our own and our ballclub’s, two chronicles that long ago became too intertwined to ever untangle. For us, no player, no game, no pennant race and no lost summer ever stands alone. Is Johan Santana’s valiant effort in Shea’s penultimate game its own animal, or an echo of John Maine the year before or Al Leiter in Cincinnati a while back or Jerry Koosman when we were kids? Is Daniel Murphy the next Edgardo Alfonzo, the next Mike Vail, or a player who will make such an impression that eventually someone will be the next Daniel Murphy? A catch valiantly pursued but not made (Ryan Church at the fence, perhaps) will bring back Shawn Green in October against the Cardinals, or Shawon Dunston at the end of September against the Braves. A lucky bounce and a play made will bring back Dave Augustine and Richie Zisk. Wackiness at the plate might summon memories of Paul Lo Duca and too many Dodgers, or Ramon Castro and too many Astros. Those folks streaming out of Fenway because the Sox were down 7-0? You don’t do that, even when you’re cold. Why not? Because we once trailed the Braves 8-1 going to the bottom of the eighth, and oh what a night that was.
It can seem intimidating, this rich history of games lost and sometimes even won, of players mundane and miraculous, celebrated and obscure. But baseball takes a while. It has spaces — between seasons, between games, between innings, between at-bats, between pitches as batters and hurlers prepare for renewed war. And those spaces are perfectly suited for remembering and teaching and connecting the dots. From fathers and mothers to sons and daughters, most definitely — in the last couple of years I’ve learned, with a happiness so piercing it borders on heartbreak, that that’s the sweetest way to do it. But it can also flow from friend to friend, from neighbor to neighbor, from reader to reader. Until another convert has joined the ranks of the blue and orange, with all that pain and suffering and hope and joy. Until it’s been passed on.
So what are those numbers? Glad you asked. Take a seat — it’s a heck of a story.