- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

The Heartless Part

Duaner Sanchez is gone [1]. Pedro Martinez isn't coming back. You have to steel yourself and say that's how it should be.

Baseball's civil war between intuition and statistics, between jocks and geeks, can be reduced with only moderate oversimplification into a struggle between Heart and Head.

Heart thinks of the past. Heart offers odes to grit and pluck and fire. Heart is nostalgic, wistful about once upon a time. Heart spins daydreams of comebacks and redemption. Heart is reluctant to say “never” or “never again.” Heart loves the idea of second chances. Or third or fourth ones.

Head thinks of the future. Head is quantitative, and grit and pluck and fire don't enter into the equation. Head preaches that past results are no guarantee of future performance. Head crunches the numbers and tries to predict not what will happen (impossible), but what makes the desired outcome most likely.

Both are perfectly good ways for those who love baseball to lose themselves in the greatest game of all. Heart exults in stories of faith rewarded and misery transformed into delirious happiness, in '69 Mets and '91 Twins and '06 Cardinals and (almost) in '08 Rays. Head tries to tease out evidence that redemption is about to arrive, that almost-good teams are about to gel or overlooked players are about to have their luck even out. That can be pretty satisfying to have come true, too. That's the thing about baseball — it's beautiful no matter how you come to it.

Heart remembers Duaner Sanchez as lightning in a goggle, as a comeback story from uncertain shoulder surgery with a triumphant ending yet to be written. But Head notes that results are everything, and Duaner's haven't been anything special. His 2006 second half was bumpy before the taxi accident derailed him, 2007 never happened, 2008 showed his bravery was intact but his fastball wasn't, and March 2009 did little to convince anybody that anything substantive had changed. Middle relievers turn ordinary even in the best of times; the Mets had to consider the likelihood that ordinary was Duaner's new ceiling. Yes, Heart still thinks of Duaner as part of a three-headed bullpen dragon with Aaron Heilman and Billy Wagner. But Head notes Heilman is in Chicago, where one hopes he can rediscover his change-up before the winds start blowing out of Wrigley, and Wagner is in physical therapy, most likely never again to throw a pitch in anger. The only surprise turns out to be that Sanchez was the last head still breathing lukewarm fire.

And then there is Pedro. Pedro throwing in the 90s for the Dominican, Pedro striking out guys, Pedro charming all onlookers, Pedro playing cat and mouse with the Mets front office the way he once played cat and mouse with terrified hitters. Pedro has pushed Heart around all through his long decline, whispering that next time his location will be pinpoint, that next time those one or two bad pitches won't happen, that next time his wiliness and will can see him through. Heart, left cold by the flailings of newcomers Tim Redding, Freddy Garcia and Livan Hernandez, burns to give the old charmer one more chance. But Head says no. Head knows it's over. Well, Head doesn't know, but Head can guess pretty confidently, because that's what Head does.

So it is, always has been and always will be. Heart will possess you to leap up and down on the couch and hug strangers in the stands. But when the money gets spent and the slots get allotted, Head has to run the show.

And Head has a secret advantage: Heart is a sucker. And always will be, in a way we'd never want to lose. Heart is always ready to fall in love all over again. With rare exceptions (we're looking at you, Mr. Coleman), Heart will find something praiseworthy in any player who visibly does his best, at least tries to say the right things and delivers results decently north of utterly execrable. (We're looking at you, Mr. Castillo.) Unless everything goes truly awfully, simply by being a professional baseball player Tim Redding will demonstrate grit and pluck and fire and write a story that may not have the bravura of Pedro's, but will have us rooting for him nonetheless. We'll see something in Sean Green's mound glower or the way Bobby Parnell gathers himself before each pitch or how little Casey Fossum stares down a huge Philadelphia lefty, and Heart will be off to the races once again, forgetting that once these players were anonymous imports brought in by Head at the expense of previous beloveds.

And then, of course, Head will get rid of them too.

Heart and Head will both sing hosannas when you pick up Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets [2], available for pre-ordering now via Amazon [3], Barnes & Noble [4] and other [5] fine retailers.