The Mets enjoyed a statistically familiar  Opening Day. Yet I enjoyed a very unusual one. They opened at Great American Ball Park. Yet I watched them at Citi Field. They were led by Johan Santana, Daniel Murphy and Frankie Rodriguez. Yet I was awed by Mookie Wilson, Ed Kranepool and Ed Charles…and Cow-Bell Man. Can’t forget Cow-Bell Man.
Here’s the surreal deal: A friend with the fine folks who sponsor that swell Pepsi Porch invited me to a New Year’s bash on said patio (a rare intermingling of my beverage and baseball lives). We’d eat, drink, mill and cheer the action from Cincinnati on the big screens. And it would be great, unless it rained.
It rained, but it was still great, because Pepsi and the Mets moved the party indoors to Caesars Club. Hence, there I was, eating, drinking, milling, cheering the action from Cincinnati on smaller but very sharp screens and not getting wet. And being surrounded by greatness.
The greatness on the screens is what we all care about, so let us praise not Caesar or even Mookie for a moment, but Johan. From what I could tell when not helping myself to unlimited fare (standard ballpark stuff but with those Citi kitchens, nothing is substandard), it was colder in Ohio than it was in New York (where it was cold enough) and Johan wasn’t feeling the ball, thus the four walks. That’s the sort of thing that could derail an Ollie Perez — that does derail an Ollie Perez — but this is Johan the Magnificent we’re talking about, so he essentially shook off the cold and picked up where he left off last September 27 and 23, respectively.
The Mets, 31-9 to commence their calendar since 1970 and 4-for-4 since 2006, left too many runners on base, of course, but don’t they always? Daniel Murphy and defense gave Johan enough wiggle room and the bullpen…OH THAT DELICIOUS NEW BULLPEN! The LOB may be the official state bird of Metsopotamia, but can we declare the blown save extinct? Probably a little too soon for that, but wow, what a difference however much they’re paying Green, Putz and Rodriguez makes. They’ll have their bad days, but…no! No! Never again! No more bad days! Not the kind with which we’ve been regularly burdened!
Sorry, just projecting my deepest hope for this season: no more cringing at that bullpen gate or even the thought of it. No matter where you were watching from Monday, you couldn’t help but hark back to the last time the Mets opened in Cincy, in 2005, and Braden Looper sabotaging the New Mets before they could spread their wings and fly. That was the first game this enterprise ever blogged and my partner captured the emotion of that ninth-inning, 7-6 loss perfectly  when he wrote one word and one word only after Joe Randa circled the Great American bases. (He did so again today in an e-mail that read, in part, “Fuck Braden Looper.”)
Four years have gone by. Maybe some Mets fans today had forgotten or never even knew about that wasted first start from Pedro Martinez and how (fucking) Braden Looper  just dampened everything for days and then, at just the worst instances , all of 2005. More saliently, nobody’s forgotten what last September was like in these parts. Green to Putz to Rodriguez…that’s something to remember and repeat.
I’ll probably never get to repeat my own personal Opening Day celebration from 2009, but I’ll remember it. Credit Pepsi and the Mets’ organization for thinking of everything except a temporary SkyDome to shield us on that Porch of theirs. But Caesars did well by its guests in a pinch. My friend who extended the invitation got stuck at work, so I didn’t know anybody there, but I felt like I knew everybody there. Everybody came dressed in their Opening Day finery and everybody was focused on the Metsiana of the occasion. Yes, of course, to Murph’s home run and two RBI, yes to David Wright and Ryan Church and Jose Reyes playing solid to spectacular defense. Yes to the pitching in its starting and relief flavors (YES!), right up to the impromptu K-ROD! K-ROD! chant that closed the festivities.
And yes to those Mets legends who joined us for the afternoon. I saw a line early and I thought it was for beer. It was for Mookie. Made sense. The presence of Mookie will always be more intoxicating than alcohol. He was signing autographs for children of all ages, including a Pepsi generation’s worth of Mets fans who couldn’t possibly know anything more about him than how could you not want the autograph of a man named Mookie?
I didn’t queue up for Mr. Wilson’s signature. Too long a line, too preoccupied by those images of Mr. Santana (and the sausages). But when it got short, I strode over. Somebody vaguely in charge tried to tell me Mookie was about to be done signing. I don’t want an autograph, I said, I just want to shake his hand and say hello. I was granted my wish.
“Hi Mookie, my name is Greg, and I want to thank you for being such a great Met and giving us such a great Met career, all ten years of it.”
Mookie accepted this completely unoriginal thought graciously before wrapping up his day. I couldn’t have let the opportunity go by without telling him what surely he’s heard before. He’s Mookie Wilson! (I had a copy of my book in my schlep bag and thought about giving it to him, then I remembered that the chapter that focuses on his most famous moment is laced with stream-of-consciousness cursing and that Mookie was the most straight laced of ’86 Mets, so I resisted. Maybe for one of the Scum Bunch I’d be less embarrassed by my working blue.)
Ed Charles had a line, too, but I caught it when it was winding down, and all I wanted from him was about 15 seconds of his time. I shook his hand and said my piece:
“Hi Ed, my name is Greg, and I just want to thank you for being such a great Met all these years. You gave me so many thrills when I was a kid and I can’t thank you enough.”
“That means a lot to me to hear you say that,” The Glider Ed Charles said to me. And he patted me on the back.
It felt good.
Ed Kranepool I was close to, but said nothing. Three reasons:
1) The Krane was not, when I was in his midst, doing his official Krane stuff;
2) I couldn’t stop thinking about what a friend of mine who once ran into him in a deli said after introducing himself as a fan: “Ed Kranepool looked at me like I owed him money,” though he seemed pretty relaxed today;
3) I was too in awe to say anything. I’m not kidding. This was Ed Kranepool, a Met for the first eighteen seasons that there were Mets. This was Ed Kranepool, king of the Mets record book still. This was ED KRANEPOOL!
As I wandered in Ed’s aura (and believe me, this guy’s got aura), I found myself behind him as he grabbed a cookie off a tray on the bar. I grabbed the cookie right after his before we diverged to our respective seats. I wouldn’t say I ate Ed Kranepool’s dust, but it’s fair to say we shared a few crumbs.
And Cow-Bell Man was there. I wasn’t in awe of Cow-Bell Man, but it was gratifying to see Cow-Bell Man in and out of action. When I walked into Caesars (which puts all airport lounges to shame but could use a few Mets trinkets to make it seem less LaGuardia), I saw somebody who looked like Cow-Bell Man quietly enjoying some lunch. It was him. It was Cow-Bell Man. Cow-Bell Man does Mets parties. Good for him. Now and again, he roamed the room, banging his bell and being Cow-Bell Man, posing for photos, signing t-shirts, making Mets fans a little happier for a few seconds per clank. When the affair was over, I found myself on the same subway platform with Cow-Bell Man. I was going to strike up a conversation, ask how he came to be there today, how he likes Citi Field, what his relationship with the Mets’ organization is, whether the bullpen can keep up the good work. But as I organized my thoughts, he walked over to where he wanted to get on the train and I stayed put at where I wanted to get on the train.
Cow-Bell Man’s only got so much aura.
Final unexpected guest of the day was that parking lot they’re building where Ol’ Blue used to stand. Caesars doesn’t face the current field, only the former one, or what’s left of its dirt. While Jerry made all the right moves in Cincy, while Mookie and the Eds (Cow-Bell Man’s real name , too, come to think of it) were eliciting grins, while Mr. Met and the Pepsi Party Patrol were bringing the Seventh Inning Stretch indoors, the men who work the Breeze machines continued to move earth. That thing will be paved over in no time. I watched now and then, between pitches and good cheer. I watched what used to be Shea Stadium get a little more covered up with every passing minute. Never saw that on Opening Day from Cincinnati before either.
Hope they pave over any remnant that indicated Braden Looper and his arsonous successors ever existed but good.
Two New Year’s gifts on one Opening Day…you guys shouldn’t have! But you did, Ray from Metphistopheles  and A.J. from Deadspin  (excerpt included in the latter). Read what they’re writing about: Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, available from Amazon , Barnes & Noble  or a bookstore near you. Keep in touch and join the discussion on Facebook .