How can I be sure, the Rascals asked in 1967, in a world that’s constantly changing? I can be sure via the Mets. That’s their appeal. That’s baseball’s appeal. The constancy reassures. It resonates. It comforts. If the good old Mets can come through anew, maybe we’ll all pull through.
We welcome free agents and acquirees. We need those guys. We require replenishment. But transitioning is best achieved gradually. It wasn’t issues related to labor and management that made me break out in hives at the thought of replacement baseball in 1995. It was the wholesale dumping of names like Brent Knackert, Eric Ludwig, Chris Walpole, Alex Coghen and Bubba Wagnon into Port St. Lucie that sent me reeling (and take a pocket schedule out of petty cash if you recall any of them). Roster turnover is healthy, but only if achieved organically. A little here, a little there. Avoid wholesale changes, which angry up the blood. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around personnel gently as you move.
One of the subtexts of my fandom is continually observing and slightly despairing how Mets don’t stay Mets forever, that the Mets seem to shed their players too quickly, that we are asked to grow accustomed to unfamiliar faces too fast. This is the franchise where our three retired stalwarts of exclusive longevity are not Tom Seaver, Darryl Strawberry and Edgardo Alfonzo but Ed Kranepool, Ron Hodges and everybody’s go-to example of a Met when the Mets were really and truly Mets, Bruce Boisclair. Time’s always flying, I’m always noting, which may be why it angries up my own blood to watch Mets management ignore, ignore, ignore as much of their own history as possible (informed sources say this particular strain of our fan angst has filtered up to the players, thus explaining their sluggish start).
Therefore, it delights me to have noticed Mets have begun sticking around a little. Many from recent years have been dispatched, often with cause, but it seems some of our guys have been Our Guys for quite a stretch. Did you know that we have nine 2006 Mets on the 2009 team? Reyes, Wright, Beltran, Delgado, Feliciano, Perez, Maine, Castro and Pelfrey were all here as part of our most recent run to the postseason. For the longest time, it felt as if all we did was launder players on their way elsewhere. Now we have a foundation of longtimers wearing our laundry. It seems indicative not of stagnation, but of stability. It’s nice to find yourself watching some of the same guys long enough to grow accustomed to their faces and other things.
Two examples struck me Friday night, a night when, like Jason, I found myself more interested in the game than the setting. First was Carlos Delgado, a Met in his fourth season, a Met who has been a Met so long that he has more than 100 Met home runs, a Met so long and productive that he’s actually eleventh on the all-time Met home run list. Would it surprise you to know Carlos Delgado has hit more homers as a Met than, among other Met icons, Rusty Staub, John Milner, Bobby Bonilla, Cleon Jones, Tommie Agee, Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Lee Mazzilli, Ron Swoboda and Robin Ventura? That’s in three seasons and change, including a year-and-a-half that was generally considered abysmal.
Yet it wasn’t a home run that got me focusing in on Delgado’s Met tenure Friday night. It was that double to lead off the ninth, the one that sparked the winning rally. It was where Delgado hit it — the other way. Carlos Delgado and the other way have been a small obsession of mine since he arrived in 2006 and we were introduced by about a dozen National League managers to the Delgado Shift, a most insidious innovation. C’mon Carlos, I’ve been saying to my television for now four seasons, hit it the other way. Nothing was more frustrating than those balls in the non-hole between first and second, sometimes picked by a shortstop.
Carlos Delgado is going the other way consistently now, particularly in the vast prairie that is the Citi Field outfield. Carlos Delgado is an old Met thriving on a new trick. Carlos Delgado continues to threaten the well-being of the other side. It would be good to see it from anybody in a Mets uniform. It’s great to see it from somebody who’s worn it on a going basis.
The other veteran Met who’s been catching my eye of late is Pedro Feliciano. Pedro Feliciano is the Chris Parnell or Tim Meadows of our Saturday Night Live year after year. When the cast of Mets gathers upstage to wave at the crowd, Feliciano is somewhere toward the back. He was only in one or two sketches in the show. Is he still on the show? How come he hasn’t departed to be in some atrocious Rob Schneider movie?
Yeah, he’s still here. He’s developed a character of sorts: The Lefthanded Specialist Guy. His catchphrase is “Prince Fielder coming up, here comes Jerry Manuel, and the call goes out to Feliciano.” Something like that almost every night. I look at Feliciano out there, going after his lefty, usually getting him, sometimes remaining a little too long in the sketch…then he disappears behind his more celebrated castmates. Pedro Feliciano has pitched for every Mets skipper since Bobby Valentine. He slipped out of the organization and into Japan for a bit but he’s never seen action for another Major League team. Pedro didn’t make me squirm appreciably less than his 2008 bullpen mates, but if one had to survive from that crew…well, it’s hard to blame a bad show on The Lefthanded Specialist Guy.
Of course it’s fun to welcome new cast members and hope they’re ready for prime time. Will Omir Santos emerge into something more than a bit player typecast in the Chip Ambres role, or might he get his big break? Brian Schneider’s on the 15-Day Disabled List and it’s not reflexive cynicism to assume Ramon Castro is on nothing more than the 15-Day Active List. The Mets have needed another catcher since the demise of Lo Duca. I don’t know if Santos is the one, but boy, how about that at-bat in the ninth? There are groundouts and then there are great groundouts. His was perfectly placed.
And finally, there was the newcomer who feels extraordinarily familiar, Gary Sheffield. Whenever a player answers, yes, it has always been a goal of mine to play for this particular team, I assume he’s lying or at least not particularly truthtelling. Yet when Sheffield said something to the effect that he’d always wanted to be a Met, I bought it to a certain extent. As every schoolchild knows, there has been a kinship between Sheffield and the Mets, that his Uncle Doc was our family physician back in the day, that this Kid Gary hung around the Mets before he turned pro. Since then, there wasn’t a lot to love about him — particularly in his Marlin, Brave and Yankee incarnations — but I always watched him at the plate in a way I watched few others. Part of it was his distinctive stance, approach and talent, part of it was the never completely extinguished wish that a guy who copped to sort of, kind of wanting to be a Met somewhere back in time might, in fact, someday become a Met.
Now he is a Met, baggage and all. I was mildly enthused when he signed, not expecting a whole lot, dreading a Bonilla ’99 situation in my darker moments. But there’s been no sign that he’s been anything but just fine to have on our side to date. Certainly he would want to hit that 500th homer. I wondered if it would be a Crash Davis pursuit: hit his dinger, hang ’em up, pass through like nothing more than an Asheville Tourist. Maybe Gary Sheffield isn’t a 2009 Met come the middle of 2009.
Maybe. But on April 17, he was. His 500th homer as a Met in black felt fair. Maybe he should have been here all along. Maybe he and Doc should have played together as Mets; maybe, in the mythology we fans like to construct for our would-be heroes, they would have kept each other on their respective straights and narrows. Gary Sheffield wouldn’t have “worked out” with Barry Bonds and Dwight Gooden wouldn’t have had to have waited to Go to Mo’s to come home. Who knows? What is discernible is Gary Sheffield smacked a huge pinch-homer and it was a big hit for all of us on one Friday night in April. Luis Castillo won the game, but Sheffield attained the new ballpark’s first curtain call. Triumph sometimes breeds the best kind of familiarity.
Get familiar with 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.