Omir Santos drove home Gary Sheffield Friday night while driving away Ramon Castro. He may be our most versatile catcher ever.
As we click our heels over Santos, we are destined to remember Castro fleetingly…which is just about the only fleetness to be associated with Ramon. Yet in the annals of Mets backup backstops, he was actually quite the latter-day stalwart. By starting Wednesday when oh me/oh my/Omir was sidelined by a bruise to the shin, Ramon nosed ahead of Vance Wilson for ninth on the all-time Mets games caught chart, 256 to 255. I know — just what every kid receiver aspires to, but that left him behind only Ron Hodges, Duffy Dyer and (by five) Mackey Sasser among those who were never designated full-time starters behind the plate. Castro caught more Mets games than Wilson, than Chris Cannizzaro, than Paul Lo Duca, than Todd Pratt, than the legendary Choo Choo Coleman even. Ramon Castro was his name and he was here for quite a while, bub.
I'm guessing we all have versions of three impressions of Ramon, in no particular order:
• He was injured a lot.
• He was the clubhouse cutup.
• He hit a big home run against the Phillies ages ago.
The injuries were unfortunate. Without them, he would have passed Mackey Sasser with ease, maybe even Duffy Dyer (who I could have sworn caught 500 games a year every year when I was a kid but was never actually behind the plate for more than 91 in any given season). The cutup stuff, which seemed to involve gaseous outbursts according to various reports, lost its charm when he'd do unfunny things like miss his wakeup call in San Diego and show up late to the park. But that home run he hit on August 30, 2005 — and the one that followed the next night as the Mets briefly closed in on serious Wild Card contention — helped establish Castro a going cause for those in search of forehead-slapping answers to the Mets' recurring hitting and catching woes over the next few years. Why doesn't Ramon play more? came up time and again these past five seasons. It wasn't a bad question, but he never came as close to catching as many games as the 99 he got in in '05, the year Mike Piazza was being eased out, the year Ramon Castro was the Omir Santos of Shea Stadium.
Now Omir Santos is the Omir Santos of Citi Field and Brian Schneider can go warm up Sean Green for all I care. But these things have a way of turning. BriSchnei, who just sucks the life force out of me by his very presence (a lower-key version of the sensation Jason experiences when he thinks of or looks at Bobby Jones, Jose Vizcaino, Steve Trachsel, Gerald Williams, Luis Castillo and Ramon Martinez; we all create and maintain our Met crosses to bear), had one of the biggest hits of 2008 in Philadelphia when he grew a beard and touched off a ten-game winning streak. If we're going to make first place our summer — and autumn — home, we're going to need all hands on deck, yada yada, so welcome back and go get 'em Mr. Momentarily Irrelevant.
Omir's latest big night coincided with my latest big night at the new ballpark where, for all my wariness of its charms, I've reeled off six straight Log II wins, as good a streak as I ever constructed in the old Log via the old ballpark. Consecutive Victory VI was witnessed from an unexpected perch in the Ebbets Club, an invitation that excited me more than it should have. It wasn't the prospect of clubbiness that revved me up or even the temptation provided by a seat closer to the action than I've had to date in the current crib. It's that I really wanted to see the Ebbets Club because it's been a bane of my Citi Field co-existence ever since I walked by it in early April.
Why, I asked myself over and over, is there something named for Ebbets Field at the Mets ballpark, particularly when there is nothing on the public premises designed to specifically evoke Shea Stadium or the Polo Grounds, which were the actual homes of the Mets before 2009? I sort of get why they felt compelled to clone Ebbets' exterior, spooky as it is to find miles from McKeever Place. I respect if not exactly embrace the Rotunda homage to Jackie Robinson (whether or not I'm “an intelligent, liberal New Yorker,” it does feel like social studies homework). Yet the Ebbets Club, every time I pass its guarded entrance, has irked the spit out of me. For a ballpark that opened for real not two months ago, Citi Field is already legendary for its unbearable lightness of Mets being. Thus I had to see for myself what else they were doing for the Dodgers — and conversely not the Mets — behind closed club doors. When I was offered an in, I was perversely psyched to go. Yes! I will be even more offended!
But y'know what? The Ebbets Club isn't even a good Brooklyn Dodgers tribute. I was actually a little disappointed that I wasn't Pee Wee'd, Oisked and Skoonjed to death in there. A little of it was having my high dudgeon deflated, but more of it coalesced into a new question: why have an Ebbets Club and not have it be an outstanding tribute to the ballpark and team that inspired it? Go all in or don't bother. There were like two pictures of the Ebbets exterior and nothing else of a Bummy nature that I recall. There were a few abstract pieces of Mets art, but nothing as simple as, say, a framed publicity shot of Ed Lynch. For a facility that's koo-koo for clubs, the three I've seen at Citi Field — Caesars, Promenade and Ebbets — could be injected into any golf course, any airport, anywhere in the United States that isn't interested in the New York Mets. (And the food was surprisingly institutional in quality; Aramark lives.)
But the Ebbets Club seating outside, the actual place where you watch the Mets game — very nice. Very, very nice. A Citi analogue to Shea's rear Field Level section between home and first, except comfier, cushier and spatially more exclusive. It doesn't rate the posted price tag ($160 on this Bronze evening), but I wasn't paying for it and neither was my incredibly gracious host. Not that I was in a hurry to leave such lovely baseball surroundings or turn away from Santos' baseball heroics, but I was particularly impressed by how close the EC is to the JRR which, in turn, is steps from the MTA and its Super 7 Express bullet train. The game ended near 10:30 and I had no problem making the 10:54 at Woodside. I always thought Shea had good subway access. Not compared to Citi Field it didn't.
The funny thing about an ideal seating section like Ebbets Club is it reveals almost nobody who goes to a Mets game is ever satisfied with his assigned spot. Everybody there had good seats, yet people — not just the young kind — were always angling for something more. If you were in Row 7, you had to be in Row 5. If you were in Section 115, you had to drift to Section 116. And if the usher made it clear you weren't supposed to stand in the area reserved for the differently abled (even if there were no patrons in wheelchairs), you just had to stand in that area until ordered to move. I suppose if you told one of these ticketholders he was going to play second base, he'd sneak over to first when Jerry Manuel wasn't looking.
While the victory that counted wasn't secured until the eleventh, a clear win was notched in the Mets fan's ledger in the eighth when the sing-a-long was trumpeted and Neil Diamond went the way of Ramon Castro. “Sweet Caroline” was traded not for Lance Broadway but for “Meet The Mets”. Not just “Meet The Mets,” but two verses of “Meet The Mets,” one more than we got when it was a third-inning staple at Shea after “Our Team Our Time” imploded. Perhaps it was the novelty of “MTM” or the liberation from the Red Sox' anthem, but wow was it awesome to hear the Mets' song at the Mets' park during the Mets' game. Our little contingent of Mets writers not only sang along, but we clapped along during its playing and stood and applauded its reintroduction when it was over. It was like that Silly String commercial where the dreadfully dullest gathering imaginable heats up because somebody thinks to bring something incredibly fun to the party.
Besides Omir Santos, I mean.
Special guest book plug not just because he was generous with his access to the Ebbets Club but because he's always worth reading: check out Matt Silverman's work on Shea Good-Bye: The Untold Inside Story of the Historic 2008 Season, written with Keith Hernandez and everything else in the prolific Met Silverman portfolio.