How to keep up with the Mets when I'm away from New York City has been a question all my life. Picking between colleges in Connecticut and Massachusetts, I chose Connecticut because in 1987 that was within radio range of the Mets. Living in Washington, D.C. in the early 1990s, at the very edge of that radio range, I invested in signal amplifiers hawked by quack electronics outfits and spent summer Saturdays in the front seat of my little Honda CRX parked beside the Potomac River, which amplified WFAN's signal sufficiently to get it during the day. Visiting my folks in Maine one summer, I pulled in the FAN's stream every night for a week before realizing we were making toll calls to AOL. Later, I went old school and simply accepted that listening began when the sun went down and the FAN signal rose up out of the hum.
I'm used to this state of affairs, so a while back when Emily and Joshua and I made plans to join friends in Vieques for an extended weekend, I figured I'd be missing two-thirds of Mets-Yankees I. And after Luis Castillo cemented his place in Met infamy by transforming victory into horror, I decided that two days without Mets was exactly what the therapist ordered. Away from the things of Met? Perfect. Take that and a lot of beers and call me on Tuesday.
Vieques, for the uninitiated, is a sparsely settled, gorgeous island off the east coast of Puerto Rico. It's basically jungle hills and beaches plucked out of Corona ads — not exactly the place you'd expect to get a great cellphone signal. But the sprawling guesthouse where we were staying was a hill away from a huge cellphone tower, and so I had five bars of AT&T service, which is about four better than what I get in my apartment in Brooklyn Heights. (Oh, the ironies of the digital age.)
By Saturday evening we had arrived and unpacked and were drinking restorative beers, and despite my post-Castillo vow to give the Mets a bit of space, of course I had to check in on them — and of course I wound up stalking around the pool, Wayne and Howie filling the air as if I were on the Belt Parkway, while Fernando Nieve and Co. proved again the old adage that in baseball carryover is tomorrow's starting pitcher.
Sunday afternoon we were at the beach, and I left the iPhone behind, more out of fear of rain and salt and sand than out of a sense of decent behavior. But we got back at 3:30, and of course I made a beeline for the cellphone and MLB At Bat.
Another one of my many quirks: When I'm turning on the TV late or getting to a Web browser a couple of innings in, I'm interested in the moment in which you see how many runs each team has scored and process these two generally different numbers and their relationship to each other. You react, of course, but it takes a moment to add everything up before you can react. How long is that moment? Which number do you notice first? Does that moment have an emotional arc, or is it too brief? When I called up MLB At Bat around the sixth inning of Sunday's game I gave a kind of strangled cry and rid myself of the iPhone like it had burned me. Yankees 13, Mets 0? Really? (Later, a fellow vacationer who roots for the Yankees and I giggled over having done the same thing that afternoon: Both of us had snuck off for an Internet fix, read the headlines about the unrest in Teheran, and first read about Brian Bruney and Frankie Rodriguez exchanging unpleasantries. What's a potential insurrection in a nuclear-armed theocracy compared to MET AND YANKEE RELIEVERS YAPPING AT EACH OTHER DURING BP???!!!!!)
Tonight once we'd retrieved luggage and secured a cab back from JFK and parried the douchebag cabbie's innocuous question of which route to take (depends how much traffic there is, which we expect you to know), it was time to check in on Mets-Orioles, now a lackluster interleague matchup with a faded strand leading back to ancient glories. (Seriously. Who cares?) Technologically speaking nothing much had changed — the Mets were on the iPhone same as they'd been on Vieques — but it sure felt different. There we were figuring out that Mike Pelfrey hadn't allowed a hit as the eastern reaches of Atlantic Avenue yielded to the more familiar. And soon enough we were back home, sorting through laundry and books read and unread and mail to be similarly catalogued, with the Mets back on the TV, early-evening domestic life rotating around them as they, for a change, took advantage of someone else's gaffes.
Returning from a place you liked and a vacation you needed is always bittersweet — you're happy to get home and there's a certain satisfaction in reassembling the regular world even as you're dreading how easily you'll fall back into the lockstep of the routine you just escaped. And this is an oddly sour season so far, a nasty cocktail of injuries and malaise and questions Mets fans are really tired of asking, with the sometimes-startling chaser of remembering that the team driving us insane is in fact right in the middle of the nascent playoff race despite our certainty that by now they must be 20 games out. But for all that and Luis Castillo too, the Mets were filling the yellow cab and the living room and the New York night, and I found myself very happy that they were there.
Come to METSTOCK: 3 Hours of Pizza and Baseball, this Thursday, June 18, 7:00 PM. Meet the authors of A Magic Summer (Stanley Cohen), Mets By The Numbers (Jon Springer) and Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, talk baseball, watch the Mets beat the Orioles just as they did in '69 with us and have a generally great time. Details here.
Next time you go on vacation, take along 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.