Ike Davis: I am NOT the Messiah!
Mets Fans: We say you are, Ike, and we should know — we’ve followed a few.
Apologies to Life of Brian, but that what’s it’s been like over the last 24 hours: Ike Davis was hastily recalled from some hazy, happier future to the troubled present, and after thinking about the prospects of halfheartedly cheering for Gary Matthews Jr. to not strike out or John Maine to reach the sixth inning, we decided that yes, we do like Ike and would like him front and center as soon as possible. Ike is up, having spent just long enough enjoying Buffalo to ensure he’ll enjoy whatever city we tell him to enjoy through 2016, and life is better.
I’ve always had a weakness for the possibilities of rookies and the ceremony of their debuts.
When I was living in Washington D.C. in the summer of 1993 I drove to Philadelphia to see Bobby Jones’s debut, which now strikes me as a preposterous thing to do. Jones was victimized by typical 1993 Met defense, but won because Tim Bogar went 4-for-5 with two home runs. The second was an inside-the-park job keyed by Lenny Dykstra diving for the ball and missing. Bogar slid safely into home, but tore a ligament in his hand, was out for the year and never the same player. I spent the game in front of Veterans Stadium’s gigantic videoscreen. It made unpleasant, vaguely organic wheezing noises while it operated, like a failing organ, and I could feel a pulse of heat when pixels behind me lit up.
On Opening Day of 1996 my new friend Greg Prince and I sat in the right-field mezzanine (I paid $13 to sit in section 33, row G, seat 5) to watch shortstop Rey Ordonez ply his trade against the Cardinals on a misty day. The Mets fell behind 6-0, but cut the deficit in half thanks to home runs from Todd Hundley and Bernard Gilkey. In the seventh, with two outs and Royce Clayton on first, Ray Lankford hit a double to left off Jerry DiPoto. Ordonez took the throw behind third base and hurled it home from his knees with an oddly fluid motion, somehow simultaneously collapsing, rolling over his shoulder and imputing all the energy of his body into the throw. Clayton was out at the plate, and I heard a sound I’d never heard before at a ballpark — the sound 21,000 people make turning to the person next to them and asking if they saw that. The Mets won, 7-6. I assume Tony LaRussa overmanaged.
In the summer of 2004 I dragged my friend Tim to Shea for a meaningless game against the Expos, because young David Wright was making his major-league debut. I paid $23 to sit in section 3 of the upper deck, the 711B box, seat 2. Wright, hitting seventh, was retired by Montreal’s Brian Schneider on a deft catch over the dugout rail in the second inning and went hitless on the day. But the Mets won, 5-4, on an error by Nick Johnson, overcoming a three-run homer by Montreal’s Endy Chavez.
My presence at Ike’s debut was sheer luck — I had a ticket thanks to the kindness of Sharon Chapman, runner extraordinaire and all-around Good People. I came to the game from a meeting in midtown with a backpack full of layers and Mets gear; when the V train dipped below the East River I stripped off my Responsible Adult button-down and blazer, leaving a t-shirt foundation, then donned a long-sleeved shirt, hoodie, Mets replica jersey with the wrong Tug McGraw number and Cyclones cap. By the time we emerged in Queens my transformation into Met Man was complete.
At Citi Field the night held a foreboding chill but the crowd was cheerful enough, politely applauding Rachel Robinson and various college students wearing 42 jerseys with can-do qualities stitched in the place of names while trying to figure out which Met wearing 42 was the new guy. Rachel Robinson is a treasure, but I’m willing to stick my chin out and say that having home-and-away Jackie Robinson Nights is a mistake that threatens to cheapen a moving gesture.
But soon enough it was game time, and so Greg, Sharon, David and I settled in to see if Ike Davis could indeed save us from all that has gone so depressingly wrong of late. The fans cheered Ike’s every move, with a good third of the crowd rising to its feet for his first at-bat. (That struck Greg and I as a bit much; we cheered with behinds firmly affixed to our seats.)
Ike did the job, reaching out his long arms to muscle a Randy Wells changeup into right in the second and adding an RBI single under second baseman Jeff Baker’s glove in the seventh. At home in the land of Wi-Fi (an amenity that would make a great addition to Citi Field), I watched the replay avidly, loving that you could see the moment when Ike realized the ball he’d struck was ticketed for the outfield grass, and treasuring the first-hit pageantry: the rookie trying and failing to look like it’s business as usual, followed by the momentary worry that someone might forget to ask the opposing team to surrender the ball or that it might accidentally get tossed into the stands. (An hour or so ago, you can bet, some teammate handed Davis a battered decoy ball with all the information scribbled down wrong and something crossed out, just to see if he’d panic or blow his stack. Though since his father was a big-leaguer himself, maybe he knew this initiation was coming.)
The rest of the game was pretty good too: Jon Niese pitched gamely, though his inefficiency made you remember the Maine, Angel Pagan clubbed a two-run homer into the left-field seats to break a tie, and Jenrry Mejia closed things out. Between them and Ike, you could consider it a preview of a brighter Mets future. And who knows? Maybe it’s not as far off as we fear.