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Things That Used to Be

So first I was really busy. And then I was really busy and in Toronto. (More on Toronto in a bit.) Between those two things, the Mets receded into a vague, distant unpleasantness, like a civil war in another hemisphere. I read Greg’s recaps and saw highlights, but I was spared the endless, metered doses of pain you get watching a lousy baseball team struggle night after night. The Mets are getting swept by the Marlins. Oliver’s been exiled to the pen but not to the minors or the ranks of the formerly unemployed. Jeff Wilpon just happened to be wandering through Atlanta and felt like checking in on his failing family business. David Wright struck out with nobody out and a guy on third again. Imagine what the Mets might have done if Angel Pagan wasn’t essentially alone out there [1].

It was no fun knowing the Mets were sinking further into irrelevance unless the discussion concerned whether it was possible to spend $134 million and still be in last place. But it was worse to realize that what I was feeling was a sneaky, disloyal relief at having drawn a Get Out of Bad Baseball Jail Free card for a few days.

So, Toronto. Lovely city — very walkable, nice people, lots to do, plenty of food and drink. It deserves a lot better than the Rogers Centre, formerly the SkyDome. (Greg will be along presently with his impressions as part of Flashback Friday [2].) Along with the White Sox, the Blue Jays had the misfortune to get new, mega-priced palaces just before Camden Yards ushered in the retro ballparks, which may have grown a little generic in recent years but certainly makes for a much better template than, say, the concrete doughnuts of the turf-and-elastic-waistband era. But by being the last in line before Baltimore, Chicago and Toronto got stuck with instantly out-of-date parks.

I haven’t been to New Comiskey, but the Rogers Centre is so consistently uninteresting that it actually comes to feel like some kind of weird accomplishment. The concourse is a sterile circle dotted with really boring things you don’t particularly want to eat. (The hot-dog girl’s amused look when I reacted with horror at receiving a huge pile of Canadian change was pretty funny, though.) There’s some kind of awful sculpture beyond center field that commemorates everything everybody did to line up financing for this place, or something: It’s all wire and words and depressingly late-80s, like a sweaterdress worn with a huge belt and a bunch of kooky bracelets. I mention it because it’s actually one of the more interesting things in the park. There are indeed hotel rooms overlooking the field. I suppose that would be cool if you were in one. The stadium staff are Canadian and don’t have enough to do, meaning they’re almost spookily nice and constantly in the way. (After a foul ball plunked into the seats in the next section and was retrieved by a fan, four of them arrived in record time and stood in the aisle for a couple of minutes for no reason I could figure out.) Oh, and former Blue Jays greats are honored with the usual ring of names and numbers up around mezzanine level — an unsurprising but perfectly appropriate ballpark feature. It’s called the Level of Excellence. Seriously. My friend Michael and I spent a half-inning or so trying to think of a more generic name and failed. Circle of Immortality? Arc of Triumph? Olympian Oval? Ring of Honor? No, it’s the Level of Excellence.

There’s a lot of “used to be” heard when discussing the Rogers Centre. There used to be a gigantic McDonald’s on the premises, possibly the only one in existence where you could order a hot dog. It’s gone now. (Things are bad when McDonald’s decides it can’t make a situation like this work.) Above the center-field fence there’s a multi-level restaurant, deserted and possibly abandoned — it used to be something, but now it’s just a depressing nothing, the baseball equivalent of keeping a rusted-out junker on cinderblocks in your front yard. Looking around the vast expanses of unoccupied seats, I politely said to Michael that this place must have been pretty awesome when the Jays were a powerhouse, the place was full every night and everybody was screaming. He shrugged. Yeah, it used to be.

None of this is a knock on Blue Jays fans. There were maybe 15,000 people in attendance, but that meant they were diehards — they knew their stuff, cheered batters for moving runners over and booed Lyle Overbay if he so much as twitched. (Overbay had one of the worst games I’ve seen a major-leaguer have in a long time, culminating with a play that saw him drop a throw, then heave the ball past the third baseman.) The Blue Jays’ song is pretty cool, complete with calisthenics. And the roof was open.

So we were nominally outdoors and got to watch baseball. That’s pretty good even when the park isn’t. And then today, it was back to the Mets — and they even won [3]. They won ugly, starting the night with a tense semi-confrontation between John Maine and everybody and ending it with a parade of ineffective relievers trying to hand the game to the Nats. They won because the Nationals were a lot worse. The Nats just missed balls they might have caught. They completely missed balls they should have caught. They fell down. They ran the bases poorly. They were more Mets than the actual Mets. Ryan Zimmerman’s look of disgust after falling down before he could pursue Jose Reyes’s little blooper said it all.

But it was one game.

One of the more useful baseball cliches, in my opinion, is that you spend April and May figuring out what you have, June and July getting what you need, and then August and September seeing if it works out. Except the Mets have spent April and May figuring out they have what a lot of people said they had in February and March. It’s good that they stopped giving Mike Jacobs at-bats — except he shouldn’t have gotten them in the first place. It’s good that Frank Catalanotto was relieved of his duties — but he shouldn’t have been given that job in the first place. Jenrry Mejia will supposedly soon be sent down to the minors to develop as a starter — that should have happened in the Grapefruit League.

And now, to present difficulties. Oliver Perez is in the bullpen. John Maine is … oh, who the hell knows anything about John Maine, except that several somethings are wrong with him, and it probably no longer makes sense for the Mets to figure out what those things are. So now it’s R.A. Dickey and Hisanori Takahashi and for a night, the heroic Raul Valdes. But didn’t a legion of bloggers and writers and interested observers spend the winter wondering why the Mets’ plan for the starting rotation seemed to be hoping for the best from very uncertain arms? (Joel Pineiro, the man the Mets wouldn’t bother to call, has had five good to great starts, one average one and two clunkers — I’d sure take that right now.) Sooner or later the useless Gary Matthews Jr. will depart the premises, and we’ll be heartened even though it will be just the latest example of the Mets no longer doing something stupid months after it was first identified as stupid.

That’s what $134 million buys you in these parts these days: the belated realization of stupidity. Better late than never, but weren’t there higher expectations around these parts once upon a time? Weren’t there higher aspirations? Yeah. There used to be.