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Citi Field and Required HR Distance: A Scientific Inquiry by Three New York Mets

Between all-purpose busyness and an awesome, awesomely exhausting wedding in Braves country, I’d missed my Mets, whose recent admirable gaffing of Marlins had been relegated to condensed games peered at blearily on At Bat. So it was a relief to find myself pottering around my own kitchen with the Mets on at a normal time — though less of a relief to remember that their opponent would once again be the Padres, recent winners of two of three in West Kamchatka and a team that’s awfully good in a minimalist way: Adrian Gonzalez + Stingy Starting Pitching + A Deft Bullpen + Ecksteinness + Heath Bell Still Being Pissed Off About Everything = Much Tougher Than You Keep Thinking.

But the rules say you have to play whomever shows up, and so Joshua and I settled in to watch the Mets try to find their way to safety. One of the many joys of fatherhood is getting to be half of my son’s nightly tutorial in baseball (I was flying solo, but Emily had a rock-solid alibi — she was at Citi Field), and when I came back from some interminable stage of ferrying recycling to the curb he reported disapprovingly that Jose Reyes hadn’t worked the count to a single ball yet. Other topics covered included why it was bad that the Padres were putting the ball in the air against Mike Pelfrey in the first, why it was immensely heartening that Pelf then cruised through the second on three groundball outs, why we accepted physical errors but deplored mental ones and what the difference was, and why the blandly action-figure-featured Clayton Richard getting the inside pitch called a strike was a big advantage. (Tonight’s new term for Joshua: “the black.”)

I get the sense that “settling in” is also a good description of where we collectively stand with this latest incarnation of our team. It’s now the beginning of June, by which time teams hope to have shed the unlucky and the ill-fitting and the failed gambles and the too old and the too young after shuffling through them in April and May. And the Mets have mostly done that, for which they deserve praise alongside my inevitable grumblings that they could have done much of this work more rigorously in March.

As fans, we too have our shuffling to do in the spring, and by June we have tried on various predictions and characterizations and certainties, and are now starting to be used to our team, and less likely to be surprised by what a given week brings.

And when it’s early June and you’ve gotten used to leaving the windows open at night and having a lot of time between leaving work and the fall of dark, fun’s enough. You can start getting anxious when the daylight is dwindling and you have to remember to shut the windows again at bedtime.

As for the game, well, it was a classic. Big Pelf used to just refer to the fact that Mike Pelfrey is tall, but now it means a lot more than that. He didn’t have his best stuff, but he had a big park and a big strike zone and he went to work with those advantages in mind. And when Wright’s arm and Reyes’s glove betrayed him on the same dreadful play, leaving Scott Hairston on second with one out in the ninth, he took matters into his own hands. Must I do this myself? Very well, it seems I must. All right then. Here is strike three for you, Nick Hundley, and here is a 1-3 putout for you, Max Venable, and now I am going to the dugout to think good thoughts. The Mike Pelfrey of 2009 would have elicited our sympathy, but also our sense of imminent doom. The 2010 model just rubbed up a new ball and got on with it.

Big Pelf’s offense, on the other hand, was engaged in a hands-on experiment in determining to a micron how far you had to hit a ball to get it to count as a Citi Field home run. Reyes sited his experiment exactly atop the Great Wall of Flushing, requiring a subterranean dash for three of the umpires. If you want a reason replay will be expanded beyond home runs soon enough, it has nothing to do with justice for poor Armando Galarraga. Rather, it’s that most everybody in the park now has replay — except the umpires. Even if your glimpse of SNY is from a section away, if you know the rhythms of baseball broadcasts you can tell by where the Coors Freeze Cam stops whether the guy was out or safe. (And if this is too advanced, just listen for whether those near a set are booing.) Fast-forward the tape a year to when we have in-park WiFi bringing crystal-clear replays to an ever-greater number of smartphones and tablets, and the technological pressure will be inevitable. Once the umps ascertained what everybody else had already learned, Jose got to finish his trot and on we went.

From a Mets-centric point of view, Angel Pagan’s experiment was less successful but deserved praise for its ambition. Pagan picked the odd notch of Citi Field required because of the cramped street grid outside the park a fetish for quirkiness, and hit his line drive a few microns short of topping the orange line. Pagan, to his credit, was running and not spectating, and so wound up on third and was allowed to stay there after miscellaneous squabbling and discussion. (Pagan’s emergence as a very good ballplayer in all aspects of the game is one of the year’s best stories, and hopefully will create an interesting problem for the Mets before the summer’s over.) I briefly hoped Jason Bay might get to write the happy ending, but was not to be, and so on we went again.

Ike Davis might get a worse grade than you’re inclined to give out for his experiment, because Ike didn’t determine the exact dimensions of the playing field with any great degree of confidence. Ginormous Blast That Nearly Hits Bridge > Orange Line, but we all knew that. Though let’s be fair: Perhaps Ike was trying to measure something else, such as whether a hanging splitter launched on that particular arc will land north or south of Montauk. In which case let’s say his experiment is off to a promising start, and acknowledge that it brought tonight’s affair to a most satisfying finish [1].