So tonight I was on the subway, and glanced up to see Citi Field outside the windows, and thought something strange: I don’t want to go.
There were a lot of reasons. For one, I had a ton of work to do — too much, it suddenly seemed, to burn an entire night at the ballpark. For another, Greg had emailed me that he was delayed and possibly couldn’t come.
And, well, you probably guessed this third reason already: The team had just staggered home from an amazingly horrible road trip, one that seemed to have deep-sixed the season. They’d played futile, excruciating walking-in-concrete-overshoes baseball, and now were squaring off against Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright. Well, to be more accurate, the hitters had played futile, excruciating walking-in-concrete-overshoes baseball. If the various tomato cans they’d faced in Arizona and L.A. had made them look like the wrong end of Pros Vs. Joes, what would an ace riding a 26-inning scoreless streak do to them?
And why on earth would I want to sit by my lonesome in the Promenade and watch it while people booed?
So. Did I want to turn around and go home? Yes, I did.
Did I do that? No, I didn’t. And thank goodness.
The doors opened at Willets Point and I realized another beautiful night was coming, another respite from the jungle-rot weather of recent weeks. People spilled out of the 7 train, lots of them in Cardinals red, but many more in Mets blue or orange or black or white. They weren’t bearing pitchforks or torches. They weren’t even complaining. Rather, they seemed happy with the weather and each other and the prospect of baseball. So I let them carry me down the stairs and through the turnstiles and down the stairs again and across the plaza with the Apple, past the McFadden’s girls and up to the rotunda and the fanwalk, with its invocations of great Mets moments and messages of hope and joy and perseverence. And I began to feel better about things. In fact, I began to feel mildly embarrassed about my earlier moment of doubt.
Look, the Mets’ swoon was almost perfectly timed to crush our fragile hopes. They came out of the break with us mildly worried about their hungover play since Puerto Rico, then went to the West Coast and made us stay up late night after night watching them lose and hurtle out of contention. We hadn’t seen a home game in two-and-a-half weeks, during which an enormous amount had happened — there was a moment of silence before the game for George Steinbrenner, which made me do a double-take until I realized that he’d been alive when the Mets last played a home game. Carlos Beltran got a mild response from the crowd in his first at-bat, but I don’t think it was indifference so much as the fact that, well, we kind of forgot the context. It didn’t register with me that this was Beltran’s first game back at Citi Field, because by now I’m used to him being back. That’s how long the road trip was.
Anyway, yes, there’d been reasons to want to turn around and go home. But walking up the right-field stairs, I found myself smiling. It was a beautiful night, there was a baseball game, and I had a ticket to it. Plenty of nights, including some perfectly nice ones, don’t measure up to that.
It’s true that this reminder was tested almost immediately, when the Cardinals poked and jabbed and dinked Jonathon Niese for a first-inning run before I even got out of the Taqueria line. But one cheapie run wasn’t enough to mar the kind of summer night that makes you wish you had a good beer and something great to eat and a ballgame to watch, particularly since I actually had all those things. So I wandered here and lingered there, keeping tabs on the game via the ever-present monitors and letting the flow of Citi Field carry me along backstage. I texted two friends of mine who were there and visited happily with them for a while, then chatted with another friend up atop the big baseball in the Promenade food court for a time. And by now Greg was on his way, my phone buzzing with updates on his progress. On the train I’d feared being lonely, but I hadn’t been — and even if I had been by myself, baseball and the ballpark were proving good companions.
For down there on the field, the Mets were looking nothing like the team that had sleepwalked its way across a distant time zone. First they drew even on the Cards thanks in large part to a Beltran double off Wainwright, irony noted and then quickly waved away as irrelevant at this remove. Then they did some dinking and jabbing of their own, and Jeff Francoeur nailed a Wainwright offering to left-center. (Wainwright later said he was trying to walk Frenchy; irony noted again.) I thought Francoeur’s drive would be off the wall, hopefully bouncing back past the outfielders, but it was just high enough to be gone for a three-run shot. And the Mets were on their way.
When Greg arrived we scaled the Promenade and sat happily up there, jousting mildly about Mets we’d blamed everything on and talking shop and just generally catching up, as we’ve done hundreds of times before and will hopefully do hundreds of times more. Then K-Rod was in the game, and Pujols had struck out, and it was time to go home winners. 8-2 certainly helped, but it was just the capper on the night and the park and everything else. And it was a lesson — a welcome one, for once.
There are lots of times you’ll be busy and that ticket will seem less like an invitation than a burden. But push through these moments. Get up and go. Because it’s baseball.