One of the sadder things about elimination day is how you now know you’re going to have to wait another year for the possibility — and nothing more — that you’ll finally get those things you spend the offseason wishing for and the balance of the season rooting for. Elimination comes along and you’re forced to set the clock forward. You haven’t gone four years since your last playoff appearance anymore; it’s five, because the theoretical soonest you can see playoffs appear for the first time since 2006 is 2011. That decade since the last time the Mets were in the World Series is now that decade (plus one). Actually winning it? Your Silver Anniversary Season Has Come.
Five years; eleven years; twenty-five years. We’ve done this too much, and we are compelled to do it too soon. “We shake hands till we see each other next season,” is what Coach Buttermaker in The Bad News Bears tells Amanda Whurlitzer ballplayers do when another year goes by. “Then we go fishing or hunting, make some personal appearances, get to know the wife and kids again.” True enough. Leaves gotta fall, pumpkin’s gotta frost, seasons gotta end. It’s fine that we do it eventually, if eventually means after a rollicking October and early November. It sucks that we, with eleven games remaining, are doing it for all intents and purposes now.
The competitive portion of the Mets’ season didn’t close shop when they lost their 77th game Tuesday night. That was what eliminated them mathematically. Spiritually they’ve been gone a long time. Spiritually, we’ve been gone a long time. When was the last time you found yourself absolutely gripped by a Mets game? Not just watching it, but absorbed in it, not letting go of it?
It’s been a while here, and I watch/listen to/attend virtually every Mets game. I pay less and less attention as the ramifications dry up and the numbness sets in, but I dutifully turn on the TV or radio pregame show at 6:30 and try to engage. I have to admit I don’t try that hard. The Mets don’t, so why should I?
Habit, however, isn’t eliminated as easily as the Mets, Last night, I wasn’t giving it my all, but when I had to run an errand in the neighborhood heading into the top of the eighth, I grabbed my portable radio for the duration of my absence from the couch. The Mets have been effectively out of contention since Tisha B’av , but the idea of going without them for a couple of blocks…anathema to my faith.
While I walked, David Wright walloped the homer that temporarily tied the game. In full view of whoever else might have been passing by at that instant, I raised a fist in the air. A fist to what? To 2-2? To potentially picking up ground on the Marlins? To another day of statistical life support?
I doubt it. It was, I suppose, a fist raised from muscle memory. Met hits a homer, I’m making extraordinary effort (relatively speaking) to follow it, I have been validated. Yay! My right arm probably also shot up to salute 42 seasons of this — 42 seasons of living and dying with the losing and the thing that’s the opposite of losing but I can’t remember at the moment what that is exactly. As seasons cease to sparkle and commence to fade, we don’t raise our fists for our team. We raise our fists for ourselves.
For those about to insist on walking to the drug store with a Mets game affixed in their ears, I salute me.
When the 2010 schedule was issued, I doubt I zeroed in on September 21 at Florida or September 14 versus Pittsburgh or anything that would be going on around now. It doesn’t work that way. When the preliminary 2011 schedule  saw light last week, a lot of people I know tingled with excitement. Who are we playing Opening Day? Who are the Interleague opponents? Why is the All-Star Break FOUR days? I want to take my road trip HERE and HERE and, if I can swing it, HERE! Nobody dares squint hard at those orange and white boxes (presumably to be shaded metallically once the geniuses behind Better Seats Lower Prices get their grubby mitts  on them) and envision one hollow September night after another after another.
Baseball’s all good before any of it’s played. Hard to believe our favorite sport our favorite team is drowning in drool this September is the same one that will amp us up in the days leading to April 1, 2011. We’ll dream of what might be and gloss over what has most recently been. We’ll tell each other all the things the rebirth of baseball means to us, completely forgetting it often means Septembers like that which drag interminably through seasons like 2010.
There’ll be plenty of time for reality to reintroduce itself in 2011. The clock has been set forward, but there’s no need to get ahead of ourselves too soon — or behind everybody but the Nationals yet again.