Update: Audio! Now you can say TLDL instead of TLDR!
Thought I’d post what I read at Varsity Letters’ fifth-anniversary shindig last week, for posterity but mostly because it’s a reflection on a Mets game we’d be better off to recall more often, particularly in these trying days. Odds are you’ll recognize it at once — and as you might imagine, we’ve written about it before. And no doubt we will do so again.
The 500th Time I Realized Baseball Is Mankind’s Greatest Achievement
My phone rings. It’s my friend Megan, calling from somewhere in the vast reaches of Shea’s upper deck.
“Your team sucks,” she says
She isn’t being mean. It’s true. It’s June 30, 2000. The night before, John Rocker returned to Shea for the first time after his inventory of the denizens of the 7 train for SI. We booed him and the Mets lost. Now it’s the middle of the eighth and the Mets are down 8-1. Those are the Braves. They’re only three games up in the East, but it feels like 30. I’m in the mezzanine next to my wife Emily and my friends Greg and Danielle. I’ve stopped booing. Greg has stopped complaining. Emily has stopped fuming. Danielle is reading the New Yorker, turning each page with angry little flips to demonstrate that she is not watching. All we want, given the apparent absence of other possibilities, is for it to be over.
Derek Bell singles, but Edgardo Alfonzo flies out. Mike Piazza singles. Robin Ventura grounds out to score a run. It’s cosmetic and we all know it – one of those too little, too late runs you almost resent. Todd Zeile singles and it’s 8-3. Still cosmetic. Jay Payton singles. Benny Agbayani walks. Bases loaded. We begin to stir.
We begin to stir — but we’re Mets fans. We are hurt and haunted and not falling for it this time. We know if we dare to believe, something bad will happen. Kenny Rogers will throw ball four. Bobby Bonilla will appear. Whatever it is, it will be awful and we will kick ourselves because we knew better.
But we’re Mets fans. We can’t help ourselves. Danielle is trying to burrow into her New Yorker. Emily is alternately urging on and berating our team. Greg is … yes, Greg is methodically chewing a Pepsi cup. I don’t know what I’m doing. I keep getting out of my seat and flopping back into it. I’m making noises. I don’t know what they are, exactly. But still – a grand slam here and we’d be … almost tied.
Mark Johnson doesn’t hit a grand slam. But he walks. It’s 8-4. Now a grand slam really would tie it. Melvin Mora doesn’t hit one either. He walks. It’s 8-5. Derek Bell is up again. And he … walks. It’s 8-6.
On the obvious, Team That Scores More Runs Wins hand, this is encouraging. On the other hand, this is the slowest of slow-motion rallies ever seen. It’s taking us 10 or 11 pitches to inch closer to a destination we probably won’t reach.
I find myself on my feet, denying everything at the top of my lungs. As Alfonzo comes to the plate, I confide in Greg that of course he understands they won’t actually do this, that everything will come to naught. I don’t mean it — I’m just trying the reverse-jinx, looking to stay the hands of the baseball gods. Greg fixes me with a look of betrayal, of real fury, and I realize too late that he’s struck his own cosmic bargain, the terms of which I’ve just violated.
Alfonzo singles through the hole. One run scores. Two runs score. It’s 8-8, two men on and two men out, with Mike Piazza beginning his dinosaur trudge to the plate.
Now, for once, all of us scarred, despairing Mets fans live up to our ancient credo. Ya gotta believe, and we do. Forty thousand of us are standing and screaming as Piazza goes through his routine, almost gingerly drawing the bat up and cocking it at the shoulder.
On one level, what happens next lacks all drama. There is no agonizingly extended at bat with close pitches and foul tips and just staying alive and finally squaring one up. Piazza hits the first pitch thrown by Terry Mulholland over the fence. It’s a line drive, instantly and obviously gone.
On every other level, it’s quite dramatic. All the accumulated tension of the last 20 minutes is released in a second. We are screaming and hugging each other and screaming and hugging the people next to us who are screaming and hugging the people next to them. I feel my stomach dip and look around to see Shea itself is flexing, the decks rising and falling as we leap up and down on top of them. Given Shea, I know this is a bad thing. Then I go back to screaming and hugging, even though I can’t breathe. It’s entirely possible that the old stadium will fall down. It’s entirely possible that I will have a heart attack. But now I know other things are possible, too — like the Mets cold-cocking the Braves with a 10-run eighth inning. I may be having a heart attack, and the stadium may fall down, but right now I’m so happy that I don’t care.