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Welcome to Dickey Field

Goodbye to the road. Goodbye to Whatever It’s Called Stadium in The Middle of Nowhere, Fla. Goodbye to that LandPhil where fly balls grow jet-packs in flight. Goodbye, for now, to Roy Halladay who doesn’t seem to mind pitching in that silly little bandbox. Goodbye to early evidence that we can hold our own against iffy teams but may be bound to take our lumps [1] versus the more capable kind. Goodbye to all that.

Hello Dickey Field!

Home is going to look, sound and feel oh so good Friday. It’s only been two series since the season started, yet there’s also been a full Spring Training, an endless winter and a 2010 that wouldn’t exit stage left until Oliver Perez walked in its final run [2]. Ollie loading the bases and then marching in one last National was a perfect capper to two years of live, streaming Met folderol. What a blue and orange period we have just lived through. Then again, there was a true saving grace to 2010, and it should be noted and cherished.

It introduced us to R.A. Dickey. Tomorrow he introduces Flushing to 2011.

This morning, I flipped WFAN on and was prepared to flip it off (so to speak) when I heard R.A. Dickey was going to be the guest in a little while. So I stayed tuned and wasn’t disappointed.

R.A. Dickey has never disappointed as a Met. He’s had a few subpar outings since we’ve gotten to know him, but we had no idea how impressive his par was going to be. Could have you imagined at this time last year that a) R.A. Dickey would be our Home Opener starter [3] in 2011 and b) that would be a bigger enticement to attend than even a Mr. Met bobblehead?

I listened to Dickey [4] in a way I never listen to, say, Ed Coleman. If I’m up on a Saturday morning staying awake against all odds as Richard Neer speculates, conjectures and drones (“maybe Santana thinks, ‘well, I’ve already got my contract and you know, I don’t have to rush back from rehab,’ so he takes it easy in Florida away from the watchful eyes of Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson…”), I’ll inevitably perk up when he tells me Eddie Coleman’s Mets report will come on after the 8:40 update. Great, I think, a full 15 minutes of Mets news, yet come 8:58, I realize I’ve instinctively tuned out everything Eddie is going to the trouble of telling me. Same thing, generally, when a FAN host teases the appearance of some stray Met. There’s always a jolt of anticipation — “Oh boy! Vance Wilson’s gonna be on with Sid Rosenberg!” — and then the words just dissipate into inanity on their way out of the speakers and I’ve forgotten whatever was said before the next 20/20.

But not R.A. Dickey. Never R.A. Dickey. R.A. Dickey remains, in his second year as ours, the E.F. Hutton of Metsopotamia. When R.A. Dickey talks, I listen. I listen for the verbiage (this morning he said “arrest” as in “stop” or “halt” when the rest of us would have stopped or halted at “stop” or “halt”); for the heart (he was practically massaging Mike Pelfrey’s brain after his teammate’s abysmal outing from the night before); for the compassion (how he got to know a woman suffering from Cystic Fibrosis, how she was going to meet him at the ballpark, how she passed away over the winter and how he met her family after the fact and invited them to a game as a tribute to her); for more verbiage (the knuckleball is a “chaotic” pitch); and for the sheer R.A. Dickeyness of the man.

A few years ago, we were amused and a little horrified to learn Keith Hernandez withstood a tornado as a minor leaguer by opting to run “outside into a gully [5]”. This morning, I had a similar retroactive reaction to finding out that as a bored Triple-A pitcher who had made one too many visits to Omaha, R.A. Dickey decided to try and swim across the Missouri River…except being R.A. Dickey, he actually decided to try and “traverse” it. In case you’re wondering, the traversal wasn’t successful, but the pitcher survived the episode.

And now he’s about to bring us another installment in the adventures of The Most Interesting Man in the World. I thought somewhere along the way the novelty of R.A. Dickey would wear off, but it’s only intensified. But novelty is too trivial a classification for this one-of-a-kind wonder. He is an American original — and I rather doubt there are a whole lot of him in other countries.

One more thing I absolutely embrace about this guy is that as he was audibly thinking and then speaking on WFAN this morning, I began to picture him doing what we really like him to do. I pictured him on a sunny day, taking the mound, making his warmups, preparing his game plan and pitching for the New York Mets. And when I did, I pictured him doing so at Citi Field.

Natural portrayal to conjure, right? I suppose, yet as the image formed in my mind, I realized R.A. Dickey may be, in addition to everything else wonderful, the first genuine Citi Field Met of our time. Lots of Mets have worn one or more of the several home uniforms the Mets feature since 2009, but I don’t know that when I consider them, I consider them in their certified habitat. My connection to Shea Stadium [6] is so stubborn that I don’t particularly want to think about David or Jose or any of the long-timers as playing home games anywhere else (not that there are many Mets who’ve made it from 2008 to now). Meanwhile, those who became Mets in the Citi Field era haven’t distinguished themselves quite enough to make me consider them all that much when they’re no longer right in front of me.

In the first two seasons of the place that’s been tough to call home, there have been passing fancies I can picture there and picture fondly in snapshot form: Gary Sheffield swatting his mercenary 500th homer; Omir Santos emerging from nowhere and touching cult hero status; Liván Hernandez completing what he started (once anyway); Cory Sullivan totally getting the born-to-triple dimensions of his temporary environs; the accidental closerhood of Hisanori Takahashi. There have also been a few Shea Mets who evolved into breakout acts in the new venue; Angel Pagan, Jon Niese and poor, abused [7] Pedro Feliciano became much bigger deals in our world once Citi Field opened. And, of course, there are the youngsters — Davis, Thole, Tejada (I hope) — who have begun to make a mark on Citi bricks without ever having set foot inside an official Shea Stadium game.

But it’s R.A. Dickey I see when I want to close my eyes and see Citi Field at its idealized best. The sky is bright. The ballpark is full. The seats are occupied. The pinstripes are in effect. The Jane Jarvis recording of “Meet The Mets” fills the air. And the bearded righthander, wearing No. 43 with a verve and panache even Jim McAndrew couldn’t match, crosses the first base foul line, finds the rubber and seeks out his catcher.

I open my eyes. The home season is about to start. R.A. Dickey is about to start. Citi Field is about to start.

For keeps.

FAFIF readers: Save the date of April 21. Details coming Monday.