To be clear, I love Ken Burns — I’m a sucker for every move in his arsenal, from the slow pans of old photos to the sage talking-head in his (or her) study. And I read Bart Giamatti’s invocation of baseball and the seasons at least once a year and wind up sniffling. What I love about baseball, and what this blog celebrates, is how the games get bound up with our lives. We have nothing to do with the games’ outcomes, and nothing we do is reflected in a box score, but each baseball season gets woven into our own, with what we were doing and thinking and feeling bound up with what happened on the field. I’ll always be able to tell you that for Game 6 I was sitting on the end of a bed in a motel room in Lawrence, Mass. with my Mom the only other one awake and believing and that for the 10-run inning I was in the mezzanine with Greg and Emily and Danielle and for the horrible collision between Beltran and Cameron I was walking over West Street from the World Financial Center. It doesn’t matter in the historical record, but it does — immensely — where our own chronicles are concerned.
The thing is, sometimes those mystic chords of memory can drown out what actually happened on the field. Which is what happened with tonight’s game.
Let’s rewind. Emily and I spent the weekend up in Massachusetts for her 25th high-school reunion, with Joshua in tow, and came back early this evening. In my younger years I spent many a foolish evening driving hell-for-leather between distant points, holding on to the faintest strand of the Mets’ radio broadcast as distance and storms chewed away at it. Those nights are mostly gone: I now live in the same city as my team, watch them on a humongous, crystal-clear TV, and even when I’m on the road the telephone I carry in my pocket can summon up WFAN’s feed with a few taps on its glass screen.
It’s Jetsons stuff that would have left the 20-year-old me agog and eager for such a wonderful world to hurry up and arrive. And he would have been right, mostly. Except Friday night MLB’s servers were on a smoke break, and no matter what we did the radio feeds on At Bat ’11 returned only the message CONNECTION ERROR. So up through Connecticut and out across Massachusetts we went with the old analog radio as companion, and by the far side of Worcester WFAN was fading in and out, whining and dipping and threatening to be replaced by the babble of some other station on a nearby frequency.
You know what? It was great. Emily and I were in front, listening to the Mets wallop the Pirates and complaining good-naturedly about Wayne Hagin, while Joshua slept in the back and all was darkness outside. I kept up vaguely with Saturday and Sunday’s games on Gameday, but 7:10 tonight found us somewhere around White Plains, rocketing the rental car down the Hutch having thoroughly enjoyed our long weekend but also eager to get home to our regular places and rituals. Being present for the Mets game was one of those rituals — the first familiar piece to fall back into place, in fact. Joshua put aside his book and cheered on the Mets and asked questions about rookies and batting averages and the game was our companion as we got ourselves back to Brooklyn. It kept Emily company on the radio as she returned the rental car; in the house, I turned on the TV and there were the Mets again in big beautiful living color, for me to keep an eye on as I sorted through the mail and the newspapers and for Joshua to peer at from the bath. The kid went to bed and Emily came home and we did more restoring of order and moved downstairs to our own bed for the final inning. The Mets lost, but they had shepherded us back to where we belonged, and so that was OK.
Well, except someone please yank the needle off that scratchy old acetate of “Ashokan Farewell” for a moment. Because while all of that stuff above is true, and deeply felt, it wraps tonight’s actual game in a blanket that’s warm but also obscures some pertinent facts. Like the Mets lost because a) Jose Reyes got called for a dopey obstruction play; b) Daniel Murphy screwed up on the basepaths; c) Lucas Duda screwed up on the basepaths and d) Manny Acosta and Tim Byrdak failed on the mound. In doing so, the Mets once again failed to move to .500. They missed out on stashing away another victory in the absence of David Wright and Ike Davis and Johan Santana. They wasted a good start from the enigmatic Mike Pelfrey. They left their wraparound series in Pittsburgh with a split instead of the sweep they could have had if they’d played better ball.
That’s harder to render in sepia tones.
Maybe years from now Joshua will strap his EKG headset on to project an entry into his holographic memory blog and it’ll be recalling how when he was a kid he put down a book by the guy who wrote The Lightning Thief because the Mets were on the radio and an obscure Met named Justin Turner was one of his heroes as an eight-year-old and some of his favorite early memories are of talking baseball with his Mom and Dad while on one of their nutty car trips. Should that happen, I doubt he’ll remember that Reyes got called for obstruction and the next morning he found out the Mets had shot themselves in the foot a couple of more times and lost. He may even spend an hour poring over some advanced version of Retrosheet in an effort to figure out what game it might have been — I’ve been stuck doing that myself. Which is OK — the feeling and the memory will be the important part.
But that other part should be recorded too. And so here it is: It was a joy to slip back into our lives, starting with listening to the Mets as a family.
It would have been even more joyous if the Mets hadn’t played so crappily.