I love backstories. I love tales of how we got where we are. I love marking the spot in space and time where what wasn’t became what is. Thus, I love now and again retracing my steps, now matter that I might wear out the carpet in illustrating the path that led me to now.
I’m fairly certain the date was June 11, 2001, a Monday morning at work following a Sunday afternoon in St. Petersburg. The Mets had beaten the Devil Rays, 10-0; Kevin Appier went seven and struck out nine. Hot stuff, right? Except the Mets had lost the two before to those awful Devil Rays. We got beat first by Ryan Rupe and then by Tanyon Sturtze. Who the hell were Ryan Rupe and Tanyon Sturtze? They were the Tampa Bay starters who raised their team’s record to 18-43 at the expense of the relentlessly disappointing 2001 Mets. Thus, there wasn’t much to be giddy about despite that 10-0 whitewashing. That was what you call salvaging one out of three.
That’s what I was calling it in conversation that Monday morning. I was bemoaning how little we did against Rupe and Sturtze, how little we were doing at all in defense of our 2000 National League pennant, how little there was to look forward to where the rest of this godforsaken Mets season was going. It was two Mets fans in a pretty typical Mets bitch session for 2001 when another person — a fellow employee from another department but otherwise a total stranger — walked by and asked a question.
“Hey, whose Mets stuff is that?”
Why, it’s mine, I said. The guy was asking about my cubicle filled with Mets pictures and paraphernalia. It was how I decorated every aspect of my life as long as I could remember. It was how my office looked when I had an office, when my magazine was owned by smaller concerns who thought I rated an office. My magazine had been gobbled up by successively larger corporations and my status within them shrank in inverse proportion. I wasn’t downsized, but my workspace was. The Mets’ presence within it, however, remained proportionally substantial.
This was ten years ago. I’m still bitter, you might have inferred, about losing my office. But it occurs to me now that if I hadn’t, there’s a likelihood the guy who walked by and asked about my Mets stuff because he, like me, was a Mets fan, would have just kept walking if it and I were obscured by an office door.
And if he had, then who would have I gone to Wednesday night’s Mets game with?
“The mind reels,” Jim responded when I alerted him we met ten years ago this month. But he agreed it was a significant milestone in the lives of “two married, middle-aged guys from Long Island who bonded over a mostly lousy baseball team and lousy employers,” as he put it, so yes, he agreed “our ten years” (my phrase) merited a Mets game of its own to go with all the other Mets games that had no occasion attached to them except a predilection for Mets stuff and lots of it. Lots of it lousy, some of it swell, all of it, in spite of itself, more fun in retrospect than real time would have indicated.
I will say the same for the thirteen innings we dedicated to our ten years Wednesday night. Ask me about them in another ten years, maybe another ten minutes, and I will tell you what a grand night and, technically, early morning it was: how the Mets hung in there against an Interleague opponent (that was my idea, too — the Rays in 2001, the A’s in 2011); how they refused to lose; how they walked off in celebratory fashion, the perfect punctuation for a decade of Mets-laced friendship that’s run on like the world’s longest sentence.
Ask Jim about it, particularly if his clothes and bag are still as damp as mine are, and I sense he’ll tell you first that it was…what’s that word Jim likes to use to describe anything that goes awry?
Yeah, that’s it. It was HORRIBLE! We get up to the Promenade, we go to Mama’s of Corona, we order up a couple of turkey and mozzarellas (I give him my peppers, he gives me his mushrooms; we each despise what the other embraces) and then there’s an absolute deluge that we’re caught right in the middle of, just as the Mets are posting notices about how fans should avoid their seats and stay under covered areas until the furious downpour passes. This isn’t rain. This is Mother Nature in a Chiffon Margarine commercial. It’s coming down in bathtubs. And Jim and I are standing there, holding our sandwiches with nowhere viable to eat them. The best we can do is join a dozen like us who duck under what little awning the Big Apple Brews island in the middle of the food court provides. It doesn’t provide much, but it’s better than floating off to sea.
(Kudos, by the way, to the employees of Big Apple Brews for ignoring whatever Citi Field policy presumably discourages non-customers from using their station as a storm shelter and lunch counter.)
We take a bite of our sandwiches, we get soaked. We take a gulp of our beverages, we get soaked. We turn our heads and notice the dissonant presence of the sun loitering among the clouds in the western sky, we get drenched. The deluge probably didn’t last more than the length of our sandwiches, but as they say at Mama’s, boy did it have gravy.
Yeah, it was pretty horrible, and we got pretty wet, but it passed. There was going to be tenth-anniversary baseball soon enough. Jim gathered up napkins, I found paper towels and it was off to our seats to be ushers unto our own selves. (Not greatly effective, but oh what you save on tips.)
Wet seats. Wet ground. Wet jeans and shirts. Wet backpacks and the like. Wetness to the point of mildew if given the chance to fester. Good thing we were outside, I guess.
Game started an hour late. But then it moved along. R.A. Dickey, whom I suspected would blame or credit the climate for whatever his knuckleball did or didn’t do, had Oakland in a tizzy. None of them touched him, not even that annoying Hideki Matsui for whom I’d maintained a particularly acerbic grudge ever since he was a free agent who decided the only way he was coming to America was to play for the other New York team. That was in the 2002-03 offseason. By then Jim and I were starting a new magazine together. Its first incarnation — the one with us — barely made it into the 2004 season. My grudge against this Matsui had yet to subside. Our mutual grudge for the Matsui with whom we wound up and how he never came close to living up to his notices but some idiot decided to move Jose Reyes to second base to accommodate him? Much larger and deeper, but Kaz Matsui was not at Citi Field Wednesday night.
It doesn’t take much or take long to get Jim and/or I off on a tangent like that; such is the nature of our ten-year run-on sentence of a relationship.
Jim brought up “Sweet Caroline” as Dickey nursed his 1-0 lead to the fifth. I don’t remember why. I can remember when he first asked whose Mets stuff that was, but I don’t know how “Sweet Caroline” re-entered our dialogue. Everything enters, nothing ever really leaves. All he had to do was lower his register into his aggressively clueless executive voice — “…and let’s play ‘Sweet Caroline’” — and I probably missed about six knuckleballs dying of laughter.
The Mets go tone deaf and co-opt Fenway’s “Sweet Caroline” as if it was their idea to make it “our” singalong…Kaz Matsui usurps Jose Reyes’s position against all better judgment…a mostly lousy baseball team never stops being at least somewhat lousy — it’s all of a piece. It’s the Mets as Jim and I have come to know them together, a team that comically disappoints us, though it’s never as funny in the experiencing as it is in the reminding each other generally well after the fact.
My favorite Jim concoction is the Tom Seaver SUCKS Bus Shelter. This he came up with in 2009 and revealed after the Subway Series finale, while we waited on the steps of the Flushing library for his wife, Daria, to pick us up. I was complaining, per usual, about the opening of Citi Field and its total lack of allowance for acknowledgment of Mets history. Jim told me his biggest fear in that regard and wasn’t kidding about it, I don’t think: the Mets would respond to all the gripes about there being no Tom Seaver statue by naming a bus shelter somewhere nearby. It would be the Tom Seaver Bus Shelter. And that’s all they’d do. It would sit there solitarily, somewhere in Flushing, until some Met-hater with a spray-paint can vandalized it with the word SUCKS and, thus, it would become the Tom Seaver SUCKS Bus Shelter.
Dickey should have had a no-hitter going by my reckoning. He was charged with a hit when Scott Hairston surrounded a Ryan Sweeney fly to center rather than catch it. He did a great imitation of “I GOT IT” with his arms but was really more fighting it off. Did he lose it in the lights? I thought he might have, though in the direction where Hairston was looking, there aren’t any lights. Scott Hairston, we had decided earlier, is shaped like a Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robot, so it’s no wonder he fought the ball off.
That second-inning hit should have been scored an error. I told Jim in the fifth if they changed the ruling, which is done all the time, Dickey could be working on a no-hitter. And as soon as I said that, Kurt Suzuki (he of the happiest DiamondVision picture I’ve ever seen) smacked a homer to left to make that discussion moot.
I couldn’t believe I had just jinxed a no-hitter that wasn’t even a no-hitter.
Still, we moved along. The Mets had scored one early and then forgot to score again. Forgot or weren’t capable. What a lineup. It started with Reyes and Beltran and seven other guys, one of whom was a pitcher with a torn plantar fascia. Generously allowing for Jason Bay’s heretofore major league credentials to be dumped like so much damp laundry into the cleanup hamper, the Mets basically batted one No. 8 hitter after another starting in the five-hole until they got to Dickey, who can’t run. And that’s when the lineup was at its peak. I thought they’d get away with it, too. After Dickey’s eight sparkling innings of one-run, three-hit, nine-strikeout ball (the humidity must have been just right), we got our go-ahead run the best way possible: Reyes tripled and the A’s foolishly played the infield in.
The game started an hour late but now it was on the verge of finishing right on time. Frankie comes in and nails it down and I’m on the same train I was on the night before when everything started on time but then dragged forever. I even allowed myself a glance at my watch to confirm to myself, with two out in the top of the ninth, that I can easily make the 11:08 at Woodside.
Then some A who isn’t Hideki Matsui drives in some other A who isn’t Hideki Matsui and it’s tied. Jim and I debate briefly whose fucking fault this is: K-Rod’s for giving up the key hits? Or Justin Turner for not timing his dive accurately?
Like it fucking matters. It was tied.
The Mets try so hard to convince you extra innings are fun. They’re not. They play one montage after another of Ruben Tejada and Angel Pagan getting base hits. They don’t. The lineup you thought was Reyes, Beltran and seven non-entities comes into clarity as it doesn’t score. It’s really just Reyes by now. Beltran is aging before our eyes. The rest are just the rest. You know how basketball coaches shorten their benches, relying on only a certain number of go-to reserves to give their starters a breather? If Terry Collins could do a baseball version of this, he’d play only Jose Reyes. He’s all we’ve got right now. Extra innings becomes a battle of figuring out how fast we can get Reyes to the plate and whether the A’s will score in the interim.
Changes are made, but none of the substitutions seem particularly effective. Collins, when he sees a baserunner, demands a bunt. What he gets is what he deserves: he gets an out, but no run. Reyes still isn’t up.
No, extra innings aren’t fun, and there’s no better advertisement for their lack of festiveness than Jim Haines. When Oakland tied the score, Jim’s half of our run-on sentence went silent. It usually does for a half-inning or two in any given game, but Jim appeared to be taking this latest installment of Met futility as a personal affront. Deep inside him I could see (since it was more interesting to observe than the Mets trying to score) him retracing his own steps.
Why did his father have to introduce him to the Mets?
Why did he have to go back to Shea once his father got fed up with paying more than four bits for parking?
Why did he have to ask whose Mets stuff that was?
Why did he have to be sitting here as midnight approached and the Mets were getting nowhere near home plate?
Why didn’t the Mets ever fix the Tom Seaver SUCKS Bus Shelter?
Those were good questions. I didn’t volunteer answers. I had none.
The 11:08 was long gone. So was the 11:43. I was now looking at the AM side of my (wet) LIRR schedule. 12:14? Not a chance. 12:50? If everything went right. But does everything ever go right for this team?
This can’t be worth staying for, can it? There was a fairly huge crowd at the beginning despite the rain — see how many the Mets draw when they charge Value prices? — but now all but the irresponsible, the lunatic and the tenth-anniversary celebrants are left. Jim clearly hates the first two groups and I’m betting he isn’t crazy about us anymore.
What if this is a record-setter? What if this is the 26-inning game? Do I leave the 26-inning game? Jim wouldn’t possibly stay. Would I? There’s a 1:49 at Woodside, the last remotely reasonable train home…unless you count the 3:11. If not the 3:11, I’m looking at the 5:05. After that, I’m getting a ticket for my car being at the station when the real commuters begin to show up.
The A’s still haven’t scored. They’ve played some defense (as some remarks are exchanged about Hideki Matsui’s high-class porn collection) but they’re no less inept than us when it comes to offense that isn’t helped along by K-Rod. Isringhausen, Byrdak, Beato, Parnell…take notes, Frankie. They didn’t give up a run. I thought I spied some daylight when Michael Wuertz came in. Four years ago I watched Michael Wuertz, as a Cub, walk Carlos Delgado with the bases loaded in a ninth-inning tie. I’m not proud. I would have accepted the Wuertz that could happen. But no such luck.
Bob Melvin goes from Wuertz to Brad Ziegler, no relation as far as I know to Toby Ziegler, communications director from The West Wing. I’m tempted to do a run of West Wing jokes for Jim, but he’s clearly in no mood. Nor should he be. This is the worst game ever, at least since the last worst game ever we went to, though none of those lasted thirteen-plus innings, and we didn’t remain as physically dampened as our spirits for hours thereafter (man, did it rain).
Ziegler loaded the bases in the twelfth, but Pridie can’t deliver the filibuster. Ziegler takes the podium again in the thirteenth. After the first out, Duda singles, which is surprising. Murphy singles, which is astonishing. On better nights, base hits by two Mets not named Jose Reyes don’t seem out of the ordinary. Tonight, now this morning, I can’t believe any of this will add up to anything. Pagan adds to that assurance by flying out. The Mets are now 0-for-Eternity with runners in scoring position. Reyes comes up and Melvin eventually stops screwing around and orders him passed. The winning run isn’t on third at that point. The winning run is on second. But he’s Jose Reyes and every other Met is not.
So now the bases are loaded and it’s Turner, as good a choice as anybody else, which is to say I’m resigning myself to paying the parking ticket that will be on my car when this game is in the bottom of the 28th. The only hope, I ascertain loudly — there are so few in the ballpark that I echo with only a little effort — is for Justin to get hit. Not hit so badly that he joins Ike Davis on the forever unable to play list, but just enough. I helpfully stand and demonstrate how he might want to position his elbow to avoid injury.
And son of a gun, on the very first pitch Ziegler throws him, Turner does just what I’d instructed. He leans into one. HBP! Mets win! Mets win!
Jim snaps out of his funk. “YOU CALLED IT!” he credits me. Me and the other eight-dozen people who populate the Promenade, I’m thinking, but yeah, how about that? The first thing to go indisputably right since calling for turkey and mozzarella when it was only drizzling and I came up with it. The irresponsible, the lunatic and us all high-five and chant a little LET’S GO METS! We all echo.
“I can’t wait to read about this in the morning,” Jim tells me before we part ways. At first I think he means in the Daily News or something, but then I realize he means me, here.
Which is why I’ve yet to go to sleep since Ziegler hit Turner. That’s all right. It’s just more Mets stuff here at my workspace, and I’m delighted to report none of it was HORRIBLE!
Not in retrospect, anyway.