I feel so bad for baseballs that are launched on a trajectory toward the top of the so-called Great Wall of Flushing. In most other ballparks, they’d be destined for their ultimate reward: some grateful fan’s loving mitts and a digit of immortality — anywhere between a 1 and a 4 — on the scoreboard. At Citi Field, the baseballs headed in that general direction mostly fall short of optimization, and even when they break free of the surly bonds of stifling architecture, they look like their little tongues are hanging out from all the effort it takes to surpass that hundred-or-so-foot-high fence. I swear I can see the sweat beads forming on the horsehide as it tries its darnedest to metamorphose into a home run.
This, however, was not a problem for Scott Hairston’s mountain of a fly ball in the seventh inning Saturday. That baby, carrying the fates of two baserunners on it as it elevated, called to mind Crash Davis’s line about anything that travels that far having a damn stewardess on it…except in the case of Hairston’s homer, I’m assuming NASA assigned an entire crew to its journey.
Scott Hairston piloted this mission perfectly. His ball did not look exhausted when it arrived in the Left Field Landing — and I can report first-hand it really did land up there, hard as it is to believe that a) it’s not still going and b) a Met homer can clear that wall that decisively.
I saw it for myself, not with a telescope but from a section or two away in the very same Left Field Landing. Until Hairston decided to give a random representative of Rawlings a three-run tour of the deepest precincts of Citi Field, I don’t think I’d seen anything happily land in the Landing. Luis Castillo improbably landed a home run up there two Augusts ago, but I was asleep when he did it, so I maintain it was a dream. My handful of games up there never involved flying baseballs. Before Scott scoffed at the laws of gravity, the only thing I knew about Left Field Landing is that it’s harder to get to than Carnegie Hall.
You can practice, practice, practice, but eventually you find yourself hiking up or down some back staircase because the Left Field Landing — cut off from the rest of its tier by the fancy folks dining finely in the Acela Club — was quite possibly designed by R.E.M. You can’t, not easily anyway, get there from here.
“It’s like the Citi Field annex,” Stephanie decided after boldly leaving and attempting to return in four or five fell swoops.
Oh, there’s an escalator (literally one escalator) intended to ferry you Scottward, but when Stephanie and I confidently attempted to board it, we found it barricaded off. In the great tradition of escalators in this region of Queens, it wasn’t working. Surprisingly, somebody (literally one person) was attempting to repair it. In the meantime, we were cordially directed to several nearby flights of stairs. There’s also an elevator that will get you there — good information to have if you’ve just shared in a hearty bounty of World’s Fare for lunch — but somehow nobody cordially mentions that.
The best feature of the Left Field Landing, as attended this Saturday, is you could plainly make out the Mets’ kicking of the Phillies’ ass (and, given the recent proliferation of interlopers clad in red, that’s an entity in continual need of a few swift boots). Hairston’s home run occurred after the Mets had already constructed a sturdy six-run lead, thus making it, in the words of C.J. Cregg, the punch Ali never gave Foreman when he was going down. But we haven’t exactly been The Greatest lately and the Phillies aren’t the kind of team that takes the count easily.
So Hairston’s coup de grâce was by no means inelegant. And his two doubles, while not as high, far and handsome as that three-run homer, were by no means unappreciated (may Scott Hairston always be this healthy when Carlos Beltran is feeling not so hot). Daniel Murphy’s shot over another difficult fence to hurdle — aren’t they all? — gave us a powerful hint that today wouldn’t be close, and Nick Evans provided a sense that we might be hearing a little more Tom Petty in the days to come. Good ol’ Nick: his batting average before he tripled in the fifth was so low, I wouldn’t have blamed him had he blocked our access to it with a privacy setting.
What a good 11-2 day. Jon Niese earned his ninth win. Stephanie broke her personal five-game losing streak. Citi Field was graced by the presence of a true American hero, United States Army Staff Sergeant Leroy Petry, recipient of the Medal of Honor (plus he got to meet Jose Reyes!). And the reason the whole day felt even better than a nine-run margin would imply was because of the way it started, well before we climbed those golden stairs to the Left Field Landing.
Saturday was the day the friends and family of Dana Brand gathered on the site of Shea Stadium’s home plate marker to remember Dana together. That’s an important clarification, for nobody among us has stopped remembering him since his passing in late May. But to come together, especially on a slab of such sacred cement, was an inspired tribute dreamed up by GKR/Pitch In For A Good Cause’s Lynn Cohen. It was inspirational, too.
We spoke, we listened, we laughed, we downed a little ingeniously purchased RC Cola (official cola of your World Champion New York Mets twice) and when we were done — before ascending to the Left Field Landing, where we would eventually form our critical mass of Metsdom — we launched dozens and dozens and dozens of orange and blue balloons. It’s what the Mets used to do on Opening Day and sometimes on Closing Day at the stadium that’s now a parking lot.
Not only was it a perfect emotional sendoff for the man so many of us think of when we see the phrase Mets Fan, but I’m willing to bet one or two of those balloons lingered in Citi Field airspace just long enough to distract Ryan Howard from catching Murph’s popup in the first inning. It doesn’t show up in the box score, but I’m not betting against it having happened.
It’s unions like today’s that make me extra proud to be a Mets fan, to know so many Mets fans, to keep meeting more Mets fans, to write for Mets fans, to read what other Mets fans have to write, wherever they write it. I’m just as proud to have participated in a just-published book of remembrance called Mets Brand. It’s the brainchild of Ray Stilwell, author of the reflective and keenly clever blog Metphistopheles, and an extraordinarily empathetic soul. Despite never having met Dana, he felt a genuine connection to him through Dana’s work and wanted to do something special in his memory.
Thus, he set out to collect the many essays written throughout the Mets blogging community in the days following news of Dana’s death and, in what seemed like no time at all, he and a very generous graphic designer associate of his created a beautiful chronicle — fronted by a photo that truly captures the warmth of our subject. It is available in electronic and print formats and is filled with wonderful words from wonderful writers regarding an absolutely wonderful person who shared an interest so close to all of our hearts. I strongly recommend you make it part of your baseball library. Any proceeds generated by the sales of Mets Brand will be donated to GKR, which does great work in its own right.
Funny thing I noticed as I leafed through it on the train home Saturday evening: the preponderance of the phrase “despite the loss,” as in “what a great experience it was to go to the Mets game with Dana despite the loss.” On May 25, we all suffered a loss where Dana Brand was concerned, yet despite it, we all feel like we won something more important just by knowing him.
And at a Mets game we dedicated to his memory, the Mets won. I have to say it’s kind of nice to not have to qualify it as anything but a great experience.