The Mets were horrible again. Stripped of a flu-ridden Carlos Beltran in addition to everybody else, they made Clay Hensley look like a shoo-in for Cooperstown, mustering one cosmetic run in falling to the just-passing-through Marlins.
Though, in fairness, they got an assist from Angel Hernandez, everybody’s favorite umpire. With two outs in the third, Chris Capuano threw Hanley Ramirez — whose theatrical sulking and glacial tempo once again reminded me why he’s my least-favorite player in baseball — what sure looked like strike three. Angel didn’t see it that way, and Ramirez wound up singling for the Marlins’ first hit, after which Gaby Sanchez walked, Mike Stanton doubled and Mike Cameron singled. Those three runs proved too big a hill for the Mets to climb; they’re now under .500 again and 9 1/2 out of the wild card, with the curtain perilously close to coming down on the competitive part of the 2011 season.
With all this gloom in the sticky air, the only real amusement of the game was listening to Keith Hernandez gleefully abuse Angel Hernandez. When Angel rushed out to break up a meeting at the mound, Keith noted that he “always has to stick his nose in” and then said he was always trying to get exposure for himself. Later, after Angel punched out Ruben Tejada on a swing that had pretty clearly been checked, Keith wanted him to know that Smith & Wollensky stayed open late. Gary Cohen was mostly silent during all this, but I’m assuming that’s because he was laughing and had his cough button on. Please, SNY — don’t call Keith on the carpet for this one. It’s Angel Hernandez — as far as I’m concerned, games should begin with Keith burning him in effigy.
(Speaking of which, who let Angel and serial call-blower Greg Gibson on the same crew? Baseball should add C.B. Bucknor and Phil Cuzzi to that squad and just warn all comers that they’re paying to see baseball roulette.)
If you wanted some actual joy from baseball on Monday, you had to go south, to Coney Island, and be there around noon. That’s where I was, playing hooky from various writing responsibilities to watch Jose Reyes suit up for the Brooklyn Cyclones.
It was odd seeing Reyes in Cyclones togs, and odder to see him standing at shortstop with the decrepit Shore Hotel and the Wonder Wheel behind him. Odd, but great — his temporary teammates’ eyes were constantly jumping to him, to see what he would do. While he was going through his running drills in the outfield, several Lowell Spinners (their hitting coach is Rich Gedman, by the way) came over to pay their respects.
It would be easy to say the Spinners looked very much like the pop-eyed kids crowded up against the right-field fence where I was sitting in the second row. It would be evocative in a Norman Rockwell way, and you’d be able to see the scene perfectly well in your mind, and maybe drift into an idle bit of fancy about today’s kids growing up to be tomorrow’s hopeful young A-ballers.
Except that wasn’t true. The crowd I found myself an unwitting part of was more Hieronymous Bosch than Norman Rockwell, and it made me much more sympathetic toward pro athletes who are boorish or merely standoffish in public. The crowd at the fence did contain a very few kids who seemed genuinely in awe of Reyes and just wanted to be near him, but they were vastly outnumbered by nakedly mercenary fans of all ages bragging about what they’d manage to extract from Reyes and plotting how to get more — or decrying him for having the gall not to take time and enrich every member of the mob. The fact that Reyes was a Met, or an honest-to-goodness big leaguer, or the most exciting player in baseball, meant nothing — everything was about how to cadge a ball, or extract a signature, or bully the WPIX cameraman into making them feel important for 15 seconds. I’d tucked a ball in my pocket before the game, thinking that maybe I’d ask Jose to sign it as a nice surprise for Joshua, but I wound up feeling embarrassed that I’d brought it, and left it in my pocket.
But as is so often true (and thank goodness for that), the beauty of the game trumped the boorishness of the spectators. Watching Reyes out there on the field, I found myself wondering about the balance between individual preparation and the team game. Reyes couldn’t have known anything about his double-play partner Brandon Brown, or Cole Frenzel, the first baseman throwing him grounders between innings, yet he slotted in just fine with them, taking part in the age-old rituals. When Cyclones skipper Rich Donnelly came to the mound after his pitcher had yielded a long homer to a Spinner, Reyes joined the grim meeting, and I wondered what a moonlighting Met could possibly have to say in such a situation. (“You should probably forget that thing I said about our maybe being teammates one day?” “Are you related to Aaron Heilman?”)
Reyes went about his business for six innings, collecting one double off the wall (it’s hard to drive a ball out of MCU Park, too) and making one routine play in the field. The hamstring looked fine, as did the billion-watt smile and the Predator ‘do. Then he was gone, replaced by Ismael Tijerina, and once he was gone it was hard to ignore that the Cyclones were getting pounded, it was hellishly hot, and the hordes of day campers (Camp Avnet included) were putting their Thundersticks to use with terrible efficiency.
But though Reyes moved on and the Cyclones lost, it was still daytime baseball under a summer sky, which was to say it was pretty great. The Cyclones kept showing current Mets in their Brooklyn uniforms, which made me realize that these days there’s an impressive crop of matriculated Cyclones at Citi Field, or at least in the trainer’s room: Besides original Cyclone heartthrob Angel Pagan, there’s Ike Davis and Dillon Gee and Daniel Murphy and Bobby Parnell and Nick Evans and Lucas Duda, with Carlos Beltran and now Reyes on the list with asterisks.
I don’t know if the likes of Danny Muno and Richard Lucas will join them one day, but we can hope. And in the meantime, it was great fun to be there for a Jose Reyes Cyclone cameo — and even better to know that tomorrow he should be back in Citi Field, where he belongs.