Somewhere around the poorly named 46th St-Bliss I got a little carried away:
On Opening Day even the 7 local seems awesome.
That wasn’t true. The 7 local is never awesome, particularly not when the MTA has decided that Opening Day at Citi Field is a fine time to do track work. But I swear it felt true — after Hunters Point the train emerged into a bright sunny day, the car slowly filling with folks in Mets garb, and everything seemed possible, as it always does when you’re 0-0 and those zeroes look like the top of glasses that are at least half full and who knows, maybe they’re soon to be overflowing.
The Mets themselves managed to KO this good mood briefly: I skipped the rotunda and walked to the normally speedy right-field gate, where I found myself at the end of a surprisingly long line. What was the problem?
Casual fans unacquainted with Citi Field? That played a role, but a relatively small one.
Bag check? No, that was smooth enough.
Polo Grounds-era ticket taker whose scanner finger was the slowest gun in the National League East? Bingo.
By the time I got through the gate I was stewing — I’d missed the player introductions and the moment of silence for Gary Carter, both of which I’d left plenty of time for. But things would get worse. On the other side of the gate was a minion in Mets staff green, handing out magnetic schedules. As I drew near, he peered into his box, looking puzzled, as if he’d been confronted with the mysteries of the universe. He raised his head, then lowered it to examine the box again. Then he shuffled off a bit sheepishly: The box was empty, and stubbornly determined not to refill itself. The magnetic schedules were gone.
Same old Mets!
(When I told Greg this sad tale he just blinked and noted that they didn’t have pocket schedules yet, because they were … still printing them. For God’s sake.)
In August, with a team 20 games out, a season lost and stands two-thirds empty, I might have fumed about such typically Metsian misfires for half the game. But fortunately, none of those conditions applied. And within a few minutes I’d regained my equilibrium and was happy.
Because that’s what Opening Day will do to you, even shorn of Jose Reyes and with finances uncertain and division rivals reloaded.
There were Mets down there on the green field, real live Mets. They were wearing traditional, grown-up uniforms that didn’t look designed by the Committee of the Desperately Trendy, and they looked great in them. They were throwing the baseball around in front of reconfigured walls that were appreciably lower and closer — not to mention bluer. I never liked Shea and shed no tears when it was knocked down, but to my surprise those retro-blue walls made me smile. The blue doesn’t work with the black and green and brick of Citi Field, but it does engage the heart of a veteran Mets fan. Considering Citi Field’s first campaigns had that equation backwards, a little aesthetic incoherence isn’t so bad.
Better than that, even, was the identity of some of those properly attired Mets down there in front of those blue walls. Why, that was Daniel Murphy taking grounders at second. And that was Ike Davis, he of the long lanky arms and soft hands, lassoing throws at first. And on the mound … why yes, that was Johan Santana, surgically repaired shoulder and all. Three very happy returns on the same sunny day.
For it was a sunny day — chilly in the shade, but warm and bright where I was sitting in the Promenade with Greg and a gaggle of Mets rooters assembled and cared for by the admirable Sharon Chapman. There were empty seats visible, particularly in the fancy sections where I’m told you can have Shake Shack delivered, but up in our higher precincts Mets gear abounded, and the fans were attentive and glad to be reacquainted with their team.
That team then went out and beat the Braves, 1-0, with the difference an Andres Torres walk, a Daniel Murphy single and a sharp, first-pitch RBI hit from David Wright. (The Mets might have had more but for the effective pitching of Tommy Hanson and an egregious neighborhood play at second — by a rookie, no less — allowed by reliably horrible umpire Phil Cuzzi.)
Johan wasn’t throwing in the 90s, and odds are he never will again. But his change-up was sharp, and more than that so was his mind. He certainly felt the same out there, cocking his glove and staring over it like a prizefighter calculating where to aim his punches. His biggest spot of trouble came in the fifth, when Matt Diaz doubled and a clearly tiring Santana walked Tyler Pastornicky (who can go from home to third in the time it takes to say his name) and then Hanson, loading the bases with two out. But Johan got Michael Bourn to tap a little spinner back his way, which he seized and heaved to first, with extra adrenaline carrying it a few feet too high on its way there. Last year it might have gone over the glove of Lucas Duda or Murph or Justin Turner, but Ike hopped nimbly skyward to nab it, allowing Santana to aim his final punch into his own glove and march into the dugout with his first 2012 test an unqualified success.
Wright won the not-so-coveted Player of the Game honors from the scoreboard folks, but the real hero was Tim Byrdak, summoned with one out in the seventh and Pastornicky on third, where he’d alighted after Torres misread a searing liner, then felt his calf grab as he tried to give chase. A recently repaired knee and no margin for error isn’t a fun combination, but Byrdak struck out Murph-killer Jose Constanza with a downright evil sweeping slider and then K’d Bourn to end the threat. Gigantic Jon Rauch handled the eighth and Frank Francisco contributed a drama-free ninth, and we were home free.
Psychologically, Opening Day is ridiculous: Win, and you’re half-convinced that 162-0 is in your grasp; lose, and the entire organizational blueprint seems like a hopeless mess. I know the Mets aren’t winning 162, and capturing half as many wins might prove difficult. But walking down the stairwells with Greg surrounded by LET’S GO METS bellowers, it was easy to let yourself dream.
Torres is hurt and St. Lucie-bound? Just a chance to learn to spell Kirk Nieuwenhuis’s name without cheating.
We don’t know how Johan will feel tomorrow? Hush up, you — look what we got from him today.
You hold your breath so much watching balls hit to Duda and Murph that you could follow James Cameron into the Challenger Deep? Why, both of our batmen afield were blemish-free today, thank you very much.
This good feeling will yield to reality soon enough. But for now, why usher it offstage even a moment early? On Opening Day you’re allowed a sweet dream or two.