As I’ve grown older, I’ve had to be less doctrinaire about 1:10 and 7:10 and where in the pecking order of life “WATCH METS” fits. There are business trips, social events, the duties of fatherhood — a whole welter of things that sometimes come between me and the game.
But most of the time, I can still keep tabs pretty well — there’s the single, semi-discreet earbud while something else happens around me, MLB At Bat silent but visible on a phone set off to the side, or if all else fails the quick retreat for a look at the game summary and maybe even a video or two.
As long as I can at least listen, I don’t mind having the game serve as sidekick to some other drama. In fact, I kind of like it — baseball is a friendly companion, chattering away in one ear while I navigate this and that, and ready to receive my full attention should events take a dramatic turn.
(If time travel existed, this is where my younger self would emerge from some glowing portal to berate the 2012 me for being a sellout and a bad fan. Settle down, younger self. Life gets complicated. Oh, and shave your head two years after graduation — by then you’ll no longer be fooling anybody.)
Anyway, today I caught the first couple of innings on SNY before heading south about a neighborhood and a half to deliver Joshua to Little League practice and his team’s Sunday afternoon game. My TV time was long enough to see that R.A. Dickey had a truly fiendish knuckler, one that left Diamondback after Diamondback yanking the upper body backwards, standing up straight in unhappy disbelief, or bending to one knee trying to net a tumbling butterfly of a pitch. The Mets grabbed a two-run lead on good baserunning by Andres Torres and David Wright and Daniel Murphy hitting a single up the middle that looked like a stone skipping across the surface of a pond; soon after that the kid and I were on our way and I was single-earbudding it for the duration.
R.A. lost his bid for a no-hitter somewhere around Joralemon Street, prompting a growled “GODDAMNIT” from me and an eager rebuke from Joshua, who regards fatherly swearing as an invitation to explore the inappropriateness of the just-heard profanity by asking several minutes’ worth of questions that involve repeating whatever it was I said. Our destination was DiMattina Field, a Little League diamond and abbreviated outfield at the bottom of Carroll Gardens, tucked between the BQE, Hamilton Avenue and an on-ramp. It’s an odd place to play, a little green space wedged in between various aspects of highway infrastructure, but the contrast is pretty neat. “Lyric little bandbox” would be laying it on thick, but “sneakily charming” isn’t too far from the mark.
Just before practice began, Ruben Tejada tumbled across the first-base bag and landed on his face, a misstep that initially sounded comical on the radio before it became apparent that it was anything but. (Howie Rose thought Ruben had slid headfirst, though he was quick to correct himself.) With Joshua and his fellow Red Devils battling a few feet below where I sat against a convenient lamppost overlooking the field, Dickey ran into trouble in the ninth and stalked off the mound to a well-deserved standing ovation. I held my breath as Tim Byrdak gave up a high fly ball to left by Jason Kubel, one Kirk Nieuwenhuis settled under on the track. Frank Francisco’s strikeout of Paul Goldschmidt brought a quick yell and fist pump, and then Miguel Montero hit a long drive to right.
Howie’s voice rose, becoming shrill with alarm. It was deep, and its arc led to territory patrolled by Lucas Duda, for whom every fly ball is a ticket to adventure. I tried to remember what the reconfigured Mo Zone looked like. I imagined Lucas … what was he doing? Stumbling backwards? Feeling for the wall? Pressing his broad back against the fence and looking up in dismay?
The ball settled into his glove, harmless now, the park just big enough to hold it. Howie remarked that twenty-odd thousand people had just finished holding their breath. In Carroll Gardens, one more was added to that tally. The Mets had won, and not long after that the Red Devils came back from a one-run deficit in the top of the sixth (that’s the Little League ninth), with two runners sliding home separated by several inches — and both safe. (Fortunately, Paul Lo Duca was not in attendance.) The Red Devils then held on for a 14-10 win thanks to their third baseman’s stab of a smash headed for the left-field corner. Victories everywhere!
It wasn’t until later that I was able to see the highlights. Duda’s final play was indeed something — I shook my head at his tentative reach to the side and chuckled at the fans in the Mo Zone remaining seated in terror, then rising in relief. Dickey looked petrified, and who could blame him? Tejada’s flop, on the other hand, was hard to watch — if I’d seen the replay before knowing the aftermath, I’d have been terrified that he’d broken his jaw, lost teeth, been concussed or all three. A quad strain, all things considered, seems lucky — though a Mets defense that features David Wright, Justin Turner, Murphy, Josh Thole, Duda and whoever’s in left is the kind of thing that causes starting pitchers think about during sleepless nights.
But hey, that’s a problem for tomorrow in Philadelphia. For today, the Mets won on a big green field surrounded by thousands of fans, and the Red Devils won on a little green field surrounded by two dozen parents, and all was well.