Come Monday, the Mets are slated to introduce nine men who’ve never been Mets before. When the names Scott Atchison, John Buck, Greg Burke, Marlon Byrd, Collin Cowgill, Latroy Hawkins, Brandon Lyon, Anthony Recker and Scott Rice are called, I’ll applaud because they are now part of my team. Some may disappear from the roster before making a lasting impression, some may become sadly synonymous with some regrettable misstep, some may legitimately earn their next hearty hand as they create the kind of tangible bond with me that I figure to recall fondly in this space in the years ahead.
Given how we become attached to certain players, it surprises me that it almost doesn’t matter who lines up and tips a cap on Opening Day. The group is the thing here more than its particular members when you’re considering the composition of a 25-man band. Obviously there’s always going to be a handful we take to heart in a given year or through a string of them, but I never insist on specificity of participants when it comes to going to see the Mets, Opening Day or any day. It’s the Mets. That’s all I need to know.
Not everything I love works quite like that.
The Spinners from the late 1970s on were Henry Fambrough, John Edwards, Billy Henderson, Pervis Jackson and Bobbie Smith. Four-fifths of the group had been together from their beginnings in the 1950s, when they were known as the Domingoes, just kids dreaming of the big time in Detroit. Edwards was the veritable newcomer, replacing Philippé Wynne, who replaced G.C. Cameron, who replaced…well, there was one spot in the group that wasn’t always so stable, but the lineup remained remarkably intact for the longest time. When I finally got to see my favorite group perform live in 1997, the Spinners definitely had some mileage on them, but they were still the Spinners as they’d been for a couple of decades. And they were gorgeous.
I’m sorry it took me so long to experience them in person, but I’m grateful I caught them when I did. The Spinners couldn’t stay those Spinners forever. Edwards would suffer a stroke in 2000. Henderson passed away in 2007, Jackson in 2008. And earlier this month, Bobbie Smith — his glistening tenor as much the signature voice of the group as anybody’s — succumbed to illness at the age of 76. Fambrough is all who is left.
But there are still Spinners touring. There were in the weeks prior to Smith’s death and I imagine there will continue to be. Younger members picked up the mics in order to keep on spreading what I believe is some of the most beautiful music ever composed, recorded and performed. “I’ll Be Around”. “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love”. “One Of A Kind (Love Affair)”. “Ghetto Child.” “Mighty Love.” “Then Came You”. “Games People Play”. “Rubberband Man”. Music like that deserves to be played and heard.
Yet I have to admit that when the Spinners came to Westbury in February, as Smith was making what turned out to be his final rounds, I didn’t think much about seeing them again. The ratio was three new members, two originals. I don’t doubt they put on a fine show — judging by an episode of TV One’s Unsung from a couple of years ago, the new guys are talented and each member was still a trouper — but to me, the Spinners were the Spinners I saw in 1997, just in time. With the exception of Edwards, those were the Spinners who rolled out the hits with which I fell in love when I was a kid and grew to love even more as an adult.
Those Spinners can’t play Westbury anymore. But I’ll always have my boxed set. And its contents will always play for me.
The Mets I’ll go to see Monday? Like the Mets I went to see the last time they were in Flushing, they are what happens when the group doesn’t stay together, though I understand more readily what an impossibility that would be. Attrition, substitution, cold/calculating business decisions…when you get right down to it, none of it is really that much of an impediment to my being in their audience.
Santana’s done. Dickey’s traded. Reyes runs. Alfonzo walks. Gooden is not invited back. Seaver slips away twice. I say goodbye to Beltran, to Martinez, to Floyd, to Piazza, to Ordoñez, to Ventura, to Reed, to Mora, to Olerud, to Brogna, to Orsulak, to Strawberry, to Myers, to Hernandez, to Backman, to Brooks, to Flynn, to Henderson, to Grote, to Unser, to Staub, clear back to Swoboda. Guys I really liked and guys I truly loved stopped being Mets. Sometimes it was for better, sometimes it was for worse, sometimes it didn’t wind up making all that much difference. On Opening Day, a couple of dozen men identified as Mets will line up and tip their caps. I will applaud their presence, whoever they are.
I’m ready for another 162 fresh performances, because as much as I cherish the greatest hits, I’m dying to dig on the new material. I hope for harmony and high notes. I’ll settle for a good beat administered in the other direction now and then.