“And possibly…everybody’ll say, ‘Well, OK, let’s project the positive side of life again,’ you know? The world’s been goin’ on a long time, right? It’s probably gonna go on a long time.”
Two long-running dramatic television series I watched from beginning to end over the past decade (Six Feet Under and Big Love) concluded with a time jump. In both cases, the show’s primary character had met a tragic fate and everybody else was left to make sense of the lingering sadness. But so as not to leave the audience on a down note, we were shown what eventually happened to the survivors. The message in each case was one of hope: life goes on, things get better, we smile again.
In some way, as I took my final steps through Field Level before descending the staircase of the Jackie Robinson Rotunda following resoundingly successful resolution of the first game of the 2013 baseball season, I would have sworn I had suddenly entered a similar epilogue, that after months of barrenness and doubt, this was what it was all leading to: a veritable state of grace not available to our day-to-day comprehension when baseball isn’t being played. On paper, Monday was a beginning — a grand beginning, to be sure — but as much as an Opening Day Mets triumph is, by definition, a start, it felt to me more like we were on the other side of “to be continued…”
The victory, every bit as much as Mets 11 Padres 2, was that baseball was happening and we were happening all around it — and that we got through another offseason. That, I’ve decided after enduring so many of them, is not a feat to be taken as a given.
In a substantive sense, we just endured the autumn of Sandy and the winter of Sandy Hook. If that’s not an offseason to get through, I don’t know what is. The return of the Mets to Citi Field by no means solved problems of such dense and terrible proportions. Amid his introductions of visiting and home team players, Howie Rose read some beautiful words thanking those who helped their neighbors in the struggle after Sandy, all the while pointedly reminding us the work goes on. He read some more beautiful words about those who were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Nothing has been done to prevent another episode like it from occurring somewhere else. Yet here we were in a baseball stadium, nudged to remember the worst of times before we would allow ourselves to fully engage what we treat as the best of times. It couldn’t have been a coincidence that it all briefly coalesced in ceremony that touched both borders of the emotional spectrum. Life is necessarily more than baseball, but we’re the ones who strive to substitute baseball for life. This was our big chance.
For however long an offseason holds sway, its darkness envelops us so entirely that we’re almost fully convinced it will never end. Yet on Opening Day, by our reckoning, it ends.
And we continue.
In the relatively mundane Mets sense during the offseason now completely vanished, we grappled with the franchise’s usual financial issues. We witnessed our beloved Cy Young winner’s deportation to another country. We weren’t given the opportunity to join a welcome wagon greeting some glittering star enticed to enhance our cast. Mostly we sat and brooded about the grim near term while attempting to lean forward and rationalize that it’s all in service to a brighter long term. The truly fanatical among us picked apart every iota of an offseason seemingly designed to break our hearts or maybe just tear away at our anterior capsules.
Then early one April afternoon, the Mets ceased being a theory to stew over and became a baseball team to cheer for. There was a 2013 Mets about to do something besides exist in concept. There was a baseball season…another baseball season. The season is every baseball fan’s raison d’être, providing the fiber of our very being. Know any non-baseball fans who divide their lives into just two seasons, one of them scornfully dismissed as unnaturally “off”?
We were on Monday, though. We were dressed to the 5’s (and not a few 43’s). We wore grins 162 games wide. We conveniently forgot that the final 161 are always the hardest. I didn’t bother mentioning to any of the many fine people with whom I had the pleasure of sharing the day that this very same ballpark was just as jammed last year at this time, yet was largely deserted four and five months later, even though the same basic thing that drew us in April 2012 was still transpiring down there on the exact same grass and dirt in August and September. I surely didn’t see any need to elaborate that a similar scenario is likely to play out again. You won’t have to grumble about overpriced Promenade tickets when starting pitchers aren’t hitting like position players, homers aren’t being legged out like triples, journeymen relievers aren’t appreciated like crazy and the Mets aren’t routinely squashing anonymous bands of opponents. Practically everything will be marked to move by the middle of August and almost nobody won’t declare they don’t have something better to do in September. It’s how it’s worked for the Mets for several seasons when the seasons themselves are what threaten to never end. The realm of possibility leaves little wiggle room for it to not happen again this season.
But p’shaw! to that kind of thinking on the first day we continue with our baseball. We were too busy congratulating each other on having the good sense to embrace what was directly in front of us. “It’s Opening Day,” we told each other again and again, as if that explained it all…which it pretty much did.
The Mets winning by nine happily explained the rest.