We may lose and we may win
But we will never be here again
So open up, I’m climbin’ in
—Glenn Frey, The Eagles
And I said to myself, this is the business we’ve chosen.
—Hyman Roth, The Godfather
If you told me I was going to three games in a four-day span in the middle of the season, I’d say, yeah, and what else is new? Ah, but it’s not the middle of the season! It’s the beginning! And at the beginning, three games in four days is the season in its entirety to date, which is a ton of baseball to digest at once when you haven’t consumed even a teaspoon of baseball for more than six months. Doctors, trainers and public health authorities would urge caution when undertaking such a feverish ramp-up in intake considering how dormant the game-going muscles had become. My late mother would have warned me, your eyes are bigger than your stomach, don’t put so much on your plate right away.
My rationalization in response? This amounts to only three games in…let’s see…late September, October, November, December, January, February, March…three games in 189 days. Gosh, it’s like I hardly ever go see the Mets at all.
Well, that’s taken care of. I’m fully immersed again. No complaints. I woke up on the fifth day rather tired, a little achy somehow and more than the least bit weatherbeaten given the prevailing winds whipping off Flushing Bay — but no complaints whatsoever. I could’ve been lacking sleep and stood out in the cold without baseball, too. This is much better.
Of course it is. That’s why when e-mails that say things like…
• “The tickets have been printed, so we are confirmed to see the Mets on the 1st of April. Let’s go, Mets!”
• “Susan will be missing a number of games in April with opera conflicts. If you’d like to join Melanie and me for a few games, we’d love to have you.”
• “I set up a date to do a book talk/sell/thingee at Bergino Baseball Clubhouse in the village on April 4. That happens to the be the night following a Mets-Padres day game. If your dance card is not filled for this day and you’re willing to brave potential cold or mediocrity, I can see if my source has seats in the Promenade behind home plate. Or we can buy Stub Hub seats for $1.50. Who knows? Maybe John Buck lands one in the LF upper deck and it becomes a top 10 game.”
…I tend to say “why, yes, outstanding, thank you very much.” Those conversations, played out across the offseason, became the first three games of the on season. When you’re lucky enough to know people who send you e-mails like those, you don’t think about tired, achy or all that much about the weather. You’re all about seeing them and seeing the game in roughly that order.
The games went well two times out of three. The seeing them and everybody else went much better. Like Justin Turner, I’m batting something close to a thousand for 2013.
DAY ONE: HAPPY MURPH DAY TO US
Too many Yankees fans on my train to Woodside. I figured as much. Two Openers in one day. What city does that? It only matters in that the LIRR will have to ferry us and ferry them part of the way, and I’m not interested in sharing mass transit with so many of them. Only one of them is outwardly overbearing, I have to admit, but all it takes is one. He’s the guy who got on the stop after mine with his Mets fan buddy. They each have a different Opener. They each have a different approach. The Mets fan is quiet and contemplative. The Yankees fan won’t shut up. He’s reliving drunken glories (“I was so sick after the parade in ’09 and I didn’t even drink that much!”) and offering patronizing piffle (“you guys were right there in 2006, just one swing away”). Woodside never looked so good.
I meet Joe on the platform. He’s the guy in the jaunty hat, holding those print-at-home tickets that are our gateway to 2013. It’s the 20th anniversary of his last Opener and my first: 1993, the birth of the Rockies, the resurrection of the Doctor. Joe’s been busy on Opening Day since the last time Dwight Gooden looked quite so good. This is my 14th; I’m thus far 11-2, a set of numbers that will become joyfully relevant again in a few hours. As we wait for the LIRR to “Mets-Willets Point,” or as any sane person knows it, Shea, we’re handed a handbill urging us to sing “happy birthday” to Daniel Murphy, who turns his own relevant number today. This is a 7 Line Army project. Judging by the snappy orange shirts the entrepreneurial general Darren Meenan has distributed, the 7 Line Army is everywhere today. We’re all spiritually enlisted in the 7 Line Army. We all want Daniel Murphy to enjoy the happiest of 28th birthdays. We’re all #with28, hashtag optional.
On the platform, some are already supporting America’s leading brewers, as if the first day of baseball isn’t intoxicating enough on its own steam. On the train, thoughtful Joe presents me with my own birthday gift (it’s not belated; we’re all born again on Opening Day): a framed photo of the 1905 World Champions: Mathewson, McGinnity, even a fellow wearing a jersey identifying him as Mascot. All of McGraw’s Men. Joe and I share the New York Giants affinity. His stretches back deeply into the dead ball era. Yet today, dreaming of another New York National League entity earning the same honorific those New York National Leaguers achieved, we are unquestionably alive.
After the train and my brief but vital revisitation with my brick, we spin left through the parking lot. I pause to tap Shea Stadium’s home plate marker with my cap to let Gary Carter know we’re still thinking of him and then seek out the vantop flag that will guide me to Opening Day’s other home plate: the Chapman tailgate. In past years I’d need a call or a text for directions. Now, like the Mets will some autumn in the not-too-distant future, I simply go for the flag. Even with parking compromised by Cirque du Soleil (as if the Mets aren’t acrobatic enough) and the lot sizzling with grills, I find our way home.
It’s the Kevin Chapman annual tailgate extravaganza and it’s Randy Medina with his The Apple/Captain Shorts tailgate joining forces, which is only right, proper and convenient, especially for me, because I get to see a whole bunch of Mets fans I know and a whole bunch more I don’t. But it’s Opening Day, so we all know each other: bloggers, readers, photographers — none more prolific or talented than the enthusiastic Sharon Chapman, natch — and did I mention Mets fans? We’re always all in this together, but in the hours leading to Jonathon Niese’s first pitch, it’s never more literally true. There’s food, there’s drink, there’s enough conviviality and hospitality to inspire Clyde Frazier to totality.
If you’re a Mets fan, you’re in your element here, whether you know most of the faces, as I do, or encountering most of them for the first time, as Joe was. Since Joe’s neither the biggest of eaters nor drinkers and we were standing amid an onslaught of what were to him relative strangers, I asked him if he wanted to get going. Absolutely not, he basically said. This was Mets fandom immersion and he was enjoying the sensation. I thought I caught a Karen Hill vibe from the wedding scene in GoodFellas:
It was like he had two families. The first time I was introduced to all of them at once, it was crazy. Paulie and his brothers had lots of sons and nephews. And almost all of them were named Peter or Paul. It was unbelievable. There must have been two dozen Peters and Pauls at the wedding. Plus, they were all married to girls named Marie. And they named all their daughters Marie. By the time I finished meeting everybody, I thought I was drunk.
Cinematic mob weddings have nothing on Mets Opening Day. Nor does the Easter Parade, speaking of rites of renewal, spring and so forth. The day before, at least on Turner Classic Movies, Fifth Avenue was filled with bonnet upon bonnet, all the frills upon it. No match for the Mets fan procession, though. So much blue. So much orange. So much thought devoted to which satin jacket, which Starter cap, which 7 Line sweatshirt, whose number dons whose back. It’s like wandering inside a Uni Watch column. Fashion Week also has nothing on Mets Opening Day.
Eventually, the stream of WRIGHTs, DAVISes, REYESes, SANTANAs, DICKEYs, HERNANDEZes, SEAVERs and — my favorite — GUNDERSON (singular) seeps away from the lot and into the park. You could linger and tailgate all day if someone would have you (and I’m pretty sure Kevin Chapman would), but there’s a ballgame in there. There are only 25,000 magnetic schedules to be grabbed and Gil help me if I’m gonna be No. 25,001. First I spy my favorite bag-checker, the guy who’s guaranteed not to do damage to my 1905 Giants. Then we get in his quick-moving line. Then he does right by me. Then it’s time for the necessary frisking and wanding, except I’m not wanded but I’m frisked to high heaven. I’m frisked so much that if I was the 1905 Giants picture, I would’ve cracked. I’m frisked so much that I can’t believe Jordany Valdespin has to be reminded to wear a cup because, quite frankly, the guard doing the frisking seems to be checking for one.
I blame the Yankees for this. I’ve never seen this frisker before and it occurs to me that with two Openers in one city transpiring simultaneously, the people who normally work both ballparks are spread thin. Reinforcements had to be called in. Clearly the Mets contacted Rikers Island and asked if they could spare an extra pair of roving hands.
Or as the hardest cons in New York City would say, watch where you’re frisking there, buddy.
Violated but otherwise upbeat, I am handed my schedule and, after a few quick detours, it’s off to the seats. I’ve missed the Shea Family floral horseshoe presentation, but I applaud it when I hear it announced by Alex Anthony while I’m finishing my last detour. Everything else I catch. And once the game starts, the Mets catch everything, hit everything, do everything well. Joe and I watch the lead build: 2-0; 4-1; 7-1. Niese is 2-for-2, which sends our National League hearts fluttering. The margin over the Padres is secure enough for me to do a little social butterflying. The Easter (or Nieseter, per my friend Coop) Parade continues. That’s Opening Day’s value-added, saying hi to so many I haven’t seen since last September 27. Whatever it’s sapping from my on-field observation — Brandon Lyon pitched? — is made up for by reminders that all of us being in this together makes it so much more worthwhile. There’ll be plenty of time for solemn vigils over middle relief later.
Two crowning touches to the game remained by the time I refound my seat next to Joe. First, there was Collin Cowgill, unwitting avatar of the “why can’t the Mets get anybody we’ve heard of?” offseason. Collin Cowgill answered that once and for all by embroidering himself forever within the Mets fans consciousness by fully making himself heard of. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh, he ripped a pitch to deep left. From our seats in the same general vicinity of the ballpark it was…what was it? Dave Howard’s grand experiment in geometry failed us. Joe and I and everybody in our midst thought Cowgill had hustled his udders off to lash a brilliant, three-run triple, except as we exulted, we noticed his journey continued on. “Did the Padres throw the ball away?” I asked. No, it was actually a home run — a grand slam! That in itself was fantastic, but that Collin never slowed, never hesitated, never “took anything for granted,” as announcers like to commend…that was fantastic. That was all that “he plays the game the right way” stuff come to life.
Less fantastic was we couldn’t make out from Section 526 that Cowgill had indeed cleared the blue wall and banged Brad Brach’s ball off the black backdrop. For what the Mets charged on Opening Day, the least they could do is provide a geometrically sound view. Old news, I suppose. But where was the live-action look on any of the multiple video screens lining the outfield? Nowhere. And where was the conclusive replay? Cut off right before the ball reached its destination. And what about the next half-inning? Delta sponsored the presentation of a Collin Cowgill-autographed baseball to One Lucky Fan. For the rest of us? We would’ve been fortunate to see a replay of the mysterious triplish hit that spurred the gift. But all we saw was Collin swing and an ad for Delta. Or as the wise beyond her years little girl sitting behind us commented, “They don’t show the home run, but they show an airplane.”
Second crown jewel: ninth inning; the wind kicking up Dave Howard’s memorial good-time garbage; and entering our conversation for the first time in a Mets uniform, Scott Rice. Many have left Citi Field in deference to the hour, the score and recurring chill (because luxuriating in a ninth-inning, nine-run blowout is apparently a hassle), but this is a treat for those of us who have stayed. Scott Rice, drafted into professional baseball so long ago that Bobby Bonilla was on the Mets payroll not as a running joke but as a pinch-hitter, is making his major league debut. His uniform pants are billowing in a bitter gale. His crowd can be better described as a gathering at this point. These circumstances resemble a hopeless September afternoon more than the one day of the year the Mets tend to be perfect, but would you tell Scott Rice this is anything other than ideal? We wouldn’t. So Joe and I and hundreds of others stand and applaud as he’s announced. Or, more or less as Steve Zabriskie greeted Gary Carter on a similar occasion 28 years earlier, “Welcome to New York, Scott Rice!”
Scott got three outs, the Mets got their traditional 1-0 start and we got, in contrast to Mick Jagger, satisfaction. The Mets won their umpteenth Opener in umpteen tries. I moved to 12-2 and then to the Rotunda, where I said goodbye to Joe and hello to my buddies the Chasins over by the 42. We couldn’t hook up during the game. Ryder and dad Rob were stuck in a suite of some sort, the poor bastards. While we chatted and Ryder continued to grow even taller since I last saw him, I noticed that rarest of species clumping nearby: Padres fans. But it was clear they weren’t random San Diegans. Their Opening Day finery included several custom-made GYORKO jerseys. It didn’t take a Mets Police to deduct that this was Jedd Gyorko’s family. Jedd, almost exactly seven years younger than Scott Rice, also made his major league debut here at Citi Field today. He was on the damning end of the 11-2 result, but for a band of proud Gyorkos, could anything be wrong with having a newly minted big leaguer in their brood? When I went home later and watched the pregame show that I had recorded (of course I did), I heard Bobby Ojeda counsel, “There’s nothing like a debut.”
That goes for Scott Rice of the Mets, for Jedd Gyorko of the Padres, for 2013 for all of us.
While Joshua Fry celebrated what remained of Daniel Murphy’s birthday craving more Cowgill, I alighted at Sunnyside to meet Stephanie for our second annual Queens dinner after the Opener. We chose a diner near her place of business, I ordered a cup of chicken soup as I did following the winning debut in 2012 and she snapped a picture of me ready to sip on the spoils of victory, thus establishing a perennial ritual. As I did last year, I posted it to Facebook. When the Mets have won, everybody is filled with chicken soup for the soul.
The diner’s big screen airs the YES postgame show. Red Sox 8 Yankees 2. My soul is full.
DAY TWO INTERLUDE: NO NO-HITTERS (REVISITED)
I planned to watch Johan Santana no-hit the Cardinals on the cruelly imposed off night between Games One and Two of the season. SNY said it would air it as a Mets Classic. They changed their minds, maybe because the “50 Greatest Mets” show needed to run a thousandth time, maybe because the Mets have decided the man who led them from the no-hitter wilderness (leaving the Padres there to sulk alone) is now a non-person in their esteem. I missed Johan on the mound Monday. He belonged there. If we couldn’t have Johan — and that pesky anterior capsule pretty much dictated we couldn’t — I would’ve loved R.A. But you want to talk about an officially vanished non-person? At least the yearbook had a page on “NO-HAN!” The guy who won 20 and the Cy Young for the 2012 Mets? “NO-THING!” except for the same tiny square every Met All-Star ever got. R.A.’s now Mets history, just like Ron Hunt, Joel Youngblood and T#m Gl@v!ne, but he’s gone from the present.
Time marches on, and “NI-ESE!” has stepped up, but wow, that was quick. If I wanted Santana, I’d have to slip in my DVD. If I wanted Dickey, I’d have to avail myself of the MLB Extra Innings preview, where R.A.’s Canadian currency didn’t exchange so successfully during his Blue Jay debut. If I wanted masterful pitching Tuesday night, it would have to come from Yu Darvish, Texas Ranger, blanking the eminently blankable Houston Astros on no hits, no walks, no flaws whatsoever through 26 batters. But the 27th out, which seemed a formality for a hurler so formidable, eluded him in the same fashion Marwin Gonzalez’s hot bouncer between his legs did. Not even the overzealous security guard from Opening Day could have gotten his hands on that ball.
Poor Yu, I thought in my best Livia Soprano. So close to immortality, but he’d have to deal with near-invincibility. I actually felt a little good for the Astros. Gonzalez, who we last saw being blocked at the plate by Kelly Shoppach late last August (time has marched on real good, huh?), maintained Houston’s dignity, most of which was stripped away when they were banished to the American League. Their fans are going to suffer terribly this season and for several seasons. Being perfect-gamed by their cross-state rivals in the first series of the year? Losing 7-0 was plenty.
So was what Johan did for us last June 1. How different it is to watch a no-hitter in progress from distant precincts knowing we put one in the books. For a Mets fan, that’s not a game-changer. That’s a veritable life-changer.
Yes to the question that will always linger about Johan Santana should his expensive left shoulder never throw another baseball in service to the New York Mets. Yes, it was worth it.
DAY THREE: HEADLEYLESS PADRES IN TOPLESS PARK
“Hey Greg, how was the soup?”
Mets fans who like to read (and go on Facebook) are everywhere, including Citi Field when the sensible place to be on the coldest bleeping baseball night since the 1973 World Series would be by a kettle on a stove. But we had all winter for that sort of thing, didn’t we?
It’s no longer Opening Day or anything like it. There are no Yankees fans on my train and there are relatively few Mets fans. If there’s tailgating, it’s out of view. The rent-a-cops are gone. I’m frisked lightly and unintimately. No magnetic schedules (or pocket schedules). Just some regular Mets and Padres coming up a few minutes after I arrive at the ballpark.
That’s fine. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. Opening Day is when we continue. The second game of the year is when we simply keep going. The normality is as bracing as the wind. Actually, nothing’s as bracing as the wind tonight. I just got here and despite taking Gary Cohen’s advice when I heard it on the Monday night replay that I should bring my “woolies,” I’m feeling it.
At least it will make me sympathetic to the San Diego Padres, should I feel so generous of spirit. As I hoof it from World’s Fare Market with my Mama’s of Corona turkey and mozzarella hero (first Citi Field bite of the year, thanks to being sated at the Chapman/Medina tailgate Monday), Matt Harvey is on the mound creating more stiff breezes. “Seven pitches, seven swinging strikes,” I hear from the monitors. It’s the only breeze we want more of in this uncovered stadium. And there’s only going to be more of it.
When I settle onto my graciously provided, perfectly positioned Excelsior perch, I ask my host Garry Spector what I missed. “Seven pitches, seven swinging strikes,” he said.
Matt Harvey gives us something better to notice than the goddamn wind tonight. But we notice the wind and the cold and how much it’s like the 1973 World Series and so much more. Garry’s the one who invited me to join him and his daughter, Melanie, because his wife, Susan, author of the intermittently updated but always invigorating Perfect Pitch blog (the gene runs in the family), had to be at that other Met thing of hers. Susan’s an oboist for the Metropolitan Opera; she had to make like the wind Wednesday and blow at Lincoln Center. La Traviata’s gain became mine as well because I got to take third chair alongside Garry and Melanie in the Spector Season Ticket Orchestra.
This is a family that knows how to watch a Mets game. They’re at most of them, they keep score, they listen to the broadcast, they eyeball the gamecast and they know enough to bundle up with a blue and orange blanket on nights like Wednesday’s. Melanie and Garry were well-stocked with hot chocolate. I took warmth from my hero — the sandwich, I mean. Matt Harvey’s not my hero, but give him another start or two.
As you already know, he was captivating. I had Caesars Club access, but who wanted to go inside when Harvey was outside? I’d hoped the team from San Diego, especially since they lacked their one big hitter Chase Headley, would be intimidated by a combination of the elements and the pitcher. They were. Or they were simply overpowered. They met a demise as certain as — spoiler alert! — Violetta did in La Traviata.
I worried a little that Harvey was being overexposed to the cold and wind. After a couple of innings, I was worried the cold and wind were being overexposed to Harvey, who emerged Wednesday as the personification of climate change. As he threw and we roared, he certainly transformed the atmosphere at Citi Field. Seven innings, one hit, no runs, ten K’s…not only were we on our way to the easiest of 8-4 victories, I’m pretty sure I could see a fully heated future arriving.
Like summer, it can’t get here fast enough.
DAY FOUR: TRUANT TO THE ORANGE AND BLUE
Thursday’s another day game. It’s warmer but not warm. It’s not my birthday, but it could be by the Mets’ reckoning. If you read your press releases carefully, you learn the darnedest things.
As a happy birthday present from the Mets, fans can receive a complimentary ticket to that day’s game to celebrate their birthday at Citi Field. Fans can show a valid form of identification (birth certificate, driver’s license, passport, etc.) at the Citi Field Ticket Windows on their birthday to receive a ticket, subject to availability. Offer does not apply for games on Opening Day, April 1, the Subway Series May 27-28, or after September 29. For those celebrating their birthday when the Mets are on the road, on an off day, in the off-season or on non-eligible games, their complimentary ticket can be redeemed for games on April 3-4, 23-25 and September 13-15.
Got all that? I did, meaning that despite Matt Silverman’s suggestions of other routes to entry, I dared my friend — like me someone born on a day the Mets are not at Citi Field or playing high-demand affairs there — to join me in seeing if this thing actually worked.
Guess what…it actually did. We met at the Apple, trooped to a ticket window, brandished our driver’s licenses and said we were here for the birthday offer. I half-expected to be frisked unmercifully or stared at quizzically, but no, the Mets were more or less prepared for someone to take them up on this. The nice man behind the window did initially hesitate, because we were his first customers to invoke the birthday clause. He checked with a supervisor, was given instructions and we (sans body cavity search) were issued complimentary ducats. I assumed they’d be on the roof. But they were Stan Isaacs-type seats: out in left field.
My fellow author and I were shocked and delighted. Mostly delighted. Kind of shocked. The Mets’ something-for-nothing come-on gave us something even if the Mets’ offense gave Dillon Gee nothing. Gee, though, gave us more of that pitching hope we’d been feasting on all week. He was injured and out half of 2012, remember? It didn’t seem like it as he held the punchless Padres mostly in abeyance. Sadly, that annoying Eric Stults, who used to eradicate us as a Dodger, masked our offensive capabilities quite effectively. John Buck gave us something close to a LF upper deck shot, maybe one of the top 10 homers I’ve seen for oomph! at Citi Field, but it was a lonely solo shot and the Mets lost, 2-1.
But so what? Matt and I were at the ballpark on a Thursday afternoon that wasn’t Opening Day, which is as baseball as it gets. All in this together with us was just about every other blogger under the warmish and welcome sun. At Sharon’s urging, a whole bunch of us got together on the portion of the bridge Ike left standing the night before in the fifth: me and Matt gearing up for his date at Bergino; Gal Coop and Studious Ed; John who is Metstradamus; Steve who couldn’t be anything but Eddie Kranepool; Sam who Converted. Darren from the 7 Line, albeit sans his Army, dropped by, too, his hand unfortunately bandaged, presumably from leading so many true believers into battle on Monday. Other special guests wandered through our fan clump and made the afternoon that much better for it.
The game wasn’t a whole lot of fun: too many pitching changes, too many double-switches (though we still love our league), obviously not enough runs. But what…you expected 162-0? We were congregating and laughing and talking Mets, even watching them not score now and then. I didn’t get this experience all winter. That’s what I seek the season for, as much as I do Cowgill hustling, Harvey blossoming or Gee returning. We were a slew of reasonably responsible adults playing something akin to hooky. I looked at all of us and wondered how we all managed to be at a baseball game in the middle of a Thursday when the rest of the world wasn’t.
My condolences to the rest of the world.
If you’ve never been to the Bergino Baseball Clubhouse on East 11th Street, just off Broadway, what are you waiting for? Jay Goldberg displays an array of artwork and provides the appropriate atmosphere. And you’ll find me there on June 26 to discuss The Happiest Recap series with Jay. Come on downtown and we’ll watch the Mets take on the White Sox afterwards.
If you’ve never been to 1973, Matt Silverman can take care of that.
If you’re looking to get in the mood for the debut of Mad Men Sunday night, take your own time machine back to somewhere between 1962 and 1973 as Jim Haines and I join Mark Rosenman LIVE AND IN STUDIO on WLIE 540 AM at 7 PM (podcast, too) to discuss The Happiest Recap. Matt will be calling in to give his own Swinging take on ’73.
If you’ve never been to Citi Field…or been there plenty…Jason and I offer some tips on maximizing your Metsness at Yahoo! Sports Big League Stew.
If you want to relive the excitement of Opening Day morning all over again, listen to me chat with Sam Maxwell on the Rising Apple podcast as I’m walking to my train and he’s riding his. It’s evidence that neither he nor I can go anywhere without talking Mets baseball.
And if you haven’t clicked on enough links, check out something mildly optimistic I said about the Mets in The Wall Street Journal the other day.