It’s been a beautiful couple of nights in New York City, with gentle weather, nice breezes and the western horizon still faintly painted in sunset colors after 9:30. The Mets have been in Atlanta, far from here but right at hand — if you’ve got a TV they’re before your eyes, if you’ve got a phone or a pocket radio they’re in your ears. And the Cyclones are playing again, which means it’s officially summer. Baseball’s everywhere and the world is as it should be.
First the Mets, and tonight. They played one of their more satisfying games of the year — an all-hands-on-deck affair in which they looked resourceful and resilient.
The game came with a significant side of worries, unfortunately: Jonathon Niese departed in the fourth when his balky left shoulder indicated there were no more pitches available. Niese spoke bravely after the game about the doctor finding nothing wrong and things not being as bad as they were earlier this year, a self-diagnosis we should pay zero attention to, as it came from a pitcher. All pitchers are habitual liars about their health, to quote Dan Warthen’s much-misinterpreted line about John Maine; the only assessment that will matter is the doctor’s, which we can expect tomorrow. Niese is one of a parade of Mets who progressed in 2012 but have regressed this year; he has the excuses of freakish weather and his own health issues, but the end result is the same. That’s more troubling than we may realize when waxing rhapsodic about Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler and drooling about Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard and others; Niese is left-handed and more accomplished, at least for now, than any of them, making him a vital piece of most any bright future we can imagine.
Niese left with the Mets down 3-2 and trying to win the rubber game of a seemingly endless five-game set in Atlanta, which they proceeded to do. David Wright collected three hits, including two home runs; Andrew Brown homered as a pinch-hitter; Omar Quintanilla led off the seventh with a mildly Dunstonesque 10-pitch at-bat that ended with a single, then scored on a double by Josh Satin. The former 51s, freed from secrecy in the Nevada desert, were supported by the bullpen, with fine work from David Aardsma, LaTroy Hawkins, Brandon Lyon, Josh Edgin and Bobby Parnell.
I haven’t been happy about this year’s Mets, to say the least, but their pluck kept my attention tonight, and I moved from watching them on the iPad while eating in the backyard to keeping them in my ears while running an errand a couple of neighborhoods over, then urged Edgin past the dangerous Jason Heyward while gazing at the dizzying lights of Manhattan from the Promenade. Baseball was good company tonight, and I was grateful for it.
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Not numbered among my smattering of good qualities: the ability to think quickly when a foul ball is at hand.
It’s pathetic, really. My first encounter with a foul ball came 20-odd years ago, at a Bowie-Binghamton game down in Maryland. I was waiting in line behind home plate to buy a hot dog when a batter fouled one straight back over the screen. The ball bounded up the steps, tapped me in the leg and sat quietly spinning next to my foot. Dumbfounded, I stared at it until a kid walked over, shook his head at me in mingled amazement and contempt, and picked it up.
It hasn’t gotten better. There was this humiliating moment in the days of Shea, which Emily still enjoys recalling. There was a day when Emily finally took a four-year-old Joshua out of my arms because our section was getting bombarded by foul balls, which I’d react to approximately when the next pitch was thrown. I don’t know why this happens to me — time seems to slow down and my reflexes get molasses-like. The only foul ball I’ve ever gotten at a game became mine because it rolled directly to me after landing outside the Cyclones’ stadium, with no one else within 30 feet. Even I couldn’t screw that one up.
Recently it’s gotten worse. During the 20-inning disaster against the Marlins, two foul balls were lined into our section. The first one hit the guy directly in front of me and bounced away while I gaped at it and tried to will my hands to move. The next one hit a guy a row ahead of me and two seats to the right. It then bounced off my shoulder and the seat next to me, dropped two rows down and stuck between an older man and his wife, who apparently didn’t notice it. A nearby kid grabbed it — and as Joshua began to berate me for my ineptitude, I realized to my horror that the kid holding up the ball was one of his classmates. I mean really — what are the odds?
Last night Emily and Joshua and I took the ferry to Staten Island to watch the Cyclones play the larval Yankees. (Quick review: Brooklyn’s Eris Peguero makes Lucas Duda look like Garry Maddox.) While Emily fetched hot dogs, Joshua and I settled into our seats a few rows past first base — the section where right-handed hitters routinely hit foul balls. I looked towards home plate and could barely see it — the sun was setting directly behind the batter.
We’re going to get killed out here, I thought.
A few pitches later, Staten Island’s Mike O’Neill lofted a foul pop into our section. I couldn’t see the ball — no one in our sparsely occupied section could see anything — but I heard it rattle off the seats and plop onto the concrete not far behind me. I turned and trotted a couple of seats down, hopping into the next row with the grace you’d expect of a 44-year-old ex-non-athlete, and saw the ball sitting another row back — directly in the path of a kid of about 17 or 18. He hadn’t seen it, but in another second he was going to.
And after all these years, for once I thought fast.
“I think it went over there,” I said, and pointed to the left.
Incredibly, he took a couple of steps in that direction. (Who falls for this?) That allowed me to fake a little start of surprise, lean over the row of seats and scoop up the ball. I managed not to snicker like Muttley as I strolled back to my seat and handed an actual foul ball to my kid. Joshua was dumbstruck, then thrilled, and I was off the hook for years of incompetence.
Age and treachery 1, Youth and skill 0.
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Jason was Will Leitch’s guest on his Wednesday podcast for Sports on Earth. The Mets were of course discussed, as was Star Wars, the Jupiter Pirates and ESPN. Give a listen here.
Please join Greg at Bergino Baseball Clubhouse in Manhattan Wednesday night, June 26, 7 o’clock, for a discussion of The Happiest Recap, followed by the Mets and White Sox live from the South Side of Chicago. Details here.