It’s summer. Basketball’s done. Hockey’s endless rounds of playoffs have ceased. Football training camps have not yet stirred. Baseball rules the land. And all is well.
Proof? Here are some good things for us all to appreciate:
1) Your 2013 New York Mets, even with Shaun Marcum.
Marcum hadn’t been great before tonight, but he hadn’t been 0-9 bad. (3-6 bad, maybe.) He’d been undone by being asked to toe the rubber in anger before he was really ready, by horrible Mets defense, and by plain old-fashioned bad luck, but he hung in there and won the fans over, I think, with his futile but principled Tiananmen Square opposition to the Marlins during that 20-inning disaster. Tonight he was very good, and so were the Mets. They might be the Plan C Mets, Plan A being too expensive at the present time (which may last until the trade deadline, this winter or the day when the sun goes out, depending on whom you ask and how pessimistic you are), but these Plan C Mets have been fun to watch — take a pinch of suddenly spicy Eric Young Jr. and a sprinkle of Josh Satin and a shake of Juan Lagares and the resulting dish is surprisingly tasty, at least for now. No, these Mets are not always or even usually going to play defense like they’re trying to recreate one of our favorite SI covers, but they’re watchable again — and not just with Harvey or Wheeler on the mound. Amazing how baseball is more fun when you’re not feeling surly and/or defeated before the first pitch.
2) Baseball is everywhere these days.
Last night I was invited to a book reading in Gowanus, so I hiked through the sultry streets of Brooklyn and back with earbuds in place, listening to At Bat. I cackled madly in the bodega as various White Sox did Castilloan things to a game-ending pop-up, got home and fired up my cable-TV app on the iPad in time to watch the bottom of the ninth. (LaTroy Hawkins had a bad night at the office, but let’s not blame technology.) Tonight I was at another book reading, after which I listened to some of the game, watched the Gameday recreation in a bar while having a quick burger, went back to the audio, strolled into the house and turned on the TV. As I write this I’m listening to Phillies-Padres from the other side of the country, because I can.
Back in the mid-Nineties I lived in suburban Maryland, just at the edge of WFAN range, and I used to make bizarre tin-foil extensions for radio antennae and spend occasional Saturday afternoons parked by the Potomac River. (I never understood why, but the water amplifies the signal.) It’s fun to imagine going back in time and telling my younger self, “You know, pretty soon you’ll be able to have every baseball radio feed on a phone in your pocket.” Younger Jace would have scoffed at the idea of spending thousands of dollars on such a luxury, then gone silent when Older Jace said that no, that would cost $20 a year. And what about putting your TV signal on a little portable screen the size of a book? Or just watching the game old style on a massive TV whose picture is so clear that it feels like a hallucination? I’d have jumped for joy at the idea of such a wonderful world. And with good reason.
3) This is the golden age of baseball writing.
I’m not just talking about the web, though I love checking in with the various Mets communities for their take on a win or a loss. I also mean old-fashioned books, like the those discussed over the last two nights. On Tuesday the attraction was Fan Interference: A Collection of Baseball Rants and Reflections. It’s an anthology of pieces from Zisk, an honest-to-goodness paper fanzine about baseball, pop culture and everything else, one that I’ve enjoyed for years. Fan Interference has Dave Kingman, and Rusty Staub, and Jose Valentin, and a mash-up of Yankees-Red Sox with “Pretty in Pink,” not to mention an offseason encounter with Bobby Cox, interviews with Geddy Lee and Emmylou Harris (who turn out to be really smart fans) and lots more besides. Get yourself one here, and find out where to catch Zisk writers on the road here.
Tonight I moved on to the super-cool Bergino Baseball Clubhouse for a podcast with Mr. Prince and Jay Goldberg. I’ll leave the details to the man of the evening, but if you don’t have a copy of The Happiest Recap yet, get one — it’s great fun whether you’re recalling a game you saw long ago, or learning about a classic you’ve never heard of, with star turns for guys you’d written off as bums.
Summer. Baseball to watch, and read about, and mull over, and listen to. (Philadelphia and San Diego have obligingly opted for extra innings while I write.) All good things.