Maybe this is actually the year of the overlooked Mets pitcher.
Sure, Matt Harvey has been Olympian and each start makes Zack Wheeler looks more like the phenom he was heralded as. But the other day we were talking about Dillon Gee’s turnaround. Not so long ago Jenrry Mejia came off the prospect scrap heap to stun the Nationals. And tonight Jon Niese was back.
Some of the luster has come off Niese this year — he never really looked right, struggled with pitching in horrible conditions and eventually went on the disabled list with a partial tear of his rotator cuff, which isn’t the kind of injury where “partial” is much of a comfort. But with Jeremy Hefner on a nice run, Wheeler emerging and Harvey channeling Tom Seaver every fifth day, Niese’s loss didn’t make much of a ripple. Which would be understandable, except for the fact that it’s insane: Niese is the lone left-handed starter in the Mets’ current plans, he’s just 26, and last year he seemed to figure stuff out for the first time, winning 13 games for a lousy team and avoiding the issues with focus and preparation that had dogged him.
I’ll admit I’ve never warmed to Niese — in interviews he comes across as narcoleptic and uninterested in his craft. But I’ll also admit this is my problem, not his. Twenty-six-year-old lefties who’ve demonstrated the ability to win in the big leagues are extremely valuable commodities. Niese’s return should have been big news for me and for everybody else, but instead it merited a collective shrug.
So how was he? Eh. He got better as the night goes on, but he wasn’t particularly good — the change-up was junky and the cutter was perilous, leaving him stripped of half his arsenal, and I kept bracing for the horror show of an inning that would end with six or seven runs on the scoreboard and Niese fleeing in flames. But it never happened — instead, disaster befell the Diamondbacks, from Paul Goldschmidt’s horrifying error in the first that led to four Mets runs to Cody Ross’s frightening hip dislocation to Laz Diaz giving Ike Davis an extra strike in a big inning for the Mets. The snakes were the ones snakebit, and the best thing that happened to them was that the game ended.
By the way, I refuse to believe that there’s actually a baseball player named Tuffy Gosewisch — particularly since his given name is James. To invert Annie Savoy, you don’t need a nickname honey.
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Let’s talk uniforms.
I’m going to go out only slightly on a limb and say that the Arizona Diamondbacks’ uniforms are astonishingly horrible, from the random barrage of colors to the inspid abbreviation of the team name to the horrible snake as D to the annoying “db” doing double duty as a snake head. When the Diamondbacks aren’t wearing an awful color — today’s brick red wasn’t automatically cringeworthy — it doesn’t matter because everything else is a disaster. Their colors suck, their fonts suck … everything sucks. I know that isn’t a particularly coherent argument, but the Diamondbacks don’t deserve one: This team’s brand identity is best summed up as Barfed-Up Pueblo, a dog’s breakfast of vaguely Southwestern motifs run through a blender by a meth-addled dude in a trailer. The Marlins may scale greater heights of horror, and goodness knows the Mets win no prizes for consistency, but the Diamondbacks can be relied on to look horrible in a different way each and every game.
Uniforms have been on my mind because on Friday I was out at a bar with Emily, squinted up at the TV, grimaced at the inevitable sight of the Yankees, and then did a double-take: Why the hell were the Yankees wearing white-billed caps during an actual game?
I don’t like the Yankees, as you may have heard, but I do count on them for one thing: They don’t let Bud Selig or anybody else screw around with one of the game’s classic uniforms. Baffled, I text-messaged a Yankee-fan friend of mine, who told me the caps were being worn to promote awareness of a cancer charity. I felt briefly bad, as did others, but then I stopped feeling that way. Look, everyone agrees cancer sucks and everyone wants to see it eradicated from the world, but cut a fucking check and leave the uniform alone. My friend agreed, texting me that “we are all horrified and ashamed.”
According to one report, the Yankee who didn’t go along with this sartorial misstep was Derek Jeter.
Having already praised the Yankees, I’m now going to double-down on questionable sentiments and say that I wish David Wright would take heed of this and be more Jeteresque.
After 9/11, the Mets wore the caps of New York first responders in games, defying MLB’s demands that they stop. Here’s Todd Zeile with an eloquent explanation of why: “The hats meant more than what they said on the top. I was wearing one from a kid that had lost his dad. And some of the other hats that we were wearing were hats that we traded with some rescue workers while we were down at Ground Zero. It wasn’t like they came out of a hat box. We felt that was the best way to align ourselves with those guys that were working 24/7 while we were still out trying to play baseball. I don’t think anybody expected it would have the kind of reaction, but the fact that MLB wanted to stop us, and then we decided to do it anyway, I think made it even more significant to the members of the city.”
In September 2011, a new generation of Mets wanted to wear first-responder caps to honor the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Once again MLB’s mandarins told the Mets no, except this time the team complied. It was craven bullshit — I was outraged then and am still deeply embarrassed now. A year later, in 2012, the Mets sidestepped any brouhaha by not even asking MLB for permission, which generated less adverse publicity but was actually more spineless and pathetic.
Well, it’s a month from 9/11. The Mets will be home against the Nationals, hopefully battling for second place. What are they going to do this year?
I’d like to see the Mets take the field in caps from the NYPD, NYFD, Port Authority, EMS and other agencies that did so much, at such personal cost, to help heal a wounded city 12 years ago.
Would this be a slippery slope, as MLB seems to fear? Here’s hoping it would be. In fact, let’s create one ahead of time — for one night, let uniformity take a back seat to solidarity. Let the Yankees wear the caps, since that team means so much to people in the same city, however misguided we normally think those people are. (Hell, they already wore those things with white brims.) Let the Nationals wear them to honor those who rushed to the blasted Pentagon. Let the Pirates honor first responders to recall Shanksville, where Flight 93 crashed after its passengers saved lives in D.C. in an astonishing act of bravery and sacrifice. Heck, let’s go crazy and let all 30 teams honor their local firefighters, police officers, EMTs, Coast Guard members and others, inspiring fans to remember those lost and to give thanks for the people in their hometowns whose jobs involve running towards danger instead of away from it.
And if MLB and/or some cap maker remains small-minded and hard-hearted, here’s hoping a healed David Wright gets his Jeter on.
“What’s that, MLB stooge? You want to take my NYPD cap before I head out to third base for the top of the first? Go ahead and try. I’m going out there wearing this hat, and you can fine me or my team — because I know Fred and Jeff have my back. We’ll take this to the court of public opinion, where you’ll lose in a rout and we’ll never pay one thin dime.”
That’s what I’d like to see. Let’s see what the Mets do.