Vic Black’s my kind of Met. I haven’t felt this kind of simpatico with a September callup reliever since Julio Machado arrived 24 years ago and brushed back Tom Pagnozzi, his very first batter. True, things didn’t work out so well for Machado in the long term, but he knew how to announce his presence with authority…at least until the Venezuelan authorities got hold of him for a crime far worse than coming in high and tight on a Cardinal catcher.
Black hasn’t been quite so bold since arriving from Pittsburgh’s suddenly fertile farm system, but he’s put Cholula on the ball, he’s thrown it by plenty of batters and, as he proved Tuesday night in Cincinnati, he might very well be the Closer of the Future (sorry Bobby Parnell, we have conveniently short memories when it suits our whims).
But that’s not why I’m into Vic Black at the moment. We’ve had our share of Closers of the Future who eventually disappeared like Derek Wallace or receded into a sad state of Heilmanhood. I’m into Vic Black because of what he told reporters following the notching of his first Met save.
“We never liked the Reds.”
Huh? A player admitting disdain for a particular opponent? A veritable five minutes after his promotion? They can do that?
Mind you, Black was smiling when he said it, but he was serious. The “we” in question wasn’t the Mets, but his family. The Texan explained he has an uncle who had a particular distaste for Cincinnati’s baseball enterprise; young Vic simply adopted it and apparently relishes it. Closing out a game that did damage to the Reds’ playoff position was an achievement that rose above clichéd icing on the cake. It was, in a promising touch of Dickeyspeak, “watering that flower of hatred.”
I will not be kissing Vic Black, but I almost want to. Yes! Those guys on the other team…HATE THEM! Not hate to a point where you’re Julio Machado in a rage and going to prison for it, but don’t be blasé about your opponents. Pick a team and make them your rival.
Hey Vic, I still hate the Cubs the way you hate the Reds. I picked up on hating the Cubs when I was six. They were the nasty bear on the back page of the Post my father brought home from the city every night. The Mets were the duck. Together they represented the National League East race, my first chance to choose sides. Of course I chose the duck. The duck was from New York. I was from New York. The duck was lovable. The bear was unlikable. The Mets trailed the Cubs. They passed them.
And I still hate the Cubs from that seminal exposure. I hated them in 1970 when both they and the Mets unsuccessfully chased the Pirates. I hated them in 1973 when — spoiler alert! — they were the last obstacle between us and a second division title. I hated them in 1979 when they were atrocious but we were more so. Oh, how I hated them in 1984 for turning 1969 on its head; I took special pleasure in the Pirates clinching their 2013 playoff berth at Wrigley Field because I ruefully remember the Cubs clinching theirs 29 years ago at empty Three Rivers Stadium, thereby ending a beautiful Met dream.
I relished stomping on the disintegrating Cubs in the summer of 1985, sweeping them four straight at Shea, a series the AV squad capped off by blasting “The Night Chicago Died” loud enough to intrude on Tim McCarver’s postgame report. I hugged and high-fived that much more forcefully because we clinched our 1986 N.L. East title in their ursine faces — take THAT, Chico Walker! I was extra disgusted that we finished second to them instead of Pagnozzi’s Cardinals (about whom I’m still not crazy) in 1989. I laughed hysterically at Brant Brown dropping a fly ball in 1998, grumbled mightily that they won the Wild Card over us days later and Sheadenfreuded in my heart when Steve Bartman showed better defensive form than Moises Alou in 2003.
Nine years ago today I danced a jig in my soul as Victor Diaz took LaTroy Hawkins over the wall at Shea and sunk the hearts of probably 20,000 Cubs fans in my midst. I literally skipped to the 7 train on the afternoon of May 17, 2007, when the Mets scored five in the ninth to stun the Cubs, 6-5. And on June 16, 2013, when the Mets and I were as mopey as we’ve ever been together, Kirk Nieuwenhuis raised Western Civilization to new heights and we as a people experienced a spiritual renaissance that lasted clear to the final week of July.
Yeah, I still have no use for the Phillies and Braves in the same way I have no use for the Cardinals. Those are legacy hatreds, but they feel too recent to fully resonate in my deepest, darkest recesses and the Mets were lousy at keeping up their end of the bargain against them on the field. The Marlins are the Marlins, which speaks a volume or two, but they’re also just the Marlins. The Nationals’ existence is grating, but we’ve never competed for anything but our dignity with them (which we lost two weeks ago). Current era of good Bucco feeling notwithstanding, I haven’t forgotten Pirates fans howling obscenities at Lenny and HoJo in the summer of 1988 — or the idiot who sat behind me in May who incessantly repeated “C’mon Cutch!” for nine miserable innings — but to mine the residue of that scab at this late date seems counterproductive.
And yes, the Yankees. But that’s the other league.
What I guess I’m saying is if I was reincarnated as a hard-throwing youngster just called up to the hopelessly out-of-it Mets and I had my choice of impeding any team’s playoff plans, it would be those of the Cubs. Can’t water that flower enough.