That Sunday was Closing Day, an inescapable fact of the schedule, was never far from my consciousness. Yet it wasn’t until I was on the outbound 7 Super Express, rushing away from Citi Field, that it fully hit me that the Mets’ 2013 season was over. Perhaps I was lost in the kind of series-finale reverie that captivated Larry Sanders Show producer Artie in that program’s concluding episode when Bruno Kirby confronted him with his gripe that he’d been bumped from the host’s couch yet again.
“We’ll have you on another time,” Artie distractedly reassured the aggravated actor.
“There is no ‘another time,’” Kirby protested. “The party is over, this is it!”
Artie wasn’t really listening to Bruno, and in contemporary baseball terms, my ending things for the year with the Mets didn’t begin to completely sink in until I was somewhere west of Willets Point not that many minutes after Frank Francisco put the ninth inning of the 162nd game in Howie Rose’s suddenly transient books. I slowly but surely deduced that these third-place, 74-88 Mets wouldn’t be inviting me over for a 35th afternoon or evening together despite the reasonably pleasant 34 games I had spent in their relatively inoffensive company since April 1. I was now schlepping my 14-20 record with me to Woodside, where a Long Island Rail Road train would whisk me to Jamaica and another one would carry me home. There was to be no “another time” in 2013. This was it.
And I barely stuck around to comprehend that.
That was very uncharacteristic of me, the Mets fan who likes to believe he invented Closing Day as a phenomenon, even if it’s only a personal one. I’ve made it a point to attend every last slated regular-season home game since 1995. Somewhere along the way, it stopped being a coincidence and started being a streak. I’m at 19 in a row, 21 overall. Perhaps, like Artie the producer, I’ve grown a little robotic about it.
That’s not how I approached my 21st Closing Day at its opening, however. I was, to use the kind of phrase I imagine Mike Piazza must’ve uttered as a Los Angeles Dodger, totally stoked to watch No. 31 inducted into our New York Mets Hall of Fame. That’s an institution — Sunday’s spectacular sellout crowd notwithstanding — that remains something of a secret weapon where this franchise’s sporadic celebrations of itself are concerned. I’m speaking less of the small, sunny space allotted to it adjacent to the main team store than the concept itself. We have a Hall of Fame, ladies and gentlemen. It’s ours. It’s where our most significant figures and outstanding players reside in Metropolitan immortality. It’s the ideal destination for the Mets who weren’t quite Seaver, Hodges, Stengel and Shea but left a legacy worthy of as permanent a marker as possible.
When we argue over retired numbers (and gads, I don’t feel like doing that right now), it’s almost overlooked that the Mets Hall of Fame exists and provides proper recognition for the cream of Met careers. The Mets have actually done right by it in recent years, inducting six new members since 2010. Each of those HOF 2.0 ceremonies has been splendidly executed, Piazza’s as much as anybody’s. When your ballclub has passed its 50th birthday, it shouldn’t be surprising that it delivers historical pomp and circumstance with an appropriate flourish, but with the Mets, everything positive tends to come off as a stunner.
All Mike had to do, really, was fling an equipment bag over his right shoulder and enter the field in a state of dazed confusion and he would have received a thunderous ovation. That’s how it worked for him when the Brewers were visiting on May 23, 1998, and it would have been sufficient on Sunday. But this time, after MC Howie introduced the Mets alumni in attendance — I love when they span 1962 (Al Jackson and Ed Kranepool) to the 21st century (Edgardo Alfonzo and John Franco) — Mike looked like he knew where he was going. When he spoke, he certainly indicated he knew where he’d been.
Piazza thanked Nelson Doubleday “who is no longer with us,” which was a strange if technically accurate way to refer to someone who sold his share of the team and is not dead at the present time. Mike informed us he’s keeping the Mets in his prayers, which sounds like something you do when you think somebody’s en route to seriously being no longer with us. The warmest moment of all came when our beloved superstar catcher/first baseman — but mostly catcher — suggested you can count your true friends on one hand…and raised an index finger to indicate how he counts “you guys,” meaning us. We, he said, are “right here”.
Mike left me with the impression that he’d been paying attention from 1998 to 2005, that he knew the difference between being a Met and anything else, that he knew the difference between Mets fans and fans of other entities. I particularly loved that he chose the collective embrace he received upon returning to Shea as a Padre in 2006 as the Met moment that meant the most to him.
You don’t need to be a Harry Minor to recognize Mike Piazza displayed Hall of Fame perceiving skills on Sunday.
I would’ve been at Closing Day anyway, but Mike was the biggest reason I wanted to be there this time around. I wanted to hear Hendrix usher him into one more spotlight. I wanted to respond with Pavlovian applause at every mention of his every mammoth home run. I wanted to slip ever so briefly from Closing Day 2013 to two of its predecessors when standing for Mike Piazza was instinctive: 2005, as he waved au revoir; and 1999, as he cleared a path for Melvin Mora. Ceremonies of this ilk and final days of seasons both serve as necessary links between why we showed up before and why we’ll show up again.
Showing up wasn’t a problem Sunday. Sticking around is what proved the challenge. Witnessing the nine innings the Mets and Brewers would play to end their professional obligations felt more like a penalty than a bonus. I’m glad the Mets ultimately pulled their record even with their previous year’s while simultaneously allowing me to snap the six-game losing streak that had infested The Log II throughout September. I’m glad Eric Young compiled a league-leading 45th and 46th stolen base and Juan Lagares nailed his 15th foolish runner. Because I seem to maintain an inexplicable soft spot for otherwise universally reviled bad actors, I’m glad Francisco finally remembered to post a save at the close of the second year of his two-year closer’s contract.
Y’know, yippee, we won.
But I paid minimal attention to the actual game. After a few innings, Stephanie and I joined our friend Sharon on a trip to the Hall of Fame to confirm Piazza’s plaque really exists (it does) and discover where it’s mounted (it’s not). My lovely wife and I then moved on to examine the 50% OFF yet still overpriced All-Star merchandise in the team store, before using what we saved from resisting the purchase of another t-shirt to secure a Last Snack of the season. We gave a slight bump to the receipts at Catch of the Day and then El Verano in what evolved into a most delightful walking feast.
We stopped. We chatted. We shook some hands. We shook our heads. We wondered if 2014 would bring with it better baseball. We wished our comrades the best of luck until circumstances would align to have us bumping into one another on these premises once again. Usually I frown on permitting myself to drift so far from the Mets while they’re busy being the Mets, but I decided to be not such hard-ass on myself for a few innings, even if a few innings were all that remained to our season.
When the game was done, though, so was I. Not with the Mets as a whole, just with the 2013 edition of them. I usually like to stand at my seat and take it all in one final time, but not this time. Momentum lured me to the exits. I wanted to listen to WFAN’s last broadcast wind down on the way out; I wanted to be sure to make all transit connections; I wanted to be home soon more than I wanted to be at my home away from home indefinitely. Thus, my goodbyes unfurled a bit hastier than usual and an informed glance served as my long last look around.
I think I thought that leaving Citi Field in rather routine fashion was no big deal because I’d be back again before I knew it. I’m always back again before I know it. I was back 34 times in 2013, for goodness sake. It wasn’t until I peeked out the window of that Super Express and ascertained the ballpark wasn’t getting any closer that I realized the extent of my miscalculation. Of course I’ll be back — but not before I know it’s been a very long while.
If you joined me for any of my 14 victories or my far larger pool of 20 defeats, thank you for making the good games better and the bad games just as wonderful. If you’re somebody who stopped me on a Bridge or near an Apple or, as happened at least once, in the Promenade food court men’s room, thank you for thinking enough of what we do here to tell us.
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