I stumbled into a realization a few weeks ago: baseball is a metaphor for baseball. It’s not a metaphor for life. It doesn’t serve as our symbolic rebirth or any of that folderol. Opening Day means that after too many months without regulation games, we get one, to be followed almost immediately by another, and then one almost every night or day for half a year.
That’s it. That’s enough.
It also means we get to go outside again without reluctance. The weather in Flushing at 1:10 Monday afternoon will probably lean toward miserable, but if you’ve spent your interminable winter and thus far overly shy spring in the northeastern quadrant of North America, you’re used to miserable weather. Might as well drizzle baseball into the forecast. Bundle up and enjoy the summer game as soon as you can.
As for the 2014 Mets, enjoy them, too. Enjoy them so much that when I bring up the 2014 Mets years from now, you’ll remember exactly who and what I’m talking about and you won’t flinch. Citi Field has yet to host a Mets season that feels substantively different from all the others. Handfuls of highlights notwithstanding (SNY showed Johan’s no-hitter Sunday and, surprise of surprises, I watched it), it’s been five years of mediocrity again and again. The gloomy last month of these seasons rarely reminds you of their hopeful first day.
May the first day of 2014 be the first day of many when you’re beside yourself with happiness to be at this ballpark this year.
Citi Field is in its sixth season. When Shea Stadium was in its sixth season, we experienced 1969. I don’t mean to set the bar too high, but when your ballpark that’s neither exemplary nor execrable is neither novel nor vintage, it needs something besides The 7 Line’s kiosk to mark it for the ages (though that 7 Line news is pretty spectacular).
Did you catch the Mets in Montreal over the weekend? Wasn’t the undimmed enthusiasm something? I used to miss the Expos as an opponent like I missed Shea as a home park. Then I moved on, pausing now and then to recall with vague bilingual fondness that there used to be a ballclub there — even if the “there” Olympic Stadium represented was in dire need of replacement, far more than Shea ever was. But mon Dieu, to see and hear those abandoned Expos fans come out and support the act of baseball in a decade-dormant major league setting…it’s not so much that it makes me miss the Expos anew. It makes me feel blessed that I’ve got my team still and I’m gonna go spend some time bundled up with it on Monday.
What kind of team will it be? Finding out is why they play the season. I suspect they’ll be a little closer to good than they were when 2013 fizzled to its traditional conclusion. I don’t necessarily seek 90 wins and therefore won’t be disappointed if/when they don’t materialize. Dear Mets, just don’t seem hopeless by August; don’t have me questioning my priorities in September; and please get me to October in such a state that I can’t wait for the following April.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. How about nobody trips on the foul line Monday afternoon? Baby steps.
I read with interest some insights in the Star-Ledger of how the Alderson Group, now in its fourth year of running things on the mid-market shoestring it was handed, is putting its universally acclaimed wits to work. As fans, we drool over the various Oriole, Dodger and, lately, Cardinal “Way” of doing things. It’s encouraging to know a Met Way is being instituted. One really hopes it’s an effective way, particularly as it takes hold through the system. The way Craig Wolff writes it, this Met Way — kind of a ball-control offense, you might say — sounds perfectly logical, though the implementation as described comes off as chillingly corporate, stubbornly rigid and a bit self-satisfied (and is probably playing head games with Daniel Murphy, the one hitter who gave the Mets a full, solid season last year). But if it works, we’ll gladly hail it as visionary.
In the meantime, we have potential above-the-marquee pitching on the verge of settling in for the rest of the 2010s. Ironically, none of those young guns will fire to open 2014. Instead, it’s Dillon Gee, playing the role of Bobby Jones from 1996. That is to say when Generation K was supposedly coalescing, Dallas Green gave us last year’s boring second-line righty as our Opening Day starter. “Last time Bobby Jones gets the ball to start the season,” I chuckled to my buddy Jason on that wintry Flushing afternoon.
Long story short, Generation K never demographically dazzled, while Bobby Jones was back on the mound two Opening Days later. You never know. When Gee came up without hype in September 2010, nobody tagged him as a future Opening Day starter. But the guys who “should” have the assignment aren’t available and nobody at this moment deserves it more. It’s sweet as hell that it’s Dillon Gee, actually. I feel a little like the Notre Dame equipment manager in Rudy handing Rudy his uniform and telling him how great it is he’s finally getting his big chance. True, Gee’s been suiting up competently with the varsity for a spell, but something about him says “one of ours” that reaches beyond homegrown status and modest longevity.
I’d prefer warmer weather Monday, but given the conditions, I look forward to chillin’ with Dillon. I look forward to sitting next to Jason as we did 18 and 16 years ago for Bobby Jones. I look forward to being among the representative sample of the 27% of New Yorkers who expressed to the Quinnipiac folks the best taste possible in baseball allegiances. I look forward to being one of 42,000 or so paying unanimous tribute to Ralph Kiner and being in the likely minority of those respectfully greeting the city’s new mayor (mayors have been throwing out first pitches at Met Openers since Robert Wagner, you know). I’d prefer to not freeze my kishkes off, but if that’s what the winds of Promenade dictate, I’ll be doing it in a good cause. I’ll be welcoming back baseball and shooing away whatever’s left of that nasty ol’ vortex.
We’re shedding the polar and closing in on solar. Best-case scenario is we’re a first-place club by the evening rush hour. Worst-case scenario we’re 0-1 and one back of the Nationals. Either outcome surely beats NO GAME TODAY.
Bonus essay on the uncertainty of Opening Day at Purple Clover.