It must have been a sportswriter who came up with that line about ballplayers you’d pay to see since baseball writers don’t pay to see baseball. In that spirit, since I didn’t pay to see Thursday night’s game, I will detour to Cliché Stadium and declare I’d pay good money to see Yasiel Puig play ball. As it was, I kind of wanted to leave more than the customary 20% by his locker. The service was that good.
The final from Flushing: Mets 5, Dodgers 3, Yasiel Puig something else. That’s a guy who dominates your field of vision no matter what he’s doing. Fortunately he wasn’t beating my team, so I didn’t mind a good, long, complimentary look.
I still have a team, by the way, despite my presence among those who exchange a little bit of their souls as their price of admission to the ballpark. I watched almost all of the Mets’ win from the press box where there is, as every schoolchild knows, no cheering. No wonder there isn’t. The ladies and gentlemen of the press have to be stone cold professionals, betraying no bias and rooting only for good stories, save for plot twists that wreck deadlines.
That’s their business. My business, so to speak, is to blog as a fan. Sometimes a very fortunate fan who appreciates landing on a list that gets me in a different door from most fans. For a few hours a few times a year I masquerade as media. I drape a graciously received credential around my neck and interact with my team and their game as if I forgot to pack my passion alongside my notepad and my phone charger.
It’s fun but it’s weird. Or it’s weird but it’s fun. It’s welcome but wearying. You wind up in the hermetically sealed vault where they store the coolly disinterested pros so they can most effectively do their jobs, but you’re not cool and you’re not disinterested and your job, if you think about it, depends on your running hot and being fascinated. Still, so you don’t blow your cover, you sit and you muffle the very instincts that made you a fan and a blogger in the first place.
Unless you have the good sense to take a break from the press box, as I did at precisely the right moment to take full advantage of seeing Puig be Puig. It was the second inning and my agenda was to weasel my way down to a nearby row of seats to say hi to somebody who had already had a whale of a night. I had been notified via Tweet that my friend Garry Spector, a season ticketholder who pays to see a slew of players nobody would consciously choose to ante up for, was plucked from the Amazin’ Perks ranks to throw out the first pitch Thursday night. Just my very good luck to find myself at the park to witness his very good luck on the mound. Garry threw a strike perfect enough to impress his personal catcher Anthony Recker, let alone his wife Susan and his daughter Melanie.
I vamoosed from the vault, entered the fresh night air and temporarily took an empty seat next to the Spector family (imagine that, an empty seat at Citi Field). After congratulating Garry on his high hard one, I stuck around to watch an inning with them and without detachment. It was in their company that I saw Wilmer Flores wallop a ball that was destined for the right-center gap in every outfield in North America where right isn’t patrolled by Yasiel Puig.
This one was, to the detriment of Flores, but, ultimately (because the Mets won anyway), to the benefit of the human race. People, you really had to see what one of your fellow persons could do on defense. How spectacular was Puig’s catch? Let’s just say that if Ron Swoboda’s catch married Tommie Agee’s second catch and those catches had a baby…and that baby grew up to have an affair with Juan Lagares’s glove…do you get what I’m saying? It was one for the ages.
Freed from the protocol of the press box, I emoted, albeit with restraint. I wanted to curse Puig for robbing Flores, but that didn’t seem sporting. I wanted to applaud Puig for robbing Flores, but that seemed self-defeating (also, there was a surfeit of Dodger fans on hand plenty capable of picking up my totally biased slack). I just marveled, mostly. And cursed a little, probably.
The rest of Puig Shirt Thursday was tried on for size back in the contemplative corridors of the press box. There was horrific Puig baserunning in the sixth on the heels of an infield fly call that confused even the experts in my midst (a situation summed up by one disbelieving wag as “you know you’re in trouble when Daniel Murphy is the smartest player on the field”). There was brute Puig force applied to a Daisuke Matsuzaka pitch in the eighth, resulting in a double and an instant threat to the 4-3 lead Jon Niese himself helped build with an actual double of his own. And then there was Eric Campbell acting as the dollar-store version of Yasiel Puig, playing major league left field for the first time and demonstrating no awareness whatsoever that taking on such an unfamiliar task might be difficult.
With Hanley Ramirez lashing a rope to left and Puig taking off for home because there was no way he wasn’t going to be the tying run, Campbell dove and caught. It wasn’t as spectacular as what Puig did to Flores six innings earlier, but it was more substantial. It preserved the Mets’ tenuous edge and it paved the way to a double play. Campbell, a first baseman usually, had the presence of mind to throw to second to double off a reversed-course Puig, someone who hides his presence of mind very well when traversing the basepaths.
I took that turning point of the game in stride because in the press box there is no other way to pseudo-professionally take it. Clear through to Jenrry Mejia’s victory-preserving strikeout of Scott Van Slyke I did no more than gesture quietly. A thumb furtively up, a fist subtly pumped, a fatal distraction averted.
No cheering in the press box. Tons of it echoing in my head, though. Sounds about right.
No short shrift to Niese intended above. For more on “the forgotten stuffed animal” of the Met pitching depth chart, check out W.M. Akers’ article in The Classical.