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It’s a Less Wonderful Time of the Year

Children’s voices blended into an angelic choir. Or as angelic as it gets in Queens. Oh, how they caroled. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” they sang as one. They did so inside a ballpark, inside December.

Heresy! Sacrilege! What are they teaching these kids at PS 19, PS 57, PS 89, PS 140, PS 143 and PS 330?!

If it can’t be baseball season, then, yeah, sure, whatever, the second-most wonderful time of the year can be nine days before Christmas. Or nine days after Christmas. Like it matters if there’s no game on. But let us be clear, New York Mets who on Tuesday graciously hosted all those youngsters from all those elementary schools: the most wonderful time of the year commences April 6 and concludes October 4. Or preferably a few weeks later.

Don’t muck up your own script by encouraging confusion as to when the most wonderful time of the year is. You were giving out Christmas presents, but you should always be selling baseball.

"No, little girl, there's no shortstop in there. Now quit asking." [1]

“No, little girl, there’s no shortstop in there. Now quit asking.”

The most wonderful time of the year is still a ways off, so if you have to do something with the space between, doing it at Citi Field — while two Mets dress as something other than Mets and bring non-denominational joy to the local chapter of the Youth of America — is as good a way of doing it as there is. I was doing it this past Tuesday, as I have at the Mets’ invitation every December for five Decembers suddenly. Technically, I was covering it. Mostly, I was taking it in.

You couldn’t ignore “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” the holiday classic made famous by Andy Williams and belted out by one group of PSers or another. They were loud enough to drown out all conversation. Conversely, Sandy Alderson, conversing with reporters, spoke softly about the Mets’ disinterest in pursuing another big stick. The logistics and acoustics were a bit of a hurdle for your correspondent, who was leaning in from the edge of a media scrum better suited to gather within the most austere of monasteries. “Parties for hosting/marshmallows for toasting,” are all well and good, but does it have to be so loud?

In less festive terms, pipe down, joyous tykes — I’m on the other side of the curtain from where you are, I’m wearing a media credential for a short spell and I’m really trying to hear what Sandy’s saying.

That makes me different from many Mets fans who are probably not trying to hear what the GM is telling them about having pretty much wrapped up his wintertime shopping. He was letting it be known that no other shortstops — American, Korean [2], Coloradoan [3] — remain on the Metropolitan must-have list, that the job belongs to Wilmer Flores [4] unless some Grinch steals it away from him. And based on current inventory, the Grinch would named Ruben Tejada [5].

Word of this unsurprising pronouncement zipped around the world so quickly that even the seasoned beat reporters covering every cadence of Sandy’s chat had moved on. Their interview subject was talking low-budget lefties [6] for the to-be-determined portion of the bullpen and they were scrolling through their phones. Maybe another general manager somewhere else was telling another cluster of microphones and cameras something more earth-shattering. GMs from San Diego, Tampa Bay and Washington were likely communicating among each other at that hour, though they’d wait a little while to let the rest of us in on their doings [7].

After a fashion, the kids out in the Acela Club quit caroling, the media huddle dispersed and I found myself standing next to Alderson just long enough to ask a big-picture question that maybe he hadn’t been asked lately. (Some years the blogging corps gets its own audience, some years you grab what you can get.) What, I wondered aloud, has changed about your job in the four years since you took office?

The “approach” is different, he told me. With the Mets “close” to contending, putting the finishing touches on the big league club is more of a priority than securing prospects and building the minor league system, which is where his efforts were concentrated during the first few seasons. “Not to say it wasn’t before,” he added, but nowadays there’s “more of a short-term perspective” at play. I followed up with a question regarding what, if any, has changed about his own assumptions or perceptions since becoming GM. He thinks the front office, as a group, “works better together now” than it did when he returned to day-to-day baseball operations.

One of my fellow bloggers asked if anything in particular impressed him about the goings-on at the Winter Meetings. Alderson was surprised at how active the White Sox had been and was taken by the number of deals the Dodgers made. I also wrote down that he said “pitching dominates in a short series,” which could be interpreted as an acknowledgement of Madison Bumgarner [8]’s postseason or an implication that the Mets are well-equipped to handle a month of high-pressure short series, assuming they get there…which he and everybody else with the Mets seem to believe they might. The operative word I’ve heard over and over since September is “close”.

Except the season isn’t close, so after Alderson excused himself and while the kids giddily accepted gifts from Jenrry Mejia [9] as Santa Claus and Jeurys Familia [10] as Buddy the Elf, I occupied myself by staring out an Acela window and taking in the sight of the newly moved-in fence in right-center. That, like the Mets’ image of themselves, is close. If Curtis Granderson [11] can’t hit 30 homers over that, something’s terribly wrong with geometry. Talk about a gift. Make sure visiting National sluggers know it’s not for them.

I hope the children all became Mets fans because of Mejia and Familia and the toys and games and lunch and singing and, of course, Mr. Met. I hope the children were already Mets fans when they arrived at Citi Field and weren’t faking it when they obliged the MC who drove them into a “LET’S GO METS!” chanting frenzy, but I saw only one kid who thought to wear a Mets cap to the party. It had the 50th anniversary logo patch on the back, implying that kid’s been a fan for at least three seasons of his young life. I hope he got the biggest kick of all out of anybody there, though I also hope he shared my skepticism about what passes, out of season, for the most wonderful time of the year.

Me and that kid, we know better.

My esteem for Familia, reasonably high based on his 2014 output, shot up exponentially because of the holiday gala. Or elfponentially. Usually “Santa’s helpers” at these things are players who wear their jerseys and a Santa hat. That’s how Carlos Beltran [12] did it. Can you imagine Beltran going the Full Elf? Who would imagine such things anyway? But Jeurys did it.

Jenrry as Santa, on the other hand, was a little disconcerting. Not from the suit (splendid) or the demeanor (appropriate), but from the bulk he had to temporarily add to pull the whole look off. One Bartolo Colon [13] on staff is enough. If you didn’t know it was an overstuffed ensemble, you’d be making Mejia an appointment with that new strength and conditioning coach the Mets hired. Especially for the conditioning part.

When the setup man and the closer who combined to give away fewer leads than the number (tons) to which we were accustomed presented the last of their presents, they came back behind the curtain to take questions, still dressed as Santa Claus and Buddy the Elf. I’m sorry they didn’t stay in character.

“How’s your slider coming along?”
“Why, you mean my sleigh, right little boy? Ho ho ho, here’s a Wiffle Ball!”

Nah, they didn’t do that. It was another crush of cameras and mics and mundane inquiries about how well they were recovering from their hernia surgeries, except they were being asked of men dressed in crushed red velvet and key lime green. I found myself on the fringe of this crowd, too, but I did clearly hear Jenrry say something about his two-seamer and his four-seamer. That’s better music for the Mets fan’s ear in December than anything Andy Williams ever recorded. I also caught an all-purpose “whatever job they give me, I have to be prepared” out of Santa. I guess “if Parnell tries to take my role away, he’s the one getting his skinny ass shoved down a chimney” wouldn’t have been in keeping with the spirit of the season [14].

It's as good to give as it is to relieve, but either way, Mejia and Familia could use some hydration. [15]

It’s as good to give as it is to relieve, but either way, Mejia and Familia could use some hydration.

Harvey would have said something of that nature, but he wasn’t at the party. I assume he was down in the bowels of the stadium striking out three Bryce Harper [16] mannequins.

Eventually, the English-language press gave way to the Spanish-language press. Mejia speaks faster in Spanish (who doesn’t?). The recorded Christmas music ceased. The students of the PSes were on their buses, headed back to class, all of them having had the best morning of the current semester. The beat writers, many of them appearing not much older than the students favored with goodies by Mejia and Familia, were on their laptops, transmitting the depth and breadth of what had happened here today, which, honestly, wasn’t much, but it was the semblance of baseball in winter, and who wouldn’t want to fill a stocking with that?

Given the roles the pitchers in costume played when there was a game every day or night, it didn’t seem right that we weren’t up to the eighth or ninth inning of the offseason already. We’ve not even arrived at the Baseball Equinox [17] yet. But it’s coming. I know it is. Just not soon enough.

When I exited through the Stengel entrance, the security guard on duty gave me a broad smile and a cheery holiday greeting. I returned the same, with an addendum that the next time we’d see each other, it would be April. Our smiles broadened even more.

Yes. April. The most wonderful time of the year.