- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

One Skid Ends, Another Goes On

I was wrong to have expected the 11:02 from Jamaica to have left Jamaica at 11:02, so my last call of Thursday night was off (forty sweltering, cranky minutes of waiting later, I realized there’s a reason the LIRR never touts the train from the game). Otherwise, though, I had a pretty good run of getting things right.

Most pertinently, my announcement to my new buddy Skid — more on him in a bit — as the bottom of the ninth unfolded that Cuddyer was gonna win it for us came off as extraordinarily prescient. It was, technically, but not really. I went with Michael as our potential savior of the moment because we needed one run and he was going to be the fifth batter, and if I learned anything across consecutive nights at Citi Field, it’s that the Mets seem to require at least five plate appearances to generate a single meaningful tally.

(Whatever happened to those closer fences anyway?)

As for the part where I “knew” we’d win, well, I didn’t have more than a hunch, but I was trying to effect an optimistic pose. It’s easy for a Mets fan to go the other way. I am one of the legion of them who sees their recurring stays in first place, including this morning’s, as just visiting. Surely the pile of injuries, the lack of depth and the general Wilponness of the operation will catch up to them, even if the Nationals can never definitively pass them.

Yet here they are, with the best record among five teams in their division, which seems to translate to a positive trend, but these are the Mets and we are their fans. Something’s always a little lost in translation.

But the Mets were winners. Michael Cuddyer did indeed come up with the winning hit off Sergio Romo in the ninth inning’s fifth plate appearance for the relatively nominal home team. Romo had to all but tee it up for Cuddyer — he’d plunked Curtis Granderson with one pitch, confounded Andrew Susac with another — but from there, the cleanup hitter on the N.L. East’s first-place tenant finished the job. It made me a prophet not just regarding process but substance. I hadn’t said it aloud, but I did hear myself think not too many innings earlier, “A good team wins this game.”

The Mets proved themselves a good enough team Thursday. Good enough to not get buried under what appeared to be a Jon Niese avalanche of ill fortune. Good enough to not let a first-inning 2-0 deficit balloon. Good enough so that Niese could straighten out from behind, a posture you never see coming from the veteran lefty who apparently has the nerve to block Steven Matz’s gold-flecked path to guaranteed glory. Good enough to have wrung a run out of Tim Lincecum in the fourth and two more from the former phenom in the fifth. Good enough to not let a two-out Eric Campbell error and the distressingly predictable two-run Brandon Crawford homer that followed sink their starter in the sixth.

Niese has yet to step out of the way and make room for Matz. He’s put together two admirable starts in a row at a point where civilized society has flat given up on him. I’d given up on Niese once Crawford’s liner flew vigorously over the right-center field wall. I was stunned to see him take the mound in the seventh, the Mets trailing, 4-3, Jon’s resurrected mojo presumably having been crushed by Crawford. But son of a gun, Niese dispatched the Giants in order and set the stage for one-third of the Mets’ bench, Darrell Ceciliani, to lead off with a pinch-double and score when Granderson singled him in directly. Earlier, Curtis swung and missed a whole lot. I’d given up on him, too. But not the Mets. Not fully.

Sure they left Granderson on third in the seventh. And d’Arnaud on second in the eighth. And Cuddyer on second in the fifth. And the bases loaded in the fourth. But a good team wins a game like last night’s [1], and as long as they hadn’t yet lost it, you couldn’t say they weren’t good enough. Once Michael rowed Curtis’s boat ashore in the ninth, you could say they were.

The burden of proof remained on the first-place Mets all the way up to the unbitter end considering what this series had been like. No hits for Howie Rose to mention [2] on Tuesday. Not a scintilla of succor provided by Matt Harvey on Wednesday. San Francisco Giants everywhere you looked all week.

Too much Giants in the land of the Mets. Too much Giants for a Mets fan with a self-diagnosed Giants soul to bear after possible overexposure.

This was my week spent in the shadows of Giants.

Monday there was a meeting of the New York Giants Preservation Society, which is always a wonderful time at the ever welcoming Bergino Baseball Clubhouse [3] and certainly was again this time…except for being implicitly (and explicitly) reminded by my fellow preservationists that a pool of modern-day Giants fans as deep as McCovey Cove was going to be splashing down at Citi Field in the nights ahead. My New York Giants soul [4] ceases its empathy at the water’s edge of Flushing Bay when the San Francisco Giants are physically on the premises. I’ve come to respect and admire the present-day organization for reinforcing the sturdy historical continuum [5] that links the present-day franchise to the Gothamites who long ago inhabited the Polo Grounds, yet at heart, I continue to defer to the late, great Vic Ziegel’s 2002 take [6] on the dichotomy between loving what was and not necessarily being much moved by what is:

And now a team that calls itself Giants gets into the World Series, and the TV people show clips of Leo Durocher and Thomson jumping home and Willie’s catch — you know, the catch. They must think there’s a connection. They kept saying a win would be the first for the Giants since 1954. What are they talking about? People who know I was a Giants fan ask how I feel about the Giants coming so close to being world champions again. The truth? There is no again. I don’t feel a thing.

Tuesday there was Giants Town Hall in Manhattan, which had nothing to do with baseball, but the name of the New Jersey-based football team serving as host didn’t escape me, considering who the Mets were playing in Queens. It was an event for season ticket holders to which I was graciously invited by a good friend [7] who thought I’d get a much-needed kick out of it. And I did. Bob Papa emceed. David Diehl provided color. John Mara answered questions. So did Jerry Reese and Tom Coughlin. So, too, did Jon Beason and Victor Cruz and Eli Manning. “Wow,” I found myself grasping as I ogled the very familiar figure on the Beacon Theater stage, “that’s Eli Manning!” I was simultaneously starstruck and reassured. Such a down-to-earth young man (he still looks 14 to me), Eli seemed everything he appears to be in Dunkin’ Donuts commercials but more so. Eli is what I suspect David Wright would be if David Wright wasn’t weighed down by the unfathomable burden of being David Wright. Eli turned an innocent query about what it’s like to hold the Super Bowl trophy into a five-minute tour de force on the ins and outs and joys of winning it all. If only David were experientially qualified to answer a similar question. Hundreds of football fans cheered their quarterback and dreamed of another Super Bowl. I cheered my quarterback yet ached for my third baseman.

The principals were accommodating, the vibe was upbeat, the hats were complimentary…and the Mets were getting no-hit. By the other Giants. The Big Blue kind would go back into air conditioned storage for a few more months. The San Francisco variety was shutting us down and looming for two more days.

Which brings us to Wednesday and Skid.

Skid has a conventional first name, but he likes to go by Skid, which is perfect since his last name is Rowe and his music of choice is metal. His baseball team of choice is the Mets, which isn’t remarkable in and of itself until you know Mr. Rowe is a lifelong resident of Northern California, where the girls are reportedly [8] warm and there are two perfectly viable major league baseball teams for a person to grow up attached to.

But Skid didn’t choose the A’s and he abandoned any pretense of allegiance to the Giants as of May 11, 1972, which of course you and I recognize as the day Horace Stoneham did the right thing fifteen years after doing the wrong thing and returned Willie Mays to New York. With that trade of Mays to the Mets for Charlie Williams and cash, young David…I mean Skid Rowe pulled a reverse Stoneham. He moved his heart from San Francisco to New York.

He became a Mets fan. And he stayed a Mets fan. It’s a long, beautiful story and he tells it fine for himself right here [9].

But that’s hardly the end of the story. It’s all well and good to be a Mets fan while living one’s entire life somewhere else. Through this blog I’ve encountered several people who’d match that description. But Skid is the first Mets fan I’ve come to know who did the most one could possibly imagine about it.

He’s moved his entire person to New York for one season and one reason only: to go to every single Mets home game this year [10].

This was Skid’s life dream and he acted on it. He worked hard, he saved up, he retired from his job of 37 years as soon as he could, he kissed his extraordinarily understanding wife goodbye and he made a giant commitment to the Mets. He’s in the midst of fulfilling it right now.

Skid Rowe is the authentic [11] realization of the fan-in-residence program.

The Mets have thus far played 32 games at Citi Field. Skid has attended all 32. Plus the Opening Day watch party. Plus the 7 Line outing at Yankee Stadium (along with some other road games on tap). Plus fantasy camp in January, though the whole enterprise must feel like fantasy camp to a man who has fantasized about this season for ages. It also, he admits, feels a bit like a job. He used to have to be at work early every morning. Now he has to be at the ballpark early every night. He’s not complaining, mind you — I’m guessing he’s grown a full white beard to pull focus from the marks where he’s been pinching himself to make sure all of this is real — but who among us doesn’t consider being a Mets fan a full-time avocation?

But who among us does this? There are anecdotal analogues to Skid’s story out there. In 2013, Steve Rushin profiled Bob Gertenrich [12], a Chicago Blackhawks fan who’d been to every one of his team’s home games since 1966. In 2014, attention was paid [13] to Dennis Doyle, a Knicks fan who set his life aside so he could be in the arena everywhere his team was (and what a year [14] to do it!). But Gertenrich was already in Chicagoland and Doyle was already a New Yorker. Skid was one of us without ever having been among us for more than one game — the Shea night in 1999 Bobby Valentine went infamously incognito — and decided he wanted to live among us as one of us.

I’m biased, but I’d say that beats all.

Two years prior to Skid’s dream season, he reached out to me to tell me about his plans. I told him I looked forward to going to a game with him after he crossed the continent. It was fitting that we took in two against the team that occupies a corner of our respective baseball psyches. For me, the New York Giants are an ideal. For Skid, the San Francisco Giants are an omnipresence, especially since 2010. Every game has been a West Coast game for him. He’s spent the better part of a half-decade extending congratulations to colleagues and acquaintances. Tuesday night, with Chris Heston’s no-hitter put in the books, he had to dole out by text yet more dollops of graciousness.

It comes easy to him. Skid’s one of the most sweet-natured people I’ve ever had the pleasure of spending Citi Field time with. Perhaps not being a New Yorker has something to do with it, though with the Mets on the field and his heart on his sleeve, he blends in just fine, save for continuing to refer to the local roads as freeways. He couldn’t be more at home in our home ballpark. Skid has developed an army of supporters among the Citi Field staff. Security guards, parking lot attendants and beer vendors fist-bumped him repeatedly over the last two nights. He deserves it. They have to be there, he has to be there. They intrinsically understand each other.

Skid and I understand each other, too, which is why we hit it off while the Mets were remembering how to hit Giants pitching. We’ve had the same fan experiences thousands of miles apart. We’ve lived in the same psychic neighborhood for generations. The difference was he had to view it from the other side of the country, a biological Mets fan trapped inside a Giants fan’s geographical body.

Now he’s transitioned. Now he’s where he’s supposed to be. Now when he goes to the see the Mets — which was something he usually had to wait for them to come to San Francisco to do — he’s not outnumbered by Giants fans.

Almost outnumbered, but not fully.

Yes, the Giants fans were omnipresent at Citi Field this week. Yes, it is distasteful. No, they were nowhere to be seen prior to 2011, but that’s how it works sometimes. No, it does not do my New York Giants soul a bit of good to see so much black and orange in the stands. But no, it doesn’t really bother Skid that much. The Mets leaving runners on base bothers Skid. The wave bothers Skid. Nothing else seems to get to Skid. Skid’s living the dream, for goodness sake.

His dream of seeing the Mets beat the Giants where a (bare) majority of the crowd was rooting for the Mets was delayed Tuesday and Wednesday. Wednesday we had fun anyway. Skid has treated himself to some very nice seats for his stay and treated me to the ones next to him. We were within spitting distance of Fred Wilpon, but not nearly so crass as to test the theoretical trajectory. We also eyeballed John Franco and Rusty Staub, both of whom conceivably could have contributed as much against Tim Hudson and Buster Posey as any of their Metsian descendants. These were Delta Club seats, the kind where waitstaff can’t wait to take your food and drink order. We ate and drank before the game started, so we weren’t customers. The folks in front of us kept ordering Tito’s and Sodas — doubles. Harvey served up two doubles and three homers. We all should have been ordering and quickly downing triples.

Wednesday I had to say those dreaded words at the end of the game: “Despite the loss, this was a lot of fun.” But the loss couldn’t help but detract from the fun. Also detractful was the dopey Giants fan (far too young to have a clue as to what the Polo Grounds were) not stepping six inches in to give me an iota of space on the postgame 7 Super Express. He seemed to resent my nudging him from the doorway. I seemed to resent his entire existence. Jerks like him should stick to the freeway.

Thursday, we’ve established, needed no qualifier. It was fun before, during and after, at least until the forty-minute delay at Jamaica. It was fun strolling around the park during BP. While Skid stopped by the Shea Bridge to chat with one of the many Citi Field employees who’ve become hip to his journey, I noticed Heston standing alone waiting for a ball to come to him. On Tuesday night you’re the toast of the sport. By Thursday evening, you’re a rookie shagging flies.

It was fun staking out a table in center field and making quick work of chicken tacos from El Verano Taqueria while reliving every Met thing that went wrong between the coming of Roberto Alomar and whatever was presumably going wrong for the Mets while we were enjoying dinner. True Mets fans chew over our stomach-churning episodes with inordinate relish. And salsa.

It was fun being back in the Delta Club seats, lodged between a three-generation fan family (proud owners of a Mets Monopoly board, I learned) and an office outing headed up by an inoffensive know-it-all who kept quizzing his buddies on who wore what uniform number. It was lightweight stuff, and I wasn’t going to get involved (and boy can I get involved [15]), until the know-it-all said Rube Walker wore No. 55 and I could not let it stand.

“Rube Walker was 54,” I answered without being asked.

“You’re pretty sure about that,” the know-it-all egged.

“I am.”

He looked it up. It was 54. And, to answer the rest of his stream of queries, Eddie Yost was 53; Duffy Dyer was 10; Ron Taylor was 42; Craig Swan was 27; Joan Payson’s middle name was Whitney; and this train doesn’t stop at Ronkonkoma, though that was something I was asked at Woodside the night before — I get a lot of those questions, too.

Told ya I had a pretty good run of getting things right.

It was fun trying to make out what Jeff Wilpon was watching from his private suite with the public view. He had a big-ass monitor tuned to something that didn’t look like the SNY feed. I’m gonna say it was Nicktoons.

It was fun noticing Granderson taking time out from his on-deck duties to playfully slip into two girls’ selfie snapped from the front row. After watching him strike out twice, I would have deleted it myselfie.

It was fun when repeated attempts to start the wave stalled.

It was fun when we invented a new nickname for Campbell. Since Skid and I agreed he’s a placeholder, we decided he should be known as Bookmark. Of course the know-it-all asked if I knew Eric’s actual nickname.

“Soup,” I said. “And what’s the nickname of every Campbell who’s ever played professional baseball?”

“Soup,” he said.

Correct. I’m glad he could get one right.

Mostly, two nights with Skid was a blast. I was touched that of all the bloggers of all the teams in all the big leagues he sought me out far in advance of fulfilling his dream to let me in on it and then he let me be in on what turned out to be a milestone marker in the middle of it. At last, Skid Rowe got to see his true home team prevail over that other team that plays its home games near where he will eventually go back to living.

Skid usually watches the Mets on Pacific Daylight Time. He can be forgiven if he’s still sort of getting used to being on Eastern Daylight Time. Last night, though, with the Mets winning in a walkoff against the Giants, it was surely about fucking time.

Forgive the profanity if you hail from outside the Metropolitan Area. It’s how we New Yorkers tend to express ourselves if we’ve been kept waiting too long for our connection on the Long Island Rail Road.

If you’re at Citi Field and see a man with a white beard in a jersey bearing No. 24 — Willie Mays, in case the guy from the Delta Club seats isn’t certain — be sure to say hi. It’s probably Skid and he’d definitely be glad to meet you. For now, get to know him better at his own blog, Skid’s 2015 Dream Season [16].