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

Fulfillingness’ First Finale

The Mets won their Home Opener on Friday in what we might refer to as Methodical fashion, steadily dismantling an opponent seemingly incapable of keeping up with them across a given nine-inning period. They hit when they had to, they fielded as needed, they pitched above industry standards and they played Philadelphia. Of such ingredients, victory stew is concocted.

On the list of obstacles starter and winner Jacob deGrom [1] needed to overcome, the Phillie offense placed fourth, behind 1) wanting to be on hand to accept the impending delivery of his first child, lest UPS leave it with a neighbor; 2) a lat muscle that tightened up [2] after six innings of five-hit, no-walk, six-strikeout ball, but was described as not serious because slight Met aches are never anything to worry about, no siree, Bob; and 3) arctic conditions that made the 48 on Jake’s jersey an aspirational figure, once you factored in the wind chill. The Phillies, by comparison, were something you could confidently leave in the baby’s crib and not worry that any harm would come. They are, at this stage of their development, child’s play.

It took a little while for the Mets to warm to their task, which is understandable considering how freaking cold it was at Citi Field. One skinny run remained unaccompanied from the second through the fifth, the Mets leaving five on in the first four innings. The Phillies tied things up in the top of the sixth, with deGrom growing a little uncomfortable and the rest of us perhaps a tad uneasy.

Ultimately, though, the Mets asserted their essential Metness, chasing Jerad Eickhoff [3] in the bottom of the sixth, when Lucas Duda [4] doubled, Neil Walker [5] singled him home and Michael Conforto [6] doubled in Walker. A parade of Phillie relievers thus commenced and may still be in progress; I’m surprised one of them wasn’t run over during the debut of the lame car race that wishes it was Milwaukee’s sausage race. One by one they marched in from beyond the outfield wall, some now and then recording outs, others issuing walks and permitting singles. By the end of the seventh, the Mets had accumulated as many runs as there had been innings. The eventual 7-2 final accurately reflected the current capability gap between combatants. The Mets are good enough to win when they don’t look particularly great. The Phillies have at least one player easily flummoxed by the infield fly rule [7].

Winning solidly if not resoundingly [8] ensured a successful mission for the 44,099 of us who swaddled ourselves in enough blankets to make Baby deGrom jealous. But Friday was gonna be a special Met day regardless of result. That was guaranteed last October 21 [9], once we knew we’d have no worse than a National League championship to commemorate come April 8.

You don’t get to enshrine a champion of that level or higher every day. The Mets have done it only five times. As long as we could see them do that, the Home Opener was going to be an affair to remember.

The pennant did rise, just like the playoff merchandise promised it would. It rose up a flag pole planted on the branded soft drink pavilion (why get attached to transitory sponsorships?). Three men who know from earning league championship flags — Rusty Staub [10], Class of 1973 and 2000 alumni John Franco [11] and Edgardo Alfonzo [12] — were tasked with raising duty. It wasn’t a Herculean chore. The Mets have what I assume are the shortest flag poles in the majors. Instead of one that towers majestically over center field, they have a few tucked out of the way where it wouldn’t occur to you to look for them.

On the pole next to where Old Glory flies, the cloth representing recent accomplishment waved prominently in Friday’s omnipresent wind. The ’73 and ’00 flags were given the day off, as were those commemorating ’69 and ’86. The framework for Citi Field’s eighth Opening Day was carved by the 2015 National League Champions. They deserved a singular spotlight.

The pennant’s literal rise followed the introduction of the 2016 Mets, who aren’t exactly the 2015 Mets, which will happen when offseasons interrupt continuity. You watched the festivities and thought about all the fingerprints on the achievement we were basking in, yet Howie Rose did not call names like Murphy or Tejada. It didn’t exactly detract from the ritual, but you missed them in the moment. Still, this is the business we’ve chosen. No doubt the rings are in the mail.

Every Met who is a Met in the present was introduced with an Opening Day flourish and cheered heartily, whether it was someone who’d devoted to the cause we hold dear a dozen years or a dozen weeks. Mets who’d been Mets since not much before Sunday were greeted as blood relations. We are modern fans. We understand how to blend our family.

These types of ceremonies, even without a pennant adornment, are always a ritual to behold. I’ve been a sentimentalist since I was a kid, so I loved that Ray Ramirez finally drew more yays than nays, his Prevention & Recovery execution finally being good for what ailed us…deGrom’s lat pending. I appreciated that Dan Warthen [13] was treated as the superstar svengali he’s turned out to be. I got a kick out of the extra relish spread on Michael Conforto’s reception. Every year at this time, I’ve noticed we like to tell the young player who showed us a little something late in the preceding year that we noticed you, that we do pay attention, and now we anticipate big things from you (implication: don’t let us down, kid).

Amid the stream of please welcome and direct your attention instructions came an interlude I was not expecting at the instant Alex Anthony announced it: a moment of silence dedicated to Shannon Forde [14], the senior media relations director and first-class human being who died of cancer in March. Viewing her cherubic image on the video boards, accompanied by the unintentionally cruel words “IN LOVING MEMORY,” made for one of those Opening Day time jumps [15] that grabs you by the heart. The weather people said something in the morning about a chance of “pop-up showers”; I can report the brief presence of one behind my glasses.

I took in the ceremonial portion of the day on my own, staking out a spot in the left field corner to stand and clap and occasionally go “YEAH!” This was my sixteenth Home Opener and if I’ve learned anything, it’s that no matter how well I plan, I’m never fully stationed at my seat when the ceremonies begin. It is better, for my purposes, to stop wherever I am and watch from there. It works fine that way. As for why I can’t be in my seat, the first home game of the year demands a course of pregame scurrying. That, too, is intrinsic to the day’s rituals.

I want to see what’s new inside the stadium. I want to see what’s up with folks I’m meeting outside the stadium. I want to let those with whom I didn’t physically touch base know where to find me later. I want to linger at the tailgates of gracious fellow travelers. I want to grab my magnetic schedule (I have one for every year since 1997). I want to purchase my Official Yearbook, program and media guide. I want to run to the bathroom. And I want to absorb the whole scene. Opening Days demand much of the highly engaged fan — as they should, I suppose. Go big or stay home or something like that.

Once the podium was carted away and the players retreated to their opposing dugouts, the center of gravity for my first game of 2016 became Section 534 in Promenade, a region that provided a wonderfully Shealike perspective on the remaining proceedings. It is the rough equivalent of Section 32 in Mezzanine, if we allow for the conceit that nothing at Citi Field (besides Garrett Olson [16]’s lifetime Met ERA) measures as high as the Upper Deck at Shea Stadium; otherwise, pencil in Upper Deck 48, since-demolished site of the sainted Agee marker, for purposes of comparison. I sat in fair territory at Shea only when it was a huge crowd for a huge game. It seemed fair to sit well up in left for this year’s Opener. Mets and Phillies is no longer an automatically enormous matchup, but what could be huger than raising the first pennant in Citi Field history?

Elevating my spirits way higher than Row 6 of 534 was my companion for the bulk of the day, my sister Jodie, who is not technically my sister (different parents and all that), but might as well be. Our last Home Opener together was 2007 [17], also a satisfying beatdown of the Phillies, also conducted in a climate better suited to the Iditarod. Jodie lives far from Flushing now, but she recognizes a special occasion from a vast distance, and for that I’m grateful. While I was immersed in happily recapping 2015 [18] last November, Jodie told me a Facebook group to which we both belonged (I in a mostly nominal capacity) was getting a bloc of tickets together, preceded by epic parking lot doings, did I wanna go as her guest? I looked up from my typing long enough to say, uh, sure, not quite believing months in advance that anybody had a handle on whether we or the Mets would still be around in futuristic-sounding April of 2016.

Glad I went along in concept as well as reality. The group, cheekily self-identified as The Mets Give Me Agita, was conspicuous by its affable mellowness on Friday — convincing wins will temporarily quell the stubbornest of anxieties — and Jodie and I picked up more or less from where we left off, wondering why, for example, Hundley couldn’t stay behind the plate and Piazza couldn’t go out to left since Todd was obviously the better catcher. Clearly, Mets agitation does not come stamped with a sell-by date.

Likewise, Mets fulfillment shouldn’t be deemed a done deal just because the final pitch Antonio Bastardo [19] throws to Cameron Rupp [20] is grounded to Asdrubal Cabrera [21] and fired successfully to Lucas Duda. My Mets buzz stayed intact all the way to Woodside, where I was meeting Stephanie for dinner at a little Filipino restaurant where the chicken molo soup [22] warms whatever extremities a 7-2 triumph can’t. I arrived first, sat myself down, stared out the window and watched Mets fan after Mets fan wander by. They were presumably bound for Roosevelt Avenue establishments of their choosing, no agita evident in their gaits, either. Emotionally sated Mets fans are a boon to the local economy, to say nothing of the civic mood. A pennant had indeed risen, our mojo was risin’ and that molo they were making in Engeline’s [23] kitchen was going to hit the spot like our lineup had hit the Phillies’ bullpen.

The whole world is a better place when the Mets win their Home Opener. You already knew that, but it’s always nice to be reminded.