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Getting a Grip

Timing really is everything.

My kid and I got on a plane to Iceland a few minutes after the end of the Mets’ victory over the Cubs and returned a few hours before the first of their check-for-pulse efforts against the Dodgers. While overseas and four hours down the clock, I checked in on our stalwarts as arrival times and hotel Wi-Fi allowed.

I’ve done this on previous trips and there’s something equally wonderful and weird about sitting in the equivalent of late-afternoon daylight despite the clock showing it’s after midnight and watching baseball being played at night on another continent. You look from Gary Cohen’s face to Icelandic hillsides dotted with intrepid/foolish sheep and feel amazed to be part of the age of miracles and wonder.

But this time both miracles and wonder were in short supply, and my timing was terrible: I brought SNY up for one of the games against Washington and had just registered that it was 3-0 Washington when Wilmer Flores [1] made an error, skulking back to his post as the score became 4-0. Like a rat who’d pushed a button and been shocked (not for the first or even the 101st time), I came to the conclusion that I’d seen all I needed to see of that particular game. And say what you will about the evils of jetlag, but it did replace six hours I would have spent suffering through miserable baseball in L.A. with relatively blissful shuteye.

Last night I arrived a bit late to my post because of an extended dinner, and braced for impact as I turned on the TV. For me, assessing what’s happening in a game I’ve joined in progress is often a slapstick affair. First my senses frantically collect information ranging from the score (generally obscured by some TV/cable status readout) and the inning to the tone of the announcers’ voices. Then my brain collates this data, often not particularly efficiently, until I’m fully caught up and manage to render a verdict of HA! or huh or [weary expletive].

This one started as a huh: I grasped that the Mets and Giants were tied 1-1 in the second, with Lucas Duda [2] on second base. But then Lucas was steaming home on a ball slapped past eternal enemy Conor Gillaspie [3] at third, a ball I realized had been hit by Seth Lugo [4]. That was prelude to the Mets battering poor Ty Blach [5] as Bruce Bochy [6] watched stoically: Yoenis Cespedes [7] annihilated a high fastball for a two-run homer and Wilmer Flores, Michael Conforto [8] and Travis d’Arnaud [9] all doubled, turning the huh into a definite and definitely much-needed HA [10]!

(The craziest-ever moment of assessment: in late 2007 my plane touched down at JFK and I turned on my sports Walkman to find myself in the middle of the Jose Reyes [11]Miguel Olivo [12] brawl. It was a long, busy time before Howie Rose was able to address that the Mets were up 9-0 and John Maine [13] hadn’t allowed a hit. That was a lot to take in.)

Friday night’s game also featured the return of Asdrubal Cabrera [14], who collected three hits but had made headlines before stepping onto the field. Cabrera, displeased at being told he’s now playing second, asked for a trade [15]. Cabrera’s pique mostly has to do with being surprised — he spent his minor-league rehab playing shortstop. Which is definitely a reason to be annoyed, and yet another example of the Mets fumbling basic communications with their players.

Left out of the conversation was the real reason Cabrera and every Mets fan should be annoyed: he’s being asked to move so the withered corpse of Jose Reyes can keep contributing four automatic outs per game. Jose was the only member of Friday’s starting nine to go hitless; he’s now hitting .191 with a no-that’s-not-a-typo .267 OBP. The only debate in Mets circles should be whether Jose is even worthy of a spot on the bench. (Spoiler: he’s not.) Pretending he’s an everyday player is negligence fueled by truly determined obtuseness, and that delusion will have consequences beyond a one-day media dustup.

* * *

I got my set of Topps Series 2 cards in the mail last week and found that the eBay seller had filled out the box with junk commons: a random assemblage of hockey cards, a bunch of Fleers and some hastily grabbed ’89 Topps cards.

The latter were frankly more interesting than the graphically busy, statistically light 2017 Topps cards, so I separated them out and let myself stroll down memory lane with the likes of Jeff Blauser [16], Jim Clancy [17] and Mike LaValliere.

And then I got to the card that made me go oof.

Gregg Jefferies [18]‘ first full season was so hotly anticipated that Topps made his Future Stars card part of the box art. He was on the cover of every season-preview magazine and all but inducted into Cooperstown before Dwight Gooden [19] and Joe Magrane [20] squared off at Shea for Opening Day. Jefferies went 2-for-3 that day but also made an error; 1989 would see too much of the latter and not enough of the former, as well as friction with teammates and fans. Eventually the Mets decided a professional divorce was best for all involved; Jefferies went on to become a Royal, Cardinal, Phillie, Angel and Tiger, forging a career that was pretty good by most standards except the impossible ones that had preceded him. He was out of the game before his 33rd birthday.

“Life comes at you fast” is an old adage that’s been revived as a Twitter taunt. It’s true, of course — changes of fortune arrive in an eyeblink, rearranging everything. But it keeps being true even as the moment passes, with today’s controversy becoming ancient history before you quite realize what’s happened. So it was with Jefferies, who went from the front of the box to filler inside it in a couple of baseball generations.

I never used that ’89 Jefferies card in The Holy Books. The original reason was probably that it still stung too much. I’d been a huge Jefferies fan during his rocket ascent in late 1988, blew the budget on him in next year’s college fantasy league, and waited for a triumph that wasn’t to be. But that’s become a long time ago. Seeing a Jefferies rookie come back to me, I decided to keep it and slotted him in, between The Other Bob Gibson [21] and Mark Carreon [22].

And you know what? He looks good there, waiting beneath his own personal marquee for a future he can’t know will never arrive.