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When the Night Goes

It’s the ninth inning of the Mets’ eighty-first and final home game at Citi Field, the last chance I will have to watch up close a team I’ve seen too much of for six months. I am here out of a sense of obligation, though not a real obligation, rather a longstanding rule I have about going to the eighty-first and final home game at Citi Field every year, and the eighty-first and final home game at Shea Stadium every year before that. Honestly, I’d have been no happier nor any sadder had I not committed myself to being at Citi Field for the Mets’ eighty-first and final home game this year. This year didn’t incubate much happiness, but this visit isn’t about happiness or sadness. It’s about being there every year on this occasion for now twenty-three years in a row.

They stuck Game 81 on a Wednesday night. Since 1995, when I unwittingly commenced my fetish/streak, the Mets had played only one of their Closing Day games on a Wednesday night. That one was in 1998, a game versus the Expos that needed to be won in pursuit of a playoff spot. It wasn’t won. The Mets packed up, flew to Atlanta and didn’t win the playoff spot, either. Beyond the frustration associated with that week’s losing, I retain a memory of the Mets doing as little as possible to acknowledge that that game was the last game on that year’s home schedule. Maybe it was because there was every hope there’d be postseason baseball at Shea and that we’d every have reason to meet at Gate E or wherever we gathered and enter the ballpark again.

Nineteen years later, postseason baseball wasn’t part of the equation. The Mets were mathematically eliminated a couple of weeks ago and had been removed from contention a dozen aching bodies before. Hence, there was no disputing the finality of Closing Night 2017 (three upcoming games in Philadelphia this weekend notwithstanding).

Yet you wouldn’t have known there was no tomorrow on Wednesday night. In a marketing scheme conjured to lure you to Free Shirt Friday, Super Saturday and Family Sunday, the Mets might identify these midweek night dates as Nothing Special. They sure treated this one that way. Perhaps they got all the pretense out of their system during the last segment of Fan Appreciation Weekend [1] when they handed out scratch-off cards and magnets.

Most of the year, I like the Nothing Special aspect of a midweek night game. I prefer a midweek night game to all the other variations. All things being equal, I’ll take a midweek night game over a weekend day game, a midweek afternoon game, certainly Sunday Night Baseball. No frills, just baseball and some waiting for trains to and fro. Baseball is frilly enough for the likes of your typical Wednesday night crowd. Nevertheless, you’d think somebody who signs off on these things would acknowledge it’s not a typical Wednesday night when your next home game is six months away (on March 29, a Thursday afternoon).

One could posit that this wasn’t a typical Wednesday night because the Mets were winning by six runs as it was concluding and the Mets spent relatively little of 2017 prevailing. Also atypical was the pitching of Robert Gsellman, who seemed uncommonly sharp for six innings. I say “seemed,” because, honestly, I wasn’t paying that much attention. I was more consumed by my shock that for Wednesday night’s Nothing Special special, it wasn’t just me and 5,000 other pilgrims/diehards/weirdoes who found a reason to partake in another helping of Mets baseball. It was a decent-sized crowd, comprised to a discernible percentage by apparently normal people. We weren’t the 28,617 strong officially reported, natch, but we were not laughably far from it.

It put me a wee bit off kilter to have more company than I anticipated. I kind of wanted to be alone. I traveled alone, I entered alone and I sat alone. But not that alone. Some dude in a sitters’ market kind of row insisted I was in his seat. Maybe I was. Odd that another of the eighteen or so seats that were unoccupied didn’t suit his rear, but you can’t argue with what you can’t argue with. I found another seat.

The Mets fell behind early, tied it shortly thereafter, grabbed a lead and then expanded on it en route to winning [2]. Travis d’Arnaud, Dominic Smith and Jose Reyes were the offensive standouts. Smith drew focus with a three-run pinch-homer. Reyes galvanized attention by being Reyes, running the bases and running out his contract. Clearly, Jose wants to stay. Clearly, the most vocal people, pilgrims, diehards and weirdoes in attendance wanted him to stay, certainly those who hadn’t forgotten how to sing his name. I certainly haven’t forgotten. I Jose-Jose’d like it was 2006. It’s not 2006, but I like a living, breathing, running reminder that it once was. I also Terry-Collinsed a bit, though that didn’t make for quite as overwhelming a chorus. Whoever decides on how big a deal to make of things decided Terry Collins’s probable last home game as Mets manager, after seven years and two playoff berths, was no big deal at all.

So as I was saying, it’s the ninth. I’m not as alone as I was when the game began, having hooked up with my fellow Closing Night aficionado Kevin. We had each purchased heavily discounted excellent single tickets and neither of us was quite deriving our usual respective lone wolf enjoyment from the experience. It began to feel like a baseball game once we settled in. The last baseball game of the year. The closure we seek annually had been creeping in on little cat feet for hours. At last it is pounding on the door marked EXIT like an antsy gorilla.

Two out. Micah Johnson up as a pinch-hitter. He swings at Paul Sewald’s first pitch. It dribbles partway up the third base line. Sewald could grab it and possibly throw Johnson out at first to end the game and the home season. Or he could let it roll foul, because Johnson is fast and he might not get him. Or the ball could stop of its own volition and make Sewald’s decision moot.

The ball rolls foul. I am delighted. It means the home season will continue for at least another pitch.

I haven’t loved this season, home or away. I haven’t gone too far out of my way to haunt Citi Field relative to previous seasons (17 games in ’17, my lowest total since there’s been Citi Field). I am on hand to confirm there will be nothing more to see here after tonight. Yet when that ball is rolling and what is left of the home season hangs in the balance, I am not quite ready to pick it up and force it out. Let it roll a little longer, I think. I didn’t come tonight to say goodbye. I came to stick around as long as I could.