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Viva Leaving Las Vegas

Monday afternoon I was keeping an eye on the Astros and the Red Sox in the fourth game of their American League Division Series, rain spitting on Fenway, Houston trying to close it out, Boston trying to keep it going, both clubs straddling the line between urgent and panicked as they relied on their respective ace starters — Chris Sale and Justin Verlander — to serve as life-saving long relievers when the Turning Stone Resort Casino [1] Turning Point of the Game emerged clear and sunny:

The Mets were reported as moving their Triple-A farm club operations from Las Vegas to Syracuse the year after next.

Never mind ending or extending a postseason series. Our team just improved its organizational logistics. Who was the big Columbus Day winner now?

Well, Houston. They beat Boston, 5-4, in a riveting four hour, seven-minute, nine-inning affair slightly reminiscent of the Wednesday afternoon in October 1986 when the Astros were eliminated by the Mets, who went on to play the Red Sox. Except that game took seven innings longer, yet somehow lasted only an additional 35 minutes — and Hal Lanier resisted the temptation to insert Mike Scott around the fourteenth inning.

Houston’s a winner. L.A., in three over Arizona, is a winner. As of this writing, four other teams remain alive in pursuit of two next-round berths. October baseball in its various highly entertaining iterations has gone on without our participation, but at least we got this. We got Syracuse [2]. We don’t get to be in an LDS. We won’t get to be in an LCS. We didn’t even get to be bounced from a Wild Card game. The World Series as it applied to us sort of lately is fading as recent history. But hot damn, we no longer have to have to have our top minor league affiliate three time zones away.

It’s a victory that won’t show up in any box score. Maybe it will be reflected in some future set of standings. It definitely feels very good in the psyche. We can’t pop champagne from it, but maybe vigorously pour yourself a room-temperature Genesee Cream Ale and toast something no longer going wrong.

Let it be recorded that the 2015 Mets and 2016 Mets did go to the postseason while maintaining a geographically confounding relationship with the Las Vegas 51s. It never made sense on paper that the Mets linked with Las Vegas, and too many of its callups were literally up in the air, flying four-and-a-half-hour flights (or nearly as long as it took for the Astros to oust the Red Sox) to land at Citi Field on few winks of sleep, but it didn’t necessarily directly limit the Mets’ chances to compete.

But it surely didn’t help. We all understand it was never the ideal arrangement. The Mets were shown the door after five fruitless seasons in Buffalo and had to set up Triple-A shop somewhere in North America prior to 2013. Las Vegas qualified as somewhere. Somewhere far away. The heat. The elevation. The distance. Mostly the distance. The drawbacks were familiar and self-evident.

Las Vegas 51s became New York Mets anyway. We asked for Zack Wheeler and we got him. Then Travis d’Arnaud. Noah Syndergaard, too. Jacob deGrom came through Las Vegas without fanfare. Amed Rosario and Dom Smith were hyped and we remain hopeful. There were plenty of others in between. Michael Conforto rose directly from Binghamton, yet found himself deposited in the desert when he was mysteriously deemed not as ready as previously presumed. Matt Reynolds was a walking, talking, frequently flying human timeshare.

Every team has its shuttle. Ours happened to run longer and seem more absurd than any other’s. Generations of Mets fans, let alone streams of Mets prospects, never had to think about this. From 1969 to 2006, if you needed a body or wanted an upgrade, you’d look to Tidewater. Somewhere along the way you learned Tidewater was essentially the same thing as Norfolk. We were told it was in Virginia. How close was Virginia to New York? It never came up. If a Tide couldn’t become a Met by that night’s BP, it wasn’t the system’s fault. The Tidewater-turned-Norfolk shuttle worked without an obvious hitch. It even delivered us a native product, young David Wright, in its latter stages.

I’d heard deposed skipper Wally Backman explain a while back that the Las Vegas inconvenience factor was overblown, that when you consider all the direct flights out of McCarran, shipping a 51 to Queens was no more a chore than landing him from some closer-in Triple-A precinct that didn’t have nearly as much airline service going for it. Maybe that was so. I always wanted to believe Wally knew something the rest of us didn’t, though anything that’s not as bad as it sounds still tends to be somewhat bad, or at least not as good as it could be. (That might describe how the Mets viewed Wally as a potential manager.)

Is Syracuse as good as it could be? When some bench player or bullpen arm is snowbound upstate come April 2019, we’ll likely find fault with our new affiliation. We’re Mets fans. We find fault like other fans find their teams in the postseason. But keeping a cache of if-necessary fill-ins in-state, where the air travel can be measured in minutes and the clocks don’t require resetting, instead of peering westward and waiting?

Let’s call it a win until proven otherwise.