Spring Training games so brim with pointlessness that my subconscious had to invent a meaningful game to fill the pre-March 29 void. Actually, I don’t know what meaning there was in this baseball game of which I dreamt earlier this week, but it did happen. In my dreams, I mean.
I dreamt R.A. Dickey was a Met again. This was surprising news to me in the dream. Throughout the dream, including the parts where I half woke up and 90% understood everything I was deconstructing was, in fact, a dream, I kept wondering who had suffered an injury to necessitate the signing of Dickey. You dream about Mets pitchers, of course there’s going to be an injury. My guess was Harvey; I never got further in my calculating how the rotation now shook out than there was deGrom and Harvey and something must have gone wrong. Maybe I heard Gary Cohen say R.A. Dickey was signed to replace Matt Harvey over the loudspeakers in the dream (I definitely heard Gary doing play-by-play). Maybe I had just deduced the transaction’s genesis on my own.
The game Dickey was pitching in my dream was a home game, but it wasn’t at Citi Field. It took place in my hometown of Long Beach, not at a ballpark, but across the length of a somewhat recognizable boulevard. Though it wasn’t the exact boulevard that I remember housing an Orthodox shul, I seemed to be watching the game, such as it was, from around the corner of that shul. I was watching from above, like on a porch, somewhere between home and third. There were fans, but no stands per se. The closest thing I could compare it to is how everybody gathered off to the side of the train tracks in The Natural to watch young Roy Hobbs strike out the Whammer, though less bucolic.
But this was an actual game. Mets vs. Braves, second game of the regular season, presumably this season. It was being broadcast over SNY (thus Cohen’s voice). Home plate was more or less on the east side of the boulevard, second base on the west side. There were houses behind second base, or maybe that was the outfield. I think the width from third to first stretched more than the regulation 180 feet. There was no grass. They played on asphalt.
The backstop was the wall from that shul I noted. Either Travis d’Arnaud was catching, or the strike zone was painted onto the wall à la the brand of stickball we played when I was a kid. One of the strikes Dickey threw, more an eephus pitch than a knuckleball (but it was identified as a knuckler by Cohen and perhaps Ron Darling), clocked in at 18 miles per hour. Whoever was at bat for the Braves swung through it. Many oohs and aahs ensued. There might have been another pitch similar to it. I seem to recall assuming it would be another strike and that Dickey would be unhittable, but I also remember being worried that R.A.’s 18 MPH stuff was suddenly hittable and was mad at myself for making assumptions.
I should also mention that R.A. wasn’t dressed in a Mets uniform, but in a black suit, white shirt and bolo tie reminiscent of a 19th century Old West preacher. Or what I imagine a 19th century preacher man wore. He also wore a flattish, wide-brimmed black hat that fit with that motif. Maybe Amish would be a more precise reference point. Given that he was not wearing any clothes that suggested baseball, I was thinking that perhaps R.A. was the star attraction of a barnstorming exhibition. Come to think of it, other than d’Arnaud, I don’t remember any other specific Mets around. In distinguishable teammates were there somewhere, I’m pretty sure. Maybe Wright was stationed at third. Let’s say he was.
It was nice to have R.A. back on the Mets for however long this dream went on, despite the unusual atmospherics I encountered (as well as my concern over who was injured). I am at a loss to trace this dream to an incident or thought I had prior to the chunk of sleep I undertook. As Spring Training was starting, I quietly hoped the Mets might invite R.A. to camp, seeing as how he was unsigned and they could have used a veteran, but then they inked Jason Vargas and I forgot about it. I did recently catch the final moments of the Mets Classic in which R.A. becomes a 20-game winner, and I was overcome by the notion that we will never fully let go of pitcher wins as a statistic because the emotion attached to a numerical achievement like that resonates so resoundingly. We stayed at Citi Field that afternoon  following the last out to continue applauding R.A. and to chant his and Cy Young’s name. It was huge that somebody like R.A. Dickey won a 20th game. We’ll never stand and cheer for minutes on end in acknowledgement of a pitcher passing 8.0 in WAR or whatever would be considered a phenomenal ERA+.
But I doubt that weighed terribly deep in my subconscious directly in advance of my dream. And I don’t think I’m walking around Field of Dreams-style stressed deep down about easing Dickey’s pain. No, he never did sign with anybody this spring and, from what I can tell, he’s done pitching. I can’t speak for R.A., but I experienced my closure on his behalf  last September when he left the mound at Citi Field and tipped his cap to Mets fans despite wearing a Braves uniform. That was his last time pitching, which seemed like the way to go out. He wore the uniform of the team he liked when he was a kid, and he was in the ballpark where he experienced his professional rebirth.
So why did I dream of 19th Century Old West Preacher Man R.A. Dickey throwing an 18 MPH eephus pitch against the wall of an Orthodox shul a handful of blocks from where I grew up?
Damned if I know.
The dream we all dreamt, wherein Syndergaard would give way to deGrom, then Matz, then Harvey, then Wheeler, then we’d look back on five games started by the five locally sourced prospects whose futures we nourished in the minors for years…well, that one’s as likely to take place as the game I saw in my subconscious. While his presumed rotationmates spent the past several weeks honing themselves for the National League season ahead, Zack Wheeler won himself a trip to Las Vegas , which sounds like a grand prize unless your goal was to be a New York Met on or slightly after Opening Day.
Zack’s spring was not the stuff Mets fans dreams were made of. It’s way too early in the year and the Mickey Callaway regime to jury-rig the rotation to give us our Big Five medal just for the sake of saying it has happened. It won’t, not in the immediate future. Seth Lugo is the provisional fifth starter, and Jason Vargas, despite his being a Mets pitcher with an injury, likely won’t be out forever.
(Always use phrases implying “barring injury” when referring to Mets pitchers doing anything from tying their shoes to throwing their sliders.)
I’m not overly distraught that we won’t get the alleged five aces going in succession. I mean, yeah, sure, it would have been swell, but I never heavily anticipated a shall we say dream scenario involving both Matz and Wheeler until somebody took their picture in the company of the other three a couple of springs ago. If you rewind our idealization a half-decade or more, you’ll remember Harvey and Wheeler loomed as our Big Two in waiting, the promising righties we couldn’t wait to get a glimpse of from St. Lucie. Syndergaard, not long after we learned to spell his name post-Dickey trade, dripped with that kind of cachet as well. DeGrom lurked a littler further down in the scheme of things — below the Montero Line — but he bubbled up fast enough.
Matz, despite he and I both being Long Islanders, didn’t exist on my radar until 2015. Like deGrom, he was a young Tommy John patient. Unlike deGrom, I managed not to have heard of him when he was in the mid-minors, not even a little bit. He healed and progressed without my observing it, and good for him for overcoming the obstacle that was my obliviousness. The big deal in ’15 was bringing up Thor in May. It took a while for our impatience to crest to Matzian proportions. Then Steven, who was gaining everybody’s attention in Las Vegas, made his pitching/hitting splash  in late June and we retrofitted him into our previous long-term plans.
Which was where Wheeler planted himself from the time we traded for him in 2011. As we’ve noted on previous occasions, it was a genuine milestone in the life of the franchise when Zack was called up in 2013. It was a stat-letter day when he got his first win. We proudly marked every inch of his growth on the wall of the family room the way we also do for prospects whose progress we follow anxiously and lovingly. Wheeler didn’t develop as spectacularly as Harvey, but he was coming along just dandy .
Then Zack Wheeler met Tommy John, and things haven’t been the same since. His biggest moment as a Met, once he was scratched from a Spring Training start three Marches ago, came when he asked Sandy Alderson, fresh from not trading Wilmer Flores, to not trade him, either. It was touching, if a footnote to all the tears of joy we were on the verge of shedding in 2015. The Big Four of Harvey, deGrom, Syndergaard and Matz carried the ball that October. Not pictured: Zack Wheeler.
When we started seeing the Mets pitching depth illustrated by photograph the next spring, we counted six arms. Colon was still around (and growing dangerous with the bat), so you couldn’t leave him out. And Wheeler was, I inferred, grandfathered in to the big picture. The first Met to be born in the 1990s , the second projected Met ace to debut in the 2010s, deserved more than afterthought status, but he also had to get better and pitch well. He wasn’t able to do either for two full seasons. In the interim, the organization mutedly unveiled the unheralded Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman, each of whom, unlike Wheeler, contributed substantively to a successful Mets playoff drive. It took until 2017 to get the faded phenom back on a mound for real — and not much more than a half-season to sideline him again.
Zack is a very likable character  and is forever embedded within a tantalizing storyline, thus I shall continue to root for him to fulfill his (and our) destiny. I really thought he was on his way to legitimately big things circa 2014. I also thought he had scaled his most daunting hump just by returning to the bigs last year. Maybe he’ll find his way back once more in 2018, but it won’t be via direct route. Throwing fewer pitches per batter would be a great first step. I guess going to Vegas — known for many pleasures, throwing a baseball not among them — is intended to point him in that direction.
The one thing every conceivable 2018 Mets starting pitcher has in common (including Dickey, who, after all, I conceived pitching for the current Mets in my dreams) is not having been launched into his first start as a Met from an Opening Day roster. Vargas started his lone prior Met season, 2007, as a New Orleans Zephyr. Harvey, like his rookie-season teammate Dickey did two years earlier, began his break-in season, 2012, as a Buffalo Bison. Everybody else spent more time in Las Vegas than any of them (or us) desired. The pitchers whose futures were fussed over, including Wheeler, had to be kept far from Flushing so their Super Two status wouldn’t get the best of the front office. Each fella who wasn’t a Super prospect simply didn’t rate a promotion until injuries made his respective presence necessary. Decisions made on March 24 by no means lead to the same five pitchers earning decisions every fifth day from March 29 forward. Or have you not met the New York Mets?
All we can do in spring is dream of indestructible starting pitching. Reality inevitably has its own ideas.