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Waiting for Larry

Five of us had tickets for the entire Mets-Phillies twi-night doubleheader Monday. More than five, according to official attendance figures, but I refer specifically to myself, the three people with whom I’ve been friends longer than anybody and the son of one of those people. I showed up well in advance of first pitch to meet them as planned. Fred (who came from Baltimore) and Joel and his college-age offspring Max (from Northern California) met me by the Apple in the bottom of the first. Good thing they got there when they did, I kidded, because god forbid I have any less than seventeen innings of baseball ahead of me tonight.

Ha ha. Yeah, right.

Larry, who doesn’t live nearly as far from Citi Field as Joel, Max and Fred, wasn’t with them. They weren’t quite sure where he was, though Fred received a text from Larry informing him he was just about to step into the shower and would soon be en route.

Unless the shower was the same one favored by Chris Flexen after a short outing, something told me we weren’t going to see seventeen innings of baseball.

We didn’t. We waited for Larry instead. We waited by the Apple a little. We waited by the Shea markers in the parking lot a little. Then we retired to McFadden’s for air conditioning, hydration and SNY. We watched Brandon Nimmo, Jose Bautista and Asdrubal Cabrera (who I had heard homer in my earbuds just as Joel, Max and Fred were arriving) produce two runs to give Zack Wheeler a 3-2 lead in the third. By the time Wheeler gave the lead back in the fourth, we were done with our beverages and figured we’d give the Apple another try on the extremely off chance that a freshly showered Larry would be waiting for us there.

Ever hang out outside Citi Field while a game is in progress? You should. I don’t know why you would, but you should, especially if it’s a beautiful late afternoon and a game is going on inside. It’s counterintuitive to not enter the ballpark. We had tickets. We intended to use them. Larry, the least baseball-conversant among us, had the very solid idea that we all get together for the first time in ten years at a Mets game. It didn’t seem right to not wait for Larry. It also seemed one logistical twist too far to explain to Larry what Will Call is and where his ticket might be left for him.

So we waited, back at the Apple. We waited and we listened. The speakers you usually hear on your way in, the ones blaring messages about factory-sealed bottles of water, are tuned to WOR, same as they are in the Citi Field bathrooms. This is better than listening to the game in the bathroom. I don’t know if it’s as good as watching the game from the seats you are ticketed to sit in, but, hey, Larry had to take that shower. Fred, Joel and I tacitly agreed trading a few innings of live baseball for the chance to continue with our stream of “so, think Larry’s still in the shower?” jibes was as good as any exchange any Mets GM will execute between now and July 31.

Howie and Josh kept us apprised of the 3-3 game that never changed its score. Now and then a text would materialize from Larry. He was leaving Manhattan. He was getting on the subway. The subway was held up. Delayed, he meant, not like The Taking of Pelham 123. We watched the foot traffic coming down from the 7. None of the feet belonged to Larry. We listened to Howie and Josh in the sixth, the seventh, the eighth. No runs from the Phillies, no runs from the Mets.

Here’s the thing, among other things: I couldn’t have this game end without me being inside to witness at least a sliver of it. I mean I could, but then I couldn’t inscribe it in my Log, which would mean that for all intents and purposes, it would mean I didn’t go to a doubleheader, which was the whole attraction of this convergence of old compadres. This was a once-in-a-decade rendezvous to begin with. Two games for the price of one elevated it. Or it would if we got to see some of Game One. Any of Game One.

Larry descended from those steps as the Mets batted in the bottom of the ninth. He entirely missed the Apple. He didn’t grasp from our return texts that we had decided to continue to wait for him, so he didn’t bother to look for that gigantic piece of fruit everybody and his uncle is attracted to and poses for pictures in front of (I wonder how many I incidentally showed up in Monday). Larry honestly figured we’d had the good sense to go inside and leave him to his own ticket-procuring devices. Yet waiting for Larry made sense to Fred and Joel and me. It didn’t register as anything remotely logical to Max, but Max didn’t go to high school with Larry and, besides, Max managed to occupy himself with his phone.

We captured Larry’s attention. Larry was incredulous that we waited for him. He offered detailed explanations and sincere apologies. I distributed tickets and led us through the security gauntlet. Devin Mesoraco batted with two out. Over the speakers, Howie mentioned Devin’s proclivity for late-inning home runs. I rooted for Devin to not be so hasty. Let me get inside and get a glimpse at this game you’re trying to win first.

Mesoraco cooperated as best he could. He made an out. We got in. There was still some Opener to absorb. Bonus Opener. Tim Peterson worked through the top of the tenth as we ascended to Promenade. We made our way to our seats in 514 as the bottom of the tenth commenced. We sat down in time to observe Wilmer Flores [1] insist he was nicked by a Victor Arano pitch. Video review insisted he wasn’t.

Then we stood up because Wilmer swung and connected for a fly ball that was deep enough and, yes, fair enough to serve as the game-winning home run off the left field foul pole. For everybody inside Citi Field, it was a walkoff. For us, it doubled as a leadoff. It also created the most unlikely of streaks. The last time Joel, Fred, Larry and I took in a ballgame together, it ended on David Wright’s only walkoff home run, August 7, 2008, our farewell to Shea as a group, which was an overwhelming moment in the life of this fan. That afternoon, my stadium, my amigos, my third baseman…an exquisite collaboration of characters and circumstances. It was all that could be asked for. The only discordant note I recall was Fred innocently suggesting what fun it would be to do this at still under-construction Citi Field at some future date. He meant no harm, but I bristled. Shea and I had more dates together as of early August 2008. Don’t talk to me about Citi Field.

That was a decade ago and a lot of water under the Shea Bridge. Joel and Max joined me at Citi Field in 2014 [2], but we never got the whole gang assembled again until July 9, 2018. It took us nearly ten years and we required a tenth inning, but there we were, once more celebrating a Mets game won on one swing of the bat. And not just anybody’s bat, but Wilmer Flores’s, the bat that has won more games in walkoff fashion than any in Mets history. Flores beating the Phillies at Citi Field [3] in 2018 wasn’t as emotional for me as Wright beating the Padres at Shea Stadium [4] in 2008, but it was every bit as much fun. Plus we had the shower jokes. We’ll always have those now.

We also had a second game for which we could kick back and not take overly seriously. Corey Oswalt [5] pitched credibly, Aaron Nola pitched better. He also hit better than all the Mets combined, driving in all three Phillie runs after Mickey Callaway ordered an intentional walk to Maikel Franco with two on and two out in the fifth to load the bases for him. Who’d think a pitcher with a batting average under .100 would double there? Who’d think four people would wait nine innings outside a baseball game for a fifth person who didn’t seriously expect such an extensive courtesy?

For the rest of the nightcap, which the Mets predictably went on to lose with minimal resistance [6], we treated the intentional walk with scorn. It became, in essence, the Larry’s shower of the second game, even if the baseball-conversant among us understood why it was issued. Anybody who knows baseball would get it.

Joel, Fred and I got why we waited as long as we did for Larry, even if nobody else would. But we’ve known one another for ages. It made all the sense in the world to us.