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Forever: A Mighty Long Time

Moments after Jeff McNeil launched his first Citi Field home run to the branded soft drink pavilion overhanging right field, he was still giddy. Why wouldn’t he have been? McNeil joined the major leagues and the Mets on July 24. Almost everything is a first for him. To not enjoy it would be a demonstration of odd behavior. Jeff obviously needed to continue sharing his enthusiasm. In a dugout that had settled down after congratulating him, he found somebody to keep telling how great it feels to be succeeding as a brand new Met. His receptive audience and perhaps soulmate in celebration was Austin Jackson. Jackson could relate. He was once new to MLB. He is still new to NYM. He’s worn a Mets uniform only since July 27. Austin’s also succeeding in new clothing, clear up through Monday night when he, like Jeff, registered three more hits. Their team would end the evening with sixteen in all.

Jeff was raking. Austin was hitting. The Mets were winning. Laughter abounded between them. And I smiled because, in the moment, they were my guys. Last week I considered them practically total strangers. I now root for who exactly? But that was when they were barely here. They’ve been here for days upon days since. Another week’s worth! That’s a decent enough sample size if you want it to be.

McNeil and Jackson indeed contributed to a Monday night Mets victory, 6-4 over the Reds [1]. There was a plethora of contributors. One of them was Bobby Wahl, another very recently introduced name (called up August 2) growing suddenly into a person we recognize as our guy. Wahl replaced Noah Syndergaard with the bases loaded and one out, Joey Votto up to bat. The Mets were ahead by five, so maybe the leverage didn’t soar as high as McNeil’s homer, but it was a tall enough order for a reliever with minimal cachet. Wahl walked Votto, which should probably count as a rite of National League initiation, but then struck out another All-Star, Scooter Gennett, before giving way to Robert Gsellman and, ultimately, closer du nuit Jerry Blevins.

Jeff McNeil. Austin Jackson. Bobby Wahl. Yeah, I root for them. Still seems a little weird to be emotionally invested in the professional fortunes of these heretofore strangers, but 1,064 times since April 11, 1962, a stranger has been just a Met we hadn’t yet met. Gsellman and Blevins were each that. Syndergaard (six shutout innings before faltering in the seventh) was that until May 12, 2015, and that was with us knowing his nickname as a minor leaguer. Twenty-two year-old Wilmer Flores was just a line on a depth chart until five years ago yesterday. On August 6, 2013, he became the 960th heretofore stranger we developed a habit around. Last night, on his 27th birthday, Wilmer pounded out three hits, which we’re used to. He also got himself thrown out at home, which we’re also used to. Familiarity forgives certain tics on nights you win. The fellas who wear the uniforms are the difference between rooting for the laundry and emotional investment.

The era we’ll remember Flores for — the one largely defined by Wilmer’s reaction to something that didn’t happen (no trade), Wilmer’s action in making something happen (homering to spark a pennant run for the ages) and Wilmer’s reaction to his action (grabbing at the logo gracing his laundry as he crossed the plate) — lacks a neat timeline. Most eras do, actually, but we can usually retcon for clarity’s sake. Seeds are planted, players bloom, championships sprout. In truth, the 2015 Mets grew more stubbornly and sporadically than cleanly and clearly. The runup was difficult to detect while in progress and the aftermath came quicker than we’d have preferred. Yet you can pinpoint a spot on the chronological map where you can accurately say a generally grim Met present was beginning to dissolve and a promising if opaque Met future started taking shape.

July 26, 2012. Before Flores and his walkoff magic. Before Familia, who would someday nail down final outs of four separate Met clinchings. Before Lagares, who would someday excel in the opening game of a Met NLCS. Before d’Arnaud, who would hit Citi Field’s Apple on the fly in that same NLCS opener. Before deGrom, who dominated the Dodgers at the outset of an NLDS and begrudged them satisfaction at its conclusion. Before the savvy additions of Granderson and Colon, let alone the on-fly injections of Syndergaard, Matz, Conforto and Cespedes…and after the holdovers from previous generations (Duda, Tejada, Niese, Murphy and Wright) had become old if amiable news…there was the introduction to us of Matt Harvey [2].

Streamline the narrative to ignore the ups and down and ins and outs a franchise experiences, and Harvey’s debut on July 26, 2012, serves as a reasonable dividing line between “before” and “getting there”. We didn’t know where exactly we were getting to, nor when we would arrive, but Harvey’s right arm was the one we were elated to have pointing us in the right direction. That’s what his 10 starts in ’12 were doing amid another lost Met season. The next 26 in his repertoire, presented brilliantly in 2013, elevated hope to a next level. Really, on those fifth days when Matt pitched, you didn’t need hope. You didn’t need direction. Where else did we need to go when we had Matt Harvey pitching for us?

The throughline was disrupted when Tommy John surgery crashed the chronology. No, it wasn’t a direct march from July 2012 to October 2015. It couldn’t be, not without Matt Harvey leading the journey as we envisioned. But he came back, he gave us as much as he had to offer and October occurred at last. Matt was a huge part of it. November, too. He tried to engineer an extension of the latest postseason the Mets ever unfurled. He couldn’t, but the effort was admirable.

Then, in a blink, it was 2018 and Matt Harvey hadn’t pitched well or that much for several years, and he became a Red, out of our day-to-day lives, save for two nights and one afternoon in August. He wouldn’t pitch, but he’d be impossible to not notice. In appreciation for what he meant between 2012 and 2015, the Mets produced and showed on CitiVision a tasteful tribute video that lasted not quite 40 seconds. Given how the Harvey segment of the most recent Met era faded from present to past, more would have been ostentatious. Given how Harvey’s days began and gained traction when his pitching was at its fiercest, you could imagine the highlights streaming forever.

Forever’s a mighty long time, according to my Purple namesake [3], yet it’s difficult to apply to all those Met moments and Met people you swear you’ll love forever. Let’s go crazy, we told one another when Matt came along. Let’s compare him to Seaver and Gooden. Let’s count Cy Youngs before they’re hatched. We were sure we’d love Harvey forever. Now we debate whether a video under a minute in duration somehow represents too lavish an appreciation for someone who departed our midst with a bulging ERA and scant goodwill. This week we’re infatuated with Jeff McNeil. Maybe that will last. Or maybe someday we’ll debate the merits of devoting forty seconds to a Jeff McNeil tribute video circa 2024.

If it’s safe to apply “forever” to any Met, it’s the forty-fifth stranger we hadn’t yet Met, chronologically speaking, the last man to join our ranks in our first season, the last to still be a Met from that year many years later. That, of course, is Ed Kranepool [4]. Eddie, like Matt, was at Citi Field for the first time in a while Monday night, making Monday likely the closest we’ll see to an Old Timers Day in Flushing this season. Eddie, like Matt, was part of teams that celebrated with champagne. Eddie, like Matt, was also part of teams that had trouble getting good and staying good. Eddie, more than anybody, is the Eternal Met. On endurance alone, September 22, 1962, to September 30, 1979, he’s got the other 1,063 Mets to date beat by miles. The Ed Kranepool Era lasted portions of eighteen seasons in active player terms. That should qualify a fella for forever status, no questions asked.

Matt hasn’t been around Citi Field for a few months because business whisked him away to Cincinnati. Eddie? Eddie used to come around regularly. He’s a New Yorker and a fixture, except for some cross words that set forever player against whoever’s listed as owner. Not only was it ridiculous that Eddie wasn’t welcomed by the Wilpons, it bordered on tragic in light of Eddie’s health.

Eddie needs a kidney. Eddie also needed to come home.

However it happened, it happened Monday. Ed Kranepool sat in the Mets dugout prior to the game against the Reds and chatted up the media while sitting alongside Jeff Wilpon. He strode to the mound and delivered a ceremonial first pitch to Kevin Plawecki. He rode an elevator up to the press level and sat in the radio and TV booths and publicized his cause. He’s still looking for that kidney, and if you want more information, you can reach out via kidney4kranepool@gmail.com [5] or 631 444 6944. Eddie’s search is the epitome of a high-leverage situation, an enormous ask. But if you don’t ask, you don’t get what you seek.

Seeing Ed Kranepool back among the Mets (and promising that he will be available to help their cause as well) made me think of one Mets fan in particular, one of our readers who wrote to us last month with concern for the player’s who’s meant the most to him forever. It seems appropriate to share his note here:

Just a request/hope you can help to get out the word about Ed Kranepool’s need for a kidney for transplant. I am now 6.5 years with my kidney transplant, so this topic is important to me. Krane, like me, is also a diabetic, and the fact that he was always my favorite Met seems like more than just coincidence. If you’ve seen the papers, I’m sure you’re aware of his plight. I guess I’m hoping that your [blog] would bring more attention to Krane’s fight, and in the best-case scenario, maybe more people would be willing to be tested for compatibility.

2019 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Miracle Mets. I hope and pray Ed Kranepool will be there to celebrate. My favorite Met needs help. Let’s see if we can provide him some assistance.

With respect and appreciation for helping this fellow Met fanatic through the good times and the bad…

Again, the contact info is:
kidney4kranepool@gmail.com [5]
631 444 6944