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And Still We Go

The independent Atlantic League, best known in Metsopotamian circles as base of operations for Buddy Harreslon’s Long Island Ducks, includes a team called the Road Warriors. You can’t go to one of their home games because they don’t have any. They are literally a travel team, existing to even out the circuit in years when the numbers get overly odd. This season, for example, with the Bluefish having abandoned Bridgeport and not yet having resettled into their future identity as the High Point (N.C.) Rockers, the Road Warriors were reincarnated out of logistical necessity. Their mission seems to be go out there and be the best Washington Generals you can be, for as you might expect, playing nothing but away games will wear down any roster. After dropping a 4-1 decision in Central Islip to the Ducks Friday night, the Road Warriors’ second-half record fell to 10-46 on the heels of a first-half record of 17-46.

Forty miles to the west, a team that plays 81 home games presumably looked on in envy.

The New York Mets, who bunk regularly in Flushing, are a dismal home team, which is a shame since if they weren’t stuck playing half of their contests in the same place might be reasonably competitive. The Queensless part of their itinerary they’ve got fairly well under control. Following feisty road trips of 7-4 and 5-4, the Mets stand at 35-36 when wearing gray pants. That is the essence of not bad. The accepted formula for success in baseball is play .500 or so on the road and clean up at home.

Unfortunately, the Mets are a mess at home. After a typical Citi Field performance Friday — a 4-3 loss to the visiting Phillies [1] — the Mets’ home record ticked down to 28-41. That is the essence of atrocious. On the road, the Mets are formidable foes. At home, they’re more Atlantic League than National League.

Perhaps I’m extra sensitive to this situation because the homestanding Mets are particularly putrid when I’m on hand to root them toward victory. They and I fail together. In 2018, their record with me at Citi Field is 5-11, same as Steven Matz [2]’s in general. Matz took a no-decision on Friday, having plowed his way through 103 pitches over five innings. Matz was just good enough not to be terrible, not good enough to be wholly effective. He probably would have been great had this game been played anywhere else.

The Mets’ offense was tepid for any league or locale. Jay Bruce [3] homered. Dom Smith [4] homered (to the opposite field, no less). Brandon Nimmo, accelerating from first after a walk, scored on a beautifully placed Jeff McNeil [5] double into the right field corner, the essence of hit-and-run. That was the non-tepid portion. Everything else didn’t rise remotely to the level of lukewarm. There was nothing else. Aaron Nola, whom I have to stop meeting like this (I’ve seen him beat the Mets three times in two cities this year), gave up no other hits. Phillie relievers Seranthony Dominguez — who I continually think was knighted on his way to the ballpark — and Tommy Hunter retired their six batters on a total of thirteen pitches. The Mets’ approach in the eighth and ninth seemed to consist of beating the traffic, which, having gotten a rare ride home, I could have told them was a waste of time. Citi Field personnel was about as skilled at regulating exiting autos out of the parking lot formerly known as Shea Stadium as Mets hitters were at getting on base.

Come to think of it, I didn’t see anybody regulating traffic. Or any Mets getting on base.

Matz gave up two runs and Nola allowed three, which means somewhere in between, the Mets bullpen couldn’t preserve requisite amounts of bacon. The kiddie corps of Eric Hanhold, Tyler Bashlor, Daniel Zamora and Drew Smith was tasked with holding a contender at bay. The contender prevailed, thanks to Hanhold encountering a bit of bad bloop luck and Bashlor being taken practically to the World’s Fair Marina by Rhys Hoskins. Oh well. Good to see the youthful arms getting a chance nonetheless. Good to see Dominic at first base, too. The highlight of the evening, beyond the sportsmanlike “thank you” pregame video for Asdrubal Cabrera [6], was an incredible pick of a desperation heave by McNeil to retire the no longer so beloved Cabrera on a grounder to deeply shifted second in the eighth. Dom’s mitt was practically in right field as he securely plucked Jeff’s one-bounce fling to end that inning.

Dom Smith (announced by Marysol Castro and illustrated on the scoreboards as Dominic; who can keep up?) is mysteriously still only 23 despite being drafted five years ago and possessing a very old soul. Smith at first meant Bruce in right, which is at odds with whatever the most recently stated gameplan of getting Bruce reps at first. Like the weather in Chicago, wait five minutes and you’ll get a new gameplan stated in Flushing. The fact that Bruce didn’t play first was utterly lost on a repeat Bud Light customer a couple of rows in front of Joe and me. During one of the at-bats when Jay didn’t homer, the guy cursed Bruce out because he was keeping Peter Alonso from receiving a September looksee. Thus, Jay Bruce, by adhering to what’s written on Mickey Callaway’s almost always accurate lineup card, reveals himself a diabolical genius.

Also prevented from playing by mysterious forces otherwise known as the New York Mets’ overwhelming desire to be reimbursed by their insurer was David Wright. Wright worked out before the game. He will play in a simulated game before the next game. The Mets will continue to send a mouthpiece to face reporters and create a dubious rationale for not activating him. Friday it was something about you can’t bring back your 35-year-old captain who’s been working his hind quarters off just to pinch-hit a little because, uh…hey, look over there! That’s the way to draw enthusiastic crowds to your 28-41 home team.

But still we come. Some of us. Me, anyway. The MTA tried to warn me away. At 103rd Street Friday evening, an announcement was blared that our train would terminate at 111th Street, one stop shy of Mets-Willets Point. Apparently the train traffic up ahead was more daunting than the parking lot traffic was going to be later, so our 7 local was directed to simply give up. (No wonder it’s so identified with the Mets.) Despite being instructed to wait on the platform for a train that promised to roll a little further east, I opted for the station stairs and hoofed it the rest of the way. I found the improvised stroll quite pleasant. It made Citi Field seem like it was in the middle of somewhere — Corona, to be specific. Thirty years ago, in my driving days, I was directed to unofficial parking somewhere down 111th Street, the last time I remember taking roughly the same pedestrian route. The walk was probably shorter on July 2, 1988, because Shea was closer than Citi. Also, the Mets won that night; Darryl went deep, Doc went nine. The walk back to 111th Street included a detour to a Mr. Softee truck (this was also in my ice cream days). I’d call July 2, 1988, a good night.

I’d call September 7, 2018, a good night, too, honestly. I grumble and grimace, but deep down I relish every opportunity to go 1-0 in my last one, no matter how often it winds up as 0-1 en route to 5-11 or whatever. That explains the recurring trips to Citi Field. Nine innings with Joe perfectly situated behind home plate in Promenade. The extended departure from the parking lot and subsequent ride home with Rob, who had alerted me he’d be viewing the action from the sponsored soft drink terrace. Shouting out trivia answers in case the contestant needed help (he didn’t; good for him for getting the questions right). Encouraging the kid who tried to break the base-stealing record (she didn’t; good for her for running hard all the way). Imploring those who stood oblivious to the action to sit DOWN IN FRONT (to which the Bud Light dude interjected we should relax because the Met batting was just gonna ground out on the next pitch anyway…which he did). Clapping along with “Lazy Mary”. Realizing how of few of the Italian lyrics to “Lazy Mary” I’ve managed to learn despite continual exposure to all of them. Trying to figure out why so many people value a Mets game in progress as a backdrop for photos of themselves while completely ignoring the very same Mets game in progress.

This was a problem that first arose at Shea in 2008. Phones weren’t uniformly smart then, but digital cameras were commonly carried. Never mind that Delgado is batting. Never mind a pennant race is in progress. Ooh, get this picture of me right now! I was a little more understanding of the impulse then, as the stadium where we gathered was about to vanish from view. Last night, it occurred to me after the fact, was the tenth anniversary of the final day-night doubleheader Shea hosted. That was also against the Phillies. I was there for both ends [7], September 7, 2008. Joe was with me for the night half as Johan Santana quieted the crimson interlopers and kept the Mets in first place a wee bit longer. That nightcap was a quietly emotional experience for me because I’d been going to games at Shea with Joe basically forever and now that was ending. Shea was ending. I was determined to go to every home game that month, and I did. It didn’t keep the Mets in first place, nor did it keep Shea standing.

But I’ve kept going to Flushing, no matter that the train lets me off in Corona. I’ve been going to games with friends like Joe and Rob at Citi Field since 2009, just as I’d been going to Mets games at Shea since 1973. The organization may not merit much in the way of our patronage (StubHub-discounted as it may be), but where else are we going to see the Mets play? Even lose aggravatingly in seasons that stop far short of 111th Street? Where else are we going to be Mets fans to our fullest? I can do most of my rooting from afar, but not all of it. Ten years into this ballpark, I still readily embrace compiling a record of 5-11 over that which would be 0-0 without me.

Actually, the Mets’ home record would be 28-41 either way.