Closing Day beckons, a day for one David above all to be noticed, to be sure. I assume, anyway. I know David Wright is not supposed to play after what’s billed hard and fast as his final game tonight. Regardless, I will sit where I usually sit on Closing Day and hope for a change of heart, perhaps an ease of back. “Hey, Skip,” I’d like to imagine Wright informing Mickey Callaway, “I can pinch-hit if you need me,” and Callaway doing the Wright thing. That would be sweet.
It will also be unlikely, which I reluctantly accept. David getting into one going on two  games at the tail end of his career — a career that didn’t necessarily appear guaranteed to receive a tail end — has been enough to behold.
There’s another David, though, a David I know won’t be there Sunday, which is a shame. To be fair, I don’t know, even if circumstances had allowed it, that he would have been. One Closing Day he was, though. It was a surprise and a delight and, as it turned out, the last time I saw him at Citi Field, the place I embrace seeing just about everybody who means anything to me.
David Roth (not to be confused with the Deadspin writer of the same name) was my friend-in-law. That’s the phrase that would best describe our relationship to one another. Friend of a friend would also do, but that sounds a little too far removed. The friend who was our conduit was Jeff Hysen. Jeff knew David for decades, dating back to when they both worked for the City of New York during the Koch administration. Then Jeff moved to take a job in D.C., but the two of them (Jeff and David, not Jeff and Ed Koch) stayed close and grew closer. I assume that’s what happened. I didn’t meet Jeff until 2007, but distance has never meaningfully separated us either.
Jeff, up from Maryland for a weekend eight years ago, arranged for us all to go to a Mets game together. David and I shook hands by the Home Run Apple. He seemed nice enough. The Mets lost to the Phillies. That seemed typical for 2010. The highlight, so to speak, was Frankie Rodriguez returning from suspension after punching a man described in press accounts as his father-in-law. Given that Rodriguez wasn’t married to the guy’s daughter, they weren’t technically related, just as David and I weren’t. Still, they were connected (if not thrilled with one another). Anyway, some fans cheered Frankie Rodriguez upon his return. Not a lot, but enough, which hit me as atonal . That’s what I remember most about that game. That and David wearing a Shea Stadium Final Season pin on his golf shirt. Nice touch, I thought.
A few weeks later, I learned far more about David than I would have expected or, given the context, wanted. Jeff relayed to me the shocking news that his friend of his I’d just met, while on vacation out west, had been felled by an aneurysm. Felled? Is that the right word if something doesn’t kill you right away? Maybe struck? Does an aneurysm strike, like a high, inside fastball? The nomenclature doesn’t matter. The aneurysm did. The diagnosis that followed revealed a malignant brain tumor. David, as Jeff explained it, was close to death.
But still alive. And kicking.
“When the Colorado doctor saw that he was from New York,” Jeff told me, “he asked if he was a Yankees fan, and David, despite his condition and pain, objected and said that he was a Mets fan.”
It was too heavy a situation to invoke the bromide about whatever doesn’t kill a Mets fan makes a Mets fan stronger, but David Roth in 2010, sort of like David Wright in 2018, made a sensational comeback. Cancer remained a fact of his life, but so did his life. Intermittently over the next half-dozen years I’d see David out and about, almost as if nothing terrible had happened to him. Usually I’d see David because Jeff was around. Jeff’s a comedian when he isn’t a lawyer (he’s funny being both). His Manhattan comedy dates would bring David and me into the same dimly lit clubs, straining to politely laugh at the other comics while we waited for our shared pal to go on. Jeff’s desire to once in a while commune with his ballclub put us in recurring proximity as well. I’d see David at games with Jeff. I’d see David at QBC with Jeff. While I was moderating another panel, they sat through a deep dive on uniforms and uniform accessories that introduced them to the term squatchee. That’s the thing on the top of a baseball cap…as if David didn’t already know enough about what goes on inside a head.
A few times David and I engaged without Jeff present. We were all supposed to go to a game in 2014, but Jeff had a family matter, so David and I and one of Jeff’s comedy colleagues sat Jefflessly in Promenade together, shivering as the Mets outlasted the Marlins. A transportation specialist (David continued to work for a city agency), a comic and a scribe, all of whom who knew each other without really knowing each other; the friend-in-laws, directed by Jeff Hysen. The weirdest part about it was it wasn’t really weird. We all rooted for the same team and we all knew very well a really good guy.
David came to one of my book events with Jeff and another without Jeff, which I thought was the menschiest of moves since, though his identification with Mets fandom was as strong as his will to live, he wasn’t really that big a day-by-day fan. Not big enough, for example, to have noticed that Mookie Wilson had been coaching first base throughout 2011. I learned of that slight gap in his Met knowledge on September 1 of that year. David and I were together in Queens, sans Jeff, but with David’s wife Bonnie (wearing a still-fashionable black WRIGHT 5 jersey), David’s friend Roger, Roger’s son Josh and my photographer friend Sharon. In the moment, that day represented a pinnacle of Mets fandom for all of us. We were on the field at Citi Field, present for batting practice. The long story is detailed and illustrated , but in essence, Roger had climbed a very tall mountain in the name of David to help raise funds and awareness for Team McGraw, part of the Tug McGraw Foundation, an organization dedicated to fighting brain cancer, a group in which Sharon was involved. I was on hand simply to stand back and supplement with words what Sharon was taking care of with pictures.
It was such a great late afternoon watching all these people having a ballpark experience to which relatively few are treated. The whole deal was engineered by a couple of terrific stalwarts of the Mets communications department, one of them Shannon Forde, who’d worked there a long time by then. A year later, Shannon would be diagnosed with breast cancer. She’d soon be back around the ballpark as much as possible, still doing great things for people, before dying in 2016.
What is it one of the Team McGraw honchos liked to say in his blog posts? Oh yeah: “Cancer sucks.”
The last time I saw David Roth was the last time I saw David Wright. Not the same space but on the same day, May 21, 2016, the Saturday when David Wright lashed a game-winning hit to beat the Brewers at Citi Field. That’s the game when Sharon and her husband Kevin invited Stephanie and me to join them and a plethora of other friends to sit in the M&M’s Sweet Seats, a perch from which we would not have dreamed of departing prior to Wright’s ninth-inning RBI unless we had something else pulling us away. Alas, we did . Jeff was performing at Broadway Comedy Club somewhere in the middle innings in the West Fifties. We tried to split the difference, get some of the game in, apologetically bolt in time for Jeff’s set.
We missed Wright’s walkoff hit because we left early and we missed Jeff’s killer bits because we didn’t leave early enough, arriving at Broadway after he’d dropped the mic. But we did hang out somewhere off from the main room for quite a while with Jeff, who was in cooldown mode. It was an odd logistical situation in that Jeff’s wife Sue was still at a table deep inside the club, beyond the reach of hand signals, which meant we couldn’t all leave ASAP. David was there, too, at a table near the stage and spotted Stephanie and me. He helpfully tried to guide us to join him. We had to make like then third base coach Tim Teufel and give him the stop sign because though we’d only just shown up, we didn’t want to sit down and subject ourselves to a two-drink minimum, given that Jeff was done joking. (Also, we had a Mets game to follow by phone.) David politely hung in there with the other acts for a spell before joining us during a comic changeover. Jeff would arrange Sue’s release by text and eventually we’d all get something to eat.
I didn’t know our postshow dinner at a nearby diner would be the last time I’d see David Roth. At some point in the relatively near future, cancer — which generally fails to take offense at the insulting things well-meaning people say about it and therefore continues to suck — made itself felt again. On a rainy day this past spring, Jeff came up from Maryland to visit David at a hospice facility in Brooklyn. Later, at Jeff’s behest, we tried to collaborate on a couple of bits based on some awful commercial he kept seeing on TV while David napped and what Jeff’s Uber driver said to him about praying to Allah for his friend’s recovery. None of what we came up with was hilarious, but Jeff had lost his mother at the outset of the 2018 baseball season and now his best friend was in his final months. When attempting to withstand an ongoing emotional onslaught, laughing surely beats the alternatives.
On the First of September, seven years to the day we were on the field for batting practice, Jeff, himself out west to see his son and the Mets, roughly in that order, learned David had died. A few days later he eulogized him at a synagogue in Brooklyn. Jeff’s theme was not only were he and David like brothers, but they were often mistaken for brothers. At his very first comedy show, when Koch was still mayor, the MC doing what is known in the business as crowdwork picked on David, basing his shtick on that very understandable sibling assumption. As Jeff explained in his eulogy, his actual brother was sitting at the same table as David, but Jeff and David probably looked more alike than the two Hysen boys did.
The MC asked David of Jeff, “Is he funny at home? Are you proud of him?” David, never breaking character from his seat, replied, “Yes, he’s funny at home. Yes, we’re proud of him.” No wonder the MC proceeded to point at David and introduce Jeff as “this guy’s brother”.
The Mets were also invoked in the eulogy. No mistake there.
Tomorrow I’ll be at the ballpark, in Excelsior, Section 327, more or less where Stephanie and I were sitting three years ago on Closing Day . On October 4, 2015, the Mets chalked up their 90th and final win of the regular season, 1-0. When it was over, David Wright grabbed a microphone, thanked us for our support and promised that the team would do its best to beat L.A. I go to Closing Day every year, but I mention that one now because in the middle of that game, as Stephanie was off on a concessions mission and Terry Collins was rapidly changing pitchers in order to keep his staff sharp for the upcoming playoffs, I received a text. Or was it a call? Honestly, I don’t remember anymore. Whichever mode of communication was being deployed, I do remember that the deployer was David Roth, letting me know he and a friend who wasn’t Jeff were also at the ballpark, could they come by to where I was and say hi? David knew I’d be at Citi Field from Jeff, though it’s not like anybody really needs inside information to ascertain my whereabouts on Closing Day.
Sure, I told him, though I warned him that my being in Excelsior might mean security would hassle them, given that they were sitting in Promenade, and Promenade tickets are not recognized as valid visas for passage by the gatekeepers of certain other sections. Undeterred, David followed my directions and headed for the Excelsior entrance in left field. I got up to meet him and his friend and chat for a few minutes. I don’t remember what we talked about. We talked about the Eastern Division champion Mets, presumably, since they were the ones playing in front of us. It wasn’t a long or deep conversation, but I do remember I was touched that he thought enough of me to go out of his way there to say hi.
It’s only right I take a moment here to say bye.