One of the benefits of going to a baseball game rather than watching it on television is there’s no seven-second delay. Everything that happens happens and, as the spirit of Walter Cronkite might suggest, you are there. But Tuesday night at Citi Field, which is where I was for the first time in 2019, that wasn’t necessarily of much help in terms of processing the milestone moments as they occurred.
Though it wasn’t the definitive turning point of the evening, no moment resonated as more milestone than Pete Alonso ’s eighth-inning swing for the fences, and by fences, I mean the fences at LaGuardia’s Delta terminal. Oh, that baseball he connected with was soaring, all right — it flew high enough to slice Venus, never mind the space above the left field pole — but of more concern was the angle his breathtaking launch was taking. Fair? Foul? Somewhere in between somehow?
I paused, as I imagine we all did to gauge its flight pattern. I hoped it was fair, I thought it was foul, I heard silence, I looked around. Was that Pete going into a trot? Was that a roar rising from the modestly sized crowd? Was that the Apple accurately elevating?
Hey! It’s a home run! A Pete Alonso late & clutch home run at Citi Field! And I am there, Walter! Being in proximity to a Met doing a superb Met thing doesn’t usually strike me as overly noteworthy, but as I mentioned, I’d not been to a game yet this season, and this season has been the dawn of the Pete Alonso Era at Citi Field, so this was also the first time Pete and I linked our fates in the same facility.
Yes, Pete Alonso gets his own era capitalized. We are all in his Polar Bear Club.
Not knowing fair from foul or over the wall from bouncing off the top of it is a common affliction in the modern game oldtimers like myself will assure you isn’t as grand as it once was, even if we almost never miss any given nine innings, so we’re used to a little pausing for clarification — usually of the video kind, and that was coming. Hurrah that they didn’t take this home run away from us, probably because television cameras are not yet capable of following a home run hit so high. Hurrah, too, because I felt a most welcome surge of déjà vu in my soul. Once before, prior to the implementation of clumsily implemented if well-intentioned replay rules, I paused and waited seconds that seemed like hours alongside my in-attendance compatriots to figure out if I had just seen a home run and would have cause to celebrate seconds that seemed like hours later.
That was the Todd Pratt home run that won the National League Division Series on October 9, 1999. Different prevailing circumstances in most every way — Pratt’s ball was hit to dead center; the question was whether leaping Gold Glover Steve Finley had snared it; and the Mets were a very good team twenty years ago — but the gist was the same. Not only was there “did he or didn’t he?” intrigue and a scan of Shea for any clue possible (keeping an eye on Pratt as he Cano’d to a full stop around first indicated Tank was as perplexed as the rest of us), but there was genuine if not wholly comparable excitement in the contemporary result. Winning the NLDS spoke for itself. Alonso hitting a home run does, too. Any other Met going deep to tie a game that was slipping away would have been fine and dandy, sugar candy, but this is Pete Alonso 47 games into the Pete Alonso Era — or Pete Bleeping Alonso Era, if you like.
Pete Alonso is no incidental baseball hero. He is someone who provides at-bats you don’t go off on a food-gathering expedition during. He is someone you peer toward the lineups on the scoreboard and wonder how soon he’ll be batting again. He is someone you are delighted to realize is about to be interviewed on the postgame show because when Pete Alonso speaks, even E.F. Hutton listens.
I was a little disappointed last September when minor league sensation Peter Alonso did not get called up for a look-see like promising minor leaguers have since rosters began expanding for exactly that purpose. I don’t know if it was a service time issue, a 40-man traffic snarl or just the Mets being the Mets, but eight months later, I’m not so sad about it. In retrospect, presenting us Pete with a clean slate created an ideal introduction. No season fragments for our Pete, no numerical participles dangling ahead of his official rookie campaign, nothing that will appear unsightly or inconclusive when he is typed into Baseball-Reference in the decades to come. He starts out with one nice, thick line of bold if not bold-faced statistics and he adds to them regularly year by year, knock wood or your lucky material of choice.
Not incidentally, Pete Alonso’s 16th home run came in the Mets’ 47th game of 2019. When they set and tied the franchise single-season home run record, Todd Hundley’s and Carlos Beltran’s 16th homers came in the Mets’ 61st and 60th games of 1996 and 2006, respectively.
As long as we’re invoking Queens royalty, it’s also just perfect enough that Pete Alonso showed up in our midst directly after David Wright departed it. Nothing would have been wrong with the two of them on the same major league field or in the same major league dugout, nothing at all. But, oh, the symbolism of the Captain leaving the torch in the clubhouse, turning out the lights and, through the magic of time-lapse photography, the lights turning on, Pete walking in and the torch being passed to a new generation of Metropolitans.
I get chills at that image. Of course I got chills Tuesday night after the Mets couldn’t unbreak the 5-5 tie Alonso forged for us in the eighth, because it was getting chillier and chillier as it got later and later, and it did not seem unlikely that it would get later still. Natch, a game that had zipped along for six innings now seemed destined to move slower than Robinson Cano out of the batter’s box after Robinson Cano has hit a ball to an infielder. Perhaps I’d forgotten from my April absence that Citi Field inevitably finds a way to grow colder than the rest of its immediate vicinity as its nights go along and along some more.
Actually, I felt the icy shoulder as soon as I arrived in No Backpack Land. I don’t carry a backpack. I haven’t carried a backpack since ninth grade (we might have called them knapsacks then). I’ve never brought one to Citi Field. Theoretically, the Mets’ recent security-theater announcement that they would no longer allow backpacks inside its environs, unless they were of the clear variety that just happen to be for sale in the team store, shouldn’t have impacted me whatsoever…except to ease my mind over all the backpacks that were threatening our way of life. But I also had a pretty good hunch that any bag I brought to Citi Field Tuesday night would be interpreted by Citi Field — specifically the people Citi Field’s operational apparatus entrusts to make you genuinely regret that you’ve gone to the trouble of arriving at its entrance — as a backpack. I devoted more of Tuesday afternoon than any adult should to measuring various bags I’ve accumulated over the years for my forthcoming train trip to Mets-Willets Point and decided on a small promotional shoulder bag emblazoned with an airline logo, the squarish type with one detachable strap, a bag that is not only not remotely big, but clearly not designed for packing on one’s back. I even detached the strap in advance of my approach to the Left Field gate so it would seem as small as it really is.
Yeah, like that helped.
“You can’t bring that in,” a very official-looking dude with an intercom device velcroed to his person told me. “It’s a backpack.”
“It’s not a backpack,” I countered, cleverly.
“You can’t bring that in,” he repeated. “It’s a backpack.”
The 2019 Mets: You can’t bring a backpack. Quite the slogan. They should really emphasize instead that you might see Pete Alonso homer.
To my temporary rescue came a lady in a maroon polo shirt, one of those whose role it is to search your non-backpack. She told the official dude, “It’s not a backpack.”
Official dude shrugged. I was allowed to pass to the searching table, after which my gratitude for the lady in the maroon polo shirt dissipated.
“Next time,” she told me, “you can’t bring this inside. It’s a backpack.”
“It’s not a backpack,” I replied.
“It’s a backpack. You just took off the strap.”
“It’s not a backpack,” I reiterated, to which she condescendingly chuckled. “Tell me,” I said, trying to tamp down my irkedness because I was going to a baseball game, and baseball is fun, goddammit, “how would I wear this on my back?”
Having received no response, I moved on to have my ticket scanned several times until success was achieved and then grumpily rode the escalator to the Field Level and tried to remember that seeing the ballpark that I consider mine for the first time in a relatively young season should be a moment for joy, not irk.
Took a while. I visited the perennially underwhelming Mets Hall of Fame, picked up my annual bundle of reference materials to keep my baseball library current — media guide, yearbook, program, a half-dozen pocket schedules, all necessitating the bringing of a small, sturdy shoulder bag, though the schedules do fit snugly in my pocket — and ambled along to my destination, group-only Citi Pavilion. This was a first not simply for 2019 but ever. This was the one seating area that I had never set foot in for the first ten seasons of Citi Field, including when it was the unbranded Bridge Terrace (I think; it was easier to remember what where you sat was called when you mostly sat in Mezzanine). I’d stood by its well-guarded steps but never had a ticket that would allow me to pass.
Now I did, thanks to a diligent public relations professional who was tasked with raising awareness of the Pavilion sponsor’s involvement with Mets baseball, from an array of community-minded initiatives to the presentation of this particular batch of stands — and, I suppose, the name of the ballpark — but never hard-sold any of his “networking event” invitees, two of whom were Jason and me, who are grateful to be remembered warmly in any realm these days.
The Citi Pavilion, as you may have noticed on TV, is constructed in the foreground of Shea Bridge and contains several rows of ergonomically fantastic chairs and tables, some built-in, some the kind you might enjoy on your patio. It’s a pretty sweet setup. There were complimentary beverages and a very friendly fellow who dispensed them upon request and offered inarguable insights regarding certain relievers and their consistently flammable qualities (he’d have let me and my bag in sans hassle, I’m pretty certain). Baskets of snacks were strategically positioned for strategic snacking. A food credit was magically embedded in the bar codes of our tickets, though it took us a while to catch on. Multiple outlets for convenient phone-charging represented plain good thinking.
From a ball-viewing perspective, the infield was a rumor, but the outfield was your neighborhood playground. Set yourself down a spell and watch the adorable kids who stumble around but always try their best — the eventual alignment of Davis in left, Gomez in center and McNeil in right made that analogy a reality. The unspoken bonus was proximity to both bullpens, a place where the catchers, the relievers, the coaches and any other generous souls on the scene have taken an oath to distribute as many baseball as possible to fans within shouting distance. There was a cache of children under the soft drink plaza who can today open their own sporting goods store as a result of this sacred ritual. And there’s this one guy who had the pleasure of adding a baseball to his alleged contraband small shoulder bag.
That is to say I got a ball. My benefactor was an unidentified member of the eventually beleaguered Washington Nationals’ relief party — couldn’t tell you who — and the unreactive bunch of young people who, when the Nat toss didn’t reach their perch, didn’t bother to trundle down a few steps to retrieve said sphere. I waited for them to act, as I believed they were the beseeching target audience for National largesse, but the ball just sat there, sitting longer than I would sit. Being that I was the closer of the two of us to its resting spot, Jason assigned me responsibility for getting up, scooping it up and claiming it in the name of FAFIF. So I did, holding a beat for somebody in the youthful clutch of attendees who missed it on the first fling to ask for it. None of them did. Thus, I have a ball.
And had a low-key one as the evening progressed. As outings consisting of the Mets, Jason and me usually unfold, we paid not so much attention to the action of the field, which was OK, since there wasn’t much action of the field for the first six innings. Juan Soto accounted for a run in the second on a fly ball that disappeared somewhere above Carlos Gomez’s head when he was manning right field. The Mets got it back in the fifth, on a series of plays that transpired a hundred or so yards from our vantage point, one of them pushing Juan Lagares across the plate. Meanwhile, Zack Wheeler  shook off the Soto blast to mow down Nats like Pete Flynn’s successors mow down grass.
Wheeler was still on in the seventh, which seemed like the most natural thing in the world to me, having grown up in that mythic age when pitchers completed what they started, hitters busted it on every ball they tapped two inches and if you wanted to go to a Mets game, you thought nothing of lining up at your local Manufacturers Hanover branch to secure admission. New Age Jason, however, thought Zack’s pitch count was abnormally high for him to continue pitching. I think he announced his conclusion after the heretofore helpless Brian Dozier reached Wheeler for a two-run homer to left, but because he had the foresight to urge me to get that ball, I’ll credit him with uncommonly incisive pitching insights.
The game suddenly woke up to its possibilities. The Mets, losing 3-1, were now facing the kind souls of the Nationals bullpen. If the visitors could give out balls to hordes who would later thirst for their blood, they could give out runners and, sure enough, runs. In the bottom of the seventh, Wilson Ramos singled. Dom Smith walked. J.D. Davis  — not, as I’ve variously misidentified him since his acquisition, eternally resented 2015 Royals closer “Wade Davis”; Friday Night Lights hotshot quarterback/plot device “J.D. McCoy”; or “J.P. Davis” (just me getting it wrong) — drove them and himself in with a very convincing shot that Adam Eaton could only stand, watch and fume about Todd Frazier over.
We were winning. Then we were losing, because Jeurys Familia is not the pitcher he used to be and Davis and Jeff McNeil  are not outfielders at all. Alas, a compromised bench makes strange outfield fellows. The unfortunate top of the eighth not only left the Mets down, 5-4, but me down on the ground, less from despair than because I tripped on the lip of the top step of Citi Pavilion en route to my version of a mound visit. Three gentlemen who patrol the immediate area assured me I was the third person to slip and fall there, which somebody might want to look into. They also literally lifted me to my feet, which was darn nice of them.
The Mets and I may have taken a Cespedes-style fall, but just as I had help standing straight again, the Mets had Alonso in the eighth, and, as we established earlier, he is more effective at putting our humpties together again than any band of king’s horses and men (not that Yoenis was on a horse when he fell). Knotted at five, temperatures drifting downward, Jason and I settled in for a longer haul than originally scheduled. I speculated we were in for perhaps a 13-inning win or an 18-inning loss. Either way, the baskets of snacks had been strategically whisked off our tables. At least the phone chargers kept humming. We might have to call out for midnight snacks.
Ah, but just when you think you know what the Mets are going to do next, you know next to nothing. In the bottom of the ninth, Adeiny Hechavarria , the kind of versatile veteran presence every team needs on its roster, walked with one out (I could take or leave him, really, but his mere Metsian existence drives my partner to frothing, and that’s always fun to provoke). So did the Davis guy, whatever his name is. Pending National League All-Star McNeil — we’ll find a position for him by July — forced Davis at second on a fielder’s choice, but he moved the wily Hechavarria to third while landing on first himself and directly thereafter, sensing the Nationals’ indifference to defense, helped himself to second like I helped myself to that baseball. None of this, except for the part about my ball, was immaterial in the moment, because when the next batter, Amed Rosario , grounded on a neither here-nor-there bounce to Trea Turner, McNeil danced around just enough to maybe distract the Washington shortstop from making the most decisive of throws to first. Rosario’s decision was more obvious, even from way out in right-center where we were standing and urging. Amed ran like the wind that whips off Flushing Bay in extra innings.
Was that going to be a concern? Another pause was in order. Not from Rosario, who never decelerated for a millisecond, but for me to process the only call that was about to matter: safe or out. It shouldn’t have been close. It was just a ground ball. But Trea didn’t charge it like the Ajax kitchen cleanser White Knight once upon a time tore after stubborn stains, and Jeff compelled him for the slightest instant to wonder what the hell he was supposed to do with this thing that was suddenly in his hand. Rosario, by standard protocol, should have been out, 6-3, and we should have been back in our ergonomically fantastic seats, 5-5.
Instead, Rosario’s speed and hustle combined to shatter paradigms. He crossed the bag before the ball Turner threw landed in Gerardo Parra’s mitt, meaning Hechavarria — a pro’s pro, it can’t be repeated enough — was racing across the plate for the sixth Met run. A 6-5 Mets triumph  was truly unfolding before our eyes…wasn’t it?
It was! It was! We won! Pete Alonso hit a home run, the Mets captured a victory in thrilling walkoff fashion, I could exit Citi Field with both my bag and a baseball inside it and, on the LIRR portion of my return train ride, pull out one of my pocket schedules not to seek any particular information, just because it felt good to be on my way home from a game again.