- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

A Perfect Baseball Day?

1) Thanks to the kindness of an old friend, Greg, Emily and I got to see batting practice from the edge of the field. Michael Conforto [1] is David Wright [2]-level kind, signing anything and everything, posing for pictures and being supernaturally patient even when it might not be called for. (If you’re a major-league player who pauses for even a second during BP, you’ll be overwhelmed by a din of requests/demands. It’s scary and, OK, a little gross.) There was a cameo by old friend Kevin Plawecki [3], who came over and chatted amiably with Fred Wilpon, which was interesting to see. And points to the Cleveland pitcher wearing a shirt that said RELIEVERS ARE PEOPLE TOO.

BP is a pleasure in its own right — the crunch of the dirt under your feet, the sight of that perfectly maintained grass, the wire baskets of baseballs (cue Bull Durham [4]: “You hit white balls for batting practice in the Show…”), the sound of balls off the bat. It also reminded me of the last time I’d been down there at Citi Field, and how I’d watched Jeff Francoeur [5] take BP. Francoeur hit several balls perfectly — pitch in his happy zone, contact with the sweet spot of the bat, full power behind the swing — and effortlessly redirected them up to the neighborhood of the Citi Field restaurant. It was the hitter’s equivalent of a pitcher laying an inning-ending curve on the outside of the plater when the batter’s expecting something else, so that by the time the pitch arrives the pitcher’s heading off the mound and the catcher’s leaning toward the dugout, like a magic trick. Except you see at least a couple of those pitches every week, but you almost never see a hitter put a perfect swing on the ball, because with every swing he’s contending against the best pitchers in the world trying to trick him and spoil his timing, and if they succeed even a little the results are different. That day I saw a bunch of perfect swings, and I was awestruck.

I also immediately understood the old baseball line about 5 o’clock thunder, and why it wasn’t entirely the pejorative I’d thought. Francoeur was going to have a baseball contract as long as he wanted to play, because someone would always see what he could do in BP, and understandably invest in the effort of trying to unlock that perfect swing, without worrying about the midsize problem that Francoeur was too stubborn to accept that four balls meant a free base. The player who had the most impressive BP session yesterday, by the way, was Aaron Altherr [6].

2) Once the Indians took over batting practice, we retired inside, got something to eat, and talked baseball in a delightfully meandering way where the journey is its own reward. We talked about Mets play-by-play callers during the team’s North Korea phase, the curious career of Mets backstop Rick Sweet [7] (not Ricky), how much authenticity is required for custom baseball cards (finding a photo of Kevin Elster [8] that’s from his 1986 cameo and not his main Mets career is difficult, y’all), Rod Gaspar [9] and Wilbur Huckle, scoreboard-watching during wild-card season, the reasons behind my 1981-1984 loss of Mets faith and what that absence meant, and a whole lot more besides.

3) We ducked into the Mets Hall of Fame for a brief visit, something I always mean to do but somehow never get the time to accomplish. Who knew there were All-Star rings? We also posed for the new Faith and Fear author photo you might have noticed. The last one was from 2009; we’re a little older, if not wiser.

4) Then it was time for the game, a much-anticipated, mildly nerve-wracking date with the Cleveland Indians, their ace Shane Bieber [10] and their intimidating lineup. (It was the Indians’ first-ever trip to Citi Field, leaving the Mariners as the only club we’ve never welcomed to our no-longer-so-new home as guests.) The coming of night had stripped the afternoon heat out of the air, leaving us with a night that Bob Murphy would have lingered over for its perfect suitability for baseball.

The Mets put up a classy tribute to the late Al Jackson [11] (Greg has his own here [12]), then played a game that might be one of the most prized in the taxonomy of baseball games I keep rattling on about. Things were tense early, comebacks were staged, there was a moment of huge tension in the middle, and then they pulled safely away so you could exhale and enjoy the night [13].

For the historical record, the Mets fell behind 1-0 on a Jason Kipnis [14] homer, one of the few errant pitches made by Steven Matz [15] on a very good night. They took the lead on a drive by J.D. Davis [16] — whose calf looked fine, whew — to the right of the apple core, then took the lead again after some poor Indians defense on a drive out to the Shea Bridge from Conforto.

Matz departed with a two-run lead in jeopardy, but Justin Wilson [17] cleaned up ably, fanning Francisco Lindor [18] and Oscar Mercado [19] to secure the lead. The Mets then poured it on — Joe Panik [20]! Amed Rosario [21]! Pete Alonso [22]! Rajai Davis [23]! — to leave the outcome in no real doubt, as evidenced by Mickey Callaway [24] giving the ninth to Paul Sewald [25] and his accompanying little black cloud. (Sewald & Cloud gave up a double but not a run and looked pretty good, all things concerned.)

BP, talking baseball with old friends, dinner where baseball caps are encouraged instead of frowned at, a beautiful evening and a Mets win? If that’s not a perfect baseball day, it has to at least be up there.