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

Little Moments and Larger Stories

Every day of Improv Season 2020 is another moment to cock your head, say “huh” and try and figure things out.

Most of that’s been a little anxious. I know Citi Field well enough that just seeing its geometry was enough for my sense of familiarity to kick in and make me think, “I can work with this.” But Fenway without people looks eerie and feels shorn of its charm. It’s still a little bandbox, but there’s no lyricism — that comes from the people crowding into the too small seats and making their way through the crowded concourses and peering around the poles from another century.

But it’s not completely anxious. At least in small doses, the experiments are interesting. I hope expanded playoffs, the National League designated hitter and extra-inning runners on second are one-offs we won’t see again. But picking up yet-to-be-official suspended games from the point of suspension, instead of replaying them from the jump? Let’s keep that. Why did we spend all those years doing something strange, wasteful and punitive in the first place? As for the rest of it? I don’t mind so far — this whole season’s an exhibition. Just go with it, even if the outcome turns out to be unfair, weird or both. Or if there’s no outcome at all.

I do wonder, however, if some of the sloppiness we’ve seen so far this season is about more than understandably discombobulated players and abbreviated training times. It has to be bizarre to try and play baseball in a sonic and emotional void. Ballplayers are adrenaline junkies, riding its spikes in ways I think a lot of us would find terrifying. Does playing without the sounds of a big crowd and the attendant emotions mean a loss of focus on a crucial pitch, a slightly tardier first step on a ball into the gap, a blurring of tunnel vision when focus is what’s needed? I don’t know — maybe the players themselves don’t know yet — but I’m curious.

I’m determined to make it a cliche five days in, but the saving grace of Improv Season 2020 has been that the game’s still the game, even if the announcers and the fans are somewhere else.

For example, pitchers making their big-league debuts still look like they can’t get enough air out there when they need to throw that first pitch. Once he got that out of the way, though, David Peterson [1] was impressive — none of his pitches is of a quality that would make scouts drool, perhaps, but you can see him thinking out there, mixing speeds and changing eye levels and working to outmaneuver hitters. His sinker kept sailing, but he adjusted, using his slider and change-up to make up for their rebellious sibling. For a game at least, Peterson reminded me of Dillon Gee [2], which I absolutely mean as a compliment. His scouting report may never advance beyond qualified praise, but I had faith that he’d get as much out of what he had as possible. A few guys with that profile succeed consistently, some rarely do, most have to live with equal portions of success and failure, but all of them are easy to root for.

(Next day addition: If you subscribe to The Athletic, Tim Britton does a wonderful job breaking down how Peterson attacked J.D. Martinez [3] in two key ABs. And if you don’t subscribe to the Athletic, you should. Britton’s the best guy on the Mets beat, worthy of comparisons to the great Adam Rubin.)

The rest of the Mets looked … well, similar to how they’ve looked so far. As with the Braves series, there were a lot of windmill swings and overaggressive approaches, and too much sloppiness in the field. But one’s always harder on one’s own team than the opposition, because you’re painfully aware of the gap between what your team is and what you think they ought to be. The Mets look like they still need some tinkering, but the Red Sox look like a complete mess, with tomato-can pitching and a general listlessness to every aspect of the proceedings.

But again, it’s improv. Everyone deserves to be graded on the curve, at least until baseball figures out how this works. Assuming that’s even possible, which it may not be. For now, it’s strange rules and empty stadiums and remembering not to do half the little teammate things you’ve done for a decade or more, with other teams’ mandated blanks in the schedule as a reminder of what can go wrong.

We absolutely have to keep our eyes on that — and be honest about the cost-benefit analysis — but we can also enjoy the familiar things and the entertainingly unfamiliar things too. Home runs off the Pesky pole, balls played surprisingly well off the Green Monster, goofy rundowns following blown double plays that were everyone’s and no one’s fault, guys adding their signatures to the inside of the Fenway Park scoreboard, a rookie with a W [4] and a game ball he’ll treasure forever? We can be grateful for those little moments even as we wonder and worry about the larger story.