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

The Lukewarm Stove League

Ow, this stove is … not particularly hot.

Ow, this stove is … not particularly hot.

During other, long-gone and apparently equally endless offseasons, Bill Veeck used to call up one of his fellow owners and engineer a “dog-and-cat trade” — a swap of generally useless utility infielders or outfield caddies or what in a few more generations would be called middle relievers. The idea wasn't really to improve the ballclub, though sometimes that was a lucky by-product, but to sell papers in two towns and keep fans talking about their baseball teams while the snow piled up.

Yes, dog-and-cat trades are pointless. But weeks like these remind you of why they're useful. Without them, you get the thigh-high morass of non-news, which for Met fans tends to mean anxiety and muttering.

It was just so Metsian, for instance, that a media tour of a ballpark that's finally starting to look like a ballpark would have to turn into an awkward colloquy on whether the Mets should give back $20 million as some kind of charitable gesture, and on Jeff Wilpon's feelings about credit crises and federal bailouts. Yeesh. Sometimes you look at the Mets and you think that Tommie Agee's twin catches and Zisk/Augustine and Mookie jack-knifing away from the plate and the ball squirting through Buckner are actually a vague return on our franchise's mostly unbroken run of buzzard's luck. Yay, we're getting $20 million a year for naming rights — and naming rights don't slump or get hurt! What could possibly go wrong?

Should Citibank dive into the death spiral it's trying to pull itself out of by cutting back on parts of its marketing budget designed to increase consumer awareness? Should the Mets forego the salary of a Cy Young winner or All-Star power hitter every year to show they too are tightening belts? Neither is worth even vaguely serious consideration — such a sacrifice would be a pinprick on Citi's balance sheet and a giant wound to the Mets' future payroll — but sports columnists and politicians make their livings outside the realm of vaguely serious consideration, running neck-and-neck as always in their race to be more fatuous. For me, the most interesting thing from the Citi tour was hearing that David Wright, Ryan Church and Nick Evans had taken batting practice there soon after the season ended — which cheered me up for about a nanosecond before it vanished under the tidal wave of polemical silliness.

A dog-and-cat trade would have pushed this nonsense off the sports pages, leaving us to wallow in more interesting nonsense. Instead, we have agate-wire pickups (Adam Bostick is back! We signed a backup catcher who doesn't have the initials R.C.!) that can't even excite me and Greg. We have closer anxiety before we actually have a closer, which was entirely sensible during our nightmare September but is pointless now. It's barely December and not one of them even plays for us, but I swear it feels like K-Rod has already blown a brace of saves for an enormous amount of money, Brian Fuentes isn't fooling anybody, and Huston Street is hurt. Oh, and Manny's potentially a Met target and Aaron Heilman wants to start but we don't want him to start because we'd be better off with him relieving, except recently he can't really relieve, so let's boo him. I swear I've read both those stories about 11,000 times since the Dow was at 11,000.

This always happens — were I a wiser man, I'd paw through this tangle of mini-stories and non-stories and maybe-stories and old stories, conclude “must be getting to be the second week of December,” and simply wait for the days to start getting longer instead of worrying about any of it. (And hey, remember that last offseason we did absolutely nothing anybody liked — until we stole the best starting pitcher on the planet away from the Twins.) But that's not the way baseball works in the dead of winter — this is the kind of “always happens” that's no help each time it happens again, because when the grass has turned to tundra and you've got your head scrunched down to your chest against the cold it's hard to imagine anything as simple and satisfying (or simple and aggravating) as a June game against the Pirates. So your baseball-starved mind fills up with the unsimple and the decidedly unsatisfying.

I flew back from North Carolina on the day after Thanksgiving, and coming into La Guardia I had an excellent view of Citi Field and Shea Stadium from just above the water, just as I'd hoped. Seen from the side, Citi looked startlingly finished and ready for action, and with its outer ring still intact so did Shea — two ballparks almost intertwined, nearly in each other's arms. At another time it might have given me a smile, or made me briefly sad, but not this time. Shea is no more but somehow still half-alive and Citi is near but not fully born, and knowing that made it into a mess — it looked like what it was, which was two ballparks occupying a space made for one.

The site, like the Mets and like all of us, is betwixt and between, stuck at the bleak crossroads of 2008's disappointments and 2009's anxieties. And it would be better for all involved if we could just hurry up, move along and get wherever it is we're going.