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

Driving Slow on Sunday Morning

There's a most pleasing sliver of my baseball season that recurs now and again, one I tend to forget about as soon as it's transpired, which is too bad. It's the great underreported gem of any year. I don't think I truly noticed it myself until yesterday.

Let's say it's a Sunday morning and I've made arrangements to meet somebody outside the ballpark — whichever ballpark it happens to be this year — kind of early, like an hour before gametime. Doesn't happen too often, and when it does, I'm a little cranky at first because it means sacrificing the few winks I generally get between Ed Randall and Ed Coleman; my sleeping patterns are perpetually askew, so I appreciate the extra hour here and there.

But if I'm going to push myself out the door for anything on a Sunday morning, it's going to be for a Mets game. Push, I did Sunday. Down to the LIRR station, up to the LIRR platform (where I run into my junior high English teacher [1] and her husband; he's a Mets fan who has almost finished my book and tells me we had essentially the same mother — the things you never imagine learning while slogging through eighth grade), onto the 11:01 to Woodside. Except for presenting my ten-trip to the conductor once before Jamaica and once after, I'm cut off from the world by my iPod and several sections of the Times. Come the first sighting of the Interboro Jackie Robinson Parkway, I trade my reading glasses for my distance glasses, stuff all reading materials back into my 2004-model Sports Bag Day Catch The Energy sports bag and prepare to disembark. Moments later, it's Woodside, where the LIRR connection is too far off to stand around and wait for, so I invest two flights of stairs and one Metrocard swipe in the 7.

It's Sunday, so there's no express. Weeknights I won't take the local. Weeknights are too rushed for the local, even if I'm an hour early for the game as occasionally happens. Who want to make eight stops when you can make only two? On Sunday, there's no such decision to make. It's Sunday, so it's all local.

And it's all good. On Sunday morning, when it's not yet noon, the local can take its time. On Sunday morning, the first two cars are blissfully uncrowded. It's not a matter of getting a seat. It's a matter of which seat I'd like. Sometimes I want the window because I need WFAN reception, but I've sort of fallen out of that slice of the ritual. The iPod doesn't leave my ears for a long time. I've got a big chunk of bench to myself, I've got my music, I've got my reading glasses on and my papers out again.

It's a sweet ride. Well-paced. There's no onslaught of Manhattan passengers at 74th Street. It's too soon for that. There are just enough Mets fans so I don't feel like an oddball and just enough neighborhood folks — Jackson Heights, Corona, Flushing — to remind me there's a world outside the Gates where I'm headed. On weeknights I feel like something of an intruder among tired people returning home from work. Sunday morning is Sunday morning. Nobody's intruding on anyone. There's plenty of time, there's plenty of space.

I look up from my reading and try to gauge the Mets fans. Which ones are the habitual attendees, the ones whose grim devotion to the cause puts mine to shame? Which ones are the couples whose boyfriend half got the tickets in hope of impressing or indoctrinating the girlfriend half? Which ones are the citydwellers who haven't been to a game in years but somebody gave them tickets; who only go to a game once a year and treat it as an adventure; who like the Mets fine but could take or leave them? It's easy enough to make out the parents who are raising their kids right. I wonder how many innings the children on board will sit through, squirm through, nosh through, whine through, want stuff through and show just enough interest through so the dad is given heart to do this all again when they're just a little older.

I like the out-of-town visitors, especially when a team without a huge following is playing the Mets and that team isn't a current or ancient enemy. We've had our battles with Cincinnati, to be sure, but hostilities have been minimal in this century. There's always a trickle of Reds fans or their counterparts on these veritable special guest occasions. They're fine until further notice. I like the nonaligned riders, too, the stray American League fan on a ballpark sojourn. I don't mind taking out my earbuds to give directions, though “Mets-Willets Point” is pretty hard to miss.

Past Junction Boulevard. Past 103rd Street. Past 111th Street. Into the station of choice. The papers are back in the bag again and the distance glasses are on again. Our car empties. Every car empties. More Mets fans than I realized on the rest of the train even if it's still before noon. So many different variations on Metswear. Plenty of homages to WRIGHT, of course. BELTRAN and REYES are active. SANTANA pitches every day if you are to believe the backs of the jerseys and t-shirts. Somebody's still clinging to PIAZZA. There's always a SEAVER just as there's always someone who won't waste a perfectly good ALOMAR even if Alomar was a perfect waste. PULSIPHER and PAYTON sneak through the turnstiles from another era. Somebody handed down a CARTER to the next generation. And somebody else goes to a lot of trouble and secures something otherworldly like a Chiba Lotte Marines top with VALENTINE 2 on the back (when such exotica is spotted, one must stop observing, step up and salute with a “hey, nice jersey!”)

Early on a Sunday, there won't be much in the way of chanting. If it's the Reds or some other cameo-appearer, there won't be smack talk. The drinking teens are taking a later train, so it's not particularly loud. Some 40,000 may find their way into our ultimate destination in the next hour or so, but it's not a stampede from the 7, through the station, down the staircase. It's steady. Steady and reassuring. I've been doing this forever. Shea Stadium becomes Citi Field and I'm still doing it. Gate E is now the Left Field Gate, but the principle remains the same. Sometimes, if tickets were distributed in advance, we meet inside. Sometimes, if someone's grilling, we meet at somebody's van. Sometimes texts and cell calls fly. Sometimes it's as simple as the solitude of the stairs, the plaza, a side trip to my brick and the appointed spot at the appointed moment, a little after noon. The earbuds stay in until the person of the hour [2] emerges as promised.

The initial recognition, the warm greeting, the cheery interaction between friends is the payoff on the ride. You were looking forward to this and this, it turns out, was worth looking forward to. A dozen sidebars [3] will reveal themselves, other swell Mets fans [4] will join in, but eventually, because there is a main event involved, the substance of the game supercedes all. You enjoyed the ride, you enjoy your friends, you embrace your surroundings, but the fortunes of the afternoon are at last in the hands of the Mets. This particular Sunday, they hit plenty, they pitch just enough and they win their second in a row [5], a streak that will stay current for several days running thanks to the vagaries of the July schedule. The Mets are on a roll. Life, therefore, rocks.

The ride home will be better because of what just happened. The ride in, however, was guaranteed to be good no matter what was going to occur. It was something comfortingly familiar yet it was loaded with anticipation for the unknown. I've done it so many times and I always want to do it again. Especially on a sleepy Sunday morning.


• Baseball takes an All-Star Break but Faith and Fear in Flushing plays through. Look for our annual series of midsummer essays to carry you through to 7:00 Thursday night.

• You might want to christen the return to real baseball July 16 with a trip to Foley's NY [6] on W. 33rd St. between Fifth and Sixth, across from the Empire State Building. As the Mets take on Ryan Church and the Braves in Atlanta at 7:00 PM, Foley's will feature the stylings of Frank Messina, the Mets Poet. We saw Frank at Varsity Letters in April, and he (and his book [7]) are worth your attention [8].

• As long as you're making plans to take in a road game at a public venue, we suggest you mark your calendars for 7:00 PM, July 21, the first of Three AMAZIN' TUESDAYS at Two Boots Tavern on the Lower East Side. I'll be hosting along with Jon Springer of Mets By The Numbers, and our special guests will include Paul Lukas of ESPN Uni Watch and Matt Silverman, co-author (with Keith Hernandez) of Shea Goodbye. All the salient details are here [9]. We'd love to see you for an immensely Mets evening of reading, rooting and Rey Ordoñez.

• Read the book my junior high English teacher's husband is enjoying: Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, available at local bookstore and online from Amazon [10] and Barnes & Noble [11]. Join the discussion on Facebook [12].