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Fandom in the Shadows

Every baseball fan worth her salt knows it’s one of the fundamental rules of fandom: You extrapolate from Opening Day at your peril.

Collin Cowgill [1]‘s grand slam on Opening Day 2013 [2] didn’t kickstart a 162-0 season and a World Series title, or keep Cowgill in the major leagues until early May.

On Opening Day 1969 [3] Tom Seaver [4] and the Mets lost an 11-10 horror show to the newborn Expos. Both the Franchise and the franchise ended the campaign just fine.

Losing on Opening Day hurts less than it does any other day, because even if you end it at 0-1 and looking up in the standings, it’s Opening Day. You’ve got bunting and flyovers and first pitches and introductions and video tributes and pomp and circumstance and firsts and old friendships renewed and best of all, you’ve got the promise that for the next six months (at least) this is normal. 1:10 and 7:10 mean something again, and the calendar is blissfully full instead of horribly empty.

But still.

You should have seen us after they lost. [5]

You should have seen us after they lost.

I saw the second half of the Ralph Kiner [6] tribute while getting and devouring tacos, then headed up to the Promenade to meet Greg, where we sat under bright skies and in the teeth of a nasty, whipping wind. When I woke up this morning the radar map looked like a bruise, an end-of-days mix of blue and red and purple, so it felt faintly miraculous to see the field bathed in sunshine. But that’s not the same as saying it was a nice day up there — it was cold, particularly after the sun dipped below the perimeter of the stadium, not to return. Not Jackie Robinson [7] Night [8] cold or Candlestick cold or Harvey Against the Padres cold (we discussed it at length), but cold enough. The crowd was cheerful but restless, eager to pounce on any and all targets, starting with Ruben Tejada [9] and ending with the bullpen. Greg and I had opinions on all of the above, of course, but also discussed the various new Citi Field skits and bits and other between-innings marginalia. As with all other things, it’s unfair to extrapolate from one day, but the trio of Everybody Get Psyched! designated Mets rooters should try less caffeine or they’ll wear out their welcome by Tax Day. Cuppy’s back, you’ll be glad to know, though he’s now mute witness to Simon Says instead of vaguely hiding somewhere in the stands. Poor Howie Rose has been pressed into service as a triviameister, which seems like the kind of thing he’ll endure rather than enjoy. The kids in the mini-Citi beyond left field no longer swing for the fences but try to snag grounders, a competition that punishes failure rather than applauding success. But we’ll give all of the above a chance to mature — who would have predicted the Dada joy of finding Cuppy last April?

As for the game, well, Dillon Gee [10] and Jose Valverde [11] and Juan Lagares [12] and David Wright [13] and Andrew Brown [14] were swell — Brown’s bolt into the left-field seats was one of those swats that’s instantly and obviously gone, bringing the crowd to its feet for a Cowgillian roar, and Valverde’s antics were welcome after the antics of Carlos Torres [15] and Scott Rice [16], which involved not throwing a strike even once. John Lannan [17]‘s homecoming wasn’t quite what he had in mind, and Eric Young [18] Jr. did nothing on either side of the ball to make anyone but Terry Collins [19] think he should be starting. (To be fair, Daniel Murphy [20] was off becoming a dad, pushing EY to second base, which no one seriously contemplated him playing except in such an emergency.) More worrisome: Bobby Parnell [21] got squeezed on one critical pitch in the ninth but had no excuse for several others, and his velocity mostly sat in the low 90s. At one point I watched as the scoreboard showed 90 MPH FASTBALL and then 88 MPH CHANGEUP, which is a recipe for further disasters.

So the Mets’ bullpen gave up one lead and then another and then the game. By the time Curtis Granderson [22] had stuck out for the third and final time (yeesh), I was on the subway, called away to fetch Joshua from school. And on the way out of Citi Field, I ran into a metaphor I wish I’d avoided.

Like I’ve said, it was cold — my feet were numb as I descended the stairwell, tracking the game through snatches of Lewin-Rose and crowd reaction that leaked out from each level. Leaving the stadium, I braced myself for further wind and cold. But to my surprise, it wasn’t too bad outside. The sun was bright, and it was actually … warm. I frowned, and double-checked what I was feeling. I wasn’t imagining things — it had turned into a very nice early-spring day, the kind that lets you dream of soft, warm June nights. It was only my fellow fans inside who were still suffering, the ones stuck in the shadows watching the Mets lose [23].