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Our Skyline, Our Kevin

When viewed from just a bit outside Metsopotamia, our obsessions must seem odd to the detached observer. I guess you could say that about how any community appears to anybody who’s not wholly immersed in it, but over the past couple of days, we have been uncommonly true to ourselves, our passions and our minutiae.

First, there was Logogate, the discovery that the sainted skyline emblem whose essential elements have remained virtually untouched for 53 years was tinkered with, perhaps nefariously. Only the most focused of Mets fans would immediately notice such an alteration. One of the most focused I’ve ever crossed paths with did. FAFIF reader and commenter Steve D. sent us (and others) an email over the weekend noting that the building on the far right of the skyline had been remodeled, at least on the Mets’ social media accounts. It was no longer the United Nations, but the Citigroup Center.

The switch would be a little curious on its own, but the “Citi” associaton set off alarm bells with Steve by Saturday and several more Mets fans blessed with detail detectors by Monday evening. My talented photographer friend David Whitham [1] took the topic to Twitter as Jacob deGrom [2] was striking out record numbers of Marlins [3], and by the next morning — as disseminated via Uni Watch [4] and Mets Police [5], in particular — the observation was a story…or least a sidebar.

Somewhere between the dramatics of deGrom Monday night and the shriveling of Selig [6] late Tuesday afternoon, several reporters who regularly patrol Citi Field covered the issue. The Mets told the accredited media, in so many words, we haven’t a clue how the UN became Citigroup. Which I believe, because if we’re gonna accuse the Mets hierarchy of being clueless, we have to stay consistent.

Several plausible theories have been floated, everything from “this was a typical corporate sellout conducted at the behest of the stadium’s naming-rights holders” (who, it deserves pointing out, are no longer headquartered at the no longer so-named Citigroup Center) to “somebody must have whipped up something for a PowerPoint presentation and it innocently seeped from hard drive to Facebook when a logo was called for.” The main thing was the Mets swore they weren’t modernizing/defiling the skyline that’s been their signature graphic since November of 1961 [7], or before there technically were Mets.

Who cares? We care. We care a lot. It’s who we are, it’s what we do. Not everybody gets that, not necessarily even those who are the temporary custodians of our family crest. Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal tweeted this revealing nugget after investigating:

People I talked to today around the Mets were all pretty impressed you guys a) noticed and b) cared so much about the logo.

“That kind of passion,” Diamond concluded, “sure beats the alternative: apathy.”

So few matters we care about as Mets fans reside within our grasp that it felt wrong, whether you warm to the idea of contemporizing the skyline [8] or see any adjustment as an affront against history — I’m in the latter camp — to be shown what appeared to be “the new logo” without any warning, let alone any request for input. Occasional gimmick notwithstanding, the Mets organization sets high prices for admission while preserving a low budget as a hedge against contention. Our only potential impact on those frustrating facts would be to turn away altogether from what the Mets are selling. September’s acres of empty seats [9] would seem to indicate we’re doing a fine job of resisting their wares, but we’re still Mets fans, we still wear Mets stuff and, let’s face it, we’re not going anywhere.

Nor should we. This is our team. It was our team when a friendly society lady was listed as owner; it was our team when the frontman was a country club kind of chap who stood off to the side as he invested in rebuilding a winner; and it’s our team no matter how many Wilpons we have to endure. We don’t have a say about much. If we can sneak one in over something that kicks us right in the aesthetics, well, I’m glad we saw something and we said something.

From the looks of still photographs, amateur video and one or two live shots on television, plenty of Mets fans modeling plenty of apparel featuring the classic skyline logo clustered together at Citi Field Wednesday night and evinced a sense of enthusiasm rarely generated during the ballpark’s six seasons of existence. It had zero to do with the Mets’ latest loss to the Marlins [10]. It had everything to do with something else — somebody else, actually — who qualifies as uniquely ours.

The Shea Bridge was jammed as if it was the on-ramp to the Triborough (RFK, if you’re a stickler) at rush hour. It wasn’t to cheer on Dillon Gee [11] or curse out Marcell Ozuna [12]. It was all about extending a reluctant goodbye laced with a hearty go-get-’em to favorite son Kevin Burkhardt. Burkhardt’s been SNY’s Met field reporter since 2007. If Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez [13] and Ron Darling [14] are Original to the network in the Hot Rod Kanehl [15] sense, let’s slot Kevin in as Ron Hunt [16]. Hunt came along in the franchise’s second year and showed just how good an up-and-coming Met could be.

Burkhardt took on a frankly useless role and, via a voice that never wavered in its honesty, transformed it into essential. He was a co-star of the greatest show on nightly television; Mets telecasts are engaging, enlightening and entertaining, more so the miracle given that Mets baseball has been anything but. And (unlike Hunt), Kevin kept getting better. The man was already an ace, but not even Tom Seaver [17] came out of the womb throwing first-pitch strikes.

Across eight seasons, Burkhardt learned to work his way seamlessly out of all but the most mandatory of superfluous action-interrupting interviews. He grew out of his dependence on “cool” and “neat” to describe people and places he deemed, well, cool and neat. For a few years, a friend and I mocked his tendency to start every sentence with “Guys…” I noticed he stopped doing that.

I love watching somebody get better at what he or she loves to do. Kevin Burkhardt was a joy to watch in that regard. He was a joy to watch in every regard, in every setting, in every stadium. The joy filtered through the television and it followed him around Citi Field. It’s no wonder that in advance of his final home game, once Darren Meenan of the 7 Line put out the word to gather along the Shea Bridge [18] to celebrate Kevin’s elevation to a higher-profile position at Fox Sports and thank him for his contributions to our culture, Mets fans showed up and showed their appreciation.

Again, the outsider might wonder what all the fuss was about for a field reporter. He called no clinchers. He had to pause for pieings. He hopped in a kayak in San Francisco. He went marketing for meat in San Diego. He kibbitzed with construction workers and rookies’ parents. He wasn’t Jack Buck in St. Louis or Ernie Harwell in Detroit or Bob Murphy [19] at Shea Stadium. Eight seasons is significant, but in the annals of broadcasting, it’s not normally the stuff of institutions.

Ah, but Kevin Burkhardt was ours. In Metsopotamia, we cherish that. We take it gloriously personally. He was one of us, which certainly helped, but his Mets fan roots didn’t conflict with his professionalism (just as they don’t for Gary Cohen and Howie Rose). Mostly he was a mensch, and he devoted his menschiness to giving us an even better broadcast. We appreciate the hell out of that sort of devotion to our cause, especially when it meshes with his kind of excellence at his craft. Of course he’d draw a crowd. Of course he’d find a way to embrace the sentiments while deflecting the praise. Of course he’d offer up a public letter of thanks [20] to Mets fans everywhere. The guy I used to think of as “Guys” is just that kind of guy.