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Ya Gotta Conceive

Three days ago, a thrilling game against the Dodgers would have ended a bit differently. Rather than Juan Uribe [1] staring out at Kenley Jansen [2], it would have been Eric Campbell [3] or Darrell Ceciliani [4] or Johnny Monell [5] or John Mayberry [6] Jr. or someone else we’ve written about more often in sorrow than in celebration.

That isn’t fair. Perhaps Ceciliani would have hit a long drive into the seats, or Campbell would have … oh, screw it. We know better, don’t we?

It was Uribe who got an 0-2 pitch that arrived at a greater elevation than Jansen had planned, and Uribe who sent it arcing off the top of the wall — short of a home run by a disappointingly slim margin, tall enough of a double to send disappointment packing [7] and Curtis Granderson [8] scampering home.

I was listening on At Bat up at my folks’ summer place in Maine, and Uribe’s bat hitting ball made The Sound — a crack that causes heads to pop up from whatever’s occupied them and people in the next room come to see what the fuss is.

I’ve been coming to this house on the Sheepscot River since 1980, first with my folks and now when multiple family schedules allow. There’s no TV up here, so games are followed by radio. For years that meant WFAN, with a signal that would yaw and pitch and wail while the sun was up and then strengthen once darkness had fallen, which in late July means the sixth inning or so.

New technologies began elbowing over-the-air radio aside nearly two decades ago — my parents still remind me of the night I listened to a Valentine-era Mets’ radio feed via AOL dial-up, none of us knowing that I’d accidentally picked a long-distance number and so was paying north of a dollar a minute to hear a leisurely run-of-the-mill summer game. Now I don’t even know WOR’s call letters — At Bat simply fetches the bits from whereever they reside in Digital Land and brings them to me. (The concept of a long-distance call no longer exists, but I am doing damage to my data plan.)

I’ve listened to enough over-the-air radio under questionable conditions to glean information from the smallest snippets of context: a sudden acceleration in the rhythm of the announcers’ voices, or chatter where the flow of the game would normally have yielded silence.

Digital connections, though, don’t erode. They vanish — you’re either listening to the game or fiddling with a setting. Though this can lead to oddities of its own: Driving up on Friday, Emily and I were listening to At Bat through our rental car’s sound system, and when we hit a cell dead zone the car would helpfully cue up the first song stored on the iPhone, at impressive volume.

That first song turned out to be, I kid you not, “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” by Ella Fitzgerald.

That’s a fine song — I’d be happy to hear it instead of “Piano Man,” though I’d also say that about the Mets playing three minutes of a car alarm — but it will now be forever linked in my mind with wanting to hear the Mets but not being able to.

Anyway, Sunday afternoon was spent sitting in the dining room watching the rain in the trees and listening to Jacob deGrom [9] and Zack Greinke [10] strike people out. You could hear the buzz of the Citi Field crowd handing out huzzahs to deGrom and heralding Michael Conforto [11] for standing still at the best possible time … until things went awry for Jeurys Familia [12], whose misadventures stopped the party and left Josh Lewin and Wayne Randazzo narrating over a disconsolate hush.

I sighed and accepted what had happened — Familia won’t always be effective and Uribe won’t always smother what comes his way, though going forward he will now expect his closer’s occasional quick-pitch.

Familia faltered, but Jenrry Mejia [13] held the line against Joc Pederson [14] an inning later, chasing and capturing a key strikeout to keep the game tied. And then, in the bottom of the 10th, we were reminded that the Mets have finally rearmed, first with Conforto’s summoning to the field of battle and then with the import of Uribe and Kelly Johnson [15], neither of whom will be the Least Consequential Met when revealed later today.

Should he choose to write one (which he won’t), Sandy Alderson would produce a great tell-all book about his time as GM of the Mets. What was he told about the Wilpons’ finances at various points, and how did he respond? Why, after having to make nonsensical pronouncements about payroll, did he choose another tour of duty? Why did the team play with 24 guys so many times? Was the Mets’ long undermanned slog through the summer of 2015 a product of a slow-to-develop trade market, the owners’ pockets being sewn shut, or Sandy’s own … for now let’s call it “patience?” Did that patience turn into stubbornness in the face of repeated bad luck and fan/media yowling for action?

Whatever the case, the narrative in Panic City had become a new breed of toxic in recent weeks, with fans bemoaning that a division was there for the taking but the Mets seemed willfully determined not to put in a claim on it.

That corrosive storyline went away with the arrival of Conforto, Johnson and Uribe. Which won’t deliver the division to the Mets — another bat would be a big help, and an unhappy part of me still expects the Nats to finally find their focus and accelerate away from the rest of the NL East.


As in, but the Mets will soon have Travis d’Arnaud [16] back again, hopefully this time not to be hit by a pitch or a runner or the 10:30 from Woodhaven. As in, but David Wright [17] is beginning baseball activities, that most hopeful of nebulous pronouncements. As in, but some of David’s more underwhelming teammates have ceased baseball activities, at least while wearing blue and orange at the major-league level. As in, but the Mets have survived a 10-game stretch against top teams and now begin an extended period of playing divisional also-rans.

None of this guarantees anything, but there’s an opportunity here — and the Mets are finally acknowledging that it exists, and taking steps to do something about it. After a summer of apparent inaction, that’s more than welcome.

Ya gotta conceive! It may not be a great rallying cry. But it’s a start.