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Bad Game, Good Company

Emily and I spent yesterday getting Joshua settled in at boarding school, which was emotionally fraught, as expected, and also a lot of work. That second part was less expected — there were meetings and receptions, and I wound up assembling shelves and bookcases in a third-floor room in 88-degree heat.

I hadn’t bargained on that, but got it done and then we faced the daunting task of a 4+ hour drive back to New York. That’s a journey I’ve made many, many times — but not usually while quite that tired.

Fortunately, we knew the game would be on.

That’s also familiar territory for me — I’ve racked up thousands of miles with the Mets as my companion, on various radio stations. The At Bat era has changed that somewhat. I no longer feel compelled to extend an evening’s drive to get into the outer edge of radio range, or to cut a drive short to hear the end of a good game. And my time-honed skills at following a game through every third or fourth word and the pitch/pace of the announcers are admittedly less important in the digital age.

But At Bat isn’t a perfect replacement, at least not yet. Instead of the wow and flutter of distance, you get the dreaded message BUFFERING. Instead of storms drowning reception in static, you get the even more dreaded message AUTHORIZING. The difference is that there’s no picking out an occasional word of a radio feed when it’s supposedly doing one of those two things. You get silence. Absence. You get nothing.

Emily and I started the journey with a relatively short drive from Joshua’s new school to a diner we like outside of Worcester, where I paid vague attention to the first inning of the Red Sox-Blue Jays game. Then it was time for the big push. We tuned in just in time to hear Jacob deGrom [1] give up a two-run single to his pitching counterpart Ben Lively [2]. That was bad. On the other hand, the Mets were playing the Phillies, which is usually good.

Not tonight, though. Lively struck again, taking Jake deep for a two-run homer and an improbable four RBIs on the night. The rout was on, with Phillie after Phillie reaching base while deGrom trudged around the mound looking baffled and irritated. (I don’t know that for sure, as all I had was radio, but I can guess.)

A Phillies’ lead of more than a touchdown in the last month of a terrible season wouldn’t normally be a must-listen, but my wife and I were a captive audience. And the hours to come renewed my appreciation for the work of Howie Rose and Josh Lewin.

Last night’s game epitomized forgettable, and the WOR radio team had to know the audience had gone from small to imperceptible once deGrom had been sent to the showers. But Howie and Josh kept on plugging, chronicling events and chatting companionably as if Citi Field was the place you’d want to be.

They talked Al Luplow [3] and Shane Victorino [4] and Don Rose [5] and Dillon Gee [6]. They honored J.P. Crawford [7]‘s first hit and used that as a jumping-off point to discuss the perils of rain and official games and whether Crawford’s milestone might be washed away, like Jay Bruce [8]‘s home run against the Braves. (The rain never showed up at Citi, though we drove through buckets of it in Connecticut.) They talked about Mets’ injuries and next year, and Giancarlo Stanton [9] and Roger Maris [10] and Barry Bonds [11], and how Brandon Nimmo [12] kind of looks like Maris (he does), and along the way they covered whatever it was the Mets were doing out there on the field with no discernable success [13].

In short, they did yeoman work, getting two weary travelers all the way to 684 above White Plains. With the storm having turned WOR into a sea of static (oh for the days of WFAN’s strong, clear signal) I’d switched back to At Bat, which decided it was time for some buffering as Matt Reynolds [14] batted with two outs in the ninth and the Mets down eight. So we switched over to WOR, which was broadcasting a commercial.

“Reynolds hit a home run that went so far the Phillies were spooked into changing pitchers,” I told Emily.

Well, maybe not. The ballgame was over. But so was our drive, near enough. Howie and Josh had been given almost nothing to work with and spun that into three hours of entertainment. Thank you, gentlemen. And thank you, baseball — even the part where you get beat by eight runs.

Oh, as an addendum: an hour after we got home, I was dazedly scrolling through Twitter and discovered the Red Sox-Blue Jays game we’d seen the beginning of east of Worcester was in the 17th inning.