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

A Weekend at the Improv

The plan was a good one: head down to Philadelphia for Saturday’s night game, for which friends had sweet tickets through a work event. I was excited to see Noah Syndergaard [1], our pals, the Mets, and to get another look at Citizens Bank Park, which back in the last years of Shea opened my eyes to how much better a modern park might make things.

Not so fast, said Mother Nature.

The radar was a sea of red to the west. We knew we didn’t need to hurry to be there for first pitch. Then came the rains — vengeful, Biblical rains. It didn’t take a baseball lifer to guess there would be no first pitch.

Ah well, so it goes.

But then it looked like Sunday’s game would vanish too.

This time, the weather-related havoc turned out not to be an entirely bad thing. The Mets and Phils were delayed long enough for Emily and I to take our seats in the front of the Megabus back to New York — we arrived (in radio terms) as the Mets had the bases loaded and one out against Aaron Nola [2] in the top of the first. Alas, nothing came of it, and as the bus pulled out Jacob deGrom [3] took the hill for the bottom of the first.

He was still there as our lumbering bus navigated central Philly traffic and construction.

He was still there as another round of passengers got their bags settled and arranged themselves on board.

He was still there as the bus headed across the Delaware River.

He was still there when we crossed into New Jersey.

It felt like he might still be there when the sun ran out of fuel, swelled and engulfed the Earth. That would probably interfere with the game even more thoroughly than a thunderstorm.

DeGrom was there for 45 pitches in all, a frustrating, quietly mesmerizing Verdun of a struggle. Like the Mets, the Phillies loaded the bases. Like the Mets, nothing came of it. DeGrom, incredibly, escaped without scoring a run. Except he didn’t really escape — that inning ‘s overwork ensured his departure.

The game then settled into a slow grind as our bus rolled up the turnpike, with Emily and I on an earbud each. It’s been a while since I was radio-only, and once again I found myself thankful for the presence of Josh Lewin. Lewin is still “the new guy,” but at this point that’s by default — somehow this is his seventh season calling games alongside Howie Rose. As has been the case since Lewin arrived in 2012, I appreciate his quirky sense of humor, his quick wit, and most of all how much he’s loosened up Rose. Howie is a treasure, but years of undistinguished radio partners had left him sounding cranky and bored by 2012. The new guy (sorry, it’s inescapable) has helped him shake off the rust, making his crankiness once again endearing. And there are few radio duos better at rising to a game’s occasion: that endless first inning brought out the best in them, as they kept track of pitches thrown, balls fouled off, remarked on the strange lack of action, eyeballed deGrom with his recent injury in mind, and searched for historical precedents.

It was a treat to listen to, though after that they didn’t have as much to work with. The game became a snoozy back and forth. Yoenis Cespedes [4] (who arguably shouldn’t have been out there in the first place, given we all know how pushing him through a leg injury ends) connected for a home run in the sixth; Paul Sewald [5] left a slider over the fat part of the plate in the bottom half of the inning for an enemy homer. 3-1 Phils.

Meanwhile, we were nearing New York — and I was worrying about my phone’s battery. We’d been at 47% when I got on the bus, with nary a USB port to be seen. I’d conserved power by resisting the temptation to check Twitter, email and other scores, so as our bus crawled through Mother’s Day traffic in Hoboken I wondered what percentage of phone and game remained.

The bus reached its New York stop with the Mets down to their final out and Asdrubal Cabrera [6] at the plate as the tying run, facing Edubray Ramos [7], against whom he had done wonderful things [8] before. Two strikes, and I dared to peek at my phone. Its battery counter read 2%.

I was hoping the Mets had enough game in them that I’d need more than that. If not, well, at least I’d see things through.

But that look proved fatal — it was Orpheus sneaking a glance over his shoulder. As Ramos got the sign, my screen went black. I didn’t know it at the time, but about a minute later, so did the Mets’ chances [9].

* * *

Longtime readers know that I’m semi-obsessed with Mets ghosts — guys who were on the active roster but never got into a game. Going into this season there had been nine of them, starting with Jim Bibby [10] back in 1969 and running through Ruddy Lugo [11] and Al Reyes in 2008. Two of the Met ghosts — Billy Cotton (1972) and Terrel Hansen (1992) — suffered the additional indignity of never getting to play in a big-league game for anybody.

Ghostdom can be a temporary thing. Corey Oswalt [12] became one earlier this year, escaping when he was called up again and got into a game. Matt Reynolds [13] spent the 2015 offseason as a ghost, with the additional asterisk of having been added to a postseason roster, before shedding his ectoplasm in 2016.

But I’ve never seen a ghost quite like Buddy Baumann [14].

Baumann — whose full name is the rather regal-sounding George Charles Baumann IV — was designated for assignment by the Padres at the end of April after pitching a third of an inning against the Rockies, during which he got, well, rocked and wound up suspended for being part of a brawl.

The Mets called him up for Friday’s game, but he had to serve the one-game suspension he owed MLB. Saturday’s game was rained out. Then Baumann was sent back down to make way for deGrom on Sunday.


So is Baumann a ghost or not?

I’ve concluded that he is, though it’s a tentative, softly voiced ruling.

It’s a fact that as I write this, there was never a Mets game in which Baumann could have pitched. That would indicate he’s no more a ghost than, say, Justin Speier, who worked out with the Mets and even threw in the bullpen during a game, but was never on the active roster.

Yet while Baumann couldn’t have played, he was on the active roster. You have to be on the active roster to be suspended — that’s why his Met tenure began so oddly. He had to be activated so he could absorb the punishment of being inactive, or something like that.

Here’s hoping Baumann returns — besides clearing up the above, the Mets could sure use a second lefty. For now, he’s the most spectral ghost of all, the wandering soul who was here so he couldn’t be here.