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Dress Rehearsal

The highlight of Friday night’s meaningless Mets-Marlins game? It was a first-pitch groundout to third.

LOLMets and all that, but those of us who were there to see it were thrilled — because those 10 or so seconds represented the return of David Wright [1] to the place he is most fully himself, the place he belongs, and the place that, for all that, he will never get to be again after Saturday night.

That’s a lot to unpack, whether it’s in a sentence, in the air of a stadium during the night game, or in a Mets fan’s heart. But I’ll try.

I read about the plan for Wright’s farewell Friday afternoon: that he’d be the Mets first pinch-hitter that night, then start at third Saturday and get a few innings and a couple of at-bats. After which, nothing.

“Nothing” isn’t right there. Wright will be a dad and a husband and a son and a friend and a neighbor and a lot of other things that we have to remember are infinitely more important than baseball games. But the baseball player part of his life will be over, for him and for us.

Over, but not quite yet. Still, when I heard Wright would be pinch-hitting Friday, I sped over to StubHub and made sure I would be there. The pinch-hitting assignment was a dress rehearsal of sorts, a chance for Wright to calm his nerves so he could enjoy Saturday more. That was a good idea — from everything he’s said, he needed it. And frankly, given the emotional tonnage on the way Saturday, so did I.

And I also thought of it as insurance. As Wright has explained stoically and ruefully and patiently, he has relatively good days where only one part of his body hurts and must be negotiated with, and he has bad days where everything hurts and nothing is going to work. Now, I can’t imagine what combination of ailments would have to arise to keep David Wright from his Saturday curtain call. But once upon a time I also couldn’t imagine a cascade of cruelty that would deprive this player, of all players — this man universally praised as a genuinely thoughtful and decent person — of the game he has loved so much for his entire life.

So just in case, I was going to be there.

All right, there were secondary reasons too. I was keenly aware that the Mets’ season was all but gone, and that soon “go see a baseball game” wasn’t going to be an option no matter how badly I needed it to be. It was a nice night after a grim rainy morning. And tickets were cheap and I wanted a chance to take in a game from behind the new expanse of netting installed to protect fans. (On Saturday night Emily and I will be in more danger from low-flying planes than foul balls.)

Put all that together and there I was a few rows behind the Marlins’ dugout as play began, looking out at the Mets in their dumb blue tops (please tell me Wright’s final appearance will at least be in a real uniform) and squinting quizzically at that protective netting. I tried to play devil’s advocate by convincing myself it annoyed me, but failed to do so. From my vantage point, it was invisible when looking at the batter and easily ignored when looking elsewhere. I can’t say the same about the lower stretches of netting protecting the outfield lines, on the other hand — that material is thicker, with what struck me as an annoying number of poles. Maybe at the end of the next lousy season I’ll go sit in those seats.

Anyway, with my net-inspection mission complete and a spicy chicken sandwich consumed, I and the fairly decent-sized crowd got down to the business of waiting for someone to pinch-hit.

That was a new one for me, and I suspect for everyone else. With Corey Oswalt [2] on the mound, I figured the moment would come fairly early — hopefully in the fifth, after Oswalt had qualified for a win. That didn’t happen — Oswalt was fairly obviously out of pitches by the bottom of the fourth, and my eyes and lots of other people’s went to the scoreboard, where he was scheduled to hit fifth.

Possible? Maybe, particularly after a Dom Smith single. And indeed, with two out Kevin Plawecki [3] strolled to the plate and all attention went to the on-deck circle, where that was indeed Wright limbering up — a sight whose bland ordinariness turned it piercing.

Plawecki grounded out and we had to wait — wait, it turned out, for the dogged and doomed Paul Sewald [4] to do Sewaldian things that put the Mets in a 3-1 hole. And then it was time. We stood and we clapped and we cheered and we yelled, and I tried not to think of how quickly this was all going away.

In the end the drama was far more about anticipation than action: Wright swung at Jose Urena [5]‘s first pitch and smacked it to third, a grounder whose velocity you could feel grow in the telling even before it cleared the grass. It wasn’t hit hard. It was a mildly tough hop, the kind of play a good third baseman is forgiven for not making but really should make.

Brian Anderson [6] made the play and then we were left with half of a baseball game that had become ostentatiously and almost offensively pointless. It was like hanging around a wedding after the bride and groom have left, if you’re ever invited to a wedding where the bride and groom decamp during the fish course, take the band and the bartenders with them, and nobody gets cake.

The Mets made various errors, Jose Lobaton [7] got to hit (twice!), and a parade of interchangeable young Met relievers who will be forgotten by 2021 were interchangeably terrible. I sat there and used my AMAZIN’ giveaway t-shirt (which should have said UNDERWHELMIN’, since it looks like an intern designed it on the first half of his lunch hour) to play peek-a-boo with a baby in the row in front of me, the Mets lost [8], and then I went home.

Could I have done that earlier? Yes, with no discernible difference in my evening. (Granted, I would have missed seeing Jack Reinheimer [9] in the flesh.) But I didn’t and I knew I wouldn’t. I don’t go in for fire-and-brimstone Thou Shalt Not Leave a Ballgame Early doctrine, but I think I’ve always had a reasonably compelling reason for departing — spousal illness, toddler meltdown, truly awful weather, etc. When your team’s season has shrunk to 60-odd outs and six-odd hours, there are no reasonably compelling reasons.

When that’s all that’s left, you sit there. So what if it was 8-1? Every baseball-free day of every stupid winter is like being down 8-1, and good luck getting excused that duty. I sat there, and I’ll be sitting there again tomorrow — all too keenly aware of what I’ll never get to see again.