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Missing Things

Sunday was sunny and warm, one of those days where spring tells you that despite recent events, the world will soon be habitable on a more or less regular basis. Emily and I had worked through all manner of errands and items on our separate to-do lists, so we decided that … we could go to a baseball game! Our favorite team plays a scant 8.5 miles from our house (as the trash-hunting pigeon flies, not as the car creeps or the subway goes in and out of service), so why not?

We secured pretty decent Promenade boxes on StubHub and trooped off for our first meaningful date with the 7 train since David Wright [1] said farewell [2], arriving with a few minutes to spare — a little tight tactically, but accidentally optimized to let us arrow in with the hordes of deGrom bobblehead seekers having finished their business. A big house had come together around us, the Mets were right down there instead of in a distant city or on the other side of a TV screen (and decked out in their proper pinstripes instead of dopey blue motley) and as Zack Wheeler [3] peered in at Wilson Ramos [4] we nodded at each other happily. Back where we belong. We should do this more often.

And the game started, and … huh. It was still a fun day. It was a really fun day, in fact. It just got a little complicated.

An early bit of ironic foreshadowing came with a fan contest held out by the Home Run Apple. Some sunglass’ed Met loyalist was handed a baseball and offered a prize to chuck it through a strike-zone-sized slot 60 feet and change away. I cringed in empathy, since these things tend not to go well, but the fan took the baseball, calmly threw it through the ersatz strike zone and turned back to Fake Alexa or whoever it is who does these things these days, all without a noticeable change of expression.

Honestly, they should have signed him on the spot.

Wheeler left without a Dunkin Donuts gift certificate or whatever it was: he sent pitches here and there and everywhere except where the rule book suggests they belong. He escaped disaster in the first despite throwing six of his first seven pitches for balls, but in the second everything caved in: walk, flyout, single, walk, single, single, double, sac fly and it was 5-0 Nationals with Max Scherzer [5] on the mound and that’s not what anybody had in mind. The crowd had gone from fractious to annoyed to actively hostile (a bit overdone since it was still a nice day) and we decided to go feed ourselves and see what had changed at Citi Field.

One thing I hope isn’t a permanent change is concessions have become the stuff of adventure. We opted for a Pat LaFrieda steak sandwich, but were told sandwiches wouldn’t be available for 10 minutes. That’s an odd thing to hear from a steak-sandwich place, but stuff happens and it’s early.

Then the beer place was out of the beer I wanted. Huh.

So we went to the Nathan’s stand … which had no hot dogs.

If you’re keeping score at home, that’s three straight failures to perform a relatively straightforward transaction. It was dispiritingly similar to Wheeler’s struggles with home plate, except in that case there was another party trying to actively thwart him. Is that now true for concessions? Did some overeager corporate descendant of Dave Howard decide Mets games would be more exciting if food-service managers tried to secure meat and beer while providers of those things spirited them away to be hoarded in secret boltholes? If that’s what’s happened, could future games feature the less exciting variant where you arrive at a counter and they are able to give you what signage indicates they sell?

With various Plan Bs secured from temporarily functional concessionaires, we returned to our seats and hoped the Mets might have a comeback in them, or at least provide us with some Plan Bs of their own. For a while it was the latter, and it was fun watching Pete Alonso [6] scamper around and seeing what dopey new between-innings events have been cooked up and just sitting back and having baseball be all around us and knowing that this will be the daily routine again for the foreseeable future.

And then, as the sun dipped behind the rim of the stadium behind us and the afternoon grew mildly but not impossibly chilly, Scherzer finally got tired.

Or maybe he got bored, seeing how he was the only person not baffled by a pitcher’s mound. Wheeler had departed, allowing only one more run but letting that last one in on another quartet of walks. Tim Peterson [7] had been no better, walking five and strongly suggesting he needs to become familiar with Syracuse. Luis Avilan [8]‘s lone inning of work had resulted in a three-run bomb from Anthony Rendon [9]. Neither of those gentlemen had thrown more strikes than balls during their tenure and the Mets were down 12-1.

(Oh, and during all that I went to get ice cream and was told the machine wasn’t working. At that point I just laughed.)

And then it was 12-2 thanks to a double by Brandon Nimmo [10], who didn’t smile but looked less grim than he has so far this year. Scherzer departed, Matt Grace [11] arrived, and a Jeff McNeil [12] singled made it 12-3. Then Alonso walloped a purported sinker to distant lands and it was 12-6.

Look, 12-6 is lipstick-on-a-pig stuff, but you’ll take it when your team’s getting the daylights beat out of it but you’ve shrugged and decided even a ballpark that can’t feed you is better than feeding yourself at home. We decided to go on walkabout for what was left of the game, descending to field level and fetching up at the railing behind whatever they call the Modell’s Zone now. (Is it creeping age or indifference to sponsorship that’s caused me to not remember anything that’s changed ballpark-wise since about 2011? I’m still writing PEPSI PORCH on my checks.)

And there we stood for the last two innings, getting a vivid reminder that the Nationals have a bullpen problem. The Mets put runners on first and third with nobody out in the eighth only to have the rally founder when Amed Rosario [13] and Keon Broxton [14] struck out, but then they were right back at it in the ninth against Joe Ross [15] — he hit McNeil, walked Alonso, almost gave up a three-run homer to old friend Travis d’Arnaud [16] and then really did give up one to Michael Conforto [17] — a twisting liner that arced up out of our sight and then came back down to the left of us. Somehow it was 12-9, and we still weren’t winning but that pig was covered with colors and running around squealing about it, and we had to admit that was kind of fun.

You know the rest: Sean Doolittle [18] came in to play stern teacher, putting an end to the tomfoolery and the game [19] (the big meanie) and so we and the other remaining diehards headed back to the subway and whatever it is we do when we aren’t watching baseball. Sitting on the 7 as the ballpark shrank behind us and was lost to sight, I thought to myself that I’d had a pretty good time on an afternoon that featured my team giving up 12 runs and repeatedly refusing to feed me. Imagine what a day at the park could be like if they worked on those things.