For the past two nights, I haven’t had to think about what to watch on television. It was summer and the Mets were on. The viewing menu for any Mets fan in summer has been dependably predictable that way since 1962. Sub in radio for television if that’s how you roll.
Score one for dependability, predictability and well-ingrained habit. On Monday night, score seven for the Mets versus only four for the Red Sox, resulting in our second win  of the thus far four-game season. Michael Conforto  homered at Fenway Park. So did Pete Alonso . So did Dom Smith . Michael Wacha  registered five innings’ worth of outs. Seth Lugo  retired the final four batters. Chasen Shreve  acquitted himself adequately in middle relief. Jeurys Familia  did not, but little harm was done.
Not bad for late July, eh? Except for fabled Fenway being bereft of spectators. We know that’s 2020’s default setting, but geez, Fenway, too? The sight of those empty red seats behind home plate was shocking. Preferable to cardboard cutout characters from Cheers or whatever cheeky conceit the Sox might have cooked up, but it was jarring nonetheless. I knew they’d be empty. I knew they were red. But I don’t think I’d ever seen an empty red seat behind home plate in Fenway Park during a baseball game before. There’s lot of things we’ve never seen that we keep bumping into.
For Conforto, Alonso and Smith, of course Gary Cohen told us their homers were “OUTTA HERE!” It’s the sweetest sound summer offers. But, wait a sec. While one Mets power trio was in Boston, the other was in Flushing. Gary called the game from a booth at Citi Field, adjacent to Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling in another booth. That’s the deal: announcers aren’t announcing on the road this year. Instead, they go to the nearest set of professional monitors and broadcast from shall we say home. Thus, when a Met goes deep far from Queens, shouldn’t Gary enthuse, “It’s OUTTA THERE!” wherever “there” happens to be tonight, in this case, Boston, Massachusetts?
Probably not, but the situation is definitely ripe for Steven Wright “drive on the parkway, park in the driveway” contemplation. The radio guys are also parked at Citi. Sunday night, amid the ongoing dismemberment of Corey Oswalt (who really needed to be pinch-hit for, DH be damned), Howie Rose grew increasingly wistful for all the things he’d grown used to as a baseball broadcaster but that are decreed out of his reach in the summer of 2020. No fans in Section 318 to kibitz with him and Wayne Randazzo. No renewing acquaintances with those swell flight attendants on the Delta charter. No Delta charter, natch. No sign of Jay Horwitz, for goodness sake, except by phone, Zoom or whatever conveyance he and Howie use to communicate. How can you have Mets baseball without Jay Horwitz in the house?
Which raises the more pressing elephantine question in the room, namely how can you have baseball at all in the middle of a pandemic?
Remember the pandemic? It’s why the Mets are 2-2 on July 28. Well, Frigging Edwin Diaz  is the main reason the Mets aren’t 3-1, but you get my drift. And surely you haven’t forgotten the pandemic. It’s only disrupted every phase of life in these United States for four going on five months. Baseball wasn’t immune until it decided maybe it oughta try to be. Rob Manfred took a victory lap of sorts  in the Times the other day. “We cannot be the one sport that doesn’t figure out how to play,” is how the self-pleased commissioner expressed his thinking once MLB had gotten its miniature season underway.
No, heaven forefend baseball show leadership in a time when everybody else in sports is concerned with producing television content. Mind you, I’m a stone hypocrite here. I might not think it was a great idea to pretend baseball, all its precautions notwithstanding, could go along its merry way unaffected by the coronavirus solely for the higher purpose of giving me something to watch in prime time. But I did watch in prime time. I watched on Sunday night. I watched on Monday night.
In between those graciously televised presentations, it had become abundantly clear  that baseball’s merry way is not going to be unimpeded by inconvenient obstacles. We knew by Sunday night that the Miami Marlins had experienced a few positive tests for COVID-19. On Monday morning we learned there were more than a dozen. The Marlins played the Phillies on Sunday afternoon. They weren’t going to be allowed to play the Orioles on Monday night. The Phillies would have to be sidelined as well, since the Marlins had visited them in Philadelphia. The next team due at Citizens Bank Park, the Yankees, weren’t going to play, either.
It was reasonable to think that it had been a pleasant baseball weekend (save for Diaz and Oswalt), but enough kidding ourselves. The Marlins had been subject to an outbreak. They were going to be the only ones? We’d heard of relatively isolated incidents  since baseball started stretching to get back in shape. Now practically half a team and a couple of its coaches had what most of us in masks have been trying hard not to come down with. All the traveling and the congregating and the instinctive high-fiving…gosh, what were the odds?
I wouldn’t have been surprised had Manfred emerged from a conference call with baseball’s club owners on Monday afternoon and said, listen, we really wanted to play ball, we’d figured it out and everything, but maybe this isn’t so safe, so if you’ll excuse us, we’re gonna stash the cardboard cutouts and go home until there’s more light than tunnel where this prevalent illness is concerned. Yet I wasn’t surprised no such announcement was forthcoming.
Thus, the Mets and Red Sox played on Monday night, just as the Mets and Braves played on Sunday night. On Sunday night, as Brave after Brave scored run after run in an empty ballpark, with the euphoria of Friday afternoon’s Opener worn off and the game dragging on like a meaningless exhibition, I really didn’t see any legitimate point as to why they were doing this.
Then, Monday night, with the Mets finally hitting, and fresh baseball talk from the greatest announcers there are filling the summer evening, I sat back and realized I still didn’t see any legitimate point as to why they were doing this.
But I’ll keep watching it as long as they keep showing it to me. I guess they know that.