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Pitch, Pitch, Pitch

The Friday bulletin [1] that the Mets were signing Taijuan Walker [2] brought me back to something Roger Angell wrote forty years ago. Anybody who puts me in mind of something Roger Angell wrote anytime is all right by me.

This particular Angell observation came from the summer of 1981, during the baseball strike, and lives on in the book Late Innings. Roger and his wife were sitting in the back of a Manhattan cab, being driven uptown after a night out in the Village. The driver had the radio on as the clock ticked midnight. The station to which the taxi was tuned was running the news, during which the story that was missing grabbed the writer’s attention.

[T]here was no baseball in it. I had been waiting for those other particular sounds, for that other part of the summer night, but it was missing, of course — no line scores, no winning and losing pitchers, no homers and highlights, no records approached or streaks cut short, no “Meanwhile, over in the National League,” no double-zip early innings from Anaheim or Chavez Ravine, no Valenzuela and no Rose, no Goose and no Tom, no Yaz, no Mazz, no nothing.

Programming along the lines of a top-of-the-hour update just ahead of the Milkman’s Matinee [3] on WNEW-AM may be practically impossible to stream on today’s devices (and what’s a night out?), but I can hear echoes of what Roger couldn’t hear during the strike, and I can hear them because Taijuan Walker has existed to me mostly, until this free agent bargaining season, as a name that would float across my baseball subconscious. Maybe not delivered in an authoritative newscast of yore, but likely to pop in and out of whatever one of our announcers was telling us was going on elsewhere. Something as simple as “Taijuan Walker going for the Diamondbacks…” The righty pitched twice, seven and four years ago, against the Mets. In 2014, he was on the other end of Bartolo Colon’s perfect game bid [4] at Seattle. Yet I remember him better as a quickly cited data point.

Now Taijuan shall fling among us, his identity not part of between-pitches patter but embroidered within the mood-determining balls and strikes, serving as the difference between our frustration and elation. We know you now, Chef Walker. We can be judgmental, but we’re happy to have you. Maybe a couple of those homemade tacos [5], too.

Likewise, we’re enthusiastic to step right up and greet from six feet of distance every prospective starting pitcher loosening up in Mets garb these February weeks, the fellas creating the content that fills the mundane days that follow the evanescent adrenaline rush of report date. Marcus Stroman has returned from Optoutopolis [6], ready to assume full occupancy of the rotation’s Long Island seat. Carlos Carrasco is bringing his Cookie sweetness and inspiration [7] to our cause. Joey Lucceshi is applying his semi-familiar [8] first name to our historical record. Jordan Yamamoto is no longer carrying the scent of a Marlin. David Peterson is lowering his number from 77 to 23, perhaps in tribute to Doug Flynn, but probably not. Aaron Loup’s ready to open, then unwind [9]. Sean Reid-Foley offers potentially deeper depth than Corey Oswalt, but both offer a right hand if needed.

If starting pitchers come, it must mean starting pitchers go; it’s the way of the Grapefruit League. Steven Matz is in Dunedin, claiming [10] to be thrilled to be a Jay. Michael Wacha’s in Port Charlotte, making us think he’s got something in the tank if Tampa Bay has made him a Ray. Rick Porcello’s in limbo but could be en route to Lakeland to roar as a Tiger once more [11]. Noah Syndergaard remains native to Port St. Lucie, but he’s several months from donning his shirt [12] in anger. Reaching back a little further in retro Met pitching lore, Zack Wheeler’s in Clearwater with the Realmuto-impaired [13] Phils, Matt Harvey’s landed in Sarasota attempting to impress a flock of desperate Birds, and the aforementioned Colon, 47, is giving it another go in the Mexican League [14]…which is only slightly less unsurprising than Oliver Perez, 39, taking a left turn back to Cleveland [15] by way of Goodyear, Ariz.

And speaking of good years, Jacob deGrom, the best pitcher in baseball Right Now [16], says he wishes to remain a Met for the rest of his life [17]. That’s pitching news that’ll make a Mets fan ask the driver to turn up the volume, please.