Staub Passes, and a New Mets Live

It’s 2018. A lot of things have changed, obviously. I barely wrote for almost two years. The last real writings I did get down to paper before I got carpal tunnel were posted here. I live in Seattle now. I drove across the country to get here. I’m very far away from my friends, family, and my New York Mets.

But I was back at home to watch Opening Day with my father, and man, these 2018 Mets, at least so far, do not disappoint.

Sure, Syndergaard strikes out 10 in his first outing. We score 9 runs. But none of those runs come from the long ball, which is not how this Mets roster has operated over the last few years. We started playing small ball. Slapping opposite-field hits, stealing bases, drawing walks. That’s a kind of strategy that’s less enthralling but more gutsy and brave, more risky and dangerous and dirty and, honestly, fun to watch.

But we’ve still got a lot of sluggers. We’ve still got a lot of power pitching. But we also have a new, young manager in Mickey Callaway who seems willing to do what’s needed in combining new and old managing strategies into making this team win. And even though David Wright is still on the bench, rehabbing his way into, hopefully, an elder captain’s role of pinch hitting and teaching younger players, we have Todd Frazier, this weird New Jersey dude who’s a bit scrappy and can hit and is old and wise and funny enough to lead these young guys from the far side of the horn.

It’s a new, yet old, New York Mets. Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez, those beloved ’86 alums, lead the SNY broadcast team with humor, emotion, and sharp critical eyes alongside the veteran no-nonsense Gary Cohen “put it in the books!” at play-by-play. Rusty Staub died on Opening Day, and Hernandez wept openly to the media. Darling seconded Rusty’s greatness, and now the 2018 Mets wear his signature on their sleeves for the year.

I once saw Rusty deliver the first pitch at a Mets game at Citi Field. He tottered onto the field, balding but still with a shock of red hair. He was overweight, slow, but smiled and waved happily to the crowd. He assumed the stance slowly, but simply underhanded the pitch in. It bounced in front of home plate, and he didn’t care, and neither did the catcher.

They met halfway between home plate and the rubber and hugged before Staub waved to a lot of fans that adored him, many of which were not old enough to have seen him play for the Mets. He was no star. But he was one of us.

There’s still something magical happening in National League baseball in New York City, and that’s been happening for a while now. David Wright was the spark of these post-Shea, post-Piazza Mets, and he might still come back to punch a few over the fence again. 2015, with Terry Collins at the wheel, was a fragile but thrilling journey into a new Mets greatness. There’s no way to tell if the 2018 Mets will tap fully into a real chance at a championship, but after a couple of days of spirited and emotional play at the start of the season, I have a feeling that this one will be worth the ride.

The Agony of Fandom

Mets 4, Phillies 5. A walk-off single in extra innings ended a four-game winning streak.

This one is for friend and fellow poet Erin Mullikin, who once challenged me to write a poem about being a Mets fan. Three years later, here it is.


 

The Agony of Fandom

 

I was born in 1986, and my father was torn

between feeding his infant son

and praying in front of the TV for the Mets

to beat the Sox in the World Series,

one rare win that shouldn’t have even happened

if it weren’t for the ball that slipped

out of Bill Buckner’s grasp. Those Mets

are like your three-legged mutt that outwits

the Rottweiler next door to steal his bone,

yet gets trounced the next day for it.

But that’s the strange agony inflicted

by the Mets on their fans. Yet, we learn

patience and forgiveness. We wait for the wins

to come. In 1962, the Loveable Losers played

for my eight-year-old father,

a little redheaded Irish kid from Queens,

when he went with his mother to a Mets game

at the Polo Grounds, their first season. They lost.

So began a lifelong love affair that drove me,

a diehard fan who is one generation removed

from the source, to drink late into the night

after a World Series thumping. But, the next day,

I’m wearing my blue and orange hat anyway

because I’m one stubborn goddamn Mets fan

who will never give up on his team.