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.

Bats Boom

Mets 5, Phillies 2. Quadruple homers! We got a #DudaSmash from Luke (his first of the season), one from Neil Walker, and two from The Captain. Cespedes also pulled off a stand-up triple and scored a run, and Thor was as dominant as ever. The bats are waking up for spring!


 

The Quitter

 

I was eight or nine, taking ground balls

outside my school in the hot sun,

and a bad hop smacked me in the jaw

and knocked me down, so I took a seat

 

on the bench. As soon as my father pulled up

in his truck, I ran and climbed in and he asked

what I was doing, and I said I wanted to quit,

showing him the red splotch that would grow

 

into a bruise, and he shook his head

and said nothing as we drove home.

Three years later, after my big league hero

broke records and my favorite team

 

was in the playoffs, I sat in as catcher

for the junior high team and tried,

for three innings, to snap up fastballs

from a kid who could hurl like a pro,

 

but each hit to the chest or mask,

each dropped ball, each failed throw

to second to get the runner out made me sweat

and shake. Soon, the coach benched me,

 

and after the game I asked how I was doing

and he asked if I wanted him to be nice

or to be honest, and he was honest,

and the other kids ignored me,

 

and I quit again. My father always said

not to be afraid of the ball, but the dull hot pain

of each thump was like a deadening punch

a bully would deliver. And next season,

 

about to go into high school,

I went to tell him that I’d never play again

but he gave me a mask, a chest pad,

and a pair of black, steel-toed cleats.

 

He taught me how to call balls and strikes,

how a curveball can paint the black edge

of the plate, how you listen for the click of the bat

to call a foul-tip, how to use all of your senses.

 

All that summer, we worked

as a two-man team for the little leagues,

and he’d watch from second base

with his chin raised and his hands on his knees

 

when he knew I was calling a fair game.

First Win

Mets 2, Royals 0. First win of the season, won by the first Mets home run of the season by second baseman Neil Walker. Starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard, a.k.a. Thor, dominated with a nine-strikeout shutout and was unfazed by close calls and tight jams. But as one announcer called him a “man-child,” another responded, “That’s no man-child, Gary. That’s Thor.”


 

That’s No Man-Child, Gary, That’s Thor

 

Twenty-three, fresh-faced out of Texas, barely a rookie

and he’s head hunting in the World Series,

his hammer a hundred mile-an-hour fastball

with that quick silvery flick that tails right in

to the framed catcher’s mitt. Wham.

Over and over, K after K, and something

just ain’t fair about this grotesque demigod

of a pitcher, a thick blonde whip of an ape

that mastered one of the few traits that sets us apart

from the rest: the ability to throw.

This guy could take out Zeus’s eagle

with a pebble thrown from the underworld.

The batter up next thinks he’s hot stuff

so he crowds the plate, waggles his bat,

then hits the dirt when one zings past his chin,

and it’s a game of who’s crazier than who—

crazy to throw so willfully wild,

or crazy to stand back up for the next one.