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.

Home Opener: The deGrominator

Mets 7, Phillies 2. A proper home opener trouncing by the deGrominator, a.k.a. Jacob deGrom, the third of four aces to start the season. Young (they’re all young) Steven Matz is the last, followed by the elder “Big Sexy” Bartolo Colon to round out the rotation, no pun intended.

I guess I’m starting the season with a poetic conjecture of the Mets starting pitching rotation. Here’s one for Jacob deGrom, probably my favorite of the Mets’ aces for his calm-under-pressure demeanor. When he’s up on the mound, the deGrominator is in one business only.

Strikeouts.


 

The deGrominator

 

It’s all in the hair, those brown curly locks

that flutter and whip in the breeze

during each pitch. The t-shirts with the silhouette

of his mane, the reporters asking when

he’ll cut it and he says never. At least not

for now, not while we’re winning.

Thirteen strikeouts later, we’re 1-0

in the division series, a feat only Tom Seaver did

in a postseason game. Eight games later

and this kid is smoking a cigar

while sporting a champagne-soaked t-shirt

on the steps of the dugout in Wrigley Field,

ski goggles on his head, the crowd behind him

chants Thank You Mets! And in the following

spring, after getting hosed in the World Series

the top brass doesn’t want to pay the kid

what he deserves. He refuses to sign,

remembers the champagne and cigars,

asks for the clean million he’s owed

for hurling burners across the plate

that most men alive can’t hit.

Day One

I’ve challenged myself to write a poem, or at least a line or two of verse, alongside each Mets game in the 2016 season. And this is the inaugural post to what will be, if I hold to my promise, a marathon season of both baseball and poetry.

162 games. 162 poems.

Get ready for some bad poetry about a good baseball team that is favored to return to the championship. A team that is known for breaking hearts and falling just short. A team that becomes, especially when young, an underdog love. A team that’s like a late-night barfly that, despite all drunken argument, is right. And poems, written by a poet whose aesthetics are questionable and whose chosen syntax may mimic poor baserunning tactics.

Tonight is Day One. It’s 2 AM, I’m half-drunk, and I watched the Mets lose in honorable fashion to the Royals, which is the first time in Major League Baseball history that the teams from the previous season’s World Series met again on Opening Day. It was a good game, with a solid but short Mets rally late in the game that couldn’t overcome a 4-0 deficit.

Mets 3, Royals 4. Harvey gave up a handful of runs over far fewer pitches than his opponent, Edinson Volquez. And the Mets’ $27 million investment, Yoenis Cespedes, botched an easy catch, which scored a run. He also struck out to end the game with runners on the corners.


 

openingday1

Opening Day, Harvey Day

 

It’s not gathering rosebuds, it’s the hard slider

that bloomed from the rosin bag

behind the mound, where Harvey scrapes his cleats

as if stomping out a butt behind the bar

where he’s about to go back in and snap a pool cue

over his knee after he picked a fight with the reigning

town boxing champ. Harvey gave up the shutout,

and the batter steps in and Harvey’s fastball flits

across the corners of the plate and the batter fouls off

to bring it full count, and another mad puff

from the bag, a kick of dirt, the set, the stretch,

the push, here comes strike three. In the stands

the fans watch the new banner wave above

centerfield, the one Harvey hates, the one he helped

to lose. Days before the New York papers

cried murder about his bladder blood clots

as if it’d end the season before it even started, after

a World Series where Harvey pitched a shutout

into the ninth before he gave up a run

and all the momentum. All he wants is to shut

everyone up. And if he doesn’t get it today,

which he didn’t, he gave up four runs and left

in the seventh, then what the tabloids print

tomorrow could mix up his mind for better

or worse, depending on what Harvey wants:

fuel, or fire.