The last days of March, and the first days of April are a few of the most important days in any American man’s life. It is the fresh start. It is the time to begin anew. It is when everything returns to zero. It is fully possible that God decided that spring would come after winter, not because it made a nice transition to summer, but because it was when Baseball begins.
Spring training is a delicious appetizer to the season to come, but it is rarely fulfilling. It is a Quickfire Challenge, without immunity. It’s always interesting to watch players vie for jobs, and older players show what they’ve got left, but it’s hardly got the competitive spirit of the regular season. Stars don’t try too hard, and pitchers run sprints in the outfield while the game is still going on. It is baseball at it’s most pure; where the focus is on the smell of cut grass, the leisurely afternoons, and making sure you’ve got enough sun screen on to cover your nose. There is no intensity, there is no rivalry, and the games go on until the sun will no longer allow them to continue.
Then everything changes. The night before opening day is intense, it’s anxiety ridden. I can’t remember an opening day where I didn’t dream about what was going to happen in the Mets’ game. Every year, the week leading up, I would prepare a scorecard, get all the right pens in order and assign them to relief
pitchers, watch the Ace’s final tune up, read every article, fill out my depth chart, even wake up early the day of the game as if the sooner I was awake the sooner the game could start. I’ve spent opening days watching sports center the way people watch Joan Rivers host the Oscars’ Red Carpet specials. In more recent years, I won’t check my e-mail, I’ll turn off my phone, and I won’t leave my parents house (my father likes to record it and start about 30 minutes late to avoid commercials) until the game is over out of fear someone will be watching it live and will blow the results. In 2009, Santana’s second opening day start for the Mets, a friend texted me “Reds win 10-2” before my brother, father and I had even sat down to watch the game. The Mets went on to beat the Reds 2-1 (I think it was the only game they won that year) but I never felt comfortable watching the game, always waiting for the other shoe to drop.
But this year is different. A few nights ago at dinner my brother and aunt were talking about this season. My aunt professed that she loved this time of year because there is still hope, to which my brother responded, “There is no hope.” At this my five-year-old cousin asked for clarification. When my aunt explained my brother’s pessimism, my cousin needed to be consoled. I wish there were someone to console me.
I agree with my brother: this year being a Mets fan isn’t being a fan of anything. How can you root for something with a forgone conclusion? It’s like going to Civil War Reenactments in the hopes of seeing the South come out victorious, except I’ve heard sometimes that actually does happen.
Not unlike past opening days, I dreamt about the Mets last night. I dreamt they brought back Doc Gooden to start the game. They knew Pelfrey would never last until his first at-bat, so to save his confidence they would have Gooden start and Pelfrey would come in as a pinch hitter, when the pitchers spot came up. Gooden let up 12 runs in the first inning without getting an out. He still fared better than Pelf probably will.
Usually one of the great fears about opening day is that your team will lose, not because they fall behind in the standings, but because there is almost always a day off following opening day. You’ve waited 6 months from the final pitch in September/October, until the first pitch of April, only to watch your team lose? And then you have to wait 45 hours just to see them get another chance. In 2005, the first year Willie Randolph took over, the Mets didn’t win until the 6th game of the season. This year I am not afraid of the Mets losing on opening day, not because they don’t have an off day tomorrow, but because I know they will lose. In fact part of me think the only reason I will be watching the Mets games at all this year is to be watching to see the one game they do win. Although to be fair, I have not been waiting since October for this season to begin; I stopped watching the Mets last June.
I don’t mean to sound dramatic; this is certainly not the worst team the Mets have fielded, not even in my lifetime. From 1995 – 1998 the Mets had 4 opening day starters, and three of them were Bobby Jones. Do you remember who Bobby Jones was? Probably not if you weren’t a Met fan. In 1994 he finished 8th in Rookie of The Year voting, and in 1997 he was the Mets delegation to the All-Star team. He is most famous because he shared a name with the other Bobby Jones, who also pitched for the Mets. But even in that very dark time of the 90s the Mets still had players like Doc Gooden, Daryl Strawberry, Lance Johnson and later Jeff Kent, Bobby Bonilla and John Olerud, all very capable and exciting players. Even Rey Ordonez, who couldn’t hit the ground if he fell, would flash some leather making the game worth watching.
This year what do the Mets have? Why am I watching? To see how good Jose Reyes is before they trade him? To see if Beltran has enough cartilage left in his
knees to continue standing for 9 innings, let alone play right field? To see if a glorified triple A team will still try to overcharge me for tickets when they get eliminated from playoff hopes 1/3rd of the way through the season? I thought maybe it would be fun to make a “Worst Player of the Game award.” Keep a blog, give it out after each game. I would choose the player who failed, not necessarily always the most, but the biggest. Who made the “Luis Castillo dropped catch” of the game? Who Benny Agbayani’d the ball to a fan with only two outs? Who watched strike three go by in the final out of game 7 of the NLCS? Who is helping us forget that this was the team of on the winning end of the Mookie Ball? Essentially I would give it to the athlete who most exemplified the kind of ball player the Wilpon’s want to build a team around. I will call the it the “Wilpon” award, and at the end of the year I would tally up whoever won the most Wilpon’s and send them something, a trophy of sorts, something really great, like a bag of shit.
Whatever the reason is for watching the Mets, if it be to not finish last, to see how bad it can get, or to know who to give the Wilpon award to, I will still watch them. I will throw things at the TV, I will yell obscenities at bars, and I will call and write my father expressing my frustrations. Maybe it’s the color of their jerseys, or my own level of self-hate, but I will be there. Maybe because somewhere inside me, the 5-year-old version of myself still thinks, this year, this time, the south might beat the north.