Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Mets At Fifty: Let's Play One!

The Old Bailpark?
The Mets are still tied for first place in the National League East. They are 1 and 0, having beaten the Braves, currently of Atlanta, 1-0 on Opening Day on  Thursday. The league rewarded this unlikely event with a Friday off, sealing at least a piece of first place well into Saturday morning (they subsequently swept the Braves and began the season 3-0, while the Yankees are mired in last place at 0-3, as are the Giants at 0-3).

Mets fans might cherish this 2012 moment.

I know about all this first hand, since I was there to see it happen; at least I was there for eight innings. A trip to Citi Field (shall we call it the old bailpark?) from my home should usually take about 35 minutes, and over an hour for a big game. Admittedly, that is hard to measure, since the Mets' truly big games lately have come down to...Opening Days.

There was a "disabled" vehicle at Roosevelt Avenue causing major mayhem and meltdowns out on 678, the LIE and the GCP, the major auto routes. I had allotted an hour and a half, but, with ten minutes to go before the first pitch, and having had to listen to the team's 50th Anniversary ceremony on AM radio, I had to do something. Suddenly, the Queens boy in me took hold, the same boy who had attended Opening Day 48 years earlier (smartly, by subway), and I swung into the left lane headed towards JFK, got off at College Point Avenue, went left then right, making my way back towards Arthur Ashe Stadium and the Tennis Center, where a thousand other cars were trying to buy parking from two busy attendants; and I swung a U-ie and cut the line like Mookie Wilson hook-sliding into third.

Then, I walked well over a mile to my seats in the seventh row overhanging left field along with a bunch of thirty-something guys wearing faded jeans and hoodie sweatshirts, who looked like they'd not seen a gym since high school PE class, and might still be living with mom. In other words, typical Mets fans these days: and sons of Mets fans to boo-t.

While stuck in traffic, I did not think that I was alone in thinking the Steinbrenner Yankees, faced with an Opening Day disabled vehicle would have handled it differently. They would have called Police  Commissioner Kelly, who no doubt was already at The Stadium, and that vehicle would probably be in Panama by now, or it might be a chunk of metal in a Spuyten Duyval scrap heap. For Yankeedom runs like Singapore, while MetsWorld runs like, well, like Flushing.

Recently I have written about the possibility of these Mets finding their own Jeremy Lin, as the previously woeful Knicks did this season. But, that appears to have been premature, since Lin's coach, Mike D'Antoni, has been vanished by Assistant Owner Carmelo Anthony and Lin is out for the season with an injury.

Several years ago, the Mets now departed GM, Omar Minaya, made a concerted effort to find and sign Hispanic* players to take advantage of the huge Hispanic population in the city, especially in the communities spread out along Roosevelt Avenue and the Number 7 elevated line. The newest GM, Sandy Alderson, might do well to  try looking for fans in the other direction, east towards downtown Flushing itself, which has evolved into Little Asia.

Ah, Jeremy! Do you have a shortstop cousin who can hit dingers over the new 358 ft sign in left, understand the coach's signs, and run the best route to that liner to center?

On Thursday, all that didn't matter. Johan Santana, the best left-handed pitcher in New York that nearly nobody ever talks about, pitched five more than adequate innings, his first since 2010 after surgery. It is uncharitable but worth noting, that Santana is the only Met who could start for the current Yankees. Actually, he's one of, perhaps, two or three Mets who could even make the current Yankee roster (Note: Yanks are in last place after their opening debacle in Tampa).

The Mets newly-built bullpen shut-out the hapless-looking Braves for four more innings, holding the tying run on third at one point, and the Mets took a strangle-hold of first place.

The run they scored began as a walk to Andres Torres, their promising but questionable new center fielder, who came over from the Giants in the off-season. He was driven in by the Mets only everyday- playing near-star, David Wright. Small ball Manager Terry Collins beamed in the dugout, knowing that a walk is as good as a walk and much better than a 356 foot fly-out to left, like the perennially luckless Jason Bay made.

Grabbing First!
The Happy Ending was short-lived. The very same Torres, having played too shallow and been forced to try an indirect route to a scorched liner in the seventh by Braves shortstop Pastornicky, in his big league debut, re-injured a chronically bad calf. He is headed back to the DL, from where he recently emerged during spring training.

Will young Kirk Niewenhuis be able to transcend AAA and spark a "Linning" streak filling in for Torres? Will newly signed lefty Jonathan Niese rise above his 11-11 record in, naturally, 2011? Could Santana's new arm allow him to pitch with only two days rest? Will the Mets hit a home run before the All Star break (note: they hit three in game two)?

Good questions, but, for now, we rest assured of holding a perfect record into Game Two on Saturday afternoon.

As Ernie Banks might proclaim, if he was a Met on Collins's team, "Let's play one! At a time."

* Ed Notes: 1) The terms "Hispanic" and "Latino" are confusing to some mere mortals. Generally speaking, they refer to the same demographic group of people from Spanish-speaking countries or people with a Spanish-speaking cultural background. In the eastern US, Hispanic is more common; in the west, Latino prevails. 2) Accounting: StubHub tickets $114; Parking $20; Program $5; Large beer, two small dogs, peanuts $25. Total $164 plus tolls.

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