Committing to Baseball

A&R Committing to Baseball

Committing to doing a thing — and then actually doing that thing — is, oddly enough, what not doing a certain thing taught me. (Don’t worry, that sentence will make complete sense in a minute.)

Several years ago I committed to living an alcohol-free life. And then I thought, “Okay. What now?” Literally, “what now?” How does one fill the time in the absence of the thing that had taken up so much time and energy in her life? First there was writing, which as anyone who does it will attest, can certainly suck up a great deal of time and energy.

Writing filled the “active” time. How, though, to fill the “passive” time?

I am not much for mindless television viewing. While I love to read, it, too, requires a degree of activity that by the end of the day I often do not have the energy for. Some nights holding a book and moving my eyes across a page is, honestly, more than I want to do. And turning those pages? Ugh!

I tried my hand at crocheting and knitting. I even have a few afghans, scarves, and ponchos to show for it. And then I got bored. Plus, making stuff with yarn and needles is not exactly mindless — not if you want the thing to turn out right, anyway. I have more than a few “unfinished” projects with, let’s just call them, “interesting” borders. I suppose that I could pass them off as “abstract art”, but I would not be fooling anyone.

And then I rediscovered baseball. I had long been a casual fan. I certainly understood the game. As a kid I spent a few years really following the sport; so much so that I, during my misspent youth, knew all of the batting averages of all the Yankee players. Aside from learning the game, I also learned that knowing about sports impressed the boys — nothing is more impressive to teenage boys than a girl who knows about sports.

For those of you who know me and are reading this, I know what you’re thinking. You’re saying to yourself, “What is this? She’s not a Yankee fan.” You would be correct. I am a New York Mets fan. And, I have the closets filled with blue and orange team gear to prove it. At one time, though, even I succumbed to the allure of The New York Yankees.

Hey, it was the ’70s. There was no team more exciting than The Yankees in the 1970’s — Billy Martin, George Steinbrenner, Reggie Jackson. Mainly though, it was Bucky Dent’s presence in the line-up — the poster boy and object of every adolescent girl’s fantasies — who kept me interested. He was handsome and sexy. Once in a while he could also play the game pretty well. (Remember that home run he hit over The Green Monster at Fenway Park in 1978? I do.)

While I remained a casual baseball fan throughout my life, I became a Mets fan in ’86. I had to, really. My husband was the “real” baseball fan of the two of us. And, come on, if there was a year to be (or to become) a New York Mets fan, 1986 was that year.

At some point, though, life got in the way of baseball. I had things to do. I had a child, a job. I had friends and was active in the community. And, of course, later I would have the drinking to fill what little free time I managed to carve out for myself. Baseball took a back seat to all of that.

As time passed, my kid needed me less and less. My job is nothing but mindless drudgery. While I still have friends, I no longer have the community involvement that one has when her child is growing up. And, I stopped drinking.

And so it came to pass that as I sat on the couch doing other things (reading, crocheting, constructing essays), I began to envy my husband’s 162 game a year commitment to his team. I would hear him as he made noises of disgust. I could see him out of the corner of my eye shaking his head in disbelief. Once in a while, in a rare burst of excitement — on his part and on the part of The New York Mets — he would nearly rise from his chair, put his fist in the air, and shout “YES!”

I, too, wanted to be disgusted — at something or someone other than myself. Over the last few years being disheartened by The New York Mets has been easy. They could barely hit the side of a barn. Their inability to turn a double play was legendary. There were some flashes of brilliance, mostly that came in the form of their young pitching talent. While pitching can keep a team in games, it must be complemented by hitting and the ability to field a batted ball. Still, there seemed to be hope on the horizon.

With a complete understanding of what I was in for, just as I had made a commitment to not drinking, I made a commitment to root for this pretty hapless team. I went into both things with my eyes fully open.

At the start of this season not a single “expert” chose the Mets to get to the post-season. Who could blame them? Even their most die-hard fans had to agree. At best, this Met fan thought that maybe, just maybe, if a couple of things broke our way and a couple of things went wrong for a couple of other teams, we might have a shot at the wild card. Might. Have a shot. That was the most that any of us could hope for, or so I thought.

And then they began the season by winning eleven straight games. They hit a few bumps along the way. There were injuries, as there always are, to some key players; our left-handed relief pitcher had his arm broken by a batted ball and we lost our captain, David Wright, back in April to spinal stenosis. We took some blows. Things were beginning to look like “business as usual” for the New York Mets. In other words, bleak.

The return of our best pitcher, Matt Harvey, following a long rehabilitation from Tommy John Surgery, had everyone holding their breath. Would he be as good as he was before the surgery? Barring a couple of rocky innings for “The Dark Knight” (as the press has dubbed him, a result of his intensity on the mound), he was pretty damn good.

There were other questions, too. Like, would Jacob deGrom, our young, long-haired pitcher and reigning “Rookie of the Year” be able to repeat his success of last season or would the batters adjust to him now that they had faced him any number of times? Would the club promote another big gun, Noah Syndergaard, the hard throwing giant, fittingly nicknamed “Thor”,  whose luscious blonde locks could give deGrom’s prodigious mane a run for its money? (Seriously, these guys could do shampoo commercials!) What about Steven Matz, the kid from Long Island? Would he take the mound at Citi Field this season? Was he ready? Would he, too, have to grow his hair?

What were they going to do about the infield? Would they leave Wilmer Flores at shortstop? Would they live with his less than stellar defensive skills to keep his bat in the line-up? Could they afford to do that without DWright at third base?

And then, of course, there was the question of who would close out games. The guy who was slated to do so had been caught in a PED scandal, which resulted in a suspension. So, without Mejia, who would the Mets turn to? Would they go out and get a guy or use someone “in-house”?

Thankfully, we had Jeurys Familia in the bullpen. He was given the opportunity and he ran with it. He closed out games like it was his job, which it was, and only blew two saves all season. He also managed to master the split-finger slider in the midst of the season, rendering him both (more) formidable and nearly unhittable.

In lieu of hitting the ball, we, instead, hit the skids following the All-Star break. We simply stopped hitting. It was like someone turned on the losing switch. Well, I thought, they had a good run, better than I or anyone else could have expected when the season began. In true Met fan fashion I told myself, “There’s always next year” as I counted the days until the end of the season.

And then the Mets did the unthinkable. They made a few key trades at the deadline — trades that proved to bring us the help that we so desperately needed in the batter’s box and on the pitcher’s mound. Most notably, we got a couple of proven relief pitchers in Tyler Clippard and Addison Reed. Mainly for their offense, we handed out contracts and uniforms to Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, and Yoenis Cespedes. The combination made all the difference.

For all the trades the Mets made to bolster our team, the most important trade may have been the one that did not happen. In a strange turn of events, the media got hold of some information and reported that Wilmer Flores was being traded. The fans in the stadium knew something that neither the manager nor the player knew. When, as a result of folks rising from their seats to give Wilmer a “goodbye” ovation, Wilmer realized what was happening, he began to wipe tears from his eyes on the field of play.

Apparently, for this young man — a young man who had spent his entire professional career as a New York Met — there was crying in baseball. What he didn’t know was that he was being traded to The Minnesota Twins. Had Mr. Flores known that he may have begun to sob. The deal, as it turned out, would never be finalized. Wilmer Flores would remain a New York Met. He would also become something of a national sensation. A baseball player with emotion. A kid who wanted to stay with the team that drafted him.

Soon after this incident the Mets caught fire and the Washington Nationals imploded. Wilmer even hit a walk-off home run to beat the Nats in what would be the last close game we would play against them. We had, suddenly and magically, gained momentum. We took over first place in the NL East and never looked back. Who needs the stinking wild card when you can win your division? No one. That’s who.

Facing two guys who are arguably the best pitchers in baseball, my Mets took the division series from The Los Angeles Dodgers. Daniel Murphy, a guy not known for hitting home-runs, has been on something of a home-run tear. He has continued to terrorize good pitching as we lead the league championship 2–0. Tonight the boys will be at Wrigley Field to face The Chicago Cubs. It’s a hitters park. Our best pitcher will be on the mound, too. I have a good feeling about this series.

If we beat the Cubs, which I think that we will, the Mets will have done what no one thought they could do: they will play in The World Series. How ever any of this ends, whether they win or they lose, they have proven what most of us inherently know, but which often takes a lifetime to sink in, derailed as this lesson is by losing seasons and, sometimes, just plain bad luck.

You have to believe in yourself, even when no one else does. You have to honor your commitments.

Let’s Go Mets!

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