Say It Ain’t So, Yo

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I wonder if I’d feel differently if the Mets had begun the season 10-0, rather than their current 3-7?

When they won their opener (like they do pretty much every season) behind Jacob deGrom and a tie-breaking, two-years-in-the-making, home run from Yoenis Cespedes, I must admit I was feeling it. A little anyway.

Now? Not so much.

And not just because this Mets team we watch take the field is putting on display every flaw we have worried about for months now. Nope, I’ve thought a lot about this, and it’s bigger than just the customary pain of being a Mets fan.

I mean, what’s the better option here — no baseball to watch at all, or a truncated season with an absurd extra innings provision, and the despised DH in the lineup every game for every team, while your favorite squad twists a knife in your gut every night?

Answer: yeah, even in this Mets-nightmare, bastardized-rules version of a 60-game season, keep playing the games. Please.

But something’s missing. And I’m not just saying that because, try as I might, I can’t find the cardboard cutout I paid $100 bucks for in the stands when the A’s are playing at home.

I’ve been watching major league baseball games for over 50 years now (audible sigh). And not once in those 50 years have I ever been compelled to say “boy, if there weren’t fans in the stands, watching this game wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.”

Until now. The things we take for granted, ya know?

The Angels were playing at home yesterday afternoon, and in the bottom of the ninth, their catcher Jason Castro, absolutely crushed a fastball to the deepest part of the park. It caught the top of the wall on a line, before caroming back toward Astros centerfielder George Springer. Castro’s shot knocked in a run that tied up the game, which made me happy for several reasons:

  1. Any time something bad can happen to the Astros that could cost them a win, I’m in favor of it.
  2. In my new home, here in Southern California, the Angels are fast becoming my American League bandwagon club to root for.
  3. I really want to see Mike Trout make the playoffs this year, and given this absurd, 16-team, postseason format the regular season is wobbling toward, there’s a real chance, but the Angels need every win they can get.

Here’s the rub. Castro’s blast was met with crickets. The low hum of the piped in crowd noise in Anaheim isn’t programmed to explode if something positive happens for the home team. As best I can tell, it’s only purpose is to drown out the F-bombs coming from the opposing dugouts, but that’s beside the point.

What I’m driving at here is that the viewing experience during what should have been a moment of high drama, was badly lacking. It felt slightly less exciting than a spring training game. The Angels (doing a spot-on, west coast imitation of the Mets), stranded Castro on second, and the game progressed to extra innings.

And I turned off the game at that point, sickened by the announcers feigned enthusiasm about how this would be the first time the Angels got to try out the new extra innings format. Yup, the one with the go-ahead runner stationed at second. Yippee…

Yes, I’m a baseball fan, so I had to check Yahoo Sports on my phone later, and was happy to see the Angels had won the game (see reasons 1-3 above). But my heart wasn’t in it.

Meanwhile, 3000 miles away in Atlanta, the Mets showed up (contractually they have to, I suppose, but more on that in a second) in body only, going through the motions in losing once again to the Braves, while sinking deeper into last place (is anyone really checking standings?). It was clearly a dog-days-of-August effort, the only difference from prior years when the Mets have blatantly quit on their fans being that — yeah, that’s right — the season wasn’t even 10 games old yet!

It’s a familiar lament for Mets fans — whether it’s the agony of watching the bullpen flush a deGrom gem, or a huge lead built on the odd day the offense happens to show up — a pain we are all too familiar with, but willing to shoulder because there’s always the optimism of a better tomorrow whispering in our ear. That blind faith all too often gives way to the harsh realities of the following morning, though, when you root for the blue and orange.

And that’s why we all shook our heads in a synchronized, melancholy fashion, rehearsed over so many summers, when we got the news this morning that Yoenis Cespedes had no-showed for today’s game. We knew instinctively there would be no reasonable or rational explanation. We are the Mets after all, the franchise that blew up its 2006 World Series aspirations when our setup man got in a late-night taxi cab accident while searching for Cuban food.

GM Brodie Van Wagenen didn’t even try to sugar coat it with the press, before the Mets mercifully killed the Q&A with six reporters’ hands still in the air looking for answers. And then the Mets went out and rolled over again, barely competitive against a Braves team that will make this ridiculously wide-open playoff field largely due to the advantage of playing so many games against the New York Baseball Mets.

Say it ain’t so, Yo?

Wild boar chase? Golf cart accident? Fell off a horse? Calcium deposits on both heels that nobody knew about but would require season-ending surgery?

All we know for sure, as Mets fans, is that when the true backstory of this one comes out, it will be laughable, and beyond anything our imaginations could be capable of conjuring up. Sure, the Mets told us after the game that when the security detail went to Cespedes’ hotel to try and track him down, he was gone and his bags had been packed. And that his agent notified the team mid-game that the big slugger had decided to opt out of the season. But we all know there’s more. There’s always more when you root for the Mets.

Just wait.

Other observations around MLB at the 10-game mark:

*Did I miss where MLB decided that the Yankees would only play the downtrodden Orioles and Red Sox this regular season, as they tune up for playoff baseball?

*Did anybody else secretly wish that the Dodgers and Astros had been allowed to brawl to their hearts content the other night, after Joe Kelly threw at a couple of Houston hitters? I had a hard time deciding who to side with on that one, but wouldn’t have minded at all if a few haymakers had found their mark. In fact, I would have gladly forked over a $100 pay-per-view fee if I could have somehow been guaranteed that Justin Turner and Alex Correia would simultaneously connect with overhand rights, bloodying each other’s nose. A double-knockout worthy of the best Three Stooges reruns.

*I turned on an Indians-White Sox game the other day. No idea where the game was being played, but there was no one in the stands. The real question was, had there been no pandemic, would the attendance have been much different?

*Can somebody promise me if the season gets cancelled soon, it will still count as Pete Alonso’s sophomore jinx year?

*Whirling-Sterling (VA) Chris, the most diehard Expos fan I know, makes a compelling argument as to why the D.C. baseball club will once again contend for the 2020 title. Like I said, Chris’ argument is compelling, but the Baseball Gods don’t prescribe to logic. There is an enormous 2019 tab still to be paid by National fans everywhere, and it will be collected between now and October. Keep those 2019 highlight videos handy, Expos fans, this one’s going to sting.

*If the Marlins never make it back on the field, but aren’t officially DQ’d by MLB, does that mean they go in as one of the National League’s top seeds when playoffs come around? They’ve got a .667 winning percentage, folks. You can look it up.

*Poor Luis Rojas. For those of you wondering who that even is, he’s the lame duck Mets manager overseeing this calamitous 2020 campaign. A baseball lifer, Rojas needed at least a deep playoff run to stand a chance at returning in 2021, when the new Mets ownership group should be in place (God willing). Rojas could be a combination of Connie Mack and John McGraw for all I know, but based on what we’ve seen from his underachieving ball club, he has no shot. Not fair, but that’s the world of the New York Mets, Luis.

With this shit-show of a baseball season just getting started (and should it make it to the finish line, we can only imagine just how egregious the absurdities will have become), we need to harken back to Casey Stengel for some fundamental baseball wisdom to restore our faith in the grand old game:

“It’s a round ball, and a round bat, and you gotta hit it square.” 

Thanks, Casey, we needed that.

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