I went to the Mets-Nationals game last night, and I'm not sure why. I have some idea why: first Dom taunted the staff about its lackluster Mets attendance, and then I taunted myself about September baseball. The weather in New York was splendid, too, the kind of serene, cloudless 70-degree fare that makes the city, or at least its open public spaces, feel like San Diego. So I impulsively wandered out to Flushing.
There's something generally delightful about September baseball when your team's out of contention—the air takes on a tickling chill, the games relax, you see youngsters, and you finish that chapter. However disappointing that chapter may have been, you made it through. Sometimes injured players come back (though Johan Santana won't) and you see a glimpse of next year's promise.
I had another experience Tuesday night.
I didn't have a ticket, or a whole lot of interest in the game, since it was Mets and Nationals, and both teams are dead, so I brought a book, Susanna Rowson's Charlotte Temple, as my companion, instead of a human. The book was mostly for the train ride there and back, although I wanted to be prepared in case Mets-Nats got too Mets-Natsy. (This was a legitimate risk: The pitching matchup was Chien-Ming Wang versus Dillon Gee.)
I bought a ticket and found myself 20 rows back, a few sections away from first base. Walk-up sales put me in the midst of a weird bunch.
There was an Australian couple next to me—both had purchased Mets foam fingers and Mets tank tops to put over their otherwise stylish outerwear. They snapped tons of photos of themselves, and kissed quite a bit. They left by the fifth inning. Another solo fan, a Nationals fan in a Wang shirtsey, sat two seats down from me.
Really, it was Wang's night. Even though he pitched poorly, and didn't get the win, he was the only player fans were excited to see. Jose Reyes got his requisite smattering of applause, but Wang had legions of full-throated Taiwanese, who brought flags along. They cheered when he stepped up to bat, they cheered when he induced predictable ground balls. There were a lot of people around me who didn't speak English, or who spoke heavily accented English. They weren't too attentive to the Mets' futility. They didn't seem to understand what a stumbling mess the past five years have been. To wit, I was the only one in my section throatily booing Alex Cora, when he pinch-hit for Washington.
I don't remember a lot about what happened in the baseball game, although I, unlike my foreigner friends, focused on it while I was there. I know the Mets lost, even though they briefly rallied in the ninth, against Washington's slider-happy closer, Drew Storen. I know the final score was 3-2. I know the Mets wouldn't have even scored their second run had Jayson Werth not fumbled a ball in right field. I know the Mets would have had another run, if not for Rick Ankiel's blistering, precise throw home.
I know the Nationals used a pitcher named Atahualpa Severino, who had the stature of an Incan emperor, to go with his name. He pitched better than the Mets' Dale Thayer, who took the loss, I know.
But my notes, scribbled in the back of Charlotte Temple, and my memory, tell me other things about the game: The Mets played Cherry Poppin' Daddies' "Zoot Suit Riot" before the bottom of the sixth. This is not, as far as I know, a popular stadium song. Before the ninth, the Mets showed THIS DATE IN METS' HISTORY. Last September 13, Dillon Gee pitched six scoreless innings against Pittsburgh, and Nick Evans drove in the winning run in the tenth. This September 13, Evans went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, and Gee gave up two runs in five and two thirds. This made me grouchy. These players were less promising than they were last September. I told you already, I know the Mets lost. The Mets were discounting souvenirs, "25 percent off," the vendors called.
I left as Lucas Duda whiffed against Storen to end the ninth. I bounded up the stairs and to the subway before most people got out, forgetting momentarily that 7 trains, express to Manhattan, only leave when full. I would be waiting for a bit on the train as it swelled to capacity.
While we lurched westward, my phone ran out of battery and I lost interest in the prim affairs of Charlotte Temple. The train was too crammed to read on, anyway. So I looked up. There was a couple in front of me, and a couple to my right. The couple in front of me was talking about moving—the guy, wearing a Mets shirt, was moving and wanted to throw away his clothes, and his girl told him to give them to Goodwill. He seemed to acquiesce, and then he kissed her forehead. The other couple was a bit younger, probably both 22. They weren't talking much, certainly not about moving. The boy reached down for his girl's hand. She didn't meet his grasp, but then she reached further and grabbed his ass. She was wearing a Mets shirt. And then the kid to my left was probably 20 or so, with deathly skinny arms adorned with various Hot Topic-like bracelets. He had studs in his ears and pointy black leather shoes. I couldn't necessarily picture him at a baseball game in Flushing, though he had been there. When the 7 Express hit Grand Central, the crowd thinned out—the first two couples disembarked—and the kid next to me moved to the bench across the car. There he sat next to a man who looked like his father—an older guy in jeans, free of piercings or black clothes—and his sister, who wore gray skinny jeans. I couldn't hear what they were saying, but they were laughing and smiling together. They were all wearing Mets shirts. Even those clownish Australians were wearing Mets shirts. It was like a fastball in the gut. I learned I was the one who didn't understand baseball.