Saturday, July 05, 2008


Tales from my Log 3

8/4/05 Th Milwaukee 1-2 Benson # 2-1 L 12-9
In 2005, my last trip to America to date, I visited the Empire State Building, Ground Zero, the National Archives, the Smithsonian Institute, the Police Museum, the Firefighters' Museum, the Library of Congress, the Holocaust Museum, Ellis Island, the Spy Museum, and many other places.
Only one location was graced by my presence more than once.
Exactly two weeks after the first and immensely satisfying go-around, and here we were back at Shea Stadium, this time accompanied by our Uncle Nachum, who is having his first visit to Shea since, like, forever.
The first pitch of the game is met by the bat of the Milwaukee Brewers' leadoff hitter (and current Met) Brady Clark, sending it high and backwards, straight toward our section. I'm immediately on my feet, but it's not worth the effort, as the sphere drops down into the seats below the overhang. In all three of my Shea pilgrimages I brought along my mitt, just in case, but this is the closest I've ever come to catching a major league foul ball (IBL ball, now that's different--but a story for some other day). Just a little more power on that swing, and that ball could have been mine...
The Metsies had lost six out of their last nine, and I was hoping the matchup--no. 3 starter Kris Benson, he of the 3.40 ERA and loudmouth wife, vs. journeyman Doug Davis--would snap 'em out of their funk. Neither pitched very edifyingly, and after two frames the teams had combined for three hits, three walks, and three stolen bases, without anybody getting on the board.
Things got going in the third: the Brew Crew chipped away at Benson with five hits--four just singles--and compiled three runs. Chris Woodward, subbing for the sweet-fielding Cliff Floyd in left, helped matters along with an off-the-line throw home that moved a runner up. Behind us and to our right, an improbable trio of Milwaukee fans was celebrating noisily.
The Mets caught up in the bottom of the inning with just two swings. Beltran and Piazza. Fourth and third on the team in home runs, respectively, they launched two blasts that evened the score at 3-all. The Milwaukeeans in our section shut up, but they paled in significance next to the other enemy.
Grade school Yankee fans.
Some brilliant executive in the Mets' front office had decided to make today Camp Day without bothering to check just which camps were attending. Obviously, their population preponderated toward Bronxian origians, as the air was continuously filled with hateful little voice screeching "METS SUCK!" and "LET'S GO YANKEES!"
Obviously, the stadium patriots among us weren't going to take this lying down, and soon the air was thick with countercries of "YANKEES SUCK!" and "LET'S GO METS!" I enthusiastically played my part, embarrassing my little brother--never mind that roughly 10,000 people were doing the same thing--while Uncle Nachum was engrossed with the game in progress. Amid the leaping decibels, the Mets took the lead in their half of the fourth with a bases-loaded walk and a two-run single off the bat of Mike Piazza (the cries momentarily turning into "PIAZZA! PIAZZA!" before reverting).
I was mentally pleading with Willie Randolph not to bering Benson back out for the fifth. After all, his statline so far was 4 IP, 8 H, 1 BB, with a wild pitch and HBP thrown in for measure. Clearly, he'd had it. Randolph, the softy, must have wanted Kris to earn the "W", because he walked out to the mound and--to my deep but unsurprised disgust--gave up three hits, one walk, and one lead, with him trudging off at the end off the debacle with the scoreboard announcing NYM 6 MIL 6. Inexplicably, he was allowed to bat for himself in the bottom the frame, laying down a useless bunt after substitute 1B Jose Offerman's leadoff double.
Around the seventh, a rainstorm started up, and the three of us retreated into safer territory beneath the overhang. It had rained on our previous vist, too, but it was just a light shower and we had been sitting beneath the overhang anyway. This whole business of "summer rain" was very revelatory to me: there's no such thing here in Israel. Heck, it's barely ever even humid (an exception occurring this year), and I proffesionally declared the American weather "insane".
With both starters gone, the teams had kicked off a parade of relievers, a total of ten appearing by game's end. For three innings, New York's proved superior, allowing just a combined four hits, one walk and one unearned run (Woodward again--wherefore art thou, Floyd?). The batters, meanwhile, busied themselves collected eight hits, two walks, and three well-earned runs off Justin Lehr and Julio Santana, including a run-scoring double by Mike Piazza in the sixth.
Mike Piazza! Vanguard of the last Mets Golden Age! Perpetual All-Star! Walloper of home runs and collector of RBIs! The one common thread linking my first Shea visit to my last: Mike Piazza, the greatest-hitting catcher in MLB history. I cheered him unconditionally on the 30th of July, 2000 (he went 1-for-4); I bemoaned the lack of Piazzosity on the 21st of July, 2005; and now here I was, screaming like a joyful banshee, little brother cringing at my side--Mike Piazza, one single, one double, one home run, five runs batted in. I immortalized the statline with a photograph of the scoreboard during his next at-bat. He struck out then, but no matter; this was probably his last great game in a Mets uniform, and I was there to witness it.
That was one of just two photos I chose to take that day; the other one was taken in the eighth, when the crowd expressed its objection to the Brewers scoring that unearned run by tossing paper bags and other trash onto the field.
Maybe that was what shifted the karma. Maybe it was the unexpected win on the last visit, tipping the scales of deservance. Maybe it was the defensive replacement of Piazza by Ramon Castro in the final inning--after all, Danny "Digging" Graves himself had entered after the Trash Incident and set down the opposition in 1-2-3 order.
All I know is that the setup man with the 2.02 ERA, Roberto Hernandez, came in for the ninth and proceeded to toss batting practice. Once the dust cleared, his ERA was 2.88, the scoreboard was flashing MIL 12 NYM 9, and I wanted to strangle someone. Preferably my whiny brother.
I said goodbye to my new friends (two older Mets fans sitting right behind us; another revelation that day was how easy it is to strike up conversations with other fans of your team at a ballpark, even--or especially--if you have absolutely nothing else in common and are the totallest of total strangers), bid adieu to the newly ecstatic Brewer Fan Trio, and we slowly made our way out, as per my loudly stated prediction that "the Mets are definitely gonna lose now and I don't wanna be around to watch it."
Dawdling in a gift shop, we saw the prolonged but inevitable end played out on a TV screen: David Wright, second on the team in home runs, grounding out with two men on. Once again, the pull of the .500 mark was irresistable.
TODAY'S BOOK: "The World-Wide Dessert Contest", by Dan Elish ((c) 1988)

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