Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Happy Returns

Monday at Citi Field marked the 11th straight year that I was present for the Home Opener, a streak that covers every Citi Field Home Opener. The Home Opener annually has a bit of a "Baseball Woodstock" feel to it. There's a lot of fans there, and people are hanging out and tailgating in the parking lot, and the concession stands are generally understaffed and overwhelmed, and it generally feels kind of disorganized sometimes.

As is my habit, I got to Citi Field, accompanied by my other half for what would be her first Opening Day, at around 11:15 or so. The parking lot was already full, and inside the crowd was abuzz in the kind of way that hasn't really existed pretty much since the first Opening Day at Citi Field way back in 2009 when the Outfield was all black and a giant vacuum for fly balls. Now, 6 years hence, the team is different, the walls are different, the Outfield is still kind of a vacuum in the right kind of weather, but it's still Citi Field, and it's still sort of new, like most of us are still warming up to the fact that the beloved Blue Blob that was Shea Stadium isn't there anymore. We milled around somewhat and looked for new and interesting things, discovering little more than the grilled cheese stand and the bacon-on-a-stick stand, but for the most part things haven't changed that much. The line at Shake Shack is still absurdly long, and the line at Pat LaFrieda's stand could rival it. Blue Smoke, which for my money is probably better than Shake Shack, and the equally superior El Verano Taqueria have less of a line (you're welcome, Danny Meyer). The World's Fare Market didn't have anything new either, unless you consider "Mets" Cupcakes something new and exciting (although I can't determine that they're a new offering since I haven't actually been in the World's Fare Market since at least 2011). Upstairs, even less had changed, except that after a while I realized that there was no more Subway at Citi Field. This is fine, since I was never one to get Subway at a Mets game and I have, in the past, mused as to why this was ever an option in the first place. Something that I can't remember has replaced it in the Promenade level. It must not have been a very exciting option, since I can't tell you what it is. I'll try to do a better job later in the season.

One of my more vehement gripes at prior Opening Days was the lack of pocket schedules. It's been years since you could get a Mets pocket schedule on Opening Day. The Pocket Schedule is a major part of my life during baseball season. I keep one in the pocket of two different coats, usually one in my wallet, several in key locations in my apartment, and one on my desk at work. This way, I always know when there's a game. After years of no pocket schedules on Opening Day, I was delighted to find that the Fan Assistance booth on the Field Level in fact WAS LOADED WITH POCKET SCHEDULES!!! This more or less made the day right there. I made sure to grab several more than I needed, because who knows how hot a commodity these will be in the season's early going.

Oh, and then there was a Shofar Blowing with Howie Rose, and a Game, too. Howie did his usual sparkling job, replete with the typical vitriolic welcome to the visiting Phillies, and the expected wild ovations for such Mets as Matt Harvey, Lucas Duda, David Wright, Jacob deGrom and Bartolo Colon. During the game, it was deGrom who sparkled, in spite of not having his best stuff and kind of throwing too many pitches too early in the game. But he had the benefit of facing a Phillies lineup that's just putrid, which I enjoy to no end. They have some young players like this Odubel Herrera (not to be confused with Oddibe McDowell or Asdrubal Cabrera) fellow and Cody Asche, but mostly this is a roster of creaky old guys, like the Artist formerly known as Chase Utley, Perpetually injured Grady Sizemore, and the corpse of Ryan Howard. deGrom navigated his way through 6.1 innings, allowing no runs to the Phillies in spite of 7 hits and only 3 strikeouts. He was helped by a 4th inning Double Play turned by Daniel Murphy, and by his own fine defense in the 5th, cutting off a sacrifice bunt attempt by Harang and cutting down the lead runner at 3rd.

Still, the Mets needed to find their breaks against the wily Aaron Harang (who can get you on a good day) in order to plate the two runs they were able to generate. They scored in the 4th when Juan Lagares hit a liner off Harang's glove that for some reason Harang decided to look at rather than field, and by time he negotiated his situation, Lagares was safe at 1st and Murphy had scored the first run of the game. An opportunity in the 6th was squandered after Michael Cuddyer's fly ball was lost in the sun by a cowering Sizemore, resulting in a triple. But Murphy followed with a pop out and that killed the inning. It wasn't until the 8th that the Mets finally managed an insurance run, thanks to a Daniel Murphy grounder that was ticketed for DP land until Utley ole'd it and the ball went through his legs. Travis d'Arnaud followed with a Sac Fly and that was the sum total of the Mets offense.

Fortunately, it was enough on this day, as deGrom, Carlos Torres, Jerry Blevins (who had the day's best WELCOME TO NEW YORK moment, punctuating a perfect 8th inning by striking out Howard) and Jeurys Familia, who closed out his second Save opportunity in as many days, thanks primarily to Lucas Duda's slick fielding (who the hell ever thought I'd be saying something like that) as he started a key Double Play to pick up the inning's first two outs. And, thus, the Mets kicked off their Home Schedule with a nice, crisp, 2 hour, 53 minute, 2-0 victory.

Other interesting tidbits: The clock that has mysteriously appeared in the Outfield that read 2:20 prior to the game. It wasn't until I looked up in the middle of the 1st inning and saw the clock counting down that I realized it was one of the MLB-sanctioned timer clocks installed to speed up the pace of the game. I guess they can do it all they want, but they'll still have a hard time keeping the American League games under 4 hours.

It's a quick turnaround for me, as sometimes happens, I've managed to end up with tickets to the first two games on the season. So I'll be right back out at Citi Field tonight, to welcome Matt Harvey back to Citi Field. Me, and more than likely about 35,000 others. The crowd on Monday was over 43,000, a Citi Field record. I guess once the tide turns for the Mets, we can expect more of this. It's nice, but a part of me will miss going to weekday night games where there were 15,000 people in the stands and you could get food without missing an inning and a half.

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