Friday, April 8, 2016

The Place To Be!

There was, of course, no better place for any Mets fan to be on Friday afternoon than at Citi Field for the 2016 Home Opener. I was, as promised, there at 11am, and in spite of the fact that I'd left my house later than I would have liked, I was still there on time, which means that had I left when I had intended to, I would have been there, what, 10:30? George was there as well, and in fact beat me by a few minutes, but it seemed a bit of a fruitless exercise because the gates hadn't yet opened when we arrived, and so we were reduced to standing along the perimeter of the masses that had gathered outside the Rotunda, ready to get in and get their slice of Baseball Nirvana.

We did, eventually, make it inside, and of course as per usual, did our lap around the Field Level, just to see what was new since we'd last sojourned to Flushing. Lines had already formed at the usual places, Shake Shack, Pat LaFreida's, and at the new David Chang Fuku outlet, which seems to have either truncated or bumped completely the Lobster Roll stand. I will, I'm sure, have to try this mythical sandwich, but today was not the day; my aptitude for waiting on long lines for food has vanished completely, as opposed to my aptitude for sitting in Arctic conditions at Citi Field in April, which has grown tired but may never evaporate.

Eventually, we did get upstairs, and to our seats, just in time for the Opening Ceremonies and the proverbial blowing of the Shofar. I have, of course, captured everything for you loyal readers who were either unable to attend or wish to relive it, and thanks to an offseason acquisition of a new camera, I bring it to you in eye-popping HD, as opposed to an iPhone video. The difference is stark.

This video ran us through the history of Mets Pantheon years and events leading up to last season, I was late in joining it but nonetheless, you get the idea. I'd already taken note of the most notable new addition to Citi Field:
which I suppose would have been more fitting if it had been unveiled by Matt Harvey, but that's not Harvey standing there by himself in the Excelsior level, and there was already another unveiling planned, but we'll get to that later. Meanwhile, there was the Shea Family presentation of the Opening Day Wreath, which to me is, for all intents and purposes, the Baseball version of the blowing of the Shofar, which was followed by Howie Rose:

For the Baseball purist, which I consider to be just about anyone who truly embraces the National League style of play, I've always been struck by the fact that this is how Howie Rose welcomes Opening Day. It's not just the Baseball season, it's the National League season, and as I've been over many times, that National League style of Baseball is the way it ought to be done. People may not agree, I don't especially care, and the fact that Howie Rose acknowledges it as a thing means he agrees with me. It's straight business after that, of course, as Howie introduces the Phillies roster and lineup, which consisted of the carcass of Ryan Howard and a bunch of rookies and retreads and guys we'll only know because the Mets and Phillies play each other 19 times a season. They are all booed heartily, some more than others. And then, of course, our guys:

For years (and I have the videos to prove it), most of the trainers and staff got booed, with the exception of Yoshi Nishio, the massage therapist, whom everyone seems to love and I've never understood why, other than he always looks really happy to be there. This year, everyone got cheered, even Cortisone Shot Ramirez. When you go to the World Series, everyone loves you. But we'll see how long that lasts. Then, there were the players, and most hearty welcomes were reserved for Wilmer Flores, Steven Matz, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jeurys Familia, Michael Conforto and, of course, Bartolo Colon.

Then, there was the National Anthem. They had cast members from the musical, Hamilton on hand to perform, which is when I realized that this is now officially a Happening. Citi Field is truly the place to be. Other teams in this town that love to revel in the past seem content to beam out an image of Frank Sinatra, but we're getting guys from the hottest show in town for our party.

And then, finally, the ceremony was capped off by the raising of the Championship Banner, which feels very anticlimactic, perhaps because of the short flagpoles, or perhaps because it's not a banner for something bigger, but regardless, a banner is a banner and the Mets have a long tradition of banner waving, so here's one more:

And finally, with the shofar blown and the ceremony dispensed and the banner raised and the crowd plenty fired up, it was time to play a game:

And play the Mets did.

After the pomp and circumstance I guess the game itself is almost a sideshow. Once the ceremony is done with and everyone finally settles in to watch a game, things kind of settle down, or at least it settled down plenty this afternoon. That was probably because Jacob deGrom settled in and in spite of not having that pop on his fastball that he had last season, he still shoved aside a mostly overmatched Phillies lineup over his 6 innings of work. There were some hits, mostly singles, but when deGrom needed a strikeout he tended to get one. This, of course, with the specter of impending fatherhood hanging over him, but where such circumstance led to the undoing of other pitchers in prior seasons, deGrom seems to have the uncanny ability to not allow outside things to distract him from the task at hand. Really, the only thing that slowed him down was this nagging lat injury, which knocked him from the game after 6 innings, and while he'd have us believe it was no cause for concern, on a frigid afternoon, there was no need to push anything.

deGrom did depart with a lead in the 6th, because it was in the 6th that his teammates finally figured out Jerad Eickhoff, the young Philly starter whom the Mets saw a few times last year and had a hard time with. Eickhoff ran into some trouble in the second; partially his own doing because he was walking guys, and partially the fault of Freddy Galvis, his Shortstop, who dropped what likely would have been a double play grounder off the bat of Asdrubal Cabrera that set up the Mets first run of the game, an RBI groundout by deGrom. Though Philly did tie the game in the 6th, which seemed somewhat accidental, the Mets then stormed back in the bottom of the inning, as Lucas Duda led off with a double, Neil Walker followed with an RBI single—his "WELCOME TO NEW YORK!!" moment—and Michael Conforto drilled a double to score Walker. That settled Eickhoff.

In the 7th inning, Jim Henderson had his "WELCOME TO NEW YORK!!" moment, coming in and doing what he's done all spring and retiring the side in order, throwing heat and striking out 2 of the 3 batters he faced. For Henderson, this has to be gratifying considering he'd missed the better part of 2 seasons with injuries and basically had to prove himself worthy of a role, which he's done in spades. Sometimes, you take chances on guys like this and they work--at least this has been the case so far with Henderson.

The Mets then put the game away in the bottom of the 7th, against James Russell, who's bounced around a lot and basically fits the mold of a lefty reliever to a tee. He was in there to face the alternating lefty hitters in the Mets lineup, but he didn't do a very good job of it. He walked David Wright with 1 out, gave up a single to Yoenis Cespedes, walked Lucas Duda, and then gave up hits to Neil Walker and Conforto that plated 3 runs between them. Travis d'Arnaud then capped the scoring with his first hit of the season, a single that scored Walker and, with the game now 7-1, sent many of the frozen revelers to the exits--and some warmth.

I, however, stuck around to the finale, which got needlessly hairy in the 8th thanks to Hansel Robles' inability to get anyone out, and might have been hairier when Jerry Blevins entered the game, but after falling behind 3-0 against Odubel Herrera, but he eventually got Herrera to pop up, and this turned into a Double Play when Cesar Hernandez forgot the machinations of the Infield Fly Rule. Antonio Bastardo worked an uneventful 9th, and the Mets wrapped up a fine Opening Day with a 7-2 victory, and at least for one afternoon all was right in the world.

There are, of course, still some complaints about the service on Opening Day, when it often seems like the stadium staff is sometimes ill-prepared for 44,000 people to show up. The scorecard golf pencils were blunted, to the point where I now have an unreadable scorecard (my handwriting is bad to begin with and when I have to write with a horseshit pencil it's even worse). There were no vendors to be found in the seating areas for a majority of the game, until the pretzel guy came by in the 8th inning, which was useless because I didn't want a pretzel. I would have loved to get some pocket schedules, but there were none to be found, which happens every season.

Fortunately, I have more complaints about the ballpark than I do about the team, which is a good thing. deGrom's line was, for him, pretty standard stuff so there's not much to write about. Neil Walker had himself a nice afternoon and was in the thick of all the Mets rallies, as was Michael Conforto, who is supposed to sit against lefties, but I have a suspicion he's going to force Terry Collins to reconsider this before too long because he's hitting everyone right now. We'll see how this goes. The Mets aren't scheduled to face a lefty pitcher until I believe Tuesday.

So, the Mets have dispensed with the ceremonial portion of their schedule, and can now get back to the business of the day-to-day life of the season. It was a Happening at Citi Field, though, and I suppose it is what happens when you go to the World Series. Those days of 10-15,000 people out there on a Tuesday night are probably over. When you're winning, every game can be a Happening.

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