We've arrived, kids. A long spring training and a longer off-season is finally over. Baseball is here, and not a moment too soon. I can't tell you how long the euphoria of an undefeated season in first place will last (my guess is two days), but baseball is here. And with baseball is at least a chance to win. We've lost too much and too many this offseason. We lost Dana Brand last season. We lost Greg Spira. We lost Johnny Lowe, who was a compadre of mine withFlushing University. Johnny was kind enough to send me a Rangers puck from the 60's even though we had never actually met. But that's the kind of community Mets fans build. And we lost too many of them over the last 12 months. They are who I thought of this Opening Day.
And of course, we lost Gary Carter. We lost Carter on February 17th. I bought my ticket to Opening Day minutes after the news broke. I probably would have gone anyway, but hearing about Gary drove me to go. We said hello to him on Opening Day '85. Being at Opening Day '12 gave me a chance to say good-bye. No, the Mets didn't retire his number 8 officially. But even though I don't agree with it, I'm fine with it. Better for the Mets to be consistent and not retire his number instead of retiring it just because he left us, or at least making it seem like it. And they paid a great tribute by having his family throw out the ceremonial first pitches.
But Opening Days will always, thankfully, be more about hellos than goodbyes. Whether it be to fellow bloggers who you keep in touch with through social media but still meet up with to have that "what I did with my offseason" conversation, or to Johan Santana, whom we haven't said hello to since 2010. Johan pitched five innings, working through a jam in the fifth for his final inning. Even with a clean fifth he probably wouldn't have lasted too much longer, so I'd say this was more than we could ever expect out of Johan in his first competitive start in 19 months.
We said hello to Ramon Ramirez for the first time, as he made his Mets debut with an overrated stat. We said hello to Andres Torres ... and then we said good-bye as Torres is the first casualty of the 2012 season ... straining his calf in the seventh chasing Tyler Pastornicky's triple (screw you Tyler, and your stupid name too). And it's no coincidence. You see, Torres wears number 56. Look at what I wore today to the game under my sweatshirt:
Sure, it's a Brian McRae shirt. But same number. I hadn't worn it in years. (I barely fit in it.) And look what happened. So it was me, I got Torres hurt.
We said hello to blue walls. I like blue walls. But one question, if we can make the outfield walls blue, couldn't we have made the old left field walls blue? Or the walls on the sides? Even the walls by the Mo's Zone? A Yankee fan friend of mine would always make fun of me for Shea Stadium's renovations, which amounted to slapping a coat of paint on the place. Making the outfield walls blue didn't even require paint, it was just new padding. They couldn't have slapped some paint over the black? They couldn't have surrounded the Caesars logo with the same blue? It looks unfinished. A step in the right direction nonetheless.
We said hello to Tim Byrdak. Sure, we've said hello to him before. But it seems like we said hello to the new, leadership version of Tim Byrdak. The guy who loosens up the clubhouse with a Hulk Hogan outfit. The guy who zips back from knee problems to not only be on the roster for Opening Day, but to actually pitch in a big spot and save the team with a Hulk Hogan type effort in the seventh after Pastornicky's triple and Torres' trip to the bench by striking out Jose Constanza and Michael Bourn. Hello to you, Leader Tim.
We said hello to the food. To the Taqueria. And to the elote which, somehow someway, tastes better than I remember.
We said hello to Frank Francisco, the one that limped through spring training and made me nervous, but also the one who "turns it on when the lights are bright". I'll admit it, I worried when he took hold of the 1-0 lead in the ninth. But when he hit 93 on the gun I worried a little bit less. And even though he threw two "I'm trying to throw the final strike 159 miles per hour" pitches with two outs, he gave me less reason to worry going forward. I'll still worry, but maybe not at the level of DefconBenitez.
We said hello to baseball again. Maybe not enough of us came out to say hello to the Mets' 33rd Opening Day win in 51 tries as there were too many empty seats for an Opening Day extravaganza (the Mets announced it was their largest crowd ever ... yet it only seemed like it in the staircases and corridors after the game), but the ones who were there had plenty to be excited about. A full crowd can, at times, seem like St. Patrick's Day where in the same way sober people pick one day a year to drink, people that you know aren't going to go to another baseball game until Opening Day 2013 seem to be getting in the way or trying too hard, or just getting in the way. (Must be all those frontrunners now that we're in first place.) But being part of a full crowd at Citi Field is rare. So I enjoyed it much more than I silently cursed the people that were just there to fill in the seats. Hello to all of you guys. See you in 2013.
And hello to you, 2012. However many depressing and mind-numbing days you'll surely give us, we realize that it isn't about the destination but about the journey. Those days when the journey isn't fun, we'll make it fun. Somehow. It's nice to say hello.