Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Borne Back Ceaselessly

There's no point in trying to sugarcoat it; last night's game really sucked. Losing on Opening Day is always tough. You wait months for baseball to come back, then you get to wait again a few days longer because the Washington Nationals waited until the end of training camp to have a covid outbreak. Then the Mets blow a lead showing some of the weaknesses that we all worried about before the season started. The bullpen, check. Manager, check. Defense, check. I felt really miserable by the end of the game.

If I tried to write something last night, it would have definitely reflected the anger and anxiety I felt when it all came crashing down. I have a ton of long pent-up hopes about this club finally turning it around. While they may truly show themselves to be the new Mets by the time all is said and done, they lost on Opening Day, looking very much like the same old Mets. Fortunately, I'm a little too old to cry myself to sleep at night these days, but I did feel a bit of frustration and sadness before sleep finally came for me.

As is usually the case with unreasonable angst, I felt different about things when I woke up this morning. No, I didn't feel great. A dirty little secret of this 62-year-old's existence is that the results of the latest Mets game always affects my mood the next day. Not quite to the ridiculous extent that it used to years ago, but it's there nonetheless. There's always a bit of melancholy after a loss, particularly a tough one. While I don't linger all day in a pit of despair, I do deal with passing pangs of regret whenever the Mets pop into my head. It's part of the cost of investing yourself emotionally in rooting for a team.

I knew when I did my reading while drinking my coffee this morning that I would see plenty of takes on the whole "same old Mets" theme. I understand it, but I always find it somewhat irksome when someone who covers the team professionally resorts to this. It just feels like a cheap and easy take on everything.

On the other hand, it's also kind of easy to point out that the game is only 1 of 162. I mean, it is, of course, but it's more than that, too. Nobody wants to set the tone for a new venture with a subpar performance.

Yes, there were some reasonable excuses for them playing less than their best. That 4-day layover in Washington, while MLB took its sweet time sorting everything out, was not helpful. I'm sure it had some impact on the way the Mets played. Scrimmages and workouts are no substitute for playing real games and staying in routine. Meanwhile, the Phillies already had three games under their belt to work past some jitters and kinks. Their season was well underway.

When I'm tempted to make excuses for the Mets losing any game, however, my mind flashes back to a commercial from years ago. My memories of it are imperfect — I can't even remember what product the commercial was selling — but it featured a young Little Leaguer who had just dropped a fly ball. He unleashed a flurry of excuses for the error. The two I remember were "the sun was in my eyes" and "I tripped over a rock." Having good excuses changes nothing. At the end of the day, the Mets are 0-1. Their path to getting there and whether there are mitigating factors is absolutely irrelevant. In the end, it's just the Ws and Ls that matter.

A few thoughts on the game. Taking Jacob deGrom out after six made sense to me. The disruption to routine from the Washinton outbreak dictated being extra conservative with the guy. There's a long season ahead. If deGrom had pitched the seventh and something happened to him, Luis Rojas would have been rightfully excoriated.

If deGrom had pitched the seventh and held onto the lead, the Mets would undoubtedly have gone to Trevor May in the eighth, anyway. That's why he was brought here. Same with Aaron Loup, also brought in to hold leads late in games. Let's just hope that we see much better from them going forward. If not, then we are definitely in deep, deep doo-doo. On the other hand, it was good to see Miguel Castro do well his first time out. They'll definitely need him.

Putting Luis Guillorme in for late-game defense was the right move. Luis didn't make the play as he should have, but I still have confidence in his defense.

I don't fault Rojas for not starting Dom Smith, as I think its purpose was putting a better defense behind deGrom on Opening Day. But not getting Smith the at-bat in a key situation was overly conservative, and not getting Smith in the game at all was a rookie mistake from a manager who can't afford to manage like a rookie this year if he hopes to have the same job next year. Sure, Rojas wanted to show confidence in Kevin Pillar. That's okay if this was some random game during the season. It wasn't. It was Opening Day on a season where the Mets will supposedly be true contenders again. Smith should have received the AB, period.

But here we are. As I'm writing this, we're only a few hours away from the start of game 2. By the time you are reading this post, that game might also be history. I sure hope they win because I don't want them to start the year on a losing streak. I hope the Mets can score some runs, and I hope they play better. I'll definitely be happier tomorrow if they do. If they don't, then I'll be rooting for them to turn things around in game 3. Anyway, it feels like a very good thing that the season is underway now.

When I was a kid, I had a lot of things going on. Many of them weren't all that great, particularly my home life. Being young and stupid, I used that as an excuse to quit going to school. I regretted that decision not too many years down the road. Despite my troubles cutting classes and getting into trouble, I actually enjoyed learning. When I hit my mid-20s, I decided to fill in some of the gaps in my education. I started reading books that were considered classics, not in any planned order but just as the fancy hit me. 

Early on, I found my way into reading F. Scott Fitgerald, first This Side of Paradise, then The Great Gatsby. It became, and remains, my favorite book. It occurs to me that when I read it for the first time, I wasn't much younger than Fitzgerald when he began writing it, both of us at the time of life where one is just starting to accumulate some regrets. Gatsby's relentless and ultimately futile pursuit of the American Dream, personified in the beautiful but shallow Daisy Buchanan, really spoke to me.

The last line of the book, "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past," is one of the most famous lines in literature. So many of our dreams and hopes for the future are hopelessly entangled in what's already happened to us, both good and bad. Opening Day for a baseball fan is a good metaphor for that. Dreams for something really great in the future are balanced with fears that the dream could turn into something pretty awful in the blink of an eye. Mets fans haven't been conditioned to be overly optimistic about the object of their affection after decades of regrets.

Come to think of it, the setting of Gatsby was on Long Island, not very far at all from present-day Citi Field. Fictional Jay Gatsby would have understood Mets fans, knowing only too well how it feels to long for something so much better than where you came from and how frustratingly difficult it can be to chase that dream. Thanks to last night's game, that dream feels just a little bit further away today. But it's still there, and I hold onto the belief that this season is going to be special.

Please stay safe, be well, and take care.

 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos.

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