MAGNIFICENT. [06-10-10]

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Mets v Padres
06-10-10
Jonathon Niese complete game one-hitter

It was a buoyant, breathtaking night. It wasn’t a night where the ballpark was rocking and the fans were screaming, but there was focus and attention and respect being paid to the game on the field from the tiny crowd that was there. You see that in the early season games, when it is only the diehards suffering through 40 degree winds off Flushing Bay on a weeknight. There was no one, repeat, no one doing the wave tonight. There was cheering, there was applause, there was chanting, but there was no wave.

There was one inning. There was another inning. There was a third inning. There were careful glances at the pitch count. There were more innings. You checked your watch. You looked at the pitch count. You felt the tiny balloon of hope start to rise. You knew it wasn’t going to be that night after the third inning, but still, something was happening.

My favorite moment tonight wasn’t Niese stalking the mound like a big game tiger, his body language broadcasting confidence to the far corners of the field. It wasn’t that last out, Barajas running to catch that popup with the roar of the crowd moving with him. It wasn’t even spying Pagan’s head popping up out of the tunnel in the dugout and knowing the whipped cream pie was coming.

It was the start of the ninth inning, Citi Field calmly expectant, confident but with a tiny bit of edge. It was a pleasant night, neither warm nor cool. Like I said earlier, the half-empty Citi Field reminded me more of April or May, with a slight mist rising off the field. Out of the dugout walks Jon Niese, and the minute he puts his foot on the warning track the entire ballpark was suddenly on their feet, collectively letting out a delighted roar that was more like a exhalation of happiness and relief mixed together. Niese strode across the field perfectly, no trace of nerves, and headed for the mound. Only when he got there and was standing on top did the rest of the team run onto the field, waiting a beat or two for him to have the spotlight just long enough.

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The ritual was beautiful. It gave me goosebumps. It would be the kind of thing you would want to try to explain to someone when they asked you why you loved baseball – knowing full well that even if you could explain it accurately, they still wouldn’t ever understand it.

It was a once in a season moment. I felt lucky to have been there for it.

It was the second game of the separate admission double-header. I was surprised to see the park so empty, figuring Thursday is better than Wednesday. I almost bailed out myself, feeling tired and headachy and with a trip to Baltimore on Saturday, considered bailing from the 7 at the first stop on the other side of the river and heading home. I almost didn’t have a ticket to this game, until factors conspired to ensure that I was there after all.

As I walked through the rotunda, TBF sent me a text: “I’m in the bar at the Acela Club.” Our Wednesday tickets were our ‘thank you for sitting throught Sunday night ESPN rainout game’ tickets. They were still Caesar’s Club, so we had the access, we just needed the time. We had made Acela Club reservations for the previous evening, and then canceled them for tonight because I couldn’t get there early enough. But TBF had arrived early, and headed to the Acela Club, reclaimed our reservations, and got there just as they had started to squeegee off the balcony. I will do a full writeup next week, but I will tell you that it was endless amounts of fun out there, and that we enjoyed ourselves ten times more than we thought we would.

After we had been seated, TBF glanced at his bag, and said, “Should I keep score?”
“Of course you should keep score. Why not?”

It is what he does. He keeps score. He still designs his own scorecards and brings four pages to each game (in case of extra innings). I saw no reason at all he should stop doing that just because we were sitting in the Acela Club. Of course, he would have kicked himself all the way home if he hadn’t.

Of course, I had my camera and was planning on taking photographs, Acela Club or no Acela Club. It was a neat view down the line, so different than our usual vantage point. As regular readers will know, I am generally not a fan of an outfield view, and I’m not sure I’d be buying season tickets in that area of the field, but I wouldn’t turn down a ticket out there now and again. It’s fun to watch a ball scatter up the line towards the left fielder, cool to see the ball hit straight towards you only to end up in David or Jose’s outstretched glove. My only regret was that it put us at a disadvantage for the game hero interview, but the big screens filled in what we couldn’t see standing out there, some of the last stragglers in the Acela Club, waiting for Angel to finish the job and for the chance to cheer Jon Niese once again.

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I will tell you that his smile after the last out, after Barajas handed him the ball and they had hugged, as he walked across the infield for the handshakes, lit up the entire ballpark. And we are reminded once again, that WE BELIEVE IN HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE. I know it is a gimmick of sorts, I know it is marketing spin, but it is marketing spin that is now working, that feels real, that doesn’t feel forced or out of place, that is tinged with something close enough to pride to make me believe it.

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Now, please, let us find a way to muster that mojo on the road, because we should not lose even one game to the Orioles. Tonight’s ticket stub is going into a special place in the baseball bag where I can carry it with me for the rest of the season. Maybe that will help.


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