Archives for posts with tag: baseball

My son Jonesy has a little plastic baseball he won at Chuck E. Cheese that we take to the park all the time.  We’ve thrown it around plenty.  I’ll shape my hands into a mitt or hold out my actual glove and say “put it right in Dad’s hands buddy, as hard as you can.”  I couldn’t help but notice that the kid could hurry it up but good into Dad’s hands.  Now as much I wanted to start imagining Jonesy on the mound at Citi Field (or Fenway; or PNC Park; or Tropicana Field; I’m not picky, honest) even I, who judges baseball to be the greatest thing in the whole wide world, slowed down enough to down enough to say to myself “well, he’s my son, so naturally I think he throws hard.”  But now we’re hearing from his physical therapist at school that he has a very strong throwing arm– a left-handed throwing arm.

The physical therapist at Jonesy’s school is a perfectly nice woman and very good at what she does.  That’s why I feel a bit bad that the rest of my family will now blame her for what she’s unleashed.

To answer the question I have been asked by nearly everyone in one form or another since these findings were reported on my wife’s Facebook page,no I am not staring at the phone waiting for the Mets to call (or the Red Sox; or the Padres; or Diamondbacks; again, any team will be just fine, really).  But regardless of my love for baseball,  I now have a positive obligation as a parent to at least introduce my son to a sport which will allow his physical talent to find expression and baseball is as good a one as any.  And obviously somebody’s kids make it to the Majors. so maybe it will be my kid.

In honor of both that possibility and this  October 21st, 2013, the state occasion of my son Jones Patrick Lilly’s fourth birthday, I will lay out for the record my hopes and sage counsel for Jonesy Lilly, future ace left-hander for some Major League ballclub.

Important stuff first, son.

I hope you don’t throw a curveball until you’re eighteen at the youngest.  Your arm will still be growing all through high school and I don’t want you anywhere near Tommy John surgery if you can help it.  You can by not even thinking about throwing a breaking pitch until you’re in college.  Before then, a fastball and change-up will be plenty.

I hope even when you’re a ten-year veteran they’ll still be teaching the wise words of Ray Miller, a pitching coach for the Pirates back before you were even an idea to your mother and me:  work quickly, change speeds, throw strikes.  It’s good advice for any pitcher, regardless of his natural ability.

Your coaches and mangers will teach you that you need to pitch inside to win and they’ll be as right then as they are now.  You don’t want hitters going up there feeling comfortable and the only way they won’t be comfortable is if you give them a reason not to be.   I just hope you’ll know that there’s a way to do that without coming up near anybody’s head.

Even more important stuff next boyo.

You’ll be perfectly free to sign with any team you like when you become a free agent.  There’s nothing wrong with that.   No matter who you play for, you’ll have the right to sign for as much money as some owner is willing to pay you and that’s as it should be. I just hope you remember to be very grateful:  God will have blessed you with a gift that allows you to be paid millions to play a game.  Remember also that it wasn’t always this way.   There was a time when the owners would have had you at their mercy.  A lot of players, some you’ve heard of, some you haven’t, did an awful lot of work to get you the sweet deal you’ll  have and the nicest thing they were called was un-American.  You might be a millionaire, but you’ll still a union man.  It runs in the family, going back to your great-grandfather’s organizing days.

And before you make any decisions about where you sign when you hit free agency, just remember that if you, my daughter-in-law, and my grandchildren are happy where you are and the organization is treating you right, that’s worth something.

No matter how many Cy Youngs you win or how many World Series you pitch in, I hope you still go speechless when old Tom Seaver totters into the clubhouse (I bet he’ll look great pushing 100)  and that you still smile at all the memories conjured up for you when you look up at David Wright’s retired number 5 that should be hanging up on the wall at Citi Field by the time you’re in the bigs.   You’re part of a story that began long before you and will continue long after you.  I hope I and your grandfathers and uncles and everyone you learned the game from did a a decent job teaching you about what came before.    I remember hearing once about a poll of active Major Leaguers that showed that some pathetically small percentage of players knew who Jackie Robinson was.  I don’t remember what the exact number was.  I just remember wondering how in the bloody hell it wasn’t 100.  If I have my way, you’ll know exactly who Jackie Robinson was and who Gil Hodges was and who Hank Aaron was and…well you get the idea.  Or will have when I’m through.

I hope you find yourself a good catcher and that you two stay together on the same team for a long long while.    Seaver and Grote.  Carlton and McCarver.   Tiant and Fisk.  A whole lot of lucky Reds pitchers and Bench.  And of course you’ll have grown up watching Matt Harvey and Travis d’Arnaud all those years.   There’s no friendship like the one between pitcher and catcher.

The most important stuff to finish up lad.

I hope that the whole jock-nerd dynamic is a thing of the past by the time you grow up, but that’s probably a longshot.  I just hope you remember, Mr. Successful Athlete, that your dad is a huge Star Trek fan and played plenty of Dungeons and Dragons growing up and if I have anything to say about it, the same will be true for you.  Of course if I have anything to say about it, you’ll know that kindness, just plain old kindness, is the most important quality any person can have.  I’m not too worried though.  The four-year-old you is off to a great start in that department.

I hope you’re still going to Mass every Sunday but that you don’t turn into one of these weirdos that feels compelled to thank God on camera after you pitch a shutout.   I can’t sit here and tell you that I’ve never prayed for a little help for the Mets and I’ll probably say the Rosary from  your first pitch to your last in every outing you ever have.  Our blessed Lord tells us that even the hairs on your head are numbered and if that’s true and as it is I would move heaven and Earth to make you happy, can you imagine how God feels about you?  Nevertheless, I would hope He would have bigger things occupying His mind than you beating the Astros.  Besides, if you thank God  on TV after every win, don’t you necessarily have to go on TV and ask him why He has forsaken you after every loss?

I hope you make a commercial that starts with you saying something like “Hi, this is Jonesy Lilly of the New York Mets (or whichever team; I swear, whichever team).  I was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum when I was a year and a half old but thanks to my own determination and hard work and with the help of some great teachers, I was able to live out my dream of making it to the Major Leagues.”  Something like that.  Then announce that this season you’ll be donating $1000 to an autism awareness foundation for every strikeout.  I know you know you’re wonderful just exactly the way you are, but not every kid on the spectrum knows that.  You’ll be able to help them realize that and you should.

I hope I do a good enough job with you that everyone from your Little League coach to your big-league manager raves about how they wish every player they had was like you.  Remember, whether it’s Mr. Leach in t-ball or John Farrell, you do like skip tells you.

I hope I do a good enough job with me that I’m not driving your skipper crazy by telling him every five minutes how he should be handling you or that I’m not yelling at umpires or other parents or any of the other nonsense that would just make you wind up hating the game and resenting me.

I hope when you give your speech at the BBWA dinner to accept your Cy Young Award and when you give your champagne-soaked interview after you’ve won Game 7 of the World Series and you when you’re up at the podium in Cooperstown, the very first person you thank is your mother.  Trust me , anything you ever get right you’ll be getting mostly from her and it’ll will in all likelihood be her who racked up six figures in miles driving you to practice after practice and game after game.  And when she rushes out of the stands hysterical because that liner back through the middle caught your square on the knee, you be nice and pretend not to be embarrassed.  I know all your high school teammates will be looking on– who are we kidding son, this is your mom we’re talking about, it could just easily happen as you’re pitching in the All-Star Game at Wrigley Field– but let her do it.  She’s your mother.  No further explanation should be required here.  She’s your mother.

I know no one will believe me when I say this, but if I have to revise this whole missive because  you became anything from an actuary to a modern interpretive dancer, I’m fine with it.  I can’t help but hope you’ll pitch in the Majors, win a bunch of Cy Youngs, pitch and win a bunch of World Series games, end up in the Hall, the whole bit.  But mostly I just hope you’re happy and healthy.  You’re both those things today at age four and there is nothing in the whole of God’s own cosmos I wouldn’t do for you to stay that way all the days of your life.  You’re just a great kid and from the second you came into my life you’ve unlocked whole new levels of unconditional love and wellsprings of joy I had no idea existed.

You know how much I love baseball?

No comparison to you.  Nowhere near.  Like comparing the ’62 Mets and the ’86 Mets.

I’ll make sure you understand how profound that difference is.

Anyway…I love you little boy.

Like most people who love baseball, I discovered the game primarily through my father.  I had brothers and uncles who chipped in and indeed a mom, an aunt, a sister, and a sister-in-law who helped out as well.  It takes a village to raise a child who can explain the infield fly rule.  But as is the case with just about everyone who loves the game, it was my dad who really wired me up for it.  Naturally, I have a collection of memories that would rate as Hallmark-level saccharine if they hadn’t actually happened: playing catch in the backyard, going to Clifton Park, the ballfield a block from my house in Sea Cliff, New York, to work on my hitting, going to a ton of games together including my first one (a rain-soaked Fireworks Night back in 1980; Mets 7, Expos 5 at Shea; half the teams and the ballpark involved no longer exist).  It’s a classic everyday American myth and it really was a huge part of my upbringing: my dad and baseball.

Now while for sure my father taught me to love the game itself, I never really credited (many, including my wife would substitute the word “charged”) him with my passion for the team I love, the New York Mets.  For one thing, the Mets are not my dad’s first team.  Born and raised in Brooklyn, he was a diehard Dodgers’ fan who came of age when the Boys of Summer were at the apex of their glory in the late 40s and early 50s.    After Walter O’Malley cheerfully yanked my father’s still-beating heart from his chest when the soulless little skinflint did his Horace Greeley routine and took the Dodgers west, my dad like a great many traumatized Dodgers’ fans threw his lot in with the Mets when they were born in 1962.  I always knew my dad liked the Mets just fine.  He was happy when they won, attended games at Shea Stadium regularly, and the Mets had a place of honor on his television and his car radio.  He still follows them as closely as I do, always has.  But even as a kid, I always had the sense that the Mets weren’t quite his team in the same way that they were my team.   The Mets would do– National League, not the Yankees, and Queens was nice enough– but there could only be one Brooklyn Dodgers to anyone who remembered them, at least the way I figured it based on the stories he and my mom and my aunts and uncles told.

For another thing, while from a very early age there were things my dad was devoted to– my mom, us kids, the Church, his country, organized labor, Irish republicanism, the Democratic Party, more or less in that order– I never really thought he was passionate about anything.  That’s because to my razor-narrow little kid and teenager brain, you were only passionate about something if you screamed and yelled and carried on like a lunatic about it, the way I did, and still do, scream and yell and carry on like a lunatic about the Mets.   My dad never screamed, yelled, or carried on like a lunatic about anything.  It’s only as an adult that I was able to look back and realize that what I mistook for a lack of zeal was in fact only his preternatural calm about absolutely everything that ever happened anywhere near him.   I can remember us visiting family in Ireland, having to drive over the border to the north,  and my dad making pleasant small talk with a British soldier who was holding an awfully realistic-looking automatic rifle about two inches from my father’s nose.   There is a family legend involving one of my siblings as a toddler practicing letters on the living room wall.  My mom was understandably livid.  My dad just wanted to know how the kid’s handwriting looked.

This is my father.  He is simply one very reserved cool customer.   Not to impugn the Dohertys, but I have to figure the run-your-mouth-like-a-total-nutbar gene that had has such a field day in my cells all these years must come from my mother’s side of the family because I sure didn’t get such blabbermouth tendencies from my dad.  He doesn’t say much and is generally  very relaxed, not one to run too or too cold.

All of which finally brings me to my favorite baseball-related memory involving Dad.  He lost his mind during Game 7 of the 1986 World Series.

Now as anyone who has known me inside of five minutes can tell you, every Mets’ game is like Game 7 of the World Series to me.  I’ve broken major pieces of furniture over games in May.   Once while watching a mid-season game in a bar with some non-Mets’ fan friends, one person who didn’t know me well looked at me flipping out and asked “what, does he have money on this game?”  A friend replied, “no money, just his soul!” I was screaming and yelling and carrying on like a lunatic, the way I do every day from April to October.   As a kid when I would launch into an episode after a loss, my dad would pretty much ignore it.  When I would launch into an episode after a win, my dad would high-five with me, but even then I could sort of sense that he was just humoring me as I all but behanded him while “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang blared over the PA system at Shea.   He reacted to wins and losses the same way he reacted to everything else:  barely.  I would never say so, but I would often think to myself something on the order of: “dude, did you see that or didn’t you?  Fourteen innings, a brawl, like 207 ejections, and they pulled it out!  Why aren’t you helping me wake up the whole neighborhood right now?”  It never occurred to me that no matter who was making the noise, he would be the one to talk to the cops so he had a vested interest in quashing the celebrating and the agonizing.

So I never saw my dad as a passionate Mets’ fan, at least not by my standards.  And then Game 7 happened.

Dad and I were lucky enough to be on hand at Shea for Game 7 in 1986 between the Mets and the Red Sox. Considering how every game was like Game 7 to me, you can imagine how I acting during an actual Game 7.  I yelled with every pitch Ron Darling threw in the first inning.  I cheerfully participated in the sardonic standing ovation afforded Bill Buckner (still kind of regret that one).  I despaired to the point of tears when the Red Sox built an early 3-0 lead.  I revived– loudly– when Sid Fernandez authored arguably the most clutch middle relief performance in baseball history.  I went bonkers when a Keith Hernandez single made it 3-2 in the 6th, utterly bats when Ray Knight gave the Mets their first lead with a home run in the 7th, stark raving mad when Daryl Strawberry added an insurance run in the 8th with a homer of his own.  Through most of it, my dad was his usual laid-back taciturn self.

And then at one moment, he wasn’t.

I’m still not sure, but it was either Rafael Santana’s single to make it 5-3 Mets in the 7th or Jesse Orosco’s butcher-boy act that resulted in an RBI single to make it 8-5 Mets in the 8th.  I know it had to have been a play in which a runner raced home from second on a base hit because at one point I looked over to the seat next to me– and saw my dad standing on it.

Maybe you still don’t quite understand what I’m saying here.  My father was standing on his seat at a baseball game.  Yelling.  Screaming.  Carrying on like a lunatic.  I swear he was waving the runner around third every bit as manically as Bud Harrelson was in third base coach’s box.  I and about 50,000 other people present were flipping out each in his or her own way, but none of those people were my man-of-few-words cool-as-the-other-side-of-the-pillow dad.   For a few seconds, he looked like I did all the time.  And what is still to this day best of all, he looked like he was having a great time doing it.  When I high-fived him some minutes later after Jesse Orosco struck out Marty Barrett for the final out, I knew he wasn’t humoring me this time.  He was as over the moon as I was.  He had watched his team, his team, our team, win the whole thing.  Strangely, to this day I don’t know if he was there in ’55 when the first team that was his team won the World Series, so I don’t know if he had ever experienced anything like this before.  Sadly, I know neither of us has  experienced it since.

The night of October 27, 1986 I was a newly-minted thirteen-year old.  I would go on in my teen years and even my young adult years to have plenty of moments when I would be convinced that my dad didn’t get it, whatever “it” happened to be at the time.  In those instances, I would’ve done well to remember that night at Game 7.  My dad clearly got it.   He absolutely understood how I felt, felt the same himself.  He just chose to save his emotional bullets for the really important moments, like Game 7 of the World Series, whereas I was a weirdo 24/7.   I’m sure he did and still does understand how I feel in lots of other ways. We’ve always had baseball and the Mets in common.  We have even more in common today, with both us fathers now, both of four children as it turns out.  I think I understand his way of doing business better now too.    Consider this: a couple of weeks ago my son Eamon drew on a closet door in pencil and I didn’t bat an eye.

Consider this also: there was that night at Shea Stadium, during the World Series, when my dad jumped on his seat.

The long period of grim fasting and meditation is over.   We can once again embrace joy.  Renewal and rebirth are all around us.

Oh and Lent ended and Easter happened as well.

Those first three sentence of course referred to:

OPENING DAY!

Once again, my favorite holiday has come and this time the Giants run off into the forest and the rest of us follow and try to pull off what they have two out of the last three years.  As I have for the last twenty or so, dating back to when I used to write them long-hand and tape them to the door of my dorm room, I yet again humbly submit my fearless forecastings for the 2013 season, this time with a few sentences of explanation for my predictions.  I invite your comments and by comments I of course mean your outright scorn and derision because as per usual I would feel more secure about these picks if I used tea leaves, astrological charts, or at least used astrological charts while drinking tea.  And as with last year’s picks, I won’t dare try to pick pennant or World Series winners.   In any event, enjoy:

NL EAST

1.  Washington- A 98-win team added a leadoff hitter and this time there’s no cockamamie innings limit on Strasburg.  Let’s see how they do overcoming the heartbreak of last October.

2.  Atlanta- Not one but two Uptons and the best bullpen in baseball.  Just hope that the Uptons don’t live down to their less-than-dialed-in reputations.

3.  Philadelphia- That’s still Halladay, Lee, and Hamels in the rotation and that’s still Papelbon in the bullpen.  But that whole team is another year older and and just as injury-prone and help isn’t coming from the farm like it used to.

4.  New York- Harvey and Wheeler and Niese and d’Arnaud prove that better days are coming.  Marlon Byrd starting in right field proves that they may not be here just yet

5.  Miami-  I never thought I’d say this, but poor Giancarlo Stanton.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  pack the Marlins up, ship them north, and give us the new Montreal Expos.

NL CENTRAL

1.  Cincinnati- I never said the Braves had sole possession of the title of best bullpen in baseball and the Reds have  Cueto and Latos in that rotation.  And they’ve got Phillips and Votto in their lineup and now they’ve added Choo to the top of the lineup and seriously did nobody notice that this team won 97 games last year?

2. St.  Louis- These guys always seem to figure it out somehow and God knows they’ll hit but will they pitch enough? And how soon will they come to regret that contract extension for Adam Wainwright like almost everyone who hands out a pricey contract to a starting pitcher does at some point?

3.  Milwaukee-  Adding Lohse makes them better, but not better enough to challenge the Reds and probably not better enough to overtake to the Cardinals.

4. Pittsburgh- It has to turn around for them some time, and I’m not just saying that because the Dread Pirate Andrew McCutcheon has about the coolest nickname in the game today and and even just having only seen it on television I love that park.  Between McCutcheon and Alvarez and McDonald there’s good stuff here.  It just needs reinforcing.

5. Chicago– Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro…give Theo Epstein more time.  As in more than this year.

NL WEST

1.  San Francisco– I don’t care how much money they’re spending in L.A.– until further notice the group with Matt Cain and Madison Baumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong in the rotation and Buster Posey behind the plate that seemed to figure it out more and more as the year went along last year gets the nod.

2.  Los Angeles– Okay, I care a little how much money they’re spending in L.A.  Kershaw and Kemp and Jansen are reason enough to hope before you even get to Beckett and Crawford and Gonzalez– all of whom are guys being counted on to have big comebacks from last year’s Beantown train wreck

3. Arizona- Upton or no Upton, they still have enough talent between Kennedy and Cahill in the rotation and Montero and Goldschmidt in the lineup to make a go of it, but having to deal with the Giants and the Dodgers will make it tough.

4.  San Diego-  Better than you think, but still only treading water in this division and it’s going to be really tough without Headley

5. Colorado- As usual, they’ll have some guys put up some impressive offensive numbers.  As usual, it won’t be enough.  The finest humidor  in the world wouldn’t be enough to solve their pitching problems.

Wild Card 1: Atlanta

Wild Card 2: Los Angeles

AL EAST

1.  Toronto- It should all work.  Adding Dickey and Johnson and Buehrle should give you a standout rotation.  Adding Reyes and Bonifacio should give you just the table-setters you need for Encarnacion and Bautista.  This team should lead a notoriously tough division.  Ask all those ex-Marlins how well these frantic facelifts go.  Again, it should work and they should win in the 90s- which would be one massive improvement from their 73-89 finish of a year ago.

2.  Tampa Bay- Only the Rays could trade away the likes of Wade Davis and Big Game James Shields and still legitimately look at their rotation as their strength.  They may struggle to score runs but Will Myers will be there sooner rather than later.  And I’ve learned not to bet against Joe Maddon.

3. Baltimore- It’s not that Buck Showalter’s group took a step back.  It’s that a tough division got tougher.  There’s a lot to like about this group, but let’s just see if last year was the first major step to the promised land or an anomaly.

4.  New York- No team with C.C. Sabbathia in its rotation and Robinson Cano in the middle of its lineup is without hope.  But boy are they old and boy are they fragile and boy is no help coming from Columbus or anywhere else any time soon.

5.  Boston- Was it just that they needed to bring in John Farrell and Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino and a bunch of other allegedly swell Joes?  They’ll help and God knows it can’t be any worse than last year was.  But the climb up from the ditch they drove into won’t happen overnight.

NL CENTRAL

1.  Detroit- Verlander, Scherzer, Fielder, Hunter, a healthy Victor Martinez…what’s not to love? Well, the bullpen.  But that can be fixed during the season and if it can’t, if anyone can make it work, Jim Leyland can.

2. Kansas City-  It’s really hard to go from being a 72-90 team to a contender…and these guys may just pull it off.  It doesn’t hurt playing in this division, but  Shields and Davis give them the rotation they need to go along with a lineup that with Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, and Eric Hosmer has talent coming out of its ears.

3.  Chicago- With Sale and Peavy they should be in it, but losing Pierzynski and his 26 home runs doesn’t help and a lot of the other teams in their division got better.

4. Indians-  With the additions of Swisher and Bourn and yes Francona and the dreaded Bullpen Mafia, they could make the NL Central race a four-team scramble.  That starting rotation is still problematic though,  to say the least.

5. Twins- Ron Gardenhire, Justin Morneau, and Joe Mauer all deserve better– and they just might get before season’s end.

NL WEST

1.  I think they’ll ultimately regret it, but for now Hamilton makes what was already a good offense a whole lot better.   Not many teams could so easily endure the loss of a Zack Greinke, but then not many teams have a Jered Weaver.  Oh and that Trout fellow in the outfield seems to have some ability.  Just remember this is a tough division and they didn’t win last year when they were expected to…

2.  Oakland-  If I’ve learned not to bet against Joe Maddon, I’ve really learned not to bet  against Billy Beane or anybody else who manages to scoop up people like Yoenis Cespedes when nobody is looking.   Flash-in-the-pan theories be damned, this group didn’t win 94 wins by accident last year.  That’s a solid little rotation they’ve got and the should hit just enough.

3.  Texas- I think ultimately they did the right thing, but for now they’ll miss Josh Hamilton, although Pierzynski and Berkman will help offset his loss. They’ll be in it and the likes of Jurickson Profar, Mike Olt, and Leonys Martin are coming.

4. Seattle- As a Mets’ fan, I can appreciate the plight of a team trying to turn things around in a tough division and counting on a big contribution from Jason Bay to do it.  For any team with someone like Felix Hernandez in the rotation, all could not possibly be lost, but this may take a while.

5.  Houston- Again speaking as  a Mets’ fan, I thought it was tough enough when they put the Braves in the NL East.  For these poor guys to be thrown to the lions in this division…it’s just going to be tough.  For the foreseeable future.

Wild Card 1: Tampa Bay

Wild Card2 : Oakland

You heard it here first!

Happy Opening Day!

And don’t forget to write your Congressman…make Opening Day a national holiday!

Sandy Alderson, you’ve been the best thing to happen to the Mets’ front office since Frank Cashen.  I truly believe that, have from the start.  Like you, Cashen came to the Mets with a proven track record of success.  Like  Cashen, you came to the Mets in the darkest of days when money was tight and ownership was , for a variety of reasons, nothing but a headache.  Like Cashen, you brought instant credibility to a franchise desperately in need of it and like Cashen you provided a sense that at long last a steady savvy hand was on the tiller. And like Cashen, you’ve made your share of mistakes.
Don’t misunderstand.  Your laudable choices far outweigh your poor ones. You were absolutely right not to move heaven and Earth to re-sign Jose Reyes.   If Zack Wheeler turns out to be half as good as he appears to be, getting him in exchange for two months of Carlos Beltran may go down in history as your version of Lee Mazzilli for Walt Terrell and Ron Darling.   While the  revisionists  want to give the credit for the likes of Ruben Tejada, Jon Niese, Lucas Duda, et. al.  to Omar Minaya entirely,   it ‘s still you who decides right now, this year, who is on this roster and who is not, so the credit for the contributions of the youth movement  currently powering this team must at least be shared.   At the very least, you deserve kudos for judging their character accurately because this group plays hard every single day and has a spine made of cast iron.   In this way, they take after their manager Terry Collins, whose hiring may have been the best decision of them all.

What a shame that all the fight and heart you see up and down this squad you assembled so routinely wasted because of the errors you made in constructing the bullpen.

Again, don’t get me wrong:  the refurbishment job you did made sense to me at the time.  Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, and Ramon Ramirez all brought good lives arms to this team along with track records of at least partial success.  Tim Byrdak certainly warranted sticking around in 2012 after 2011 season.  Pedro Beato seemed an intriguing talent.  Miguel Batista looked like he had something left in the tank.  And Bobby Parnell’s ability just captured the imagination.   Relievers are so often a crap shoot.  You simply never know if success from a year ago will mean success this year.  Assessing who can help your bullpen can be a very tough call.

It certainly was here.  It was so tough a call, even you, the great Sandy Alderson, got it wrong.  Really wrong.  The Mets’ relief corps has become the baseball equivalent of the Maginot Line.  A last line of defense that appeared rock-solid until the actual shooting started.  Once it did, it quickly became apparent that what was thought to be a powerful fortress against the enemy could be easily and demoralizingly thwarted.

That’s the key idea here, demoralizing.  The Mets of 2012 have lacked for their shares of what makes a winner, but guts is not the among those missing items.  They grind out at-bats.  Just when you think you’re home free because you’ve recorded that (as Howie Rose would say) king-sized second out, they strafe you with clutch hits.  From Heath Bell to Jonathan Papelbon, closers the league over can tell you about the Mets’ grit, the Mets’ heart.   The Mets’ grit and the Mets’ heart is precisely what we should have spent the last 72 hours talking about.

Instead we’re talking about a bullpen that just doesn’t work.

Tuesday night, down 2-0 to the Nationals in a game they absolutely had to have to gain a game on the division leaders,  shake off a sluggish start to the second half, and end a losing streak, the Mets entered the 9th inning against one of the best in the business, Tyler Clippard, and promptly greeted him with back-to-back singles.  One out later, Jordanny Valdespin, as clutch as any man on a very clutch team, a player crying out to gain legend status somewhere between Jeremy Lin and Victor Cruz, crushed a three-run homer that had to have been the biggest hit of the year.  The bench erupts, the only noise to be heard in the stands are from Mets’ fans so hysterical they’ve forgotten all about how crappy the Amtrak train that took them to DC was, the bleeding is stopped, and a team that has captured the hearts of its downtrodden fans all year with its stubborn courage in the face of  basement-level expectations, has rekindled its flickering fire.  The season is back on.  The battle is rejoined.

That’s what we should be taking about.  Instead we’re talking about another Bobby Parnell failure in a huge spot.

But hey, don’t throw out that original script, the one that called for the happy ending.  The 2012 Mets are not so easily turned aside, do not have spirits that falter so readily as all that.  Daniel Murphy and Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Josh Thole show what this group is made of with a pure-hustle infield hit,  a perfect bunt, and an RBI double.   These boys will not yield.  They will not end any game early.  If they have to endure the occasional bullpen implosion and mount multiple comebacks, so be it.  The hearts of the 2012 Mets beat true.

That’s what we should be talking about.  Instead we’re talking about a bullpen that simply cannot do its job, that seems to have no resolve while its teammates seem never to run out of it.

These Mets you’ve put together  fight Sandy.  Fight hard.  In a way that makes us Mets’ fans proud to call them our own. Every game.  Every inning. Every pitch.  But even toughness such as theirs has its limits.   I wouldn’t have thought I would say that about this team, but when that toughness is tested so often and so brutally as it is tested by this team’s bullpen, you start to wonder:

How much more of this can they endure?

How many more times can a team that on the whole seems never to run out of courage  make up for a relief corps that seems never to have any when it really needs it?  Starting pitchers see fine efforts result in no-decisions.  Clutch hitters watch helplessly as their finest hours become afterthoughts.  The non-bullpen portion of this team would be well within their rights to feel betrayed by six to eight people who are rarely called upon to do more than record six outs and can’t seem to do it.

Tuesday night  left me with as nasty a punched-in-the-gut feeling as I have ever had during the regular season.  And I’m just a fan.  How must the players feel?

Wednesday was no different.  Chris Young did a fine job over the first six innings.  The Mets were able to scratch just one run off of Nationals’ pitching, but still they found themselves in the middle of the 7th inning very much in it down 2-1.  That’s when the bullpen took over.  After Miguel Batista quickly recorded outs on the first two batters, he gave up three consecutive hits and in a twinkling it was 4-1 Nats at the end of 7.  This after the Mets made it 2-1 Nats in the top of the 7th.

Awful.  Painful.  Demoralizing.  In the bottom of the 9th, the Mets, as they so frequently do, made a spirited comeback.  Solo home runs by David Wright and Jason Bay made it 4-3 Nats.  The eventual final score. While I realize that a 2-1 game is played differently than 4-1 game and you can’t assume that the 8th and 9th inngins would have gone exactly as they had in reality, I can’t help but think about what the final score would’ve have been had those two runs in the 7th not been surrendered.

Yesterday, the bleeding was finally stopped thanks to a monster day at the plate by David Wright and 7 and one-third innings gritty innings by R.A. Dickey.  Yet as soon as the Nationals put a couple of runners on in the 8th and Dickey left the game with a 9-2 lead, I still found myself thinking “gee, I hope 9-2 is enough.”  That would normally be a crazy thing to think.  It’s not with this group of relievers who by the way managed to give up 3 runs in 1 and two-thirds innings as the Mets won the tensest 9-5 game you will ever see.

Sandy, I shouldn’t have to be so pessimistic.   None of us should.  After a home run like Jordanny Valdespin’s last night, I shouldn’t think going into the 9th “it’s not enough.  There’s no guarantee this bullpen will make a 3-2 lead and that amazing hit stand up.  It could be 9-2 and I still wouldn’t feel safe. ”   The hitters shouldn’t have to feel like they need to hand off at least a four-run lead to the bullpen in order for their efforts to have been meaningful.  The starting pitchers shouldn’t have to feel like a complete game shutout is their only path to victory.   As important as any of it, this team’s valiant character should not be wasted.

To be candid Sandy, the 2012 Mets have earned a better bullpen than the one you’ve provided them.  They fight so hard and so well.  That effort should be honored with relief pitching that can make sure that it means something.  At least most of the time.  At least half the time.  At least once in a while.  At least one whole hell of a lot more than this bunch has been able to do.

There is toughness, heart, and character all over this team.  Except in the bullpen.  That needs to change.  As the GM, it’s on you Sandy Alderson to change it.

Do so then.  Immediately.

At 47-45, with the number in the “Game Behind” column and the anguished losses mounting up, there is no time to lose.  You can no longer be in a “wait-and-see” mode.  You can’t watch the market form up any longer.  This is as ineffective a bullpen as you will find anywhere not only in baseball today but in recent baseball history.  It needs fixing and it needs fixing on an emergency basis.

Get Huston Street in here.  Or Jonathan Broxton.  Add  Grant Balfour.  While you’re at it, Brad Lidge isn’t doing anything right now– he can’t do any worse than what you’ve got now.  Do whatever you have to do.  Don’t crack the core or offer anyone named Harvey or Wheeler, but for the love of Mike, be aggressive.  I know you like to be measured and careful.  I know you don’t like act with desperation.  The thing is, this team is in fact desperate.

I realize that back in spring training, the chances of this team even being in a pennant race in late July were rather low.  I realize that if they even so much as finish above .500 it would rightly be considered a victory for the season as a whole.  It’s something of a surprise that a conversation around augmenting this team for the stretch drive is even relevant.  So maybe I’m being a bit greedy to have playoff ambitions.

I blame you Sandy.  You consturcted a team and a manager that I fell in love with, that Mets’ fans everywhere fell in love with.  They ignored all the dire predictions, all the nasty jokes about their ownership, their future, their allegedly low talent level, and crashed a party they hadn’t been invited to.  They fight until the very last out, they pull for each other, and they make us as fans pull for them.

Serve them Sandy, as well they have served you, have served us.  Get them a real bullpen.  Back them up.  The character of those last six to eight pitchers ought to be as admirable and reliable as the the character of the rest of the team.

They deserve that much.

Jose Reyes signed with the Miami Marlins (Florida Marlins?  Miami Marlins of Florida?  ) a good couple of weeks ago now.  It’s taken me that long to process exactly what happened.  What happened  is that massive an event in Mets history.   It’s nowhere near Tom Seaver to the Reds for Pat Zachary, Steve Henderson, Doug Flynn, and Dan Norman.  It doesn’t quite reach the level of Daryl Strawberry defecting to the Dodgers after the 1990 season.   Jose Reyes, for all his accomplishments and prodigious talent, was never part of a World Series winner with the Mets and was never considered the undisputed king of his profession for more than a season.  But to deny that his departure is a seismic event in the history of this franchise is impossible.  What exactly it does mean for this franchise right now and what it will mean in the future is a tough assignment.  The answers to those questions should be more than what glib sportswriters and emotionally overwrought fans have seen fit to give:  some combination of “they’ll be awful for years to come,” “they’re working with a Kansas City Royals budget  and always will from now on  either because Sandy Alderson is an idiot or because Bernie Madoff bankrupted them”, “they betrayed the fans because they were never really going to re-sign Reyes”, and of course the old standby, “the Wilpons should be taken out and shot.”  All of those reactions are gross oversimplifications of something that was too much of a watershed moment in the ongoing story of the New York Mets to be so easily dismissed.  Since the departure of Jose Reyes has complicated ramifications, I’m going to try and tackle it in parts.  It’s only just now that I think I can.

1.  Well sure, of course Reyes leaving the Mets is miserable.

A few sentences ago, I said that Reyes leaving the Mets doesn’t measure up to Seaver leaving the Mets or even Daryl Strawberry leaving the Mets because Reyes doesn’t wear a World Series ring with the word “Mets” engraved on it.   In a way that’s the toughest part about his exit: he should have a World Series ring with the word Mets engraved on it.  We all figured he would have one by now and even if we didn’t we figured he probably would get one somewhere down the road.  When we first saw Reyes and David Wright together, we saw the position player equivalent of Seaver and Koosman.  We saw two young homegrown players who had talent coming out of their ears and each had a personality to match, who were likable and energetic, who were all ours and were going to remain all ours for all their playing days.   I had visions of 7 and 5 taking their rightful place along side 37, 14, 41, and 42.  I imagined me watching the numbers being hoisted, sitting  next to my sons who would have grown up with Reyes and Wright as identifiable with the Mets as orange and blue. At the ceremony, Jose and David would each tell stories that would take us back to that glorious year they spent leading the Mets to a third world championship– at least a third.   As of the end of the 2011 season, with injuries and called third strikes and 7 games with 17 to play all serving as wrenches in the works on the way to that golden day in the future, it still wasn’t impossible for them to still accomplish some part of what we thought they would together.

It’s impossible now.  Reyes is a Marlin.

Jose Reyes and David Wright were supposed to be the core of  a championship that was supposed to have been won during the Omar Minaya era.   At 28, they’re both young enough that they could still have been the core of a championship team under the Sandy Alderson regime.  Reyes wasn’t a high-priced aging underperforming veteran.  This is the reigning National League batting champion,  one of the best defensive shortstops inthe game, and when he’s right, the most exciting player in baseball.   There’s simply no way that losing him does anything but make a 77-85 team worse.  Sandy Alderson did everything a GM has to do in a situation like this.  He said that he was not conceding the 2012 season, he praised the players that were still on the roster, he expressed confidence in new shortstop Ruben Tejada.  But he knows as well as we do that this losing Jose Reyes is a step back.

2. As miserable as it is to lose Reyes, it still had to happen.

Not only did losing Reyes have to happen, but it had to happen utterly regardless of Bernie Madoff and reduced payrolls and bridge loans.

Sandy Alderson is a veteran GM who has built winners before.  He’s obviously smart enough to know that losing Jose Reyes to free agency does not make them better.  So when he says he was genuinely interested in retaining him, you know that it’s true (even if they didn’t feel the need to make Jose feel “wanted” by wining and dining him like a first date the way the Marlins did).   He’s also smart enough to know that virtually no one is worth retaining at any price.    He has only to look at his own team’s roster over the last couple of years, at Jason Bay, at Luis  Castillo, at Oliver Perez, and to a lesser extent at Carlos Beltran and Johan Santana, virtually all of whom seemed like safe bets when they were signed to their various contracts,  to know the danger of long contracts for large money.   Jose Reyes could very easily have become another one.  If the Mets were willing to top the six years and $106 million the Marlins gave Reyes, you can be sure the Marlins would’ve topped whatever that offer might have been.   A bidding war can only lead to giving someone, even someone as good as Reyes, a contract with way more money and years than is sensible.   The Mets might have kept Reyes, but what if they had kept him with a contract of say, eight years and $160 million?  What if that’s what it took?  How good would that deal look when Reyes is 36 and getting $20 million dollars and still trying to make a living with his oft-injured legs?

Bidding wars never make sense for a club, and it doesn’t matter if their paryoll is $50 million or $150 million.   The best you can do is essentially what Sandy Alderson did.  Make an offer that’s reasonable in terms of years and money.  You don’t try to nickel-and-dime the player, but you make the best offer you reasonably can and hope the player takes it and if he doesn’t, take the draft picks.   I figured something along the lines of five years and $100 million ought to be just about right for Reyes.  Alderson offered something right around that.  If someone was willing to top the dollars or the years, Alderson was prepared to lose out.  Better that than winding up with an insane contract that chances are good will become a stumbling block at some point.   Someone was prepared to top it.     Very well.   It’s tough one to swallow, but very well.  Virtually no one is worth going to the wall for; Jose Reyes isn’t and if he isn’t, who is?

3.  It wasn’t all spin– the Mets aren’t hopeless in the short-term or the long term.

Panicky, pessimistic Mets’ fans  have leaped, almost eagerly, to the conclusion that with Reyes’ defection, the Mets have now entered a new version of the post-Seaver 70s.   In the post-Seaver 70s, there was no one competent running the front office and the likes of Gooden, Darling, Strawberry, and Dykstra were far from being on the horizon.  In this scenario, the Frank Cashen character is already on stage, played by Sandy Alderson.  It would of course be crazy to compare anyone in the Mets’ farm system to Gooden and Darling et. al, but it’s not going too far to say that the prospects who are there represent potential help on the way.  Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jeurys Familia, and at more of a stretch Jenrry Mejia and Brandon Nimmo are all legitimate reasons to be optimistic about the future.    Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, Lucas Duda, Dillon Gee, and Jon Niese are all reasons to be at least a little optimistic about the present. As tough as it is to lose Reyes, he really only represents a loss to the offense, a relative strength for the Mets last year.  The team’s most glaring weakness was its bullpen and Alderson addressed that weakness in spades by acquiring Frank Francisco, Ramon Ramirez, and Jon Rauch– like most bullpen arms, gambles, but fairly good gambles as these things go.  Last year, the Mets’ bullpen blew fully 24 saves.  If this year’s bullpen can reduce that number by half or even one quarter, it would be a huge help.

There may yet be more help coming.  Niese has figured prominently in several trade rumors and appears to be a sought-after commodity.   Bobby Parnell’s intriguingly electric right arm has suddenly become a potentially attractive trading commodityDaniel Murphy could be a pivotal member of the starting lineup, but everything about him cries out “DH”.   Will they bring anyone who will instantly turn the Mets into a contender?  Probably not.  But there is enough there as it is to make .500 or even  above a possibility.  If a lot of questions surrounding them are answered in the positive (Santana is something resembling his old self, Ike Davis plays in upwards of 150 games, Gee, Niese, and Duda and company continue to progress), they could even see a little more success than that.

4.  Sandy Alderson, this is your life.

Well, your career and your reputation anyway.  Losing Jose Reyes is without doubt a blow,  yet I remain optimistic.  Virtually all of that optimism is rooted in Sandy Alderson’s resume.  This is the man who built one of the last pre-Yankee dynasties, the A’s of the late 80s and early 90s.  This is also the godfather of Moneyball, the guy who taught Billy Beane everything he knows.  Everything about Sandy Alderson says that everything from Jose Reyes to losing $70 million in one season can all be overcome, that it will be just part of the story to tell down the road.  While the team on the field is far from an All-Star team, the team in the front-office is supposed to be as good as it gets.  They need to earn their money, especially now that someone else will be signing Jose Reyes’ paychecks.  There doesn’t necessarily need to be a big blockbuster deal tomorrow.  There does need to be scouting, player development, more of the likes of Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler coming through the minors.   There does need to be more than just a sense that the Mets are getting better, however slowly, and that it’s happening from the ground up, leading to sustained contention happening year-in year-out.  It needs to actually happen.  Sandy Alderson, Paul DePodesta, J.P. Riccardi and the rest of this baseball equivalent to the Best and the Brightest are just the guys to do it.  Or at least they’re supposed to be.  Mets’ fans need to see them working their magic, even if it’s slow magic.   We can wait for slow magic to take effect– provided it really does take effect.

This front office has bet Jose Reyes, and their reputations as architects of  long-term baseball execellence, that their way will pay off.  We’ll all be watching.

5.  Jose Reyes and the Marlins will both live to regret this.

Teams have spent big and fast all at once for championships before  and had it pay off.   The Marlins could very well prove to be yet another team that makes that method work.

They had better or within two years or Jose Reyes, Mark Buherle, and Heath Bell will all be traded for prospects while we hear some claptrap from the Marlins’ front office about “market correction”.  It’s happened twice before with the Marlins: win it all then within a year to two years start dismantling your championship team because all of a sudden you realize you can’t afford the players anymore.  It’s not unreasonable to figure it will happen again.

But it’s different this time, the Marlins will argue.  We have a shiny new stadium bringing us all that new revenue!

What kept the Marlins from making enough money to hang on to their maquee players from 1997 and 2003 wasn’t Joe Robbie/Pro Player/Sun Life/Dolphin/Whatever Stadium.  The problem is that regular-season Major League baseball has always been and will always be difficult to sustain in Florida.    A World Series team shouldn’t have any trouble getting people to come see it play no matter what the stadium is like.   The Marlins World Series teams did.   Analyzing the reasons why is another story for another time although the unpredictability of the weather and the presence of so many transplants in Florida who have loyalties to the teams they left behind are what spring to mind for me.  History seems to suggest the Marlins need to at least be in the World Series every year just to keep the fans just interested enough to bring in the money that filling any ballpark, no matter how grand or how garish, will bring your team.   If Jose Reyes and the rest of the big-ticket items on Jeffrey Loria’s shopping list from this holiday season  want to stay in Miami for any length of time, they’d better start winning right away and they’d better not stop.   Reyes’ fragile hamstrings and Mark Buherle getting older are among the factors that could make that difficult.  The Phillies and Braves are among the factors that will make it difficult.  It’s not all that outlandish to imagine Jose Reyes returning to the Mets in couple of years for a package of prospects.   It’s happened before.  Now on top of everything throw the potential trouble the  ongoing  SEC investigation of the Marlins would bring.

Win now Marlins.  Win right now.  And if you want to stay Marlins, don’t stop winning for a second.

Jose Reyes could come to regret signing with the Marlins if the Marlins ambitious plans blow up in their faces.  Even if they don’t, he’ll still come to regret it at least a little for the same reason we’re regretting it as fans:  he won’t win a World Series with the Mets.  Maybe he was never going to, but if he had, he would’ve lived forever.  If he wins one with the Marlins, he’ll be remembered for a long time too– at least until he’s dispensed with in the next fire sale.

Yes, winning a World Series is great no matter where you do it.  As great as it is anywhere, it’s something else again in New York, and it’s something else yet again in Queens where so few have been won that those who have even the tiniest bit to do with it are memorialized as legends (or does everyone know who Bobby Pfeil is, not just me?).  It would’ve been nice for Jose Reyes to take his place in the pantheon with everyone from Agee to Orosco.  It won’t happen and that’s really too bad.  It doesn’t have to be fatal for the Mets, at least not long-term.  It may work out for Reyes himself.  But there’s a chance it won’t.  Either way, his life in baseball won’t be it might have been.  Again, too bad.