Friday, August 13, 2010

A Last Chance Saloon

Mets Face Phillies In Latest Must-Win Situation

Although each late reaction by Jose Reyes on a groundball, each sidearmed and errant throw by David Wright at third, each three-pitch strikeout by Jeff Franceour and every last inscrutable and self-contradictory pitching move by Jerry Manuel kills a little bit more of the part of me that loved baseball so very much in the summers of 2005 and 2006, the Mets find themselves, largely thanks to the understated dominance of Johan Santana in last night's four-hit shutout of Colorado, with another chance to suck me back into their 2010 season. I'm not sure if that's quite the same as actually getting back into the pennant race. But for my television viewing habits it's about the same. And since I could be duped into buying more tickets, I'd imagine it's all the same to ownership as well.

Oh, and did I mention the jailing of a player for third-degree assault in the bowels of our home ballpark as one of the occurrences that has sapped some of my rooting spirit? No? Well, that too. Yet, the Mets are a .500 team with nearly two months to play in the regular season. For all the embarrassment and infamy they may have heaped upon themselves they could still re-write the end of this season, changing it from traditional horror a la Friday the 13th to horror-comedy with a happy ending, like Shaun of the Dead. They could also, perhaps more predictably, opt for straight up screwball comedy. Although, I must admit that I don't remember Clark Gable's character slamming the father of Claudette Colbert's character into a wall in It Happened One Night.

The Mets trail the Braves by 9 games heading into today's action. They trail Philly by 7 games. The Braves just lost Chipper Jones and there are plenty of games left against the Phillies, who have yet to score a run at Citi Field in 2010. Our local National League nine is not as out of the NL East race as AM talk radio and most of my fellow fans would say I gotta believe. With the Fightins in town for three in Queens and visits to the woeful Astros and Pirates on tap after that, it's not entirely impossible that the Mets find themselves back from the dead in a little over a week. And after next weekend's 3-game series at Houston, the Mets get the Marlins and Astros (again) at home for three games apiece.

If R.A. Dickey, whoever starts on Saturday and whomever takes the hill on Sunday can get the Mets 2 wins in 3 tries against the Philles then they will have four series against teams not likely for October. It may be no coincidence that this stretch begins on Friday the 13th. Like Jason Voorhees, perhaps the 2010 Mets could prove impervious to fire, shooting, stabbing and in-laws. Of course, that could just mean we're in for a sequel of collapses past and paster. Either way, this is the Mets latest last chance. Perhaps their last last chance. But perhaps not. The National League offers ample time to locate one's bootstraps and begin pulling. And, it seems like nearly every year someone makes a late-season charge to get into the postseason. Of course, it may just seems like that to a Mets fan because usually our team is the one being overtaken by such charges.

Back when frontiers involved sage brush and scoundrels with scars running across their faces instead of space and syndicated television, the were numerous roadhouses and bars with "last chance" worked into the name. The phrase could refer to the fact that there wasn't another whiskeying hole or watering hole or much of anything for a long ways or that travelers who kept on keeping on the trail where about to enter a dry township or county. These sorts of places proliferated across the country. Just like a National League pennant race in the 2000s, there were last chances around every bend in the road. Beginning with these three home games against the Phillies, the Mets are bellied up to the bar at their own Last Chance Saloon. The drinks are cheap. The water is warm. And the beer ain't much better off. But if they don't drink their fill now it might not be until next April that they get a chance to play a meaningful game. The first round is on R.A., a fella who seems like he might have fit in just fine in Caldwell, Kansas in the late 1800s.

For Love of the Game

What if the Velvet Underground had been more interested in the hit and run than intravenous drug use or had felt more at home in the Polo Grounds than on the Bowery? Or if Bob Dylan had written about Ray Chapman instead of Davey Moore? Of if the Gashouse Gang had been a New Wave band instead of a bluegrass outfit?

Then there would have already been something like the Baseball Project. But those things never happened. Like Harvey Haddix's perfect game. So this group featuring Steve Wynn (from the Dream Syndicate), Peter Buck and/or Mike Mills (from REM), Scott McCaughey (from the Fresh Young Fellows and the Minus 5) and Linda Pitmon (from my dreams) is the first All-Star band singing songs about Big League All-Stars.

I'd read an article in some MLB-produced publication about this group at least a year ago and thought that it was a fun novelty project for some musicians accomplished enough to pull it off. And then I heard a few of the songs and thought they were clever novelty tunes befitting the talents of those involved. So when I scored a free pair of tickets to the show last night I assumed it would be a light-hearted diversion on a Thursday night. But nothing more. Certainly not. I mean, how many rock songs about baseball could I listen to in a row? I thought I'd pedal over to Maxwell's, chain up my girlfriend's bike and head in to check out some live music for an hour and then pedal back home to catch Seinfeld at 11:30. Even if I wasn't planning on staying for the duration, it was tough to pass on seeing a band singing tunes about baseball in the town that claims to have hosted the first organized game in the sport's history.

I wasn't expecting to find a bigger crowd - especially one that included at least two guys sporting Clemente shirts - than I've seen at the Hoboken venue for the last few shows I've been to (although the familial atmosphere the makes the place so special was still in full effect with bandmembers greeting family and friends before, during and after the show). Nor was I expecting for the bona fides of these performers to make these songs really seem genuine and poignant. But all of the above happened. They had Maxwell's rocking like Shea in '86, Forbes Field in '60 and Fenway after Game 6 in the '75 Series. And, I stayed throughout the long set, not only missing Seinfeld but also the episode of The Simpsons that followed it. Because The Baseball Project was [forced baseball metaphor] rocking and rollicking through their entire catalog as well as a few tunes from the musician's day jobs.

Whether it was Mills impersonating the late Yankees announcer Bob Sheppard introducing Manny Mota as a pinch hitter in the Bronx, Wynn add-libbing references to Armando Galarraga in a song about perfect games, McCaughey expressing thanks for players like K-Rod that screw up just enough to keep the game and its participants from seeming too corporate, there was no doubt that this foursome knows there hardball nearly as well as their hard rock.

Without any t-shirts or commemorative beer cozies being sold at the back of the room and the band's latest tunes being given away for free online, there was also no question that they play these songs with each other because they enjoy the hell out of it. Whether talking about sports or music this sort passion and spirit seems like a relic from the sepia-toned age that so many of the songs engage. Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson and Ted Fucking Williams populate the group's lyrics, song by Wynn and McCaughey.

Ted Fucking Williams
People say it’s hard to like a man who doesn’t fail and show he’s a human.
But failure’s not a sign of grace. It only means you don’t know what you’re
doing. And everyone says “hey Mick!” Mantle this, Mantle that—it makes
me sick. It’s just so hard to see. Why do they like him better than me? I’m
Ted Fucking Williams!

Although they are happy to sing about Curt Flood and Willie Mays, the group's members do make an appearance in "The Yankee Flipper," which chronicles the night when Mills and McCaughey were out for a night in the Big Apple with former pitcher Jack McDowell when he playing for the Yankees. A night of boozing and covering The Replacements led to "Black Jack" passing out in a bathroom and ultimately flipping off the crowd at Yankee Stadium the next afternoon as he left the field after getting shelled in the second game of a doubleheader on July 18, 1995.