Okay, the Mets stunk it up in extra innings Friday night. Not sure Collins should have gone back to Carlos Torres one night later, but if they keep playing extra innings, Torres will keep being available.
Laura Vecsey was ranting about Cespedes' apparent loaf after the inside-the-park HR. Blessedly, I missed it. I had switched to a swath of "Bird Man," which I had never seen. Michael Keaton. The Mets. You are seeing a pattern here?
Mets fans still have Thursday night, and, as Gary Cohen blurted on the tube, "The play of the year!"
Carlos Torres of the Mets is one of those unsung players that exist on every post-season team – the guys who helped get their teams there.
The Mets of 1969 had pitchers named Calvin Koonce and Don Cardwell. The Mets of 1986 had Rick Aguilera and Randy Niemann, among others.
Amidst this current bizarre spontaneous combustion sparked by the salary-dump arrival, Yoenis Cespedes, there are so many disparate elements. Consider Carlos Torres, tall and lanky, out of Kansas State and San Jose State, who does his job, impassively, maturely.
Torres is rarely interviewed. When he is, he comes off, as Casey Stengel used to say about Wakefield and Anderson and Altman, “a university man.”
Torres has not been as good this year as last year. So it goes. But his exploits Thursday night will always be remembered by hard-core fans. Good grief, I think I have become one.
In the 10th inning Thursday, the first batter Torres faced whacked a grounder off his soccer-style boot and bolted toward first. Daniel Murphy scrambled to recover the ball wide of first and violated the Mets’ own Murphy’s Law: Don’t Improvise, Murph. He flipped the ball sideways, blind, toward first base, classic Murphy, hoping Torres would get there. Like a greyhound, Torres sprinted to the base, caught the ball, and Jeff Francoeur nudged him aside, to make sure not to maim him, I think. First out.
Three innings later, Torres dribbled a ball to deep short and the shortstop messed it up, as Torres again sprinted to first – for his first hit and, as far as I can tell, his first trip to the bases since 2013.
Torres took a lead and dove back to first like a professional pinch-runner, as the Mets’ radio guys pointed out. Then he toured the bases, bolting home on Murphy’s double for the go-ahead run. The Mets scored four runs and Jeurys Familia finished up.
No matter what happens from now on, Mets fans will always remember Torres, this long, lean, pitcher playing the game the way it used to be played, before the gimmick of the designated hitter, by pitchers like Ruth and Ferrell, Gibson and Newcombe, Drysdale and Guidry. Torres hit, in a fashion. He ran. He fielded. He pitched. He was an athlete. National League ball. Real baseball.
In this strange unexpected season, another memory.
(Portrait of a professional long man, after pitching second through fifth innings, 2014.)
The current edition of the New Yorker contains a terrific article by Jelani Cobb about the fate of our mutual alma mater, Jamaica High School in Queens.
(Brian Savin notes the article is available on the New Yorker site, so I am showing the link here. Subscribe anyway.)
Cobb has been working on the article since he sat in my family kitchen for a few hours on a snowy day in February – or perhaps I should say, since his mom made sure he attended Jamaica because of a teacher she respected.
That teacher was Herb Sollinger, from a family I have known for many decades -- the bonds to that beautiful building on a hill, bonds that New York City, under Michael Bloomberg and Joel Klein, went out of its way to atomize.
The building still stands – built to last forever – and four small schools take the place of the entity known as Jamaica High School. I hope they are doing well -- and I visited a couple of smaller schools in Queens last year that seemed to be excellent.
Cobb does a wonderful job detailing the education JHS gave to generations. He also fairly represents the problems, the challenges, the occasional violence, in the new era.
But I was in Jamaica High quite a lot in its last generation, as the guest of dedicated teachers and students who reminded me of my era.
I visited Josh Cohen’s honors English class, where a young African-American woman quizzed me about freedom-of-information laws. (I tensed up because she knew more about it than I did.) She was a bright light and now works for a union in the city.)
Another time I visited Cohen’s class, and a young man with an Islamic name was reading his term paper on “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller.
The city tried to scare off students, distributing flyers about violence in the area. Two young women in chadors told me how their parents had transferred them to another old school, but the girls soon told their parents they were getting a better education at Jamaica, and transferred back.
Education was happening. Some young people were going on to college.
I got to know teachers like Sue Sutera, who held the place together as a teacher, as a coach, as a mensch. When Jamaica High was blown up, there was no institutional memory; she had to scramble to find a job elsewhere. I suspect union-busting as a motivation, also.
I’ve written about Jamaica on this web site – just click on the tab for Jamaica High.
The subject could not have found a better and fairer journalist than Jelani Cobb. I am a huge fan from watching him on MSNBC and reading him in the New Yorker, as he wrote about Ferguson and Charleston – and now our own high school.
I originally did not include the free link out of respect to Cobb and David Remnick, the editor, who has installed new energy and gravitas to a grand institution. I wish New York’s leaders had found the courage and wisdom to do the same for Jamaica High.
They were heading from Lexington to Chattanooga when the clouds lowered.
When I spent a lot of time in the mountains, I loved to watch pockets of fog nestled in the hollows (pronounced "hollers.") Anjali noticed them, too.
I would have posted the classic 1972 recording of "Rolling Fog" on the "Dobro" album by the Seldom Scene, with Mike Auldridge, but I couldn't seem to locate a single.
So here is one of America's musical treasures (never mind the glitz), Dolly Parton, singing about East Tennessee.
I heard the girls were heading south on I-75, known in the mountains as Hillbilly Highway because it takes people home on weekends and holidays.
Get off and take the Valley View Ferry, I urged. I used to do it whenever I could, from Louisville to Eastern Kentucky.
Stop at the Kentucky Horse Park, I insisted.
Don't forget the Boone Tavern at Berea.
I sometimes forget how much I love that part of the world.
* * *
It's not Appalachian, per se, but treat yourself to the Gary Bartz version of "I've Known Rivers," adapted from the Langston Hughes poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers."
My wife could hear me shout, one floor away.
“Are you all right?’ she wanted to know.
No. I am not all right. Déjà vu all over again.
I saw the botched play coming. As soon as Bobby Parnell wheeled to second with the easy come-backer, I had a flashback to nearly 15 months ago.
My question is, if I remembered, how come the knuckleheads on the field could not remember?
This is the agony of the fan, now that the Mets are actually in contention.
It’s been so long. Every game, every play, every tapper to the mound, is fraught with meaning.
This was Sunday. The Pirates had a runner on first base, nobody out, tie game. The Mets were on a two-game losing streak all of a sudden.
Parnell induced the batter to bounce the ball right to him. Parnell turned toward second base and I could visualize the same play, May 21, 2014.
The only constant was Daniel Murphy at second base. Right.
I had a memory of a Met pitcher (Jeurys Familia) making a perfect toss to second base to start a double play, only to have the shortstop (Wilmer Flores, that day) and Murphy turn it into a mere force play, as a run scored, the eventual margin in a 4-3 loss to the Dodgers.
The lads had not bothered to communicate who was covering second in case of a throw. Simple stuff.
Last Sunday Ruben Tejada was the shortstop. He floated toward second. Murphy also moved toward second, either flinching or gesturing. Either way, Tejada was distracted.
My Munch scream was piercing the air long before the ball bounced into center field. Soon, three-game losing streak.
Manager Terry Collins later sputtered that reporters are always trying to assign blame. “We” – the ubiquitous “we” – did not make the play.
To be fair, Collins has contributed to the instability – and so did the cancelled trade involving Flores. Because of injuries and platooning, the Mets essentially have two utility infielders sharing shortstop. Murphy has willingly played three infield positions with his mix of grit and klutziness. .
Still, how hard is it to make eye contact before each batter? Before each pitch?
That’s what Tinker and Evers did. What Trammell and Whitaker did. What Marion and Schoendienst did.
Of course, a fan’s memory is not the same as the muscle memory of a major-leaguer in real time.
The scream was involuntary. It shows a fan cares.
Segovia? Lyon? Val d'Aosta?
Not a Roman aqueduct.
Laura was crossing the Susquehanna at Harrisburg, heading toward Pittsburgh.
The river is nearly a mile wide there, spanned by railroad trestles, high enough to withstand flooding.
Anjali held up her cellphone and clicked.
Then they were on the other side.
For a song about another wide river, the Missouri, check out Jerry Garcia's "Shenandoah Lullaby." (Jerry's been gone 20 years this month.)
Anjali was looking into a pool and saw the sky.
What else does a photographer need?
She is embarking on a soccer road trip that will include rivers -- the Susquehanna, the Monongahela, the Allegheny, the Ohio, the Kentucky and the Tennessee.
I have ordered up photos.
That reminded me of "The Water Song" by the Incredible String Band:
Americans have a lot to learn from world soccer, particularly the grand practice of relegation and promotion. This custom ought to be used for the next Republican debate Sept. 16.
If the Premiership could jettison Burnley, Queens Park Rangers and Hull City after hapless showings last season and promote Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich for leading the secondary league, the Republicans should do the same.
In the first debate on Fox – with Megyn Kelly playing the role of the great Collina -- 10 candidates were permitted into the “premier” league in prime time while seven were placed in the “championship” level in late afternoon.
Of course, relegation could be a problem because soccer is far more of a meritocracy than presidential politics.
I mean, you watch Chelsea and Manchester United and Arsenal and the top teams of the Bundesliga and La Liga and Serie A as they move the ball and play defense and you can tell they are the best players in the world.
However, a glimpse of the massive Republican field makes me ask, wait, this is the best we can do? We do not have more impressive business leaders, scientists, teachers, writers, even some politicians, better than this lot? (John Kasich actually seems like a normal adult. How did he get past the bouncer?)
Politics are subjective. Take an obnoxious and not very smart but quite rich candidate like Donald Trump, the Vinnie Jones of politicians. (Jones was the crude defender known for ugly gestures like clutching opponents in intimate places that inhibited their ability to run very far.)
By his own standards – TV ratings – Trump is leading the polls, at least until summer sunstroke wears off. Now the Republicans need to re-arrange the furniture. On sheer instinct, I would make these moves:
*-Dump Mike Huckabee because of the smug righteousness that oozes out of him.
*-Drop Jeb Bush because of his rote recitation of a canned speech, delivered in a sing-song voice. Go down a grade, son, and lose your sense of entitlement.
*-One promotion would be a no-brainer -- Carly Fiorina, who scored verbal hat tricks in the reserve match just by carrying herself with executive poise. Her history will catch up to her, but she had a good match and deserves to move up.
*-The other promotion would go to Lindsey Graham not because of anything he does in the Senate – hardly -- but because his yap-dog attacks just might draw some more bully tactics out of Trump.
The Donald is cruising for a public red card for bad taste.
Joseph Cornell was already well known for his collages in small boxes during the mid-50’s when I was in high school.
Our busy road (188th St.) dead-ends into Utopia Parkway just south of Cornell’s home, maybe three miles from my childhood home, but I don’t remember my cultured friends and teachers ever mentioning him.
The Jamaica High School paper interviewed famous New York people and probably could have gained an interview with this introverted soul but, like me, the editors had not discovered him.
I am thinking about Cornell because my daughter Laura just took his biography – “Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell,” by Deborah Solomon -- out of the library. It’s been around since 1997 yet it took me this long to read about this artist who lived with his widowed mother and his younger brother who was limited by cerebral palsy.
Cornell is stereotyped as the hermit who stayed home on Utopia Parkway, caring for his mother and brother, and when the world quieted down at night he would snip others’ work and blend them with memorabilia of France, or incongruous mundane objects to create new form.
I once met Louise Nevelson at a party. She made us roar by describing how she bellied into a dumpster to retrieve some artifact she could use in her sculpture. Cornell was no less driven.
Somehow, he managed to work at menial jobs in the city, to support his family, while haunting the art galleries and bookstores at lunch hour and then take the train back to Flushing. People called him a a recluse but really he was a Zelig of an Outer Borough who knew Dali and Duchamp and de Kooning. Tony Curtis came to his house in a limo!
Cornell sought out ballerinas and actresses, shopgirls and students. Audrey Hepburn sent back one of his boxes. Susan Sontag enjoyed his company. His work celebrates sensuality, small hotels in Paris, birds, mystery, beautiful women. He died in 1972 at the age of 69. The author informs us that his short, intense crushes were "platonic."
I liked Cornell even better when I read that he loved the haunting music of Erik Satie, who lived in a squalid little flat in the outback of Paris. Cornell's boxes and Satie's compositions are a perfect fit.
I have loved Cornell's work since my wife, an artist, introduced me to museums and galleries. Maybe I am particularly affected because I grew up in Queens, in a narrow house much like Cornell's. Next door, a few feet away, two brothers, waiters named Rocco and Luigi, practiced the scales and the arias on summer afternoons with the windows open, before going to work.
In Queens, we knew that “it” was just a subway ride away. And all that time, maybe three miles up the road, Joseph Cornell was caring for his family and making his boxes.
Two days in a row, the New York Times paid long and literate attention to two worthy people I happened to know – one a coal-region doctor, one a figure skater.
* * *
I met Dr. Donald L. Rasmussen once – at a Black Lung meeting in Beckley, W. Va. Miners, wrecked in their 40s, were milling around, coughing and brandishing tattered papers of denial for medical benefits.
In the swarm was a tall and red-headed doctor, as out of place as a Viking in a Bosch painting. Doc Rasmussen was one of those outsiders come to foment trouble among the innocent folk of Appalachia (as the coal lobby would say.)
He carried a small rectangular box that could have held cigars or chocolates. Inside was a gray object, grainy and desiccated – a slide from a miner’s lung, available only upon autopsy. That’s when I learned about Pneumoconiosis – Black Lung Disease. Most miners had it, the doctor said.
This was after decades of coal-region doctors attesting that coal dust was good for you – cured the common cold.
Doc Rasmussen taught generations of miners and any federal welfare officials that would listen what miners’ lungs looked like after a few years underground.
The coal companies never did run him out of Beckley. He died at 87 on July 23. Don’t know if Sam Roberts ever heard of him before, but he did right by Doc Rasmussen.
* * *
I met Aja Zanova when I was doing Martina Navratilova's book. Aja was tall for a figure skater, head up, shoulders out, one of the straightest shooters I ever met. Her career as a world-level Czech figure skater was cut short by the Soviet domination, and she defected to the United States, part of the Czech diaspora. I was lucky to meet her husband, Paul Steindler, the New York restaurateur, who was dying. Aja served as a surrogate big sister to Martina.
I would run into Aja at tennis and skating events all over the world. She had news and opinions and was good company. She outwaited “our good friends” from the East (as Martina’s stepfather Mirek called the Soviets) and eventually she went back to Prague, greeted by 50,000 people in Wenceslas Square.
The new Czech government gave her a medal and restored some long-confiscated family real estate. Aja wryly told me how some old acquaintances looked her up, said they had always been on her side. She died on July 30 at 84. I don’t know if Margalit Fox knew her, but the obit in the Times caught her strength.
* * *
I was toying with commemorating Jerry Garcia and Mickey Mantle, who both died in August of 1995, but here is my column linking them. Better I should honor Doc Rasmussen and Aja Zanova.
With a great deal of Metsian guilt, I confess that I wandered around the house Wednesday night after the Mets took a 7-0 lead. Time to get some stuff organized.
Had to get ready for the Clown Car Thursday night.
Have I learned nothing in 53 2/3 seasons of watching this club? Imagine my surprise when I returned to the radio and heard Juan Uribe saying that in baseball you never know.
Still, the Mets have won six straight -- and there is talk about David Wright and Michael Cuddyer getting ready to come back. Ummm. That's all I'm saying.
Meantime, the summer doldrums keep getting postponed. Already a people's choice for his tears last week, Wilmer Flores evaded a tag Tuesday for a crucial run in Miami.
His slide reminded me of the sideways one-and-a-half gainer dive by Mickey Mantle in the 1960 World Series, to avoid Rocky Nelson's tag at first base, one of the great impromptu athletic moves ever seen on a baseball field. Wilmer Flores. Mickey Mantle. Same sentence.
Also red-hot is Ron Darling, who has made himself into one of the great baseball broadcasters. Darling spotted his lodge brother, Jon Niese, the on-deck batter, in a direct line with Flores, urgently waving for him to go wide to his right.
Everybody is playing up. In the usual August torpor, I have other things I want to write about, but the Mets have won five straight as of Wednesday morning.
"Pitching!!!!" Bill Wakefield, the best reliever on the 1964 Mets, says in an e-mail.
"Bandwagon!!!" texts the noted women's soccer writer, Laura Vecsey.
"Madhouse!!!" writes David Vecsey, our correspondent from the Mets' ballpark Sunday night.
David said he felt the season ratchet up in the eighth inning Sunday when Terry Collins let Noah Syndegaard deal with Brian Harper with two outs in the eighth. The kid blew away the kid with 99-mph heat. It is on.
I have run out of vapid attempts at profundity. It’s summer. Humidity saps the brain. I have seen family and friends, gone swimming, watered lawns and flowers. We went to Queens for the National Theatre in a movie house.We went to Hicksville for dosa. Mostly, the days and nights are built around the Mets
I sold myself to the devil last winter when the snow was piled high and there was nothing on television as usual.
Please, I bargained, just make this a good baseball season.
The devil has kept his end. The Mets are captivating, even when they lose. This is why baseball is the greatest game. They play every day.
This past week has been one of the weirdest stretches I have ever seen. You know all this already.
On Wednesday, Wilmer Flores heard rumors from the selfie crowd that he had been traded. Flores cried. The social-media gossip was premature.
My son and I texted each other: What’s wrong with Familia? Wait, can they trade Wheeler after surgery?
On Thursday, the front office clarified: no trade.
On Friday, the Mets got Yoenis Cespedes, but kept Flores.
(Gardening note: The Mets now have players named Lawns and Flowers in Spanish. Make of this what you will. Perhaps they will trade for a player named Árboles.)
On Friday, Flores ended the game with a homer. My son texted Well, that was obviously going to happen. I have never seen players embrace a teammate so fervently. Ron Darling said the same thing Monday night.
On Saturday, Cespedes flailed at sinkers. I worried he would turn into this year’s Foy, this year’s Samuel, this year's Vaughn, this year’s Bay, but he could be the great rent-a-slugger the Mets have ever had.
Lucas Duda kept hitting homers. I'm sorry I called him a lug.
I was building my Sunday around the dreaded 8 PM game.
Then on Sunday morning there was a charity soccer match from Wembley. My Arsenal and Chelsea mates watched – together again! – in Brooklyn. Wenger 1, Mourinho 0. Done and dusted, as somebody once said.
Sunday night was insane. Too bad ESPN was doing the game. The great Richard Sandomir critiques the office-temp superficiality of national broadcasts. Must read this.
On Monday, Cespedes and Conforto and Colon were magnificent. The Mets are in first place.
Can’t write now. Things just getting interesting.
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.