Blue And Orange And Gray

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at New York Mets

Opening Day is about rebirth and rejuvenation. To find out of a ballplayer’s passing on Opening Day is to mix that with reflection and sorrow. When the circle of baseball life starts and ends on the same day, there’s conflict. You want to run towards 2018. but there’s nothing but a slow pace that envelops you. It’s like a bad dream where something is holding you back.

Rusty Staub passed away early on Opening Day. The gray, misty weather perfectly reflected this. If ever hearts could soar and sink at the same time, it was Opening Day 2018. I’m sure Rusty was never far from anybody’s mind as the sights and sounds of Thursday’s victory over the Cardinals was mixed with the memories of Staub getting pinch hit after pinch hit. Or cementing his status as playoff hero. Or the good he did for the people of our city in his post-playing days. Opening Days are about older generations passing along the stories of years past. All the stories were about Rusty on Thursday.

The symmetry of Rusty passing on Opening Day against the Cardinals was that Rusty’s final Opening Day was against the Cardinals. It was Gary Carter’s first Opening Day as a Met, where he hit a game winning home run off Neil Allen in the tenth inning. For me to say that watching the Cardinals play the Mets in New York seemed like it could have been 1985 if you squinted hard enough would probably be a hackneyed attempt at poetic license. Except it was really true for me. There were fleeting moments where I really did see 1985 on the Soviet HD quality screen I was watching the game on today. Darrell Porter was firing the ball to first base instead of third after a strikeout. Mookie Wilson was jackhammering around the bases. And there was Neil Allen trying to bury a curveball down to the Kid. The only thing missing was the historically tight Cardinals defense as the first run of the season scored on a St. Louis error, which people who were alive in 1985 will always appreciate. Despite that, the past was certainly all over the place today.

Blue And Orange And Gray
Mar 29, 2018; New York City, NY, USA; New York Mets center fielder Brandon Nimmo (9) celebrates a single during the 5th inning of the game on opening day at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

If Opening Day wasn’t the rebirth I had hoped for when I first woke up, it slowly became that as the rotation of the Mets bats turned the calendar over like topsoil. It took five innings for it to get done, but from the creaky muscles of Adrian Gonzalez to the new ballplayer scent of Amed Rosario, with Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce providing pop from the middle, the five run fifth slowly let the 2018 season begin in earnest. All things must pass for all things new. Not even the Cardinals running into a few fastballs from Noah Syndergaard could obscure the fact that Noah Syndergaard is still a dangerous man, as he decorated the weeds of Cardinals home runs with ten beautiful strikeouts in full bloom. Nor could they obscure the smile of Brandon Nimmo, who reached base four times in his quest to force the Mets into a very interesting decision when Michael Conforto’s shoulder deems it ready to return to Major League Baseball.

Syndergaard gave up four runs in six innings, just as Dwight Gooden did in 1985. That day ended with the bullpen giving up one run in four innings (of course, it was the run that tied the game to set up Carter’s heroics.) Today’s bullpen? Three scoreless innings to salt away a 9-4 victory to bring the Mets to 37-12 in their last 49 Opening Days.

I’m sitting here writing this and on my television, of all things, is a show called “The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling”. I only caught the very end of it. But the words from the last speaker at Shandling’s memorial service ring very true:

“The tears I shed yesterday have become rain … You are within each one of us, and you are everywhere. You have arrived. You are home.”

The symmetries and memories of past Openers and past seasons will slowly fade to opaque of the next 24 hours. Saturday begins the path that will be truly unique. The 2018 path has it’s starting point, its home, which is rooted in memory, symmetry, and Rusty. Where the path goes, we’ve never been before. Rusty is home, but he’ll be with us as we embark on the path. Today’s tears will become rain, and rain will rejuvenate and make all things new.

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