Baseball has given us many great players and many great stories, but not often together. This is part of its enduring appeal. We cheer superhuman feats, but we cheer even harder the little guy who comes up big, the guy whose mere presence in the game defies logic. Rarely do the two come together. Just look at the annals of Mets history. Guys like Tom Seaver and Mike Piazza propelled their teams to the postseason, but the performances we love to celebrate come from the likes of Bobby Jones, Al Weis, Todd Pratt.
In R.A. Dickey, we have the convergence of story and player on a level so profound that it would be unfathomable, if only we didn't have six months of evidence to support us.
Dickey is all things to all people. The eggheads can revere him as one of a rare specimen, the intellectual athlete. The statheads can point to a stretch earlier this year when he put up numbers to rival the best weeks of Pedro Martinez and Sandy Koufax. The Power of Positive Thinking crowd can point to his triumph over personal and professional hardships as a paragon of perseverance. Baseball historians can appreciate his mastery of a pitch that was almost lost to history, as if he'd preserved a tongue whose speakers had all but perished.
These would be reasons enough to root for R.A. Dickey. But on top of it all, he also happens to be really, really good at baseball. We are witnessing a convergence of greatness--tangible and ephemeral, statistical and personal--we have rarely seen before and may never see again.
In a just world, Dickey wins the Cy Young Award. But a Cy Young Award can not possibly enhance what we have seen from him this year, nor could its absence diminish it.
The most striking about Dickey's 20th win--other than the fact that he was doing It, he was actually doing it!--was the crowd on hand to witness it. The Mets announced attendance at 31,000 and change, and for once no one laughed at the figure. CitiField, which has resembled a morgue for much of the season and for so many times since it opened, suddenly looked and sounded like Shea. The Old Ballpark in Queens, as Bob Murphy called it, was basically maligned out of existence, its obvious lack of modern amenities and assumed lack of charm driving the Wilpons to agitate for a new stadium. But in big games it could get as thunderously loud as any stadium ever built. We heard echoes of that thunder on Thursday afternoon.
How fitting, then, that the Mets took a lead to stay on a homer from newly crowned franchise hits leader David Wright. There was a time, Before The Fall, before the idiotic bleats of TRAID, when Wright always rose to the occasion. He has looked lost at times these past few years, at the plate and in some other unnameable places, too. Some blamed the remote dimensions of the new ballpark's fences, but I blame the atmosphere.
In his younger days, Wright often seemed to draw strength from Shea's unique energy, its volatile mixture of belief and dread. There was no such air to CitiField, until Thursday, when he rode it once more. I was not at the ballpark when Wright's hit sailed into the right field seats, but the sound of CitiField when it happened reminded me of chilly nights in the old upper deck, when the stands literally shook from the excitement, and you thought the whole place might come down from under you, and you weren't sure you cared if it did.
The last home game of the season has not been kind to Mets teams of recent vintage. There was the heartbreak of 2007 and 2008, and the irrelevance of the years after. Dickey's 20th provided a commodity that's been in short supply in Flushing during finales past: Hope. A Mets fan could watch him win this game and be reminded that there are reasons to cheer this team that go beyond the rote demands of fandom. It's not all a slog or a hair-pulling trial. It is in fact, pretty damn fun at times, and when the stands are packed and roaring, there are few places better to be. And who's to say those stands won't be packed and roaring again, and sooner rather than later? That may seem fairly obvious to an outsider, but for a fanbase that's been beaten down by financial trouble and creeping LOLism, it took R.A. Dickey to remind us of this.
When I left for work yesterday, it was drizzly and miserable outside, a typically murky September morning. By the time first pitch rolled around, however, it was 76 degrees, sunny, and slightly humid, almost balmy. If you had no idea of the date, you would be excused for thinking it was still June. The sun continued to shine, throughout the game and beyond the last improbable out, gloved by Whitestone's own Mike Baxter. (The man to call on for acrobatic catches in historic Mets games, it seems.) It was still out as the highlights were recounted on Mets Extra, and I left the office to pick up my daughter from school.
When I emerged from the subway, the clouds had rolled in, the breeze had picked up, and the rain threatened again. R.A. Dickey had briefly fooled me into thinking summer was still with us, but it was still September after all. He'd made me think it was midseason, that that there was plenty of baseball ahead, instead of six lone games, all of them to be played far from home.
For a moment I wondered if I'd just dreamed this afternoon, because it's been much like a dream, this season of Dickey's. We can continue to dream that Dickey will give CitiField more summer afternoons like today's, next week in Miami, in 2013, maybe even beyond. We can dream that the next time CitiField shakes like it did today, it will come deep into October. We have all winter to dream now.