"I wish I'd never bought the team."
The spoken words written on a gold slip of paper were not necessarily a prayer, but somehow found their way via the desperation clause into the New York sports wing of Heaven. Senior guardian angel Vincent (earthly name: Vinny from Queens) touched the paper to instantly get the background on the situation, then summoned his assistant Howard and handed him the request.
Howard (Howie from Newark) looked at it and rolled his eyes. "Great, another sports owner with buyer's remorse."
"This is different. With a little creativity this could get rid of your backlog of prayers from Met fans."
Howard touched the paper, then furrowed his brow. "With all due respect, isn't this one for Saint Jude? He is, after all, the patron saint of hopeless causes."
"He's too busy with the Jets. How about we put the new kid on it? He's a Mets fan."
Howard agreed and in a flash Angel Second Class Clarence was standing in front of him. He explained the situation to the rookie and sent him down to Flushing.
Fred's face tightened as he wheeled his carry-on through the crowd at LaGuardia. The private jet had mechanical problems, forcing him to fly commercial. But for some odd reason he hadn't endured the usual sarcastic comments and death stares from New York sports fans who passed his seat in first class. And no one was harassing him now.
He cringed as he saw the old limo driver holding a placard with his name. Surely the snide comments would begin now.
The driver smiled. "Welcome home, Sir. I'm Clarence." He took Fred's bag and they both headed toward the door. "I'll get you right out to the stadium. Game is about to start."
"What game? It's December." But the walk outside confused Fred, as hot sultry air hit him in the face. "Hmmm. Indian summer."
The driver loaded his bag into the trunk of the limo and opened the door for Fred. Clarence got into the car, turned on the radio and began navigating through traffic. Fred's blood pressure spiked as he recognized the sports talk station.
"Frank from Bayonne, what's up Frank?"
"Lovin' this new Mets trade. Best front office in baseball."
Fred shook his head. "The sarcasm never ends."
Five minutes later Clarence opened the door and Fred got out.
His jaw dropped as he looked up at the massive sports complex in the middle of several very familiar Flushing Meadow landmarks. "Where are we? Where's Citi Field?"
"It was never built."
"I don't understand."
"Citi Field was never built because you never bought the Mets."
"Yesterday you were wishing you never bought the team. So now you can see what the Mets would be like without you."
"That's crazy. I'm dreaming. Or delirious from airline food."
"This is no dream, Fred. You've been given a very special gift. A do-over, as they say in Brooklyn."
Fred looked up at the illuminated sign atop the complex.
"This doesn't look like Shea."
"It's the new Shea. You didn't buy the Mets, so you didn't build Citi Field."
He turned to the driver, studying his weathered face. "Who are you?"
"Clarence, Angel Second Class."
"Second class? Don't I get a first class angel?"
"You bought the Mets, don't complain. C'mon, you're missing the game."
"It's different than the old Shea," said Clarence, his blue eyes beaming, "and the bathrooms actually work."
Fred's eyes widened as they stepped on the escalator in the massive lobby. The walls were adorned with giant photos of Seaver, Gooden, and other Met greats. A giant flat screen played video of special moments: catches by Swoboda, Agee, and Chavez got jaw-dropping reactions from the kids. A long line extended from a room with a sign reading "Mets Alumni."
"What's that?" asked Fred.
"A former Met comes by every game for autographs and photos. Free, of course. Mookie's here today."
Fred turned completely around. "There's no Dodger memorabilia here."
Clarence tapped Fred on the head. "Hello, McFly! They left New York high and dry. Putting up Dodger stuff would be like erecting a shrine to your wife who ran off with another man."
They made their way to their seats in the field level just as the PA announcer's voice boomed. "The third baseman... Daaaaa-viddddd Wright!"
The crowd chanted "M-V-P!" as they took their seats behind third base. Fred's jaw dropped as Wright's stats filled the scoreboard screen. "David has 48 homers?"
"They moved the right-center fences in when they built the place. Duh-uh." Clarence pointed at third base. "Hey Fred, who's on third?"
Fred leaned forward. "Jose Reyes?"
"He never left."
"We couldn't afford him."
"Remember, you don't own the team. It's publicly traded stock now, like the Green Bay Packers. The fans own the team."
"So who's running things?"
"Jerry Seinfeld. Stockholders wanted a high-profile guy who's a real fan. And since the stockholders only want to break even, the prices are down. You can bring all the food and drink you want. Big hit with families. And look, no empty seats behind the plate. Fifty bucks a pop."
Fred heard a loud flapping noise as Wright stepped out of the box. "What is that sound?"
Clarence pointed up. "All the pennants Davey Johnson won before he retired last year and Wally took over."
Fred glanced into the dugout. "What's the broadcast team doing there?"
"Keith Hernandez is the hitting coach and Ron Darling is the pitching coach. You were wasting the best brains in the press box."
Fred leaned back and exhaled. "The fans look happy."
"Hey, the Mets are a dynasty. All you have to do to make this real is say the word. The holidays are about giving, after all."
"But I love owning a team."
"I can get you another team, Fred. I can even fix it so you never met that bad guy named Bernie."
Fred emerged from the stadium invigorated with the holiday spirit. He started running through the parking lot, sharing his joy with the world. "Merry Christmas, Unisphere! Happy Hanukkah, chop shops!"
A fan gave him an odd look. "Yo, buddy, better get back to Bellevue."
Fred kept running down Northern Boulevard, shouting holiday wishes at inanimate objects, when suddenly the scene dissolved like a digital photo being deleted. He found himself standing next to Clarence in a very familiar ballpark. "We went back in time?"
Clarence shook his head. "This is present day, Fred. This is the new Ebbets Field. You bought the Dodgers and moved them back to Brooklyn. Of course they're in last place every year, but-"
"I don't care. I'm home. And so are my Bums." Fred smiled and looked out onto the field as his Dodgers made the final out and lost to the Mets. "Oh well, wait till next year, huh?"
"Don't feel bad, Fred. I forgot to tell you one thing. Every time the Mets win a game, an angel gets his wings."