Sunday, October 22, 2006

Reporting from the Iberian Chapter of the New York Mets Fan Club

I left New York with Mary-Jo on October 6th for a two-week trip to Europe--Paris, Barcelona, Madrid--having first circled the date of our return on the calendar: October 21st, when I fully believed my New York Mets would begin the World Series against the hated Yankees.

Now that date has come and I am blogging from the vast, elegant, ultra-high-tech Madrid airport as we wait for our flight home. I'm looking forward to sleeping in my own bed again. But, of course, there's no Subway Series to look forward to. First the hated Yankees were knocked out of the playoffs--swiftly and ruthlessly--by the much-maligned Tigers. And now, after sweeping the Dodgers in the first round, my Mets have been eliminated--in an excruciating, seven-game series full of plot twists and emotional turnarounds--by the Cardinals. When Mary-Jo and I get home tonight, it will be Cards-Tigers on TV--not Tom Glavine facing off against Randy Johnson.

Mets playoff appearances are reasonably rare. I've been a fan since 1962 and I can tick off every post-season series they've played from memory with ease. It was weird following this year's installment from overseas. Even in this age of international media coverage, it's very hard to pick up baseball news on television: the sports crawl on CNN International will detail a minor injury to a footballer from Birmingham before it will deign to reveal the winner of a playoff game from the American major leagues.

And for various reasons we found obstacles thrown up in the way of Internet access. I ended up paying a piratical 44 euros for two days' worth of online service at one of Spain's hoity-toitiest hotels. That's how I learned, at 8:30 on Friday morning (hunched over the laptop screen in a darkened room while Mary-Jo snoozed peacefully nearby) that Carlos Beltran had watched an unhittable third strike the night before to doom the Mets' World Series hopes until 2007--not live, but some three hours after the fact.

It may be for the best that I was forced to remain at an emotional distance from the wrenching ups-and-downs of the Cardinal series. Rather than agonizing over every questionable piece of managerial strategy by Willie Randolph, every ill-advised steal attempt or sacrifice bunt by the Mets, and every dubious ball-or-strike call by a home plate umpire, I was focused on analyzing the differences between the collections in the Picasso Museum in Paris and the one in Barcelona.

(If you have to choose, take Barcelona. We didn't get to the Picasso Museum in Malaga or any of the others that for all I know may have sprouted in the years since his death. The man was so damn prolific that there could be a Picasso Museum in every city in Europe, just as there's a Hard Rock Cafe with a signed guitar from Chuck Berry and a framed set of John Lennon lyrics.)

So maybe I won't suffer the kind of lasting, vivid heartache I long suffered when looking back on the 1973 World Series loss to the As or the shocking 1988 playoff loss to the seemingly overmatched Dodgers.

Instead I expect to spend my winter sorting through happy memories of Gaudi's Temple of Segrada Familia and the incredible Taller de Tapas in Barcelona's Barri Gotic--alongside memories from June, July, and August of run-scoring triples by Jose Reyes, gritty performances by unheralded pitchers like John Maine and Oliver Perez, spunky double-play turns by Jose Valentin, three-hit games by David Wright, and magisterial home runs off the bats of the two Carloses--rather than torturing myself over October "what-ifs."

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