Gimme Shelter: No time for nostalgia

COURTESY ILLUSTRATION Our columnist, who bleeds Orange and Blue, is living in the present these days.
COURTESY ILLUSTRATION Our columnist, who bleeds Orange and Blue, is living in the present these days.

In those days, when the Mets were the dogs of the National League, we’d go to a ballgame with no planning.

That’s impossible today, not only because the Mets are one of the class teams in the league and seats are hard to come by, but also the cost of going to a game requires a meeting with your accountant.

But back then, hanging out at Donahoe’s place in Brooklyn, we’d decide within a couple of hours before the scheduled first pitch, connect to the 7 train and go to Flushing. If Greenberg was around, he’d meet us at Shea.

As Donahoe would say, there were so few people walking up to the ballpark that he half-expected the ticket seller to say, “What time do you want us to start? One of you guys want to umpire third base?”

We’d sit upstairs in the extremely cheap seats, drink beer and talk baseball, among other things. Donahoe had just quit driving a cab and got a job as a police photographer, shooting mugs on the graveyard shift. I had a novel published and was freelancing, which, as Robert Benchley said, means “you’re paid per piece or per word or perhaps.”

Those soft summer nights at the ballpark we’d talk about our “cab book ” — with Greenberg happily mocking us — photographs by Donahoe, text by me, which we eventually put together and it found a publisher.

When I think of those Mets teams of the early 1980s, I think of our friendship as we sat through some awful baseball. When die-hards would start chanting, with the Mets down 11-3 in the third, “Let’s — Go — Mets,” Greenberg would yell, “Let’s — Go — Home.” But we never did.

We still reminisce about one night at Shea when a line drive off the centerfield wall brought us bolt upright out of our literary deliberations. “What the hell was that?” Greenberg said as the new Mets first baseman cruised into second standing up.

An inning later, the new guy charged a sacrifice bunt, fielded it and in one motion fired a strike to second to start a double play to get us out of the inning.

That was the night Keith Hernandez — now the Amazins goofball color man in the booth  — and winning baseball arrived in Flushing.

Two years later, on Opening Day, Greenberg, Donahoe and I watched Gary Carter send everyone home from his Mets debut with a rocket into the parking lot in the bottom of the 10th.

Screamed out, the three of us just looked at each other, feeling the floor of Shea shaking from 100,000 feet jumping up and down. “This is going to be fun,” Greenberg finally said.

Nostalgia and baseball seem linked like no other sport. It’s played all summer, a season best suited to bittersweet longings for what won’t happen again.

It’s also the slowest game — those who want to speed it up only prove their blindness to the beauty of the sport — and so conversation is a given when watching a game.

But this summer, we’re not soaking in the warm bath of memory. The 2015 Mets are proving Casey Stengel’s remark that if you watch enough baseball you’ll see something new every now and then.

Take the legend of Wilmer Flores: His weeping on the field after mistakenly learning he’d been traded, and the fans giving him a standing ovation, ends the rule from a “League of Their Own” that “there’s no crying in baseball.”

And of course, Flores, two nights later, still in the family, hits a game-winning home run.

Acquiring Yoenis Céspedes from Detroit or, more likely, another planet by the way he plays, has brought more than one diehard fan watching the Mets bolt upright in their seats again this year saying, “What the hell was that?”

Think about it: Just a few weeks before the Cuban star started lighting up Queens, the Mets had a cleanup hitter batting .170 — you can look it up.

A Céspedes, as Jerry Seinfeld said, for the rest of us.

This is a team with young power arms and younger hairstyles, guys with names out of Norse sagas — Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard — who are throwing the ball through the backstop. Good old country hardball is playing at Citi Field.

The Mets have come back from deficits to win 38 times this year, 16 since August 1.

Old friends are texting and emailing. With the Mets down 7-1 but coming back, my phone buzzes: “The wheels are coming off, but not for the Mets this time.”

I return the text: “Something is wrong with the universe.”

An email about the Mets putting an innings limit on some of their young gun starters: “The Mets must be wearing tinfoil under their rally caps.” Another follows: “My sister was cleaning out a closet and gave me her pristine 1986 Cap Day hat, the white one that was the 25th anniversary of that team. I’m just waiting for the right occasion to put it on to annoy the Yankee fans.”

The hated Bombers arrive at Citi Field this weekend. The way the Amazins are playing, there’s no time for nostalgia this year.