By: Patrick Kedian
I am in Queens, New York City at Willets Point. Citi Field, to be exact. I am fresh off the 7 Train and through the turnstiles that allow entrance to this glorious stage for baseball.
There is a spring in my ritual pregame stroll around the rotunda. A twinkle-eyed smile graces most every face I see. Grown men and women, well-seasoned attendees of New York Met games, chatter like little schoolgirls before a One Direction concert.
This is going to be a special night.
The thousands circling the stadium’s concourse are adorned to be true to the orange and blue. The Shea Bridge is jammed with battalions of 7-Line Army soldiers proudly sporting Met jerseys bearing the number 33. Pinman is here wearing his dignified decades of Met metal. Sign Guy is here with his uncanny cardboard reactions for every Met moment. Mr. Met is here, in the flesh, taking selfies with everyone while miraculously holding up his gigantic head.
The aroma of sausage and peppers, popcorn, and sizzling burgers incite an instinctual hunger in all those with a nose. The view of the immaculate and expansive green grass gives a sanctified chill to everyone with a soul.
Spontaneous chants of “Let’s go Harvey, clap, clap, clap-clap-clap-clap” easily find willing choirs joining in to testify to the gospel of the oncoming evening. Citi Field souvenir stands are teeming with newer fans christening their wardrobes with Met gear. Hardcore veterans clad in Seaver, Hernandez, and Piazza vestments crowd the beer stands to consummate their communion with the past and future. All are here to confirm a revered rebirth.
This excitement is all for the Met pitcher bearing number 33, the team’s third starter in this year’s rotation. This is his third active major league season. Last year he sacrificed his throwing elbow to Tommy John surgery. The season before, 2013, he ascended into the heaven of our hearts with an ungodly fastball, a knee-buckling slider and an intimidating presence that belittled batters to puddles of bewilderment. In this, the occasion of his foretold reappearance in Queens, we are on day 598 after his miraculous arm was put on ice. This evening is a long time coming.
Forgive me for over-selling the spiritual references. I would say that there is a palpable electricity in the air, but that would give palpable electricity and air too much credit.
The fervency of devout faith describes the atmosphere more accurately. Particularly, the resurrection of a savior, his apostles (the Met pitching staff), his congregation (the Met fans) and his church (Citi Field.) He is the man who wears the anointment of an ace with self-assured grace. He is the dark night of Gotham. He is the new century’s burgeoning Celebrant. He is Matt Harvey.
The sun begins to set, the seats begin to fill and the beer vendors start hawking Buds. The Mets appear from their dugout to begin their warm-ups. Most players stay around the infield to do wind sprints, stretch their legs, and play a little catch. I am far away from them in right field, section 301, row one of the Pepsi Porch. In the distance I see two teammates slowly strolling toward me. One is clad in orange and blue armor, the other in regal pinstripes. By the latter’s gate, I know who it is. By the time he is close enough to read the number on his jersey, the Porch is enraptured. Number 33 is here, in the flesh, before our very eyes. He stops approximately one Green Monster length below us.
There is a sudden epidemic of goose bumps. It is absolutely breath taking, having the man we’ve missed for 598 days a mere three-stories below us. He stretches, does a few windmills with his arms, and begins to throw—with a hint of his slow, tourqing wind-up—to Travis d’Arnaud, his battery mate. There he is, the man with the golden arm and scarred elbow, breezing the ball to d’Arnaud at center stage of the Pepsi Porch. We are 30 minutes from, “Play ball!” and already have a priceless return on the value of our tickets. Many watch incessantly through recording cell phones. I watch in wonder.
Soon Harvey exits stage left, presumably warm and ready to go. He is gone. The buzz is not. The chants and cheers continue, pausing only for the Star Spangled Banner. When they resume, the din rises to a roar. The Mets take the field and pandemonium shakes the stands as number 33 takes his place on top of the mound.
Finally, the magical words, “Play ball!” ring around the stadium. Instead of settling into my seat, I stand with 40,000 of my new best friends to holler for Harvey. He is motionless and perfectly poised upon his own mini mountain in the middle of a diamond. The hollers swell to a hailing hosanna of “Har-vey! Har-vey! Har-vey! Har-vey!” Stillness has never been so deafening.
Here comes the first pitch.
There is the wind-up, the release and the reverberating slap of a cannon-fired baseball blasting into a soon-to-be-battered catcher’s mitt. We don’t need to wait the split second to see the home plate umpire’s out-stretched arm to signal a strike. We instantly exalt as if the ear-splitting peak of all previous passion was just a build up for this explosive release of emotion. We are euphoric.