Years ago, a friend of mine and I were making lists of the best players who played for each of our favorite teams. Mine, of course, was the Mets. His was the Red Sox. We made our lists in the L.L. Bean warehouse, Zone 21, amidst the cardboard dust and broken yellow straps that littered the floor. We had another two hours until the end of our shift. No windows through which to notice the snow.
His list had many of the predictable names: Teddy Ballgame, Yaz, Fisk, Clemens…he even added Babe Ruth to his pitching staff. I granted him that one. The old pig-farmer was once a kid lefty with promise. Then, panic-stricken into silence, I noticed that his list of the greatest Red Sox of all-time included Tom Seaver. He had shoplifted Tom Terrific right out of the store under his coat, much as the Reds had done in ’77. This couldn’t stand.
Yagottabefuckinkiddinme, I blurted out. Seaver? He threw what, maybe 90 pitches in his entire Red Sox life? That’s like me accidentally walking into a wedding ceremony, and emerging with a ring. It just don’t work that way. I slowly crossed Seaver’s name off his list. Looking up at him, I said, “try again.” I wrote, “Calvin Schiraldi” in small, neat letters over smudged Seaver.
But rules are rules, and we had none when we set up our lists. My friend saw the loophole, and pounced. That’s how winners happen. When the Reds scammed Seaver from the Mets for a broken harmonium and a box of confiscated Turkish porn films, Mets fans knew they’d been had. But losers always find a way to lose; it’s as irresistible as running a tongue over a broken tooth. Still, Dan Norman?
Up to that point, I had left Nolan Ryan off my list of Mets, along with Ken Singleton, Amos Otis, and Paul Blair, as well as Snider, Mays, and Ashburn. I topped off my updated list with Bret Saberhagen. But then so did he. Going for the kill, I scribbled Jimmy Piersall’s name down, Mets class of ’63. Clearly, that was below the belt. My friend groaned.
Nothing left to do but gloat as I leaned on the pallet jack, waiting for the fork-truck driver to come back around. Forty more cases of fleece jackets to load, then home to an Old Thumper and some chow. Should be about 4:30 by now. Not that it mattered. The cold apartment on Spring Street was dialed up to December Maine Cold, frost on the handrails and black-slick death ice on the stairs.
The click of cleats on hardwood floors was still months away. Leather glove smell of organic dirty perfume hidden in closet under box of wide-ruled college notebooks, stats of ’73 Mets in the margin of Sociology 101 scribbles. Invertebrates and Mollusks in red notebook between columns of stadiums I’d meant to see. Most are gone now, but the notebooks remain, hostage facts squeezed and forgotten in boxes.
My friend on my second-floor landing now, semaphore scorecard waving like a warning, his evidence of a 1986 Houston Astros ballgame. Mike Scott and his vanishing split-finger optical illusion. Beat the Mets twice in the playoffs. Not pitching, but counting coup.
I added Mike Scott to my list. Drafted by the Mets in 2nd round, 1976.
My buddy just shook his head, but he had brought along an extra pair of six-packs and some egg rolls, so we were good for the evening. Steel winter morning was still twelve hours away, and the inside of our souls were calm with pencil-mark scorecards and dog-eared almanacs, becalming order to the ordinariness of existence, waiting for the next hot prospects to melt in toaster-oven future, promise of a 44-double season mounting with the death of each winter day.
Was spring really true? Who could say? Future inning snow-flakes shadowed the night sky, blinding us from the moon’s faint light. Floating to earth, all of next season, a snow carpet, tranquil and smooth, yielding nothing but the quietness of expectation.