One of the most magical days is upon us: this Wednesday afternoon, the Mets will have their Fifth Annual Weather Education Day.
There are several reasons for Mets fans to look forward to this. The first is to embrace the decision by various schools to have a brief educational experience -- a weather lesson from Mr. G and Linda Church -- in exchange for an afternoon of baseball.
When I think back on the field trips I took in school, we didn't have anything as exciting as a day at a baseball game. While some will view this as a waste of school time that could be spent doing things like beating children or arming students with webcam-enabled computers to spy on them at home, I see it very differently.
Mr. G always gives a tremendous lesson on weather. Always. And more importantly, some of the most compelling baseball the Mets have played in recent years has come on Weather Education Day, as the previous four provided a look into Mets seasons to come.
The games have been filled with unlikely heroes, dramatic hits and eerie foreshadowings of success and trials ahead. They are exciting, useful time capsules taking place before thousands of children and those adults creative enough to get out of work.
The first Weather Education Day was held on May 25, 2006, for a Mets-Phillies contest, back before the rivalry had the intensity it currently does. The game itself, however, ultimately seemed to be a sneak preview of the 2007 and 2008 seasons.
The Phillies scored three in the first inning off of Geremi Gonzalez, who started due to shortages in the Mets' starting rotation. New York drew even, however, on a Jose Reyes three-run homer. And then the two teams traded zeros into the seventh, when Willie Randolph's tenuous hold on matchups helped to make the inning a good one for Philadelphia.
Randolph brought in lefty Pedro Feliciano to face Shane Victorino, Chase Utley and Bobby Abreu, none of whom had particularly significant platoon splits. Randolph then went to righty Heath Bell to face Pat Burrell and Ryan Howard. Burrell hit righties pretty well, while Howard was the hitter actually susceptible, then as now, to a lefty specialist. When the dust cleared, the Mets trailed 5-3, reinforcing in Randolph's mind the fact that Heath Bell wouldn't be a useful reliever.
The Mets mounted a rally in the ninth inning, bringing the tying run to the plate three times, but falling just short against the Phillies. Still, it is worth noting: In this game, as in the three subsequent Weather Education Day classics, the tying run came to the plate in the ninth inning.
The May 17, 2007, version of Weather Education Day may be the single wackiest game I've ever covered. On getaway day, the Mets decided to give all their best players the day off. Julio Franco started at third base, in what ended up being the penultimate start in the field of his long career. Ruben Gotay started at shortstop. David Newhan started at second base. Endy Chavez was the center fielder. And Jason Vargas made one of two starts in a Mets uniform. (That's the same Vargas that was a throw-in for the Mariners to bring J.J. Putz to New York, and who has a 3.00 ERA in six starts this season with Seattle).
Trailing 5-1 in the ninth, the Mets rallied. Using a bench that was filled with stars, Randolph managed to bring up both Carlos Beltran and David Wright as pinch hitters. Beltran walked, Wright singled to tie the game, and Carlos Delgado, the only regular in the lineup, singled to win the game. As I left the press box, I could hear the loud groans of beat reporters scrambling to re-work the 5-1 loss stories they'd already written. It was an improbable victory, and one of the most exciting wins in recent Mets history.
And it might well have been the high point of the recent era.
By May 15, 2008, things were very different for the Mets. Mr. G was as effusive as ever, but the fans were not. Mike Pelfrey pitched extremely well, allowing just one run in 7 2/3 innings, but the Mets lineup was stymied by Jason Bergmann of the Washington Nationals. Fresh off of a two-inning start against Atlanta, Bergmann fanned nine over seven shutout innings.
Ironically, Matt Wise, shortly to go on the disabled list for the season, pitched for New York, and Luis Ayala, just a few short months from taking over as closer for the Mets, shot down Jose Reyes, Luis Castillo and David Wright in the eighth inning as a member of the Nationals.
Best of all, the game featured the stylings of left fielder Marlon Anderson, who started 20 games in left field (20 games!) while hitting .210/.255/.275. No better example exists of how the 2008 Mets failed to leverage amazing seasons from Beltran, Wright, Reyes and Delgado.
And what did we learn on April 29, 2009? Two important things. In a 4-3 loss, we saw that no matter how dominant Johan Santana was (his seven innings of two-run, seven-strikeout pitching actually raised his ERA from 0.70 to 1.10), the Mets in 2009 were not equipped to take advantage. J.J. Putz -- the bullpen fix -- allowed two runs in an eighth inning in which he struggled to crack 90 miles per hour on the radar gun. We now know he was injured, but at the time, Putz seemed to feel it was cause by Setup Reliever Malaise.
More disturbing was the move by Jerry Manuel, with the bases loaded and two outs, to pinch-hit Omir Santos for Ramon Castro. The latter had two hits in the game already, and was a viable Major League hitter, while the former had to be summoned from the bullpen, and wasn't.
This was the first indication that Manuel wouldn't be the logic-based alternative to Randolph, but would bring his own brand of infuriating decisions to the Mets. In many ways, this decision was a precursor of every time Manuel now brings Fernando Nieve and Pedro Feliciano into a game on little-to-no rest.
So what will the expected 8,000 schoolchildren learn this Wednesday afternoon? Probably some vital information about cold fronts or sleet. Mr. G never fails to provide it.
But if the past is any indication, the children will also be present for some awfully compelling baseball -- along with some key foreshadowing for Mets players -- and seasons -- to come.