Mets GM gets a Brodie's-eye view of his team
NEW YORK -- It’s doubtful whether Brodie Van Wagenen has ever ridden the 7 train, since it doesn’t stop where he lives up in posh Darien, CT.
But the Mets GM has now sat in the stands to watch a game with the 7-Line Army, a traveling band of Mets fanatics who dress in orange jerseys and occupy Sect. 141 of the centerfield bleachers at Citi Field as a sort of Flushing counterpoint to the Bleacher Creatures of Yankee Stadium.
And contrary to what you might expect, everyone got along famously.
In spite of the Mets 39-47 record, their languishing in fourth place in the NL East, 11 games behind the Atlanta Braves, and a nearly full slate of off-season moves that have yielded virtually nothing, he was treated like royalty when he arrived at the section shortly before the first pitch of the Mets game against their hated crosstown rivals, the Yankees, Tuesday night.
Van Wagenen was greeted with a bear hug from Darren Meenan, the founder of the group. Another fan held up a fathead of his face. And throughout the five innings he spent in the first row of the bleachers, Van Wagenen entertained a constant procession of fans wanting to take selfies, collect autographs -- among other things, Van Wagenen signed jerseys, caps and at least one megaphone -- and offer encouragement to the rookie GM.
For one night at least, the disaster of the Jed Lowrie and Jeurys Famila signings were forgotten, as was the trade of two top level prospects for Robinson Cano, a former client of Van Wagenen the agent, and Edwin Diaz, a bust as the new closer.
“It was awesome,’’ said Van Wagenen, who stuck around for the first five innings of the game. “The season hasn’t gone the way we hoped it would go, but being out here and seeing the fans are not quitting is inspiring. We aren’t quitting in the front office. We’re not quitting on the field. We owe every ounce of our energy to make these fans happy and positive.’’
The positive reception may have come as a surprise to Van Wagenen, who before the game seemed to express some trepidation about his venture into the bleacherverse.
“I read the papers and I listen to the radio,’’ he had said. “So I have a pretty good idea what to expect.’’
What he found, however, was a surprisingly tolerant bunch who were willing, as one fan said, to “give him the first-year discount.’’
“I’m willing to give him a chance,’’ said a fan who identified himself only as Herman. “Sure, a lot of his moves haven’t worked out, but it’s his first year on the job, man.’’
Like the rest of the crowd in Sect. 141, Van Wagenen wore an orange jersey -- “You don’t see no Yankee fans here, do you?,’’ said one member of the Army -- and quickly learned the rudiments of an idiosyncratic ritual performed by the group whenever a Mets pitcher strikes out an opposing hitter that involves what looks like jazz hands followed by a modified Tomahawk Chop accompanied by the chant “Strike him out! Strike him out!’’
Van Wagenen’s approach was tentative when Mets starter Zack Wheeler struck out D.J. LeMahieu to start the game, but by the time Wheeler fanned Aaron Judge to end the fifth, his sixth strikeout of the game, Van Wagenen was not just joining in on the chant, but leading it.
“I kinda know when it’s two strikes,’’ Van Wagenen said. “That part of the job is easy.’’
He also held one hand up to his ear, as if straining to hear the crowd’s reaction when Robinson Cano, his key acquisition of the off-season who came into the game batting .238. Cano wound up having two hits in the game so the reaction was nothing but positive.
It was not a total lovefest, however. Not far from where Van Wagenen sat, a man walked by in an orange jersey with the words SELL THE TEAM emblazoned on the back, and a woman named Noreen, who rubbed Van Wagenen’s shoulder as she sat next to him during the third inning, admitted she held back her criticisms of the team.
“I just wished him luck,’’ she said.
Asked if she had offered any critique of his deals, she drew an index finger across her lips. “I didn’t go there,’’ she said.
But just the fact that Van Wagenen -- who had made an overture to Keenan to watch a game with the 7 Line back in February -- kept his word seemed enough to win over the affection of much of the group.
“It takes a lot of balls to sit out here,’’ Keenan said. “He’s a big boy and I’m sure he knew some people weren’t going to be as enthusiastic to shake his hand. He constructed the team and here we are in July and it looks on paper like the Mets are out of it. But i feel like it would have been much worse if he didn’t come out.’’
“It wasn’t negative at all, because I think these people want to win,’’ Van Wagenen said. “They care about the games, they show up here, they’re part of the community, and we’re all supporting the same concept, trying to help the team win.’’
At the time Van Wagenen left his seat, the Mets trailed, 2-0. And by the time they roared back to take a 4-2 lead, he was safely back in his glassed-in office behind the Shea Bridge in right-centerfield.
And he hedged when asked if a seat in the bleachers would become an annual occurrence.
“Let’s see,’’ he said. “My day job comes first.’’