A Black man who is their friend, their teammate, tried to tell them — tell us — what it was like to be him. What 25 years in his skin has felt like. What the world and in particular America has looked like from there.
He cried. He’d tried so many words before. This time he cried, straight from his soul.
He’s a big, strong fellow who’s done pretty well for himself. He long ago went running out after that baseball dream and on a Wednesday night in the oddest, most trying summer anyone could remember, he’d stood in the outfield of a major-league stadium and helped the New York Mets win a baseball game.
Then, in the hours after other baseball games had been postponed in other towns in protest against racial injustice, systemic oppression and police brutality, and for the names we’ve all learned on the news, he’d said, “I mean, I think the most difficult part is to see people still don’t care. For this to continuously happen, it just shows the hate in people’s hearts. I mean, that just sucks, you know?”
And you hurt for him. You hurt for everyone like him. You wondered again how we got here, how we stayed here, and how men and women like Dom Smith are supposed to survive this. They cry for so many.
Then you wondered how long it would take to forget what Dom Smith had done, what he’d said, the weight it had left in your own heart. A day? Two? For as long as it took, maybe, for something else to come along, something terrible, or maybe another ballgame, something else to take your mind off a problem too massive and entrenched to settle over a few postgame tears.
But Dom Smith stuck. Just for a day, so far. What he’d said, what he’d expressed beyond that, stuck.
For a day later, on Thursday night, he led the Mets out of their dugout at Citi Field. Not for a baseball game. Not for anything so pointless.
It would be fair to hope the Mets looked around, considered who they are, how they fit and how they might tell that story. They met the moment. For a few minutes, they spoke alongside Dom Smith, listened to Dom Smith, bowed their heads and made their refusal to play a baseball game about what he may have taught them.
Rather than announce they would not play that game against the Miami Marlins, a decision they’d made three or four hours before, the Mets took the field at game time, Smith as their left fielder. They bowed their heads for 42 seconds, 42 being Jackie Robinson’s number. Lewis Brinson, the Marlins’ leadoff hitter, draped a Black Lives Matter T-shirt across home plate. They left the field, nodding to the Marlins and to the umpires, and on his way off Dom Smith put an arm around the shoulders of his teammate, J.D. Davis.
On Thursday night seven stadiums were dark when there was supposed to be baseball. Three had been dark the night before. Of the 10 postponements, nine were announced in press releases. The Mets, Dom Smith’s teammates, and the Marlins rather dressed in clean uniforms, stood in an empty ballpark, waited 42 seconds, returned those uniforms to their hangers, and went home.
They’d turned yesterday’s words into today’s acts. They’d made it last, even for just a little while. They’d answered yesterday’s question — now what? — with a purposeful show of compassion. Of kindness. Of anger. Of promise for more.
That the Mets’ front office bungled its way into the day amounted to little more than the usual noise. The general manager, Brodie Van Wagenen, lampooned the commissioner for a loopy, selfish idea that he — Van Wagenen — later clarified was actually his boss, Jeff Wilpon’s, idea. A hot microphone picked up the details. Butt-covering statements were issued. The men in suits had again stumbled into the wrong room, into the wrong conversation, and had again made an untidy spectacle of themselves. It is what they are best at. It certainly isn’t the baseball.
No, what resonated, what stuck, was a real moment that became a real 24 hours. If the Mets and Marlins in their brief ceremony had spoken to a million ideals and a million more complaints, starting with those names that won’t leave us, they’d saved another moment for Dom Smith and his courage and his grief. They’d solve nothing, probably. But they wouldn’t ignore it either. It’s something. It has to be.
Afterward, where he’d sat alone the night before, Smith was joined by three teammates — Michael Conforto, Robinson Cano and Dellin Betances. They stood shoulder to shoulder, Smith wearing a blue undershirt tucked into clean white pants. He clasped his hands behind his back. They wore face masks.
“Really, at the end of the day,” Conforto said, “after seeing the comments Dom made last night, although it’s not just about Dom, it really touched all of us in the clubhouse. You know, just to see how powerful his statements were, how emotional he was, Dom, he’s our brother. So we stand behind him … You can’t help but feel a very, very small percentage of what he feels and what he’s been through. When you love a guy like him the way that the rest of his teammates do, it’s a really powerful thing.”
Conforto noted that the Dom Smith they know, he finds the good in the day. He seeks the good in people. What they know is the smile, even in the worst of it, and then Conforto glanced over at Smith and said, “Even right now.”
Sure enough, Smith’s eyes were tilted at the corners, his mask creased across something like a smile. He’d let the world in for a little while, taken that chance, trusted it that far, and been rewarded with warmth.
“I mean, it’s still overwhelming to this moment,” Smith said. “Just to see how moved my peers are, my teammates, my brothers, the front office, the coaching staff. Everybody who’s close to me on a daily basis, just to see how moved they were. It made me feel really good inside. It made me feel we are on the right path of change. I’ve had a ton of different emotions over the past couple days. So, I really can’t put a lot of it into words. But, definitely super, extremely happy, and super, extremely satisfied to see their reactions in how much they support me and want the change. That’s all you can ask for. That’s it.”
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