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Matt Harvey's Return and Keeping Score at Citi Field

It's been a weird season for the Mets thus far, mostly because fans are coming to realize that this team might actually be good. Here's how to deal.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

There's a boxing movie cliche. The champ is flat on his back, ears ringing. The ref counts silently—eight, nine—and the champ staggers up. He shakes his head, and the sound snaps back in: tens of thousands, roaring like they had never stopped. That's what it was like the night Matt Harvey returned to Citi Field for the first time in more than a year.

In the first inning on April 14th, Harvey struck out the first two Phillies he faced, and Flushing was louder than it had been since Shea Stadium was torn down. When Chase Utley stepped to the plate, the roar grew, as 39,000 testified that Harvey would strike out every batter that night, that the Mets would rise again, that this sound would live forever. They were wrong. Utley beamed a home run into the right field stands, and the crowd was silenced for about 60 seconds—until another strikeout brought them to their feet.


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I'm lousy at remembering baseball games. I spend a lot of time in ballparks, and by summer's end the intricacies of each game have melted together, like a clump of microwaved army men. Mostly I remember the bad games—cold nights, blown saves, nearly getting no-hit by big drowsy Aaron Harang. When the Mets win, I'm left with nothing but a fuzzy idea that I probably had a good time.

The upper deck at Citi Field is haunted by fans who keep score. They sit, headphones clamped over their ears, recording the details of a game that is already being filmed from a dozen angles and deconstructed by the minions of MLB Advanced Media. Think of them as monks, preserving something holy while the rest of the ballpark is distracted. Or think of them as pure weirdos, scribbling "F-9" and "6-3" into a scorebook they paid for as a way of fighting the sensation that life is slipping away. They go home, add up all they have written down, and put the book away on the shelf, for reference on a rainy day that will never come. It's something I've always wanted to do.

Matt Harvey after doing what Matt Harvey does. Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Last fall, my brother gave me a blank scorebook for my birthday.

"Do you do this?" he asked. "It seems like something you'd do."

Shit, I thought. You're so right.

I get a kick out of paperwork. I run a weekly session of the tabletop roleplaying game Call of Cthulhu, and I relish every scratch of a pencil, every clatter of eight-sided die. I prep for fantasy baseball in hardcopy, with a table covered in spreadsheets and a system of notation so elaborate that its meaning is invariably lost by draft day, and forevermore. In my darker moments, I fantasize about playing The Campaign For North Africa, a hideously complex game that takes 1,200 hours to play and requires two players whose whole job is taking supply requisitions.


I enjoy this stuff because my brain is a mess: a jumble of shopping lists, half-formed jokes, plays I'll never write and song lyrics I'd rather forget. Squeezing a baseball game into the 108 boxes of my scoresheet—or rolling a 100-sided die to find out my antiquarian has been crushed by a shoggoth—is a way of organizing the clutter. Would I enjoy doing that at the ballpark, I wondered, or would recording the game make it impossible to lose myself in it?

The Mets started their first homestand with three NYPD helicopters flying across a soft blue sky. During the pre-game ceremonies, a fan in Pirates gear greeted the mayor with a cheery, "Fuck you, asshole—why don't you go get shot?" Our Pittsburgher aside, the standing room-only crowd was inert, lulled by the sunshine into sleeping through a tight, 2-0 Mets victory. I lulled with them, enjoying the heat for the first time in months.

It felt wrong to be in a full to capacity Citi Field, if only because it was not the ballpark I knew. I became familiar with this ballpark on frigid April afternoons, when the Mets were losing badly and there wasn't enough meat in the seats to soak up the overheated PA. I'm used to closed concession stands, empty bathrooms, and little cyclones of garbage whipping around the infield. At the home opener, the bathroom lines stretched for a half-hour or more, and I saw one fan threaten another with a beating for cutting in line.


Rare picture of happiness at Citi Field. Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

As the day drifted along, I recorded Lucas Duda's first inning flyout to left, his third inning flyout to left, his sixth inning flyout to left, and his eighth inning flyout to right. I marked down the single Juan Lagares legged out in the fourth, which he hit off Aaron Harang's knee, scoring what would be the winning run. My handwriting grew steadier as the game went on, as I stopped worrying about making a mistake. The best part of the afternoon came in the seventh, when the sun finally crept into our section of the upper deck. I didn't need a scorecard to remember that, but it didn't hurt.

The home opener was a simple game, but the night Harvey came home was, according to the Mets radio broadcast, "the strangest game ever played at Citi Field." There were beanballs, replay reviews, a manager ejected on a catcher's interference call, and—strangest of all—a home run by Jeff Francoeur, the friendly ghost that haunts the National League East. I would have been totally baffled had it not been for the monk sitting behind me, sporting scorebook and headphones, eagerly explaining everything we couldn't see from the upper deck.

Between innings, I sprinted across the concourse so that I wouldn't miss an at-bat. I overcame two worries that night: that a bizarre game would bust my scorecard, and that a half pint of Seagram's would dull my enthusiasm for keeping score. Neither proved a problem. The game was transfixing, and the scorebook didn't separate me from it. It kept me locked in.

The Mets won that game, as they did every game in the homestand. After five seasons of misery in Citi Field, the Mets were the best team in baseball. Ten games of ceaseless, numbing pleasure. This, I thought, must be what it's like to be a Yankee fan. It was a waking dream, and it ended in the Bronx.

I was there with the 7 Line on Friday night, scorebook open, to see if icy wind and 1,300 screaming Met fans could stop me from keeping score. As it happened, they weren't screaming for long. Mark Teixeira hit a two-run homer in the first, and another in the third. Marking them in my scorebook, I felt complicit. My stomach, sour from two cups of Yankee Stadium coffee, burned.

"I don't need to keep track of this," I said, and shoved the scorebook under my seat. I'd brought it to help me remember. This was a game to forget.

The next afternoon, Matt Harvey choked the life out of the Yankees, and the Mets won 7-1, or maybe 8-2. I wasn't keeping score. I listened, as I have for years, sitting in the park with the radio on, staring at the sky and letting the game wash over me. There was no need to keep track of the count, the score, the inning. It was a perfect afternoon. I hardly remember it at all.