Friday, May 8, 2015

Darkness: The Dark Knight

Branford Marsalis Quartet: The Dark Knight [purchase]

Today is Harvey Day. That means that Matt Harvey will be pitching for the New York Mets tonight. As a baseball fan, there are some pitchers whose starts cause excitement, and it isn’t just because they are good pitchers. There’s something else, an X factor that creates the extra anticipation. Although the Mets have had good pitchers in the intervening years, and even finally had one pitch a no-hitter, it really hasn’t been since Doc Gooden’s first couple of seasons, in 1984 and 1985, that we have had someone like Matt Harvey.

Now, I will be the first person to say that press coverage of Harvey, whose career began only in 2012, and who sat out an entire season recovering from “Tommy John” surgery, has been over the top. Where he would rehab. What sporting events he attended, and what supermodel he was dating. And whether or not he would eventually break Mets fans’ hearts and sign with the Yankees, the team he rooted for as a child, and which would, traditionally, provide an even bigger spotlight than the perennially overshadowed Mets. And yet, here he is, after sitting out a year, and apparently not missing a beat. Undefeated, dominant and scary. His dark complexion, intimidating intensity and powerful pitching has led him to be dubbed the Dark Knight of Gotham, and in an era in which colorful sports nicknames have become scarce, it seems to have stuck. Thus, the Sports Illustrated cover above.

I’ve been a Mets fan all my life. I’ve referred to it as my longest relationship other than with my family, and like a family relationship, it has its ups and downs. Unfortunately, it has mostly been downs for us, but as I have said too many times, being a Mets fan builds character. One of my earliest memories is going to a Mets game with my father in 1968, when I was 6 or 7 years old. My strongest recollection of that day, though, is coming home in the car with my first yearbook, with its picture of Gil Hodges on the cover. I’m sure that I didn’t realize that the Mets were a bad team that year, and had been bad, even historically bad, every year of their existence since 1962 (just a year after I was born). But the next season, 1969, was the first year that I followed baseball as a fan, and the Mets rewarded me with a Miracle. I remember being allowed to stay up late to watch them clinch the pennant, and even watching post-season games in school (when they still had day games). I was hooked, but unfortunately, it was downhill from there for a while (with a slight blip in 1973 when they surprisingly made the World Series, but lost).

And yet, I persevered. Every season, I started out with hope, but usually I found myself disappointed. When I went to college, my roommate and I handed in our senior theses a day early so that we could drive up to Shea Stadium for the home opener in 1982, even though the team stunk. But shortly after that, we got the swaggering, fighting, dominant Mets that went wire to wire in 1986.

Since then, though, it has mostly been disappointment. Occasionally, we have been good, but have fallen short (1988, 2000, losing the World Series to the hated Yankees, to boot). But mostly bad, making even mediocrity seem good. And then there was 2006, when, in a packed, deafening and shaking Shea Stadium, I sat with my father, son and brother, and watched the Cardinals snatch victory, and the NLCS, away from us. We were there again at the last game in 2007, when the Mets completed an epic collapse and were eliminated from the playoffs, and again, in 2008, in the last game ever at Shea, when they were again eliminated from the playoffs on the last day of the season. But despite the heartbreak and another stretch of awful baseball, I keep watching, confounding my wife.

Yet being a Met fan is also something that my father, my son and my brother bond over. Like my family, there may be times that the Mets anger, annoy or even disappoint me, but I remain loyal. Maybe, the Dark Knight of Gotham will lead the charge to greatness again. Based on history, it isn’t likely, but if it happens, that would be pretty amazin’.

Branford Marsalis comes from a prominent musical family, to say the least. His parents, Dolores and Ellis are musicians, and his brothers, Wynton, Jason, Ellis and Delfeayo, are also musicians. Wynton, of course, is maybe the most famous contemporary jazz musician, and is considered to be a purist. Branford, on the other hand, while also an incredible player and composer, is a bit more flexible, having played with Sting (which led to well-publicized tension with Wynton), fronted the Tonight Show band and led a jazz/funk/hip-hop band, Buckshot LeFonque. He is also the subject of this very odd song by Dan Bern, also a huge baseball fan, in which Bern equates seeing Marsalis in a club in Prague with, among other things, seeing Babe Ruth in Yankee Stadium.

This song, “The Dark Knight,” is from the Branford Marsalis Quartet’s Crazy People Music, recorded in 1990, right around the time that Matt Harvey celebrated his first birthday, and was written by the group’s bassist, Robert Hurst. It is a long, straight ahead jazz piece featuring, not surprisingly, the bass. I have no idea if this song has anything to do with Batman, but I know that it has nothing to do with Matt Harvey, even though Marsalis is a Mets fan. I also know that all Mets fans will be anticipating tonight’s start against a weak Phillies team. And, unfortunately, I know that due to an important family event, I will not be watching, although my phone may get a workout when I can get away with checking the score.

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