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The Speed of The Game
As many readers of The Good Press may know, my lovely fiancée and I spent the better part of the past year hunkered down in the Pocono countryside. It was almost a full year for us away from our New York City home. We’re New Yorkers through and through, but I must say, it was a nice change of pace. We spent that time away from the hustle and bustle of city life in a place where social distancing was a whole lot easier, and while we didn’t get to enjoy ski season (there’s always next year) we did enjoy the slower pace of life out there.
There’s an adage in sports about how “the speed of the game” is different at the highest levels, that the game just seems to move faster. Every level you climb higher, the speed of the game is ever faster, more daunting, a bigger challenge. It’s a word of caution to athletes climbing up the ranks in their respective sports, a reminder to roll with the punches because it happens to everybody as they climb up to the highest levels. There, one finds out exactly how fast things really are, how the speed of the game really is different, and how no matter how much success you’ve had before, it takes time to adjust to the next level because there’s just no substitute for firsthand experience.
For example, baseball players at the minor league Triple-A level may have a good grasp on the speed of the game in Triple-A. Sometimes, after getting promoted to the big leagues, they’re thrown off by how different things are. It’s harder, sure. But it’s different. Everything seems to move a million miles per hour at first. It’s not just that the ball is moving faster (though in most cases, it absolutely is), but that everyone and everything is moving faster.
Spending time in the Poconos, being able to go for nature walks and soak in some sun, working from home without needing to commute anywhere… it was nice. I rather enjoyed the speed of the game out there. It was bittersweet to leave. After the first few days of being back home in the city, back to the hustle and bustle, back to the grind? Well, I’m not fully adjusted to the speed of the game here yet. Trying to get back into the swing of things now, I can definitely feel how the speed of the game is different in a place like this.
In Other Words
It’s going to take more time for me to adjust before I feel truly settled into city life again. I’m not quite properly tuned to the speed of the game just yet.
For elite athletes who successfully make the adjustments, many talk about how the game starts to feel like it slows down after some time, that the speed of the game starts to match the speed of your approach to the game. Instead of things whizzing by you at breakneck speed, it begins to eventually feel like a normal speed again, something you can handle, something you can grasp.
I’m sure the speed of the game here in NYC will whiz by my head for a few more days, and then, hopefully, it’ll start to feel like my normal routine again. We enjoyed the speed of the game in the Poconos, but we knew we’d be back, and we’re excited to be back. There’s nothing quite like summer in New York.
A few weeks ago, there was another one-time New Yorker who made a long-anticipated return to his former stomping grounds. Former New York Mets sensation Matt Harvey, whose career in Queens was like that of a shooting star, resurfaced with the Baltimore Orioles and pitched a game against the Mets in Queens for the first (and perhaps the only) time as a visiting player.
The Mets spent much of the early 2010s building their team from the ground up. They did it by investing in young talent and making the calculated gamble that they could win big in the future if young players could take their lumps, lose a lot of games, and apply the lessons of hard-fought losses and translate them into well-earned victories once they adjusted to the speed of the game.
One of the first young players to establish himself during that organizational rebuild, Harvey represented a glimmer of hope for the future for Mets fans. Once every five days, on the days that Matt Harvey was the starting pitcher, it wasn’t just another day of mediocre Mets baseball. It was Harvey Day.
Mets fans would greet and tweet each other with, “Happy Harvey Day!”
Every fifth day, the Mets were must-see TV, because #33 was putting on a show, giving fans reason to believe that this five-year plan might actually work. The speed of the game was no match for Matt Harvey’s fastball.
Dubbed by many as “The Dark Knight” for his otherworldly exploits in Gotham, Harvey found himself at the apex of the New York sports scene.
That five-year plan to turn the Mets into contenders culminated in a run to the World Series in year five, in part because of all the lumps and bumps that Matt Harvey took in 2012 and 2013 when he was a superstar pitcher who made his bones pitching for Mets teams that lost a lot more than they won.
Harvey’s personal best was his 2013 season when he made the All-Star team as the National League’s starting pitcher. He may have had a shot to win the Cy Young award as the NL’s pitcher of the year, but unfortunately, he had that All-Star season cut short after his first major ailment, an elbow injury that forced him to undergo an elbow ligament replacement surgery. The injury cost him the entirety of the 2014 season as he rehabilitated and recovered.
But in 2015, Harvey endured what is believed to be the heaviest workload any pitcher has ever endured in a pitcher’s first season back from that surgery, defying warnings from medical professionals to take it easy on his arm as the Mets made an improbable run to the World Series. In that World Series, at the pinnacle of his career, Matt Harvey flirted with a complete-game victory that would’ve kept the Mets alive in their bid to be world champions, but the rigors of that arduous season caught up to him at the very end. The clock struck midnight, and the Mets fell in a five-game series loss.
In 2016, perhaps due to the stress of that unprecedented workload the year prior, or perhaps just because baseball can be cruel sometimes, Harvey struggled mightily and was eventually diagnosed with another major injury, this time a strange syndrome involving the nerves in his neck and shoulder that prevented him from regaining his All-Star form. It never did return.
Harvey had shot across the sky, lighting a path forward for all of the future Mets stars to come forth. Many future stars did follow Harvey’s lead and some are still Mets stars now. But too soon after he burned brightest, he’d burned out, unable to stay injury-free, unable to harness his peak pitching form ever again, and unable to keep pace with the speed of the game.
Following his departure from the Mets, Harvey has bounced around the league from Cincinnati to the Los Angeles Angels to Kansas City and now to Baltimore, where he made the team as a minor-league invite this past spring.
Until a few weeks ago, Harvey had never faced off against the Mets. When he did on May 12, he found himself fighting back tears as Mets fans gave him a warm welcome in the form of standing ovations before and during the game.
Matt Harvey Is Cheered (and Lit Up) in His Return to New York
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Would you trade potentially the rest of your career for a chance to win big? That is essentially the deal that Harvey made with the baseball injury gods. Even so, he doesn’t have regrets about leaving it all out on the field in 2015.
“I wouldn’t take back going to the World Series, pitching in the playoffs, the cheers from the fans, the respect from the teammates for doing that — I wouldn’t look back on anything,” Harvey said after a few years of reflection.
“Things happen. Yeah, it was a lot of innings, but we were in the playoffs and we were in the World Series, and that’s something I may never get a chance to do, some of the guys over there may never get a chance to do, and I would never take that back. Those experiences, those memories, the cheers coming off the field — it’s something you can’t explain and will never forget.”
For years, fans hoped to see the baseball version of “The Dark Knight Rises,” but baseball is not a movie, and not everyone gets the Hollywood ending. In the end, the statistics show that Harvey had two and half incredible seasons, but for Mets fans, he represented so much more than that. He was the star who shined bright in the darkness. He was there from the nadir to the apex. He wasn’t able to enjoy the fruits of all that labor long enough for anyone’s liking, but that’s baseball and that’s life. I hope he’s found peace and closure.
I don’t know if 2021 will be Harvey’s last season in the big leagues. I hope it’s not. The Orioles have raved about the leadership qualities the now 32-year-old has brought to their young team, and that can go a long way, especially on a team that is not in playoff contention but is learning how to get there. But at the end of the day, baseball is too much of a meritocracy to get stuck on sentimentality for a pitcher half a dozen years removed from greatness. The speed of the game used to be child’s play for Matt Harvey, but now, not so much. It will never take away from the joy that he brought so many fans, back when he was young and on top of the world. Good luck to him on his journey.
As weird as it was riding the subway for the first time in 15 months or so, I am amazed how quickly my muscle memory is adapting to subway surfing again.
I’ll get the hang of this soon enough. My commute is not so bad, after all.
Thanks for reading, and on the days when life seems to be throwing you curveballs, remember that we all have our fair share of tough pitches to hit. Stand tall, keep your head in the game and your eye on the ball, and keep at it.
Till next time,
Previously in The Good Press
The Good Press — Issue #57: Breakthrough
Playoff basketball returns to Brooklyn and Manhattan, while the wrong end of a “breakthrough” hits the Yankees in the Bronx…
May 19, 2021
The Good Press — Issue #56: Baseball Lives
Highlighting some baseball lives: celebrating Willie Mays’ 90th birthday, a tribute to Albert Pujols, and a most…
May 12, 2021
The Good Press — Issue #55: Reset
As American football tries to find its future stars at the NFL Draft, English football fans made their voices heard in a…
May 5, 2021