Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Pulled Pork and the Dingers from Heaven

For those of you who have been longing for the return of Off the Foul Pole — and there are probably 3 or 4 out there, including myself — your drawn-out, painful (or maybe just a little itch here and there) wait is finally over. And you can thank the hyper-voweled Kirk Nieuwenhuis, the Mets occasional left-fielder who did something today that made me and countless others do a double-take and say, “Where the fuck did that come from?”

On a hot Sunday afternoon at Citi Field, the kind of day that routinely produces desultory Mets losses (I know because I’ve done a slow sweat through many of them over the years), Nieuwenhuis — whose name I can’t spell without the help of IBM’s Watson — blasted three home runs against Arizona by time the fourth inning was over. Just seconds before his first homer, a screaming liner that just cleared the left field fence, I texted a friend who is an even more cynical, bitter Mets fan than I am (Impossible! No, it’s possible.): “Why is Terry starting Nieuwenhuis? He cannot hit at all.”   And then boom! So much for that. In the third, this .091 hitter with all of 0 homers at the start of the day, crushed one 417 feet to left center for homer number two. And in the fourth, he sent  a guided missile off the foul pole in right.

Yes, off the foul pole, the name of this cob-webbed blog that I unceremoniously left for dead many months ago. With that home run, it was like the baseball gods were sending me a not-so-cryptic message: start writing again you lazy-assed bum!

I mean, here was a guy who looked like an A-baller even in the Mets saggy-testical of a lineup suddenly channeling Mickey Mantle to become the first  Met — get this — to hit three home runs in a home game. Ever!  Not Dave Kingman. Or Daryl Strawberry. Or Mike Piazza. Or Carlos Beltran. Kirk Friggin’ Nieuwenhuis, for heaven’s sake (or wherever the baseball gods reside. Maybe it’s Boca.)!

So I got to thinking, as I sat there baking in the midday sun, sweating off that Brooklyn lager and regretting the pulled pork sandwich that is really best consumed on slightly more temperate afternoons: I wasn’t even supposed to be here today. I had originally planned to attend the NYFC  soccer match at Yankee Stadium. But at the last minute, I decided, “I don’t want to go to the Bronx today. I’ll keep it close to home and go to the Mets game instead.” It wasn’t until Nieuwenhuis’ third dinger ricocheted off the foul pole (and the pulled pork began to back up on me) that I realized it was more than an aversion to spending a hot summer Sunday in the Bronx  — which is nothing to be ashamed of — that drew me to Citi Field today. It was fate — the concept of which I think was invented by the Greeks, who are a handful these days, but let’s not go there. I’m not getting that philosophical on you. No, this was like your garden variety fate. The kind that says, “You needed to be here today, buddy. If for no other reason that you need an intervention, of sorts. The kind that is best delivered to baseball junkies like you with a good old-fashioned record-setting, outlier type performance. The kind that makes you sit back (or forward, if the pulled pork is polluting your gut) and say, “Shit, that’s really cool. I have to write about this. But first, gimme  a pulled pork with pickle chips.”

So I have. And it could not have come at a more opportune time. It’s the All-Star break.  And the Mets are gaining steam, having won seven of nine, with a 4-2 road trip in LA and San Fan Francisco (which never happens!) and home run spree at Citi Field (which never happens!) led by an .091 hitter with zero homers (which never happens!) en route to a sweep of the Diamondbacks.

Ten days after nearly giving the Mets and their lifeless bats up for dead, I’m starting to feel like they can hang with the other NL playoff contenders in  the second half. The pitching is exceptional and deep, the bullpen is getting stronger with the return of Parnell and Mejia, and the bats . . . well, we’ll see. I guess if Kirk Nieuwenhuis can go deep three times in an afternoon, anything is possible.

Including the return of Off the Foul Pole. Stay tuned.

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