Monday, August 26, 2013

The Seven Stages of Being a Met Fan

Game 7 of the 2006 National League Championship Series perfectly encapsulates what it means to be a Met fan.  Mets' outfielder Endy Chavez made a spectacular catch, leaping above the fence and snagging what would have been a tie-breaking 2-run homer in the 6th inning.  Pure joy.  But ... three innings later, in the top of the 9th, Yadier Molina hit a ball out of Chavez's reach for a two-run home run, putting the Cards ahead 3-1.  In the bottom of the inning, with the bases loaded, Carlos Beltran looked at strike three with his bat on his shoulders to end the game and end the Mets' season.  Pure despair.

Met fans have had little to cheer about since.  And when they have, bad news, devastating news, is sure to follow.  So, there was Johan Santana's thrilling no hitter -- the first in Met history -- which was followed by Santana's Met-career ending shoulder injury.  R.A. Dickey, a wonderfully refreshing and engaging player, had a remarkable Cy Young season for a dismal Met team last year, but was unceremoniously traded in the off season (admittedly for some great prospects, only one of whom has gotten injured so far).

But could anything be worse than what has just befallen us?  Matt Harvey, in his first (almost) full season with the team emerged this year as one of the very best pitchers in baseball and one of the most thrilling Met players ever.  He is a dynamic force on and off the field, a tremendous competitor, an absolute joy to watch.  He is having an historic season (that would have been even more incredible if the team had given him any run support).  Not since Dwight Gooden almost 30 years ago (and don't get me started on his dramatic rise and tragic fall -- you can read about it here) have the Mets showcased such an incredible homegrown talent who brought such excitement to the mound every time he pitched. 

Today, after undergoing an MRI, it was learned that Matt Harvey has a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.  He was put on the disabled list and may require surgery, which could put him out of action until 2015. 

And so, once again, we must go through the familiar stages of being a Met fan:

1.  Hope.  Every year, no matter how bad the team looks, how many question marks the team invariably has, Met fans always find some glimmer of hope for the season ahead.  They bestow heroic-like powers on otherwise mediocre players, pin their hopes on new acquisitions and highly-touted prospects, and claim that if "everything goes right" they could have a pretty good squad this year.

2.  Joy.  The Mets have pulled off a miracle or two, have given us some wonderful moments, and have even fielded the occasional great team.  And, at least since Tom Seaver's rookie year on a last place team, there has usually been (although not always -- see, e.g., most of the 1990s) at least one player on the team whose performance was cherished, who gave us that sensation -- however fleeting -- of joy.  This year, every 5th or 6th day was celebrated in my house and throughout Metdom as "Harvey Day."  Even when the Mets were otherwise unwatchable it was a thrill to watch Harvey pitch. 

3.  Shock.  The ignominious 1977 Seaver trade showed that Met fans should never attach their devotion to one player.  Love a Met?  Be prepared to suddenly get your heart ripped out.  Trades and injuries of those we loved or were relying on to take the team to the next level have been all too common.  (Equally familiar, if less shocking, has been the flame out of new players who were brought in with great fanfare (see Mets or Bust).)  If something bad could happen, it will.  Matt Harvey?  We should have seen this coming.

4. Denial.  Maybe when the swelling in the elbow goes down it will show less damage than anticipated.  A few weeks off, and Harvey will be able to pitch again, and if not to finish off this season, he will be ready by Opening Day.

5.  Anger.  If Harvey's arm had been sore for months as has been reported, why weren't any MRI's done earlier just to be safe?  Why was Harvey allowed to throw so deep into games and throw so many sliders, which put more stress on the arm?  How could the Mets' manager, pitching coach and trainer been so negligent?  They should be fired!

6.  Despair.  The plan for the Mets' success was to build a team around its young arms -- Matt Harvey and a strong supporting cast.  Not only that, they were going to trade their surplus of arms for someone -- anyone -- who could hit with a little power.  Now?  There ain't no surplus.  There ain't no hitters with power.  There ain't no Matt Harvey.  I should have fallen in love with Dillon Gee.

7.  Acceptance.  Being a Met fan means enduring agony and misery while waiting for the occasional miracle.  It is what we do.  So, back to #1:  Hope.   

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Finding Sandra Coke

I never really thought about the victims.

As a lawyer representing death row inmates for almost 25 years, I focused on the trial – whether the judge and jury acted properly, whether the prosecutor tried the case fairly, and whether defense counsel investigated and presented a constitutionally adequate defense. Mostly, I focused on my clients – on the (mostly) men who were found guilty of committing terribly brutal crimes, and tried to figure out and then explain to the courts the myriad of life circumstances that led them there. The victims and their loves ones were generally not a central part of this story.

I have known many people convicted of murder and sentenced to death. I had never known anyone who was killed.

Sandra Coke and I worked together in the early 1990s.  She developed the social histories of our clients, painstakingly gathering vital records, skillfully conducting sensitive, uncomfortable interviews with relatives, teachers, and friends, consulting with mental health experts, and researching communities. Sandra uncovered the evidence of horrific childhood trauma and impaired mental functioning, of family histories filled with abuse, addiction and mental illness, of multi-generational experiences scarred by poverty and racism, of failed social institutions.

Sandra continued to work as an investigator, most recently at the Federal Defender’s Office. With empathy and compassion, she was committed to showing how every client, no matter what despicable acts they had committed, were human beings – they were not monsters to be despised and disposed of.

Sandra disappeared last Sunday evening. She was 50 years old. A single mother of a teenage girl. She was beloved by her family, by many friends, and by the criminal defense community – my community – who have worked with her for over two decades.

After she failed to return home, Sandra’s friends, family and co-workers spent the next few days canvassing her Oakland neighborhood. At the forefront of the search was Sandra's sister, Tanya -- herself married to one of the most respected and revered death penalty lawyers in the country.  In an unfamiliar role, criminal defense lawyers worked with law enforcement, searching for clues that would lead them to Sandra. Sandra’s car and cell phones were found. A man with an extremely violent past, recently released from prison, was arrested on a parole violation as a person of interest. He and Sandra had dated briefly 20 years ago, and it was reported that they had been seen together on Sunday.

In the wake of these ominous signs, we still held out hope that Sandra would return to us.  But on Friday, during the course of a massive search, a woman’s body was found near a park in Vacaville (about 45 miles from Sandra’s home). And then today (on Tuesday), the Oakland Police Department identified that body as Sandra's.

Sandra Coke, one of our own – someone from my professional family – has been killed by one of those people who we have long defended.  Killed by someone who in any other circumstance I would ward off others’ attempts to demonize – to point out the humanity even in someone who acted inhumanely. “You can’t define someone by the worst thing they have ever done,” I would say.

It isn’t that I don’t still believe those things. I do. But that doesn’t matter right now. The perpetrator has receded into the background. I don’t care about his history or life struggles, his impairments or his vulnerabilities. But I don’t feel anger or hatred either. I don’t have feelings of vengeance. I don’t want him dead. I don’t feel anything for him at all. This isn’t about him. This is about the horror, shock, pain and overwhelming sadness over the irreplaceable loss of a remarkable person. For the first time in 25 years, my focus has shifted from perpetrator to victim.

Please give generously to the Sandra Coke Fund, which will provide for the care and education of Sandra’s daughter.