The subway system is the fastest way to get around town in New York, people often say. Of course, it’s a little different swiping your Metrocard and getting on a crowded train if you’re a professional athlete, somebody who’s paid to be in the public eye. But nonetheless, every year it seems there are Mets players who choose to ride the 7 line to the Willets Point stop, rather than drive.
Vic Black is this year's mass transit commuter...
The righty reliever, who’s still a rookie, arrived via trade on August 29 last year from the Pirates, in the deal that sent John Buck and Marlon Byrd to Pittsburgh. This year, he was called up on May 27 from Triple-A Las Vegas and has a 1.88 ERA in 28 appearances.
Those major league appearances have all had one thing in common: so long as they’ve been home games, Black’s method of transport has been the 7 line. A man of the people, he rides to and from home games surrounded by other New Yorkers. His reasons for taking the train extend beyond the simple logic of having been a late-May call-up this year.
“I think it’s just part of the New York experience,” he told me at Citi Field. “I just feel like if I’m going to play in New York, to be a part of the city, what you’re supposed to do in New York is public transportation.”
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“To me, it’s cool, especially after games. You hop on and especially late, Mets fans are everywhere, and they’re still talking about the game,” Black said.
One would think that the players who avoid situations, like taking the subway, do it to avoid desperate autograph and photograph seekers. Do people recognize Black on the train?
“Here and there, they do. They probably do, maybe more now, but no one really says much, because I usually have friends with me and people are fairly respectful,” Black said. “Which is nice, but at the same time, I get on the train to be a part of [the city].
“I love being around people, which is why I think New York fits me, personality-wise.”
It seems he’d almost rather people didn’t leave him alone, whether they see him on the subway or on the street.
For every cool as a cucumber New Yorker, though, there are those who choose -- respectfully -- to say hello to the relief pitcher.
“I had a guy say something to me when I came out of a theater,” Black said. “On our four days off for the All-Star break I went and saw a movie and it was like 11:30 at night. I came out and I pass a guy and he goes, ‘Hey Vic, have a great second half!’”
While there’s nothing harmful in a show of encouragement like that, many players do still seem to prefer no acknowledgement at all. Black, if you couldn’t already tell, has a different opinion on that front.
“Things like that, they’re great. The fans are waiting for something to be super excited about, and I think this team has got it. And now to be a part of it and able to interact with it is huge,” Black said.
Interaction with the fans is a big part of how Black sees himself, as a person and a ballplayer. His Twitter presence, like that of many young players these days, is robust. However, in contrast to many of his teammates and peers, he doesn’t just tweet and talk to other ballplayers. He interacts with fans, too.
“I think a lot of times we feel like we’re alienated,” Black said. “Just because we’re on the field, that we’re untouchable types, which is completely untrue. We live the same old lives, we just come out here and this is what we do for our job, per se. But this is what I love, and if I can have people enjoying it along with me, that aren’t out here, then what better way to go through it?”
He sees his interactive nature on Twitter to be part of this engaging of the team’s fans, to “give back to the city,” in his words.
And the city has given him plenty, too. While New York is more crowded than Black’s native Texas, it’s also got a lot to offer on the non-baseball front.
“All the restaurants, all the different shows and things you want to do block by block, as it all changes, are the things that Texas just doesn’t have,” he said.
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“Last year, when I got traded, I had a mime sit next to me [on the 7 train] and put me in a box in my seat," he told me. "There was an older lady across from me just laughing, and she was keeping her head down. But I couldn’t break a smile, because the guy was just miming me in a box while I’m sitting on the train. And he gets up next stop and walks off, and we’re just like ‘Oh my gosh, that really just happened.’”
When interacting with fans - in person and online, at the ballpark and on the train - Black seems to see his role as almost akin to that of a public servant.
“We’re just here playing and trying to give [the fans] the best show we possibly can, it’s for them,” he said.