Keith Hernandez was at a bookstore near his home in Sag Harbor last June when he noticed some jigsaw puzzles for sale on a shelf near the ceiling. It had been “ages” since he did one, so . . . why not?
“I thought, ‘Oh, I can do that in the offseason,’ ” he said. “Little did I know.”
What he did not know was the “offseason” would last longer than anyone could have imagined.
So on Wednesday, there he was at his Florida home slogging through a 2,000-piece puzzle of the Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, said to be the inspiration for Disney’s Cinderella castle.
“It’s a bear,” he said. “I have gotten through the pattern; now I have to get into the autumnal forest.”
Not that Hernandez was complaining. The former Mets star and current SNY analyst, who is 66, said he has weathered three weeks of self-quarantine well, fortunate to have the means to stay safe and well-fed. He even bought a second refrigerator for extra storage capacity.
His biggest battle has been against regaining the 10 pounds — and an inch on his pants waist size — that he lost over the winter, thanks in part to 15-mile bike rides on a beach road five days a week.
But now his biological baseball clock says it is time for the regular season and there is no regular season, not for the foreseeable future.
He said the delay because of the COVID-19 pandemic feels like the baseball strike of 1981, although at least this time the season was not interrupted; it merely is on hold.
There still are fans out there eager for any connection to the game as they wait out the worst of the health crisis and its economic fallout. So Hernandez this week has become increasingly engaged with them.
On Tuesday, he appeared on Instagram Live for interviews with SNY reporter Steve Gelbs and with Alex Rodriguez, who has been hosting a daily 6 p.m. show from his backyard in Florida.
(A-Rod said on the show that when he was young, Hernandez was his favorite player. He also called SNY’s Mets booth of Hernandez, Ron Darling and Gary Cohen the best in baseball and said the father of his fiancée, Jennifer Lopez, is a big fan of Hernandez.)
Hernandez’s next and most ambitious social media venture premieres at 4 p.m. Thursday on Facebook Live, where Hernandez, Darling, Cohen and Gelbs will premiere a weekly show called “Beyond The Booth.”
They will talk baseball, take questions and generally reconnect virtually. “I had to download Zoom,” Hernandez said. “I knew nothing about this stuff, and I’m getting an education.”
He said of the new show, “I’m just happy to be working for the network. They’re putting us to work, and I think baseball is missed.”
That point was driven home for him last weekend when MLB Network replayed highlights from the 1986 playoffs. He sat riveted for 3 1/2 hours. Then his phone filled with messages from others who had been watching.
“People are missing baseball,” he said. “They can see us and we’re going to interact with them. They’re going to be able to ask questions and we’ll tell stories.”
Also in SNY’s plans for Cohen, Darling and Hernandez is doing play-by-play and commentary over simulated Mets games via the video game “MLB: The Show.”
“We can be a little goofy,” Hernandez said. “We stay on script to a degree, but I think we can kind of be like a ‘Seinfeld’ episode where you up the volume a little bit and have more fun with the game and be loose.
“I know I’m going to have fun with it, and it’s pure entertainment. We’re just providing that to fans out there.”
Nothing SNY does can replace actual Mets games, of course. At this stage, Hernandez would settle for 50% of the schedule being played.
“I can’t see it starting [until], the earliest would be June 1,” he said. “I’m supposed to stay positive, but right now it’s getting to the point where I would take half a season. I would take a July start. Even if they found an antidote [to the virus], you have to be really, really careful.”
He added, “We’re in uncharted territory, kind of like Captain Kirk, where no man has gone before.”
Speaking of which, in addition to the castle puzzle, Hernandez has been binge-watching the original, mid-1960s run of the television show “Star Trek.”
“Trust me, I wouldn’t watch it if wasn’t for this coronavirus,” he said.
His daughters and Gelbs have urged him to get up to 2020 speed by watching the Netflix sensation “Tiger King.”
It appears he will have plenty of time for that, unfortunately for baseball fans. But when he finishes the 2,000-piece puzzle, he likely will re-retire from that hobby.
“The problem is the other two puzzles I bought are 5,000 and 7,500 pieces,” he said. “There is no way I’m going to do that.”
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