I am a Mets fan, in the full sense of the word: I am a fanatic. I like to rail against fanaticism in the real world, but I get a pass for baseball. It’s ridiculous, basically. It’s a game and it doesn’t matter. So why does a horrible ending to a Mets season cut me off at the emotional knees?
Because I’m a fanatic, that’s why.
These days the team is bad from start to finish, and I think I prefer it that way. The creeping certainty that your season’s over around May 15 is a lot easier to bite down on than a sudden-death, kick-to-the-gut, season-killer in October. Still, it has become an annual ritual for me, just as the leaves start to fall, to look at the sky and ask an irrational universe why, oh why was I born a Mets fan?
I got to thinking about it when I read this friendly reminder from the NY Daily News about one of the worst home runs ever against the Mets, the one where Mike Scioscia – he of the puny three-homerun season – came out of nowhere in the ninth inning of the ’88 playoffs to break my heart. Against Dwight Gooden, no less, at the top of his game. I was there, perched in the stands watching the whole thing. I blame myself. The Mets were up two runs in the ninth, about to take a “commanding three-to-one lead” in the series, when Doc walked the leadoff batter, putting the tying run at the plate. Up came Scioscia. And silly me, I turned to a friend and said, with all the innocence of the innocent, “can this guy hit runs?” And bam, there it went.
And there it still goes, apparently, thank you NY Daily News. The reason that one sticks around in so many memories is because, in hindsight, it basically killed the team for a generation. It’s become what Mets fans look back to and say “there’s the moment when the rails came off.” And no, being a witness to history does not make up for it.
I’ve been a Mets fan since I was ten years old – I’m 47 now – so this is the longest relationship I’ve had in my life. It’s been mostly an unhappy marriage. I could list out all the excruciating New York Mets failures, but why waste good bandwidth. Here’s a Google search with 1,220,000 results. Have it.
My sister – a Yankees fan – once asked me to come up with a good metaphor to describe the feeling you get when your team’s season ends with bitter disappointment. I told her it was like having your heart broken. It’s like when you’re a kid and your girlfriend goes to Florida on a family trip and falls in love with the lifeguard. The baseball season runs day after day for months; you live and die with these guys night after night. You can’t help but get to know the personality of the team in what can only be described as an intimate way. When your team wins it all, you never lose them, because they’ll come back every anniversary to re-live the season. When your team loses, they go away. You never see them again.
So when the Mets season ends with a tough loss the whole world turns thin, gray and bleak. For a few weeks, anyway.
After a few weeks you realize that holding emotional water for a baseball team is pretty dumb, and anyway the Mets are in the running for that off-season’s big free agent. So you start reading MetsBlog again, and glancing at the sports page for trades now and then, and pretty soon it’s Christmas and “wait ’till next year” is actually almost there.
The last time they collapsed on me was 2008. What made that year particularly gut-kicking is that it coincided with the last game at Shea Stadium, and so it was a double dip of heartbreak. My grandfather took me to Shea Stadium in ’77; thirty years later I took my own daughter there. We did the whole thing: Number 7 subway out of Grand Central to Flushing Meadows, train loaded with Mets fans juiced up for the game. When the car rounded that last bend near Willets Point and the blue hunk of Shea rose into view, I watched her seven-year-old eyes open in amazement, just like mine on my first trip, when I kept asking my grandfather what all that green grass outside of the field was for, until he told me that all that green grass WAS the field. The reality is that Shea Stadium sucked – a leaky, smelly, cracked concrete dump. But my grandfather’s there. My daughter’s first game was there. They won two world series in that place. I still miss it.
Meantime, the world series is about to start, but I don’t really care. What am I going to do, root for the Cardinals? The Red Sox? I’m just biding time now for the Hot Stove. The Mets have a great, young core of pitching. So I’ll repeat that annual vow made by Mets fans everywhere: Just wait ’till the year after next year.