Growing up in central Connecticut, the start of baseball season was as exciting as any time of year.
Every April all our thoughts centered on the American League East, with Yankees fans repeatedly teasing us Red Sox fans, adorning us with fun pokes like “1918,” “Got Rings?” and any other stupid T-shirt slogan they could steal to make us feel bad about ourselves.
As we got older, the fights went from the playground to the diamond itself, as my high school team pretty much was divided right down the middle with Red Sox and Yankees fans, the jabs a little cheaper and dirtier than a few years earlier.
Of course there is a third team that was within driving distance, but nobody ever talked about the New York Mets. I can count the number of Mets fans I knew growing up on one hand, and rarely did we ever pay to attention to anything they had to say. They were like that kid in elementary school who ate too much paste. It was probably best just to ignore them, and pretend like they didn’t exist.
(The Mets fanbase is second to none)
While the Yankees were winning championships, and the Red Sox had arguably the most dominant pitcher of his generation, the few Mets fans I knew were constantly trying to jump in the conversation, telling us about their newest washed up free agent signing. Mo Vaughn is going to hit 50 home runs we were told and Robbie Alomar will bat .350. John Franco has to be the best closer in baseball.
According to their fans, every year was the “Mets year.” Even though last year was supposed to be the “Mets year.” And the year before that one too. It was like going to the strip club with your friend, and him insisting the morning after that he was “this close,” to taking one of the girls home. After the third or fourth time you get sick of hearing the same story.
When I went to college, I assumed any Mets fans I would meet would be exactly the same. Where I came from it was almost like they stole the slogan from the United States Marines: “The Few, The Proud, The Mets Fanbase.” I didn’t think real die-hard Mets fans actually existed, just the few jokers I knew growing up, and a small minority of New Yorkers that simply chose not to like the Yankees.
But a funny thing happened when I went to UConn. With a huge portion of the student population hailing from northern New Jersey, Long Island and Westchester county, I met Mets fans, real ones. Die-hards that lived and breathed with every pitch, like the Red Sox and Yankees fans I had grown up with.
I found them to be just as knowledgeable, if not more-so, than any fan-base I had ever encountered. Watching a Mets game with my buddies John and Mark Billz, as well as their friends from home, went beyond an evening in-front of the TV, and turned into a tutorial on all things Major League Baseball.
It wasn’t just who and when the Mets were playing; it went beyond that. Where was Atlanta manager Bobby Cox going to shade his defense with runners in scoring position? What pitch was A.J. Burnett (at the time with the Marlins) going to throw on a 2-2 count to a left-handed hitter?
Remember that old Dane Cook line, when he discussed his interactions with women by saying, “I don’t just listen, I listen.” That’s what it was like watching baseball with Mets fans: they don’t just live for baseball, they live for it.
And that’s how things went for the next three years, watching more National League baseball than I ever had before, and riding the wave of Mets baseball from a distance.
Whenever anything Red Sox related happened, the first people I would call were always Mets fans to get their take on a trade or signing. They were the most in-tune fans I knew, not just with their team, but all of baseball. When asking about a transaction, I wouldn’t just get a blanket statement about a player, but what his value was beyond the statistics. Did he run out ground balls, would he hit in the clutch. How many ex-wives were on his payroll. I got the entire scouting report on anyone I wanted from Mets fans.
When the Red Sox first acquired Josh Beckett for Hanley Ramirez, my friend John was the first person I called. I was tentative about giving up a franchise shortstop for an injury plagued, if not immensely talented pitcher.
“I would be crying right now if the Mets traded for Beckett,” John responded. “They never make moves like that, getting a young pitcher just entering his prime. I’d be on my knees right now thanking God if that happened with the Mets”
So there you have it, a little dramatic yes, but one phone call had me sold. Beckett may have had a tough start, but the predictions proved true: he was the real deal.
Switch gears to last fall. I moved to the southern part of the state, about an hour and a half from where I had been living, and into a region which undoubtedly affiliates itself with the New York market.
I love sports talk radio, but even after my college experience assumed that most of it would center on the Yankees. Maybe 75-25 in their favor.
Boy was I wrong. Yes it was a huge deal last fall when the Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time since the spitball was outlawed, but it took a back-seat to the Mets stretch-run drive.
Their clutch-hitting was more scrutinized than Jennifer Aniston’s dating career. The bullpen had more drama than Thanksgiving dinner with the Kardashian’s
And when they did lose to the Marlins on the final day of the season, it was like an apocalypse hit.
My roommate didn’t come out of his room for days. When he did finally show his face, it had the feel of when a hostage gets released from a political prison: unshaven, bags under his eyes and several pounds lighter.
Other friends didn’t pick up their phones for weeks.
And at the beginning of October- the heart of football season- the phone lines lit up again on talk radio. Not for the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants mind you, or even Brett Favre and the Jets, but for the New York freaking Mets. A team that wasn’t in the Major League Baseball playoffs, and wouldn’t step on the field again for months.
And so the phone calls, blog postings and feature columns were written.
They needed to sign Francisco Rodriguez. Or trade for Joakim Soria from the Royals. Could they lure Brian Fuentes to the East Coast? Would Dennis Eckersley come out of retirement? They needed to do something, and do something big, or Omar had to go (one of my favorite aspects of the Mets fanbase is that everyone refers to General Manager Omar Minaya as Omar. Like they’re all either an old college roommate or a golf buddy).
When the Mets did sign K-Rod and trade for J.J. Putz this winter, there was rejoicing in Queens. With all this happening around the time the Yankees acquired free agent C.C. Sabathia, one of my Mets fan friends texted me “Forget C.C., we got J.J.!!!” All was well again.
But just weeks into this new season, things seem to have picked up right where 2008 finished.
Questions about the bullpen have been replaced by an unsteady back end of the rotation.
The problems while different, seem very much the same. Should Omar go? Can we get Roy Halladay? What about Jake Peavy? How could we enter the season with these guys as our starting rotation?
And as usual the team is under the same microscope it always is.
After a recent start, Johan Santana had some disparaging comments about rookie left fielder Daniel Murphy, who’s dropped fly ball cost the Mets a win according to the starting pitcher.
In L.A., Texas or Atlanta, the comment wouldn’t have made much news, and likely would have been forgotten by the morning.
But in New York, it was like the President had been shot. Amongst other things was a 45 minute discussion I heard on the radio that broke down every syllable of Santana’s comments.
Was he out of line? Did the kid deserve it? Was there a language barrier issue involved? How does this reflect on Santana as a leader? Should Murphy change positions? By the reaction of Mets fans you’d have thought we would need the National Guard to intervene.
When I decided to write this article, I decided to inquire with a few friends on what it is like to be a Mets fan. It’s one thing to observe from a distance like I do, yet another to live it day in and day out.
I asked my buddy D-Ro for a sentence or two. He followed up with a 500 word manifesto that went from the 1986 team to watching the Yankees celebrate a championship at the old Shea Stadium in 2000. Through it all he composed his thoughts and ended it with “This team chokes. They can never win a big game and no lead is safe. They have you on the edge of your seat always.” Don’t expect to see that printed up on T-shirts anytime soon.
And although he was upset, he apparently was not satisfied with his answer. After stewing for 9 more minutes, he sent me another two paragraphs.
A few others commented similarly disjointed thoughts.
I finally consulted my old friend John, the one who first turned me on to Mets mania.
He compared watching the team on a day-to-day basis to the reaction you have when you hear someone is getting a root-canal. In his words, your shoulders get tense, the thoughts of fear and pity running through your mind. He said the same reaction happens three times a game, every game when you watch the Mets.
Quite honestly I didn’t really get the analogy and still don’t.
But at this point who’s surprised if his brain is mush, and his thoughts incoherent.
That’s what seems to happen when you’re part of the most underrated fan base in all of sports, a large group of passionate individuals who live under one large dark cloud.
That’s what happens when you watch Mets baseball.
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