It’s safe to say that one of the greatest sports movies of all time is 1984’s ‘The Natural.’ Although the ending may be a bit over the top, it truly succeeds as a story of personal triumph over failure. But imagine for a moment if the story was different. Imagine the movie starting out with Roy Hobbs walking to the plate, hitting a walk off pennant winning HR on the 1st pitch and running the bases in the midst of fireworks and exploding lights. Had the film began that way it would have been a huge disappointment. What made that movie great is the build-up. For 2+ hours we saw Roy defy the odds. After getting shot, he spent 16 years of his life refusing to give up on his dream. He made it to the majors an ‘old rookie.’ That, combined with the temptation of gamblers, a long batting slump, a tortured romance and the constant pursuit of a merciless sports reporter made Hobbs the hero. The underdog. And isn’t that what we Mets fans love? Being the underdog?
Picture Ray Kinsella waking up one morning and walking from his house. His corn has already been plowed over and there stands Joe Jackson along with other baseball legends of a bygone era. In the middle of all of this is Ray’s dad. Ray walks up, asks his dad if he’d like to have a catch. Imagine if all of this happened in the first 10 minutes of ‘Field Of Dreams.’ That surely would have been a stupid film. Ray’s belief in himself, his willingness to listen to ‘the voice’ while many around him thought he was insane, is what had us cheering for Kevin Costner. No one believed in him. He was the underdog. And again, isn’t that a role that we Mets fans love?
Granted, that’s Hollywood and their traditional storybook endings. So lets bring this back to earth. Imagine if the 62 Mets had WON 120 games, not lost 120. Imagine if Roger Craig had gone 24-10 instead of 10-24? Would 1969 have meant as much if we hadn’t suffered for all of the 1960‘s? One of the great stories of the 69 Mets is the fact that it did resemble a miracle. We had been a joke for nearly a decade. For the first seven years of our existence we averaged losing 105 games! 1969 brought us the “release” we all needed. Fans who tore up the field that day in October were not just celebrating a win over the heavily favored and Hall of Fame dominated Orioles. But rather the incomprehensible championship of the ultimate underdog. And isn’t being the underdog something we Mets fans cherish?
For even when it should be easy, our team makes us suffer. 1986 was something we fans were not accustomed to. For the only time in team history we dominated from start to finish. In spite of clinching a post-season berth early and winning the division by 21 ½ games, it still was an uphill battle. Winning games 5 and 6 against the Astros took a combined 28 innings and almost 9 hours. And even though we were heavily favored over the Red Sox, it took a miraculous comeback in Game 6 and a come from behind victory late in game 7 to claim the championship. Even when we think it will be easy for us, it’s not. No matter how heavily favored we may be, our Mets always somehow come out the underdog. And honestly, don’t we enjoy that?
Customers at a movie theatre or fans at a ball game all enjoy the same thing: Rooting for the underdog. The 09 Mets had the 3rd highest payroll in baseball and look where it’s gotten us. Injuries. Dissension in the clubhouse. A front office in disarray. A minor league system that is in chaos. Rumors of the team being sold. A new stadium that has not been overly well received by fans. And all of this happening while the other team we compete with for the headlines marches into yet another post-season. Sounds like a perfect plot for a movie, doesn’t it?
We have some of the key actors in place. If you were writing a script about an underdog baseball team waiting to rise from the ashes and return to the post-season, wouldn’t you create characters just like we have? We’ve got a good looking young star, the future of the team, the one fans love, at third base. The energetic, charismatic lead-off hitter who likes to dance and create complex hand shakes can be played by Jose Reyes. In Center Field we have the quiet superstar. The one who shies away from the media and does his talking on the field. That role will be played by Carlos Beltran. “Also Starring Johan Santana.” He is well-respected by his peers. In spite of signing a big contract to play for a winner, he has yet to fulfill his dream. Yes, this would make quite a movie. The main actors are in place. We just need a few bit actors to fill in some of the key supporting spots. Perhaps we are missing the underlying sub-plot of an aging first baseman, holding on for one more season, hoping to win a World Series ring in the twilight of his career. Maybe we can throw in something about an unpredictable pitcher who has had control problems and name him Oliver ‘Wild Thing’ Perez
As we head into October, we Mets fans will watch the post-season half-heartedly. As always, we will root against the Yankees. And we will root against the Phillies. And if those 2 teams happen to meet in the World Series, we probably wont even watch at all. But that’s okay. “World Champion Mets” will be coming soon to a theatre near you. The only thing we have to question is when will it be released.