For as long as I can remember, I have been a Mets fan. My grandfather began cheering the Mets on in 1962, hungry for a National League New York team to root for since his beloved Brooklyn Dodgers departed for California. My parents were married in September of 1986 and gleefully recall watching the World Series on patio furniture inside their first home. I was born six years later and my baseball destiny was predetermined: the New York Metropolitans were my team.
Every summer, Grandpa Teddy would take all of us grandchildren to Shea Stadium to see a Mets game. I seem to recall that the Mets lost almost every time we went, but I didn’t care. I loved every minute of it. While my brothers and cousins could only stomach the three-hour game in person, I watched game after game on any television in the house that happened to be free.
I slowly learned the players’ names and their statistics and that eventually matured into understanding the strategy and subtle nuances of the game. Grandpa Teddy would read the box scores from the newspaper on the beach and help bridge any gaps in knowledge that I was encountering. And when he passed away in 2003, his daughter, my Aunt Caroline, continued our annual pilgrimage. And while I vaguely remember the Mets of the early 2000s, the first year I felt like they were my team, not my parents’ or my grandparents’ or my Aunt’s, but my team, was 2006.
I was in seventh grade, at the height of my awkwardness when the 2006 season began. The Mets had finished with a winning record the year before, and they were only supposed to be better this year. Well we all know the story by now. The Mets dominated the regular season to the tune of 97 wins and a first place finish in the National League East (ending a Braves’ dynasty that seems impossible in the days of parity baseball).
After an exciting sweep of the Dodgers in the Division Series, the Mets began a fierce battle with the eventual World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. The Mets, who seemed to be sprinkled in magic dust all season, lost in game seven. I remember watching Carlos Beltran take strike three and then promptly turning off my TV and lying in my bed wondering how I was going to respond to all my Yankee fan friends the next day.
My first baseball-less winter seemed like the longest season of my life, and I could not wait for our chance at redemption. I remember that before the game began on SNY, there was a montage to the tune of Linkin Park’s “What I’ve Done” playing while Gary Cohen recounted the chip on the Mets shoulder after missing out on winning it all.
As if they needed more fuel, Jimmy Rollins claimed that the Philadelphia Phillies were the team to beat in the East. With 17 games left to play, the Mets had a commanding seven game lead in the division and my eyes turned towards October baseball. But it never came. Not for the Mets, anyway.
It was one of the largest collapses in sports history, and I struggled to wrap my brain around it. But even more confusing than the collapse itself was the longer tenured Mets fans’ reaction to it. “Typical Mets,” seemed to be the sentiment surrounding the 2007 season.
But that was not typical for the Mets I knew. I didn’t live through the early 80s or 90s, and I wasn’t really aware of their struggles in the beginning of this millennium. The only team I knew was the 2006 Mets, and they were warriors. The Carlos-es would strike fear in the heart of any opposing pitcher. Paul Lo Duca was a little psychotic, but gritty and tough. David Wright and Jose Reyes were the homegrown stars that were going to start the Mets dynasty. Instead, 2006 stood alone as an aberration; a brief reprieve from decades of suffering.
And so I began to truly understand what it meant to be a Mets fan. The firing of Willie Randolph in the middle of the night, the Luis Castillo dropped pop-up, and the irrelevance. Year after year, no one cared about the Mets except me. I watched every game, hoping that each win would start a streak that would propel them into the postseason. And during those eight years, I would sometimes think of 2006. I would imagine David Wright, stained in champagne and brandished with a cigar, waving to the cheering Mets faithful at Shea Stadium. He imagined that cigar would be the first of many, just like I did. But that expectation for success was quickly replaced by an expectation for failure. Until now.
The Mets this year have a spark; a flame of resilience that is reminiscent of one that once burned inside my heart and the heart of every Mets fan at one time or another. The Boys of Flushing find themselves with a 4.5 game lead over the World Series favorite Washington Nationals. And yeah, they just got swept by the Pittsburgh Pirates. In years past I would begin to panic or allow myself to recede into the safety of distancing myself from the team I love. I wouldn’t get my hopes up. But my hopes are up. I want this team to win and I believe in them, as foolish as that may be. But that’s what Mets fans do. After all, ya gotta believe.