Wednesday, August 26, 2015
Mama, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Met Fans
And so over the last half-a-dozen years that comprise their sports consciousness, they have watched with dismay as their friends and neighbors celebrate the A's making it to the playoffs year after year, and the Giants winning three world championships, while the Mets keep losing.
Did I feel guilty about this? Absolutely. It is one thing to endure the pain and suffering that comes from a life-long affliction of Met fandom when you can at least draw on the joy and wonder of 1969 and 1986. It is quite another when the entirety of your Met worldview is framed by bad transactions, crushing injuries and dismal play -- and not one winning season.
It got so bad that I was afraid to buy them Met t-shirts because each time I did, something would happen to the player whose name adorned the back of the shirt. Santana shirt -- injury. Reyes shirt -- free agent. R.A. Dickey shirt -- traded. Matt Harvey shirt -- Tommy John surgery.
As losses mounted and seasons passed, my sweet darlings would look up at me and simply ask "why, Dad?" I would invariably respond with unsatisfying tropes about the dignity to be found in supporting underdogs; about appreciating the subtle beauty of the game in ways that did not necessarily revolve around winning or losing; about the unfathomable exhilaration that will be felt one day when the Mets eventually turn it around. "Sure, Dad."
This year seemed like it was going to be another dreadful season. True there was that incredible 15-5 start which gave them just a taste of what rooting for a winner would be like, but we all knew the team would eventually regress to the mean. And regress they did, thanks to the worst offense in all of baseball. And so, we suffered along with the Mets' incredible young pitchers -- Harvey, DeGrom and Syndergaard -- as they pitched brilliantly only to lose games due to some combination of paltry hitting, sloppy fielding, and uninspired managing.
But then things began to change.
For us, it started in late June when, visiting New York, we went to Citi Field for the debut of another great young pitcher, Steven Matz. The crowd was electric while Matz pitched a stunning game and responded to the woefully weak lineup behind him by knocking in four runs by himself. My girls finally experienced the thrill of positive Met energy - of being part a mass of deliriously happy Met fans.
Not unexpectedly, the euphoria didn't last. Matz quickly went down with an injury after one more great start (at least we didn't buy a Matz shirt) and the Mets resumed their anemic play.
But then the trade deadline approached and we all know what happened. The Mets shed players who barely belonged in the minor leagues much less the majors and replaced them with real live professional baseball players. Wilmer Flores cried when he thought he was traded and became a folk hero after he wasn't -- a folk hero who can hit. Yoenis Cespedes arrived and with his star power changed the feel of the entire lineup. And then everybody started hitting -- even the latest in a long line of overpaid disappointments, Michael Cuddyer. And, to top it off, David Wright, Mr. All-Time Met himself, who was lost early this season to a serious spinal condition many thought would end his career, came back, punctuating his return with a towering home run in his first at bat.
And, just like that, the Mets are in first place and playing inspired ball. Cespedes hits 3 home runs including a grand slam (7 RBIs) in one game. DeGrom has a rare bad start but is picked up by the offense in a game where batters 1-7 all hit home runs, the first time that has happened in baseball history. Harvey skips a start to save his arm, and Logan Verrett, making his first start ever, pitches a gem. Wright, as mentioned, smashes a home run upon his return. Wilmer is on a tear since shedding tears. Even Bartolo Colon gets into the act and pitches 7 shutout innings. The Mets are not just winning, they're playing like winners.
I'm not delusional I've prepared my daughters for heartbreak with the requisite horror stories (e.g., the Beltran strike out with the bases loaded to end 2006 playoffs; the loss of 12 of their last 17 games in 2007 to blow a 7-game lead; and another collapse in 2008, when they blew a 3 1/2 game lead, culminating in another devastating loss on the last game of the season.)
But nothing can stop them (or me) from reveling in the moment. For the first time in their lives, my kids are proud to be Met fans.