Could the Amazin' Mets actually be amazing?
A lifelong fan dares to imagine the impossible
The New York Mets have made the 2015 playoffs. Not only that, they're champions of the National League East, clinching the division with a 10-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday night. That's a surreal thing for me to even type, let alone process. I should be celebrating because, as with any good sports fan, watching overpaid men outplay other overpaid men feels somehow like a very personal accomplishment. Instead, I'm still yelling at the game broadcasters and at Twitter and at literally anyone who will pretend to listen.
It's not that I haven't seen my fair share of Mets postseason ball. I even attended John Maine's 2006 triumph in the National League Championship Series, that season's last glorious moment.
But I'm still programmed to think we'll lose, even though the Mets have been on a tear since the trade deadline, when we accidentally made a few smart moves. Most notably, we nabbed Yoenis Céspedes, an outfielder who hit his way into the MVP conversation after spending a good chunk of the season in the American League. Wilmer Flores hit a walkoff homer two days after literally crying in baseball, thinking he'd been traded. At age 42, Bartolo Colón pitched 31 straight shutout innings in September. That's the Mets — good on occasion, but only in the most head-scratching, improbable ways.
Perhaps I'm so guarded about our success because I'm too young to have fawned over a championship team. The closest I can ever feel to the legendary World Series teams is when I'm in the stands, shamelessly sweating through my two-sizes-too-big Tom Seaver pullover jersey. If my first baseball season says anything about my luck, the Mets finished 20.5 games back in the National League East in 1991. Typical.
Shockingly, the 1-4 World Series showing in 2000 — at the hands of the New York Yankees, of all teams — didn't instill any more confidence in me. But I've never been able to give up on the Mets. In April I moved to Queens, the same borough where my parents grew up in the '60s, watching the Mets bumble through their early days en route to an unbelievable 1969 title. I feel as though my agony can't possibly match theirs, but by the time I have kids I bet it'll come close.
Trolls are one reason why. Clever as they may be, I don't need more reminders of the Mets' spectacular 2007 collapse, which was surely repeated game by game this season in some hellish alternate universe.
Not to be outdone, The New York Times crowdsourced reader predictions about how the Mets' season would end, and succeeded in scoring a predictable mix of far-fetched success stories and end-times narratives, one even crying out to Mr. Met, Major League Baseball's oldest mascot: "How can you show your head in public?"
I don't know about Mr. Met, but my head is stuck in 2007. "Amazin'" has always felt like a taunting, sarcastic moniker on par with Goal Getters, the name a genius parent conceived for my decidedly mediocre childhood travel soccer team. Inaugural manager Casey Stengel's overly ambitious nickname truly taught me a tough lesson: No one can troll the Mets as expertly as they manage to troll themselves.
One fan of another long-suffering team, the Toronto Blue Jays, recently made a cutesy, joyful "Blank Space" cover about how exciting it was to finally see his squad relevant in a pennant race again. It's difficult to picture any Mets fan crafting a similar ode, if only because that would require giving in so fully to success instead of relishing a life of misery.
In an illogical way, being the underdog has become a huge source of comfort for me. The Mets' charm is dealt not in players' sex appeal or a luxuriously high payroll or even in access to a halfway decent subway line. Instead, it's about cheap Bobby Valentine disguises and inexplicable Mike Piazza hairstyles and ultimately meaningless Endy Chávez catches. I consider that rough-around-the-edges, lovable-loser energy our main draw over teams like the Yanks, who secured their frontrunner status nearly a century ago when a certain 20-something came down from Boston and started slugging.
As a fan, I tend to justify the Mets' success by falling back on our misfortune. Our flailing makes me feel more deserving of the wins we work to notch, as if there's more honor in them. Admitting the Mets are a Good Team this year would mean admitting it's okay to root for a Good Team.
In any case, I hope we get far in the playoffs. Believe me, I do. I could sure use a wild victory story to slap the rampant cynicism and snark right out of me.
And if my boys suffer an embarrassingly early October defeat, well, I'll be fine. After all, I feel most comfortable curled up in the fetal position, staring at my free canvas print of a packed Shea Stadium and muttering, "There's always next year."