I have been a New York Mets fan for a very long time. My father took me to my first game, when I was two years old, in 1968. My son is a Mets fan. Yes, my wife is a Yankees fan. Even the best of us have some flaws. Still, I grew up in orange and blue, like my father wanted me to, and like my brother did.
I was born and raised in Flushing, Queens, so I never had a choice in the matter. Whenever I did well in school, I wanted my reward to be Mets tickets. I idolized Tom Seaver, John Milner and Felix Millan when I was in Little League. Today, I often walk the beat in the Mets clubhouse, talking to and spending time with the players of a franchise that was so close to home, I often considered it to be an extended family for many years. You pick on the Mets, you might as well be talking about my mother.
Today, I am a professional, and every time I walk into the Mets locker room, the fan in me has to wait outside. Or at least stay concealed. He’s hard to fight off. “Let me go in with you,” he says. “I’ll be quiet.”
He always is. I always do my job and respect all the written and unspoken rules of Major League Baseball. My credentials clearly say “Working Media”, and I can never forget that. Yet I would be lying if I was not thankful every time I walk on the field or into the dugout. I never take the experience for granted. It takes a strong man to hold that side of himself within. It has also come from years of practice and learning from those who showed me the professional ballpark ropes.
Yet the voice of the fans still leaks into the clubhouse. It annoys a few of those who cover the team that the fan base is so negative these days. When the team reached .500 last Friday at Yankee Stadium, one media type grumbled about how the fans do not appreciate a team that was playing better than many expected, with key guys out of the lineup.
The average Met fan today is full of doom and gloom, and sounds like a pre Rex-Ryan Jets fan. What can go wrong, will go wrong. It has been that way since the end of the 2006 season. That was supposed to be “our year”, and instead, it was the beginning of “our nightmare.” No need to chronicle the events of 2007 forward, we all know them well.
Any hint of positive thinking by me usually gets batted down fast by other Mets fans. Yet while times have been tough as a Mets fan in recent years, they have not always been as dismal as you may think by listening to some of the most dark-goggled Mets followers. Too many Mets fans have been beaten down over the years to the point where they are no longer level-headed and balanced observers. Sure, the current situation has been very trying. Yes, the team has not won it all since 1986. But being a Mets fan, as a pure overall experience, has not always been a terrible choice, or inherited role, depending on who you are.
Too many Mets fans hear the boasts of “27 World Championships” from Yankee fans and cringe. In reality, most Yankee fans have not been alive long enough to see most of those titles. Bragging about things you never experienced in your lifetime comes off as simply silly. Yes, the Yanks have been the better team over the past two decades. But that doesn’t mean the Mets have always sucked. Yankee fans also fear the Mets can take back the city at any time, as they did for most of the 1980s, when it seemed like no one even knew the Yanks existed in New York.
The Yankees also endured an 18-year stretch of no World Championships from 1978 to 1996. So all teams have their ups and downs, no matter how extreme they may seem at one time or another. During the Yankee drought, the Mets were bigger rock stars than any Yankee team ever will be. The 1986 Mets were the most memorable baseball team and maybe the most memorable sports team of all time in New York. Maybe the 1998 Yankees were better. Yet I dare you to find one singular team that was more compelling in every possible way, and won it all like no one else did, or ever will.
The Yankees have the richer history, but have been around for much longer. The Mets captured the city like no other team. The 1969 Miracle Mets were arguably the biggest darlings the city has ever seen. The Yankees have more flags, but the Mets, when they have been good, were great, and much more polarizing. Derek Jeter is damn cool, but Keith Hernandez would have kicked his ass. Andy Pettitte was an unflappable winner, but Tom Seaver owned his town like no Yankees pitcher ever has.
Many Mets fans are not old enough to have enjoyed those days, but those of us who have should remember that there have been great times as well as very bad ones. For every time you mention Vince Coleman, I can remind you of Tug McGraw. (Note to Phillies fans: “Ya Gotta Believe” is a Mets slogan. Are you that far gone with your inferiority complex about New York?). For the younger Mets fans, do not forget how much fun the Mike Piazza era Mets were. The 2000 Mets may have lost a Subway World Series, but we should always revere that team. Too many of us forget them because they lost to the Yankees. I say that team overachieved in thrilling fashion like none other since the 1973 Mets, my favorite Mets team of all time. The 2000 Mets were National League champions and battled a far more talented Yankees team as hard as they could. Jeter called it the toughest five game-series he ever played in. In reality, Piazza nearly took the Mets all the way on his own shoulders.
Yes, the Phillies have been a top-level franchise while the Mets have stumbled through some extremely frustrating times over the past few years. But let’s not forget how bad that team was for so long, or how futile their efforts seemed to their fans for such an extended period. We should not let Phillie fans forget how long they suffered, and we should remind ourselves of it. Times may seem tough now, but times were tough in the late 70s as well. You may feel like you are suffering now as a Mets fan, but I promise you it will not always be that way. I know, I have lived through all the ups and downs.
Life could be worse as a baseball fan. Yes, it could be better, but I would rather be a Mets fan than say, a Cleveland Indians or Chicago Cubs fan. Heck, there isn’t even good history to fall back on with the struggles in the present era. At least I am not a San Diego Padres fan, because there is just no reason to be a baseball fan if you are.
Times are tough, my orange and blue brothers and sisters. But be patient, because baseball is a game of patience. It is a thinking man’s game, with lessons always to be learned. One you should learn is not to ever get too high or low as a Mets fan. Or as a fan of any team. There is always tomorrow, next season, or even yesterday.
You want tough? Try sitting across from Keith Hernandez and Rusty Staub in the press lounge, and training yourself to look and act like you don’t care. If I can live through that, I can live through anything.