It’s been one of those seasons. The kind where talent and chutzpa overcome all odds and the winds of destiny seem to always be at our back. We dominated the National League in the regular season, swept the Dodgers in the first round of the playoffs and here we are playing the Cardinals. We’ve lost our two best starting pitchers along the way and are on the brink of elimination, but that’s ok, because we were in the same boat for Game 6 and pulled through. On the mound today we have a pitcher who boasts the worst game seven ERA in history, but that’s also ok. The swirling winds of Flushing and fortune have been blowing our way all year.
Sure enough our shaky pitcher goes 6 and only gives up a run. In the top of that inning he gives up a crushing 2 run homer, except that he doesn’t, because a player nobody ever heard of named Endy Chavez makes one of the greatest catches in baseball history and instead of two runs the Cardinals get doubled off for two outs. In the bottom of that same inning Chavez comes to the plate with the bases loaded, ready to propel himself into baseball lore and the Mets back to the World Series. At the start of this season the team introduced the slogan “Our Team, Our Time,” and now it seems prophetic. I was going to go to this game, but decided to save my money for the World Series.
People always ask me why I love baseball. What I tell them is that baseball is like life. Most of the time nothing happens, but sometimes everything happens. It starts as a back and forth drama between two people, but eventually envelopes everyone. And it breaks your heart, again and again and again.
History will not remember Endy Chavez and his amazing catch, because history remembers the winners. Chavez pops out with the bases loaded, and the Cardinals jump ahead to a 3 to 1 lead in the top of the ninth. But hope still remains, because in the bottom of the inning Carlos Beltran comes to the plate for the moment every little boy playing sandlot ball fantasizes about: bottom of the 9th, two outs, the bases loaded and the Pennant on the line. Statistics books and fans of other teams will remember Beltran as one of the greatest post-season hitters in the history of the game, but Mets fans will remember him for what he doesn’t do in that moment, which is swing his bat.
Destiny is a funny thing. It turns on you without a moment’s notice, and when it does every opportunity for a possible triumph becomes an invitation to tragedy.
2007, Final Game of Regular Season
Most Mets fans will not remember the bulk of this season, nor will they forget the end. Just a few weeks ago we enjoyed such a large lead in the standings that it would take a record collapse to lose it, but that’s exactly what’s happened, and now here we are in a do or die situation, needing to beat a team with nothing to play for to make the playoffs. We got a glimmer of hope yesterday, when in another do or die game our no-name pitcher took a no-hitter into the eight and got us the victory. On the mound today we have the great Tom Glavine, a sure to be first ballot hall of famer and perhaps one of the last pitchers ever to win 300 games. But this game won’t be one of those wins, because in this game he doesn’t get out of the first inning. I was going to go to this game, but decided to save my money for the playoffs.
2008, Final Game of Regular Season
Destiny is now a cruel prankster. Another late season collapse, another do or die final game against a team with nothing to play for, another defeat. We’ve played 161 other games this season, seemingly only to make the humiliation of this last one even sharper. On top of all of that it’s the final game to ever be played at Shea Stadium. The house that Seaver and Doc and Piazza built is about to be torn down, along with any sense of hope we might have left. I’m told there are a lot of tears at the stadium today, and fans are unsure if they are crying for our past or our future. I had no intention of going to this game, and that’s telling.
Mid 2009 Season, Mets vs. Yankees
There are two kinds of Mets fans: the ones that tell you they don’t like the Yankees, and the ones that lie. How could we? We are the hapless younger brother to the greatest success in sports history, a success who – fittingly – beat us for their last World Series win. This midseason showdown has been a back and forth type game, and we are winning with two outs in the bottom of the ninth when the dreaded A-Rod comes to bat with the bases loaded. Not to worry, because he hits a lazy pop-up to second base. Except that it wasn’t. The details are too painful for me to revisit, or perhaps too shameful, but let’s just say the Yankees win the game, then a few months later win another championship.
As a baseball fan I try to watch the Yankees take on the Phillies in the World Series, but I can’t take the cruel mockery of destiny anymore. The only thing worse than your cross-town rival winning yet another ring is them facing off with your division rival to do it.
2009 to 2013
These are the dark years, the lost in the desert years, the Wilpon’s lost all their money to Madoff and Jason Bay can’t hit the side of a barn and David Wright gets beaned in the head years. Somewhere in there Johan Santana throws the team’s first ever no hitter, but my cynicism is so deep now that all I do is carp on the farm system we traded away to get him. When Jose Reyes takes himself out of the last game of the season to preserve his batting title I cheer him on. Good for you Jose, win that trophy and leave this wretched team to go earn big bucks elsewhere. I have by and large stopped going to games now, either because I don’t love the game anymore or I love it too much.
The only thing that gets me excited during this time is the great R.A. Dickey, the minor league journeyman knuckleballer who comes out of nowhere to win the N.L. Cy Young in 2012. The guy has a goofy last name, a goofy demeanor and an even more goofy pitch. In other words, he’s a Met. During one stretch he throws back to back one-hit shutouts, a feat I consider more impressive than any no-hitter. The team rewards him with a 4th place finish, losing almost 90 games. R.A. stands for really awesome, but the Mets do not, so they trade him in the offseason.
I can no longer tell if destiny has abandoned us or brought us to exactly where we belong.
It’s the start of the season and I’m in a deep personal slump. My girlfriend left me a few weeks ago, and while lost in my heartache and not sure what to do, I call my sister and a friend to see if they feel like accompanying me to a game. I need the distraction. To convince them I say “that new Harvey kid is pretty good, and he’s facing off against the great Stephen Strasburg.” Harvey starts the game by striking out the leadoff hitter with a 98 mph fastball, and something inside me changes. By the 6th inning I am screaming “Harvey’s better” with everyone else in the ballpark and am starting to remember why I love the game. The season ends up another losing one and Harvey ends up needing Tommy John surgery, but the feeling from that spring game stays with me.
End of 2014 Season
There was no Matt Harvey this year but there was Jacob deGrom, and he comes out of nowhere to win Rookie of the Year. More importantly something is stirring below deck. Despite another losing season we have the makings of a solid starting rotation come next year, and there is a glimmer of something we haven’t felt in a long time… hope. I go to a handful of games, just to watch some baseball.
If the Mets go deep in the playoffs this year, and if they have continued success in the years to come, I’d like to think the history will be written like this: We missed our chance in 2006, had back to back collapses in the following years, suffered through five consecutive losing seasons until 2015, and were on the verge of wasting tremendous starting pitching with no offense, until the day a player nobody ever heard of named Wilmer Flores cried on the field. He didn’t cry because he was injured or because he didn’t sign a big money contract. He cried because he thought he’d been traded. He cried because he’d been a Met since the age of 16 and that’s all he ever wanted to be.
History won’t care that the team managed to lose another heartbreaker the following day, or that astute trades buttoned up the bullpen and bench while the acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes gave us the best stretch bat in the league. Flores cried, the baseball gods heard him and a few days later, in the 12th inning of an epic showdown with the dreaded Nationals who we were chasing for first place, he hit the game winning homerun. There are more things to baseball, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
I’ve been to seven games this year and the Mets have won every single one. I went to a game where they won after scoring ten runs in a single inning and another when they only scored two the entire game. I went to games where I saw a trio of superhero starters named the Dark Knight, Thor and the deGrominator dominate the league. I went to a game when we spotted a beautiful bird circling the infield and then watched it become our bright yellow rally cry.
Most of all, I went, because baseball is like life, in that it breaks your heart, but you come back, again and again and again. When you do, you realize something important: Destiny is a sham. It’s the coward’s way out. If you believe in it then you are pretending to believe in something big while surrendering to something small. If a baseball player gets a hit just thirty percent of the time he’s one of the top hitters in the game. That means the best players still fail often, and so do I. But you still get up for your next at bat, because at the end of the day, it’s just a game, and so is baseball.
When I was a young boy I was a Yankee fan. Somewhere along the way I switched to the Mets. Since then the Yankees have won five championships while the Mets have lived the story above. I wouldn’t change a thing.