BY JOSEPH RINI
I am a camouflaged New York Mets fan – literally. As a part of a game day promotion, they gave away jeep green Met caps at Shea Stadium a few years ago and I’ve worn it ever since then. It’s not a bad looking cap. People have complimented me on it.
A while ago I was at the playground with my daughters and the mother of one of their friends look warily at me and like trained soldier saw orange and blue hiding under the jeep green and quietly asked, “Are you a Mets fan?”
“Are you a Mets fan?” It’s become a question that seems to demand an apology like, “Are you still driving that 1980 Volare – you know the one where you can’t open the door from the inside?”(For the record, I unloaded that car years ago.)
“Yeah,” I shrugged, “Although it’s been tough lately.”
But instead of being greeted by a “How could you?” she relaxed and replied in relief, “We are, too,” and then she introduced me to her new dog, Mookie, as in Mookie “gets by Buckner, gets by Buckner” Wilson.
The last few years have been especially difficult for Mets fans. As the Mets approach their 50th anniversary season, I can say the first 25 years, highlighted by historic figures Casey Stengel, Gil Hodges and Tom Seaver, rising stars Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden and championship teams in 1969 and 1986 were great. As for the last 25 seasons, well, not so much.
My wife cannot understand my allegiance to the Mets. She’ll ask, “What have they ever done for you? Why root for a team that always loses when there is team that always wins in the same city? Why, because they won a world series 40 years ago?”
“Not just 40 years ago,” I replied. They won it in 1986.”
“Oh, 25 years ago. Big difference.”
Alright, I guess she has a point.
To be a Mets fan, is to root for the underdog. While Mets fans have loved their superstars like Seaver, Strawberry, and Piazza, they cherish the underdogs like rocky fielding Ron Swoboda, who rewards the fervently faithful fans with one of the greatest catches in World Series history or rotund Benny Agbayani, who plates game winning post season hits in 1999 and 2000.
In fact, the highlight of the Mets offseason this past winter was not acquiring any new players but rediscovering original 1962 Met Choo Choo Coleman and his career .197 batting average after no one heard from him in over 30 years.
Daniel Murphy appears to be the latest flawed fan favorite, a hustling high average hitter, who unfortunately seems to hustle his way into perplexing base running blunders. If the Mets win a world series with Murphy on the team, I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulls a Swoboda and wins a game by stealing home.
By contrast, the Yankee formula for success is so simple it can be communicated by grunts. “Build stadium. Short right field fence. Get lefties to hit ball over the fence.” It’s worked for 90 years, so there was no reason to change it when they built the new Yankee Stadium. As for the Mets, their ownership decided to build a stadium with quirky dimensions. Unfortunately for hitters like David Wright and Jason Bay, this quirkification of their home park and their reduced home run production has them longing for a more inviting place to hit – perhaps the Grand Canyon.
Let’s face it, no one seems to care or remember that for most of the 30 years before the mid 1990s, the Mets were the number one team in New York (check the attendance figures and the TV ratings from years past) or that even the hallowed Yankees went 18 years without a World Series win before 1996.
When I was a young kid in Brooklyn there was one family that rooted for the Yankees on our block and they had to move to New Jersey. My goodness, if you’re a guy and you remember the last glory days of the Mets, your hair is either receding or turning gray. Today, we Met fans seem to walk in the shadows, the gloom of the last five years following us. It can seem hopeless…
…but wait, is that ray of sunlight I see? Why yes, the sun is shining again as the cloud of Bernie Madoff has been lifted from the Mets … and did you see those six shutout innings by Johan Santana on his surgically repaired shoulder … and those ridiculously deep Citi Field power alleys have been shortened so that David Wright no longer needs a missile launcher to hit a home run…and John Niese looks like a 20 game winner … and the 25 lean years shall be followed by 25 years of plenty.
April 5 is Opening Day. So while April 6 and beyond may be grimmer Reality Days, Opening Day is the day to let optimism reign, so let’s go Mets.