I love the Mets because I love the Mets.
I don't love the Mets because they are such a well-run organization filled with the kind of people whose baseball acumen translates to a satisfying sense of your fate being in good hands. Only the Pirates and their sixteen consecutive losing seasons sit between the Mets and rock bottom in terms of reasonable return on resources.
I don't love the Mets because they treat their customers with care and respect. I've been to the past fourteen home games and I know they approach us with unsurpassed indifference as they hold us in utter contempt. Friday night they looked at us and saw, at best, 49,545 walking cash machines or, at worst, the reason they couldn't go home early.
I don't love the Mets because of the great mass of Mets fans. Too many Mets fans come to Mets games for reasons that apparently have nothing to do with supporting the Mets. These are the kinds of people who stand in your way in supermarket aisles and cut you off on the Southern State and boo their cats for not being dogs.
I don't love the Mets because of the players who are currently on the Mets. The players on the Mets, individually and as a unit, haven't forged an instinctual connection with me. I have nothing against them but I find myself with little in particular for them. Some are talented and seem good-natured and I appreciate their efforts on my nominal behalf. Mostly, though, I don't feel this bunch all that much. And, though it's not a jailing crime, they're just not very good.
I don't love the Mets because they are replacing Shea Stadium with World Class Citi Field. I don't like that at all, actually. I don't like that by selling off every last piece of Shea they are demonstrating their intent to blot out as much Mets history as possible so one man can indulge a personal nostalgia for a team very few of us ever saw. Mets ownership wants us to believe the last 47 years have been no more than an asterisk between Brooklyn Dodger dynasties real and imagined.
I love the Mets because I love the Mets.
That's what it comes down to on the morning of the second-to-last game of this season, the second-to-last game ever at Shea Stadium, the cloudy preamble to a murky finale. My overexposure to the Mets in September 2008 has left me with only my love as a reason for my love. It is circular reasoning whose perimeter permits no logic to permeate. I love the Mets because I love the Mets even though there is almost nothing on the surface about the Mets that I can stand anymore.
But I do love the Mets. Which is why, in my heart, I am rooting for the end today.
I don't know how to accomplish it in a dignified fashion. It was going to be easier when the scheduled starting pitcher was Undecided. I have no attachment to a rainy-day parade of middle relievers and overmatched youngsters. Let them go out and suck it up, let it be some Gl@v!nesque score before too long, let it be over with and then let whoever our enemy in the standings is this weekend go out and put us out of our misery. Then let me come back to Shea Stadium on Sunday free and clear of competitive implications — nobody riled up — and let me enjoy one final game in something resembling the sun. Give me my moments of contemplation and emotion and give me my procession of players I did feel and let me enjoy my time with those folks like me who came to love the Mets because they, like me, love the Mets.
Then Jerry Manuel announced Johan Santana would start on short rest today. And I can't root against that. I couldn't root against Jonathon Niese or Brandon Knight either, of course, but I could kind of ease out the door and not hold myself responsible. Niese? Knight? We're not serious about winning anyway. But Johan on three days' rest, whether or not it works, is an indication that somebody with a hand on the wheel actually cares about how they finish. Al Leiter went on three days' rest in Game Six in Atlanta and was predictably clobbered. Johan Santana is about three times the pitcher Leiter ever was (that's not a knock on Al, it's just a fact), but pitchers don't go on three days' rest and haven't for more than thirty years.
Johan Santana has done everything you could want from him and the Mets are sitting on the edge of extinction on the penultimate day of the season with 88 wins. That's one more win than they had 52 weeks ago this morning when they were sitting on the edge of extinction. That's the Mets for you: bring in the best pitcher in baseball and improve exactly one iota. Johan proved his worth and his grit the other night against the Cubs. If he can't produce his high-end magic on command, I won't hold it against him.
I don't hold anything against these guys. They're not that good is all. There are like five players who are and everybody else is a stopgap. How can anybody get mad at the Mets for being no better than they really are? The one movie for which I drop everything whenever it's on is Rudy. Rudy's dream is to make the football team at Notre Dame and nothing — certainly not his lack of football skill — is going to stop him. His spiteful older brother Frank, however, is not impressed by his quest or his progress.
“If you are on that team,” Frank tells Rudy, “my opinion of Notre Dame just hit the shits.”
That's how I see the National League in 2008. The Mets are in a position to potentially make the playoffs? These Mets? The Mets of Brian Stokes and Luis Ayala and Bobby Parnell and Ramon Martinez and Robinson Cancel and wave upon wave of underdeveloped kid and overtraveled retread? The same Mets who committed a small GDP to Johan Santana yet have gotten by otherwise on Dollar Tree bargains and almost made it? That is worthy of admiration if you squint, but not worthy of being taken seriously.
How do people boo these guys? How do you get mad at a team that isn't that good for performing to reputation? How do you get down on Aaron Heilman for being Aaron Heilman, Pedro Feliciano for being Pedro Feliciano, everybody for being everybody? I used to lament that nobody stuck around much on this roster, that you never got to know Mets before they became something else. Now we've got a few guys who have been Mets a pretty long time, like Heilman, like Feliciano, and they are treated not as old hands trying their best but as vermin for whom you'd better call Arrow Exterminating. I won't pretend either Heilman or Feliciano has his picture tacked above my figurative headboard; they're not my favorites or anything. But geez! Heilman pitching with whatever injuries he's been harboring can't quite get the last out of an inning and you can't say “thanks anyway”?
It was reported in the darkest days of the mostly dark days of the New Jersey Nets franchise that they pumped crowd noise into the Meadowlands to make it sound fuller and more encouraging. I swear we have the opposite at Shea now. Somebody presses a button and I hear boos. It's automatic, a misanthropic mangling of the electronic cheerleading: EVERYBODY CLEAR YOUR THROAT! (BooBooBooBoo Boo Boo Boo!)
I sat in front of somebody booing on Friday night. Booed Parnell. Booed Feliciano. Booed Heilman. It wasn't drunken booing and it wasn't exhibitionistic booing. It was simple disappointment-driven booing, the frustration of watching a so-called playoff contender crumble before the mighty Florida Marlins. His girlfriend tried to talk him down, but he was just mad and sullen. He didn't know how else to respond. He just thought this is what you do when things don't go your way.
I still don't get it. It wasn't my biggest priority last night to analyze him and his 10,000 like-minded cohorts, but I don't get it. The Mets won't play any better because you boo. Shea won't feel any less tense because you boo. Your memory of the third-to-last game ever in this building won't be enhanced because you booed. All you'll have is a sore throat.
One of the Kozy Shack-sponsored video vignettes shown in the half-hearted DiamondVision salute to Shea history focused on the '73 Mets, a squad described as “injury-plagued and underachieving”. When, I asked my very good friend Jim Haines on the occasion of our final Shea Stadium game together, have the Mets not been injury-plagued and underachieving? Injury-plagued and underachieving could characterize the '74 Mets and the '75 Mets and the '76 Mets…right up to the '08 Mets. They are injured. They haven't achieved what's been in reach, their Quadruple-A underpinnings notwithstanding. But this is what they do and who they are. That is why we so often hold in highest esteem the rare edition of this club that exceeds expectations. I dwell fondly on the summer of 1980 and the heart of the 1997 season even if they lacked the happy ending of 1969 because it was so unlike the Mets to overcome expectations. Usually they simply don't live up to them. If this was news to you as of September 26, 2008, you haven't been paying attention and maybe you shouldn't have bought a ticket.
I hate the booing, but I can live with it most weekends. Not this one. I didn't buy my way in to every game this weekend and make sure I was at every home game this month to hear you boo, to have you cast more of a pall than even a lousy bullpen could on my final hours in the only ballpark I will ever truly consider mine. It's bad enough that the Mets can't win enough games to extend this season into a postseason. It's bad enough that the Mets train their employees at the Rikers Island Customer Service Academy. It's bad enough that a request for “only or mostly onions if you can please” on my final ever Premio Italian Sausage was met with bafflement and a heap of peppers. It's bad enough that for every promotion, the first 25,000 get the item and the next 25,000 get the finger, unless it's Foam Finger Day. It's bad enough the scoreboard posted three separate announcements urging you to call a Vandalism Hotline and rat out anybody you see trying to make off with the napkin dispensers before they can be auctioned for insane profit. It's bad enough that the pennant the Mets gave away at the door would receive a C+ in most arts & crafts classes (which is strange considering the Mets are generally expert at giving away pennants). It's bad enough that the whole Greatest Moments presentation, like the whole Countdown debacle, was underwhelming and apathetically handled. Everything with the Mets gives you no reliable rationale to love them but you do anyway.
What I am left with is the ideal of the Mets, loving the Mets for the sake of loving the Mets. Loving the Mets because I always have and Shea Stadium has always been my destination and all I've ever wanted to do was go there and sit there and be with my friends — like Laurie Thursday night, like Jim last night, like Jason this afternoon weather permitting — who love the Mets for the same nonlinear reasons I do. Poor Jim. Jim blames himself for the Mets losing whenever he goes. They lose almost always when he goes. The Mets are 2-11 in our last thirteen games together. Every afternoon before every night game I've attended with Jim I am filled with anticipation for how much I am going to love sitting with him and deconstructing the Mets and life. Since August 18, 2005, the Mets are 0-10 in night games we've attended together. I had nine instances of precedent to prepare me for the loss last night and I looked forward to our going just as much as I had those other nine times. He implicitly blamed himself for Friday's loss — himself and Daniel Murphy for not being taller and more agile. Yet I've never regretted a moment we've been together in those seats.
For all the kvetching and moaning I've done since taking the September plunge, I haven't regretted any of it because I've gotten to sit next to people for whom my affection is almost boundless. They more than Santana and Wright and Reyes and the reliever of the minute club and the idiots who block off escalators and can't prepare a pretzel…they have come to represent the Mets for me. They represent Shea Stadium to me. The walkoff hits in the rain are sublime, but the nine innings that precede them are made whole by those on my left or right. They've given me a month I will hold dear from now to doomsday. For them and people like them — the people who endure 6-1 defeats that send a season to the brink and then step outside and take pictures because they'll never see Shea again — I wish the Mets would win today and win tomorrow and for the Brewers to lose to the Cubs twice and for us to go on. Surely I'd like a shot at a championship. Surely our collective psyche would be boosted should the Mets live up to that sign I saw held in the Field Boxes Thursday after Beltran scored Reyes:
NY PLAYOFF BASEBALL — ONLY IN QUEENS!
Not so deep down, though, I kind of wish the Mets and all their nonsense would just go away. It's a baseball season curdling at the edges now. It's the end of September. I don't want winter to start the night of September 28, but maybe it must. Maybe this season should stop screwing with us already. At bare minimum this season's fortunes must be straightened out by Sunday afternoon. It must not be left to the wolves baying at its failures at that moment the Mets of my youth and the Mets of my relatively recent maturity come marching out of whatever tunnel they will be kept. I've been waiting since April for this Shea Goodbye ritual. I don't need to buy two seats for $869. I don't need to join the Premiere Club for $25,000. I don't need to run to the New Era stand so I can purchase my Official Final Weekend cap for whatever they're charging (bloodsuckers). I need the postgame ceremony, however. I need it and want it. I want the Mets to admit they do have a history of which they are proud. I want to breathe in 1964 and 1969 and everything thereafter. I want to see, one more time, the Mets who gave me and my friends something to talk about. I want the Mets being the Mets before they are remarketed as latter-day Dodgers in faux Ebbets Field.
I've been on hand for, I suppose, tens of thousands of Mets fans' final visits to Shea this season. I've watched the pictures get taken and I've heard the buzz. “This is my last game at Shea…wow. I can't believe I won't be here again. Bye Shea!” Those people had their day. Now I want mine. I want it free and clear. I don't want the shortsighted sniping that the Mets fucking did it to us again in the last game, how could they do this to me? — BOOOOOO!!!!!! to ruin it. I don't want a torrent of grumbling from the types who don't pay attention to anything that isn't instant gratification to drown out the footsteps of 45 years. I want those people to leave in the seventh inning. If Shea Stadium has no more than me and my wife and the souls who share our values, even if there aren't 56,000 of us by then, fine. We will make the right kind of noise for Mr. Seaver and Mr. Piazza and Mr. Strawberry and whoever else shows up. We will make it a salute to ourselves and our love for love's sake and those with whom we've shared it. I don't need the slim prospect of a Wild Card play-in game for that.
When I was sick a couple of weeks ago and I dragged myself to Shea on the Friday night when it rained and for the Saturday doubleheader and the Sunday afternoon game, do you know what my biggest anxiety was? It wasn't that I would make myself sicker. It was that I wouldn't be able to cheer properly. It was that when it came time to yell LET'S GO METS! that I couldn't because my throat hurt too much and I was coughing a lot. I went anyway and I yelled anyway. I got rained out, lost two out of three and was sold no pretzel for my troubles, but I yelled. I cheered. I went. I regretted only what was unavoidably regrettable. The rest I was all in for and that's fine. That's what I do.
For my own sake, for the team I love, for the team I've loved forever, for the team that ran us through the gamut two Octobers ago and again last September with heartbreak our only reward in both instances and for the place I will eternally inhabit even as its appointment with demolition draws nigh, I really wouldn't mind if the Mets would get it over with and lose today. I really wouldn't mind if then the Cubs — the first team I ever rooted against and is now supposed to be my temporary savior — lost. If all unlikely prospects of continuation of 2008 were to be definitively statistically eliminated, I could come to Shea Stadium Sunday and have one last beautiful, angst-free day. I would have no shot at a championship, but I'd have peace of mind where the Mets are concerned.
That's way too much to ask for. Let's Go Mets.