Twenty-three years ago tonight I got to do something I haven't done since. I got to watch my team become champions of baseball.
I didn't know it would be the last time I'd have that pleasure for at least twenty-four years. I wasn't thinking about what the future held that Monday night, October 27, 1986, at least not beyond my ability to complete some long-avoided work overnight and head to the ticker-tape parade in the morning before dragging myself to my standing every-other-Tuesday freelance gig in the afternoon.
The future didn't exist as Jesse Orosco fired strike three past Marty Barrett. Everything was that moment. 1986 was completely about getting to that moment — and now we were there. The 162-game romp, the exhaustion in Houston, the stay of execution versus Boston…and now the reward. It wasn't about the parade or the t-shirts I'd buy or the videocassette they'd release. It was about the moment and the satisfaction. I had waited through this World Series and the National League Championship War. I had waited through 108-54. I had waited through the Cardinals in '85 and the Cubs in '84. I had waited through seven absolutely dreadful seasons of the Mets as a nonfactor in their sport. I had waited through the mediocrity that had preceded the awfulness.
It was seventeen years and eleven days from October 16, 1969 to October 27, 1986. I felt every second of it wrapped up in the moment Gary Carter caught that third strike and rushed Jesse Orosco. All the Mets joined in. I joined in, from home, with my parents; and on the phone, with my friends. It hit me quickly and sank in slowly: We were World Champions.
I doubt a waking hour went by between strike three and the day the next season started that I didn't think about the Mets being World Champions. I didn't know that would be it for the rest of the '80s, all of the '90s and the first decade of the next century. How could I? It was 1986. Everything went to plan. Everything was perfect. When the last thing you saw was your team winning the World Series, how could you imagine everything wouldn't always be perfect?
Immense frustration enveloped the Mets in the seasons that immediately followed, but I don't think the afterglow of 1986 completely wore off for me until a full five years went by. The Twins and Braves played a gripping World Seven Game Seven exactly a half-decade after we won ours. Man, I thought, it's suddenly been a long time since that was us in the World Series.
We had just experienced our first losing season since 1983. There was little to connect the 1991 Mets to the 1986 Mets by then. We were on the wrong side of history. 1986 would continue to fade, and the failures of the next bunch of years would turn it undeniably into the past. That moment from that night, Orosco striking out Barrett, was now something you had to reach back for. It wasn't part of the present the way it seemed to be for the previous five years. It wasn't immediately accessible. From October 27, 1986 to October 27, 1991, I just kind of assumed it was an option. You know what we should do? We should win another World Series. Why don't we just do that? Instead, it was a point of reference from another time, just the way 1969 became by the mid-'70s.
The Mets have been in one World Series since 1986, not winning in 2000. Every season is an individual entity now, so it's tough to say how far we are from another trip. Three years ago, we were an inning away. As 2010 approaches, it would appear we are light years from returning, but it's not necessarily like it was in '84, '85 and '86. You're never really sure whether you're building toward something or falling apart. For all you can fathom, you're a couple of moves from surprising everybody — including yourselves — right away. The Mets weren't supposed to land so far from the World Series in 2009. Maybe they're closer to the next one than we know.
Maybe not. We'll have to find out.
Boy, I'd love to have another October 27, 1986, another moment of ultimate satisfaction that hits me quickly, sinks in slowly, stays with me continuously for months on end and seems like part of the present for years thereafter. When fans of other teams want to taunt you, they hit you with the year you last won if it's been a while. No doubt, it's been a while. Fourteen different franchises have won World Series since we last did. There are so many other years that have transpired between 1986 and now, making it from another time several times over. You don't just reach back for it. You gotta stretch behind you as far as you can…and then you probably need a pretty long stick from there just to touch it.
Yet you can't taunt me with 1986. You can only delight me. Sure, I wish it weren't 23 going on 24 years ago. Sure, I wish a few more like it had materialized since. I wish we were playing for another one this week, not just grumbling in the general direction of those who are. Them's the breaks, though. Winning a World Series is hard, as we learn again and again. Just getting to the playoffs is harder than it looks, too, at least for us. If there weren't a severe degree of difficulty attached to achieving that which is so extraordinarily satisfying, a moment like that which took place October 27, 1986 — when Orosco struck out Barrett and the Mets became champions of baseball — wouldn't glow so brightly from then to now the way it does.
And it does.