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Which Way the Wind Blows

I missed being in the house for Weather Education Day [1] Thursday afternoon, but I recognized its sound over the air after inadvertently attending several since the Mets inaugurated them in 2007. Weather Education Day means a noisier, shriller, noticeably younger crowd, albeit one that reacts without much relation to what’s going on in the game. That’s what you get when you haul in 8,000 schoolkids who are just happy to not be in class and  willing to volubly respond to whatever the scoreboard demands for at least the first few innings.

Not that there wasn’t plenty to squeal and/or shriek over at Citi Field if you were a Mets fan…

• You had Chris Young [2] formally introduce himself to the Left Field Landing with a mighty first Met home run.

• You had a Daniel Murphy [3] fly ball drop in front of Jon Jay [4] to break a 1-1 tie, making up for the ball that got behind Young earlier in the game to put St. Louis on the board first.

• You had a graspable Curtis Granderson [5] grounder gather just enough spin to flummox Mark Ellis [6] and drive in another run; it was ruled a hit, presumably out of pity for Granderson’s batting average, which, at .137, is still low enough to be mistaken for a section of Field Level.

• You had seven innings of Bartolo Colon [7] demonstrating great movement — and if you take a look at Bartolo Colon doing anything but pitching, the last thing that would spring to mind would be great movement.

• You had Bobby Abreu [8] on hand to start in right, double for his first Met hit and potentially regale kids with pre-global warming tales of what it was like to play for Houston Astros manager Terry Collins in Andre Dawson [9]’s final game as a big leaguer [10]. (With Colon and Abreu on the roster, is it any wonder the Mets have Dinosaur Education Day [11] planned for May 28?)

• You had Daisuke Matsuzaka [12] emerge as the Mets’ fourth closer of the 22-game season and do a splendid job of it, completing a most satisfying 4-1 win over the thoroughly addled defending National League champion Cardinals, the third win in four games over St. Louis, or three of three when I stay the hell away from Citi Field.

• You had the Mets ending Weather Education Day two games above .500 and, along with San Francisco, tentatively claiming a Wild Card spot in the National League if you’re unhinged enough to check on such matters after 22 games.

You also had 8,000 Tri-State Area students born well after Andre Dawson retired engaged in an interactive program about weather patterns by Channel 11 stalwarts Mr. G and Linda Church [13]. Whatever these kids learned about climate change may or may not stick with them.

Whatever most of them got out of seeing the Mets up close likely won’t. Not if we are to judge by the long-term patterns that have hovered over New York since Bobby Abreu was first called up to the majors in 1996.

Ah, 1996. The selective memory recalls the highlights: Lance Johnson [14]’s 227 hits…Bernard Gilkey [15]’s 117 RBIs…Todd Hundley [16]’s 41 home runs…Rey Ordoñez [17] throwing from his knees…

And the Mets down on theirs.

What a terrible year to be a Mets fan by objective as opposed to aficionado standards. The Mets posted a record of 71-91 and they finished nowhere. Technically they finished fourth, but they disappeared from the local sports consciousness altogether before the last of those losses was filed away on September 29, the day Florida Marlin Andre Dawson called it a career at the Astrodome (also the last day Terry Collins managed the Astros). As Bobby Abreu was breaking into the National League that month, the Mets were falling deeper into the abyss they drifted into a few seasons earlier and now they were completely obscured by something insidious that was about to win the impending World Series, not to mention four of the next five and a berth in all but two of the next umpteen playoff tournaments.

Kids in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and everywhere else saw what the Mets weren’t doing in the 1990s and saw what their nearby other-league counterparts were doing. Strangely enough, if they decided they liked baseball, most of them decided to like the other-league counterparts. Later, the Mets improved. Then diminished. Then improved. Then diminished. Then talked about improving without actually tangibly improving. Then, twenty years into this cycle, they treated 8,000 schoolkids to a nice Thursday at the ballpark and a 4-1 win over the Cardinals but probably didn’t immediately convert too many of them to their cause.

As mentioned, this was the eighth of these Weather Education Days. The Mets reach out to the Youth of America pretty consistently with promotions like these. They’ve long been sending Mets into city schools to remind them reading is fundamental. They’ve been busing children to the Acela Club every December, dressing select players as Santas and elves, handing out presents and attempting to brighten the holidays of all concerned. The Mets revved up kid-friendly Mr. Met in 1994 (he’s got quite a story to tell [18]) and remembered he was married to Mrs. Met in 2013. They telecast Kids Clubhouse on SNY, built a Kiddie Field somewhere near McFadden’s and inevitably tell parents they can bring their sons and daughters to sit in otherwise unoccupied seats for free when August rolls around.

Does any of it matter? Does anybody except the oddball and the iconoclast grow up to be a Mets fan anymore? Or is all the Mets get for their trouble a bunch of jaded teenagers wearing Yankees caps as they make informed small talk about barometric pressure?

I’ve watched these kids’ groups file in and file out of Citi Field and before it Shea Stadium over the past decade. Hardly any of the kids is wearing a Mets cap or a Mets shirt or a Mets jacket. Inevitably one junior wise guy is dressed for a day in the Bronx and ignores his teacher’s (or, in summertime, his counselor’s) on-message directive to chant “Let’s Go Mets” by booing or chanting something entirely inappropriate to the environs. Mostly the kids gets distracted. Kids will do that, I suppose, particularly in this odd century when baseball is far from the national let alone Metropolitan pastime.

Then the kids get old enough to join Facebook and click a “Like” button for a baseball team and they don’t pick the Mets. Though to be fair, few kids of any ages — including us crusty adults — pick the Mets.

After the team I chose as my own in prehistoric times defeated the Cardinals Thursday, I celebrated by visiting the New York Times’s Baseball Nation map [19], an interactive feature that allowed me to see which teams are most popular in which ZIP Codes in the United States, based on preferences expressed by Facebook users. It may not be definitive, but it is vast and it’s as good a reflection as any available of allegiances sliced and diced to micro levels.

By these parameters, do you know in which ZIP Codes the Mets are the favorite baseball team of a majority or plurality of the population? Neither do I, because according to Baseball Nation, we are fans without a country.

The Mets are No. 1 nowhere. Nowhere in these United States is there a ZIP Code where the Mets are the most popular team in town. They’re not No. 1 where I live, they’re not No. 1 where you live, they’re not No. 1 where they live. Anybody old enough to remember Ralph, Bob or Lindsey telling you where to send away for the Revised Edition of the New York Mets yearbook (a beautiful addition to your baseball library) should remember Shea Stadium’s and now Citi Field’s ZIP Code is 11368. In ZIP Code 11368, the Mets are the choice of 25% of the baseball fans.

The Yankees are slightly ahead, at 53%

This goes on all across the Weather Education Day radar. Scroll and roll all you like [20]. You won’t find a municipality where the gap is close. The highest Met proportion I could suss out was a few towns over from me here in ancestral Mets Country. Bellmore, Long Island, checks in at 33% Mets — 19 points behind the Yankees. It doesn’t narrow appreciably anywhere in Nassau or Suffolk or Queens or Brooklyn or anywhere. And that’s the heart of what we used to think of as hardcore Met territory.

There are all kinds of little kicks to the ol’ Matsuzakas if you look closely enough. In ZIP Code 11309, for example, the Mets are not only hopelessly outstripped by the Yankees, they fall behind the Red Sox. What’s so special about 11309? It’s the ZIP Code of the Polo Grounds, first home of the Mets, old home of the Giants. National League legacies don’t help, either, in 11225 —the site of Ebbets Field. And as you head into the northern and western suburbs…well, it’s like Mr. G would tell you in winter: watch out for heavier amounts of what you don’t want to shovel.

The Times map gives the top three finishers in each ZIP Code. The Mets are consistent distant second-place finishers in commuting proximity to Citi Field but plunge to third in too many places too soon. Somewhere in Jersey, they fall behind the Phillies. The Red Sox overtake them before you get too deep into Connecticut. They do hang on here and there as a minuscule No. 3 upstate behind the Yankees and Bosox, and do manage to register kernels of support in isolated pockets of Delaware, Pennsylvania and Vermont, but there’s no sign that the Mets have a sizable regional following à la the tradition-nurturing Cardinals [21] or any kind of national profile.

They don’t place or show, never mind win, in spots where you’d think there might be some faint orange and blue undertones. For example, you find no evident love for the Mets in Fresno or Virginia Beach, in case you imagined the implied endorsement of Tom Seaver [22] or David Wright [23] — not to mention 37 years of Tides affiliation — meant anything. Nothing in or right around Port St. Lucie (though a Mets-liking blip appears to the northwest in Palm Bay, Fla.). Nobody bets on them in Las Vegas despite the presence of the 51s. There’s a little low single-digit action around Buffalo, but that’s probably as much about being a New York State team as it Bison-born loyalty.

Our Mets are joined by the A’s and the Jays as teams that don’t show up as a first choice on the map at all. The Blue Jays are no ZIP Code’s favorite team, which is kind of understandable given that they’re a Canadian enterprise. The Athletics are suffocated by the Giants, even in the East Bay. The Giants have won two of the past four World Series and the A’s would prefer to leave Oakland for San Jose (which is overwhelmingly pro-Giants).

The Mets are the Mets, but there is no default Met geography that the Times and Facebook were able to chart, not like there is for 27 other major league franchises. Though the data didn’t exist as such, I can assure you there was in 1969, when I came along, and there sure as hell was in 1986. It’s hard to believe every bit of it evaporated in the ensuing 28 years, but it doesn’t exist in 2014, apparently.

Those of us who are among the no more than 33% who choose them first in any given postal district cope by being our own ZIP Codes. It works fine in virtual spaces like these. It usually works inside the only facility most of us frequent within 11368 — unless it’s September and the Giants are in town [24]…or it’s 2010 and the Phillies are visiting [25]…or the Subway Series takes place. But it’s no way to cultivate the next New Breed. Peer pressure isn’t gonna bring on board the kids of today, considering how few of their peers are Mets fans. Fun days when they don’t have to go to school don’t seem to have lured too many youths, either.

What’s it gonna take? It’s gonna take a lot of 4-1 wins; a lot of threes of fours; a lot more than a pleasantly surprising 12-10 start; a lot less worrying about the few players who have personalities expressing them [26]. It’s gonna take new owners, probably, but good luck with that.

It’s gonna take a while. We who are Mets fans, including those who have successfully raised Mets fans or who are trying to [27], may not fully recognize how little reason there’s been to become a Mets fan since Bobby Abreu was a kid in Venezuela. I mean, sure, we know there’s nothing better to be, but try telling that to young people with their social media today.