- Faith and Fear in Flushing - https://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

Love, Hate, Mets

I love being a Mets fan, but I hate rooting for the Mets. I love being a Mets fan, but I hate supporting the Mets. I love being a Mets fan, but I hate investing any faith whatsoever in the Mets as a baseball team or as an organizational entity.

But I do love being a Mets fan. What a shame, sometimes, that the Mets are implicitly part of the deal.

I should be careful with that. There are Brooklyn Dodgers fans and Philadelphia A’s fans [1] and Montreal Expos fans and, as I know very well from my own historical fetish, New York Giants fans who get by without a team. It’s a lot less fun that way. So, OK, I’m glad the Mets are still around.

But I hate everything they do to diminish themselves and, by extension, those of us who care deeply about them.

The Mets just finished losing two of three to the Florida Marlins, one of the umpteen teams ahead of them in the Wild Card standings. The Mets are in the Wild Card standings in the sense that they are a National League team not in first place. That’s the only involvement they can claim. That roll they could get on any minute, the one in which they, according to David Wright [2], could “get hot, rattle off five, six or seven in a row or a few weeks of winning series”?

I’ve yet to see evidence it exists in anything but deluded theory.

Yours truly certified the 2010 Mets as done for on August 8, 4:08 PM EDT [3]. Since then, being the hopeless optimist every Mets fan can’t help but be (phrase borrowed from a splendid photographer [4]), I’ve looked for a path back from the dead. There is none [5], not after playing sixteen games and losing half of them. Sooner or later, you gotta beat most everybody and you gotta pass somebody. The Mets have beaten the Rockies twice and the Pirates twice. But they’ve lost two of three to the Phillies, two of four to the Astros and now two of three to the Marlins. They are no worse recordwise than they were when they left Philadelphia (one under then, one under now), but they are also absolutely no better. And they’re not closing in on anybody.

They were in sixth place for the Wild Card on August 8, 7½ out.

They are in seventh place for the Wild Card on August 27, 7½ out.

They’ve passed nobody but they’ve let themselves be sideswiped by the Marlins.

The Marlins.

How does a Mets fan not seethe with contempt at that name? The Marlins who ended our 2007. The Marlins who ended our 2008. The Marlins who invited us down to Puerto Rico and found a way to begin to end our 2010. The Marlins who shed Metkillers Jorge Cantu and Cody Ross (while Chris Coghlan cleverly shed himself in a pie fight of his own making [6]) and still took these last two.

The Marlins. Geez.

The Mets’ version of momentum was perfectly encapsulated in two consecutive innings in this series: the ninth of the second game and the first of the third. Both featured a home run from Mr. Clutch, David Wright. One drew the Mets closer to the Marlins, one put them out in front. The Mets didn’t score after the homer on Wednesday night but they were patting themselves mightily for having “fought back” (Jerry Manuel); seeing “good signs” (Jose Reyes, the other Mr. Clutch); and remaining in a state where “anything’s possible” (Wright) and “we’re going to be OK” (Manuel).

Nice moral victory for those Mets. It would do their hearts good to know that if you could carve a regulation game out of the baseball that was played between the fourth inning on Wednesday and the third inning on Thursday, they crushed the Marlins 7-2. Except it doesn’t work that way. After losing 5-4, they converted all that fighting back, et al into an 11-4 defeat [7].

Despite Wright’s two-run homer in the first. Despite building a 4-0 lead through three. Despite receiving a leadoff walk in every inning from the second through the seventh. Despite the momentum they claimed was in effect once they inched back on Wednesday from 5-1 to 5-4.

Nope. It didn’t take. The Marlins fell behind by four Thursday and came back for real. The Marlins scored seven in the top of the sixth much as, once upon a wretched time, they scored seven in the top of the first. That was September 30, 2007, a date that needs no introduction among Mets fans. The Marlins and September in Queens need no introduction among Mets fans either. If there’s a small favor to be had from last night, it’s that it was the last home game this year that would be graced by the visitors from Florida. This September will be the first since 2000 — before the unbalanced schedule became law — in which the Marlins don’t come ashore at Shea or Citi.

Barring, you know, a one-game playoff for the Wild Card, since we’re so not out of it.

The Marlins wrecked two Septembers in our midst. The took the shine off what was left of our August in our imaginations. Do the Mets even notice stuff like this? The Marlins seem to take special relish in doing in the Mets in New York. Hanley Ramirez is to the Mets in Flushing what Stan Musial [8] was to the Dodgers in Flatbush. He went 10-for-15 in this series. He was, per usual, Han the Man. Any Mets pitcher make him a little uncomfortable? Any Marlin feel any Met’s wrath? Or are the Mets saving it all up for the Astros this weekend for when they get on that roll that’s going to carry them past all their merely academic competition?

By the time it was 11-4, in the ninth, it hardly mattered (it’s hardly mattered since the 2-9 West Coast trip, of course), but there was Wright again and there was another leadoff walk from the generous Marlin pitchers. Fine, David’s on first. Down seven, he is not being held on. You think he could run and take the base that was just begging to be taken? The Marlins couldn’t have shown more defensive indifference had they opted to play without gloves and jocks. But David waited…waited…waited…for Ike Davis to walk. I’ll bet David could have taken third from there, but more waiting ensued.

On the sixth pitch he saw from Jose Veras, Jeff Francoeur flied out to deep center.

Which was when Wright tagged up and raced to third.

Too little for anyone but Adam Rubin to read into, perhaps, but if you like your season-in-a-microcosm anecdotes, that one would do nicely. It was all there for the taking, but Wright didn’t take it. But once an out was recorded, let’s act like it’s urgent.

Not in the box score, the Mets A/V squad chose that moment when the Mets were attempting to rally from seven runs down with three outs left to attempt to rev up the remnants of our crowd. Without irony, the video board blared and drummed LET’S GO METS! LET’S GO METS!

You gotta be kidding. It was desolate as desolate could be at Citi Field on merit at that point, and the Video & Entertainment Services Department [9] (or whatever marketing genius insists we be assaulted with loud electronic ticklers no matter how inappropriate the mood) thought we’d respond like trained seals. As if the problem Thursday night hadn’t been the score? As if all we needed was a little of that old team spirit? As if we’re really that dumb?

Oh wait, we are really that dumb. We’re Mets fans. We keep going to these games. We balance the ball on our nose so we can dig into our pockets and pay our way in. I suppose they do know their customers, even if there are fewer and fewer with every passing homestand.

That’s the shame of it. We’re great fans and we’re terrible fans. [10] We’re great because we exhibit the kind of loyalty fans are ideally supposed to generate game after game, season after season. We’re terrible because we continue to enable farces like the 2007 Mets and the 2008 Mets and the 2009 Mets and — due respect to their 43-32 start — the 2010 Mets. We fume and we fuss, but we appear at Citi Field and we preach to the choir and we proselytize to the uncertain how You Gotta Believe and all that. We try to turn .500 deadwood into sturdy oaks of contention. We imbue good, sometimes very good, not often enough great players like Reyes and Wright with the qualities of superstardom. We buy this stuff, literally and figuratively.

We get our hearts ripped apart the final day of one season by a subpar division rival and we’re back a year later for a reenactment. And then plenty of us file in two years after that because it’s what we do. We take umbrage at bad contracts and bad strategy and bad reading of reality, but then we take the 7 or the LIRR or the Grand Central and we’re there all over again.

You don’t have to tell us LET’S GO METS! LET’S GO METS! We figured out how and when to do that [11] long before there were video screens at ballparks.

On the way home, I was miserable about the Mets and couldn’t stand them. Yet you know where my head was by the time I walked in the door and recapped the previous several hours for my wife? “Hey, it was a lot of fun tonight!” And the sad part is it was. Thursday represented a gathering of some good online friends [12] — more lifelong suckers modeling as much Metwear as they could layer in August — featuring one fellow traveler who traveled to the game not from Jersey or Connecticut or the Island, but from Australia. Whatcha doin’ in the States? I asked him. I’m here to see the Mets, he said, as if 10,000 miles is no more than the distance from Jackson Heights to Willets Point.

So of course we had a great time with this guy, this Australian Mets fan who took to the team in 1993 and cemented his bond because Bobby Bonilla bought him a drink at a nightclub in Manhattan.

How can you not say that’s not a great fan, that a fan base that engenders people of this caliber isn’t filled with great fans? How can you doubt our sincerity or purity or naïveté or whatever you want to call it? How are we supposed to abide brief boycotts [13] or lead revolutions [14] when we’re this enmeshed with this whole mess?

How can we not want to be at a Mets game when someone from freaking Australia wants to be at a Mets game?

Yes, a great time. Our group’s organizational mastermind sussed out a deal from McFadden’s [15] — appetizers, drinks, surprisingly good seats (from a likely bountiful late-season inventory) for an astonishingly reasonable price — and we partook. Had a little pregame dinner al fresco across the street from the chop shops. It worked better than you’d think. We were having such a good time, eating, drinking, slicing birthday cake for two of our twelve that we didn’t get up to go inside Citi Field until after the game started.

The standings plainly said the opposite of what all our mouthpieces stoically or robotically declared. We knew we weren’t in a pennant race or a playoff chase, but we also knew, via one of the McFadden’s TVs we could see through the window from 126th Street, that Wright had homered in the first, that we were up 2-0, that we were having more fun than most people have, as a rule, on Thursday nights. Thus, we merrily made our way around the back of the stadium to the Stengel entrance. We could do that because our fairly fabulous tickets said we were entitled to use the VIP entrance of our choosing.

I think it’s great that the Mets repurposed three of their portals as tributes to the three legends for whom they (as opposed to MLB) retired numbers. I’d been inside the Hodges entrance a couple of times, and it was strong and powerful. I was inside the Seaver entrance last Saturday for the Billy Joel premiere, and it was Terrific. Now, the one I hadn’t passed through, the one for Casey Stengel. I wanted to see just how Amazin’ they made it.

It was the most Amazin’ of them all, which made the walk all way around from McFadden’s worthwhile in my book. Casey Stengel was, hands down, the most photogenic character in the history of the game, and he was never more irresistible to the lens than in his Met tenure. I melted at the pictures that lined the hallway to the elevator in right field. There was one of Casey and Willie Mays at the Polo Grounds with a bicycle…if you want to know how I’d decorate baseball heaven, I’d start with that photo.

Yet just before being granted admission to the Gates of Stengel, a well-dressed hostess asked sweetly enough, “VIP?” Clutching the magic ticket, I presented it so I could get the pawing and frisking over with quickly and move on to Casey. But I couldn’t help but think, what if we weren’t “VIP”?

Mind you, it’s the second inning by now. There’s no line of people at Stengel. There’s just us, a rollicking band of a dozen Mets fans high on life, a couple of beers and a 2-0 lead. We’ve made a little pilgrimage to see what is normally hidden from our view. We are enthusiastic to the point of spouting Metsie! Metsie! And you need, at this post-rush juncture of the evening, for us to prove that we belong at this gate? That we deserve to linger two minutes over framed photography and a bust of our first manager? That a clutch of people who not only understand who Casey Stengel was but revere him has official business with the Ol’ Perfesser?

What, I wondered, would have happened had my ticket said ENTER GATE JRR? Would have they really deprived true blue and orange acolytes — one from Australia, for crissake — an up-close glimpse?

I won’t say it ruined the moment for me, but it did give me pause because I’m pretty convinced, based on a lifetime of Mets fan experience, we would have been shooed away. We as Mets fans are always being shooed away. If we’re not shooed, we’re eyed suspiciously. Our seats, as it happened, were in Excelsior (Hail Caesar when you say that, pal). We had made it past Checkpoint A but at Checkpoint B, it’s “let me see your ticket.” When I was coming back from the restroom, it was more “let me see your ticket.” If there was courtesy, it was begrudging.

And this is on a level where we’re technically considered VIPs.

One game under .500 isn’t the worst of seasons. After 70-92 in 2009, anything marginally better would deserve to be treated as progress, at least until you commence to probing beneath the surface and realize what a holding action this season has been. The Mets couldn’t decide they were a contender and didn’t maneuver to make even a small move — a reliable reliever, a proven pinch-hitter — to improve their chances at the July 31 deadline. Yet they couldn’t decide they weren’t a contender, so they left the general manager who saddled them with Castillo and Perez (and, I hate to say it, a seventh year of Beltran) in his post and the manager who can’t commit to any player for more than two consecutive games in his post and yo-yo’d between youth movement and playing the largely disappointing vets. The sleazy Marlins plead poverty but rake in quite a profit [16]. The big-market, high-payroll Mets…who the hell knows with them? They do spend in December, but it’s always on the ornament that weighs down the Christmas tree more than on what it would take to effectively enhance it.

It’s not a great starting point for 2011 and it hasn’t been a brilliant 2010. It’s a little disingenuous to pitch it as much more than, “We’re trying our best, we’ll try to do better, thank you for your patience.” But the Mets never operate that honestly. They’re Jack Nicholson snarling we can’t handle the truth, so they manufacture an alternate reality in which they pretend they’re something special.

They make much of one-run ninth-inning rallies when they’re down by two. They blast exhortations at us amid no-run ninth-inning rallies when they’re down by seven. They presume to be a bigger deal than the Florida Marlins when the Florida Marlins edge ahead of them in the present and have battered them when it counted in the past. They act as if only a select few of their patrons are Very Important People when they’d be well advised to treat every single one of us who still cares about them like gold.

Even on nights when their arbitrary pricing scheme labels as Silver a consequence-free contest whose sheen was a dingy shade of tin.