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Riding Along on a Carousel

There have been 17 champagne celebrations for team accomplishments in New York Mets history. This was part of the 17th. [1]

There have been 17 champagne celebrations for team accomplishments in New York Mets history. This is a scene from the 17th.

Indulge me, Mets fans who weren’t viewers of Mad Men, as I channel Don Draper delivering — à la Matt Harvey on Saturday in Cincinnati — the most impressive pitching we had ever seen from him. The product, in this case, is a glorious new iteration of what our baseball team is capable of producing.

It’s not called the Collapse. It’s called a Division Title. It lets us travel the way a champion travels. Onward and upward, and higher again…to a place where we know we have clinched.

For those of you unfamiliar with what is being played off of above [2], Don, the master ad man, was branding, on the fly, the Carousel, Eastman Kodak’s contraption designed to show off your boring family pictures (long before Facebook usurped that function). The company executives who were Sterling Cooper’s clients had tentatively labeled their invention the Wheel. Don, however, saw something different in what they were selling.

And now you, the consumer of all things Mets, are seeing something different in the team with which you so closely identify. You’ve been used to a situation where you weren’t so much certain something was going to go wrong as you were sure nothing would ever go right again.

You’ve just learned [3] the Mets have other, better applications.

My allegiance to the New York Mets dates back to late in the Mad Men era, to 1969, when everything went right, and 1970, when markedly fewer things worked out. After those two personally seminal seasons, I got that the Mets didn’t always win it all, but understood just as well that wondrous achievements weren’t beyond their grasp. In case I thought the first glimpse I got in ’69 was a fluke, 1973 came along soon enough to reinforce how wonderful the Mets could be.

Later…much later, there was 1986 and 1988 and 1999 and 2000 and 2006, each of them spawning commemorative t-shirts and selling tickets to games not originally scheduled. They made sense to me. They were of a piece with knowing what I knew was possible. All those other years, when the Mets weren’t winning, those were the outliers in my estimation. I got used to not winning for long (long) stretches, but I didn’t take that as the way it was supposed to be, just the way it was.

I don’t play the generational card much, certainly not to hold what I have experienced over the heads of those who’ve lived through less. To me, you choose the Mets whenever you choose them and you’re one of us. You’re eligible for every Real Fan perk I have to offer. But coming down the stretch in 2015, I felt genuinely bad for Mets fans who hadn’t been immersed in all or most or even one of those seven playoff years. I felt genuinely bad for anybody who made — whether by choice or instinct — 2007 the organizing principle of his rooting life. I felt genuinely bad for anybody who couldn’t help himself from shouting “COLLAPSE!” in a crowded ballpark (or comments section).

That’s not who the Mets have to be. That’s not what the Mets have to be about.

And now you’ve seen it for yourself.

You have the 2015 Mets. You have one of the 17 celebrations in Mets history. Seventeen times the Mets have opened bottles of champagne and poured them over one another. Seventeen times the Mets have won something transcendent as a team. Eight times it’s been entry to the playoffs. Six times it’s been a division title.

This time was one of each of those times. When Jay Bruce took his place in the procession behind Joe Torre, Glenn Beckert, Chico Walker, Lance Parrish, Dmitri Young, Keith Lockhart and Josh Willingham and made the final out of a Mets clincher against Jeurys Familia (following in the footsteps of Gary Gentry, Tug McGraw, Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Al Leiter, Armando Benitez and Billy Wagner), this was no longer a team that lets us down. This became a team that lifts us up.

Actually, it’s been a team lifting us up most of the past six months, dating back to those initial unbeatable April days, through the pitching-powered grittiness of June and July and then making like a dynamo once August hit with the full force of a revamped roster. Nevertheless, it had to be official to feel official. You had to know that the Mets could not just take a lead and build a lead but that they could keep a lead.

You know it now, baby. You know these are your National League East champions, the sole denizens of first place from August 3 to eternity where 2015 is concerned. You saw it on TV, you heard it on the radio, you followed it on the Internet and you can buy it at Modell’s.

You needed proof. I understand. We all need proof. Though it’s been obscured by the mists of time, there was a time I couldn’t believe a seemingly qualified Mets team could make it from September to October unscathed. In 1998, the Mets lost their last five games to ooze away from a winnable Wild Card. That was tough. In 1999, the significantly improved Mets lost seven in a row with two weeks to go and sent their fans and their fate into turmoil. That was tougher. As the Mets kept losing, I grew absolutely convinced the worst was inevitable. Neither the backstories of ’69 and ’73 nor the last-ditch rallies from ’86’s two Game Sixes could penetrate my consciousness. They choked last year, they’re gonna choke this year. That was my jam.

As you may know, the 1999 Mets got their act together on the final weekend of the regular season and, like the 2015 Mets, punched their ticket to the playoffs in Cincinnati. Before they could win that all-or-nothing showdown versus the Reds sixteen years ago, they had to beat the Pirates on the last day at Shea, which of course they did. That was the Melvin Mora Game, the one the Mets took when Mora scored the decisive run on a ninth-inning wild pitch. It was and remains my most cherished memory as a fan. The Mets had to do what they had to do and they did it. It wasn’t always going to be 1998. On the best of days, it could be 1999.

I watched that game in Loge alongside my friend Richie, who was kind of the baseball big brother I never had. We’re still in occasional touch via e-mail, but 1999 was really our year. Some years are like that, where you’re closer than ever to a particular person with whom you share a common interest. For Richie and me, it was the Mets and 1999. When Brad Clontz’s bases-loaded pitch thoroughly eluded Joe Oliver’s mitt and Mora raced home to give the Mets a season-lengthening 2-1 triumph and all 50,000 of us on hand went nuts, Richie had the presence of mind to grab me and stage-whisper over the din into my ear, “They didn’t choke.” It was exactly what I needed to hear.

To you who didn’t necessarily believe, I do for you what Richie did for me, albeit in the vernacular that overtook our consciousness following the unfortunate proceedings of September 2007.

They didn’t collapse.

I hope you heard that over the roar of the crowd. They didn’t collapse. They didn’t come close to collapsing. I didn’t think it was even an issue, considering they never led by fewer than four games from August 20 forward. I didn’t think anything needed to be said beyond “way to go,” considering the run the Mets went on between July 31 and September 14, playing 42 games and winning 31 times. Those were 1986-, 1988-type numbers. Those were being posted in the heat of what we called a pennant race, what I knew in my heart by late August was closer to a prohibitive runaway than a potential collapse.

A collapse wasn’t going to happen. And it didn’t. And it’s great. It’s great because we’re all Mets fans and it’s great because we’re all Mets fans who’ve experienced something like this now. I don’t have to dig deep and hark back. All I have to do is point to the standings and that lower-case “y” most outlets use to denote divisional champ. Links to video footage of the 17th champagne celebration in New York Mets history are fresh and plentiful as well.

You may still be tasting the literal and figurative bubbly from Saturday night. You may need to splash some cold water on your face. But if I could advise anything beyond, “they didn’t collapse,” it would be take how you felt in the moment after Familia fanned Bruce and put it somewhere where it will stay pristine. I don’t mean so you can take it out in the dead of winter or in some season down the road that doesn’t necessarily encompass a clinching. I mean, yeah sure, that too, but more immediately, I mean in case the rest of 2015 doesn’t match our fondest dreams.

I’m not suggesting this year won’t be the year. Heavens no, not while we are busy being N.L. East champions for the first time in nine years (or a million, in Met years). Alas, though, it’s worth noting that elsewhere on this continent, there are Cubs fans and Blue Jays fans and Royals fans and Pirates fans and some other fans who are convinced that this year is gonna be the year, based on the simple fact that their year has already been extended into the next month, just like ours has.

It’s a natural reaction. Just as bad results beget bad vibes, good results imply even better ones lie directly ahead. Last year at this time, there were 10 teams whose fans were feeling pretty, pretty good about their impending October appointments. In a matter of weeks, two; then six; then eight; and ultimately nine flocks felt significantly less good about the circumstances that had befallen the objects of their affection.

We are one of ten lucky batches of sumbitches. We have, at base, a 10% probability of winning the World Series. We can parlay that into 100%. Or we might crap out when pitted against another of the 10-percenters. Sadly, we can’t all be destiny’s children clear into November. If we don’t taste champagne again (let alone again and again and again) this year, I ask that you make a point of circling back to September 26 and remembering the night we did as your signature moment of 2015. Remember fiercely the 17th celebration in the event that the 18th, 19th and 20th don’t transpire exceedingly soon.

Remember 2006? What do you remember? If you say “Beltran looking at strike three” or words to that effect, I say reconsider. Remember beating the Dodgers in the NLDS. Remember beating the Marlins to clinch the East. Those touched off Celebrations Nos. 15 and 16. You see how long it took us to get to 17. As Monty Python might have put it, every celebration is sacred.

Don’t be that fan who, when presented a memory of anything that isn’t airtight success, says, “Don’t remind me.” You’re reading the wrong blog if that’s how you take your Mets. I make it my business to remind you of what our team has done, sometimes to make a larger point, sometimes just for the hell of it. But I don’t do it to make you feel bad or worse. When I invoke 1988, it’s not about Scioscia; it’s about 100 wins and a division crown. When I invoke 2000, it’s not about losing the World Series; it’s about winning a Wild Card, a Division Series and a pennant. When I invoke 2006, it’s not about one pitch that wasn’t swung at; it was about the most fun year I ever had blogging…until this one, which is just about as much fun to date.

Someday I will bring up 2015, the division title, the Saturday Duda and Granderson and Wright went deep and Harvey stayed in longer than anticipated and Familia finished up to clinch it. Regardless of what comes next, that — and everything that led to that — happened. It was beautiful. It will always be beautiful. Don’t let the course of Metsian events as yet unknown squeeze the context out of what you’re enjoying now and deserve to enjoy forever.

I’ll tell you one thing that has made 2015 unique among Met years that have included at least one champagne celebration, at least for me. You won’t find it in the standings, it doesn’t show up in a box score and I defy anyone who thinks it can be solved by deploying advanced metrics. The answer is all over whatever device you’re reading this on.

I got to enjoy this run toward glory with you. With you who visit this blog; with you who drop us a line via e-mail; with you who Like us like crazy on Facebook; and with you who I have the pleasure of tweeting back and forth with between every other pitch on what is sometimes derisively dismissed as #MetsTwitter. I don’t get the derision and dismissiveness, by the way.

• You know who composes #MetsTwitter? Mets fans who use Twitter to communicate their Mets thoughts to other Mets fans.

• You know who puts down #MetsTwitter? Mets fans who use Twitter to communicate their Mets thoughts to other Mets fans.

• You know who uses Twitter to communicate their Mets thoughts to other Mets fans? #MetsTwitter.

To paraphrase one of my favorite lines from the movie The Commitments [4], “Isn’t everybody on #MetsTwitter an arsehole? Except for management, that is.”

Anyway, when you’re a Mets fan online, you’re never by yourself. Nor would you choose to be. Taking in these Mets and what they’ve done alongside you — whether you always believed; you never believed; you didn’t believe until you had to believe; or you are unwittingly the embodiment of a human weathervane — has placed me comfortably inside a packed and jubilant stadium for every game. When we get a night that uncorks the best of our emotions, the celebrations we watch from the field and the clubhouse are more than matched by the joie de Uribe we engage in among each other. I swear the sensation is more real than virtual, whether or not you opted to pour champagne on your own home turf.

Which we Princes did, once the Jeurys-rigged ninth inning was completed and Stephanie and I emerged from our traditional post-clinch clench. We didn’t exactly don goggles and spritz Moet & Chandon around our living room and onto our cats. We laid in only enough to toast and sip, and that we took care of in a state of serene satisfaction. Unfortunately, I had a pre-existing headache that the surfeit of tweeting and the modicum of imbibing probably exacerbated a bit. I realized we hadn’t had anything substantive for dinner, which couldn’t have been helping, so I placed an order with a nearby pizzeria that operates under an agreeable enough family name [5] and told them I’d come pick my order soon.

When the time came, I grabbed my Superstripe-model Mets cap (it’s my favorite), proudly affixed it to my slightly aching head and stepped out into the cool September night. It was the kind of move I made just as easily, pizza or otherwise, in the early autumn of 2006 and 2000 and 1999 and 1988 and 1986 and 1973 and 1969. It was 2015, which by now had something permanently in common with all of those aforementioned banner years.

It was a year when being a Mets fan once more felt exactly the way it’s supposed to feel.

And after I picked up the pizza? I spent the rest of the night talking Mets — present and past — with the good folks of the Rising Apple Report, which you can and should listen to here [6].