Saturday, October 06, 2007

Those Damn Mets

It's almost been a week since The Collapse. The New York Mets had a seven-game lead with seventeen games left to play, and they couldn't do it. I'm stunned. So stunned that it took me a week to be willing to sit down and think about it. And I still don't want to. How could they do this to us again?

I know what some of you want to say to me. "It's just a game, Wayne. There are more important things in life right now. You should focus your energies on fighting to end the war in Iraq, on restoring habeas corpus, on holding the Bush administration accountable for their numerous illegal activities, on Universal health care for all Americans, on better enforcement of even stronger environmental regulations that don't rely on corporations "voluntarily" meeting already-low standards, on higher education standards so that more Dallas, TX, high school students could identify the country immediately to the south of the United States and more students could tell you that we were allies with the Soviet Union against Germany in WWII (not allies with Germany against the Soviet Union as some believe), and on trying to get more people to stop driving 45 MPH in a 55-MPH Zone." But I would disagree. It is most definitely not just a game. It's Baseball, Mets style!

I have been a fan of the New York Mets my entire life, except for the first two when the franchise didn't exist. Oh, I confess, I had my years of being happy to cheer for the New York Yankees when they were winning in the late '70s, but those were years when the Mets' season was over in July. You gotta understand. The Mets were the team that, prior to the Age of Free Agency (when the top players could be bought on the open market), the Mets had the fastest rise from Team Inception (1962) to World Championship (1969) of any major professional sports team (not counting, I guess, the first teams in the league.) The 1969 team had a bunch of kids on it, with a few veterans, and they managed to author one of the most incredible comebacks in baseball history. In last place in their division at the end of August, they went on an incredible winning streak and finished in first place. (No Wild Card teams in baseball then.) They swept the best-of-five National League Championship Series against, ironically, the Atlanta Braves, and went on to win the World Series against the Baltimore Orioles (with legendary pitchers like Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally and others). In another ironic twist, the last out was made by future Mets manager Davy Johnson. What a year. What a season. What a team. They truly were the Amazing Mets.

To give him a chance to end his career in New York, Willie Mays was traded from the San Francisco Giants (once one of two National League teams based in New York) to the Mets in 1973. Again, from last place in August they went on to the World Series, where they stopped by the then-powerful Oakland A's. To their credit, the Mets took the A's the distance, but fell short. It would have been nice for Willie Mays to end his career on a championship team, but somehow in America, second place just doesn't cut it for us. They won the National League Championship and the right to fly the pennant forever afterwards, but it just didn't mean as much. We were so close.

The Mets would not reach the post season again for another thirteen years. Thirteen very long years. Painful years to be a Mets fan. There was some glimmer of hope in the early '80s when the Mets began putting together a nice, strong, young pitching staff that brought through the magical year of 1986. It was not only a joy to be a Mets fan, it was something to be proud of. They were phenomenal that year. I'll never forget a comic strip called "Tank McNamara" that had the newscaster saying that NASA scientists had announced that they had just spotted the Mets out in first place. No lead against them was safe that year, for they were always a threat with the late inning long ball. And, oh, those late innning comebacks. The were the Comeback Kids, the Cardiac Kids, the Amazing Mets all over again. And that postseason series against the Houston Astros.

I was in the Air Force then, stationed in a country that, technically, no longer exists. It was called West Germany (perhaps you've heard of it.) The games were carried live on Armed Forces Network TV, so that meant they started at 2 AM our time. So after I got off duty at 4:30 PM (1630 HRS) I would grab something to eat at the mess hall and go to sleep, wake up around 1:30 AM, take a shower, put on my uniform and go down to the Day Room to watch the game with a freckled-faced kid from Brooklyn. It was a roller coaster of emotion to watch those games, and when they took Game 6 to 16 innings, just to avoid facing Mike Scott in Game 7, it was like
it was meant to be. They couldn't have the fantastic season that they had only to have it end in the playoffs, without even reaching the World Series. But they did, and what a series it was. Now understand something. As Mets fans, we were also Yankees Haters. So, naturally, we were happy for the Boston Red Sox that they were able to make it to the Fall Classic over their hated rivals. And if the Mets weren't in the Series, we'd probably have been rooting for the Sox to break The Curse.

And they almost did. Game 6 of the 1986 World Series is consodered one of the greatest Wotrld Series games in baseball history. Down three games to two, the Mets were one strike away from handing the Red Sox their first World Series win in some eighty-odd years. Mookie Wilson kept fouling off pitches to keep the game going. The Sox were up by one when suddenly, Mookie jumps up and put of the way of a wild pitch to allow the tying run to score from third and the winning run to advance to scoring position. And then the squibbler right down the first base line. Our hearts sank. The season was about to end for the Mets. Our best offensive season in history about to come to a heart-rending end. But wait! Bill Buckner, put in to place first so he could end his career on the field when his team won the World Series, wasn't able to bend his old knees enough to field the ball, and it kept going down the line. Ray Knight came home with the winning run and the Mets lived to play another day. We have a picture of that moment autographed by Mookie Wilson and Bill Buckner. Of course, the Mets went on to win Game 7 and the Championship.

It's the memories of those two championship seasons that keep Mets fans hopeful every year. And this year started out with such promise. From May on, they held on to first place. When their play started to crumble in September, I began to brace myself. We had tasted the bitterness of disappointment before, and some of us had learned our lesson. You can't be too hopeful, or the fall is that much greater. By the time they reached a 7-game lead with 17 to play, I still had my doubts. And when they started losing game after game, blowing huge leads, leaving men on base or hitting into inning-ending double plays, I knew the handwriting was on the wall. They were playing like they had booked plans for this very week and didn't want to lose the deposit. They played like they were too afraid to win. But worst of all for us, they played like their fans didn't matter. They failed us. Again.

But we, after all, Mets fans. We've been through this before and came back the next year, and I'm sure we'll do so again next spring. They do have a lot of exciting young talent on the team, and with the right combination of starting pitching and effective bullpen relief, they stand a strong chance of giving the rest of the league a run for their money. And we Mets fans will be there right beside them, believing in them, encouraging them, and secretly hoping they don't let us down again. We were so close this time. This can't be the closest we get for a long time to come. We know we'll get there. Because we're Mets fans, and we still believe.


Anonymous said...

As a Yankees and Phillies fan, I'd like to both rub the Collapse in your face and commiserate with you. :) Suppose we can agree to root for Cleveland over Boston? (Who cares about Rockies/D'Backs?)

Oh, and what's wrong with doing 45 in a 55? It's the speed limit, not the required speed.


Wayne A. Schneider said...

Well, I wish I could put my heart into doing that, but I honestly can't...really. You see, I am a Dennis Kucinich fan, and I hope his ideas continue to get exposure even if he doesn't (such as H.R. 333, a bill to impeach Vice President Dick Cheney. Please call your Congressman for support.) So I will be happy for him if Cleveland goes to the World Series, and I will root for them to win against either of those scum-sucking National League teams. (Congratulations Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks.)

But as a life-long Mets fan, I am a Yankee-hater. Well, perhaps "hater" is too strong a word. Let's say I dislike them intensely, but that is mainly because of their dickheaded owner, George Steinbrenner, a.k.a., "The Boss". (Or, "Herr Boss", according to some local papers.) I'll admit that I didn't really follow the Yankees too closely, but I know that Joe Torre is an outstanding manager (even though his tenure with the Mets wasn't his best showing), so I don't think this can be blamed completely on him, though I do understand the concept of Responsibility versus Blame. Whether or not you fire the GM, too, you have to fire the manager. I understand that, but it sucks on principle. Nevertheless, Torre will be free to make money doing baseball on TV if he wants or even just, like the politicians do, "spend more time with his family." I've always loved that one. It's just ambiguous enough to be interpreted as anything.

So I'm rooting for the Boston Red Sox, because I respect them, and I like them (even if just on principle and I can barely name four of them right now), and they have a special place in my heart because we beat them in 1986 in what has been called both an "miraculous" and "amazing" fashion.

And I like to drive 55 MPH where I'm allowed to and I don't appreciate people moseying along in front of me, oblivious to their surroundings, because they don't know they're allowed to drive faster. I consider them discourteous, to say the least. (A genetic step backwards, to say the most. Hey, that's what personal blogs are for, saying it like it is.)

Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving proof of your visit. I hope to be able to find a way to get more content here. In the meantime, feel free to peruse the other posts.

Anonymous said...

And btw, even though I was pleased with The Collapse, I did feel bad for Willie Randolph. He seems like such a nice guy. Can't root for his team, though...


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