The Biggest Losers

You know, life as a Mets fan.
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In the early 1990s, to wear a New York Mets hat at a Long Island elementary school was to risk ridicule. I tried it only once, in third grade, and I will never forget how the popular boys (Yankee fans, all of them) standing on line on our way to the cafeteria turned around and snickered, saying, in derisive voices that made tears well up in my eyes, “Let’s go Mets.”

Even in the under-10 demographic, Yankee fans were typically better-looking, wealthier, and more athletic than Mets fans, who tended to be chubbier or punier or, in my case, nerdier than the general elementary school population. It makes sense when you think about it. People who are accustomed to winning in real life will naturally gravitate toward the franchise that symbolizes excellence. It takes a certain amount of humility and comfort with being a loser to pull for a raggedy crew of screw-ups.

The earliest discernible memory of my 32 years as a Met fan is one that involves losing, badly, by an embarrassing number of runs. (I was too young to remember the glory of 1986.) I believe the year was 1990, at the height of Darryl Strawberry’s career, when he was my first favorite player because he was the obvious choice and I was seven years old. Others would follow: catcher Todd Hundley, second baseman Edgardo Alfonzo and, predictably, third baseman David Wright, who remains my favorite to this day. My little sister’s favorite player was outfielder Bobby Bonilla because she liked his metallic Oakley sunglasses.

On that sour summer afternoon, Strawberry crushed a homerun into the stands. We watched from the nosebleed section as the Shea Stadium apple rose up and down like a friendly puppet, as if to say, Hi guys, I’m still here! All is not lost!

But all was lost anyway. At one point during a late inning, when it had become clear that the Mets were going to lose, a frustrated drunk man in a tank top began shouting obscenities and my dad told him to watch his mouth around children. The man ignored him and continued to drop F-bombs and my father grew angrier and my mother implored him to please not cause a scene, and then we left early because she wanted to avoid traffic on the Grand Central Parkway.

All in all, it was a fairly accurate representation of what it was like to be a Mets fan for a Long Island kid in the 1990s.

***

My sister and I were serious baseball fans from a very early age. My dad would drive us to Shea Stadium and purchase two shiny programs in which we recorded, with tiny pencil stubs, every single play in a neat grid of squares. We treated this task with the utmost care, as if mistaking a strikeout swinging for a strikeout looking might affect the outcome of the game.

In this way we quickly learned how to read the box scores in the sports section of the newspaper. Because we understood the game as well as the boys did, we followed it with religious fervor. We hung on every bombastic word uttered by WFAN’s Mike and the Mad Dog and their irate callers. We watched the Mets cable channel for the commentary even when the games weren’t on.

Worshipping the Mets was so ingrained in my identity that it never occurred to me that some thought it rather unusual for little girls to truly love a sports team. When I think about it now, I can see that our obsession with baseball probably stemmed from the fact that, because my brother wasn’t born until I was 10, my dad shared his love of the game with us as if we were his sons. He expected us to understand the intricacies of the sport as well as he did. He taught us how to recognize a curveball from a slider, spot a double-play grounder hit into the infield, and determine why a player was bunting the ball incorrectly.

We didn’t hide our fandom, but we didn’t broadcast it, either. Somehow, telling the other girls at recess about that amazing catch in center field wasn’t something I thought would improve my already precarious social standing. Being a talented athlete was definitely cool, but being a baseball nerd was not.

As we grew older, like most sports fans, we measured our lives in concert with the highs and lows of our team. We watched with our hearts in our throats as they reached for greatness in 1999 and 2000. We despised John Rocker before everybody else did and glowered when Roger Clemens tossed a jagged piece of a bat at Mike Piazza. We listened as my grandmother bitterly vilified Joe Torre, the leader of our greatest enemies.

Yet even in the year 2000, when our boys were the best they’d been since we were old enough to appreciate it, our joy was stifled by the looming Yankees, who, like the big brother who never lets you win at Monopoly, handed us defeat after bruising defeat and sent us to bed sick to our stomachs, stung by the knowledge that we would never, could never, be winners.

I will not rehash what happened in 2006 and 2007 and 2008. Some things are too painful to remember.

***

In October, I was at Citi Field when Matt Harvey pitched a filthy game against the Cubs in Game One of the NLCS. Along with my sister and our husbands and parents and the rest of the Mets faithful, I screamed until my throat was hoarse and anxiously waved my orange towel in the air.

Unlike most games, when the classic “Let’s Go Mets” chant is a bit disjointed and chaotic and out of sync because, well, we’re Mets fans, the crowd chanted in perfect unison. We roared like a primal beast, unleashing the angst of a thousand losses.

Still, we knew it couldn’t last forever. After all, it never does. Not for Mets fans. We know better than that.

In the end, though, maybe it was enough to watch, the night they clinched the National League pennant, as an emotional fan embraced Terry Collins and mouthed “I love you” for the television cameras with the type of earnest affection that could only come from a Mets fan.

Maybe it was enough to see the shining look on David Wright’s face after he blasted the ball out of Citi Field, during the first and only World Series game that we would ultimately win, and rounded the bases to a vibrating stadium full of people who behaved as though they’d never seen a home run before.

Maybe it was enough, later, to exchange a high-five with the cashier at a store on the Upper West Side, the guy who saw my oversized Mets sweatshirt and said, grinning, “Let’s go Mets.”


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