It’s a question that I hear all too often, even from people who know me well.
“But really, why do you like the Mets so much?”
Perhaps it’s asked so often because it’s a very hard question to answer. Why do I like the Mets? The only true answer is hours of stories – Marvelous Marv and Choo Choo Coleman all the way to Sean Gilmartin’s improbable success at the plate and Ronny Cedeño’s near home run against the Rockies three years ago, with good and bad, wins and losses, George Foster and Dae Sun Koo along the way.
And regrettably, not many people want to hear about that.
In the practical sense, of course, it’s simpler: I’m a Mets fan because my dad was a Mets fan, and he was a Mets fan because his mother was a Mets fan, and she was a Mets fan because she’d been a Brooklyn Dodgers fan until they left, and then decided to find a new team that wasn’t too far from the old one. She was a Dodgers fan because if you lived in Brooklyn in the 1940s and ‘50s, you were a Dodgers fan. That’s just what you did.
What happened to those days?
But although that’s the correct answer in the most mundane sense, it doesn’t really answer the question, or if it does, it answers it in the wrong way. No one really cares whether my grandmother lived in Brooklyn or The Bronx; they’re asking about me. And the question deserves an answer independent from factors beyond my own control. They want to know why I myself am a fan, not how I was forced to become one.
And for a long time, I wasn’t sure myself.
I would answer the question with a standard line about how the Mets were more fun to watch, or how their games were more exciting, or something like that. I knew I wasn’t going to lose my fandom, because beyond a certain point, that’s just out of the question, but I also wasn’t sure why I stuck to it so fervently in the first place. It seemed like dogma, always accepted and never questioned but maybe not exactly true. But it’s not.
I know it’s not, because in the days after the World Series, when baseball was associated with all manor of crazy emotions in my head, I thought long and hard about the essence of the question. And in the end, I realized the truth: I hadn’t been sprouting standard lines at all.
Mets games are more fun to watch, and their players are more exciting, and it’s not just because I’m a fan. And although the team that I’m really comparing to is the Yankees, who I know relatively well because they get all the good airtime in New York — although somehow, given one team’s World Series run and the other’s conspicuous wildcard loss, I feel that’s about to change — I get a feeling that this is true for the majority of Major League Baseball.
But why are the Mets more exciting to watch? Well, to put it simply, they play baseball like a sport. And although it doesn’t seem obvious, many other teams don’t.
The Yankees certainly don’t. The Yankees are run firmly as a business, and they don’t like players outside of what they accept as normal because the fans may not like them. The Mets, despite their payroll situation, are not run like a business. Sure, perhaps the money is spent with profit in mind. But the players who the money is spent on are here not because they’re assets, but because they’re athletes.
Consider one of the 2015 season’s iconic moments, Wilmer Flores night. Wilmer had cried two days earlier when he’d found out that he would – almost – be joining the Milwaukee Brewers. He and Wheeler, we thought, were headed there, in exchange for briefly-former Met Carlos Gomez.
Now imagine the same thing taking place in Yankee Stadium, and stop immediately because you can’t. You just can’t. A mid-tier prospect shedding more than a few tears at the thought of leaving the organization that he had spent eight years with? That’s not how things happen in the Bronx. The Yankees probably would have fined him for an unprofessional display of emotion. Then they would have dumped him off at the deadline for nothing, and then made a blockbuster deal for Troy Tulowitzki, who, upon arrival, would have been forced to trim his hair so he didn’t earn the disapproval of the season ticket holders sitting in the first row.
No, the Yankees didn’t get involved in baseball for the human element. On the Yankees, deGrom would lose his hair immediately, as would Thor. Cespedes would lose the neon sleeve in favor of a uniform, dark blue one. If I’m a Yankees fan, all the facial hair experiments that we’ve seen over the last few years, like the little known Daniel Murphy Mustache of 2013 which brings a smile to my face to this day, would be for naught, replaced by somewhat whiny complaints that even though our left fielder – the Yankees, that is – was perfectly fine, we needed a new one, because IT’S WHAT GEORGE WOULD HAVE DONE, GOD DAMN IT!!!!
Who are the Yankees? They’re NBC news anchors. They’re John Kasich or Hillary Clinton. They stick pretty close to the middle, because if they move too far either way, they become deathly scared of losing their supporters. Kasich growing his hair long? Hillary going out on the campaign trail wearing bright yellow? Forget it. It’s not going to happen. Now think of the Yankees doing something unorthodox — say, leaking the news that a trade had been made before announcing that there hadn’t been any trade. Well, Hal runs a tight ship. That’s not happening in the Bronx.
The Mets are Bernie Sanders, and they’re damn proud of it. They’re the eccentric underdogs, fighting for recognition, and their supporters are all the more loyal because of the uphill battle. They’ve got less money to spend, but the money they do have comes from the real fans – not from corporations, in the form of suite leases or campaign contributions, but fans that sit in the upper deck and have seats from Shea Stadium in their living rooms and can still tell you the story about that day in 1980 when Steve Henderson hit the walk-off home run against the Giants. The Mets are for the people, not themselves, and they may not win as much as we’d like, but man oh man, are they fun to follow.
Of course, these are just subjective statements, and there’s always the matter of whether being run as a business instead of a ball club is what you want from a baseball team. For the longest time, the Mets were emphatically not run as a business — giving Oliver Perez three years, $36 million hardly qualifies as businesslike — and it was ultimately to their detriment. The Yankees, throughout the dynasty years of the late 1990s, were nothing more a win factory, and I’m sure their fans enjoyed it immensely. But there’s a balance, and the 2015 Mets found it. We spent well, but didn’t reign in our players’ creative interests. We had character, but not at the expense of talent.
For fans who hadn’t seen postseason action since 2006, the 2015 World Series was just about as great as it gets. But you can’t always make the World Series, and from year to year, the regular season, the experience of watching a team mesh together and grow over 162 games, is the real reward. The postseason is extra. If you’re lucky, you get between 11 and 20 games in October and November, and you get to be crowned champion of your division, or your league, or the world. But winning, in the end, isn’t what baseball is about.
Baseball is about all those things it’s always been about, that have turned into cliches but can still be found at any decent ballpark. Baseball is about hot dogs in the stands, the radio on the beach, the portable TV in the attic. It’s about fun. It’s about watching a team of guys who have fun while doing what they do, all while having fun yourself. You don’t have to make the World Series every year to do that.
The Yankees, as I’ve written before, are a factory that produces wins, and if all you’re looking for is winning, then head on over to the Bronx. Personally, I don’t care for this approach. Baseball is a game, with fun as the end result. Who hangs out in a factory for fun, even if it does produce wins? But although the numbers that define baseball – and sports in general – can now be largely reduced to statistics and lines of computer code, the experience of the game cannot. If all you want is a win, you don’t need to bother watching the game; just read the score online, or in the paper. If seeing a W next to your team’s name, regardless of how it got there, is satisfaction enough from a baseball game, the Yankees are your team.
You could think of a baseball game as a factory assembly line, with eighteen separate stations that, together, yield a score and a result. If you do think of a game that way, you may be a Yankees fan. Put a stud pitcher and a mediocre offense through the machines, and at the end, out comes W 1-0, and that’s all you need to know about the game. But quite clearly, that isn’t how baseball was meant to be. The end result isn’t all that matters; if it was, anyone could check the score three hours after first pitch, and have satisfied their baseball yearning for the night. Baseball is not an assembly line; it’s far more.
Instead, I like to think of a ballgame as a long, slow trip — if we’re really romanticizing, a cross-country train ride. You could look at the weeks-long process, and reduce it to starting in New York one day and ending up in California three weeks later, but if that’s what you want, you can just fly. Baseball gives you the stops along the way, which provide the stories that form the true meat of the experience. Division rivalries as you pull through Philadelphia and Atlanta. A clincher in Cincinnati. Carlos Beltran falling down on Tal’s Hill in Houston. A dirty slide in Los Angeles.
And then the trip is over, and you’ve reached your destination, and maybe it’s the greatest destination you could possibly have hoped for: a World Series trophy. But the trophy, the end of your journey, is not the experience that lasts. The stuff that sticks with you forever is watching every day for six months, going to sleep knowing that there’s another game tomorrow, and knowing that no matter what happens in the future, today, the Mets, our guys, have a ballgame to play.
We Mets fans, as Twitter will attest, are not the kinds of people who are satisfied with checking the score on the ESPN app and turning in for the night knowing the score and nothing else. We’re there for every stop, the long, boring, inconvenient ones every bit as much as the thrilling nail-biters. We watch, and we watch doggedly, for one reason: our team is not a factory that spews out wins and losses, but a group of people that we’ve come to know and appreciate. We love our team and the players that make up our team, and when our guys succeed, we’re right there with them. We don’t cheer for the W; we cheer for the players that make it happen.
And again, this could just be a Mets fan not understanding how other fan bases feel, but I don’t think so. Given the chance to experience Mets fandom, and take in our history, passion, and emotional connection, I think a great many casual fans of the Brewers or the Padres – well, teams like the Brewers or the Padres, you know what I mean – would choose the Mets fan lifestyle. And while I detest what the Wilpons did for so long to tear our team apart, and what they’re doing right now to prevent us from building on an incredible World Series run, I can say that in my mind, the connection we have with our team, which I have yet to see rivaled anywhere else in baseball, means we’ve got it pretty good.
So from now on, when the inevitable question is posed to me, that’s how I’ll answer it:
Because baseball is more than a win or a loss.
Because players are worth more to a real fan than 1.2 or 3.6 or 5.9 wins.
Because when a player cries on the field, it means they’re playing the game the right way, not the wrong one.
And above all, because baseball, for 170 years, has been about having fun. And the Mets, for all the shortcomings that I’ll freely admit they have, know damn well how to have fun.