Watching Mets Classics recently, specifically the Mets five-run ninth inning comeback against the Cubs on May 17th, 2007, a few phrases came to the forefront of my mind. They were the opening lyrics of the 1989 hit from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Runnin’ Down A Dream.
It was a beautiful day,
The sun beat down…
Despite the excitement of the game, that’s what struck me: the sun. May 17th, 2007 happened to be a beautiful day, at least in the borough wherein Mets fans and, occasionally, quality players habitually converge, and the sun, as Tom Petty artfully put it, was beating down. That sunny summer glow, so conspicuously absent under currently deplorably gray winter skies, was in abundance. Everything the TV showed, whether it was the shoulder of Lou Piniella’s jacket or the area between the mound and the plate back in good ole’ Shea Stadium, glowed with the light of summer. And I, as a baseball fan craving the end of the snow and the start of the Spring, was happy.
I didn’t notice this then – I was more than sufficiently occupied with the rollicking exploits of the 2007 Mets B-squad – but after some careful reflection on what exactly the game had that was so alluring, it seemed obvious: this game embodied the spirits of Mets fans everywhere. This game, at its inner levels, can explain to a neutral onlooker just why we choose to follow this ridiculous team, and exactly what we get in return.
Although the Mets did win the game in question in inarguably spectacular fashion, they unequivocally lost 2007 as a whole. We kept rooting for them in 2008, and we’ve kept it up in the far-too-many intervening losing seasons. We’re not front-runners: if we were, there would be far fewer of us, considering the sparseness with which the Mets get anywhere close enough to the front to run with. A Mets fan is a Mets fan: no one who has experienced baseball at Shea Stadium, and now Citi Field, will skip town to root for the Pirates when the going gets tough. No, Mets fans, who acknowledge this with an air of resignation usually reserved for office workers a few years from retirement, are in it for the long haul. We rooted hard in May 2007, but the true fans among us will root just as hard in May 2015, whether the Mets lead the division or the draft pick race.
Just as we don’t root because the Mets give us wins in return, we don’t root because the Mets spend lavishly on their fans. Although we all loved Shea Stadium, that was almost entirely because of the history it contained, although some, myself included, enjoyed, aesthetically speaking, the openness of the outfield which Citi Field so conspicuously lacks. The last few years have proven that the Mets, or at least the people who run them, know very well that their fans – or, in their minds, customers – will keep coming back whether the bathrooms work or not, whether the concourses are 14 feet wide or 40, whether their seat is perfectly angled towards the pitchers mound. On May 17th, 2007, the Mets played in a ballpark which was torn down a year and change later, to be replaced by, well, you know. THAT’S how much the Mets care about their fans: we loved Shea for its history, and as a replacement, they gave us the history of a team that left New York in 1957, and destroyed one of our best World Series chances since 1986. And yet, despite the fact that Fred W!lpon jammed 50-some-odd years of Mets history into a small side room attached to the gift shop, we continue to root feverishly. Ownership has got one thing right, even if wed’d prefer them to have this one wrong: we won’t be, and have never been, dissuaded by the many inconveniences that the Mets saddle us with. I mean, for Piazza’s sake, it seems like some of the inconveniences the Mets foist upon their fans are merely tests to determine the limits of this fanbase’s borderline unhealthy attachment to the team – and if they are, they succeed: we keep coming back, and we don’t plan on leaving any time soon.
But what particular allure does the Sun hold? Well, at the heart of it, it’s pretty simple: generally, meteorological irregularities, climate change, and playoffs notwithstanding, there’s sun shining down on perfectly maintained infield grass for about as long as there’s baseball. We all love baseball, although the complex reasons why are a story for another time, and as a general rule, sun means summer, and summer means baseball. It’s been that way for as long as most anyone can remember: in Herman Raucher’s Summer of ’42, considered by many the standard to be worked towards of the romanticization of summer, Hermie, the 15 year old main character, is fascinated by two things: women and baseball. Hermie, back in 1942, was a fan of the New York Giants, who are apparently paid tribute by the color of the Citi Field seats (although frankly, I would have preferred orange, blue, green, and red), and in the summer, there isn’t much else to do: in this classic work, one of the earliest idealizations of summer, the main character’s room is festooned with baseball legends. “On the wall, the one with the window, Hermie decorated with autographed photos of Mel Ott, Johnny Rucker, and Hank Danning because he was a Giants fan.” Since 1942, or roundabouts then, we haven’t looked back: we love baseball, and summer is baseball season. As far as it goes, that’s the simple reason why we delude ourselves in the middle of winter into thinking that maybe the sun will come out, and in the same spirit, cheer in unison when the sun emerges from behind a lingering cloud during the 6th inning of a 9-1 loss: we love baseball, and baseball is played in the sun. For still the same reason, the sight of a sunny day is that much more attractive in the dead of winter, when even the most hardcore fans have admitted that it’s too cold for the Mets jacket: it’s a reminder, however irrelevant or indirect, that the sun – and, indirectly, baseball season – is coming.
So why do we root? We root because we’re baseball fans, and more than that, we root because we’re true baseball fans. We’re not at the ballpark because it sounded like fun one night, or because it’s what all the kids are doing these days, but for two reasons: we can appreciate, with genuine intellect, the beauty of the game being played before us, and we care. We care about the result of the contest in which we have no part as much as, or more than, almost anything else. You call it delusional? I call it believing. I call it being a Mets fan.
As the 2015 season approaches, it’s as important as ever to remember just why we love this gosh-darned team. It’s important to remember that a day at the ballpark, at least after the emotions calm down, is just plain fun, whether it results, as it did at various points last year for me, in a dreadful loss on the arm of Jose Valverde or a 14 inning walk-off win. And above all, it’s important to remember that the Mets, despite ownership’s best efforts to the contrary, are not immune to a little good luck once in a while. The dynasty of 1986 disintegrated, but the Art Howe era fell apart equally fast, and was replaced by the Randolph reign, which, if underwhelming, sure was sun while it lasted.
Since 2009, we’ve been beaten down in almost every way possible. I’m not alone in believing that this could – just could – be the year it all changes. I’m not saying that it will – with the Mets, to guarantee anything is outright folly – but it could happen. And if we remember why we root, and stick to our irrationally devoted guns, that may be all we need.