"East Side, West Side,
All around the town;
The Mets and Yanks fans are training;
They’re ready to go a few rounds.
Boys and girls are a bit anxious,
But that's not stopping them from talking the talk;
If either the Mets or Yanks win the Series,
Look out on the sidewalks of New York!"
(with apologies to Chas. B. Lawlor and James W. Blake)
It’s becoming very apparent on the streets of New York that the city is preparing for war between Mets and Yankees on the baseball diamond. One can see an almost equal amount of colors being worn by people around town for both clubs. There are signs in store windows; flags for both teams are flying from car antennas, and even babies in carriages are wearing team shirts and hats. The thing I (as a Met fan) am waiting for most is to see The Empire State Building bathed in orange and blue. Yes, ladies and gentleman, the gloves are off and the fun has just begun.
Of course, the Yankees have to first get through the Detroit Tigers and the Mets will have to deal with the Dodgers. The Yankees would seem to have the easier task here, for the Tigers literally collapsed and had to settle for the wild card instead of winning their division. It is almost unbelievable that a team seemingly destined for one hundred wins and a runaway with their division fell apart like this. As Mets fans have come to know, when Kenny Rogers is involved, all bets are off.
The Mets have their own problems meeting the Dodgers at Shea starting on Wednesday afternoon. Some of us diehard (and older) Mets fans can recall the crushing loss to the Dodgers in the playoffs in 1988, when a hobbled Kirk Gibson and a ubiquitous Orel Herscheiser (working as a starting pitcher and reliever) led their team to victory over the Amazins. What we’re really dealing with here is not just the LA team but the Brooklyn ghosts, notwithstanding all those former Dodgers who subsequently went on to wear Mets orange and blue (current Met Shawn Green is one of them).
If the Mets and Yanks can get through their respective division series, then there is the more difficult and daunting league championship series. We won’t know which opponents will be waiting, but these are really just like preliminary rounds. Everyone here in New York knows what they want to happen and, while there is no guarantee that the Mets and Yankees will make it to the World Series, most of us are salivating at the prospect of a rematch of the 2000 Fall Classic.
As a Met fan, I like to think things are going to be different this time. Back in 2000 we were dealing with the Bobby Valentine-Mike Piazza Mets. These guys were a likeable enough bunch, but they were not dominating or any way similar to their 1986 counterparts. Conversely, the 2006 Mets look an awful lot like the guys from the Hernandez-Johnson Mets. While not without their controversy (Lastings Milledge is something like him, but nothing really close to Darryl Strawberry in the talent department as of yet), the 2006 Mets are a clean, lean, nothing-near-mean fighting machine.
The 2006 Yanks remind me a good deal of the old Don Mattingly era Yankees. Derek Jeter has morphed into a leader like Mattingly with 200-plus hits and almost took the batting title. These are still Torre’s boys, but there is a new feel to them thanks to contributions from young players like Melky Cabrera and Robinson Cano. Also, veterans like Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui were just getting hot at the end of the season, so more than anything else the Yanks can be categorized as dangerous. In some ways, much more so than the 2000 team seemed to be.
There is also the walking wounded and the stretcher case (aka Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez). Johnson has struggled all year and one must wonder if he can muster the grit and determination necessary to get out there and pitch like he used to. The Mets are in worse shape because Pedro is gone and has confirmed the fear most fans had all along. Pedro is a great guy and an amazing presence in the clubhouse, but he is fragile and always seems this close to breaking a bone, pulling a muscle, or popping something. Without him, the team is less confident and yet there is the possibility that young John Maine might step up and surprise us all (if he can keep the ball from being hit over the wall too much).
Whatever actually happens in the playoffs does, of course, matter a great deal, but New Yorkers have been treated to a year of solidly played baseball by both of its teams, but we’re not satisfied with that by any means. So now, as we all wait for the first volley, New Yorkers are preparing their base camps and stocking up on gear necessary for the long struggle ahead. If both teams can make it to the World Series, then there will be a battle for the city like no has seen since 2000 (but, as a Met fan, I am praying it’s more like no has seen since 1955 when the Dodgers finally deflated the Yankee bubble).
So I am hoping for a Subway Series, but if I get my wish I can’t help thinking that I might be quoting the immortal words of Charles Dickens even before the first pitch is thrown: "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times." Still, there is nothing like this tale of two cities here in old New York: the New York Mets City verses the New York Yankees City. Let the games begin!