Okay, Mets fans, I know that you (like I) dread spoiling things, jinxing them, putting the horns on our men in orange and blue. But as things stand here in New York City on June 24, 2006, I’m feeling a little bit like that Jolly Old Elf and Mr. Met all rolled up in one. Is it time to hang up our orange and blue stockings and hope for World Series tickets yet? I don’t know, but the smell of 1986 is undeniably in the air.
Thinking back to that glorious summer 20 years ago, I was deliriously happy at this time in June for the Mets were well ahead of the second place Expos and nothing seemed to be going wrong. Now in 2006, the Mets are comfortably ahead of the second place Phils by 11 games, and the always hated Bobby Cox and his Braves are in last place. Oh, do I love it. Yes, I am gloating and that’s dangerous, but I’ll take the chance right now because the cushion is big enough at this point.
Have you looked at the All Star voting? Beltran, Wright, Reyes, Delgado, and even Lo Duca are up there in the votes. Tom Glavine should get the start if anyone does things right. Smells like team spirit or something like Nirvana for long-suffering Flushing fans. The National League were Rodney Dangerfield teams in this town, never getting any respect. I mean, they used to call the Dodgers “Bums” even after they defeated the Yankees in 1955 in the sweetest of all victories. Even the “Amazin’ Mets” label is pejorative if you think of its ancestry, thrown on the team after losing so many games in the early years, and Willie Mays and Duke Snider never got the recognition they deserved compared to DiMaggio.
It always seemed to be this way until 1969, and by then the Yankees were more history than anything. The boys in Flushing made a splash in the big pond and the city was ready to toast them all the way. All the kids I knew and I were secretly listening to Mets games in school, hiding the transistor radios in our pants pockets and snaking the earphone up under our shirts into our ears covered by our hair. I got away with it until Sister Meanie asked me a geography question and I blurted out, "Uh, Ed Kranepool is on second with one out." Thus ended a great run as we were all inspected every day after that and our radios were confiscated.
The Mets earned respect but gave it away in 1973. That was the beginning of the end as the '70s Yankees blossomed and the Mets were forgotten for a time by many. The loyal fans remained and stayed on until the truly Amazin' 80s, and even after the long haul since 1986, I still remembered the late great Tug McGraw saying, "You gotta believe." And believe I did. If you were born with orange and blue in your veins like I was, there was and is no turning away from the Mets and the idea of ever wearing a Yankee cap is akin to putting a cross in front of a vampire.
Now with my team owning a 45-26 record in 2006, there are also very tangible signs that the tide is turning orange and blue again here in New York. I judge the sign of the times by what I see in public, especially the young people I encounter everywhere I go. A ride on the subway provides a good measure of what’s happening: there are just as many Mets T-shirts and caps being worn as there are Yankees. Go into a sporting goods store, and the Mets items are in the front racks where Yankees paraphernalia ruled even last year after they lost to the Bosox in 2004.
Even more impressive is when I pass a school, particularly the high school in Queens not far from where I live. The students in orange and blue clearly dominate the scene now as I watch the kids coming down the steps toward their buses. When I was growing up in Queens, the Mets ruled the borough, and it feels like that is happening all over again. The occasional guy in a Yankee cap walks along slowly, all the bravado and arrogance seemingly long gone.
This Mets resurgence is not relegated to their home borough. Just pass the Mets store on 42nd Street in Manhattan and see the crowds of shoppers going in excitedly and coming out with full shopping bags. Walk down the street and see Mets insignias in store windows, most notably major appliance stores that used to always have a Yankees sticker splashing across the TV screens. Also, go inside that appliance store and find more of the sets tuned to Mets games than Yankees games. At the newstand, the grocery store, the doctor's office, and the garage people are listening to Mets games on the radio. Ah, sweet delight.
I feel there is an overall benevolence for the Mets this year, even grudgingly, from some Yankees fans. A good friend who used to wear his Yankees cap all the time is starting to refrain from doing so after they lose a game. Why? He says that he’s “embarrassed” to wear it. Now, all real orange and blue in their blood Mets fans never have been accused of that. Losing takes character (just as much and probably a lot more than winning does) and Mets fans have had lots of experience with it over the years. Sometimes my friend will even manage to say, “Hey, your guys are doing good.” Man, to hear that from his Yankee-loving lips is, well, Amazin'.
It’s also hard to be a good loser, but it’s even harder to be a good winner. Yankees fans (at least those that I’ve known) have not been the latter. They have treated Mets fans despicably, and now that the Yankees are struggling a bit they are floundering. They have trouble with not winning and, with the Mets doing so well across town, Yanks fans are in an even greater predicament. One colleague who is a Yankees fan said it best, “You guys (Mets fans) know how to be losers, but we just don’t.” Yeah, uh, right.
Well, I don’t know what to say to him and others except to tough it out. That’s what Mets fans have been doing for many long years (between 1969 and 1986 and from 1986 until now). We don’t know what will happen yet, but I am confident that by September the Amazin’s will be still in the thick of it. With Boston doing so well, it would be very interesting to see a repeat of 1986 in the Fall Classic, but we do have an awfully long way to go.
I think that somewhere in the Mets section of heaven Casey Stengel, Gil Hodges, Tug McGraw, Tommie Agee, and many others are leading legions of passed on Mets fans in a cheer of “Let’s Go Mets.” If I stand quietly enough in the upper deck at Shea, I might be able to hear it, but I won’t have to wait long until another almost capacity crowd will echo those words as Wright, Delgado, or Beltran steps up to the plate.
I revel in the new look of the streets here in my hometown. There are more orange and blue shirts and caps being worn just like back in the 1980s when the Mets ruled New York. Yes, it’s beginning to look a lot like Chris-Mets in and it’s about time.