As a fan of a particular team, a true die-hard fan, you are well aware of the kind of fan your team generally attracts. For instance, Yankees fans tend to be overweight, aspiring alpha-males. Red Sox fans, interestingly enough, also tend to be overweight, aspiring alpha-males. The Phillies fan is a foul-mouthed nuisance; perhaps no city has perpetuated over aggressive feux-fandom quite like Philadelphia. Rays fans have been rumored to exist, but the length and expense of the search has become high, and frankly, no one really cares.
Being a fan is mostly geography. But there is also some undeniable psychology involved. There is a certain type of person who is drawn to be a fan of the Dallas Cowboys or the New York Yankees (assholes, I like to call them) despite not being from New York or Dallas, because of what those brands represent. Success. You like winning, the Cowboys win, Romo gets the girl, Charlie Sheen reference, let’s do this! It’s the reason these teams are most popular among casual fans, and have become international brands that transcend baseball or even sports in general.
Conversely, you need look no further than Red Sox Nation pre-2004 to see what kind of fans the perennial underdog draws. Everyone who got picked last in tag, who got ditched for the girls bathroom at the middle school dance, everyone who watched Rudy and thought it was really about them. Those types were drawn to the Red Sox like babes to the breast. They almost couldn’t help it. the Cursed Sox might have had more personality as a fanbase than any team in sports history, if for nothing more than the loud and relentless way in which they would fail to meet expectations. Having lived in Boston for a second World Series win, and through a time where winning championship titles have become an understandably jaded accomplishment, I can confirm that being a Sox fan is not the same post-Curse. People just don’t care as much, and not just Bill Simmons people. No one cares as much. The Boston Bruins, in many ways, had to begrudgingly raise Bostons’ “we’re a bunch of underdogs goddamnit!” banner after the Sox started winning, but then they went and ruined it by winning a Stanley Cup. The nerve!
Maybe it’s because I’m a Mets fan, but to me no team attracts a more neurotic, masochistic. and generally pitiful fan-base than the Metropolitans. It’s hard to know if the legendary history of Mets ineptitude is the draw or the cause, and quite frankly at this point it is a “chicken and egg” discussion. The New York Mets attract and create baseball fans who love to hate, who gain pleasure from pain, and who know no more uncomfortable situation than one where things seem to be going alright.
So, we’re sitting here at 6-2. For the first time in maybe four full seasons, the New York Mets are legitimately exceeding expectations. Not only that, but it’s been done in that delightfully scrappy way that usually endears compliments for “playing the right way” or “putting ego’s aside”. Worthless platitudes aside, the results on the field are nonetheless positive. So why am I so damn pissed off?
A few reasons. They all have to do with perspective. Looking at the situation from right now, this instance, I’m pissed. I’m pissed because this was the year, as a Mets fan, that I was going to flex my influences on the team, meager though they may be, as a sign that they have no met my standards as a fan. Growing up, the Mets’ sucking was mostly just understood, like the sky being blue. By the time I was a sentient fan, Bobby V had squeezed a few decent seasons and even a World Series appearance out of the team, and I was just about to enjoy the beginnings of David Wright and Jose Reyes’ careers in New York. All things considered, the universe timed things well for me as a Mets fan. I could have had to live through all of this crap.
Still, the debacle that started in 2008 was a truly incredible fold of worthlessness even for a team with such an illustrious history of mismanagement as New York. By the time house was cleaned, the stink was pervasive — the franchise was rotten at the ownership levels, toxic in the front office, dysfunctional on the fiend and inept in the scouting booth. Besides individual players here and there, guys who deserved the praise, no one with any professional relation to the Mets deserved praise. After years of overpriced tickets, overpriced stars, the Mets outdid themselves by revealing that they had squandered over $300 million dollars…with Bernie Madoff. Really? That was the last straw.
So this year, I was done with the Mets. How could they -possibly- trick me into caring, or thinking that this collection of human beings will not only be somewhat competent, but MORE competent than other collections of other human beings. We done heard that one before, fellas, and it ain’t gonna fly this time.
And then this happens. How? How did losing the games best leadoff man, and signing a bunch of pitchers who couldn’t get outs last season, and keeping a bunch of guys who couldn’t get hits last season, turn a bad team into a (for now) good one? There are a few answers, and they all speak to the other part of this story that is just pissing me off. Firstly, the Mets have finally arrived at a place worth reviewing in one sense. In last nights 5-0 win, the Mets fielded a starting lineup of: Reuben Tejada, Dan Murphy, David Wright, Ike Davis, Jason Bay, Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Josh Thole, with Jonathan Niese pitching. Outside of Jason Bay, who is also not surprisingly the worst, most overpaid player on the roster, all of the starters are home grown. Pause, re-read, contemplate and continue. The New York Mets basically fielded an entire team of home-grown players. This is something a.) remarkable, b.) good and c.) that tortured fans have been pining for since the immortal Kazmir-Zambrano trade. Don’t trade our best prospects (Kazmir at the time) for shitty veterans who won’t help us not make the playoffs (Victor Zambrano). The Mets desire for a quick-fix is something that comes with operating a franchise in New York, the fans and the media are not patient with rebuilding projects. Still, there are “quick fixes” like the Yankees do them, and then there is signing Roberto Alomar right after his last good season. Or paying Mo Vaughn in cheeseburgers without wondering what it might do to his conditioning. The 2001 Mets Front Office would have signed Pierre Garcon to a $175 million contract if they were signing NFL free agents this season.
Regardless of what happens from here, this alone is truly cause to celebrate. And while I’m definitely not happy, and this is definitely still an angry article, it is very important to note this a seminal, potential-turning-point for some future period of success.
What else happened? Well, I’m not a scout, and we have 156 games left, so getting into the knitty-gritty won’t be doing anyone any favors at this point. I will say, however, that the Collins/Alderson regime has a different feel to it than Minaya and the Boys. Mets fans have been burdened with inept, unprofessional management for so long that it might be lost on them what adept, professional management can do for a franchise. Everyone seems a little more focused, a little more prepared, a little more locked in. These things definitely matter.
So with all that in mind, don’t mind me while I continue to be pissed. Why? Because I know this is a mirage. The pieces are in place for a good team, some season; but not this season. With every early season win, this team simply hypes the anticipation for their eventual and inevitable downfall. There are just too many holes on the roster, and too many talented teams around the league, for contention to be a viable consideration. The bullpen will come back down to earth, and history says these particular guys might plummet especially hard. The lineup still lacks pop, and would even if Jason Bay weren’t a corpse. Daniel Murphy is a damn good hitter, but we still aren’t sure if the man can play a position in the field. Will Ike Davis stop thinking about last season long enough to get a hit? Who shores up the back end of the rotation? And are we really running with Frank Francisco (a guy who can’t keep the ERA under 3.0 with significant appearances) as the closer all year?
Frustrating questions for a team to consider, for sure. And it’s 1000x more frustrating as a fan when you know it doesn’t matter. I tried so, so hard to spare myself the stress. Yet here I am, breaking sweat over Daniel Murphy’s long-term fielding projections in a season where his team is probably going to finish in fourth place. Most people would just change the channel. Yet this is that strange, happy place we call being a Mets fan.
So I begrudgingly admit that, despite my best intentions, I will be following the New York Mets this year. I will curse at every passed ball, wrench at every booted grounder, laugh when Keith Hernandez laughs and cry when Big Pelf cries. At some point in the next month or two, I might even do some favorable math and determine that the Mets have a shot at the postseason. Even in the midst of the madness I know that it’s all a game, a distraction, a fantasy. But then again, maybe the Mets are my favorite team for a reason.