When looked at objectively sports fandom is a silly thing. One allows one’s emotions to be ruled not by your own accomplishments or actions, but by those of millionaires running around in funny clothes playing children’s games. They are doing nothing significant like curing cancer, ending hunger, or fighting injustice.  They are playing a game with arbitrary rules in a confined space for a prescribed time. Yet those accomplishments of others can become the way stations to measure your journey through life.  I suspect it has been this way for others. So it has been with me and the New York Mets.

For me sports fandom was an addiction perpetrated on an unsuspecting 12 year old boy in 1962. It was in that year that a new National League team called the Mets started playing baseball.  As a first time sports fan it seemed appropriate that my interest in baseball and the new team began at the same time. I watched that team win only 40 games and set a mark for losing and breaking my heart that stands until today. The ace of the pitching staff, Al Jackson, lost 20 games. Their manager Casey Stengel is purported to have said “Can’t anybody here play this game?” Through the next few years I suffered defeat after defeat with my heroes, so much so that defeats in my real life became easier to bear. Then came that magical year and a half that began in January 1969.  I had expanded my fandom to other New York ball clubs including the Jets in football and the Knicks in basketball. The greatest year and a half in New York sports history began with the Jets winning the Super Bowl behind Joe Namath’s guarantee, continued with the Miracle Mets winning the World Series in October, 1969 and ended with the New York Knicks winning the NBA championship for the 1969-70 season. Other New York sports teams have won championships in other years but for me as a fan of those teams this was the pinnacle of success: championships in three different sports. More to the point it made me optimistic about life. As B.F. Skinner was to argue later intermittent reinforcement was a powerful thing.  It meant that even in the darkest of times one would hold onto hope. The rise of the Mets from perennial doormats to world champions proved to me that anything was possible.

The second trip of the Mets to the World Series came in 1973.  I had just moved to go to grad school with my new bride.  When we left New York in August the Mets were mired in a morass in the National League east division.  With so much change in my life I must admit that from August on I gave them scant attention.  When I finally looked at the sports pages in October lo and behold the Mets were going to the World Series.  I did not know how this had happened and it was totally unexpected. Moreover they were playing the Oakland A’s who were a local team in my new northern California environs. It was therefore splashed all over the local news and newspapers. I was now in enemy territory and my rooting for the Mets had to be somewhat circumspect.  I had to endure the ravings of many Oakland fans.  I had not been around for Tug McGaw’s “Ya gotta believe,” exhortation but the Mets pitching staff of Seaver, Koosman, and Matlack revived my hope. As it turned out that hope was in vain and the long trek into the desert of despair began.

The third Mets’ appearance in the World Series was in 1986. I was by then teaching in a small New England liberal arts school deep in Boston Red Sox country and surrounded by Red Sox fans. I had spent the early eighties there.  This was before the internet made it easy to listen to even far away ball games.  I would climb up to the highest point inside my house and if atmospheric conditions were just right I could  barely hear the dulcet tones of Bob Murphy as my radio picked up the Mets broadcast network from somewhere. I could not always hear it but each time I could there was the comforting feel of home as I listened to the voice and the team of my youth. The success of the 1986 team did not come to me as much of a surprise as the 1973 team. However I was once again behind enemy lines. In public places on campus the newfangled large screen televisions played the games watched by hordes of adoring and equally long suffering Red Sox fans. Given that most of my students were such fans I had to appear impartial and again be circumspect with my own allegiance. At home at least I could be myself and watch the games on my own small television. It was there that I could jump for joy as Mookie’s grounder rolled through Buckner’s legs and the tide was finally turned. I spent the next two days commiserating with my students on the outside yet whooping with joy on the inside.

The Mets’ fourth appearance in the World Series found me far away in South Africa.  I had gone there  in July to teach in my college’s study abroad program. With the inversions of seasons their semester was from July through November so I missed the last half of the American baseball season. It was also so far away that baseball was a foreign concept to them.  You could see and hear more than enough about rugby, cricket and soccer.  If you wanted to talk sports it had to be about one of those. South African whites knew more about American golf than American baseball and hardly anyone black or white had played or even seen the game. Again the Mets’ appearance in the championship came as a complete surprise to me. That it was against the hated Yankees and a true “subway series” only magnified how far away from home I was. The vast time difference even made it hard to follow the scores as most game were played  in what were the pre-dawn mornings in South Africa. As it turned out this was fortunate as the Yankees won the series in five games.

It is now fifteen years later and I am retired. I have been retired for enough years to have followed the Mets from the euphoria and the despair of the 2006 season (Adam Wainwright’s final curve ball to Beltran plays over and over in my head) to the Sandy Alderson’s rebuilding efforts of the last five years. The internet has made it easier to follow the team and watch games.  Email has made it easier to commiserate and keep in touch with fellow Mets fans. The town where I live has a minor league team that is in the same league as the Mets triple A team, so I have even been able to see some of their youngsters on the way up. Even so I didn’t think this team as constituted in April would make it to the World Series.  As late as July I still didn’t think so. The tinkering at the trade deadline, the return from injury of key players, and the influx of rookies like Syndergaard and Conforto have transformed this team. Since August they have played with a self-confidence, a belief in each other, and a penchant for making the right play at the right time, that has me beaming. Their post season victories over the league’s top pitchers (Kershaw, Greinke, Lester and Arrieta) and the performance of both their starting pitchers and their relief corps has me optimistic again. Still when you are a Mets fan disappointment and despair is never far away. They may win or they may lose. However I am not in enemy territory and surrounded by fans whose every scream of joy or look of despair inspires just the opposite in me. I no longer have to appear impartial or circumspect in my fandom. I am therefore going to sit back and enjoy this one.  I’ve earned it.

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