I started thinking about this the other day, Jimmy, as we named Gil Hodges as manager for our All-Time “2 Guys” Team and concluded our series. What about the fans? Who are the heartiest, which ones are guaranteed to be fans for life?
All fans are not alike. There are plenty of folks who say they are fans of a team when it is convenient and fun, and then when the going gets a little rough they bail. Many actually switch allegiances, they just go buy a few new hats and switch sides. We all know those folks.
Yes, and we hate them.
They are the ones I pity, as they do not ever get to truly understand the full joy of the experience. It’s about connection, of living through the ups and the downs. If you don’t put in the time, you just can’t get the full payoff.
It’s also that great line from The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn: “You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat.”
Anyway, Jimmy, if it is okay with you I want to figure out the ultimate “2 Guys” fan. This has to be a little different, I’m not suggesting we go find an actual person. Instead, I want to look at the eras of our franchise and suggest that we are living among the greatest generation of Mets fans ever. Today. Right now.
So I’m like Tom Brokaw? And the fans during the 2007 collapse were like the Easy Company assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, and those games in late September were our time in the woods of Bastogne? Yeah, it kind of felt like that. (But on soft, cushy furniture.)
Yes, you’ve got the idea.
I went off to college in 1979 and I have to confess, I nearly bailed on the blue and orange. Not that I could ever conceive of rooting for another team — I hate those creeps who change alliances — “What, you’re a Yankees fan now?” But during my college years, the Islanders were killing it. Bryan Trottier! Bobby Nystrom! Clark Gillies! (Talk about tough guys.) I may have shown more passion for — gulp — hockey. So if you stuck with the Mets through those lean years, you were not only hardcore, you had great seats to the apocalypse!
Great seats! They used to close the Upper Deck at Shea back then. And the Yankees had George, and Reggie, the whole Bronx Zoo thing going on. So let’s face facts, the Mets were not creating a lot of new fans at that time. But you know what? I know some of those late 1970′s converts now. Folks in their early 40′s. Guys named Tom, and Ken, Vinnie, Dan, and oh yes a guy named Artie. And these guys are some of the most hardcore fans I have met. They are serious like a heart attack about the Mets. This makes sense to me, if you became a fan then, if that is the time period that you chose the Mets you are never giving up on the team. But I have to tell you, as difficult a time as that was to become a Mets fan, I think any post-2006 converts have them beat.
Well, this hits home. My middle kid, Gavin, is in 8th grade. Thirteen years old and a Mets fan. Yesterday, out of the blue, he said to me, “I’m looking forward to baseball and the Mets this season.”
It kind of hit me in the chest. Because all this kid has seen has been abject misery. Well, not all. Quick story: On June 11, 2005, he was a week away from his 6th birthday. So I brought Gavin and his older brother, Nick, to see the Mets play the Angels. It was Gavin’s first game. And it began with a rain delay of 1 hour and 24 minutes. Oh great, my kid isn’t 6 yet, we’ve been here for 2 and 1/2 hours and the game hasn’t even started. You know all those tricks that parents use to keep young kids interested at the ballpark? Cotton candy? Sure, don’t tell Mom — but you’ll have to wait for the 6th inning. The plastic helmet with the ice cream? A t-shirt from the gift shop? The big foam finger? (“Well, let’s not get crazy here.”) You string out each small reward, hoping you’ll get through nine innings. Problem is, I used up all that equity before the game even started. The pipsqueak was already yawning.
Well, it turned out to be a legendary game. Beltran climbed the wall to take away a home run from Bengie Molina. Kris Benson started and pitched great. Piazza hit a single and, later, a double off the wall. Jose Reyes stole 3B. Wright did nothing, but he was there. It was a taut, well-played game. Then it took off for the stratosphere. Marlon Anderson, pinch-hitting against K-Rod in the 9th, the Mets down by a run, hit the craziest, nuttiest inside-the-park home run you’ll ever see — CF Steve Finley, failing to make a tough catch, accidentally kicked the ball past Vladimir Guerrero and into the RF corner. Anderson chugged around the bases, Manny Acta windmilling him around, Anderson headed home and collided with another Molina — Jose, this time — and bodies hit the dirt. The umpire signaled safe, Mike Scioscia raced out of the dugout in protest, and Shea lifted a few inches off the ground. The amazing thing for me was I had spent the past hour resigned to the fact that we’d have to leave early (something I never, ever do). The poor kid was fried. We were in extra innings. Who knew when it would end? So I’d been saying to Gavin, just five years old, “Hey, do you need to go home now? It’s okay. We’ve seen a lot of ball. We can leave. It’s eleven o’clock, kiddo.”
He kept shaking his head, nope, we’re staying.
In the 10th, we saw Cliff Floyd hit a long fly ball that hooked just foul and our hearts sagged. Then he hit another, one of those shots where you know it’s gone the moment the ball leaves the bat. At precisely 11:51 everyone stood and watched that ball sail over the fence and into the night. The place went bananas all over again. It was one of those games, Mike, when the fans don’t leave. Nobody wanted to go just yet. We just collectively stood there in the echo of that blast, high-fiving, smiling, absorbing it. What a game.
Gavin fell asleep in my arms on the way out of the ballpark. I stood on the subway, couldn’t get a seat, held him all the way to Grand Central, completely zonked. You know when kids go limp like that? Their body weight actually triples — this is a fact — no longer flesh and blood, he was now made of cement.
Of course, as a fan, Gavin didn’t really begin to understand things until 2007 or so, eight years old. It’s been one brutal season after another. He’s endured hundreds of wisecracks in school, all those idiots saying, “Ha, you’re a Mets fan, I feel sorry for you.” Adults in Yankee caps actually say this to children. All the time. But each season, here we go, my kid’s still a Mets fan, still hoping — even though I’ve warned him against it.
Sure he’s just one fan. But he represents this current, diminished crop of lonely fans. The ones who’ve only known these past 5-6 years. My hat’s off to the Mets fans of today. Talk about tough. But they are not the greatest generation of fans. You know who they are, Mike. The fans who’ve been there from Day One. People like our mothers who embraced the team in 1962 and never let go.
I can’t really argue that today, Jimmy. I will be brief but my mom, Victoria Geus, passed away the other day. I’m not saying she was the greatest Mets fan of all time but she sure would have to be in the conversation. Here is a picture of the two of us outside Shea Stadium, shortly after Game Seven of the 1986 World Series.
Let’s hope fans like Gavin get to take a similar picture, and soon.