I have been a sports fan my entire life. My aunt and uncle gave me my first subscription to Sports Illustrated when I was seven years old. The next year they bought me a subscription to The Sporting News. Somewhere in the attic at my parent’s house in New Jersey those magazines are stacked in chronological order alongside similar piles of Baseball Digest, Sport and thousands of baseball, basketball, and football cards. I don’t know why I never took this collection of memorabilia out of the attic. Perhaps I want it to stay there as long as possible. Nostalgia can be a powerful thing, especially when it is applied to the favorite teams of our childhood years.
Much of my childhood revolved around the New York Mets. This morning I was telling a friend that my first real memory of Mets baseball was watching the Bud Harrelson (I loved Bud Harreslon!) and Pete Rose fight in game three of the 1973 National League Championship Series. As a Jersey kid growing up in the 1970s I spent countless hours in my backyard, baseball bat in hand, simulating imaginary Mets games. I knew the roster by heart: Grote, Milner, Milan, Harrelson, Garrett, Jones, Staub, Unser, Seaver, Koosman, Matlack, McGraw, Apoodaca, etc. I acted out complete nine-inning games and, of course, the Mets always pulled out the victory in the bottom of the ninth. On at least one occasion our neighbors asked my parents if everything was okay with me. I was the weird kid next door who spent an hour or two on a Saturday afternoon swinging a bat, talking to myself (I would impersonate Mets announcers Bob Murphy, Lindsey Nelson, and Ralph Kiner), and imitating the wind-up of Tom Seaver, my boyhood hero.
After 1973, being a Mets fan was not easy. My imaginary games in the backyard–games in which Mets Magic always prevailed in the end–represented an alternative universe that was far removed from what was actually happening at Shea Stadium. The Mets had two winning seasons between 1974 and 1983. They would not make the playoffs again until 1986, my junior year in college. And what a year that was! I vividly remember where I was and what I was doing in game 6 of the NLCS. Many of you will recall this 16-inning marathon against the Houston Astros. It was one of the greatest games in baseball history. I must confess that I did not watch the entire game. After the tenth inning I had to go to basketball practice. Fortunately, between drills and water-breaks, my coach let me run out of the gym into a nearby lobby with a television set so I could check the score.
And then there was game 6 of the World Series. I was in a packed dorm lobby with a few Mets fans and a lot of anti-Mets fans and Red Sox fans. I felt like I was watching a miracle take place that night. It was even better than the hundreds of imaginary games that took place in my backyard over the years. Any die-hard Mets fan can chronicle the events that occurred in the bottom of the 9th. Gary Carter’s two-out single to get the rally started. Bob Stanley’s wild pitch. The Buckner mishap on the Mookie Wilson routine grounder and the image of Ray Knight crossing the plate. When we got back to my dorm room my roommate (who was also a Mets fan) popped Arrowsmith’s “Sweet Emotion” into the tape deck and we picked up a couple of hockey sticks and played air guitar (or something close to that) in front of the Mets pennant hanging on the wall. We were pouring with sweat. Our throats were sore. We were exhausted physically and emotionally. Bring on game seven! “Mets Magic!”
Last night, as the Mets batted in the bottom of the ninth trailing the Royals 7-2, I could not stop thinking about game six against the Red Sox. My rational faculties were momentarily suspended and the raw emotion that can only come from a lifelong loyalty to a baseball club took over.
But Lucas Duda, Michael Conforto, and Wilmer Flores are not Gary Carter, Kevin Mitchell, and Ray Knight. Wade Davis is not Calvin Schiraldi or Bob Stanley. Like 1973 and 2000, 2015 was not our year.
The magic of youth fades, but it never disappears. Next year I will hope for a revival of Mets Magic, but I will also put my hope in the ever-maturing arms of Harvey, DeGrom, Syndergaard, and Matz.
Let’s go Mets!