Every year I write the same thing, and it is always more or less true at the moment I write it. The gist, if you do not feel like reading this year's model or the previous year's or the one before that or the one before that, is that the Mets are an organizational disaster so profound as to also be an ethical disaster, a team that vain, petty, and stupendously mediocre owners have turned into a radioactive monument to their own inadequacies and lazy idiocies. I tend to write these pieces when the team is not just behaving badly—dithering or cutting corners or sniping out anonymous quotes for unfathomable reasons or being shortsighted and willfully thick about other people's flexor tendons and rotator cuffs—but playing badly.
It is in those moments that the critique feels most true, and the rot on the field best seems to reflect the downstream consequences of all that executive pollution. But also I tend to write this stuff at those moments because I made the choice to give this stupid, stupid team the full run of my emotional wellbeing every summer. That is, I tend to write most thunderously about the Mets when they're losing, and making me sad. This is because I am a fan, the absolute dumbest type of person on earth, but it's also because I have become conditioned to receiving a certain type of experience from my baseball team of choice.
It's not quite disappointment, or not just disappointment. Watching a team lose a game is something you learn to do over the course of life as a fan, and it's what makes the howling reactionaries calling into the Swiffer & The Hump Show seem not just childish and weird, but strangely innocent. There are in this world people who authentically cannot cope with a flubby late-July loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, and we might as well wish them well, but that is a person that no one wants to be. It's also difficult to be that kind of squeaker if you've lived even a little while. Disappointments are not just part of life but the soul of it, and much of the work of living is in reconciling the difference between what we want and what we have in a way that allows for some amount of grace and happiness and rest. And so I flatter myself, and pretend I am not that sort of person.
And if I am not exactly that sort of person, I am also only what the Mets made me, at least where the Mets are concerned. When their failures echo the trifling rottenness and cruel unaccountability of the broader world, I react. I write The Column, as I have written The Column before. This is not that. This is sort of the opposite of that, actually, and as such it is harder to write. I am accustomed to seeing in the Mets a reflection of a familiar sort of hopelessness; I tend to see their seasons as a struggle to extract some dignity and beauty and fun from a difficult situation, and the wins are brighter to me than the losses are dark, because each one of them is a small, successful recuperation. I am aware that this is dark, but I will remind you that these are the fucking Mets I am writing about. Which makes this year's Mets team, which has been impossibly unlucky and impossibly blessed and is somehow still playing in October, a special, sweet challenge. There is, for all the mistakes and bad luck and other annoying Mets-ian aspects, really nothing to feel but gratitude and a sort of bemused awe. It is insane that this team is even here.
The Mets team that will play in the Wild Card game is depleted and bizarre, patches on patches, an expanse of rude purple bruises and weird welts; it resembles the team that started the season only a little, and the team that made it to the World Series last year even less than that. Nearly all of the team's best players missed significant stretches of the season with injuries, and a great number of those will not play again this year, no matter how long into October the Mets last. T.J. Rivera, who is starting at second base and batting fifth for the team against Madison Bumgarner, is 27 years old and had not played in the Majors until August 10 of this year; the team signed him as an undrafted amateur free agent in 2011, and he was a playoff team's best hitter for several weeks in 2016.
The core of the starting rotation that was the envy of all of baseball last year is or will soon be ready to begin doing light physical therapy activities, maybe some repetitive shit with those physio-bands. They—Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler—are all months away from throwing a baseball. The brief descriptions I can give you of the pitchers who have replaced them all sound like characters you'd see passing through the background of a Charles Portis novel—a guy from Louisiana with back problems that kept him in bed for three months; a Californian with dazed stoner eyes, highly questionable hair, and one arm tattooed with the sort of imagery that middle school heshers draw on their binders; a man in his early 40's who is shaped like an heirloom eggplant and only throws one pitch. Those descriptions understate how lucky and how good those players have been, but they don't really misrepresent anything.
It would be extraordinary if any of these people started a playoff game, but in a very real sense the possibility of it is extraordinary enough. The baseball season is long and heavy, and attrition and circumstance reshape even the teams that they don't defeat. The Mets moved players around and called players up and tried things out and stuck with what worked, just as every other team does. It mattered to the Mets that Lucas Duda and David Wright and Neil Walker and Juan Lagares all missed significant portions of the season, but there is no reason why this should matter to you, really, both in trying to assess this Wild Card match-up and in every other way it could be meaningful. But I can tell you why it is meaningful to me, as someone who cares about the Mets too much and as someone who likes to believe in other unlikely possibilities. It matters to me because life is more fun when it does not unfold as it should, and because the belief that things will not necessarily go the way they ought is a sustaining thing. Every year, the Mets remind me of things I cannot stand and cannot change; whether the parallels are there or not, they feel real. I do not have the words, after all this, to thank this year's team—ungainly, imperfect, ridiculous, and alive for at least a little while longer—for reminding me that I don't know what the hell I'm talking about, and that nothing is fixed or finished or over until it's over.
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