Advertisement
Sports

The Mets, Beyond Belief

The New York Mets are one of baseball's most reliably ridiculous and self-defeating teams. They are also in the World Series. It makes more sense than you'd think.

by David Roth
Oct 23 2015, 1:54pm

Photo by Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

1. Anecdotally, there are two main spots on the walk from the 7 train to Citi Field where people start making noise before a Mets playoff game. The first is on the initial descent from the elevated platform, during the shoulder-to-shoulder rush down a blind flight of gray stairs and into the concrete breezeway that is the Willets Point-Mets subway station. This is where you get the little flarings-up of Let's Go Mets chants, which echo satisfyingly in the tight stairwell but dissipate as the crowd empties into the wider space and adopts the cutback-heavy broken-field walking approach favored by New York pedestrians with someplace to be.

It's on the first landing of the longer and wider stairs leading down towards the stadium that the noise starts again. This time it is straight wordless bellowing or loud hand-claps fired out in rapid succession or a single shouted Let's Go Mets. The last is not in the cadence of the chant that bubbles up in the stadium from time to time. It's more just something barked out at the heavens, or the old Home Run Apple from Shea Stadium sitting in the middle of the plaza, or the pods of poker-faced cops with their German Shepherds and AR-15's; at any rate, the words are shouted out loud because they just wouldn't stay inside any longer.

Read More: Beginning And Ending In October

This noisemaking is individuated. No one is joining in or screaming in anything like unison. The noises are personal and distinct to each noisemaker. I imagine that there are a number of very different emotions being exorcised through them, but I wouldn't know, really. Different things lead these people to make all this noise, different things are being expressed. But by the time all that gets out into the world, it's about the Mets, and it just sounds like that. Pour all the individuated micro-indignities and miscellaneous frustrations of life into a funnel and it all comes out the other end, narrow and concentrated, as Let's Go Mets.

2. I did my best to be a grown-up. I had a press credential waiting for me at the Bullpen Gate, after all, and while I would never be able to be anything but idiotically and abjectly partisan where a Mets postseason game was concerned, I was at least obliged to pretend. I went to that window, before Game 3 of the NLDS, and found that the credential was not there. It is a longish and decidedly uninteresting story, but the way it resolves is that I walked back through the people who were actually going into the game—giddy shouting people who had paid as much as $350 for a standing-room ticket, and plainly believed that the first Mets postseason game since 2006 might be one of the last for another who-knows-how-many years—and got on the local headed back towards my home.

I got back in time for the first pitch, in time to watch the stupid baseball team I have cared about for my whole dumb life win a playoff game. That team would win that series, and then the next one. The Mets have won enough games to make it to the World Series. None of this, honestly, has felt more correct to me than the moment when the young woman at the Bullpen Gate told me, as kindly as she could, that I was not on the list. This was uncool, but somehow, much more than getting off the train with a bunch of turnt-up semi-believers, it felt pretty much exactly right.

When you're Murphing. — Photo by Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

3. What has happened with the Mets since the beginning of August, when they abruptly became one of the best teams in baseball after being one of its most vexingly mediocre, has been a series of supernova amazements, one after another. But it has also been a challenge with regard to the suspension of disbelief. It is not just that this could happen to the Mets, messed-up and broke and self-thwarting as they are, although there is that. The longer you have watched this team, the louder you will feel compelled to whistle past this particular graveyard.

What is happening with the Mets is weird, but it is also a thing that happens, sometimes—a team ignites and becomes, for who knows how long, exponentially more than the sum of its constituent parts. October presents extreme conditions that tend to generate extreme outcomes; this, more than his work with Kevin Long on turning on inside pitches, is the thing I'll credit for Daniel Murphy's postseason mutation from Player Most Likely To Forget Really Basic Shit About Baseball to world-devouring godhead. This is a thing that happens, too. The Mets won their first World Series this way, and plenty of other teams have done it since. Still, I keep looking for the end.

4. I had a credential for the National League Championship Series against the Cubs, and a spot in Citi Field's auxiliary press box—the Acela Club, which is usually the team's luxury steak-and-a-game restaurant, which has been repurposed for the postseason for the foreign press and boutique domestic outlets and me. There is a buffet for the media before the game, with sweaty cheeseburgers lined up on a hotel tray and a man with a long sharp knife sawing away at a carving station. It is a weird room, honestly, and weirder still once the game starts. The tables next to me are empty, and also the tables next to those. A correspondent from The Guardian shows up for Game 2, plugs in his computer and drops his hardback novel on the tabletop, then dips out for wherever. The vibe is comatose, except for one security guard who cheers unabashedly. "Yes! Yes! Gone!" I hear him shouting from somewhere back by the burgers as Daniel Murphy homers off Jon Lester in Game 1. When Murphy homers again, in Game 2, I see the security guy pumping his fists in the air and grinning so hard it looks almost painful.

Overall, the feeling of watching from this press box is bizarrely muted. I imagine that this is what it would be like to be on a massive cruise ship during a hurricane. When the fans in the 500 section start stomping out a Let's Go Mets chant late in the game, it registers audibly from above in an oddly abstract way—it sounds like someone rapping a pen against a steel bar. In Game 2, a friend with a seat in the big-boy press box brings me some Mets-themed chocolate coins from the candy buffet that the team sets up in there around the sixth inning. "Yeah," he says, looking around the big half-empty fish tank that is the #auxbox, "this is spooky." I made a point of trying to spend as little time there as I could.

5. Standing-room tickets for the first game of the NLDS were selling on the secondary market for $350, which is a lot of money. Those prices had come down significantly by the first game of the NLCS, once it became clear that the chance to extravagantly overpay for such a ticket was perhaps not a once-in-a-generation opportunity. My friends Loni and Tiffany overpaid for their Game 1 seats—$640, he told me, for two seats in section 527, right above the Acela Club and something like ten times those seats' regular face value. As it happened, these tickets came to them on the same day that they had tickets for Hamilton, which is presently the most sought-after seat on Broadway. They got those back in April, with Tiffany's schoolteacher discount. Still, she said, "we kind of assumed those would be the most expensive tickets we paid for today."

He grew up in Brooklyn and has been a Mets fan his whole life; she grew up near Chicago and is a Cubs fan. Their caps reflected that as we shivered and drank and talked in the minutes before the first pitch. No one had really been mean to her yet, she said. As if on cue, a Mets fan on his way to his seat went out of his way to tap Tiffany on the shoulder. "Honestly," he said, "if it was any other year..."

For all the tension of the circumstances, there was an odd blitheness on both sides. Or maybe not odd, actually: both the Mets and Cubs were playing with house money. Everyone had plenty of gravy. Everyone knew it. It is very easy to be gracious when you're also lucky.

6. It was cold and loud in section 527, and giddy. There was an empty seat next to my friends and I sat down next to a ruddy-faced redheaded 10-year-old who was basically out of his mind with excitement. He shouted little weird rhyming bits of encouragement to each Met before their at-bats. He shouted "come on, d'Arnaud, make 'em say 'oh no'" to Travis d'Arnaud, and d'Arnaud lined a pitch off the danged Home Run apple in centerfield. The stadium levitated briefly. Strangers received high-fives. The kid closed his eyes, tilted his head back, and said "yaaaaaasssss."

When you forget how many outs there are and run into the World Series. — Photo by David J. Phllip/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports

It went on like this as everyone began to figure out that this was really happening. For the better part of a decade the Mets offered the people that choose to care about them very little in the way of pleasure—just little sips and drams, discrete little hot streaks and moments of defiance and the occasional stranded transcendent star surrounded by limping dips and no-hopers. We nursed these short-poured drinks carefully, because it was clear that this was all we were going to get. And then there was this deluge interrupting the drought, and suddenly everyone was drinking in giant chugging gulps, drinking as if to drown themselves and somehow not getting any less thirsty for all of it. Everyone got drunk, happily, guiltlessly.

No one knew quite what to do. Cowbell Man, who is a Mets fan with a cowbell and a personalized jersey—he recently changed the name on the back from "Cow-Bell Man" to "COWBELLMAN"—walked by and people chanted "Cowbell Man." A Mets fan in a jersey covered with commemorative pins walked by and people chanted "Pin Man." People chanted "Dan-iel Mur-phy" and damned if he didn't hit a dinger. It was possible to sense among Mets fans in recent years that they—we, I—had forgotten how to feel happy about the team that they/we/I care about. To see all that exasperation and anxiety give way to the great yowling ginger tween "yaaaassss" that filled the stadium all the way up was, I would say, pretty okay.

7. So everyone makes noise for a different reason. Here is why I clapped as loud as I could when I got off the train. The Mets are a thing I was born with, and I care about them. They are out of their minds right now, and playing in a way I have never seen a team wearing this uniform play. This could stop at any time. It will almost certainly not continue next year, because the team's owners do not have any money with which to pay the players they'd need to keep it going and because this sort of thing by definition does not last.

I know all this, and to some extent I scream and shout and clap to keep that knowledge out; you can scale this up into a broader argument if you like, but I won't. Mostly, I clapped my hands and shouted and wandered the concourse grinning because I was at a baseball game in October, and because I believed my favorite team might win it.