Father’s Day at the ballpark. It just seems right.
This past weekend I decided that I’d surprise my dad, who’s the reason I am a Mets fan today, with tickets to Sunday’s game at Citi Field against the Chicago Cubs.
While it’s been a trying season, win or lose, everything was set up for a nice way to spend a day with my father.
My story is not atypical, but I figured I would share it.
After an early stop at McFadden’s, I took my dad around the ballpark, showing him amenities and views he hasn’t experience at Citi Field before. We’d spend a few innings in centerfield, then go up to the Pepsi Porch up until we made our way back down to Shea Bridge, where we would stay for the remainder of the day.
Inning by inning would pass and the Mets would continue to squander opportunities to score, but still, it was just a 1-0 deficit, anything can happen. That was up until the 5th inning where, after a great diving stop by David Wright, it appeared as if a scene from ‘The Benny Hill Show’ broke out onto a baseball field. One play, two runs, three balls thrown away, and a 3-0 Chicago Cubs lead.
Normally I’m an advocate of staying until that final out, because baseball is different from any other sport. There is no clock. No deficit is out of reach. Until the 27th out is recorded, anything is possible. However it was in the 8th inning, still at 3-0, when my father nudged me and said “let’s go”. On a normal day, there’s no chance I’m leaving that game, but it was Father’s Day—his day. So we left.
As we’re walking out I stop and look at him to say “you’re going to feel so stupid when they score 4 runs in the bottom of the 9th”, jokingly. “I’ll take my chances”, he retorted.
As we sit in traffic driving home, we flip on WFAN just in time for the 9th inning. Carlos Marmol, who is known to get out of control, was on the mound for Chicago, but I didn’t think much of it. As Howie Rose describes the length of Marlon Byrd’s solo HR to leadoff the inning I look over towards my father, nudging him that the comeback has begun.
It was after Lucas Duda’s walk and John Buck’s single where we begin to think something may actually be going on. As Omar Quintanilla successfully lays down a sacrifice bunt to move the tying runs into scoring position, traffic clears up and we start to make way towards home.
Then, before I can even say anything, it happens. Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who had been batting .094 prior to his at-bat, blasts a 3-run, walk-off home run and the Mets win the game.
You’d think we’d be angry about leaving, and maybe we were a little, but we were too busy laughing as I repeatably hit him in the arm to notice or care.
Would being there for a four run rally in the bottom of the 9th been fun? Yes, but I think what happened will be even more memorable and a story that I can tell people for the rest of my life.
How did we get here? Six years ago to the day the New York Mets were playing Game 7 of the National League Championship Series after winning the night before. Endy Chavez—who despite the outcome will forever live in Mets lore—made one of the greatest catches in the history of this team, robbing Scott Rolen of a go-ahead home run in the 6th. I can go through all of it: The Catch, Aaron Heilman, Yadier Molina & strike 3 called. I was 15 years old, watching a full season of Mets baseball for the first time. I went to bed that night fighting off tears, but my father, along with friends, told me the now infamous line we’ve all heard: “Don’t worry, we’ll be back.”
2007 started with so much promise as the Mets dominated throughout most of the season. Weeks away from clinching a second consecutive division title, we know what happened next. An epic collapse that could only leave us in a catatonic shock as we buried our heads for the winter. But 2008 would be different, right? The talent’s still there, all Moises Alou did was get hit after hit after hit. The trade & signing of Johan Santana was supposed to solidify this team & give them a true ace after dealing with the chronic injuries of former Red Sox star Pedro Martinez. The Mets never ran away with things in 2008, but they scrapped & fought throughout the season, which looked as if it would culminate in a redeeming playoff berth that would never come. Shea Stadium closed it doors with a deceiving fly-ball off the bat of Ryan Church. Another collapse. On top of it, we had to go through the closing ceremonies of our beloved Shea. As I laid my head on my desk, now 17 years old & in my first year of college, I didn’t know what to think. But the eternal optimism was still there. 2009 would be better. It had to be—right?
It was April 13, 2009 the day Citi Field first opened its doors for regular season baseball. What looked to be a memorable night turned into anything but. Jody Gerut lead-off the first inning of Citi Field’s history with a home run down the right field line off of Mike Pelfrey. In the 5th inning facing a 5-2 deficit when David Wright stepped to the plate & with one momentous swing of the bat tied the game with the first Mets home run in the stadium’s history. They would later lose the game 6-5 on a balk. The 2009 season would have plenty of strange & painful moments as Sports Illustrated’s World Series prediction wound up to be a major bust. Nearly the entire team would wind up facing injury issues & just like that the Mets became irrelevant for the first time in years.
2010 was the first time since 2004 where there were basically no expectations for the Mets. They looked to surprise many early on when they lead the Wild Card & were 11 games over .500 in late June. I think we know how this ends, unfortunately. Expectations went up early & were quickly brought down with a second half collapse. We would see this trend continue throughout 2011 & 2012 which both ended in under .500 seasons.
So here we are, six whole years since Game 7. Six years since the postseason. In those six years the Mets have had their ups & downs. Unfortunately, every season since then has ended on a low note. After yet another second half debacle, fans are as down as we’ve seen them in a long time. It’s pretty amazing that the New York Mets went from a game away from the World Series to perennial contender to a running joke. Yet with all that we have been dealt & everything I’ve seen since that fateful October night, I continue to look ahead. There is hope. David Wright appears to be on his way to becoming a Met for life, Ike Davis rebounded from a bad first half to hit over 30 home runs, Matt Harvey has begun to establish himself in the majors & Zack Wheeler is right behind him. There’s no question that changes must be made in order to make this a better team, but the phrase “We’ll be back” still reigns true. It’s just taking longer than we thought.
A season that started with so much promise—an MVP candidate in David Wright, an absurd June by knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, a no-hitter by Johan Santana & relevant games into the All-Star Break—quickly spiraled into one of the most difficult stretches the New York Mets have seen in the past decade. There was the disappointment of the 2006 playoffs, the back-to-back collapses in 2007 and 2008 & of course the subsequent irrelevant years after that but these post-All-Star break Mets were something we haven’t experienced in a long time in New York.
The starting pitching took a hit when after the historic June 1st no-hitter, Johan Santana was no longer the same pitcher. Then right at the All-Star break it was announced Dillon Gee would miss the remainder of the season because of a damaged artery. Even the arrival of top-pitching prospect Matt Harvey couldn’t bring much excitement to this fanbase as night in & night out the Mets figured out new & creative ways to hit new lows. At one point they were 2-14 after the break—at home. And just when it looked like things may turn around after a fairly successful West Coast road trip, the lights went out.
After losing another series to the first place Washington Nationals, the Mets went on an unbelievable offensive blackout, scoring 2 runs or fewer in 7 consecutive games, 5 of them at home. I was at Citi Field on July 22nd, the 3rd game of a 4-game series against the lowly Colorado Rockies, and the midst of one of the darker periods in Mets baseball that I can remember. Facing the worst pitching staff in the Major Leagues, New York had mustered just a combined 3 runs in the first 2 games—both losses. At this point in the year, the fans had seemed to of gotten to a point of indifference. Buzz around the team had faded away, fewer & fewer in-game tweets from fans led to almost nothing. The players were trying everything in the batting cages. I saw Daniel Murphy working with Mike Baxter for a bit, Josh Thole was trying to pull the ball more, but nothing seemed to work. The focus, that was once on meaningful September games & even an October run, had become on the future, a feeling this fanbase has experienced since the end of 2008. Even WFAN radio host Mike Francesa, a Yankees fan, went off on a 10 minute tirade about how the Mets had “died”.
But just when things had gotten their darkest, when all looked lost, when many people believed that Terry Collins’ team had quit on him… There was light.
On Sunday, September 5th, after blowing a 1-0 lead in the 9th inning to the Houston Astros—who have the worst record in all of baseball—one swing of the bat brought life back to this team. After Ike Davis’ walk-off home run in the bottom of the 9th, the Mets got to celebrate—as a team—for the first time in weeks. Yes, it was against the Astros & yes, the dream of making a run to the playoffs was all but dead but this team needed something, anything to get out of the rut they were in & this was the moment that accomplished that. The Mets won the series & followed that up with winning 2 of 3 from the all-of-a-sudden streaking Phillies (in Philadelphia where they finished 7-2 this season) & a sweep against the Marlins in their empty, albeit brand new, stadium. Sure, winning series from the Astros, Phillies & Marlins, who are all under .500, is in no way a feat but it was something. It gave fans a reason to watch. When the Mets were struggling their worst, they were losing to good teams, bad teams & anyone in between.
The Mets aren’t making the playoffs & the same may even be true for next year but unlike those weeks after the All-Star break this team has become watchable for them. Will they make a run to finish over .500 or for that matter exceed last season’s win total? That is yet to be seen. With young players like Matt Harvey, Jenrry Mejia, Jeurys Familia & Josh Edgin, the team captain in David Wright & the CY Young Award front-runner R.A. Dickey on this club, there are reasons to watch.
Will Lucas Duda hit for the type of power we had all hoped & expected? Will Ike Davis’ 2nd half resurgence erase his first 2 months? Can David Wright rebound? What can we expect to get out of these young pitchers? These are questions we’re all asking, and we’ll find out the answers by watching the Mets this September. A task that doesn’t seem all that bleak anymore.