Before this year, it had been a while since my New York Mets had given me anything to be smile about. Sure, I developed an unrelenting and unreasonable sense of pride in the orange and blue over the years, but the on-field product was shoddy season after season. Now, all those dreams that I couldn’t get out of my head on those long summer days and chilly October evenings have finally been realized: the Mets are good, and they’ve ridden their talent all the way to the World Series.
Watching the Mets finally make it all the way to the Fall Classic has made 2015 the season of a lifetime. I feel like a father, beaming with pride as his child accepts a diploma at graduation. Even amidst celebrating, though, I can’t help but reflect on the long road that the Mets took to finally get here — a road that I, along with millions of other fans, walked with them.
Sandwiched between New York and Massachusetts, my home state of Connecticut produces a diverse crowd of baseball fans. Most of them have experienced some incredible highs over the past 15 years. After their unbelievable run through the late ’90s, the New York Yankees have remained a powerhouse throughout the new millennium and won two World Series, in 2000 and 2009. Similarly, the Boston Red Sox have been perennial contenders, going to the playoffs seven times and taking three titles. These teams are the Nutmeg State’s most popular, so most Connecticut baseball fans have gotten to watch their team win it all within the past few years.
But not me.
I grew up as one of a small but dedicated group of Mets fans. Unlike the majority of baseball fans I know, I’ve never witnessed my team win a championship. Heck, I barely even remember the last time they made the World Series back in 2000 (I remember the result, though: a loss to the Yankees). Things soured after that Subway Series, but by the time I was in middle school, the Mets were back on the upswing, taking it all the way to the 2006 NLCS.
Ah, 2006. Tiger Woods won two major titles, Deal or No Deal had just hit the airwaves and the New York Mets were hot. The nucleus of stars that propelled that team to 97 wins — David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado — had become as iconic to Mets fans as the Core Four is to the Yankees. It was a dream season until the deciding game of the NLCS. With the game tied through eight, Mets pitcher Aaron Heilman surrendered two runs to St. Louis in the top of the ninth. The orange and blue went down quietly in the final frame, sending the 83-win Cardinals to the World Series. In 2007 and 2008, the Mets held sizable leads in the NL East on Sept. 1, but stumbled to the finish on both occasions, allowing the Phillies to take over.
Finally, in 2009, the bottom fell out. That team lost 92 games, despite hovering around .500 until the end of June. What followed was a slow, incremental rebuild. From 2009 through 2014, the orange and blue lost between 83 and 92 games per year, usually not bad enough to net a top draft pick. And while most of my fellow Connecticut baseball fans got to watch their favorite players revel in postseason success, my season always ended by the first week of October.
Numerous unforgettable moments from the past several years have punctuated the Mets’ woes. From Luis Castillo’s dropped pop-up, to the Wilpon family’s financial struggles, to the signing of Jason Bay, the franchise always seemed to be blundering in some way, shape or form.
The beautiful thing is that none of that matters now. The Mets are back in the postseason, and because of that, 2015 will go down as one of the best years of my life. Sure, this year’s team doesn’t much resemble that old 2006 squad — only Wright, now the team captain, remains — but the team, not individuals is the focal point of a sport (yes, even if that individual happens to be LeBron James).
Besides, looking at this year’s team photo, you can spot some players who were there for the worst of it: Daniel Murphy, Lucas Duda and Jonathon Niese. They finally did it, and they did it together.
I don’t mean to imply that I’ve suffered nearly as much as the guys who have taken the field over the years. I’m just saying that it feels good to be among some of the last fans standing for once.