It took me a long time to give up on the 2010 New York Mets. And after I finally gave up on them in the second half of September, I continued to enjoy them. I know that most Mets fans did not feel as I did. The weirdest thing for me about the season was trying to have fun while everyone around me was howling.
Why were they howling? Who expected the 2010 Mets to make the playoffs? Remember the consensus at the start of the season: that the Mets had pretty much done what they could in the offseason, that they had a chance, but probably wouldn’t get very far? 79 wins was not a surprise. My guess is that if you could average everyone’s predictions, that’s about what you would get.
We know why we were howling. The Mets’ fan base had its skin scraped off by the cruel final moments of 2007 and 2008. Skinless, we were dipped into a vat of bile and boredom in 2009. Then after a 4-8 start, we had a miraculous spring. Miraculous springs are cruel. They’re like giving false hope to the fatally ill. So when the mask fell off in late July, the howling got particularly loud and bitter. It lasted into the middle of September, when everything settled down to a whimper. I often hear things that other Mets fans don’t hear. In the last two weeks, I thought I heard something. I went to the stadium to see R.A. Dickey pitch, to see the Mets win 9-1. Hardly anybody was there. I sat behind the third base dugout for $35. I marveled at the fact that the guys playing so well in front of nobody were the same guys I had seen earlier in the season. And I marveled at the way the dozens around me were cheering with great vigor. When I left the stadium, and would run across some of the millions who were staying away, we would talk about the Mets. I would hear their regret, and yeah, some disgust, but I was also hearing weak, but sincere expressions of undying love. At the end of a fourth disappointing season, giving up on the Mets forced each one of us to consider the possibility of giving up on the Mets forever. We all thought about it, and we passed. They stunk. They were a disgrace. And we would not be ourselves without them.
As Casey or Yogi or some other primal Met might have said, once we got used to the fact that this was a bad season, it wasn’t such a bad season.
It really wasn’t. And it wasn’t so bad because it had some of the elements of what I have called “a good rooting situation.” In my essay “What the Hell Did I Want?” in my book The Last Days of Shea. I wrote that a good rooting situation is the goal of most baseball fans. It is not the same thing as winning. Winning is nice, but it isn’t always. Under certain circumstances, it can be boring, bland, anxiety-producing, or embarrassing. Contrary to a lot of what you’ll hear, winning is never the bottom line in baseball. Winning is the bottom line in wars or elections. Unlike wars or elections, baseball is about pleasure. The bottom line in baseball is having pleasure. A good rooting situation gives you baseball pleasure.
There are certainly fans who get all of their baseball pleasure from winning. There are people who think they are successes in life because they make a lot of money. Most people don’t just want to win or make a lot of money. Most people care how the winning happens and how their lives are lived. People like this can have baseball pleasure when their team doesn’t win, just as most people can live successful lives without making very much money.
What gave me pleasure was the fact that Ike Davis, Josh Thole, Reuben Tejada, Angel Pagan, Chris Carter, Mike Pelfrey, R.A. Dickey, John Niese, Hisanori Takahashi, Bobby Parnell, Elmer Dessens, and Manny Acosta gave me far more than I could ever have expected of them. I also saw a lot to hope and dream about in the work of Dillon Gee, Jennry Mejia, Nick Evans, and Lucas Duda, after his first thirty-five at-bats. There aren’t any Seavers and Koosmans, or Goodens and Strawberrys in this bunch, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a cornucopia of new Mets talent developing in a single year. Despite their ups and downs, I also saw Wright and Reyes demonstrate that they were basically all right. Santana was spectacular. My point is that more than half the roster gave me something, often a lot, to cheer about. Nobody could have said that about last year. You can’t say that about most years. I know it didn’t all come together, but I don’t think it missed by much. If Bay’s bat had been in there, and if Pelfrey’s arm hadn’t gone dead at just the wrong time, the Mets might have kept their heads above water and I wouldn’t have had to have the sense that I was enjoying all these hopeful developments by myself. In your mind, turn ten to twelve games from losses to wins. You can do this with just Bay and Beltran and you don’t even have to reverse any managerial decisions. The Mets would have been in the thick of it. They might even have beaten Atlanta for the Wild Card. If that had happened, we would all have respected the organization, we would have been able to appreciate the team, we would be praising their grit, and we would have had a chance to win. Are you going to argue that if they had the grit, they would have won? I’m not convinced. Call me a fool, but I think that what they needed was Bay’s missing 20 homers and 20 doubles. Grit, I think, is something in people’s eyes. People see it in a winning team, but after fifty years of watching baseball, I still need to be convinced that it is actually what makes teams win.
We were raw. We had no faith. And then they tricked us into hoping. We came forward like a million puppy dogs, our tongues hanging out, happy to be given the treat we had not expected. We didn’t get the treat. They hit us with a bat. We were angry because we had been tricked. We were angry at ourselves because we fell for it. We were humiliated. We wallowed in self-pity. We liked the new guys. We knew good stuff was happening. But we were not in the mood to count our blessings in a year that had a lot of them. We just wanted to holler until our stupid, pitiful voices were hoarse.
What happens now? Who knows? We all know that there will not be many opportunities for the Mets to become that much better next year by making a trade or signing a free agent. If they get better, it will be because of further development by the players mentioned above, the possible return to form of Bay and maybe Beltran, or a new atmosphere created by a new manager or general manager. I think we’ll have a chance to win something, but we’ll still be a long shot in a division with the Phillies. Will a good, developing team, not quite ready to contend, satisfy a fan base that has worked itself into a state of almost pathological despair and resentment? Probably not. The Mets aren’t going to sell many season tickets. But there will be a season, and another year of our lives to share. There will be a Hall of Fame and Museum, with some stirring old pictures. There will be the old Home Run Apple, with its big Cyclops eye and its new coats of paint. There will be the voices in the fan walk, the words on the bricks about Mets fans in heaven and Mets fans forever. Someday we won’t just be imagining the voices in the bricks. Someday, we will hear them, in the thunder of the new stadium. I don’t know when Citi Field is going to be loud again, but I know that I will have to be there and hear it.