If I'm being honest about my sports allegiances, I'm not sure if I'm a baseball guy. Mets fan, sure, but not an entrenched fan of the sport itself. Not in the way that some people are - people who grew up playing or going to games on a weekly basis, or who grew up with strong allegiances to the team their parents cheered for.
For those that know me, my confession of less-than-complete interest in baseball isn't terribly revelatory. At times, late in seasons, I can tend towards vocal cynicism with the sport. There are certainly times when I scoff at the idea of "America's Game" - a sport that can put me to sleep sometimes, a sport sullied by substance abuse and cheating, a sport largely ignored worldwide. But, there's also the beauty of it. Those perfect moments where the team you're pulling for comes through in the clutch, where a matter of centimeters makes all the difference. Like any sport that captures our attention and passion (and, there are many), baseball can bring us to the highest of places.
What I forget, sometimes, is that I'm still pretty new to the game - an odd thought considering how ever-present baseball is in American culture. I never played as a kid (soccer was my summer and fall sport), and left with AAA ball in Buffalo - albeit very decent AAA ball - I never really went all in. Sure, my parents were both Red Sox fans, but Boston was 400 miles away from Buffalo and, frankly, I didn't need baseball. I had my underachieving hockey team. I had my crumbling NFL franchise. I was all set.
Living in New York City changed this, though, at least to the extent that I can't ignore the game here. NYC is a great sports town, but more than that it is a big baseball town. When its teams are playing well, or poorly, they rule the airwaves and the water coolers, if only to encourage fans of opposing teams to jump into the verbal fray. Listen to enough radio during the season, as I did during my first full summer in New York, and it starts to sink in that one of the things that New Yorkers do is follow baseball. Making the choice to follow and adore the Mets, therefore, is - at least in part - a choice to go all in with New York as well. To decide to adopt a substantial aspect of New York City culture so that, in the bustle of city living, I don't feel quite so out of place.
As fate would have it, for the first time in years I'm in a position where I may need to leave New York City in the not-too-distant future. And, as fate would have it, I find myself watching a lovable Mets team and feeling, at least incrementally, more and more like an entrenched New Yorker with every come-from-behind win that these supposed scrubs put together.
After watching the Mets go to the brink of success soon after I moved to Queens in '05, only to sink faster than Liam Neeson's credibility
, the first six or seven weeks of this season have been incredibly heartening. My only Mets thoughts before the April rolled around revolved pretty closely to those I had last May
, when I mused on the frustration of a fan base stuck supporting team with an economic ball-and-chain in the face of Fred Wilpon. Even when the team began with a hot start, I was quick to shift back to a protectionist, pessimistic stance.
Indeed, in that early April piece, I predicted a certain slide to 4-5 when the Mets faced the Phillies that week. The Mets went on to easily win that series, only missing out on the sweep by way of a dominating Cole Hamels performance in the third game. And while there have been hiccups along the way - getting swept by the Astros, for starters - this team has been consistently good through the first 35 games.
The surprising play has been a theme of this season, whether it be about the team itself or the individual players that are getting them there. David Wright, left for dead by me and many fans, has rejuvenated his career and is batting better than we've seen since '07, really. Hitting .398 through tonight's 3-1 win over the Brewers, Wright looks like he's found the swing he had lost somewhere around the time Carlos Delgado stopped protecting him in the lineup, and suddenly his hits are actually appearing in clutch situations (rather than during blowout wins or losses, as seemed to be the case in the past few years). RISP? .364. RISP with 2 outs? A stupid .462. This is a David Wright I simply did not expect to be back in Flushing. I guess dropping that fence line was a great idea. Go figure.
While Wright is a great story of the season, the play of the recent call-ups has been utterly bananas and is redefining what Mets baseball can be this year. Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who came into the starting lineup when Torres went down and opened up a spot in centerfield, is batting over .300 with 12 RBIs. His field play displays his youth at times, though he's really no worse than Jason Bay (and a hell of a lot cheaper) and brings a bat that Bay has been unable to locate since being signed by the Mets last year. Daniel Murphy and Ike Davis have started to find their stride in the last few weeks as well (Murph more than Ike, though), and suddenly the Mets batting order may actually start to make opponents worry and wonder where three outs are coming from.
On the other side of the ball, the optimism keeps on coming. Johan Santana, back from injury, is pitching some insane starts, though sadly his win-loss column makes us all feel like the team could be doing more to help him get the results he rightfully deserves. His 1-2 record and 2.92 ERA are reminiscent of his first season in Flushing, when the team consistently failed to give him decent run support. Yet, with the whole team pitching well, and the bats finding success late in games (leading the league in comeback wins), Santana's poor record may just be the nature of the beast. (To that point, Dickey is the only starter with a winning record at 5-1; lots of no decisions for everyone).
I'm the fucking boss.
Which isn't to say that this Mets team is without faults - we need another starting pitcher with Big Pelf out for the year, and we may still be in need of a closer, and there isn't a legit starting catcher in the bunch. But, these kids keep winning, inexplicably. They sit at 20-15, are nearing the quarter way mark of the season, and are very much in the mix of the NL East.
At any rate, so long as they keep playing well, I'll keep latching on to this team, living and dying with every game, and continuing to feel more and more like a New Yorker who can't bring himself to leave this City that has become his home.