Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Inside the Mind of a Mets Fan

by Alan Eliot

The instant the Mets clinched the NL East Monday night, it occurred to me that the last time they had done so, I was 10 years old.

1988. A lifetime ago.

This time around, I was equipped with a cold beer, which lay in wait for the championship moment. The crowd roared with each passing out. Shea was crazy. The fans wanted the win in the worst way. The players wanted the win in the worst way. You could feel it.

It seems strange that something so imminent as the Mets winning the division in 2006 would suddenly take on such meaning. I mean, we all knew they would win it. It was a forgone conclusion well over a month ago. No team in baseball has dominated quite like the Mets.

Woodward. Wright. Milledge. Floyd. Heilman. Minaya. Wilpon and Willie. Glavine. Delgado. Trachsel. Wagner. Peterson. Reyes.

A procession of Mets, both players and owners/managers came on camera to give their take after the win, and I gobbled up every word.

No, this was not the World Series. But you have to understand- as I've said before, of all teams that existed in 1988, only the Mets, Tigers, Brewers and Royals had not finished in first place at least once since.

For fans of other teams, this may seem hard to understand. In fact, having the best record in one's division doesn't seem like that big of a deal. The way it is set up, 20% of teams - 6 of 30- end up in first-place every year.

First-place is a big deal for Mets fans.

Consider this: yes, the Mets have been to the postseason since 1988. In 1999 and 2000, they made it as the Wild-Card, because they were unable to unseat Atlanta perched atop the NL East. 2nd in their division. But those years were not complete victories. In 1999, they had made it to the NLCS only to lose to the Braves in six. Still 2nd in their division. In 2000, they made it to the World Series- supposedly "NL Champions"- but did so without beating the Braves in the playoffs. Being ousted in the World Series didn't help. 2nd in their own city!

Mets fans watched, helpless, as the Braves won 11 straight NL East titles from 1995-2005. Since three-division format started, the Braves have been the only NL East Champion. No one else.
Well, until last night. And that period of domination was matched by the Yankees, who themselves made the playoffs every year from 1995-2005. For years, the Mets had to contend with an unbeatable dynasty both in their division, and across town. Can't even be first in our own division. Can't even be first in our own city.

Many of those years though, Mets were first in something- first in payroll in the NL. And yes, I understand there is more than a bit of silliness to being so excited to win a division of five teams when you pay more than anyone else. You should win. True. But consider just three years ago, the Mets finished 66-95 with an ungodly payroll of $117 million. Ty Wigginton led the Mets that year with 71 RBI and a manly .714 OPS.

This year, of course, is a different story. Three Mets have 100+ RBI, and every starting position player has an OPS above Wiggy's 2003 mark. This year has been a year of unheard of dominance on the Mets' part. And even when it seemed so obvious to everyone else that the division would belong to the Mets, years of disappointment since the strong team of the 80's have trained fans like myself not to ever get too excited.

But the NL East does belong to the Mets. Phew. It's great to see in writing. And it was great to see the Mets elated, celebrating, champagne-soaked, champions. An unbelievable feeling. And it's been a long time coming.

And from comments on the Mets message boards immediately following the game ([sic] should be assumed):
"ITS SO DAM SWEET...I am all tingly";
"Oh man..Im speechless. I though Id have something poinient to say when it was done..but nothing. Im simply speechless...";
"YESSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! FINALLY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
"great is not even the word - great does not equal this feeling -god I am a kid again like in '86 and '88"

Yes, I know the feeling.

Edit: BFT column written Aug. 8, demonstrating the inevitability of Mets winning their division in 2006- here. Still, a month and a half of that inevitability, and yet the thrill of actually winning it is even more sweet than anticipated. Man, I love baseball.

Alan Eliot's column, "The Stories We Tell", appears alternate Tuesdays

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