Ad ode to the Hall of Famer, Mike Piazza

Yesterday it was announced that Mike Piazza has been elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In a weird way, I think this might be the last time I will genuinely get the joy out of a baseball player earning this honor.

I was 11-years-old when Piazza was traded to the Mets. At that age baseball was life. Who am I kidding? I’m about to turn 29 and not much has changed on that front. But, the fact remains that Piazza arrived at the utmost important time of my fandom. The franchise was struggling and desperately needed a shot of life. Piazza provided just that, and more.

From the moment he arrived the Mets instantly became relevant again. Those late-90’s and 2000 teams certainly weren’t the most talented. In fact, they were far from it. However, you’d be hard pressed to find a more likeable bunch. Bobby Valentine, who is quite the personality in his own right, coached a cast of characters that became my first true love.

His teammates in New York were the likes of Edgardo Alfonzo, who was a coach’s dream. He played the game the way it was meant to be and was the player, along with Edgar Martinez, that I actually tried to mimic at the plate. Robin Ventura, the sure handed veteran with pop in his bat that provided the comic relief. Rey Ordonez, whose defensive highlights are something I still watch in awe (but you couldn’t pay me to watch one of his at-bats). Al Leiter, who always looked like he was on the brink of a nervous breakdown as he sweat on the mound (similarly to Shaq on the foul line) with every single 3-2 count. John Olerud was the silent assassin who was able to somehow ride the subway to Shea Stadium every day without being recognized. Turk Wendell wearing that alligator tooth necklace and slamming down the rosin bag out of relief. Has there ever been a backup catcher who contributed more with his energy in the dugout than Todd Pratt? Names like Benny Agbayani, Jay Payton, Timo Perez, Darryl Hamilton, Jay Payton, Todd Zeile, “Super” Joe McEwing, Matt Franco, Lenny Harris, Armando Benitez, Rick Reed and Bobby Jones filled out those rosters. If you aren’t getting my drift by now – these were Mike Piazza’s teams.

Piazza was a one man wrecking crew who led this rag-tag bunch. While the Mets had their share of bonafide professionals on those teams, Piazza was the lone super star. Win or lose, the burden was put on the shoulders of Piazza.  And you know what? More times than not, those wins could be attributed to his heroic efforts. During his tenure with New York it felt like every time a big hit was needed, Piazza stepped up to the plate and delivered in the clutch. He had a knack for rising to the occasion like few others, if any, in franchise history.

There are a few moments that will always stand out in my mind.

  • Picnic blast: Piazza’s star shined brightest when it came time for the Subway Series against the Yankees. Facing reliever Ramiro Mendoza, with the Mets trailing 6-4, Piazza took him deep with a shot to left center that I’m not sure has landed yet. The ball cleared the old picnic tents in Shea Stadium. He flipped his bat in celebration, which I never saw before or after out of him, as he knew, along with the rest of the stadium, that he hit a ball further than many believed was humanly possible. (Side note: Matt Franco hitting a walk-off single against Mariano Rivera to end that game was a great thrill of mine) Click to watch…
  • Epic comeback: It’s impossible to discuss the Mets of the late-90’s-2000 without mentioning their arch nemesis, the Atlanta Braves. The Braves were the bully who had been stuffing the Mets in their locker for years without putting up much of a fight. But then Piazza arrived kind of like Linderman in ‘My Bodyguard’ (That’s a 1980 movie reference, go watch it) and gave New York a fighting chance. In a mid-summer matchup in 2000 with the Mets trailing 8-1 in the eighth inning, it appeared all hope was lost. Then, miraculously, the Mets rallied to make it an 8-8 score with Piazza up and two men on base. Wouldn’t you know it, Piazza hit an absolute laser down the left field line that was gone in the snap of a finger to complete the Mets epic comeback. If you go back and watch that highlight keep an eye on the emotion that comes out of Piazza as he makes his way down the first base line. That sums up just how much that home run meant. Click to watch…
  • Lifting a city: Maybe the moment that will immortalize Mike Piazza forever in New York lore was his game winning home run post 9/11. The Mets played the first game in New York after that tragic day. It was a weird time. Nobody really knew how to think or how to go about returning to their daily lives. I remember watching that game and turning over to the news networks between innings who were still trying to grasp that horrific day. It was surreal. With the Mets trailing in the eighth inning, Piazza hit a monumental blast off the TV tower in center field that made everything feel alright in the world, at least for that moment. It was something that the city so desperately needed. That home run will mean so much more to fans than Piazza himself may ever realize. Once again Piazza stepped up and carried not only his team, but the city, when it was needed the most. Click to watch…

 I know that Piazza has already expressed his desire to be enshrined wearing a Mets cap. I also know that it isn’t his decision to make. The reality is that it’s very likely the Hall of Fame decides to put him in with a blank cap, given his split time playing for both the Mets and Dodgers. There is an argument to be made for both sides and I’m not going to delve into the statistical comparison. I simply challenge any Hall of Fame voter to close their eyes and relive a Piazza moment(s) in their head off memory. I feel pretty confident in saying that they will come up none from his days in L.A. and have several vivid memorable moments of him wearing a Mets cap engrained in their heads. That should put an end to that debate, in my opinion.

As I mentioned earlier, this might be the last time I genuinely receive joy out of a player receiving this honor. I’m at an age now where players are my own age and in many cases, younger. It hasn’t changed much. Other than my frustration that I’m not in the Majors. I still admire players’ talents and have as much of an appreciation for the game as I ever have. Maybe more so now that I have a full understanding of how gifted these players truly are.

One thing that I have noticed is that you begin to root for your favorite teams and players in a different fashion as you get older. Sure, you still tune in with a keen eye and express your emotions. Although now I find myself getting far more upset with losses than I did when I was younger and somehow less excited over a big win. Funny how that works. The biggest difference? I don’t hold players in the same reverence that I did for Mike Piazza. He is the last of his kind, for me. I haven’t been to Cooperstown since I was young. I was maybe 12 at the time (I’ll have to check with my parents on that). Now, with my childhood hero set to be enshrined, I have the only reason I need to go back.

Thanks for the ride, Mets

Matt Harvey summed up the World Series in two words: “No Way!” He emphatically repeated those words to manager Terry Collins as he insisted on staying in for the ninth inning of Game 5 to try to finish what he started.  But rather than becoming what would have surely gone down as a rally cry in Mets lore alongside “Ya gotta believe,” it became the phrase Mets fans muttered to themselves in disbelief as they watched their World Series dreams wither away.

I had to take some time before I collected my thoughts. With the wounds still fresh I couldn’t bring myself to relive the sour note in which the season ended on. I felt like Charlie Brown, charging that football with my tongue out in excitement as the Mets were finally going to succeed, only for the Royals, who were playing the role of Lucy, to pull it away from me at the last second.

The Royals are a worthy World Series Champion. Their entire roster plays the game as if they watched the Tom Emanski instructional VHS tape religiously growing up. Just as I remember growing sick of watching that infomercial, changing the channel as fast as I could, my feelings were the same when it came to watching the Royals. They would foul off endless pitches, hit single after single, continuously go first to third on a hit, steal a base whenever they pleased and watch them come through with the timely hit every time it was needed — the only difference was I couldn’t change the channel. It was reminiscent to the movie ‘Groundhog Day,’ where the Mets were reliving the same nightmarish game over and over again.

But, as hard as it is to remember right now, it wasn’t all bad for the Mets this season. In fact, the positives far outweigh the negatives. Despite losing the World Series, this was one of the most successful seasons in franchise history. It began with hopes of competing for a Wild Card spot, that’s right a Wild Card spot, and ended with a National League Championship.

The Mets unofficial start date this season was on July 31, the night Wilmer Flores hit a dramatic walk-off home run to open up a season-changing series with the Washington Nationals. This came just two days after the dramatic trade that never happened, which led to the infamous image of Flores crying on the field. That moment jump started the Mets and provided a much-needed shot of life into this team. That same weekend Sandy Alderson capped off a tremendous trade deadline by acquiring Yoenis Cespedes, who had an all-time second half with New York. His MVP caliber play almost single-handedly carried the Mets offense down the stretch. Regardless of his postseason woes, fans should never forget that.

After surpassing the overwhelming favorite Washington Nationals to capture the NL East crown, which came with surprising ease down the stretch, their postseason odds looked bleak. In a best of five series the Mets were matched up with the two-headed pitching monster of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke of the Dodgers. As fate would have it, the Mets young pitching, most notably Jacob deGrom, was up to the task as they proved to be on and above their level every step of the way. Daniel Murphy, who has brought out more mixed emotions over the years from the fan base than any player I can ever remember, suddenly became the best player in baseball. He could do no wrong as the Mets got the best of the Dodgers in five games.

Next up: The Cubs. Ironically enough, this was the year in which the famed ‘Back to the Future II’ movie predicted the Cubs would win the World Series. For a franchise who is in the midst of the most historic championship drought in all of sports, the Cubs felt like a team of destiny. But apparently the Mets didn’t get the memo. They steamrolled over the Cubs as Murphy and the pitching staff once again led the way as the Mets captured their first NL crown in 15 years.

When it came time for the World Series, well, we all know how that went down. The Mets magical run had come to an end. But, the Mets couldn’t have ended it on a classier note, in my opinion, as they came out once more to greet the flushing faithful that stuck around for one last goodbye. David Wright instructed the team to come back out and salute the fans who had hung around Citi Field long after the Royals on field celebration had ended to wish farewell to the boys of summer. It was a somber scene as it began to sink in that this was really the end of the 2015 season. For some of these players, including Cespedes and Murphy, it was likely the last time they would wear a Mets uniform. The organizations goal had been to “take back the city,” in reference to a time when they owned New York in the 1980’s. Which feels like a 100 years ago at this point after all of the Yankees dominance in the 1990’s and 2000’s. With the season the Mets just had to build upon, led by this young star-studded pitching staff, that future could very well be within grasp.

Just as I stated earlier that “No way!” became the last thing we will remember from the 2015 season, I hope it carries over into 2016. I’d like to see the Mets, especially Matt Harvey, use that as motivation next year as if to say “No way we don’t win the World Series this year.”

Thanks for the ride, Mets.

Time to shake off Game 2 and get back in the NY groove

All of the Mets, and their fans, worries came to fruition in Game 2. After cruising through three innings, the Royals figured out Jacob deGrom and forced an early exit. DeGrom was clearly frustrated as he was unable to put away the Royals hitters. Part of that was due to him missing his locations with his secondary pitches, especially when he was ahead in the count, and part of it was the Royals make contact at any cost approach at the plate. To make matters worse, the defense was sloppy and continuously put the Mets in a jam. A big part of Kansas City’s game plan is to put pressure on the other team’s defense and force mistakes. They’ve done just that in Games 1 and 2. Finally, the bullpen, which is this teams biggest question mark, was unable to stop the bleeding after deGrom departed from the game. That’s certainly not a promising sign going forward.

What’s bothered me the most about the Mets is their offensive output. Far too much of the lineup is swinging for the fences. I don’t understand how you can sit through these first two games, watching what the Royals are doing right before your eyes, and not try to mimic their approach. Very rarely do you see them attempting to hit the long ball. If they do, it’s early in the count and they adjust their plan of attack accordingly to the situation. I’m not saying swing early and often in the count, I know that’s not something the Mets have done this season. But if you do get your pitch to hit, go for it. Kansas City starters aren’t exactly dominating arms, despite what their stat line in Games 1 and 2 may say. By taking good pitches early and letting them get ahead in the count, the Mets are giving the Royals’ arms an edge that they need in order to succeed.

It only took two games to realize just how special Daniely Murphy was throughout the NLDS and NLCS. Without Murphy getting that big timely hit, the Mets offense has sat stagnant. It’s unfair to expect Murphy to continue hitting at that torrid pace. It’s also unrealistic. While I still expect Murphy to put together quality at-bats, the realist in me knows he is a line drive hitter, not the home run hitting machine we’ve seen throughout the postseason.

I know that it will take more than one hot bat in order to beat the Royals. This will have to be a complete team effort. The Mets must find a way to keep the lineup moving. And, if they’re able to do that, capitalize on as many scoring opportunities as possible. They’ve had their chances, especially in Game 1, but have been unable to get that key hit. As we saw in Games 1 and 2, the Royals are relentless. If the Mets can get Kansas City down, they cannot take their foot off the gas pedal, as the Royals are rarely ever out of a ballgame.

As for the starting pitching, forget the scouting reports. I’m tired of watching our power arms bow down to the Royals lineup. Yes, they are a very good hitting team. I love their unselfish approach at the plate. They will single and double you to death. But, the Mets young arms are shying away from what got them this far. It wasn’t throwing off-speed stuff nearly 50% of the time. If the Royals lineup is going to beat you, make them do it with your best pitch. I agree that they need to change their look throughout the game to keep these hitters off balance, but don’t get carried away with it. When it comes time to get that big out in a key situation, remember what got you this far.

After Game 1, comparisons were made to the 2000 World Series and how the Mets lost in similar fashion. After Game 2, comparisons were made to the 1986 World Series and how the Mets lost the first two games by the same margin. What do you say, Mets? Which ending will we receive – a quick and quiet defeat like 2000 or a miraculous comeback that we cherish for years to come like 1986?

The Mets return home tonight for the first of three games. In my opinion, they must win all three in order to have a real shot at winning this series. I just don’t see them winning more than a game in Kansas City. If Game 1 was a gut punch, than Game 2 was an early round knockdown. The fights not over, but the judges are already penciling in the Royals as the winner.

Watch how the late great Rowdy Roddy Piper reacted to the Mets being down 2-0 in 1986:

Last night’s loss was a gut punch, but not a knockout

Last night’s 5-4 loss in 14 innings was brutal, there’s no other way to put it. Personally, I would have rather lost by 10 runs than the way the Mets did. Watching Jeurys Familia give up that ninth inning home run to Alex Gordon was a gut punch. But, if you’re going to lose in heartbreaking fashion, I’d rather get it out of the way in Game 1 while there is still time left to recover.

Right from the get-go you could tell it was going to be a weird night. On the very first pitch Matt Harvey threw last night there was confusion in the outfield between Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto that led to an inside the park home run to lead off the game. It was impossible not to think this was going to be the Royals night. However, the Mets fought back and put themselves in position to win. Even after Gordon tied the game up in the ninth, the Mets had several chances to regain the lead and failed to seize on their opportunities in extras. The bullpen did their part and the Royals gave the Mets the best they have to offer. In my opinion, while I’m not a big believer in moral victories, it was more important for the Mets relievers to keep the Royals bats at bay as well as they did in their 7 + innings of work than what Kansas City did. This is where the Royals are supposed to have their biggest advantage. If the Mets can continue to stay on their level out of the pen, that’s a good sign going forward.

The obvious comparisons have been made to the eerily similar fashion the Mets lost Game 1 of the 2000 World Series to the Yankees. Unlike the 2000 World Series, I don’t have my head down after a Game 1 loss with the certainty of defeat. Sure, last night’s loss still hurts this afternoon. It probably will up until the first pitch of Game 2. But with Jacob deGrom on the mound, and with the resiliency this team has shown throughout the whole season when faced with any sort of adversity, my confidence is behind this Mets team until the end. A win tonight would put the Mets back in the driver’s seat. Winning one out of two on the road was always the goal.

If you were browsing through social media last night/this morning, despite what some fans might have you believe, this is indeed a seven game series. Games are going to be lost in the postseason. It happens. Yes, winning Game 1 would’ve been a great start, but it didn’t happen and that’s not going to change. Harvey didn’t have his best “stuff” and kept the Mets in the game. Familia, who in spite of giving up the game-tying home run, worked out of an eighth inning jam and retired the other three batters he faced in the ninth with ease. The offense scrapped together four runs but was only a hit or two away from breaking the game open several times last night. It’s time to learn from your mistakes, move on and go get a win in Game 2. Last night’s loss was a gut punch, but not a knockout.

Well, I guess there’s only one thing left to do…

mets-national-league-champions-2015Every once in a while you experience something that feels too good to be true. Waiting for that alarm clock buzzer to go off and snap you out of a dream. As I watched Wednesday night’s game, and the Mets went in to cruise control from the moment Lucas Duda launched a home run in the top of the first, I was convinced someone was getting one over on me. Could this be one of those Jimmy Kimmel pranks? Is he going to make me a viral laughingstock as a hidden camera captures me cheering in excitement for an event that never actually occurred? Damn you, Jimmy. At last, it took until Thursday in the PM hours, when the TV guide told me there was going to be a Mets-Cubs game on TBS and was instead treated with an episode of Seinfeld (not that there’s anything wrong with that), that it really sank in: The New York Mets are going to the World Series.

For the past several years my father and I have made the trip down to Port St. Lucie to take in some of Mets spring training action. If you’ve never been before, although Port St. Lucie isn’t exactly the most exhilarating place on earth, it’s a chance to get an up close and personal experience with the teams current and rising stars. The real beauty of spring training? The Mets are still in first place. For at least that month of March you can be as optimistic as you want about your team. In years past, that was about as good as I was going to feel about this franchise.

For the majority of our trips we knew the season wouldn’t end with a banner rising before it ever began. But, you could see the foundation slowly being built. That’s what has really made this year’s postseason run that much more special. I’ve literally watched this team grow up before my eyes. Each and every trip gave us a new glimpse into this starting rotations potential. Starting with Matt Harvey in 2012, a surprising Jacob deGrom emerged in 2014 while Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz showed their promise just this past spring. For anyone that was able to watch these guys throw, even in the raw stages of their development, you knew better days were coming to Queens.

One name I left out, who deserves as much credit for this team’s success as the starters, is Jeurys Familia. I remember him coming up and the debate was is he a starting pitcher or a reliever? What made the front offices decision easier to send him to the pen full-time was the depth already in the rotation all the way down to the minor league level. Familia became a reliever out of necessity and boy did that turn out for the best. In March of this year, we sat no more than an arm’s length away from Familia as he threw a bullpen session. My father remarked “I just don’t see it,” in regards to his potential. Let’s just say I wouldn’t count on him getting a job in the Met scouting department anytime soon. One of the biggest differences in this Mets team compared to years past is having a closer that you aren’t petrified to see come in with the game on the line. Dare I say Mets fans are actually confident to see a closer in the game? What a world we live in.

Although I believe the saying “pitching wins championships” holds true, you still have to score runs in order to win baseball games. Up until the trade deadline the Mets offense wasn’t just bad, it was flat-out laughable. I feel like we should stop picking on John Mayberry Jr at this point. Scratch that, I don’t. When he was batting cleanup in late July, it was hard to believe I wasn’t watching an Independent League offense. I couldn’t even fathom this team making a run with the offensive output they were receiving. Ok, let’s just say it, the season was doomed if something didn’t change, and fast.

The Washington Nationals, who were the odds on World Series favorites, kept the Mets in the NL East race as the MLB trade deadline neared. I strongly believe that Sandy Alderson would have sat idle if the Nationals were playing to their potential and were out to a big lead in the division. But, fortunately, they weren’t. This left the door open for the Mets to make a real run at the postseason down the stretch and Sandy hit it out of the park with his acquisitions. He traded for Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, Addison Reed, Tyler Clippard, Yoenis Cespedes and promoted top-hitting prospect Michael Conforto. Uribe and Johnson added much-needed depth to the bench and allowed manager Terry Collins some flexibility to play the hot bat or a lefty-righty matchup. Reed and Clippard slid right into the 7th and 8th inning role to solidify the backend of the bullpen. Conforto quickly emerged as a rising star who has become the starting left fielder against right-handed pitching and will surely be next year’s full-time starter. As for Cespedes, I’m not sure the Mets would still be playing if it weren’t for him. He put the offense on his back down the stretch and led them to a division crown with ease with his MVP caliber play.

murphyThe Mets were faced with the Dodgers in the NLDS and Cubs in the NLCS in order to advance to the World Series.
There are only two words needed to sum up how the Mets moved on: Daniel Murphy. He is the hottest hitter on the planet and is in the midst of possibly the greatest postseason run in the history of the game. There isn’t enough time in the day for me to full express how I feel about Murphy right now. I might have to name my first-born child Murphy, or at least a dog. The same player who has had us scratching our heads for years with some of the bonehead plays he’s made, now has us scratching our heads in disbelief as we question ourselves, “Is this really the same Daniel Murphy?”

The pitching has been nothing short of remarkable. DeGrom, if he wasn’t already, has turned himself into a household name with his three road victories in beating the likes of Kershaw, Greinke and Jon Lester along the way. Harvey, after a rough but gritty opening performance in the NLDS, threw a gem that set the tone for the rest of NLCS. Syndergaard has blown us all away with his 100 MPH fastball and his willingness to do whatever it takes (pitching in relief of Game 5 in the NLDS) for the team to win. Matz, who has made only eight career starts, has kept the Mets in the game in each of his starts and has proved he’s clearly worth of being in the same discussion as the big 3.

What I’m trying to get at is watching a plan came into fruition has made this run all the more special. Sure, it probably took longer than most would have liked. Myself included. And there have been some brutal, and that’s putting it nicely, seasons in recent years. It’s important not to have a short-term memory and think it will always be this good. Remembering those dreadful seasons only adds to the ecstasy that is winning the National League Championship. The champagne showers have washed away many painful memories. Enjoy this weekend. We all return to the edge of our seats/barstools on Tuesday night.

As Jake Taylor said in Major League, “Well, I guess there’s only one thing left to do…Win the whole F’ing thing.”

Mets-Dodgers series has the narrative it needed: Revenge

This Mets-Dodgers series had its share of narratives before it ever began. Will Clayton Kershaw finally produce in the postseason? How many games, or innings, will Matt Harvey throw? Can the Dodgers finally get over the hump? Will the Mets be able to overcome the 1-2 punch of Kershaw and Zack Greinke? All of those are fine headlines to fill up a few pages in your daily newspaper. However, I didn’t find any of these all that appealing. But, thanks to Chase Utley, that all changed on Saturday night.

As you are well aware of by now, I hope, Utley took out Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada will a “slide” while attempting to turn an inning ending double play that broke his fibula. The initial ruling on the field had Utley called out at second and the score even at 2-2 with a runner on first and two outs. Upon further review, the call was reversed and Utley was awarded second base as the Dodgers rallied to tack on three more runs in route to a 5-2 victory.

Arguments can be made from now until eternity whether Utley made a clean “hard-nosed” play or if he went above and beyond that threshold. I won’t waste my time with furthering that debate. It’s just not worth it. No matter what your opinion may be the fact remains, right or wrong, the call was made and the series is now tied at 1-1. That’s all that really matters.

I mentioned earlier I had no real feel for this series going into it. The Dodgers don’t exactly bring much emotion out of me. Maybe it still stings an older generation of fans that were spurned by their Brooklyn departure in the 1950’s, but I’m not a part of that. I grew up with the Mets and I’ve only known the Mets. There isn’t a single everyday player who I have any animosity towards on L.A., and that okay. It’s not like you’re going to have a rivalry with every team you play. But it does enhance the viewing experience. The games seem to mean more when you bring that aspect into play.

After watching Utley take out Tejada on Saturday night, as Mets fans have grown accustomed to seeing similar plays by him over the years, I realized the Phillies still stand in the Mets way. Sure, the Phillies haven’t been relevant for a few seasons now. Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels are no longer a part of a core that broke the hearts of Mets fans for years. In 2007 and 2008, they helped guide the Phillies past the Mets to NL East Championships. From 2009-2014, the Mets were never even in the mix. Never getting a shot at redemption. The rivalry, although it continued to play out, if only in our minds, was never truly meaningful after 2008.

This year the Mets returned back to glory as they took back the NL East. The Phillies, well, they finished with the worst record in baseball. Howard has since become a shell of himself, spending most of his time on the DL in recent seasons. Hamels was traded to the Texas Rangers earlier this year, while Utley and Rollins were acquired by L.A. to add depth to a team with World Series expectations.

With what Utley started on Saturday night, the fire that once existed between the Mets and Phillies was reignited. All those years of emotions, mostly filled with anger, that Utley and Rollins have caused me came back to life. It felt like deja vu as one of them was in the middle of a potentially season changing moment, with the Mets coming out on the wrong end of it. The chance to return the favor against those Philadelphia teams might have already passed, but the Mets still have the opportunity to square things away with public enemy No. 1 and 2, Utley and Rollins. This series, which could be the Mets final shot at payback as retirement looms for both, has the narrative it so desperately needed: Revenge.

New York Mets to October: “We’re back”

The New York Mets are the 2015 National League East Champions. I repeat, the New York Mets are the 2015 National League East Champions. There are fan bases that have waited longer than the nine years the Mets have gone without making the postseason, but few, if any, who have been through as much over that time. If you had tried to use the famed quote from Moneyball “How could you not be romantic about baseball?” during those nine years, you would have received a lot of expletives in response from any Mets fan. But now, today, as they have the division locked up with a full week of games left to play – I have begun to resonate with that question myself.

I’m part of a generation of Mets fans who were born shortly after the 1986 championship season (three months to be exact). I haven’t experienced much winning. In fact, I’ve experienced much, much more losing than winning. My father has always told me “it takes character to be a Mets fan,” which has held true in my lifetime. To this day I still mets fanscherish the 1999 and 2000 teams, two of the four times they actually made the postseason since I was born, as my fondest years as a fan. I was 12 and 13 years old during those seasons, prime childhood years. There were few distractions in my life, there was baseball then everything else came in a distant second. But what really made me appreciate those teams the most, and I’m sure many others feel the same way, was their stature as the underdog. The Mets were playing second fiddle to the Braves and Yankees around that time. It was fun to play the David vs Goliath card against those two teams, who were each in the midst of their own respective dynasties. While the Braves ended the Mets run in 1999 and the Yankees in 2000, those aren’t my lasting memories from those seasons. It was the unexpected journey of reaching the NLCS and World Series that I hold so near and dear to my heart.

It wasn’t until 2006 that the Mets returned to the playoffs. This time it was different, they were the favorites. From opening day forward the Mets were considered the team to beat in the NL East and arguably all of baseball. We all know about the season’s heartbreak ending, but that’s not where I’m going with this. Sure, that team was fun. It was a helluva season that brought about plenty of memorable moments. A young David Wright was playing third base, right as I was finishing up high school emulating him at the hot corner myself. But it just wasn’t the same rooting for the odds on favorite. It gave me a glimpse into what it must be like as a Yankees fan, minus the World Series championship finish, as winning was all but expected.

What separates the 2015 Mets from the 2006 bunch is, you guessed it, their underdog run. The Washington New York Mets vs Cincinnati RedsNationals were not only favored to win the division, but the World Series. You’d be hard pressed to look back now at preseason predictions and find anyone who was taking the Mets over the Nationals. Now it’s not like the Mets were projected to be bottom dwellers, either. They might not have had overwhelming support, but they had their fair share of people who believed a Wild Card spot was within reach. Personally, I thought they would compete for one of the Wild Card spots up until the final days of the season. I can’t sit here and say I was expecting a postseason berth, but I did think they had at the very least a fighting chance.

In typical Mets fashion, this NL East title didn’t come easy, despite what the standings might say. Right out of the gate in spring training starting pitcher Zack Wheeler and left-handed reliever Josh Edgin went down with injuries that required season ending Tommy John surgery. Closer Jenrry Mejia tested positive not once, but twice(!) for PED use. David Wright was diagnosed with spinal stenosis putting his season, and career, in jeopardy. Reliever Jerry Blevins, who was brought in to replace Edgin in the bullpen, broke his forearm after being struck by a line drive in April and once again after “falling off a curb,” whatever that really means. Matt Harvey was fighting for the ball to stay in games longer, despite an innings limit. Sandy Alderson refrained from upgrading an offensive lineup so bad that John Mayberry Jr. was batting cleanup in late July. Wilmer Flores being traded, then not traded, which led to an embarrassing night capped off by Flores crying on the field. Harvey doing a 180, thanks to the advisement of his agent Scott Boras, and announcing he may very well shut himself down before seasons end due to an innings limit that he has previously fought every step of the way. All the while having to deal with a fan base that no matter how big the division lead was, assumed with each September loss that another Mets collapse was inevitable.

Thanks to a combination of dominant early season starting pitching, Jeurys Familia emerging as an elite closer, the promotions of Noah Syndergaard, Michael Conforto and Steven Matz, the acquisitions of Tyler Clippard, Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, Addison Reed and (most notably) Yoenis Cespedes, an emotional walk off home run from Wilmer Flores, the return of David Wright, a Nationals choke job (literally, just ask Bryce Harper) and what has felt like a different hero in each and every victory – the Mets pieced it all together and made an unlikely run at a division title.

On Saturday, I took in the clinching game on away turf, in a Yankee household. The nerve of someone to schedule an engagement party when the Mets magic number was down to one. But at least the hosts’ family is full of good IMG_0964baseball people who I have nothing but respect for when it comes to discussing the game with. With that being said, I’ve heard my fair share of Mets jokes over the last few years from that direction. Granted the Mets have played themselves into a walking punchline with their actions on and off the field. Nonetheless, no fan wants their team to be on the butt end of a joke forever. Finally a little redemption. If only for a night. I couldn’t show up empty-handed, and I’m not talking about my gift. Tucked away in a friend’s car parked out front, just in case the Mets lost, were two bottles of champagne on ice. Once Famila recorded the final out it was as if the dreadful memories of the last nine years had all been washed away. I’m not one to jump and yell in excitement, that’s just not my style. It was more like the biggest sigh of relief I can ever remember having as I was able to sit back, relax and reflect on the fact that the Mets were actually returning to the postseason. All with a solo cup filled with the finest champagne $13 can buy.

I’ll allow myself until game 1 of the NLDS on Friday, October 9th to enjoy this. Then, when every single pitch will have me on the edge of my seat and the ulcers begin to settle back in, we’ll see if the Mets can give us more to cheer about.  I don’t like to make predictions, but just as I said before the season ever began – I’ll give the Mets a fighting chance against anyone.  Nine years are a long time to go without playoff baseball, but good things come to those that wait…