Friday, October 16, 2015

From the Amazins to now, my love for the Mets has come full circle

With The New York Mets currently in the playoffs, fresh off their Division Series win against The Los Angeles Dodgers; a feeling I have not had in a long time has resurfaced. One of joy of course, but more importantly I feel like a kid again. That's because my love affair with my beloved NY Mets goes back almost as far as they do.

Although we have a lot in common, as we were both born in New York in the same year, 1962, I can't honestly say I've loved them all along. Truth is told I wasn't even a baseball fan until 1970. However,when I did become a fan, the Mets were my team of choice; primarily because they were the team of choice by just about everyone in my Bushwick, Brooklyn neighborhood back then. That was a good and bad thing looking back on it now.

Born out of necessity due to the departure of both The New York Giants and The Brooklyn Dodgers to California, from 1962-68 the Mets were a pitiful laughing stock of rag tag/has been players that could only be loved by their loyal fans. Even in 1969 the year of the "Miracle Mets," it wasn't until a late season miraculous run that they made the playoffs. However, miraculous is exactly what that run came to be as they defeated two mighty teams en route to their first ever world championship.

First they took on and beat the powerful Atlanta Braves in the National League playoffs, which were stocked with heavy hitters such as Hank Aaron and Eddie Matthews. Then they went on to defeat a heavily favored Baltimore Orioles team also with heavy hitters such as Brooks Robinson and Boog Powell, but also a powerful pitching staff led by Jim Palmer and Mike Cuellar. Little did I know at the time, while the Mets position players were considered also rans, their pitching staff was considered up and coming.

I say little did I know, not because of my age, I was six at the time, but because I had no interest. I always tell the story how in '69 when the Mets were in the world series, I came home from school and first grade looking forward to watching 'Popeye' at 3 PM on TV. We had one black & white television at the time and when I walked in my mom, who knows nothing about baseball, had the Mets on channel 9. That's because so did everyone else in the neighborhood.

When I attempted to change the TV my mom quickly stopped me and told me she was watching the Mets. Stunned and more importantly upset, I began to cry about missing Popeye. However, that would all change within a year. Once the Mets won the series and I saw the reaction of the neighborhood, I too got caught up in the excitement. Plus, I was hitting that age where baseball cards were beginning to replace "toys" as I was growing from a baby boy, to a boy.

That up and coming staff was comprised of future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and a rookie at the time who would also become a Hall of Famer named Nolan Ryan. That nucleus of three star pitchers would be the secret recipe to the Mets future successes as it is what catapulted them to the World Series again in 1973, my favorite Mets team to this day. Talk about a bunch of nobodies, this team made the '69 team look like all-stars.

The supposed big dawg on that team, our clean up hitter, was a chubby right fielder named Rusty Staub. Other no names such as John 'The Hammer' Milner, Felix Millan, Bud Harrelson and my favorite Met Wayne Garrett comprised the infield and a 42 year old shell of himself Willie Mays was in centerfield. However, we still had that pitching; Seaver and Koosman were still intact, only now Ryan was gone and replaced by a long lanky lefty named Jon Matlack.

This team of rag tags defeated the legendary 'Big Red Machine' in five games and took the mighty Oakland A's, World Champions from '72-'74, to the brink of defeat as they lost in seven games. As a 10-year old, who knew everything about and every player on this team, I cried. What a difference four years makes, crying for Popeye, but now the Mets. Nonetheless, I remained a fan through some very long lean years in the '70's and early '80's.

Then in '86, 13 years later, it happened again. This time I was a 23-year old newlywed still in love with my adoring Mets. Only now, unlike their previous two World Series appearances, this team was not the underdog, but rather the Big Bad Wolf. With stars such as Darryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter, the Mets were stacked. Add to that the old recipe of three star pitchers Dwight 'Doc' Gooden, Ron Darling and David Cone and the outcome was inevitable, albeit with a little help from Boston bad luck as well; sorry Bill Buckner, but thank you.

Three series appearances and two world championships in less than 25 years, times were good; or so I thought. It would be 14 years before they'd make the World Series again, this time in a first ever Subway Series against cross-town rival NY Yankees. All I'll say about that is, I still believe if Mike Piazza cracks Roger Clemens over the head with the same broken bat Clemens threw at him while going to first base, the series outcome may have been different. I feel Piazza not retaliating set the tone for the series, which the Mets lost in five games.

Six years later, they were one game from going back to the World Series and I just knew it was destined once Endy Chavez made an over the fence game saving catch in the sixth inning. However, Chavez's effort and my so called destiny did not anticipate that supposed "franchise" player Carlos Beltran would go down looking like a statue as he took a called third strike to end the game with the bases loaded. 'Nuff said!

It's been tough being a Mets fan since, however in the last two years glimpses of light have been seen; most notably in the names Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom. Two young stud pitchers with back to back stellar years, you could see that recipe coming together once again, all we needed was that third starter; enter in Noah Syndergaard AKA Thor to the Met faithful.

Outside of this talented trio the only real star position player is Yohan Cespedes, who can be seen as this team's Rusty Staub or Darryl Strawberry. The rest of this team is comprised of solid, but far from star talent, though Daniel Murphy is breaking out in a big way this postseason. David Wright, the beloved captain, is past his prime but still in the mix and a veteran like Curtis Granderson meshes nicely with a young homegrown talent such as Wilmer Flores.

Yes this 2015 team is eerily similar to the teams from '69 and '73 that captured the hearts of Met fans all over, including mine. In the process this team, with their dramatic defeat of the Dodgers in the division series, are doing the same. They have rekindled a fire within myself and Met fans that has been waiting to be lit for a long time. Hopefully this ride will continue as from the Amazins to now, my love for the Mets has come full circle. Lets go Mets!

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