This is the paper version of the speech I gave at the Mets 50th Anniversary Conference at Hofstra University.
The New Age of Mets Fans
When we are sitting in the stands at Citi Field we are all united in our love for the Mets. The 80 year old man who’s scribbling E-4 on his scorecard with a stubby and worn Mets pencil while muttering under his breath about the lousy defense and the ten year old kid next to him who leaps up excitedly and waves his glove every time the first baseman jogs off the field after the third out in hopes of getting a baseball from Ike Davis are all rooting for the same thing; A Mets victory. Clearly these two people became Mets fans in vastly different ways and have different reasons for continuing to be fans of our favorite baseball team. One was a Giants fan that felt betrayed when they moved to California. He’s seen the Mets win two championships and no longer even checks the Giants box score. The other never saw a game at Shea Stadium and doesn’t know who Jerry Koosman is, but he does know R.A. Dickey named his bats after swords from the Lord of the Rings and enjoys getting ice cream in a little Mets helmet every time his mother brings him to Citi Field . There are many other fans in the stands of various ages, and many of them are a new age of Mets fan that’s never seen a championship.
Differences of knowing success:
Fifty years is a long time and there are more Mets fans that never knew a world without the Mets than fans that remember the Dodgers and Giants leaving. There are many adult fans that have no real memory of the Mets as champions. Fans in their early thirties may have murky childhood memories, but anyone younger than that does not know the joy of watching the Mets fight through a full season, and the gauntlet that is the MLB playoffs, to capture a World Championship. We do not know the joy of watching a bad team in the early 80s grow through the infusion of veterans and carefully cultivated young talent from the farm into the toast of the town. We do not have the comforting memory of bad times leading to good times. That’s not to say we haven’t had some good seasons in the last thirty years, and that those good times are not a large part of why we become and remained Mets fans, but I suspect there is something comforting in not just knowing that the Mets can defy odds, beat out the competition, get some good breaks, and win it all, but actually seeing it happen.
Mets fans under 30 do not remember 1986. Ultimately all we know is failure. Older fans remember Seaver bringing in the prize and creating a culture of success to a franchise that had been a loser since its inception. He’s the Mets Babe Ruth in a way, being the player that arrived to define a team and bring them respectability. You may remember Gooden and Strawberry growing from Mets prospects into exciting rookies and then into champions. We remember Generation K becoming a flop, and prospects like Alex Escobar and Fernando Martinez never blossoming into the promising stars they were projected to be. Jose Reyes and David Wright rose up and they took a shot, but they did not bring home the trophy and now Reyes is gone and Wright is the veteran leader of a team that hasn’t had a winning season in four years.
This is not limited to fans either; there are Mets players that do not remember the Mets being champions. Most of them were too young in 1986, but the Mets even have a couple of players that were born on the date that the Mets won their last World Series title. David Wright says he become a Mets fan because the minor league team played near his home in Virginia when he was growing up, but he had not yet turned four years old when the Mets won in 1986.
Down to their final out in the bottom of the 10th with the scoreboard already congratulating the Red Sox, the 1986 Mets, starting with Gary Carter, battled, fought and defied all probability to bring up Mookie and allow that ball to get through Buckner’s legs and win the game. That didn’t bring home the prize though; the Mets still had to win game seven. They fell behind early in that game, and at one point Baseball Reference’s Win Probability chart had the Red Sox at 88% to win the game.
Since then Kenny Roger’s pitch missed the strike zone, Mike Piazza’s drive settled into Bernie William’s glove and Carlos Beltran’s knees buckled facing a brilliant curve ball. Tom Glavine caved under the pressure and the Mets bullpen could not get enough outs. Promising seasons ended with failure. We watched enemies celebrate, sometimes on our own field. Our Mets did not get that last hit that turned a good team into a championship one. The Mets bitter rivals in the NL East and in New York City won titles while the Mets had long gone home. Sometimes these teams even eliminated the Mets, as they did in 2000 and 2006, along the way. After 1988 it wasn’t until 2006 that the Mets played a game later in the season than the Yankees.
It’s clearly not victory parades and the collection of trophies that keeps us rooting for and loving the Mets. We understand that there is joy in rooting for a baseball team throughout the season and enjoying the journey; not just celebrating how it finishes. We’re drawn to the history of the franchise from before we were here and the various adventures they’ve had since we started watching. We all have favorite players, even ones that maybe weren’t very good baseball players. Everyone has a favorite Met, and we don’t need that player to be anointed with titles to celebrate and enjoy having watched them play. It’s no surprise to me that when the Mets announced the five players who would get bobbleheads this year, one for each decade, that Edgardo Alfonzo seemed to be the one that excited most fans I knew. In today’s society it’s possible to be a fan of any team and watch every game. We could root for the Oakland Athletics and follow them as closely as a fan living next to the stadium could. We stick with the Mets because we’re New Yorkers at heart and love our team. We love the story, the connection to the city, and the history and the ups and downs they’ve given us over the years.
We remember Seaver as a crotchety announcer on channel 11 because that was often our first exposure to him. When we started really being old enough to follow a baseball season, Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden were already drug-addled failures, or worse: Yankees. Our parents remember them being promising rookies, and remember them winning it all, but they stood to us as harsh examples of why the early 90s Mets were failing to win games.
When we were being introduced to baseball and the Mets, it wasn’t because we were swept up in the allure of a pennant run, although perhaps are parents were. All of these players, and the great moments of 1986, are merely good stories about our favorite baseball team, not personal recollections of great times. Most of us don’t have any real emotional attachment to them because we weren’t there. The same is true of other cultural milestones like Woodstock, the Moon Landing, Star Wars and the Beatles; it’s not the same to hear about how awesome it was afterwards. When I see highlights of the ball getting through Buckner’s legs I think “That must’ve been great!” not “That was amazing!” I don’t have personal memories about where I was or who I was with. My only memory of the 1986 Mets is that the NLCS game six against the Astros went long and I missed getting to watch Danger Mouse because my parents were understandably monopolizing the television.
We are not Dodger or Giant fans that could not fathom rooting for the Yankees when our team left town. We were born Mets fans, and the Mets are not an expansion team to us. The Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay Rays have that honor. The Colorado Rockies and the Miami Marlins as well, but even that was twenty years ago and there are adult fans that have always known of them as well. Having thirty teams in the league is normal and the Wild Card, and three divisions, is something that’s always been an option for our Mets. We don’t lament the times of two divisions and don’t even see the Chicago Cubs as longtime Mets rivals. The only reason for the Mets and Cardinals to be rivals is that the Mets have seen them in the NLCS in their last two playoff appearances.
The 50th anniversary is a perfect opportunity to hear about some of the other great stories surrounding the New York Mets, and not just the ones that won championships. Everyone has great stories about games they went to, players they met, or just fun times at Shea Stadium. Let’s break out all the old stories and hear about Wayne Garrett signing a baseball for you, the time you met Mettle the Mule, or watching the Mets and Phillies orchestrate a softball game between the players’ wives.
Here and now, but respecting the past:
Celebrating 50 years of Mets baseball is not just about remembrance, but also about learning and hearing about the great, and not so great, Mets that helped make this franchise what it is. We’ve heard all about Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. We know about 1986 and the ball through Buckner’s legs. We know who Tom Seaver is and what he did for the franchise. Unless you’re a real student of Mets history some of the other players aren’t as well known. The 50th anniversary is a perfect opportunity for us younger fans to hear more about Joel Youngblood, Rusty Staub, Ken Boswell, Cleon Jones, Mike Jorgensen or some of the other 900 or so players who have put on the New York Mets uniform.
It doesn’t have to be just the older times either. There are plenty of stories that old and new fans can remember together. We got to know Edgardo Alfonzo, and Rey Ordonez. We got to enjoy Mike Piazza, perhaps the greatest hitting catcher ever and likely the next Mets Hall of Famer. We can tell stories about Rick Reed and Masato Yoshii. Maybe you were at the game Desi Relaford, or Matt Franco pitched and can relay the crazy atmosphere of the fans in the stands.
With this season starting off in Japan, it’s a perfect time to remember Benny Agbayani’s home run in game two when the Mets and Cubs went there in 2000. Let’s hear about you calling in sick to get up early to watch the game, or blaming traffic for why you showed up late to work. Tell us about sneaking a radio into a morning class so you could listen to the end of the game that started in the wee hours of the morning.
Some of us may not remember that the Mets haven’t always worn black as part of their uniform scheme. We never saw Shea Stadium without a Home Run Apple or with the field level rotated to accommodate football. It won’t be much longer before there are Mets fans that don’t remember Shea Stadium at all and have never been to a game there.
More of us new age fans are comfortable with the changes to the game, the team, and the place they play than those who came before us. We may not hate Interleague play, the second wild card, or even the designated hitter. This doesn’t mean we’re not interested in what the game and the team were like before. It’s possible to respect and honor the history of the game and also be a proponent of change and moving forward. Baseball is a game that’s always emphasized history, and we don’t mind hearing about the players that other fans grew up loving, events that are no longer held or promotions that are no longer given away.
For some fans this season, and this conference, is a way to remember the great history of this team. For more of us it’s an opportunity to learn about this team’s history and hear those stories about the 1973 World Series, complaints about Mike Scioscia, or reminders about just how good Jerry Koosman was in the shadow of Tom Seaver. Tell us about the day you and your friends made a cool banner for Ed Kranepool at Banner Day, or a lesser known promotion that you enjoyed. Regal us with stories about how your section of the Mezzanine was the loudest in the stadium or how you heckled the Astros right fielder the entire game.
Because The Mets Are Still Fun
What draws us in and keeps bringing us back is the fun and light-hearted nature of the franchise. It’s okay to have names on the back of the uniforms. It’s not a sin to have more than two different variations of uniforms, even if it’s important to keep to some semblance of a schedule on when those uniforms are worn. It’s okay to celebrate home runs with a quirky apple that represents the Big Apple the team plays in. The Mets have always embraced baseball as a fun game and haven’t held to being a stuffy representation of tradition. Multi-colored seating levels only gave Shea Stadium more character, and the neon figures on the outside of it gave it its charm that we all know and love.
The Mets have always embraced the family atmosphere of the park and put an emphasis on creating a kid-friendly experience. Mr. Met is great mascot and represents the team well. The Mets let kids run the bases after select games and are always introducing family ticket packages and deals. Citi Field features a kiddie field in the center field concourse for kids to play on and even has the latest MLB video games to play with. The area also has batting cages and a dunk tank, providing fun for kids at what can be a long day of baseball. All these things lead towards making the younger generation of Mets fans fans for life.
We embrace everyone, or almost everyone, that puts on the uniform as one of our own and don’t need to vet them through a complicated process of clutch performances and defining moments before we accept them. Some fans may dislike Aaron Heilman, or Roberto Alomar, but no one doubts that they were Mets. We celebrate Ed Kranepool’s longevity but don’t forget about Joe Hietpas who appeared in only one inning, defensively, at catcher for the 2004 Mets. It’s not about the endless collection of rings but the yearly journey trying to get them. Every Mets season has its magical moments, even the 1962 Mets historically bad record created moments that are worth celebrating and remembering 50 years later. If you bring up any list of the top Mets moments in history you’ll find all the ones you expect from the World Series runs with Mookie’s game-winning grounder through Buckner’s legs to Swoboda’s diving catch. You’ll also find memorable moments from losing series’ and regular season games. Mike Piazza’s home run in the first game after 9/11/2001, Tom Seaver’s imperfect game, and Endy’s catch in a losing effort in game 7 of the 2006 NLCS all feature prominently in fans memories.
We’re all in this together:
Fifty years of Mets history is behind us. We’ve all had some good times and some bad times. We’ve seen heroes and villains and redemption stories and failed prospects. There’s plenty to celebrate and plenty to remember. No matter what year we started following the Mets, we’re at the same place now looking forward to another 50 years of great Mets baseball. We’re all looking forward to making new memories while continuing to celebrate the old ones. New age fans, or just new fans, or looking for the same thing as older fans and original fans; an exciting baseball season hopefully punctuated by a World Championship.