All Star Break | A Midsummer Knight-mare

Matt Harvey’s career burned like a supernova. He exploded onto the scene in 2012 with 11 K’s in 5 1/3 innings, started the All Star Game at home the next year, successfully rebounded from Tommy John Surgery in 2015 and supplied Page Six with plenty of fodder along the way. Manager Terry Collins acquiesced to Harvey’s brash, borderline cocky demand to finish of Game 5 of the World Series, one of a handful of questionable decisions that played a part in the eventual demise of the Mets. His recent return to form, following a horrendous start to the season, was ultimately cut short. GM Sandy Alderson told the press that Harvey has “symptoms consistent with thoracic outlet syndrome,” a condition where compressed nerves and blood vessels in the shoulder causes numbness.

The “Dark Knight” will never be whole again and with all due respect, the only spurs New Yorkers care about are the ones in the elbows of Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard. After the Mets fell six games behind the Washington Nationals in the division and watched their two most valuable players, Syndergaard and Yoenis Cespedes, leave Friday’s game with “arm fatigue” and a strained right quad, respectively, I couldn’t help but recall the first time despair washed over me as a Mets fan.

the Signal-01

After the seventh inning stretch in Shea Stadium, my mom told me it was time to go home. The stadium announcer told me Mo Vaughn was stepping into the batter’s box. Accounting for her grip strength and our distance from the seats we just vacated, I estimated I could break free from mother’s clutches and see two more pitches, three if I was lucky. With a jerk of my arm, I was loose. I charged through cargo shorts and foam fingers to get a glimpse of the big man’s at-bat. By the time I successfully retraced my steps, a collective groan came from the orange seats. It was as if the fans had all gotten smacked on the head by their mothers too.  

That happened in 2002, when my biggest concerns were school lunch and what Simon said. It was the first time my heart sunk after watching my New York Mets play. Anytime baseball is the topic at hand, friends and family tease me and ask, “Why not be a Yankees fan? They’re so much better!” My response would either be “I couldn’t afford it” or “The first game I went to was a Mets game,” meaning if I had the funds and the timing was right, I’d be cheering for the Bronx Bombers (I had to wash my hands after typing that). But then I realized I never chose to become a Mets fan. It was my destiny.

People tend to fall into two categories: those who cheer for David and those who cackle as Goliath exterminates all would be competitors. One group is more willing to empathize with the overlooked and disadvantaged underdog while the other sees themselves as the juggernaut and naturally aligns with the behemoth. Growing up with a widowed mother and a penchant for being picked last in gym class meant I was unlikely to envision myself as anything but an underdog. Most positive depictions of father-son relationships revolve around a shared love of a sports team passed down for generations. Since my dad and I were in each other’s lives for a total of 27 months, diaper changes were our most intimate moments. There were father-figures in my life, but I don’t recall being pushed to like one team or another. So who else was a fat, timid kid from Harlem supposed to cheer for, the Globetrotters?

As the numbers on the scale grew larger, so too did the scale of devastation the Mets inflicted on their fans. From 2006 to 2008“Build Me Up Buttercup” became my anthem. The move to Citi Field in 2009 was a bright horizon full of potential and a much needed refresh button. Similarly, I had a blank slate as I entered high school and could rewrite my own script. This time, I would try to pass on the role of “chubby geek number two” and take the part of “unassuming student number eight.” Alas, neither I nor the Mets were able to shake off the yoke of history early on in our new settings.

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9th grade was clearly my peak.

Then Jose Reyes became the first Met to be crowned batting champion and I had shed 40 pounds in 2011. A year later, Johan Santana (sorta?) threw the first no-hitter in team history and I graduated from the High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College. Matt Harvey’s stellar 2013 on the mound was matched only by my performance at New York City College of Technology and Duane Reade. 2014 was my “breakout year” at Baruch College and Jacob DeGrom’s in the big leagues. The Amazin’s seemed poised to secure a winning record in 2015, something they had not done since I was in middle school.

A month or so before the season started, I began writing for The Ticker, Baruch’s student-run newspaper. A high school classmate recruited me, but I was also pushed by my desire to belong somewhere and serve as an asset to someone. My first article was all about why the Yankees should cut Alex Rodriguez like the malignant locker-room tumor he is and how mediocrity would be their peak in 2015.  Although I was not exactly Miss Cleo with that prediction, I had a steady outlet for any pertinent sports-related topics. Opening Day came and went and the Mets streaked ahead of the pack with power pitching and timely hitting. It took nine years, but on September 26, 2015, the New York Mets clinched a playoff berth and a chance at the World Series.

Two years of laboring at Duane Reade finally began to pay off as I had saved enough to buy a postseason ticket at Citi Field. Since the Mets had the worst record of the National League teams still standing, the first home game would be the third game of a best-of-five series. Going against Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, the realist in me gave us a minuscule chance of not getting swept. I bought the ticket early anyway because it was going to be on my birthday and that confluence of events may not have ever lined up again. I, a fresh-faced 21 year-old, could not help but smile as the 7 train was flooded by a river of orange and blue.

I reached my seat in the left field bleachers in time to observe the player introductions for both teams. You would have thought video of Chase Utley kicking a dog had surfaced by how much vitriol was thrown at him. To be fair, he executed a late, aggressive slide into Ruben Tejada in the previous game that resulted in a broken leg for Tejada and a win for the Dodgers. “FUCK YOU UTLEY!” chants roared louder than the hum of the jet engines grazing our hair. Even the prepubescent boy I was seated next to was goaded on by his dad to join the chorus. I wondered for a second if my father would have done the same, then joined the chorus once more.

Five different Mets drove in at least one run as the bats peppered the field with extra-base hits. The bloodthirsty audience was not satiated with a 7-3 lead. They wanted to go for the jugular and they knew Yoenis Cespedes, the catalyst of this offense, was the man for the job. My entire section held overlapping discussions about how far he was going to clobber the next pitch. At the crack of the bat, everyone knew the fate of that ball. I could make out its red stitches swirling on its ascent into the stands. The pyrotechnics 30 feet away from me feebly attempted to match our thunder. I would have been bouncing off the walls if I was watching at home, but the intensity of those 20 seconds of pure euphoria was multiplied by 45,000 fanatics waving their towels and jumping for joy. That was the happiest moment of my life and it will never rank lower than third; only seeing them win the World Series and the birth of my child could possibly surpass it.

World Series appearances for the Mets are measured in decades, (1969 to 1973 was 0.4 decades apart) not seasons. For all I knew, I could be in Wyoming the next time they played for the title. I purchased my seat in history as soon as the four-game dusting of the Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series was complete. The same pride I felt on my birthday swelled again on October 30, 2015. I questioned whether the middle-aged man beside me shimmied to the 80s rock blaring across the speakers or simply staying active to prevent hypothermia. He replied, “Noah Syndergaard will bring the heat for us! Believe you me!” He delivered the goods on the first pitch of the game.

With his team down two games in the best-of-seven series, “Thor” fired a 98 MPH fastball over Alcides Escobar’s noggin to intimidate and discomfort the Kansas City Royals’ shortstop. He sent Escobar packing with a blistering fastball one tick quicker. Nonetheless, our defensive blunders allowed a run to score. David Wright, team captain and longest-tenured Met, strapped on his cape and became the hero Gotham needed that night. The parabolic arc of his two-run home run was so pristine, fans reportedly found a pot of gold when it landed under them. High fives and fist bumps were passed around as “O Captain! My Captain!” echoed across our section.

When the Royals tried to spoil the mood with a run in the 3rd inning, Curtis Granderson set the place on fire with a homer of his own. A Thor imposter banged his faux-Mjolnir on the railing. Sal from Corona, Queens, his son and myself were bouncing in each other’s arms as if our crushes had agreed to one date. By the end of the 6th inning, I had been noogied, hugged and punched. By the end of the 9th inning, the Mets had gotten into the win column. I watched the highlights as soon as I got home to make sure I wasn’t down the rabbit hole. Nope. It actually happened and I saw it live. “As long as we hold serve at home, we could have two shots at the Royals to win it all.” That was where my mind was after the third game, already dreaming of Games 6 and 7. I learned a valuable lesson the next two nights, one that my team shielded me from for seven years: hope is a volatile temptress.

The 2000 World Series ended in five games as the Mets watched the Yankees celebrate in Shea Stadium. The 2015 World Series ended in five games as the Mets watched the Royals celebrate in Citi Field. Once a Met, always a loser.

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