'It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone." - A. Bartlett Giamatti.
The ephemeral feelings do not usually enter my mind until September, when leaves begin to wilt just as seasons tend to do for twenty two of the thirty Major League Baseball teams. Currently, the season is dormant and although I can enjoy the hot stove immensely, this is just a facile way of simply getting baseball during the winter months.Don't get me wrong, the offseason is wonderful for someone who enjoys the sabermetrical side of the sport but projections and reviews can only pacify me for so long. Spring Training looms in about two months, where the 40 man rosters will descend upon the sun-drenched March utopias of Florida and Arizona. I have always pondered trekking down to St. Lucie's Tradition Field to see a Grapefruit League game but that concept always seems to be much more of a idealistic daydream in the midst of a bitter winter than a reality.
I am all of 20 years old, so most of my knowledge of Mets history is drawn from the cold, unflinching objective sources of statistics and not the subjective which seem to allow for fond feelings and personal memories. My baseball (and for what it is worth, all sports) love begins in Fenway Park at the age of 7.
June 6, 1998 is where I can trace my first love of baseball. Until that point, I had only played soccer all year round and really had no fondness whatsoever for professional sports of any type. I made a weekend trip up to my aunt's house in Arlington, Mass. with my uncle and cousins for this Saturday matinee and I have been enamored ever since. The next night the Mets were on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball and I watched that game as well. I soon learned the channels by heart as to where I could find baseball, most notably Fox Sports Net New York.
It seems odd that I have actually been to 3 major stadiums before I finally got to Shea (Yankee Stadium and Camden Yards when I was real young; Skydome, Fenway Park, and Three Rivers at age 7), and I finally trekked out to Flushing with my father as a birthday present in July 1998. July 11, 1998 was my first ever game at Shea and Todd Hundley's first game that season playing in the unusual position of left field.
That 1998 season was something magical for me. Every player was admired regardless of statistical output and while the season ended with the Mets losing the final 5 games of the season and missing the Wild Card by one game, my love for baseball as a sport was cemented.
Since that 1998 season, my admiration for baseball has never wavered even in spite of the Mets oscillating success. The halcyon days of 1998-2000, the decline from 2001-2004, the rise in 2005, the 2006 Division Championship, the 2007-2008 numbing, and the 2009-2010 amalgamation of Omar and Jerry. Sometimes the Mets are something out of a Samuel Beckett novel, yet that absurdity keeps me returning for more.
Even the 2007 and 2008 seasons were enjoyable for me because I learned how inconsequential events truly are which propel a team through to October success. I'm aware I may be taking a contrarian position on the subject, but by being a sports fan I consent to the outcomes of everything including elegiac defeat and the exhilaration victory. I would much rather lose a division on the final day of season and live with the sting than be 20 games out in August with no chance of playing October baseball. Sometimes investing everything in a team is the cruelest thing one can do to themselves, yet we return year after year in the hope that gambling our time and attention to these 25 men will return dividends. Almost in spite of my sabermetric acumen, I still have a subjective love for the game. I would not want it any other way.
Perhaps my fanhood isn't as fervent as it once was (I have only made one trip to Citi Field since it opened) but I still check statistics obsessively, watch SNY religiously, and have developed a kinship with fans of all stripes who, while still having a passionate rooting interest in a team, enjoy the game of baseball. Maybe I do not scream and yell violently at the TV, but baseball to me is serene. Every player on the field has the same goal of succeeding, yet those goals always coincide at every outcome of the game. It's at the crux of every pitch, your idea of achievement against those of the opposition. Certainly the outcomes have been none too kind for the Mets during the past 4 years, but that simple probability always keeps me returning for more. It gives me the hope of victory, yet allows me not to feel despondent when defeat inevitably occurs in some games.
The probability (and philosophy) of hope is what has me returning yet again, and most fans as well. It takes some level of courage to support something that fails at least one-third of the time and sometimes numerous times in one game. Those odds can be cruel sometimes, but they simply make all success that much more enjoyable. Special moments are when the thought of odds and probability seem to dissipate and you view the game at its' simplistic, subjective core: the New York Metropolitans have a chance to win the game regardless of who is pitching and who is hitting. Even when a light hitting bat such as Alex Cora is facing a Brian Wilson with two men out and the bases loaded down by a run, there's that moment where I suspend my thoughts about the mediocre OPS+ and other relevant statistics to this battle of individual goals. Perhaps I will be disappointed, but if only for a moment that sentiment of visualizing the valiant success of the Met player is ethereal. It's about as close to a spiritual moment I have while watching baseball and I concede that I have done while watching other teams as well.
It's only December 17 and I already miss the game with no time constraints and enough outcomes to make a mathematician turn cross-eyed and baffled, much like me during some games. I miss it immensely, though.