Baseball wasn't born in me. My parents (not baseball fans) tried, rather unsuccessfully, to enroll me in youth training camps when I was in kindergarten and first grade. I liked the sport less than soccer, which is to say, I would rather poke my eyeballs out with scissors than play baseball. Nah, I liked reading. I'd devoured the entire output of Roald Dahl by 7. Math wasn't bad either. And if I absolutely had to put my body in motion, I guess I liked running. That way, that asshole kid Cole couldn't yell at you for not paying attention during the game. I attended my first baseball game in 2002. I don't know how, but my identity as a Mets fan had already been established at this point. Maybe it was because my best friend growing up was a quasi-Mets fan. More likely, it was because the Yankees were overpaid assholes and Cole was a Yankees fan. At the game, Mo Vaughn hit a home run - or was it two? - and thus I became the only Mets fan ever to like Mo Vaughn. Anyway, by 2004, despite my allegiance to the Mets, I evidently still knew nothing about baseball, because after that famous Red Sox comeback I believed that they had defeated the Yankees in the World Series. I also wasn't very satisfied in life. Reading was great - and I loved Roller Coaster Tycoon 2, too - but there wasn't anything I had real passion and drive for.
In 2005, a funny thing happened. I started reading the sports section of the New York Times - I swear to God - because the weather section was on the back and I needed something else to turn to (no pun intended). It was May, and the coverage for baseball far exceeded any other sport. Soon, I started following the Mets. Being, well - geeky as anything, the tables of numbers consumed me before I had any real relationship with the players. The batting averages of the Mets were displayed - Woodward, Floyd, Cairo, Reyes, Beltran. And Mike Piazza, the only name I'd recognized before reading the sports pages. I grew to know the identities of these players. Cliff Floyd hit homers. Jose Reyes stole bases. Carlos Beltran underperformed a bit. Soon, I started watching games and really following the identities of the players. Reyes was young and already being crowned one of the most exciting players in baseball. Cliff Floyd was a veteran having a pretty good season. Mike Piazza was on the downswing of his career. Chris Woodward was a "scrappy utility guy." I also learned Mo Vaughn was an injury-prone sack of lard who had played in a sum total of 8 Mets games. This didn't disappoint me too much. I was too busy focused on all the youth and excitement on the team.
Of course, David Wright was my favorite. How could he not be? He was young - just like me! He was new to the Mets - just like me! And most importantly, he was amazing - unlike me! Such a good two-strike hitter, Keith used to say about him. I loved David so much I'd often be doing my homework with the radio on in the background until David came up, then I'd run to the TV and turn it on to watch him hit. And even when he struck out, I was rarely disappointed. The way he swung the bat looked so easy - he never looked like anything got him down. More than anything, this was the quality I admired about David Wright.
My least favorite was Doug Mientcewicz. I fucking hated Doug Mientcewicz. People used to talk about his defensive value, but all I saw was a guy who couldn't drive in a run to save his life.
2005 was a good time to start being a Mets fan. I never experienced the dreck of the early 2000s, instead being treated to a team with a hell of a lot of potential. Besides Wright and Reyes, there was Victor Diaz, who was young and had a great swing, there was Jae Weong Seo, who somehow managed to go 8-2 with a 2.59 ERA and who I also loved. Aaron Heilman seemed to pitch in every game. Over the last month of the season, Mike Jacobs put up video game numbers. Besides Wright and Reyes, all of these players now suck/are out of baseball/suck and are out of baseball. That didn't matter - it doesn't matter. They gave me hope. In 2005, when the Mets went 83-79, and then in 2006, when they traded Jacobs for Carlos Delgado, they looked to be amazing.
One of the best things about being a baseball fan - I think, being a sports fan of any kind - is the spontaneous generation of hope. What else can really do that? Certainly not reading books, and definitely not math problems. Those Mets - Heilman, and Seo, and Diaz, and Wright - they all gave me hope. Wright gave me the most. In the spring of 2006, I signed up for my first season of Little League. I basically had two strikes against me right off the bat. First, I had never really played baseball before, besides extremely occasional sessions of catch with my brother and dad. Second, my hand-eye coordination was beyond abysmal. These days, I would laugh off my .100 batting average or dismiss it entirely. After all, I was young for the league! But back then, it stung. I never harbored any real aspirations of being a major league baseball player. But there was this great hope - that I, like David Wright, despite the two strikes against me, would somehow come back and make it an at-bat. That season, I didn't really.
But I guess I did. After that season, I played 5 more, throughout high school. Slowly, I developed into a decent player. My lack of hand-eye coordination was mitigated by choking up on the bat and foot speed. I started to throw pretty hard, and eventually I became a pitcher. Was I ever great? Nah - I weighed 135 pounds at 6' 1'' and couldn't field a fly to save my life. But I have Wright (and Keith, I guess, for pointing out David was such a great hitter with two strikes) to thank for the perseverance. There's a certain drive that you can only get from looking up to people like that.
And I grew as a baseball fan, too. For Christmas in 2005, I received the New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, which was to utterly consume me for years. As a kid who liked numbers, and as a kid who liked collecting things, I got into sabermetrics and baseball cards. I accrued 1,500 posts on a baseball forum, and 1,300 on another. I followed countless baseball blogs. I refreshed Fire Joe Morgan every two hours. My life revolved around Mets games. When I went to camp, I'd spurn socializing with other kids so I could listen to the Mets on the radio alone. I got my first girlfriend (a Mets fan!), took her to Mets games, and then she broke up with me during an hour-long rant about Mike Pelfrey's inconsistency. Seriously, that's exactly what happened. I got broken up with because ranting about Mike Pelfrey was more important than talking about relationship problems.
Anyway, 2006 was great, because the Mets were great, and then 2007 and 2008 were less great because the Mets were less great. David seemed to go on weird streaks at times - in 2006, his power evaporated completely in the second half, and then in 2008, while I was eating at a Japanese restaurant with my extended family, he struck out with a runner on third against Bobby Howry. That was the beginning of the end. Wright looked - well, he looked defeated. Then 2009 came, and the Mets were awful, and David Wright wasn't as good, and 2010 came, and he was okay, but the Mets were bad, and then came 2011, and he wasn't good and the Mets weren't good and I really had to take a look at myself. And as the Mets went, so I went. I spent hours in my room alone, complaining about everything I could. I got back into books - the existentialists were my favorite. Kafka on the Shore. Anything with a good sex scene.
I had stopped posting on baseball forums almost entirely. The only blogs I followed were FanGraphs and Amazin' Avenue. Fire Joe Morgan had shut down. My new girlfriend couldn't have cared less about baseball. I didn't watch every game - maybe twice a week in the beginning of the season, and then once, if that, when the Mets had fallen out of contention. My collection of baseball cards had dwindled through eBay sales over the years to the point where I only really had this one Cal Ripken, Jr. autographed card and my collection of David Wrights. Perhaps most telling, I hadn't read the New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract in months. I still played baseball, but I practiced guitar more often. I stopped emulating David Wright and started aping Doug Martsch, Mark Kozelek, Rivers Cuomo, and Elliott Smith. To these men, singing openly about their struggles was a good thing - that's where true power and emotion comes from. I hadn't grown out of baseball, but there wasn't that sense of wonder that old, grizzled baseball men always talk about. It was actually sort of like a crush. And the crush had faded, and it depressed me a little. Baseball was a girlfriend that no longer excited me. And honestly? I blamed Jerry Manuel. Somehow, he sucked out that hope. The hope that we as sports fans feed on. There wasn't anyone exciting in the farm system, my favorites from seasons past had vanished (Ramon Castro, Steve Trachsel, hell - I even loved Ollie when he was good). Remember my hate for that god-awful Doug Mientcewicz? Compared to Jeff Francouer, Doug was a god. And though I'd stopped looking up to him, I clung to David Wright. He was the last thing really holding me to what I used to be - an insane baseball fan. I tracked his fWAR. His oddly declining defense. The trade rumors that always followed him. And once in a while, I'd still turn on the TV just to see him swing. The only hope I really retained for this team was the hope that David Wright would play well despite the abysmal seasons of those around him.
2012 began much like 2011. I didn't have too much interest in the team. Reyes had gone. Carlos Beltran had been gone for a while. This was a team with no one from the 2005 Mets, the team that got me into baseball, except Wright. I didn't develop personal connections with Jason Pridie and Willie Harris like I did with Chris Woodward. I couldn't. Chris Woodward was someone I could personally relate to. Jason Pridie was someone different. He was just a guy doing his job. Anyway, as most of you know, David Wright was a very good baseball player in 2012. He stopped striking out so much, he started fielding better, and he let the Mets hang around in contention for a little bit until the wheels totally fell off in July. And a funny thing happened - rather than watching two games a week, I started watching 3 - then 4 - then 5 a week as the Mets started to fall apart completely. When I left for college, I kept watching the Mets games - online, streaming. I was energized by Matt Harvey. By the promise of Zach Wheeler. By R.A. Dickey, of course, and by Jon Niese's cutter and by Jordany Valdespin's pinch-hit home runs and Ike Davis's resurgence. The 2012 Mets won 74 games - three less than the 2011 Mets, but they imbued me with hope. Who knows? Maybe Ike Davis will turn into April Ike Davis, maybe Jon Niese blows his arm out, maybe Zach Wheeler never gets control, maybe R.A. Dickey gets traded. These players could be Mike Jacobs, or Jae Weong Seo, or Heilman, or Victor Diaz. I realized that I'd lost the reason that I wasn't addicted to, hopelessly in love with baseball anymore. It wasn't just David Wright - no, Wright was a constant. I'd always love David Wright. David Wright - even when David Wright as good, he was still really, really good. But David Wright isn't baseball. No, it was the hoping that the other players could come around him. That an Endy Chavez would come out of nowhere to put up a great season as a backup and give us one of the greatest catches in baseball history. That a Ruben Tejada could emerge as a solid shortstop who could take a walk. Somewhere along the way, David Wright ceased being hope, and I still relied on him, increasingly, to provide that for me. It was only when I realized Wright had become something different that I could crush on baseball again. Having a player like Wright on your team isn't hope - it's what makes hope possible.
David Wright's new contract makes him a Met, essentially, for life. His role as the greatest position player in Mets history, and my favorite player of all time, is assured (although it would be pretty nice if he won a World Series with the Mets). And when he hangs up the spikes, I'll just have to hope another one of him comes around. Pretty wishful thinking, but, eh. That's what we as baseball fans do.