It was June 12, 2009. The New York Mets were facing the crosstown rival Yankees at Yankee Stadium. The Mets were up 8-7 in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, but the Yankees had runners on first and second.
Eileen Conroy and her daughter Kerry had moved down from the top deck and were at ground level on the first base side. They were going to watch the final out, then make a quick exit out of the stadium.
Francisco Rodriguez pitched to Alex Rodriguez, who hit a routine pop fly to second baseman Luis Castillo. Eileen and Kerry were in the perfect position to watch him make the catch, sending the Mets home with the victory. The only problem was that Castillo dropped it, and both runners—who were running on contact with two outs—scored easily. Final score: Yankees 9, Mets 8. My mother and sister had just experienced the most devastating live baseball moment of either of their lives. From that moment on, the name Luis Castillo was the equivalent of uttering an obscenity in the Conroy household.
My mother has been a Mets fan since the team's inception. She probably didn't have much of a choice, as her father was a Dodgers fan who had been clamoring for a National League team to embrace since 1958. Those early years for the Mets were obviously not easy, but their fans' patience was rewarded with a World Series title in 1969. The team remained in contention for the next several years, adding a National League pennant in 1973.
These Mets teams boasted some of the most popular players in franchise history, including Jerry Koosman, Cleon Jones, Rusty Staub, Bud Harrelson, and Hall of Famer Tom Seaver. Who was my mother's favorite player? Ken Boswell, the starting second baseman with a lifetime batting average of .250 and 31 career home runs. She went so far as to make a banner on Banner Day that said, "I Love You Kenny Boswell."
As the 1970s progressed, the Mets would descend into a downward spiral of mediocre play. The owners left the baseball decisions to M. Donald Grant, who decided to ignore the new free agency venture and allow the team to crumble offensively. The decisive blow came on June 15, 1977, when the Mets traded Tom Seaver to the Cincinnati Reds for four mediocre players. By 1979, the Mets were on their way to their third straight last-place finish and an average home attendance of fewer than 10,000 people, the lowest in team history.
My mother met my father in college around this time, so now poor John Conroy, a lifetime Yankees fan, would have to endure my mother's suffering as a Mets fan, an ever-present staple of their now 30-year marriage. The Mets were so bad at this time that the front office tried to excite crowds with Mettle the mule, the new Mets mascot whose pen sat next to the bullpen. My father will often claim that my mother was the only fan in the stadium who was excited when Mettle came trotting out, but she denies it to this day. It remains up for speculation.
As the ’70s rolled into the ’80s, the Mets’ organization underwent a massive overhaul toward contention. Owner Charles Payson sold the team to Fred Wilpon and Nelson Doubleday in 1980. That same year, Frank Cashen was hired to be the general manager, and he quickly went to work building a new Mets team. With homegrown talent like Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, and acquisitions like Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez, the Mets would win the World Series in 1986.
My parents didn't have cable, so my mother would often flip to the Mets’ channel and watch a blurry screen, listening to the play-by-play commentary. While the Mets were facing the Houston Astros in the NLCS, my parents were on vacation in Disney World. They sat in their hotel room watching the 16-inning marathon that was Game 6 of that series. The Mets came out victorious and advanced to the World Series to face the Boston Red Sox.
Down three games to two, the Mets faced another grueling Game Six challenge, as the Sox were up by two runs going into the bottom of the 10th inning. My mother sat in front of the TV on the verge of tears. Of course, Gary Carter got a hit. Then Kevin Mitchell got a hit. Then Ray Knight drove Carter in with a third hit. Then a wild pitch went past Mookie Wilson, scoring Mitchell from third. Then Mookie hit a ground ball up the first base line to Bill Buckner and...well, my mother didn't need to cry anymore. My parents bought season tickets the very next year, holding on to them until 1992. (They would later purchase season tickets in 2008, which they have kept to this day.)
After all these years, my mother's undying passion for the Mets has evolved into a fascinating display of emotions that spill out during every game. In my opinion, the beauty of baseball is that the longevity of the season makes the first half of the season relatively inconsequential, as opposed to a sport like football where every game matters. When it comes to the Mets, my mother treats every game like it's Game Six of the ’86 World Series. She will jump out of her chair with every Mets run scored, and boil with rage at every opposing team run or Mets mistake. If I am out of the house and I know that the Mets lost, I make a point to not bring it up when I get home, lest my head be put through a glass window. Whenever I am asked about my baseball allegiance, I explain to people that I am a Yankees fan and a Mets sympathizer, because I know that it's in my best interest that the Mets keep winning.
I could say that my mother's habit of holding grudges against certain Mets players is unique to her, but I can tell you that few sports fans harbor resentment toward certain players on their own teams quite like Mets fans. It started for my mother at an early age with Felix Millan, who held the unfortunate distinction of replacing Kenny Boswell at second base. Despite being a former All-Star and obvious upgrade over Boswell, Millan became public enemy number one. My mother’s grudges also extended to Dave Kingman and George Foster, but to be fair, they were hated by all Mets fans.
The 1990s and early 2000s brought a new grudge not on a specific player, but rather a specific position: the closer. John Franco, Armando Benitez, Braden Looper, and Billy Wagner were part of a revolving door of relievers trusted to secure the ninth inning for the Mets during this time, but only ended up giving my mother consistent headaches. It should be noted that Benitez may go down as my mother's least favorite baseball player of all time, taking the top spot ahead of lifelong Mets killer Chipper Jones.
During the Mets' last successful run from 2006 to 2008, the targets of my mother's fury were always whomever was responsible for costing the Mets a chance at playoff success. During the Mets' sole playoff appearance in 2006, Carlos Beltran decided to keep the bat on his shoulders and watch strike three go by in Game Seven of the NLCS against the Cardinals. Much like Kingman and Foster, Beltran has endured the same level of animosity from most Mets fans. A grudge that is unique to my mother, however, went toward Shawn Green, who replaced the productive Xavier Nady in the middle of the season, despite being far from his former All-Star status.
For Mets pitchers, the 2007 and 2008 seasons were not good times to be responsible for blowing games. Both years saw the team eliminated from the playoffs on the last day of the season after blowing its lead in the standings. In the final game of ’07, Tom Glavine became another Mets pariah after giving up seven runs in the first inning, then expressing his presumed indifference about the loss. The culprit the following year was Scott Schoeneweis, who blew the lead for the Mets in not only the last game of the year, but the final game at Shea Stadium. Sitting with my mother at that game, I will never forget the feeling of despair throughout the stadium even during the postgame ceremony, which featured all of those former Mets. Even as Tom Seaver and Mike Piazza waved goodbye to the crowd, the fan behind me kept muttering, "Scott f***ing Schoeneweis."
As the Mets make their way through the 2015 season, the roller coaster of emotions for my mother never stops. It's especially difficult in a season like this, when expectations are higher. The young star pitching staff of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz represent the highs, while the anemic lineup and nagging injuries to David Wright, Daniel Murphy, and Travis d'Arnaud represent the lows. Above all else, it has become sacrilegious to criticize young shortstop Wilmer Flores, to whom my mother has attached herself in a similar fashion to the way she attached herself to Kenny Boswell.
The worst part is that it's still only July, which means three more months of this team tearing at the seams of my mother's heart. Despite these baseball hardships, I admire my mother for her—in the words of Elaine Benes—"unbridled enthusiasm." I suppose the simple solution would be for the Mets to win the World Series every year to appease my mother. That shouldn't be too difficult, right?