As someone whose Mets fandom truly blossomed during the 2006 season, I’ve come to view my experience of being properly introduced to the team that year as both a blessing and a curse. It was, of course, one of the most successful seasons for the franchise thus far in the 21st century, as they were led to the best record in baseball by both a young core of talent (David Wright and Jose Reyes being two of the bright stars in the game at the time) and expensive veteran stars (Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Pedro Martinez, and Billy Wagner, just to name a few). The Mets dominated the National League from day one that year, and it was genuinely thrilling to watch a talented and largely well-rounded team (save for a somewhat flimsy starting rotation) stand above the rest of the field in a way that they have never done since then.
And yet, there would also turn out to be downsides to being a fresh-faced twelve-year-old fan during that time. While I was generally aware of the details of the franchise’s, shall we say, challenging history, there is a difference between reading about the Mets’ historical ineptitude and actually experiencing it. As a newbie fan, I had not yet been taught the lesson that all Mets fans learn before too long: that without fail, the team will almost certainly find some way to screw things up. I got my first real taste of that lesson when the team lost to the lowly Cardinals in the NLCS, and then over the next few years when a once promising franchise fell flat on its face again and again. And those lessons hurt even more given how certain—how absolutely certain—I was throughout the 2006 season that the Mets were the team of destiny that year, the team that I would talk about with reverence and nostalgia to future generations of fans, just like older fans talked to me about the 1969 and 1986 Mets.
Still, before my innocence was forever shattered by the sight of Beltran taking strike three, I did get to see an entire baseball season through the eyes of a naive boy who believed that anything was possible. And one of the games which served to confirm that feeling of mine occurred in the first game I attended that season—a Friday night series opener against the division rival Braves on May 5th at Shea Stadium.
Lest we forget, Atlanta was still in the midst of an eleven-year NL East winning streak at this time. It wasn’t until 2007 when the Phillies truly rose up and became the villains of the division, so at this point the Braves were still easily the biggest rivals that the Mets had. Alas, Atlanta had gotten off to a rough start to their season (coming into the game with a 12-16 record), and the Amazins—after an offseason in which they added big names like Carlos Delgado, Billy Wagner, and Paul Lo Duca to a roster that already had plenty of talent—had quickly established themselves as the division favorites with a 19-9 record. Thus, this home series would serve to firmly establish that the Braves’ time of dominance had come to an end, and that the Mets were now the Kings of the East.
I had gone to baseball games before, but this was the first one that I went to as a rabid fan, the first one where attending a game went from being a pretty cool thing to do to being an utterly magical experience. I have no idea how I made it through the day of school without bursting with excitement, but somehow I did, and afterwards we made the long car ride out to Shea Stadium. Even now, walking out towards the seats and getting that first glimpse of the field never fails to give me goosebumps, and that was certainly the case on this day as I dragged my reluctant mother and stepfather to our seats and waited for the good times to roll.
Nowadays, I’m a fairly reserved presence at a baseball game—I leave the hooting and hollering to those around me as I quietly pump my fist and politely clap when good things happen and internally moan when bad things happen. That was, uhh, not the case for my twelve-year-old self. I was probably the loudest person at the stadium before, during, and after the game. And the person who suffered from that the most was a girl who was probably around my age who was sitting in my section. This girl and her family were Braves fans, and she was being about as loud as I was being in support of her team. It was only natural, then, that I would counter her own cheers with my own rebuttals.
“We love you, Andruw!”
“No we don’t!”
“You can do it, Chipper!”
“You can strikeout!”
“Let’s go Braves!”
“Let’s go Mets!”
(If that girl happens to be reading this now: sorry I was so annoying. And I guess that apology should probably extend to everyone who had the misfortune of sitting near my overexcited ass.)
As for the game itself: Steve Trachsel was the starting pitcher that night, and he had about as Trachsel-y a pitching line as one can imagine: six innings pitched, nine hits, four runs, one walk, four strikeouts. The Mets, meanwhile, had only managed to score two runs in the first six innings—Carlos Beltran hit a solo home run in the first inning, and David Wright took a walk with the bases loaded in the third. Meanwhile, Chad Bradford—who was one of the biggest assets in the team’s bullpen that season—relieved Trachsel in the seventh inning, and he had an uncharacteristically rough night, giving up two runs on three hits and a walk and not even making it out of the inning. As such, the Mets faced a daunting 6-2 deficit heading into the bottom of the seventh.
But of course, I was never worried. Because you see, one of the unquestionable hallmark that all Teams of Destiny™ possess is the propensity for dramatically overcoming deficits. And sure enough, the Mets did come roaring back in the seventh inning with four runs—the first resulting from an error, and the latter three coming off RBI singles by Carlos Delgado, Cliff Floyd, and Kaz Matsui (who had not yet been replaced by the much superior Jose Valentin at this point in the season). The game was tied, and I sat secure in my knowledge that the baseball gods were smiling down upon us.
Neither team scored in the eighth and ninth innings, which sent the game to extras—making it the first extra inning game I ever attended. My mother—who did not much care for baseball and cared even less for staying up late and driving for over an hour in post-game traffic—probably complained about not being able to leave. I don’t remember for sure if she did, probably because such complaints would have fallen on entirely deaf ears to my young self. After all, one of the most important rules that I try to live by even to this day is that you NEVER leave a game before it’s finished. And that is ESPECIALLY true when you’re watching the Team of Destiny™, because a dramatic and exciting victory is almost assured.
And yet, that victory was threatened in the top of the eleventh, when Billy Wagner—pitching his second inning of work—gave up a long fly ball to deep center field off the bat of Wilson Betemit (holy blast from the past, Batman!) to lead off the inning. Beltran ran back and leaped up against the wall in an attempt to catch it, and I—not having a perfect view of the play, but secure in the belief that he must have caught the ball, because he was Carlos Beltran and making Gold Glove-caliber plays was what he did—began to celebrate the game-saving catch. Alas, I quickly realized that the ball was beyond his grasp, and that the Braves had taken the lead. And here I must admit, for just one brief moment, I thought that perhaps this would be one game where the Team of Destiny™ would fall just a bit short.
Foolish child! To think that a team as great and providential as the 2006 Mets would go down so easily! Indeed, it only took them one batter in the bottom of the inning to get right back into it, as Cliff Floyd hit a leadoff homer to deep right field to tie things up yet again. The stadium erupted, and I regained my resolution that victory was assured.
It took a little while for that victory to be finalized, though. Both teams traded zeroes over the next few innings, as Duaner Sanchez pitched two shutout innings (which was to be expected from him that season) and Jorge Julio followed with a scoreless frame of his own (which was decidedly not to be expected from him that season). Then in the bottom of the fourteenth, with Jorge Sosa pitching his second inning of work, Beltran worked a one-out walk. Alas, his fellow Carlos popped out in the next at-bat, which might have made some foolish Braves fans think that we were about to move onto the fifteenth. And then walked up David Wright—the future Captain who had already established himself in just two short years as the Face of the Franchise, the Mets equivalent to Derek Jeter (except, you know, better). On the first pitch of the at-bat, Sosa—no doubt quaking in his boots at the prospect of having to face the mighty franchise hero with the game on the line—threw a wild pitch which advanced Beltran to second.
And what happened next? Friends, I think you know what happened next. The Player of Destiny™ led the Team of Destiny™ to victory by clubbing a ball deep to center field which not even the graceful Andruw Jones could catch. The ball hopped over the fence for a ground-rule double, Beltran came home, and the Mets had themselves an 8-7 victory over their division rivals. The stadium roared with glee, I went berserk with a twelve-year-old’s unfiltered joy, and my mother made a bee-line for the exit.
It was the young star’s second walk-off of the season, and he would of course go on to hit many more memorable game-winners in 2006 and for the rest of his career. But then, isn’t that just what we should expect from a franchise icon like David Wright? It was certainly what my simplistic twelve-year-old mind expected. After all, those types of guys ALWAYS come through in the clutch. They ALWAYS lead their team to victory. And they ALWAYS have a heroic career arc that is highlighted by at least one World Series win with the franchise that they came up with and the fans that would always cherish them. I had no reason to believe that David Wright would not accomplish ALL of these things in the years to come, and I was certainly too young to have any clue what “spinal stenosis” was.
I walked out of Shea Stadium that night feeling like I was on top of the world, and I was sure without the slightest hint of doubt that I would continue to feel that way not just for the rest of the season, but for years to come. The dysfunction that haunted this franchise for so many years was a thing of the past, I thought, and certainly not something that I would have to deal with. I had the pleasure of getting to root for the Team of Destiny™, and it was only a matter of time before I would see that team claim the World Series trophy that it so richly deserved.
Alas, I would soon come to learn that destiny is a lie and LOLMETS lives forever. And fourteen years later, I’m still waiting for the Amazins to excise the ghosts of that season—and so many others that have taken place since the last time the team won it all—and to finally bring a championship home to Queens. But fourteen years of turmoil and heartbreak have made me cynical about the prospects of such a moment ever coming to pass, and that cynicism will likely remain until the team finally overcomes its dysfunctional nature once and for all.
In the meantime, I look back on that 2006 season and on nights like May 5, 2006, with a sense of both nostalgia and regret. I yearn for the days when I could feel such uninhibited confidence in my team and when I believed that good things would inevitably befall us. I ache with the knowledge that the team I believed in so ardently never reached its potential, and franchise icons like Wright and Beltran and pre-domestic violence Reyes never got a ring with the Mets. Yet in the end, despite that pain, I remain grateful that I got to experience a season like 2006 and a game like this one.