I’ll never forget that night. Thursday, October 19, 2006. I’ll never forget the pitch. A knee buckling, filthy 12-6 curveball that seemed to just drop off the face of the earth. With just a single pitch, not only was our season over, it felt like someone had sucked the living soul out of my body. I felt empty and lifeless. Standing in that raucous bar, I was absolutely stunned. That feeling quickly gave way to anger and frustration. This was our season! We were destined to go all the way. In many aspects, it was the best New York Mets team that I had ever seen, even better than 2000. The 2006 Mets were the perfect blend of youth and experience, clutch hitting, pitching and defense. However, as many can attest, such is the curse of being a Mets fan. Heartbreak is almost a prerequisite, a sort of “hazing” if you will, that one must endure to enter the brotherhood of bleeding blue and orange. Though we’ve been crushed by the reality of missed opportunities and unfulfilled expectations, with sick perversion we look forward to next April every year. Things are going to be different this season. I know it. And so, I curse the day I became a Mets fan.
To be honest, I can’t pinpoint a single game or moment that made me a Mets fan. Growing up in Long Island, long summer days were spent playing baseball and home run derby at the park. We’d emulate our favorite players’ batting stances and pitching motions. In particular, I was infamous for my Jeff Innis sidearm delivery impression, and my Daryl Strawberry silky smooth swing was uncanny. My father was particularly enamored with the ‘86 Mets. He loved Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter. We spent many hazy summer nights watching the Mets on TV after he’d get home from work. I loved it when he told me stories of that season, and how the they were unlike any other team he’d ever watched. Shea Stadium in nearby Flushing was a mere 30 minute drive from home, so we’d go to at least one game a season. Combine all the aforementioned factors, and unfortunately, a Mets fan was born.
There are a few distinct moments that have truly defined what it is to be a Mets fan. Game 7 of the 2006 National League Championship Series (NLCS) at Shea Stadium is one of them. The season itself was refreshing, to say the least. Promising young manager Willie Randolph had the team playing loose and fun baseball, culminating in a 97-65 record and a NL East title in only his second season as skipper. We swept the Dodgers in the Divisional Series (NLDS), so optimism and expectations were at an all-time high. As the underdog St. Louis Cardinals rolled into town, it was hard not to think that this was our year. A great series ensued, and it ultimately came down to a final Game 7 at Shea Stadium for the right to advance to the biggest stage. As a baseball fan, this was one of the best games I’ve ever watched. As a Mets fan, this was by far the most soul crushing and painful game to date. The very definition of what it means to be a Mets fan can be epitomized by this Game 7. A 1-1 game in the top of the sixth inning, Scott Rolen crushed an Ollie Perez pitch into deep left field. My heart sank. I’ve heard that sound before; it was the sound of a baseball leaving the stadium. I was right: The ball flew high into the crisp late autumn night. Then a moment of brilliance ensued. Endy Chavez scaled the wall and made a brilliant snow-cone catch and had the wits to double up Jim Edmonds at first.
“Perez deals. Fastball, hit in the air to left field… that’s deep. Back goes Chavez, back near the wall… leaping… and… he made the catch! He took a home run away from Rolen! Trying to get back to first, Edmonds; he’s doubled off! And the inning is over! Endy Chavez saved the day! He reached high over the left field wall, right in front of the Mets’ visitor’s bullpen and pulled back a two-run homer. He went to the apex of his leap and caught it in the webbing of his glove… with his elbow up above the fence. A miraculous play, by Endy Chavez, and then Edmonds is doubled off first and Oliver Perez escapes the sixth inning. The play of the year, the play… maybe… of the franchise’s history for Endy Chavez! The inning is over!”
—Gary Cohen, WFAN, October 19, 2006
Amazing. The single greatest defensive play I’ve ever witnessed couldn’t have come at a more clutch time. The Amazin’s were back, and we had life. Hope. But you know how this story goes. This is the Mets we’re talking about. You know, the same ol’ Mets that build up your dreams of something grand only to have the carpet pulled from underneath and expose you to the harsh reality of, well, being a Mets fan. And suddenly, we started playing like the same ol’ Mets. With the pressure mounting, bases loaded and only one out in the bottom half of the same inning, we would fail to drive in a run, with our hero Endy Chavez getting the last out. You could almost feel the once rowdy Shea Stadium deflate. The Cardinals would go on to take a 3-1 lead in the top of the ninth courtesy of a 2-run home run by Yadier Molina. The task was daunting: 3 outs and 3 runs to win, to break the curse. The bottom of the ninth inning started with promise as Valentin and Chavez both singled off Cardinals rookie closer Adam Wainwright. It pains me to type his name. The decibel level at the bar had reached a dangerous level. Let’s go Mets! Even though Wainwright would retire the next two Mets batters, Paul Lo Duca’s patient approach led to a walk that loaded the bases. The stage was set.
There are few better moments in all of sports better than waiting for a crucial pitch to be delivered late in October. If the Mets were to break the curse of being the Mets, this was the perfect moment. There was no one I’d rather have up at the plate than the next batter, Carlos Beltran. 41 homeruns, 116 RBI, All-Star, Gold Glove winner, Silver Slugger winner. This was why the Mets shelled out the big bucks for the quiet centerfielder. First pitch, strike 1. Second pitch, strike 2. I looked at my best friend and fellow Mets fan. No words were needed. As I took a deep gulp and tried to compose myself for what was to follow, an undeniably ominous feeling crept through my bones. Ya gotta believe, they say. Wainwright would pause at the top of the mound for what seemed like an eternity. He then delivered one of the filthiest, nastiest curveballs I’ve ever seen. As the ball dropped 12-6 on the outside corner of the plate and into the catcher’s mitt, Beltran still had his bat on his shoulders. I knew my dreams were shattered. Our clean-up hitter, our big home run man, our hope to break this curse, didn’t even swing the bat. It was all over. I stood stoically as some Yankees fans came over to offer a kind word. It’s hard to recall what they said exactly because the whole bar had become eerily silent, and everything around me had become a blur. Absolutely gutted. Then rage. He didn’t even swing the bat! Just like that, one pitch and order in the universe was restored. The Mets disappointed yet again.
As crushed as I was, the next April I was once again full of optimism and hope. And of course, it was no different this past spring. Being a Mets fan is somewhat of a sick addiction. Bleeding blue and orange means having to deal with Tom Glavine (who was never a true Met) give up 7 runs in the first inning of a must-win game during the historic 2007 collapse. It means having the same thing happen again against the same team the following season. It means having to deal with Bobby Bonilla, Kaz Matsui and Roger Cedeno. It means being second best no matter how well you play to a more polished big brother in pin-stripes. But even though I curse the day I became a Mets fan, I wouldn’t have it any other way. We are a proud and persevering bunch, and we will always look forward to April with dreams (delusions) of a World Series.