Famously supported by comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Jimmy Kimmel and Jim Breuer and part-owner Bill Maher, the New York Mets have been a joke for a long, long time. One of those so-funny-I-forgot-to-laugh kind of jokes.
But nobody’s laughing at them now.
Because today, New York City is a Mets town. In the final moments of Back to the Future Day, the Mets turned the clock back to a time when they owned the place, when they were the kings of Queens, when they weren’t considered second-class citizens in a town painted with Yankee pinstripes. When they were simply Amazing.
I’m a Mets fan who grew up in a Gary Carter number 8 shirt, my brother wearing Keith Hernandez’s 17. We wore out the 1986 highlight tape blasting Duran Duran’s “The Wild Boys” and Glenn Frey’s “You Belong to the City,” learned how to make a hot foot from Roger McDowell and couldn’t believe the story about Kevin Mitchell killing his girlfriend’s cat with a butcher knife. There were the Bobby Bonilla years, the Strawberry and Gooden flameouts. Generation K. Then came the Mike Piazza years and the Subway Series and the 9/11 home run against the Braves and then Carlos Beltran never got the bat off his shoulder and the music finally stopped.
I live in the Philadelphia suburbs now, behind enemy lines, and the No. 5 Mets jersey hanging in my closet that’s never been washed came out for the first time in years this week. Somehow it still fits. But for the last decade, that jersey collected dust, because the Mets haven’t given us much to root for in a long time.
But that all changed this fall.
The Mets are amazing again, back in the World Series for the first time in 15 years, which, in the context of all the anguish and heartbreak they’ve caused over the last decade and a half may as well be a lifetime. Crazy.
The Mets sure made it look easy against perhaps the only franchise that’s had a tougher go than them –the Cubs, a team that hasn’t won a title since the year the first Model T was built. It took just four games for the Mets, with their stable of flamethrowing pitchers and clutch hitters, to eliminate Chicago, quite possibly the best team in baseball this season, in the NLCS. Crazy!
There wasn’t much drama to the one-sided series, but hey, the Mets have provided plenty of that over the last few years with historic late-season collapses, ugly losses, bad signings, untimely injuries, heaps of losses and gaping wounds that rival clubs like the Yankees and the Phillies and the Braves always had plenty of salt to rub in.
But that’s all ancient history because over the last few months, they morphed from the Same Old Mets to the Miracle Mets to the Amazing Mets.
Six months ago, the Mets were longshots to even make it to the playoffs. They were coming off six straight losing seasons. Their offseason acquisitions consisted of uninspiring additions like the aging Michael Cuddyer, which is always tough to stomach while MLB rivals greet electric free agents with Brink’s trucks. The Mets, victims of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, had been notorious penny pinchers. Their lone transcendent star, pitcher Matt Harvey, was coming off Tommy John surgery and would be held to a strict pitch count all season. The second most prized pitcher in the organization, Zack Wheeler, is still recovering from the same surgery.
But something happened this summer. One of the most dominant pitching staffs in baseball emerged behind Harvey, guys like the lanky, laconic Jacob deGrom, closer Jeurys Familia and even veteran Bartolo Colon, who was a bear on the mound in appearance and performance. The midsummer trading deadline brought slugger Yoenis Céspedes, who bashed his way into Mets lore with a hot bat that carried them through August while preseason favorites like the Washington Nationals crumbled in September.
They didn’t make it look easy, but the Mets got into the playoffs and a new crew of October heroes emerged, with guys like Daniel Murphy transforming into a home run machine. Murphy, who was considered a marginal talent just a few weeks ago, more famous for taking time off last year for paternity leave than anything he’s done on the field, has hit homers in six straight playoff games as the Mets’ unexpected MVP. Nobody else in the history of baseball has done that. And that’s really crazy.
Yes, there were some challenges along the way, like the opening round series against the Dodgers, which went the distance and claimed shortstop Ruben Tejada, who broke his leg on a takeout slide by Chase Utley, the former Phillie foe. He was replaced by a guy, Wilmer Flores, who actually cried on the field earlier this year when he thought he had been traded from the only franchise he’s ever known.
And then there’s David Wright, who has been a Met through the recent lean years, who grew up in the organization and shared a clubhouse with guys like Piazza and Cliff Floyd and Billy Wagner and Jose Reyes on those much-better-on-paper Met teams from yesteryear, the big money teams before the Mets slashed the payroll down to $100 million at a time when the Yankees spend about double that and the Dodgers shelled out triple that on player salaries.
But that’s all in the past. These are the dirty-uniform 2015 New York Mets, a team that will never be confused with those other glitzy groups, a team that somehow stands four wins from a World Series title.
A team nobody is laughing at anymore.