Thursday, May 27, 2004

Games 42 through 46 - Mets
A New Era, an Old Name for It

Mets 9, Rockies 7
Mets 5, Rockies 4
Mets 4, Rockies 0
Mets 5, Phillies 0
Phillies 7, Mets 4
Record: 23-23

Had I merely resisted the urge to blog on and rip my associate, the Mets surely would have completed the mini-sweep of the Phightin' Phils in addition to the more traditional three-gamer against Colorado. But according to the Cosmic Rules of Fan Torture, because I typed something mildly laudatory in this space, destiny was irrevocably altered, and the Mets lost.

This pattern was kind of funny for a while, but it's just excruciating now. When I step away, the Metropolitans thrive as if they were a real baseball team. After I'm sucked back into it, they wilt. Mike Piazza's heave of a potential game-saving DP ball into left field might as well have been right off my forehead. It was in my face.

It seems like this scenario could not possibly be reality. How could my optimism continually yield poor play while my pessimism and/or apathy renders drastic improvement?

Maybe it's not as it seems. Thomas Hardy once philosophized:
"Pessimism is, in brief, playing the sure game. You cannot lose at it; you may gain. It is the only view of life in which you can never be disappointed. Having reckoned what to do in the worst possible circumstances, when better arise, as they may, life becomes child's play."

By quitting on the New York Mets time and time again, I play the sure game. If they continue to lose, I haven't wasted my time with them, and the team has demonstrated why jumping ship was the wise move. If they rebound, even in small doses, I am elated, if also frustrated by my decision to bail out. The unfortunate timing that has intertwined my lapses of attention to my team and their relative peaks of success are coincidental in the particulars but to be expected overall. The ups and downs of a 162-game season are inevitable. The choppy ripples of this squall season so far are not uncanny; that my own biorhythmic waves have formed a double helix with the Mets W-L pattern might be, but it's not the X-Files-worthy material I have made it out to be. If I could simply maintain a more stable, even-keeled approach to the New York Mets season, I'd shake this notion that 30 people in poly-blend outfits and cotton caps are out to get me.

I should have been a psychologist. What a heap of dung. The frickin' Mets are out to get me and everyone else who pulls for them, and they're breaking down mental states in more than the Tri-State Area. The real truth is that even in my moments of supposed stolidity, I am still affected. Even after I've written the Metros off for the season, it's still torturous to watch them languish. Those spring training feelings of hope are real, and they remain there in your head, getting publicly whipped with every miserable defeat in September. If it doesn't bother you, you weren't all that much of a fan to begin with, and you won't be blessed with the overwhelming sense of dream realization when the promised land is finally reached. Did you see the second-coming type of pandemonium after the Marlins won it all last fall? That's because there wasn't any. And don't get me started on the Yankees. Oops, apparently you just did.

One of the problems with YankeeLand being so large now isn't its sheer size. Hey, New York is one of the largest cities in the world, and it's arguably the most important, so a massive fan base should be expected. It's just that the YankWagon was a little jalopy putting along with painfully few riders in the eighties and early nineties. The diehards were there, but they multiplied like wet gremlins when the Bombers started winning again. And although hearing these real Yankee fans' witless chants when the Yanks started catching up to their legacy wasn't any less grating (apparently 17 seasons without a trophy isn't always enough time to breed cleverness), at least the extra-annoying issue of where the hell they were in the dead years (a.k.a. the Donnie Baseball Era) doesn't further agitate you. Those guys loudly overhyping Don Mattingly when he was leading the Yankees to their second last-place finish in 80 years and their first since 1960 truly felt the joy of 1996 as much as they felt the groin tear of 1990. That's the risk in Boston and Chicago: if you don't bleed with the losers along the way, you won't have the scars to pour the champagne salve onto if and when the unthinkable miracle finally happens. Pay your dues, laddies, for you'll receive exponential compensation someday . . you hope.

So this is why my seasonal shuckings of the Mets are only superficial. My head's telling me to find a lifeboat quick before the iceberg sinks the season, but my heart keeps pumping signals of "3.5 games out? We're right in the thick of it!" to my brain. And I get up and the Mets go down and I get down and the Mets go up and the teeter-totter goes on ad nauseum, literally for me.

Mark the date and time -- I hereby renounce my heretofore ritualistic formula of swearing the Mets off and sheepishly sneaking back into rah-rah over and over. To borrow from the other side of the tracks in MLC Episode I: The Fandom Menace, I am entering the Era of Positivity. Here are a few of what will be my trademark slogans:

1. Hey, we're just happy to be here at this point.
2. Did you see 2003?
3. The pieces are there, and you just never know.
4. There's always my case bet with Rob as a fall-back.

and finally, and most importantly:

5. With every loss, we're paying our dues, earning our stripes, and every other rite-of-passage cliche about going through the muck now to sweeten the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. (That's the metaphorical equivalent of leftover soup at your school cafeteria, but you get the point.)

And so I begin the new era with a few reasons to believe. The Mets are at 23-23, the latest they've been .500 in . . . well, just a few years, but it seems like an eternity, doesn't it? They've won nine of their last 13. In May they swept two series but weren't swept. And in the case race, the Mets are but six games back of the Red Sox close to 1/3 of the way through the season -- projecting an 18-game deficit by season's end, on the better side of the all-important 22-game line. There is still a long road to hoe, but the Era of Positivity II isn't completely delusional.

Up next: remember last year's 12-game stretch that was going to be make-or-break time? Yeah, I know, the whole thing was a bust because the Mets went 7-5, still fell further from contention, then dismantled the team the way a good 12-game outcome was supposed to prevent. Well, anyway, it's that time again. The Mets have a similar 10-game gauntlet to run starting Friday. Three at Florida, three at Philly, and four more against the Fish back at Shea. With the exception of the ridiculous NL Central, the NL East is currently the biggest crapshoot in baseball. Four teams within four games, none clearly dominant. If they go 8-2 I'm buying postseason tickets (this positivity thing can be carried too far), 6-4 and I'm happy, 4-6 and I'm worried, anything less and the Era of Positivity has a shorter run than The Bad News Bears Go To Japan, which, of course, I saw in the theater way back when.

And finally, on that note (and on a Rob Russell-style tangent), I just read that they are remaking the original Bad News Bears to star Billy Bob Thornton. This is a mistake. The original 1976 film was perfectly cast, perfectly written, and perfectly acted. The mix of sports, comedy, and sentiment was ideal, the kids weren't too-cute, and the ending was letter-perfect. There is nowhere to go but way, way down, and there simply is no point to a remake. But one thing knock-offs do is bring the original back into the spotlight, so treat yourself to the classic. Because no matter whom they cast as Kelly Leak, there will be no way he can pull off "I got a Harley Davidson. Does that turn you on? Harley Davidson?" quite the same way as the one, the only Jackie Earle Haley.

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