From the Archives: The Life of a Mets Fan
This weekend, NL playoff baseball returns to New York for the first time in 9 years with the Mets embarking on their inaugural postseason sojourn at Citi Field. It has been 7 years now since the Mets closed Shea Stadium in typical Metsian fashion, losing on the final day of the season and eliminating themselves from wild-card contention. Just 2 years earlier, for a frozen October moment, a very special Mets team reached high over the wall and snatched immortality in the webbing of its glove. It was gone within the hour. Culled from the archives, The Bench Rapport presents Shea Eulogy, a 2008 article on the experience of being a Mets fan filtered through the lens of the team’s most recent triumph-failure: the Endy Chavez Catch and Shea’s all too predictably tragic final seasons.
It was the sixth inning of game 7 of the 2006 National League Championship Series. St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen had just clobbered Oliver Perez’s two strike pitch, sending it screaming towards the leftfield wall. Mets fans expected the worst. Shea Stadium expected the worst. We knew we were better than the Cardinals but we knew we would find a way to lose. It had only been a question of how, and now we knew: a two run Scott Rolen homerun. We had been reluctantly – even subconsciously – preparing for this the entire season. It doesn’t matter how good the Mets may be, or how optimistic we fans may appear. Although Mets fans defiantly believe that the Mets will succeed, our defiance is rooted in doubt. We root against our expectation that the team will eventually fail, always ready to be let down.
Mets fans weren’t always so jaded. There was a time when Shea had been a house of miracles, and its occupants expected them. Shea was even home to a team dubbed the “Miracle Mets”. In 1969, just seven years removed from the organization’s inception, the Mets would win the NL pennant by erasing a ten game deficit over the course of the final two months of the season. In the World Series they toppled the heavily favored Orioles in just 5 games.
Had it been available, the 1986 Mets certainly could’ve taken the “Miracle Mets” moniker. Down to their final out in Game 6 of the World Series against the Boston Red Sox, the Mets furiously rallied from two runs down to tie the score on a Calvin Schiraldi wild pitch. With Ray Knight on second, Mookie Wilson trickled a 2-2 pitch down the first baseline. As the ball skipped under Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner’s glove and through his legs, Mookie rounded first and Knight headed home to score the winning run. Shea shook so hard that players in the locker room feared the stadium would collapse. Red Sox fans saw the play as another example of the “curse.” Mets fans knew better. It wasn’t Babe’s curse that lifted Buckners glove, it was Shea’s magic. Miracles didn’t just happen at Shea, they belonged to it.
But that was neither the Shea nor the Mets I knew. My Shea was home to the Mets of the early 90’s – the worst team in baseball. Over the years, Shea became a retirement complex for expired stars that had once burned bright. The Mets farm system, once an endless well of talent, fell dry. Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, once the poster children of the franchise, were shipped away after becoming poster children of a different sort. Yes, My Shea had its share of moments – Robin Ventura’s Grand Slam Single, Todd Pratt’s home run – but these moments merely served as scattered footnotes to a plot wrought with failure. Shea, it seemed, had run out of miracles.
The 2006 Mets, however, were different – at least we hoped they were. They were the best team in baseball. It had been twenty years since the Mets of 1986, and from March through October this incarnation seemed destined to match the accomplishments of that hallowed club. These Mets lit up the City like no Mets team had since the late eighties. They had the swagger and the attitude; they were a championship team, the heirs to the vacant 1986 throne. They had to be.
But as Rolen’s shot pierced the cool October night, the failures of the past 20 years came flooding back, and we braced for the worst. These were the new Mets remember, not the old. With a runner on first and the score tied, a home run would have ended the Mets season. It was only the sixth inning, but that didn’t matter. These Mets would collapse, just as they had in games 2 and 5, just as they had in 1999 and 2000, just as they always did.
From my seat in the Mezzanine, the upper deck overhang obstructed my view of fly balls the instant they left the batter’s box. It was one of Shea’s many quirks. Rolen’s fly ball was no different. With the ball out of view, my gaze veered to leftfield and fixed on Endy Chavez. The leftfielder was racing for the leftfield wall, but it was impossible to tell if the ball was within reach or if he was simply being Endy. For those who don’t know, Endy being Endy is the opposite of Manny being Manny. He was the Mets fan’s Met, Shea’s favorite Met. Endy never gave anything less than everything. Of course he would be sprinting towards the wall; he’d run through it if he could.
As Endy approached the warning track, a white flash emerged from under the upper deck overhang. Endy leapt high above the wall to greet it. We were hoping for, but in no way expecting, another miracle. Shea needed it. Our hearts froze when the white flash met Endy’s black glove; so did the flash.
We were revived when Endy returned to earth and whipped the ball towards the cut-off man. For me, that was the moment when that Shea became my Shea. ‘They’ used to say Shea shook. ‘They’ used to say it was like no other stadium. ‘They’ used to write about it, ‘they’ used to talk about it. Now I knew what ‘they’ meant. 60,000 people united in euphoric disbelief. Shea literally rocked. We weren’t 60,000 separate people anymore, we were Shea. Beer sprayed in all directions, soaking everyone, but no one minded or even noticed. Everyone jumped; everyone screamed. Somehow, amidst the chaotic delirium, all the disparate incoherent screams settled into a common rhythm, and a single voice emerged overwhelming Shea’s halls: “Endy, Endy…” I don’t know how long it lasted, and I don’t care. It seemed like forever, and that’s how I’ll remember it. As far as I’m concerned, I’m still chanting Endy.
The Mets would go on to lose the game when, with the score tied and a runner on first in the ninth inning, Yadier Molina hit a ball to leftfield that traveled too far for even Endy to bring back. Carlos Beltran struck out looking with a full count and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning to end the game. In the halls, leaving the stadium, Shea didn’t understand. Endy caught the ball, how did the Mets lose? It was as if the two things – Endy’s catch and a Mets victory – should have been intrinsically linked, but of course they weren’t. Endy caught the ball, the game was still tied. The Mets still had work to do. But that wasn’t how we perceived it. We had our miracle, the Mets should have had their victory.
When put into the perspective of Shea’s last twenty-two years, the final days almost make sense to a Mets fan. The Mets never recovered from 2006, and Shea never recovered. The epic collapses of 2007 and 2008 served as an extended epilogue. 2006 was Shea’s final footnote, Endy’s catch was Shea’s final miracle, and the last two years and three innings are Shea’s final failure. I watched Shea’s last game with my brother. The Mets needed a win to keep their playoff prayers alive. They lost, we knew they would.
I didn’t watch the ceremony that followed the game – Shea Goodbye – I couldn’t. I was too disgusted. More than that, I had no right to watch it. I was born two months after the 1986 World Series. I grew up worshiping the 1986 team, but I didn’t grow up with them. Lenny, Keith, Wally, Dwight, Darryl, Gary, and Mookie all got to be my heroes, but I never got to be their fan. I grew up cheering for Todd Hundley, Edgardo Alfonso, Mike Piazza, John Olerud, Bernard Gilkey, Rey Ordonez, Robin Ventura, Bobby Jones, and John Franco. And even though some of them attended Shea Goodbye, the ceremony wasn’t for them. They hardly knew that stadium, I hardly knew that stadium.
But that’s why Endy’s catch felt so special. It was almost our generation’s Shea moment, our Tommy Agee catch, our Game 6. If only for an instant, Shea had become that stadium, and we had become those fans. We truly believed, albeit for three innings. In a September 2008 fan poll released on Shea’s final day, the Endy Chavez catch was voted as Shea’s fourth greatest moment. It didn’t matter that the Mets lost the game, or that they collapsed in the final week of the next two seasons. For that moment Shea was the house of miracles it was always meant to be, and that is the Shea that I choose to remember. Endy, Endy…