It was not easy being a Mets fan in 1977. It was the year Reggie Jackson hit three home runs in Game 6 of the World Series for the Yankees, a superhuman feat that inspired the creation of a legendary candy bar (the Reggie!), while the Mets inspired nothing but deep, disappointed sighs at their 65-98 record. We were in the dark ages, well past the scrappy, underdog glory of the 1969 Miracle Mets, and still several years away from the 1980s resurgence led by Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry.
But still, every day during that long Yankee winter, my brother and I climbed aboard our school bus wearing our bright orange Mets' ski caps, which we had gotten as a free promotion at a game that summer. As we sat on the ripped vinyl bus seats, listening to the taunts of the smug prepubescent Yankees fans ("Loser! The Mets suck!"), we knew deep in our hearts that our time would come.
And it did—in 1986, in 2000 (at least until those damn Yankees stole the Subway Series), and then again last week, when the Mets swept the hapless Cubs in four straight games to win the National League Pennant. OK, so our moments of glory are fewer and further between than the other New York baseball team, but as any true orange-and-blue Mets fan will tell you, victories are all far more special because we earn them, through our sometimes unreasonable faith in a team that mostly lives in the shadow of its crosstown rival.
We have sat through countless games where the stadium is half empty, watching overpaid outfielders miss a pop fly that a Little Leaguer could have caught. We have watched promising teams fizzle out in the last few games of the season. We have put up with the obnoxious teasing of our Yankee-fan cousins every year at Thanksgiving. But still, we live by the motto of Tug McGraw: Ya gotta believe! Because beating in the heart of that stadium in Queens—a borough of immigrants, by the way, who come to America with the same fierce optimism that things can always get better—is the belief that this is the one true New York team.
Mostly, we fans earn our Mets bona fides by never, ever being tempted to go to the other side.
My 12-year-old daughter, who has grown up with the Mets as her baseball religion, came home the day after the team clinched the division title a few weeks ago, and said, "There were kids in school today wearing Mets shirts who were Yankees fans last week!" She was exasperated and confused—why should they get to share in our joy when they didn't share in our pain all these years?
I told her the same thing happened in 1986. The Mets were a force of nature then: Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez! Lenny Dykstra before steroids! Doc and Straw! All of a sudden, everyone—even those taunting Yankees fans from the school bus—was a Mets fan. I was in college then, and though I could tell who the true Mets fans were by the weary but hopeful look in their eyes, I had suspicions about everyone else. If I ripped off that Mookie Wilson jersey, would I find a Don Mattingly T-shirt underneath?
Then of course, after a quick trip to the playoffs in 1988, the Mets bats became quiet again. All those fair-weather Mets fans put their pinstripes back on and soon started to worship at the shrine of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. But those of us who truly loved the Mets doubled down, refusing to root for the Yankees, even after we were told it was our civic duty as New Yorkers to wear Yankee blue during the 2001 World Series, just weeks after 9/11. Nope, we said. I will do almost anything for my city, but I won't betray my heart.
No matter what happens this week or next year—if Daniel Murphy suddenly becomes a strikeout king, or Jacob deGrom cuts his hair like Samson, and loses his fastball—I will never give up on my Mets. I will savor each victory, whenever it comes, with the satisfaction of having earned it through patience and loyalty. It's the least I can do for the girl on the bus who wore her scratchy polyester Mets hat with pride.