It was a beautiful summer evening in mid-June of 2006, we were on our way to see the Mets, and I was mad.
I can’t remember why we were so late (there was probably a last minute menial task like a sink washing or something to be done,) but the geographical distance from the stadium of just 18 miles might as well have been 1800, because I was sitting in traffic on the Cross Bronx Expressway, cycling through the worst-case scenarios in my head, and consistently trying to make peace with the situation. “Ok, so we’ll miss the first three innings, but at least we’ll catch the last two-thirds….all right, so we’ll get to see more than half the game…ok, at least we’ll see the seventh-inning stretch...”
Knowing I was going to miss the Mets’ first at-bat was a particularly bitter pill to swallow in 2006. Thanks to Jose Reyes either singling and stealing second, or, if he didn’t feel like putting in all that effort, just doubling or tripling right off the bat, and the automatic single-to-right machine, Paul Lo Duca hitting behind him, the Mets got off to a 1-0 lead in every game that year.*
Things seemed ok when we got off the
Grand Central Parkway at about 6:55. The stadium was in our sights, , we were going to make the first pitch. However, I’d forgotten to take into account the fact that the construction underway on the new Mets stadium was taking place in the current parking lot, and all traffic was being redirected to the parking area for the Arthur Ashe Tennis Stadium, approximately 800 miles away*.
As we all hiked, (and I fumed) over to Shea Stadium, we heard a gathering excitement from inside; the gradual swelling of a dull buzz to a collective “Oooohhhhhhhh YEEEEEEEEEAHHHHH” that could only mean that a Met had homered, and my bitterness bloomed anew, because you aren’t supposed to HEAR home runs from the PARKING LOT, you are supposed to be inside and hear the bat kill the ball, and jump up and high-five the person next to you that you don’t even know, because while televised baseball highlights would have you believe that home runs happen all the time, each one should be cherished if you happen to be there in person because there’s really nothing like it and REALLY, DID THE SINK NEED TO BE RINSED OUT AGAIN?
We rushed inside and made our way to our seats, and met my Dad, aunt and uncle, who informed us jubilantly that Jose Reyes had homered to lead off the game for the Mets. Neat, I thought, I can’t wait to watch that on television later!
We settled in, and I started to relax. I don’t remember all the particulars from that night, (the Ultimate Mets Database tells me Alay Soler started the game for the Mets [lol] and Jose Valentin hit a home run, which I vaguely remember), but the star that night was Reyes, who followed up his leadoff homer with a double in the third and a triple in the fifth, promptly scoring on a wild pitch. It wasn’t until just before his at-bat in the 6th that I thought to myself “Hey, he has a chance for the cycle.”
I am a series of blunders when I see games in person. The Mets don’t just lose when I’m in the building; they concoct elaborate and painful losses, some of the most baffling series of events I’ve ever seen to the extent that several years ago I actually considered not going to games ever again.
On July 8, 2000, my dad was able to get us tickets for the day game of the first-ever Subway Series doubleheader. A rainout during the June series at Shea had necessitated a make-up game when both teams were in
, which happened to be during the July series. Therefore, the teams would play a 1:05 game at Shea and bus to the New York Bronx for the night game.
That afternoon I watched Dwight Gooden, OUR Dwight Gooden; Doctor K, who had pissed away his chance to be one of the all-time great pitchers of all time (let alone for the Mets) wearing pinstripes, pitching for the hated Yankees, and beating the Mets, of all teams, with five innings of two-run ball. I must have left my stink on the team, because the nightcap three hours later was the game where Roger Clemens drilled Mike Piazza in the head, giving him a concussion and taking him out of the All-Star Game.
From that July afternoon, the Mets lost EVERY SINGLE game that I attended for almost EIGHT YEARS. I had a full-time job at a newspaper on weekends and during summers, and was attending college from 2001-2005, so I didn’t get out there that much, but they knew when I did, and played accordingly. In 2002, I corrupted my poor roommate by taking him to a Saturday afternoon loss against the Braves (I don’t know how, but this game led to him being a die-hard, which he still blames me for to this day,) saw them lose both games of a Sunday doubleheader to the Diamondbacks in 2004, and even took my losing streak bi-coastal when I attended games in Los Angeles and San Diego in 2005 to celebrate my college graduation.
The silver lining of the
loss was David Wright’s bare-handed catch falling backwards, which would go on to win MLB.com’s Play of the Year Award! San Diego
Guess who was in the bathroom!
This is all to say nothing about my luck with potential no-hitters which, without fail, dictates that the second I either realize a Met pitcher is throwing a no-hitter, or HEAR that a Met pitcher is in the midst of one and tune my television or radio to look in, the no-hitter is lost.
I even, to my great shame, refused to see the obvious signs that I was a jinx and attended two of the home games during the 2006 NLCS against the Cardinals. The Mets lost both, including the agonizing Game 7, from which I called my sister after the Endy Chavez catch and guaranteed a win.
I mean, Jesus Christ.
However, I’ve committed no greater harm to the Mets and their fans than I did on Saturday, September 15, 2007. For weeks after the end of the season, New York reporters, talk-show hosts, and call-in guests would try to figure out what had happened that led to the Mets blowing a seven-game division lead with 17 left to play. Some batters had gone cold at the wrong time. The pitching fell apart. The bullpen was misused.
Nope. It was all me.
On that Saturday, not only did I take my then seven-year old losing streak into the stadium in that game against the second-place Phillies, I actually invited
fans along with me in the form of my fiancée and her friends. And I had to sit there and listen to them cheer as the Mets bullpen squandered a six-inning, one run effort by Pedro Martinez and Aaron Rowand’s homer keyed a three-run 8th as the Phillies won 5-3. Philadelphia
As we all filed out of the stadium, I wasn’t worried. The division was still safely in hand. We were playoff-bound again, and this time, Beltran wouldn’t be frozen by an Adam Wainwright curveball to lose the series.
It wasn’t until weeks later, as I watched Tom Glavine serve up 300 runs* in the first inning of the must-win final game of the season that I realized what I’d done.
I feel I’ve paid my penance. After getting engaged to my girlfriend, I moved down to the Philadelphia area in the summer of 2008, just in time to get a front row seat as the Phillies took advantage of Billy Wagner’s left arm exploding to stage another late-season comeback and take the division, and even go all the way to the World Series. And when the Phillies won the whole thing, I stood in the middle of a jam-packed Philadelphia bar, where I’d been dragged, kicking and screaming by my fiancé, surrounded by drunk, chanting Phillies fans seriously reconsidering some of the choices I’d made in my life to that point. Surely any of the sins that I’d committed back in 2007 must have been absolved.
No, it seems that I moved down here at the start of a golden age for the Phillies. I can’t turn around with seeing a red hat, or hearing about the previous night’s game, or reading signs of support on the numerous bars I pass on my daily commute. My situation has sped past the infuriating, through the absurd, and is now comfortably languishing in the comical.
My in-laws often introduce me to their friends and acquaintances by offering “This is Matt, Kate’s husband…(beat) He’s a METS fan,” which often receives such a look of genuine surprise that I often think that Mets fan must be some kind of Philadelphia code for “The rarest and most beautiful of the dinosaurs, long extinct these past several million years.”
So, keeping in mind this kind of fan luck I’ve had, it would be the furthest thing from shocking to learn that after I mentioned that Jose Reyes had a chance for the cycle that night in 2006, he promptly struck out in the sixth inning.
The Shortstop of the Future
I was a fan of Reyes from the start. He made his debut in a mid-week series against the Texas Rangers in 2003, one day shy of his 20th birthday, and his arrival was perhaps the lone high point of a dismal 2003 season with Art Howe managing a 66-95 team, the greatest 66-95 team in history, you would think, since Howe insisted after every game, be it a one-run nailbiter or a ten-run shellacking that the Mets had battled.
The minor league systems weren’t as thoroughly covered as they are today, when you can hear live broadcasts of every game of your team’s minor-league affiliates, and check up on the box scores online. Back then, you knew who the major jewels of your farm system were, and Reyes was that for the Mets. He was touted as the leadoff hitter of their future, a fleet, slick-fielding shortstop (a shortstop!) with a rocket arm and even some power.
He hit ninth. He went 2-4 and scored two runs. He was fast, scoring from first on a double. He was exactly as advertised. The future had arrived.
For the next few years, Reyes was blessed with a combination of bad luck and inept handling that can only be explained by “lol Mets”. His impressive rookie season was cut short by a month due to a sprained ankle, and then during the offseason, the Mets, dazzled by the prospect of assembling one of the most dynamic middle-infields in the game, insisted that Reyes be moved to second base to accommodate the incoming Kazuo Matsui from Japan, a player who proved to be such a bust that, years later, a friend of mine whom I hadn’t spoken to for at least five years saw a Kaz Matsui Mets bobblehead, promptly purchased it, and sent it to me as a gag. As if being moved from his preferred position wasn’t enough, Reyes also suffered a hamstring injury early in the year, and after returning in June, a back problem that hampered the rest of his season.
By 2005, Reyes was healthy, back at shortstop, and ready to become the player that everyone assumed he could be, leading the National League in stolen bases, and the majors in triples. However, what endeared him most to
fans was the sheer exuberance with which he played the game. He would shoot out of the box looking for a triple every time the ball even sniffed the gap, celebrated big plays with elaborate handshakes with his teammates, and gave off an aura that seemed to say “HEY YOU MEAN YOU’RE GONNA LET ME PLAY BASEBALL AND PAY ME FOR IT TOO, OH MAN OH MAN OH MAN.” New York
It was this attitude that made some people think of him as an arrogant hot dog, and none moreso during his career than the Phillies announcers. Maybe I’m just frustrated because they are the only broadcasts I get where I live now. Maybe they’re just frustrated because Reyes has arguably fared better against the Phillies than any other team in his career, with a .305 lifetime average, 16 homers and 47 stolen bases. Maybe I just wish that broadcasters who called for Reyes to get beaned for being a showboat and constantly refer to his lack of class would also notice that they are praising Ryan Howard, who watches some of his homers so long that he puts down roots, and Shane Victorino, who routinely makes it onto lists of the dirtiest players in the Majors.
Yes, I’m a fan, so I’m biased, and I know that our culture is cynical by nature, but what if Jose Reyes just REALLY likes to play baseball and acts as such on the diamond? Come on guys, we all like baseball, why can’t we all just be baseball buddies?
Criticism outside of
I can handle. A little harder to stomach, however, are the many labels that have been applied to Reyes by the New York fans and media. “Injury-prone” is one. “Unclutch” is another. Just two days ago, I heard New York’s number-one sports radio windbag, Mike Francesa troll Mets fans by saying “The Mets have won nothing with Jose Reyes,” before suggesting that they might trade him just to change the culture of the team. New York
Yes, Mike, Reyes committed all 30+ of those blown saves the Mets had in 2008. Yes Mike, while Reyes was putting up numbers in 2007 that nearly matched his MVP-caliber 2006 stats, he was secretly putting voodoo hexes on the other hitters and yelling “LOOKOUT A GHOST” whenever a Mets pitcher dealt from the mound.
I understand the logic that states that the Mets are going to rebuild. What I can’t understand is how Reyes should be a casualty of that process. He plays superb defense, what better way to nurture a young pitching staff? Citi Field, with its spacious gaps and miles of outfield room, was designed to rig the National League triples race in his favor every year. We aren’t talking about a 34-year old leadoff hitter who has lost several steps. We are talking about a player who is in his absolute prime, 28 years old, at one of the hardest positions to fill in the Majors.
Maybe I’m just thinking with my heart too much. Because on that June night in 2006, I was fully ready to accept that my luck would not allow me to see a legitimate baseball accomplishment. To this day, I’ve still never attended a playoff victory, or witnessed a no-hitter. At that point I had suffered through six years of consecutive losses, and yes, they would go on to lose that game also! (Thanks Billy Wagner!) But in the eighth inning, the cosmos granted me a reprieve, Jose Reyes stepped up to the plate, and promptly lined a single into center field.
I stood with the entire crowd and applauded, and heard a cheer begin from the lower levels. It was the traditional !Ole! soccer chant, only replaced with Jose’s name. It was the same chant that would be echoed for the rest of the season, deep into the playoffs, and yes, even used by the Cardinals in the Mets own building, those BASTARDS, is nothing sacred, as a celebratory shot at the Mets after the Birds won Game 7 of the NLCS.
The chant has changed. Now instead of a celebration, it is a begging, pleading “Keep Jose!” It was prominently featured on Sunday Night Baseball this week, for the nation to see, as Reyes went 2-4 to raise his season average to .337 and Bobby Valentine called out Mets management for waffling on Reyes’ status.
All summer long, I will be adding my voice to the chant, if for no other reason than the feeling that Reyes gave me, even if it was just for one night five years ago, that I wasn’t a complete jinx.
It would have been nice to see that home run, though.