While the rest of you last night were watching:
• The Spurs use the Heat to remove stray gristle from their molars;
• Seattle put together a legitimate Euro-quality atmosphere in cheering on the U.S. Men's National Soccer Team to a convincing World Cup qualifying win over Panama, or;
• Our favorite players from the '90s throw each other around in the Diamondbacks-Dodgers tussle (how cool was that, by the way? Mark McGwire, Matt Williams, Don Mattingly, Alan Trammell, in a brawl, but now all old. This gets us one step closer to that Will Clark-Andres Galarraga bloodfeud I've been imagining since I was 15);
I was doing none of those things. I was at Citi Field, watching my Cardinals dispatch the Mets 9-2 in sterile, almost bored fashion. Hey, the Cardinals only come to town once a year. Thanks to the express train, I got home in time to catch the end of the Spurs destruction and Eddie Johnson's USMNT goal. It was a rich, full evening.
According to my MLB.com At The Ballpark app, I have been out to Flushing to watch the Mets play 39 times since the 2005 season, 20 times at Citi Field and 19 times at the old Shea. The Mets have been excellent, 26-13, when I've been in the stands. I've seen playoff games, exhibition games, doubleheaders, blowouts and near no-hitter. But I have never seen Mets fans more dispirited than they were last night.
Dispirited is the perfect word, too: All spirit is gone. I wear my Cardinals gear to these games, and I've been booed and heckled and mocked, almost always with (reasonable) good cheer. But nobody even bothered last night. Citi Field was a collective, three-hour shrug. My friend who went to the game with me, who knows and cares about the Mets as well and as much as anyone could possibly care to, put it well: "Why waste a nice evening dwelling on things nobody seems able to change?"
Ever since Adam Wainwright threw that impossible curveball by an apparently immobile Carlos Beltran -- two men likely to be Cardinals All-Stars at Citi Field this July, which is just mean -- Mets fans have been kicked in the face by their team in every conceivable fashion. 2007 brought the historic collapse. 2008 brought the most depressing final game for a home stadium imaginable. (The New York Times called it "immersed in gloom," which is not the Mets' current marketing slogan, but probably should be.) 2009 was an injury-filled disaster; 2010 brought Jason Bay and mass firings; 2011, 2012 and 2013 have been more traditional lousy teams, with occasional breaks to say goodbye to the team's most popular players. You couldn't be meaner to your fanbase if you took time out between innings to personally insult every paying customer over the loudspeaker. ("Tom, in Section 128, Row 16? Yeah, you. You're fat and you're stupid. Now batting, Jordany Valdespin.")
Being a Mets fan has always contained an inherent sense of fatalism and self-loathing for liking such a painful franchise; the torture the Mets regularly provide is a feature, not a bug. But in my 13-plus years here, I've never seen it like this. It's not even pain anymore: It's just numb, blank stares. Many Mets fans in my section, after Allen Craig's three-run homer in the fifth inning, had their eyes glaze over, as if they were finding a place in their mind to escape. They appeared to be fantasizing about a world other than this one, a place far, far away. It was basically the last scene of Brazil.
The weird thing about this is that the Mets, under the direction of Sandy Alderson, have actually been pretty smart. They've made terrific trades (turning Beltran into Zach Wheeler, who should debut this week, and R.A. Dickey into top catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud), been prudent in promoting prospects (promoting and pushing Matt Harvey at the exact correct time) and not wasting money on any more Jason Bays, not that they have any money to spend anyway. But the team has collapsed anyway. As much as you might want to scream at the Wilpon family, or Bernie Madoff, or just go punch an Amway salesman, the Mets have watched their three top hitting prospects -- Ike Davis, Ruben Tejada and Lucas Duda -- essentially fall off the face of the earth, either because of injuries or apparent post-traumatic-valley-fever-syndrome. This team has zero offense right now. In that 20-inning game against the Marlins last weekend, you got a sense the game could have gone 40 innings, and the Mets weren't scoring a run.
The Mets' pitching isn't so bad, even when Harvey isn't starting -- and it's about to get fun when Wheeler gets here -- but when your team can't score, it just knocks the wind out of you. When your offense is this empty, it feels like someone has tied your arms to the chair. That's where Mets fans were last night. That's where they've been all season.
You can't help but feel for David Wright, who is likely going to lead the Mets in just about every offensive category by the time his career is over. He already leads the franchise in hits, doubles, RBIs and runs, and he's third in homers and, sort of amazingly, fifth in stolen bases. And after the Mets signed him to a seven-year extension in the offseason, he's going to be on the team through 2020. It's tough to see how they're not going to be seven miserable years. His surrounding cast probably won't ever be this feeble again, but the Mets are farther away than they were two years ago. It's hard to even cheer for Wright; it feels like obligation, and it just requires too much energy. There's no energy to spare. It requires a ton of Mets fans' energy just to drag themselves out to the game.
I love Mets fans, and I love this franchise. They have the best mascot, the best ballpark food and a general pluck in their fanbase's moroseness they try to hide but can't. The world of baseball is a better place when the Mets matter. This is not something that is fun to see. It's no wonder so many Mets fans are choosing not to. I'd be trying to escape to my happy place too.
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