Growing up at the Jersey Shore in the 1990s through early 2000s, I was taught that there were two groups in the world I was allowed to hate—people who hurt other people and the Yankees.
In my house, Baseball was religion, and we were in the Church of the Mets—a small offshoot of the more favored faith of the tri-state area, the followers of the “devils in pinstripes,” or as my dad likes to call them, “The Evil Empire.”
The Mets were a gritty, vagabond team of perpetual losers, while the Bronx Bombers were the heroes of the East—shaved and shiny, basking in the history of Ruth, Gehrig, and Mantle.
While Boston was a Sox town and Philadelphia a Phillies’, New York had one team, the Yankees, while the Mets were just those other guys that tried to win sometimes—how cute.
For every one rack of Mets paraphernalia in New Jersey K-Marts, there were 10 for the Yankees. Derek Jeter was God, and Mike Piazza was that great catcher in the wrong borough.
Sure, you could find a fellow follower here and there, but the odds that the guy on line in front of you buying milk or the teller at the bank were Yankee fans was much greater. Mets fans were the lovable losers with two pathetic championships who chose to wear that vile blue/orange combination when they could just as easily have switched to navy blue.
We hated those Yankee braggarts.
It wasn’t just a matter of preference; a disagreement between the American League and the National League. It was a war—a war of passion, a holy war between two different schools of thought.
Blue collar vs. white collar. Die-hards vs. the bandwagoners. Underdogs vs. the elite.
Being a Mets fan meant defending Mr. Met and his giant baseball head no matter how much your team sucked—and they sucked a lot.
My story begins with a little boy growing up in Roselle, NJ. He was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, but when his beloved team abandoned him for sunny California, he was a small boy left broken hearted and teamless.
Like most Dodgers and Giants fans in the late '50s, he had to make a choice: Join the elite squad of winners in the Bronx or wait for something new to come along.
In 1962, his prayers were answered. Blue and white for the Dodgers, black and orange for the Giants, New York saw the birth of a new National League team—the Mets.
For seven years, he watched his new team fail to come even close to good, but in 1969, he finally saw his first World Series win since the Dodgers in ’55. He was hooked.
Less than 15 miles away in Jersey City, his future wife was also rooting for a team, but she was on the dark side. Daughters of a Bronx native, she and her sister would take the train each weekend to Yankee stadium, and for five cents a ticket, she would wait in line to get the autographs of championship team after championship team.
When George Steinbrenner came around in the '70s, however, that girl watched her classic team become something unrecognizable, and she lost faith.
Wandering aimlessly in a land of baseball agnosticism, she finally met my dad and he converted her. Together, they rooted their team through the ’86 World Series and were even late for their own wedding reception to watch Tom Seaver pitch his 300th win.
I made my first pilgrimage to Shea Stadium in Flushing, Queens when I was five years old. I can’t remember whom the Mets were playing that day, who the starting pitcher was, or who even won for that matter, but I remember feeling something magical.
The neon baseball players on the side of the huge round building, the free t-shirt I got at the gate that hung to my knees (my “lucky” shirt, I still have it, although it’s greatly faded and a whole lot smaller), the grime and grit of the interior, sitting in the “nosebleed” section, looking down at that funny apple popping out of the top hat—I was a part of something bigger than myself that day, something that had been in my blood since perhaps before I was born.
Something that would bring me joy and heartbreak for the rest of my life.
I learned quickly that it wasn’t cool to be a Mets fan. The team hadn’t won a World Series since 1986 and for a kid who wasn’t even alive for it, that may as well have been 1986 B.C.
In 1996, when I was eight years old, the Yankees were in the World Series for the first time since I had been born. They won that year, and for more than the next decade, I watched them win nine consecutive division titles, make five more World Series appearances, and win three championships in a row, while the Atlanta Braves dominated my own division every year.
The Yankees were everywhere I turned—in store windows and radio jingles, on Burger King cups and on jerseys in my friends’ closets. If I kept my mouth shut, I could quietly pass under the radar without being detected.
During the 2000 Subway Series, however, when all of the seventh grade was locked in a bitter battle over which New York team would become World Champions, I made the mistake of letting my mother buy a Mets jacket for me. It was puffy, bright orange, and had a colossal Mets logo on the back.
I was proud to wear that jacket at first—it was a symbol of my household. We were Mets fans, while others preferred the Yankees. That’s just how it was.
But I was wrong. That wasn’t a logo on the back—it was a target. I was taunted by my Yankee-majority classmates, a group of kids who had never known anything but winning.
I made it a week before I had to retire the thing for good. By that time, the Mets had lost and the Yankees had won—again.
The jacket incident really shook my faith. If the Mets were so God-awful, then why the hell were my parents wasting time with them? Why couldn’t we just be Yankees fans like everyone else?
I abandoned all attempt to care about baseball in high school. I reminded myself that I was a girl, I could get away with not following it.
When I was a senior, though, I noticed something I hadn’t seen a while—the Mets were kind of good again. There was something different about that team. They had a fresh feeling about them, a spark, and they were having fun. I was hooked.
The 2006 Mets were a team to believe in, a team destined to win, and for the first time in my life, New York had become a Mets town. The Yankees were old news.
The Red Sox were dominating the A.L. East and the fresh faces and clubhouse antics of David Wright and Jose Reyes were outshining the aging Jeter and A. Rod across town. I became wrapped up in the season and watched the team dominate the division all the way to the playoffs.
When the Mets didn’t win that year, I was devastated. But more than that, I realized I had actually become what I had hated most about the Yankee fans all along—a bandwagoner.
I loved the team when they were great and I was bitter when they lost. I followed them for the next two years through what some called the greatest “collapse” in baseball history (while the Yankees continued into the post season) and this year’s mini collapse.
I realized that loving the game of baseball was not about winning. It was about having faith in your team unconditionally, flaws and all. Win or lose, I will always have the hours of time on the phone with my dad while I’m in my dorm room, talking strategy and suggesting trades.
I will always have riding in the backseat of my parents’ car listening to Steve Sommers on WFAN. And I will always have that first trip to Shea when I was five and many more.
Winning one division title was worth more to me than all 26 Yankee champions combined. You have to know what it’s like to lose to understand how good it feels to win.
A Yankee fan my age will never know what that’s like.
During this offseason, both Shea and Yankee Stadium will be torn down. And while I’m sure press will go to the more legendary of the two, where the greatest of the great have touched home plate in its over 100 years of history, Shea and the Mets will always be my temple, an organization I am proud to belong to. And like Mets fans always say—you gotta believe.