I've always loved the monuments at Yankee Stadium but they don't respond to me when I talk to them. Fortunately, Citi Field has its own historical symbols, and one of them is Tracy Nieporent, a Mets fan since 1962, who is alive and well and a fixture at most home games. Mr. Nieporent, a successful restaurateur (Nobu, Tribeca Grill and the Acela Club at Citi Field), bleeds blue and orange -- like most Mets fans -- and loves to talk about the team. Baseball is a sport of anticipation rather than nonstop action, so it also allows one the time to interact with other fans and discuss the game, which for me is more rich in history than any other sport. So on Monday night, I sat down with Mr. Nieporent and some friends at Citi Field as the Mets prepared to play the Toronto Blue Jays.
Prior to the 1969 season the Mets hadn't accomplished anything, so whatever success they had at the time was wildly appreciated. Now, some fans expect and demand far more, which -- as explained by Nieporent -- isn't always the best route to take. "A baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. If a fan reacts to every news headline in a knee-jerk manner, they're destined for the looney bin. As a Mets fan and a student of the game, I recognize that it's hard to jump from six losing seasons to a championship in one year. The 1969 Mets did it, but that kind of miracle is a once in a lifetime occurrence. However, there are many reasons to be optimistic about this team. They have an abundance of young arms, they have players with character and they are resilient."
In 1969 I was 13 years old and the Mets changed my life. They were underdogs who taught me about hope. The entire team played with a tenacity and exuberance that inspired me, not just in sports but every aspect of my life. Tom Seaver was my idol. He was movie star handsome with a wicked fastball and at the age of 25 years he seemed so old to me. Today, as I cope with middle age, the Mets give me newfound hope as I marvel at the abilities of Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom who -- at the same ages of my children -- seem so young. (When I first heard the name Jacob deGrom, I thought it was a Madison Avenue jewelry store that I couldn't afford.) While his stats are not yet on par with Seaver's who was 25-7 in 1969, according to the young women I polled at Citi Field, deGrom is their favorite player.
I tend to get too hung up on numbers and Nieporent reminded me that the Mets have always been more about "character and chemistry." Our friend Tony Hiss added, "That's the spirit of the Mets -- improbable people coming through and winning." My associate Joe Syage said, "In 1969 they didn't know they were supposed to be cellar dwellers and the same thing is happening today." The bottom line, according to Nieporent is that "right now no one is running away with their division and if David Wright comes back and plays like he can, the Mets have a real shot."
The consensus from our group was that we seem to be at a time when most New Yorkers expect very little of the Mets because it's too early in the season to make a definitive prediction and the evening's game seemed to echo that. Although Noah Syndergaard struck out 11 batters over six innings, Jeurys Familia gave up a homer to tie the game and send it to extra innings. Wilmer Flores hit a walk-off single in the 11th inning and ended Toronto's 11 game winning streak.
Prior to game Nieporent said: "Rooting for the Mets is a roller coaster ride, but it's our roller coaster." In a final twist of fate, Nieporent had invited writer Lois Metzger to join us. She attended summer camp with me in 1969, when the Mets won their first World Series and grew up in Queens, not far from Citi Field. Ms. Metzger certainly had the strongest opinion of anyone in our group regarding the Mets chances. "All the way. They're gonna take it," she said.