>Season of Wither

>The 2009 Mets may have been the most disappointing sports team ever. The combination of high expectations (Sports Illustrated actually picked them to win the World Series) and a shiny new stadium were greeted by a team that is best illustrated with images of the Titanic. It wasn’t that the Mets were the worst team in baseball; they failed even at being the worst team in their own division. It was such a demoralizing season because they failed to meet every expectation placed upon them. They were plagued with a House-like number of mysterious injuries and a quality of play that would be unacceptable in backyard wiffleball. As the Mets’ star players succumbed one by one to injuries like the teenagers in Scream, the replace-Mets managed to drop popups, fall down on the mound, shield their faces in apparent fear of the ball, fall down in the outfield, commit every type of balk possible, fall down the dugout stairs, miss bases, inexplicably fail to slide, issue multiple bases-loaded walks, including one to Mariano Rivera, and hit into a game-ending unassisted triple play for only the second time in Major League history. Even after the Mets’ year mercifully came to its inglorious end, the fates decided that it was only fitting for the season to end with a Yankees-Phillies World Series, because at that point, really, why not? By the end, it became an ugly, often unwatchable season. In some perverse way though, I found myself enjoying every second of the spectacle.

The previous three Mets seasons had been painful in their own unique ways, a called third strike ending the 2006 NLCS, an epic late-season collapse in 2007, and a slightly less epic collapse in 2008 (because sequels, as everyone knows, are always lesser versions of the original). Those three seasons ended with pains which became the lingering memories of the year. The 2009 team, with a rebuilt bullpen, was supposed to finally end the pattern of misery. The Mets began their season encouragingly with a 2-1 win in Cincinnati, but the Citi Field opener foreshadowed the tragicomedy that was to follow. Future trivia answer Jody Gerut welcomed the Mets to their new home by hammering the third pitch the Mets’ Mike Pelfrey threw into the right-field corner for a home run, and Pedro Feliciano balked in the Padres’ winning run a few innings later. An especially drunk fan sitting behind me at the game slurred it best: “You’ve got to be kidding me.” The season of failure was on. After three years of this sort of madness, my fellow Met fans were beginning to expect the worst, and the Mets were often more than capable of acquiescing. Still, hope, the emotion that defines the game, was very much alive for the 2009 campaign. The Mets looked like a decent team and their top four guys, Reyes, Wright, Beltran, and Santana, were equal to or better than any other team’s top four.

Unfortunately, the U.S.S. Mets entered the chilly waters of iceberg alley in mid-May, and in what now I assume was a misguided attempt to bring attention to the national health-care debate, the Mets began sending players to the disabled list at an alarming rate. First went Oliver Perez with chronic inconsistency, followed by Carlos Delgado with old-man hip problems and Jose Reyes with speedy-man leg problems. By late June, the number of injuries became absurd as the disabled list grew daily, added to by John Maine, J.J. Putz, and Carlos Beltran. Somehow, the Mets still managed to hang around in their division, being only one game out of first when they arrived in Philadelphia for a Fourth of July weekend series. The Phillies proceeded to celebrate the birth of the nation with their favorite annual tradition, sweeping the Mets out of contention. Within two weeks the Mets were irrecoverably buried, Pompeii-style, in the standings, taking any and all remaining postseason dreams with them, and then, just to make things even more ridiculous, Johan Santana’s elbow exploded and David Wright was concussed by a Matt Cain fastball. They were both added to the now VIP-only disabled list. The Mets lineup and starting rotation throughout late August and September were possibly the worst group of players ever put together.

The 2009 Mets were supposed to be The Departed; not the greatest thing ever, but its still Scorsese, so pretty damn good. Instead, they were Under Seige, a massive let down if the movie expected is a Scorsese crime film. However, I found 2009 Mets to be enjoyable in the same way Steven Seagal films become enjoyable if you are able to suspend your expectations for passable acting and a vaguely plausible plot. Mid-season, I finally abandoned any hope for respectability, and I found myself able to enjoy the Mets for the beautiful, firework explosion that they were.

Non-sport fans and bandwagon jumpers wonder why people insist on sticking with teams that let them down over and over. Cubs fans come back year after year. Maybe the answer is that it makes the good times taste even better. Red Sox fans can tell you that better than I can. That team failed for 86 years, but when they finally won, even the moon turned red and got in on the celebration. Still, that doesn’t explain away Cubs fans. Maybe just the hope for better times is enough.

My personal hope is that one day I can be a grizzled old man who tells kids about how back in my day, I survived Luis Castillo dropping the pop up, Ryan Church forgetting that you have to touch third base too, and Jeff Francoeur protecting his face from the scary, scary baseball. I can tell them that I remember the horrible last loss at Shea Stadium and the awkward closing ceremonies that followed, where some fans actually booed poor Mr. Met. I can tell them I saw a lineup where Angel Pagan was often the most productive player, and a rotation where Mike Pelfrey, a six of clubs on another team, was the nominal ace. I hope I can tell them how much better it made it when they finally won it all, but I probably won’t. I don’t know if they’ll ever win. They’re the Mets, after all.

I can still hope.

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