July 17, 2013

Bittersweet All-Star Week For Mets Fans

The excitement, passion, and energy emanating from Flushing during this week's MLB All-Star game was thrilling for Mets fans. It was a chance to show off one of baseball's best parks. Unfortunately for most fans, these may be the only good memories generated so far at Citi Field.

Unlike Yankees fans, Mets fans have enjoyed only limited periods of success during their team's half century of existence. Ask any die-hard fan, and their visions from 1969, 73, 86, 99, 2000, and '06, are likely very vivid. From Lenny Dykstra's ninth inning walk-off home run to give the Mets a 6-5 win over the Astros in Game 3 of the 1986 NLCS, to Endy Chavez's catch in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, Shea had become a place for Mets fans to reminisce and connect.

Sure, it had deteriorated with age and didn't offer any of the amenities of the modern day pantheons. But, as Gary Cohen, Mets play-by-play announcer on SNY, once said "It was our dump," filled with memories of Casey's ramblings, Tom Terrific's fastball, the Kid's smile, Doc's heat, Piazza's towering drives and "Ya Gotta Believe."

Citi Field has the full load of amenities, beautiful box seats, and quality restaurants. A majority of major league teams have built new parks over the past two decades, but baseball's most traveled fans rank Citi Field right near the top of their list of favorite stadiums.

But as nice as the stadium is, for Mets fans it's like living alone in a mansion. It looks nice from the outside but there's limited emotional connection. No memories, no successes, no good times to share. And outside of 2009, its inaugural season, the park has spent most of its time less than half full.

When construction of Citi Field began in July of 2006, the Mets were in the midst of one of their most successful seasons. That same month Carlos Beltran, David Wright, Paul Lo Duca, Carlos Delgado, and Jose Reyes graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. The team went on to win 97 games, before falling in the seventh game of the 2006 NLCS; still one of the most painful of memories for any Met fan.

No fan, front office member, scout, or owner could've possibly predicted what this team would go through during the first five seasons in its new ballpark. Even after September collapses in 2007 and 2008, there was still optimism heading into 2009 at the new ballpark.

The core from 2006 was, for the most part, still intact and maybe some fans thought the demolition of Shea Stadium would erase the bad karma brought on by the prior two seasons.

Unfortunately, things didn't go as planned and since then the front office has turned over, along with the manager, coaches, and almost the entire roster. The Bernie Madoff scandal brought a black cloud over ownership and consequently both the Mets and Citi Field. This week's All-Star game gave fans a reminder of what could have been, which is more painful than simply accepting what was.

Fortunately for Mets fans, for the first time since Citi Field opened, the Mets plan for success is as crystalized as it's ever been. We've seen Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler impress in the bigs, David Wright has developed into a leader, and there's a bounty of quality minor league pitchers cruising through the farm system.

2013 won't be a playoff season for the Mets. But for the first time in a while, the postseason feels like it's within sight. While it was tough watching the All-Star game at Citi Field over the past week, the event should be a reminder to Mets fans of what it's like to have a buzz in your home stadium. And it's very possible that buzz could be here for real in the not too distant future.

Pete is a lifelong Montauk resident and former sports talk host at 88.7FM WEER. He's currently a Sports Anchor at WCBS 880 and WFAN radio in NYC. He can be reached via email at peterfmundo@gmail.com.

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