For if you live in the borough of Queens in A.D. 2006, rooting for the home team is a near-religious experience. Like being born again. And so, lead me to the river, Lord Willie, and baptize me in Mets fever. Dip me in Jamaica Bay. Vanquish the losing sins of Mets past as plans are made for a new cathedral beside the crumbling temple of Shea.
The crusade is on. Converts are starting to stray from the stodgy cult of Yankee pinstripes to the blue-collar promised land of Mets orange and blue. The gospel according to the Mets spreads across Queens like a battle hymn. You gotta believe! Damn the Yankees! And Let's Go Mets!
Okay, I know it's early, the season is young, and anything can go wrong. And these are, after all, the descendents of Casey Stengel's '62 Metropolitans, who lost 120 games. They are the torch-bearers of the hapless Mets of my boyhood, about which a local Brooklyn candy store owner named Mr. B, a sneering Yankees fan, once said, "You wanna see dem Mets in foist? Toin da paper upside down."
Still, I fell in love with the Mets that year sitting on tar beach with my father listening to them lose on a tinny transistor radio. He lived long enough to see Tom "Terrific" Seaver lead the '69 Mets to the World Championship, which launched my father halfway to heaven. But, man, I wish the old man could get a special furlough just for this season, which so far for us Mets fans has been heaven on earth.
Everywhere I go in Queens these days, the Mets dominate the public discourse. The No. 7 train and the LIRR are packed for every home game. You can't move in the traffic jams of the Van Wyck, Grand Central, Whitestone Expressway or BQE. Stroll Bell Blvd. in Bayside and every saloon broadcasts the Mets, great roars and cheers echoing the exploits of Reyes, Lo Duca, Beltran, Delgado, Wright, Chavez, Valentin, Milledge, Martinez, Soler, El Duque, Glavine, Trachsel, Wagner.
At home, my 16-year-old nephew, who was never passionate about any form of popular culture except video games and blockbuster comic book hero movies, has this season become an insane Mets fanatic. If the Mets are playing at the same time as the newest X-Men movie, he's home glued to the Amazins.
In the car, he even abandons his beloved gangsta rap iPod to put on 660 AM. Salvation spreads. The kid's memorizing batting averages, wears a Mets hat, pesters me to buy him a "non-bootleg" David Wright shirt, and reads the sports pages of the Daily News every day. When I took him and his pals to his very first Mets game at Shea the other day, he insisted they get there early to get autographs and nab a few foul balls.
When I took my 6-year-old son to Little League practice in Peck Park the other day, I met his coach, Dan, a cop with whom I often have long, impassioned but good-natured debates over politics. He's a well-informed red-state voter in blue New York, but the one thing we always see eye-to-eye about is the Mets: "I can't wait to call my cousin the Yankee lover," Dan said, on the day the Mets swept the Phillies. "I've been listening to him gloat for years. Now it's my turn."
Dan is enjoying the triumphant Mets more than Bush's re-election. Well, almost ...
I've been torturing my Yankees fan pals. You know the type: They're the ones who always bet the favorites at the track, wear designer clothes with the label on the outside, cheer gentrification, and think watching Donald Trump fire people is entertaining.
Lately, I've been calling these elitist Yankees fans after every inning, chanting "Lets Go Mets!" They've all switched their phones to private-call-rejection as I clog their answering tapes, singing "Meet the Mets, Greet the Mets ..."
The other night, I ate in Cafe on the Green, a diamond in the tiara of Queens, with a couple of big shot lawyers. One ate a big sloppy bowl of pasta, slugged wine, and raved about a possible Beach Boys reunion. The other sipped club soda and cranberry, ate filet mignon, wore a pinstriped suit, bragged about his nautical prowess and his knowledge of opera. One was glum. One had fun. Guess which one was the Yankees fan? Then guess which one was laughing loudest?
Guess which one whose shoes I crushed from soup to nuts.
Me, I'm feeling blessed. Every Mets game I watch this year puts me up on tar beach with the old man, only this time I'm hearing him chuckle darkly because we can see the Mets in first without having to toin da paper upside down.