By Stephon Johnson / @StephonJohnson8
It's only the National League East, you say. But if you think the conversation ends there then you don't understand being a New York Mets fan.
The past decade has seen a significant shift in the attitude of the Mets fan base and some of you need to be reminded of what they've gone through. The called strike three. Being up seven and a half games with 17 games left to play. Having a ceremony closing out the stadium you knew and loved neutered by a second-straight end of season meltdown.
And let's not even delve into the Tea Party section of the fan base who seemed obsessed with a Latino general manager and whether or not he was signing or trading for "too many" Latino players. Sometimes, you question why you still like baseball after dealing with people such as these. The ugliness is used for fodder on a now-irrelevant morning radio show that was on the brink of stepping over the line one too many times. (WARNING: salty language)
Injuries upon injuries upon injuries summarize the first year of your new stadium and because of that, the shine of a new ballpark wears off before the first season ends. After that, trips to Flushing were filled with boos, lost hope and acceptance of small market moves for a big market team.
Small market moves? Why? Oh yeah – your owners were suckered by some guy named Madoff.
You watch your closer get into a fight with a family member and be taken from his home stadium in handcuffs. You see your old general manager call out a writer in the middle of a news conference about a controversy and ends up creating another one.
Your team's medical staff is under constant scrutiny by media and fans for the way players are treated and diagnosed with injuries. Ownership feuding with Carlos Beltran over whether he had permission to undergo arthroscopic knee surgery. Ryan Church being rushed back into play despite being diagnosed with a concussion. Every small nagging injury that a player gets, Mets fans expect it to blow up into something bigger because of the organization's ineptitude.
With the rise of social media comes the #ThatsSoMets hashtag exemplifying everything that was wrong with the team you root for.
But you can see something resembling a light on the horizon. You hear about players named Harvey, Flores and Duda. You read a 2011 minor league report about some guy named Familia who can be a sleeper if he commands his pitches better. You still have hope even though the product on the field shouldn't give you any.
Your team lets one of the most exciting players in franchise history (and that year's National League batting average champion) go via free agency and doesn't even pretend to offer him a deal equal to his value. Your team trades a Cy Young winner in the same season he wins the award and you're angry – but it works out.
Maybe they actually know what they're doing this time.
You start winning ball games despite your lack of offense. You once again became a laughing stock after two days that saw a trade that wasn't and a rain-delayed filled game the day after that's so depressing you start thinking #ThatsSoMets again.
But you realize that this team has a tendency to bounce back more than any other Mets squad since you were in high school. This happens:
Then you sweep the guys who were on top of your division and never looked back. But you were still nervous. If the team lost more than one consecutive game you start using the "C" word. It's forgotten when the team goes into the nation's capital and buries their closest rival (again).
But you're still not comfortable despite the division lead. You've seen the screw ups before and you were prepared for the heartbreak. But it doesn't come. As a matter of fact, joy comes sooner than despair. This is new. This is unique. The team you root for isn't comically bad. It actually has a chance to win a World Series. You actually have hope. You can't wait to buy the N.L. East division winner apparel. Yes, it's not a World Series or anything, but screw that. The team you root for is guaranteed to be in the playoffs for more than one night.
Raise a glass. You're here. October can't come fast enough.
Writer. Reporter. New Yorker.