Rob Collins, 44, of Albertson, browsed the racks of the Dick's Sporting Goods store at Roosevelt Field mall with a handful of Mets T-shirts. He was hoping to find one for each of the team's pitchers so he could wear the right one for each game.

"It's amazing to see the city take to this team," he said. "I think a large part of it is it's such a young group of players."

In the hours before the Mets faced the Cubs in the first National League Championship Series game last night, fans compared the energy in the air, with a mix of confidence and hope, to 1986, the last year their team won the World Series.

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Collins remembers the '86 triumph. He lived in Lake George with his mother and watched the games on TV while on the phone with his father, who lived on Long Island.

Collins said it was his dad who converted him from a Yankees fan to a Mets loyalist at age 10, through sheer force of will -- he only took him to Mets games.

"He forced the blue and orange on me," Collins said. "As I jokingly tell him, he cost me about seven World Series.:

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But at Dick's Saturday balloons adorned the Mets racks while Yankees gear hung under a "25% off" sign across the store.

At Modell's in East Meadow, Rene Giminiani-Caputo was hunting for a Mets shirt that read "Party like it's '86."

It was that series, she said, that turned her into a Mets fan.

She's swept up in the energy again this year.

"It's fun to get involved," said Giminiani-Caputo, of Baldwin Harbor, who was considering watching the game at a Long Beach sports bar in the evening.

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Nearby, Brian Prushik, 43, of Great Neck was picking out a hat before he headed off to Citi Field.

"I lost my hat the other day," he explained. He didn't want to take his seat in the leftfield stands without one.

"It feels great, actually," he said of his team's success. "It's one of those things where you've just been waiting a long time."