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OpinionColumnistsWilliam F. B. O'Reilly

How I became a Mets fan in the spring of 1968

Mets pinch-hitter Wilmer Flores is mobbed at home

Mets pinch-hitter Wilmer Flores is mobbed at home plate by teammates after his walk-off home run against the Phillies during the 10th inning in Game 1 of a doubleheader at Citi Field on Monday, July 9, 2018. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

I’m so sorry.

That’s what I hear when I tell people I’m a Mets fan. Friends send me consolatory emails, unsolicited. A White Sox fan said it to me in a Chicago restaurant last month — a White Sox fan! Before 2005, they hadn’t won a World Series since the Russian Revolution.

It’s not just about this season, though. And that’s the problem.

The Mets have been chiseling themselves a forlorn narrative for going on three decades now, with the exception of a few bright years. If they don’t stop chipping away, the team’s long term brand could be at stake. Ask the ChiSox what that means — or the San Diego Padres or Milwaukee Brewers; ask the former Montreal Expos franchise that averaged 9,074 fans per game in the last 10 years of its existence, according to ExposNation. (Remember the echoes in Olympic Stadium? Even eerier than the whistling.)

Forlorn was never a word I would have used to describe the Mets 10 or 20 years ago. Maddening, yes. But always lovable. And occasionally exciting.

I always imagined that the Mets were to their fans what the Dodgers once were to Brooklynites, at least something approximating it. The Brooklyn Dodgers may have been “dem Bums,” but they were “our” bums. Got it, mister . . . ? There was an unbreakable bond between team and fan, and it was earned.

I became a Mets fan in the spring of 1968 after coming home from a Yankees game a classmate invited me to. I was 5 years old. My father, a maniacal Dodgers fan as a boy, was waiting up for me in the kitchen of our New York City apartment with my 7-year-old brother, Gerry. One look at the Yankees T-shirt I was donning, courtesy of my friend’s dad, and they began shaking their heads. “We’re Mets fans,” my father said. And that was that.

The next year, after finishing ninth in the National League in 1968, the seven-year-old Mets — Dodger blue and Giants orange adorning uniforms to honor of the city’s lost NL teams — became the “Miracle Mets” New York fell head-over-heels in love with. That team won 23 of 30 in September and captured the World Series against the Baltimore Orioles. The city went nuts: I remember money being thrown onto Fifth Avenue from the windows of Rockefeller Center in celebration.

It’s those Miracle Mets I’ve always loved. “The Amazin’s,” did nothing for me. I’m not sure Casey “can’t-anybody-here-play-this-game?” Stengel, the team’s first manager, even coined “Amazin’s” as a compliment.

Face it, the Mets have rarely been amazing. But there was always a sense among fans, at least this one, that they could pull off miracles from time to time, like in Game Six of the ’86 series; the 10-run, eighth-inning comeback against the hated Braves in 2000 (the stadium shook so much I thought it might collapse, and I didn’t care) or the 20-8 streak that moved the team from fifth to 1st place at the close of the ’73 season.

That sense is now missing.

The Miracles had attitude, too. They didn’t try to be the Yankees or anyone else; they were the New York Mets for chrissake — the hardscrabble team that cleared its bench to defend Bud Harrelson from Cincinnati hothead Pete Rose in ’73; whose players lit one another’s cleats on fire for fun and who (unsuccessfully) took on members of the Houston Police Department in a bar brawl following a 1986 playoff game against the Astros.

Give me those Mets, even if they’re losing or behind bars. Give me a base stealer, a mound charger or an irascible manager who gets tossed from games — anything but the anemic team we have now. Give me anything but forlorn.

I used to watch every Mets game I could. Now I awake most mornings and say, “Hey, Alexa. How did the Mets do last night?” She tells me, then I say, “Alexa, stop.”

Time for some miracles.

William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant for Republicans.

Editor’s note: This column has been updated to correct the year the Chicago White Sox last won the World Series.