By Danny Torres
Although I was born in 1966, the United States, from 1955 to 1975, was entrenched in an unjust conflict called the Vietnam War. Countless anti-war protests, urban riots and civil disobedience were prevalent throughout our nation.
To add a bit of levity to what was occurring across our country, I also know of two iconic shows that made their television debut in 1966. Fans were fixated to their television screens and sat in their living rooms to watch a television series called Batman and Star Trek.
I watched baseball. I played baseball. It’s simple – I love baseball.
My own debut with a baseball team happened when I was only 7 years old. If there was an entire Mets team I could easily rattled off the top of my head, it was literally the 1973 New York Mets team.
Some iconic Mets players on that roster were future Baseball Hall of Famers Tom Seaver and Willie Mays. There was also Jerry Koosman, George Stone, Jerry Grote, John Milner, Buddy Harrelson, Wayne Garrett, and Rusty Staub.
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There was even Yogi Berra, another future Baseball Hall of Famer, and a former Yankee catcher who managed the Mets to within one game of winning their second-ever World Series championship.
I didn’t check Baseball-Reference online, text a close friend or Google, “1973 N.Y. Mets.” These historic players are engrained in the mind and during my formative years in the South Bronx someone could have easily described this 7-year-old as a die-hard fan. Although I wouldn’t necessarily label myself as a “die-hard” today, there’s a rather interesting story on why I became a Mets fan.
Since my wonderful journey as sports writer began rather late (I was 37 when I covered my very first Major League Baseball game at Shea Stadium), I’ve had the distinct pleasure of becoming great friends with a number of current/former MLB ballplayers including two outstanding members from that 1973 National League Championship team: Félix Millán and Jon Matlack.
MY PAPI’S INFLUENCE
It wasn’t because the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants left New York City to play on the West Coast, the vibrant orange and blue colors of a N.Y. Mets’ uniform or even a funny looking mascot with a huge, baseball head.
Absolutely not. It was because of my Dad.
I can vividly recall my beloved, late father who grew up in Puerto Rico and immigrated to the United States in 1952 sharing these exact words with me in Spanish (I won’t include the exact, descriptive words he used to express his disdain towards this Major League Baseball team in the South Bronx).
“Nunca serás un fanático de los Yankees. Ellos son racista. Ellos tenían un Boricua pelotero que se llamaba Vic Power. El jugó primera base y porque el era negro, lo cambiaron.”
Translation: “I will never be a Yankee fan. They are racists. There was a Puerto Rican who played first base and because he was Black, they traded him.”
I think you can imagine what my proud father continued to say about the Yankees trading Victor Pellot-Power, a talented Black-Puerto Rican who would have been the FIRST Black ballplayer to wear pinstripes. Needless to say, I learned at a very young age how adults express themselves using some rather colorful words my dear mother wasn’t too pleased to hear in our household.
MEMORABLE MET MOMENTS
How does becoming a Mets fan actually start?
In 1962, we can trace this unbelievable baseball narrative with some “Stengelese” by the incomparable Casey Stengel (Ok…another former Yankee manager) who once said, “As soon as the kid can talk, he’s taught to say ‘Metsie, Metsie’ not ‘Papa’ not ‘Mama’ but ‘Metsie, Metsie, Metsie.’”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the New York Mets winning the World Series. How does an expansion team, with only eight years in league, managed by Gil Hodges, a former Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman and an original Met, guide a young, gifted ballclub to capturing a World Series crown?
How bout Ron Swoboda’s unbelievable catch? Tommie Agee? Cleon Jones? Have you ever looked at those highlight films on YouTube? A young Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan and Gary Gentry were simply…Amazin’.
They dominated the Baltimore Orioles. Before Reggie Jackson’s three memorable blasts in the 1977 Fall Classic (obviously Yankee fans will tell you – no comparison between Clendenon and Mr. October), but how about Donn Clendenon’s three homers in a World Series? Like Jackson, he would also be named the World Series MVP.
Fifty years ago, the Mets winning the World Series was a truly miraculous.
Or who will ever forget the left-handed closer Tug McGraw’s impassioned “Ya Gotta Believe” catchphrase to his 1973 team that captured the division with only 82-wins?
Even though he was already passed his prime, welcoming back Willie “Say Hey” Mays to New York was truly a priceless moment in Mets’ history. Although there would be some lean and forgettable years to follow, eventually two future superstars would arrive in Queens.
And things were about to change in Flushing.
The emergence of Dwight “Doc” Gooden and Darryl Strawberry and a bunch of gritty in-your-face ballplayers with an attitude was truly MUST-SEE TV. With Gooden on the mound every fifth day, it was like a vintage Bob Gibson shutting down his opponents one at-bat after another.
Why did my family travel via public transportation from the Bronx to Flushing to see Gooden pitch and Strawberry launch ‘bombs’ over the right-centerfield wall?
They would become All-Stars and both players would be named National League Rookie of the Year. Gooden would capture the ultimate trifecta of a MLB pitcher – A Triple Crown. Winning the Cy Young Award, he complied a 24-4 record, a NL league-leading 1.53 ERA and 268 strikeouts.
And there was another a future Baseball Hall of Famer catcher who captured it all – the late Gary Carter.
Of course, there was Keith Hernandez, Ron Darling, Wally Backman, Lenny Dykstra, and Ray Knight (1986 World Series MVP).
But, how bout that unforgettable Game 6 with Mookie Wilson’s momentous at-bat? In 1986, the Mets would once again be “King of Queens” and lift another World Series championship trophy.
The first Amazin’ to be enshrined in Cooperstown would be “The Franchise” – Tom Seaver. A future Baseball Hall of Famer catcher named Mike Piazza became a part of the Mets’ fandom in 1998 and within a short span faced the N.Y. Yankees in the 2000 World Series.
The following year, our country, especially New York City, would witness first-hand the face of pure evil. With a terrorist attack striking the World Trade Center, thousands of lives perished in Lower Manhattan.
But it was the Mets, through their extraordinary efforts of assisting the first-responders, families who lost loved one and Shea Stadium becoming a makeshift memorial and relief center, players understood the magnitude of this horrible devastation.
Finally, the game of baseball was back and on September 21, 2001 against the Atlanta Braves, Mike Piazza hit a monstrous game-winning 8th inning homerun to lift the Big Apple and even an entire nation up from the rubbles of 9-11.
THE END OF AN ERA AND THE BEGINNING OF THE NEW METS
The emergence of future Met All-Stars David Wright, José Reyes and Omar Minaya, a Queens native and the first Latino General Manager in Major League Baseball history, who brought his scouting expertise (he’s actually back with the Mets as a Special Assistant to the current Mets’ GM) and opened the floodgates to exceptional Latino talent (including Bronx native Ray Ramirez, who became the first Puerto Rican Head Trainer in MLB history).
Eventually, they would all suit up in Met uniforms (2015 Baseball Hall of Famer Pedro Martínez, Carlos Beltrán, Carlos Delgado, José Valentín, Oliver Pérez, and Roberto Hernández). Where you there to witness “The Catch” in left field by Endy Chávez in the 2006 NLCS?
In 2008, I was there (I even have ‘Shea Dirt’ from the pitcher’s mound), along with former Met legends and misty-eyed fans to bid farewell to Shea Stadium.
With the opening of Citi Field, the Mets would enjoy a number of historic milestones and achievements. Reyes was awarded the NL batting champion crown in 2011. With the acquisition of Johan Santana via trade in 2008, four years later, this would finally gives Met fans their first-ever no-hitter at Citi Field.
That same year, R.A. Dickey, a knuckleball pitcher, would win the Cy-Young Award.
ANOTHER FALL CLASSIC
Although the Mets would only win one game in the 2015 Fall Classic, how thrilling it was to be a Mets fan?
I mean not only did we begin to see the emergence of an extraordinary pitching staff (Matt Harvey, Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard and even a 42-year-old by the name of Bartolo Colón), and the Mets acquiring Yoenis Céspedes at the trading deadline, his offensive explosion in the second-half truly helped propel the Amazins’ back into the post-season.
But, I will NEVER forget someone who happened to have a very familiar first name – DANIEL Murphy.
From the 2015 NLDS to the NLCS, he became the first person in Major League Baseball history to hit a homer in six consecutive postseason games and was named the 2015 NLCS MVP.
Last year, after 14 seasons and lingering health issues, David Wright, 35, our team captain, the 2013 Team USA’s “Captain America,” a seven-time All-Star, two-time Gold Glove Award and two-time Silver Slugger Award recipient, retired and will forever be remembered for his leadership, charitable endeavors, unbelievable play, and infectious smile.
I only wish he would have won the Roberto Clemente Award. He’s so deserving of this honor.
In 2019, and with the Mets FINALLY thinking “outside the box” chose Brodie Van Wagenen, 45, a former player-agent with no prior experience of running the day-to-day operations of a club, as their newest General Manager.
As the former player representative for Mets’ pitching ace Jacob DeGrom, (who recently signed a lucrative five-year, 137.5 million contract), the Mets, along with Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz, and an impressive bullpen that includes Puerto Rican closer Edwin Díaz demonstrates the depth of this Amazin’ pitching staff.
But with that phenomenal group, Brodie knew the Mets not only should acquire Díaz from the Seattle Mariners but let’s also add a former N.Y. Yankee, an eight-time All-Star, two-time Gold Glove Award and a 2009 World Series champion Robinson Cano in that same deal.
NOT DONE YET
So in 2019, I’ll be covering the Mets so let’s head out to Citi Field, sit back and enjoy Brandon Nimmo, Wilson Ramos, Michael Conforto, Dominic Smith (what a Spring Training he had), Amed Rosario and their newest sensation Pete Alonso.
So why am I a Mets fan? Obviously, I’m not the only Bronx native who cheers for the Amazins. I even reached out to my dear Boricua friend who lives in Florida.
Edward Ayala is a US Army Instructor (he even drives to Port St. Lucie every Spring Training) who coincidentally was actually born in the Bronx.
He even credits his late father.
“My father and grandfather always followed the National League. They were heartbroken when the Brooklyn Dodgers left to Los Angeles and the Giants left to San Francisco. When the Mets came into existence, it was a breath of fresh air.”
That’s baseball. For the Mets, a second-year manager, a new General Manager (follow him on Twitter), new players, (young and old) and at times a new philosophy can make a world of a difference. That breath of fresh air is sometimes warranted and every fan looks forward to the start of another baseball season.
I can even make a simple suggestion. Met fans have been saying this catchy expression since I lived in the South Bronx and I was only 7 years old.
Ya Gotta Believe!
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