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The Unbearable, Irrepressible Hope of Opening Day

If coming out to Opening Day is the purest and most exhilarating form of unsullied optimism, then I’ve mainlined raw, uncut Mets hope exactly twice in my life. The first was in 1993, when my father and I drove the two-plus hours from northeastern Pennsylvania into Queens … and I remember this day well because it was maybe the first time in my life that my parents allowed me to skip school outside of sickness or family vacation. Also, the Mets were hosting the expansion Colorado Rockies, who had never before played an official game. Doc Gooden pitched a four-hit shutout, his next-to-last clean sheet with the Mets. (He pitched another four-hit shutout a month later against another expansion team, the Florida Marlins.) It was my last time seeing somewhat vintage Gooden in person. I was 12 at the time, and when I wasn’t thinking about baseball that day, I was thinking about my little brother at home who’d been born just two weeks prior and how, one day, I’d get to talk baseball with him. You want to know about feeling hopeful and fresh beginnings and all those intangible feelings? I was bombarded that day from all conceivable sides.

The second time was three years later in 1996, which I’ve already mentioned by way of my remembrance of Rey Ordoñez. The Mets won that day against St. Louis, just as they had against the Rockies in ’93, but my memories are more of Ordoñez and the frigid cold that numbed my hands by the third inning and sitting (with my father again) as we heckled our own right fielder, Butch Huskey, for no discernible reason other than he was there.

Twenty years later, the Opening Day memories of both days sit with me like highlighted footnotes from my teenage years. That little brother has graduated college and is every bit the rabid Mets fan I figured he’d become. And the Mets, wouldn’t you know it, just keep on winning Opening Days, more than any other franchise in baseball. Through last season, they’re 35-19 in Game No. 1, the best winning percentage (.648) of any MLB club. It’s even all the more impressive considering the Mets didn’t win an Opening Day until 1970, meaning they dropped the first eight openers in team history.

That’s an important detail to consider because it means they lost Opening Day in 1969—to an expansion team, nonetheless—so the most improbable of all Mets seasons didn’t even start off with any indication that it would transpire as it did. Most of the other big years in team history did, however, kick things off with a W: 1973, a 3-0 win vs. Philadelphia (with Tom Seaver outpitching Steve Carlton); 1986, a 4-2 win at Pittsburgh (two weeks before Barry Bonds was called up); and 2006, a 3-2 win over Washington (thanks to Tom Glavine besting Livan Hernandez).

Even last year, it was Bartolo Colon (of course it was) who defeated Max Scherzer and helped the Mets to a 3-1 win at National Park, the only opposing run coming courtesy of (what else?) a Bryce Harper home run. Who knew what excitement there was to come in the remaining 161, with this roster still awaiting such massive turnover by season’s end. But even in just that one day, the Mets felt hope again. They’ve felt Opening Day hope more than any other organization. Sometimes, it has led to a season ending in tears; sometimes it’s an unexpected World Series run. The bottom line is that in the season-long picture, this one day usually means very little.

But there’s nothing wrong with feeling that little tinge of optimism deep down after one game. Historically speaking, the Mets do hope pretty well, I think. Pining for a miracle in ’69. You gotta believe in ’73! You gotta believe more in ’74! (OK, maybe not so much.) Let’s Go, Mets! Go! in ’86, Joe Piscopo notwithstanding. And on to last year’s win in DC, which did, in some ways, set the tone for a magical season.

So sure, sometimes Opening Day is Tuffy Rhodes or Mike Hampton losing in the Tokyo Dome, but other times it’s Bartolo striking out eight in six strong on the road. This time out, we’ll watch as Jacob deGrom or Matt Harvey takes the mound in Kansas City on Sunday night and we’ll hope, because at least in the small sample size of Opening Days, nobody does it better than the Mets.

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