The guys on my corner in Brooklyn used to wear Yankees hats. When I arrived in New York almost eight years ago, pretty much all the baseball hat-wearing people did. Seeing someone else in Mets gear felt rare, so much so that I sometimes felt a jump of excitement at what would usually turn out to be a Knicks hat. When, for a while, I lived in Queens, the Mets were obviously more visible, but overall New York was a Yankees town.
Growing up in Phillies territory, I was used to being the odd man out. I was more surprised to arrive in Boston for college and find a great deal of hatred leveled toward me and my Mets hat by people whom I’d considered to be allies in anti-Yankee solidarity, but who evidently couldn’t tell the difference between a Yankees’ and Mets’ logo. But when I finally made it to NYC, even here was sea of navy blue and white. It seemed my hat and I were destined to be an island, even on the island.
Then, 2015. The Yankees were terrible; the Mets were headed to the World Series; the Empire State Building was orange and blue for us. And now the guys on my corner wear Mets hats. Bright, new ones, with World Series insignia on the sides. On the subway, hipster dudes in Mets hats, also pristine. Whether at home in Brooklyn or in Manhattan for work I no longer go a day without running into somebody suited up in a jacket or cap. Usually, I still get excited to see the familiar logo and colors I’ve loved for so long. But then, I get annoyed.
It’s stupid, I know, to be bothered by fair-weather fandom. After all, baseball is a game; it’s supposed to be fun and the point of following a team has never been emotional suffering. And since baseball is also a business, I should want the Mets to fill seats, make money, and stick around—all made easier by a burgeoning popularity. And yet.
It feels a bit like that teen angst moment when your favorite indie band hits the radio. It’s partly exciting, partly a loss. Now you’re forced to share them with other people who know nothing about the members, the trajectory, maybe not even any of their other songs. (Idiots!) The sense of closeness you felt with the band (false sense though it may be) is diminished.
With the Mets, part of my annoyance at these new bandwagoners also stems from my perspective as a woman, and dealing with the ongoing doubt that a girl can really wrap her lady brains around the complexities of a sport. All my life I have been interrogated by men, usually strangers, who see me wearing a baseball cap and wish to administer tests to discern whether I’m a “real fan.” What was the middle name of the bullpen pitcher with the two different color eyes who was a Met for half a season ten years before you were born? Meanwhile, a guy who has little interest in the team or the sport picks up a Mets’ hat today for its “winning” aesthetic, and is accepted at face value.
The other part is a bias rooted in my own Mets-heartbreak-addled childhood. I fancy myself, and other loyal fans, as having obtained baseball enlightenment. I was not alive the last time the Mets won the World Series, and still I have loved an often bad team unconditionally. All our cultural mythology suggests that this kind of love, not predicated on fleeting things like performance, is “true”—real fairy tale shit. Sports fans, teams, and players, too, love a good myth. It’s why it’s easy to follow these threads to the conclusion that rooting for the underdog is part of the game, or at least a morally superior way to engage with it.
But this is, of course, mostly nonsense. If the point of a game is to determine a winner and loser team, viewers are naturally inclined to be drawn to the team that successfully completes the task at hand. And the Mets are obviously far from the only team to experience a fair-weather fandom. It will be interesting to see how Cubs’ fandom shifts in the wake of their championship win. Will the diehards feel less attached now that the impossible has been achieved? Perhaps the wave of new fans, arriving in the wake of a 108-year-old drought quenched, will take the places of those who had only known fandom as a kind of wistfulness. Then again, maybe—like the New Englanders and their Red Sox—fans will remain just as rabid, er, enthusiastic, post-win.
Meanwhile, a team like the Cincinnati Reds seems to experience a time-lapsed version of this fandom expansion and contraction each season. On opening day the city shuts down for a huge parade to celebrate the team. But by June, though entry into the Great American Ballpark is cheaper than a movie ticket, the stands are empty. Painful as it may be to watch Joey Votto go down looking that. many. times. … one can’t help but feel bad seeing such a team take such a marked nosedive in support.
To that end, I’m happy that the Mets are seeing a bit more of the love they deserve. (And I’m always happy to see less Yankees paraphernalia floating around.) Maybe some of these new fans will grow to support them through thick and thin, too. If not, at least we don’t have to worry about the Mets “selling out” like our favorite bands of yore—the game will keep its rhythm no matter how many of us are cheering.
Photo Credit: Jasen Vinlove–USA TODAY Sports