Three unique Mets fans were all smiles at the last regular home game of this dismal 2017 season Wednesday—and the team wasn’t even winning. In fact, “the Amazins” were losing to their erstwhile enemy, the Atlanta Braves. But there they stood together, sharing a laugh in Section 140 above the bullpen at Citi Field.
Perhaps these males are better known by the names on their orange-and-blue backs: Pinman, Cowbellman 52 and Signman 00. Pinman is so covered with pins, buttons and flashing lights that it must take him an inning just to get through security. I trust he comes early, probably long before batting practice. Cowbellman carries his bell and a drumstick—plus a poster of himself—so I bet he sails through. Signman doesn’t carry a lot of baggage, just key messages on banner-sized cardboard that could be unwieldy but he doesn’t seem to mind if he can express the zeitgeist at the proper time.
But it was fun to watch this triumvirate standing triumphantly among of The 7 Line Army, the spirited bastion of diehard fans named after the Flushing subway to Citi Field. Mets rookie pitcher Robert Gsellman, whose shaggy long locks are no doubt the envy of those without a hair on their head, was on the mound—perhaps for the last time in a Mets uniform, the theme of the night apparently.
Gsellman had thrown 30 pitches, 21 of them for strikes. Unfortunately he couldn’t call back his 31st pitch. It was driven into right field, practically in front of us, scoring the first run of the game, and putting the Braves ahead.
When he was introduced on the big screen, he looked like a rock star without a guitar. But the crowd was indifferent—Gsellman has never been consistent enough to win their favor. It was quite a contrast from the excitement that ricocheted around the stadium back on Opening Day when the Mighty Thor, Noah Syndegaard, the Mets preeminent hirsute hurler, marched menacingly to the mound on April 3.
That spring afternoon also pitted the Queens team against Atlanta, and 44,384 people—the second-largest regular season attendance in Citi Field’s history—were on hand to watch it. I saw it too.
Thor had thrown the hammer down and kept the Braves off the scoreboard. Our team had a 6-0 lead going into the ninth inning when Manager Terry Collins decided to bring in Gsellman from the bullpen. And just like that, the Braves got back-to-back hits with nobody out, and we fans on hand could feel that age-old dread rise to the surface as we began to wonder if our team would blow it.
They ultimately got a double-play to end the game so you could put it in the books, as the venerable Mets announcer Howie Rose would say, and chalk up a victory. What a relief! But like so many things in the Mets world, it was short lived.
Thor would go on to tear his lat muscle and be unable to pitch. Other top players succumbed to a rash of season-altering injuries. Solid veterans like Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce would be traded, along with Rene Rivera, Addison Reed, Neil Walker and Lucas Duda. We’ll soon see some of those guys playing in this year’s World Series but wearing other teams’ uniforms and coming nowhere near Queens.
But let’s not forget that Citi Field did host some very meaningful games in late September—significant for this year’s playoff race—but they involved the Yankees, who took on the Tampa Bay Rays here because Major League Baseball relocated the series from Tropicana Park in St. Petersburg after Hurricane Irma flooded southern Florida.
And so here we were at the last home game in Flushing on a night that felt like the middle of July, but now the Mets were thoroughly out of contention and heading for their worst record since 2009. Officially, 28,617 people were on hand, but compared to where we sat they might as well have been ghosts.
My buddy Bill and I were sitting happily with the most enthusiastic Mets fans at the ballpark who filled “7th Heaven”—as the Signman helpfully pointed out—chanting in unison, whacking inflatable blue-plastic batons together (conveniently placed in our cup-holders by the organizers of this group founded in 2009 by Darren Meenan), and singing spiritedly for Jose Reyes (“Jose! Jose! Jose-oh!”), the flashy infielder also reportedly playing his last game for the Mets.
We were watching Gsellman as the starter this time and we worried about how bad his last start here might be. Fortunately, he settled down, giving up only one run while the Mets uncharacteristically (for this year) gave him some run support. Doing some significant damage was catcher Travis d’Arnoud (known for being so tight-lipped that the Signman held up a placard helpfully saying, “Smile Travis!”), who broke open the 1-1 tie with a two-run single.
Later in the game, pinch-hitter Dominic Smith belted a three-run homer. That gave us a lot to cheer about. In the end, the Mets bashed the Braves 7-1, but they finished their season at Citi Field with a 37-44 losing record.
Probably the low point here in this miserable Mets year—and that’s certainly open to debate—came on June 1st when a Milwaukee bat boy unintentionally banged into our third-baseman Wilmer Flores so he couldn’t catch a foul ball. The umpires didn’t give Flores the benefit of the doubt, prompting our beleaguered manager to flip out and get ejected from the game, which the Mets went on to lose.
The day before, Mr. Met gave some fan the finger, a gesture that went viral. It inspired the Daily News cartoonist Bramhall to draw our round-headed mascot lying on the psychiatrist’s couch as Dr. Freud asked him, “These voices—do they say anything else besides ‘You suck’?”
Yeah, we could relate. It was that kind of year for the fans. And on Sept. 27, although the team may have won, the Mets owners didn’t give us a chance to honor Terry Collins, who has the second-most wins in franchise history. No curtain call for our manager, just some cheers when his image flashed briefly on the Diamond Vision screen.
At 68, he’s the oldest guy managing a baseball team, but his contract expired, and no doubt he’ll be canned in an inglorious way because that’s how the Mets front office does it, despite Collins taking the Amazins to the World Series in 2015 and a Wild Card shot in 2016.
This year was supposed to be ours! But everything went south so fast with injuries and losing streaks. Only ace Jacob deGrom stayed off the disabled list. Going into the last weekend of 2017, our starting pitchers held the Major Leagues’ third-worst Earned Run Average at 5.01, our relievers were even worse, and so the bespectacled 64-year-old pitching coach, Dan Warthen, who reminds me of Ben Franklin for some reason, will also be taking the fall when the season ends.
But come March 29, 2018, The 7 Line Army will come together at Citi Field and hope for the best. And on that Opening Day they won’t be alone.