Everything felt as if it had returned to its proper alignment on Sunday afternoon.
I attended Banner Day not as a traditional reporter- though those lines are far from clear anyway in 2012- but with my wife, my parents and my two-year-old daughter. It only seemed right; I’d written a book, after all, calling for Banner Day’s return. I needed to experience it viscerally.
We carried a banner recognizing my father’s favorite player as a child, Duke Snider, my favorite, Darryl Strawberry, and the man my daughter emulates, sticking her tongue out as she runs, David Wright.
The Mets got this one right. They opened the ballpark to more participation from their fans, and the fans responded with adoration.
Without question, this is coming late in the game, with the attendance figure-just 28,000+ paid, well short of the 42,000+ the stadium holds- suggesting that the combination of early-season success and goodwill gestures haven’t brought back the fans who helped make the Mets the second-most attended MLB team in 2008. They were down even from the 30,791 paid on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend in 2011.
Here’s hoping the Mets are patient with a fan base who needs to see more goodwill before committing again, as they have. Days like Sunday, though, which are well-executed and give fans a real sense of stake in the team, are the way to do it. Necessity may be the mother of this invention by the Mets, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be praised for inventing correctly-even if that invention is merely a return to what worked in the past.
All I know is that my daughter is still talking about what it felt like to walk on a real baseball field. I’ve gotten to do it plenty as a professional, but it is a very different thing to sit in the dugout, awaiting a player’s press availability, and walk that warning track as part of three generations of baseball fans. It was a glorious set of memories, and the Mets made it possible, because only your favorite baseball team, really, can make such things possible.
I don’t think I was alone either. The crowd may have been smaller than ownership wants or needs right now, but the people who were there lacked that curdled feeling so present at Shea Stadium, then Citi Field, since the unpleasantness began in 2007. Maybe those are the people who have left. I don’t know.
But the banners were hopeful. This is a fan base, after all, that has made a conscious choice not to root for the team just as geographically convenient, with the added benefit of winning more than any franchise in any major sport. Think about that one. These aren’t people who are demanding of winning or else. I’ve always thought of Mets fans as people who would rather root for a Lucas Duda than find reason to scorn him, when there are ample reasons for both responses in Duda’s game.
And Banner Day has always been filled with people who simply want to express hope in the face of overwhelming logic. Banners exist to celebrate the hope of May; never mind that last year’s banner, or the year before’s, weren’t ultimately prognostications.
Hope in this team, based on the talent available and statistical study of the team’s performance to date, suggests that we may soon look back at Banner Day as a high water mark. I’ve read various columnists suggesting that as long as the Mets tread water, win, say, 80 games, that 2012 will count as progress.
Allow me to suggest that if the Mets utterly collapse on the field, finish with 65 wins, and end the season hopelessly out of the race, 2012 still will count as a year of progress. A team that, by all rights, ought to have been out of the race by Memorial Day is tied for a playoff spot. And Citi Field, really for the first time, feels like a place of hope instead of measured despair.
This Mets team may disappoint on the field, or it may not. But Citi Field, on Sunday, finally felt like Shea Stadium at its finest. My daughter sang “Meet the Mets” for our crowded car as we drove over the Whitestone Bridge. Exactly how it might go wrong on the field, as it does in so many episodes of Mets Yearbook, could wait for another day.