April 25, 2007

A Punch in the Stomach: The Life Mets, Jets Fans

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Immediately following Yadier Molina’s two-run, ninth-inning home run in Game 7, it felt like I had been punched in the stomach. Just a short time earlier, after Endy Chavez’s miraculous catch in left field, I got the feeling there was no way we were going to lose. When Willie Randolph decided to stick with Aaron Heilman, I was praising the decision. It had just backfired. I was in disbelief. I could have thrown up.
I walked back to my apartment in the rain. I wasn’t even angry. I was stunned. For the first time in my life as a sports fan, I thought it was the year I would see my first championship. The pieces were in place. Even in 2000, when the Mets lost the Subway Series in five games, I never had that feeling. The team didn’t have the look of a champion. The 2006 Mets did. And it had all came to an end. The Cardinals were celebrating on our field.
I was still an infant when the Mets won the title in 1986. I have watched that series many times in my life, and despite never seeing an inning live, I have built up a connection to that team. Hernandez. Strawberry. Gooden. Carter. Vin Scully’s famous Game 6 call of Mookie’s innocent grounder to first base is burned in my memory.
However, in my lifetime, those moments have been few and far between. Pratt’s 10th-inning walk-off against the Diamondbacks. Ventura’s grand slam single. Piazza’s blast against the Braves, capping a 10-run eighth-inning comeback. A World Series title is not on that list.
The problem is that I’ve been born into fandom of two of the most abysmal franchises in sports. The Mets have won two championships, yet have been mostly horrible over the past 20 years. And the Jets — well they have been one of the most inept teams in the NFL since Joe Namath guaranteed victory in Super Bowl III.
But being a fan of these teams is not really an option in my family. It’s more like a requirement. I’ve tried to latch on to different sports, but it will never be the same as rooting for the teams I have loved since childhood.
I remember walking out of Madison Square Garden following a Knicks game, absolutely devastated after John Starks missed what would have been a game-winning shot against the Bulls. I remember sitting in the last row of Giants Stadium and having my dad lift me up so I could bang on the metal overhang above our section.
And I remember heading out to big Shea, watching my earliest hero, Howard Johnson, smack home runs over the right field wall. My column is named “Raising the Apple” for my original roots of being a fan. When I was a kid, all I wanted to see when I went to Shea was the apple rise up out of the magic hat beyond the centerfield fence after a Mets home run. HoJo was the best player on a horrible team. He was never an MVP. He was an All-Star only twice. But he was my favorite player. And I have been hooked ever since.
Which I guess goes a long way towards explaining why most of my columns revolve around my teams. I love writing about them. I love talking about them. And The Sun has allowed me to do both. I will certainly miss having an outlet for my opinion and I am beginning to realize how rare that opportunity may be.
My love of sports is what led me to The Sun. I never wrote for my high school paper. I had zero interest in journalism before coming to Cornell. And after joining The Sun on a whim in my freshman year, I still had no idea what to expect. When I first started writing, I guess I had the dream of covering some of Cornell’s high-profile teams. But I can honestly say that becoming an editor never crossed my mind.
So I am going to start by thanking Owen Bochner for putting that idea in my head. I remember the night he called me and asked if I would be interested in running for Assistant Sports Editor and during that entire conversation I was thinking to myself, “There is absolutely no way I am doing this.”But after considering it for a few days and hearing what some of the editors before me had to say about the experience, I decided to go through with it, still confused as to what exactly gave them the notion that I was qualified to have that kind of responsibility. I’m actually still wondering that.
Well needless to say, I had no idea what I was getting into. And even though it required a lot more effort than I could have ever imagined, it turned out to be one of my most memorable experiences at Cornell. So thank you Owen for setting me on that track because I can honestly say I would not be writing this column without it.
Chris Mascaro, even though you have absolutely no clue as to what’s good about New York sports, you were my biggest role model at The Sun and in my opinion, the best Sports Editor of all time. Alright, maybe that last part was a lie. But I can say that I wouldn’t have wanted to work for anyone else.
Brian Tsao, even though I have a very high opinion of my own editing abilities, you were without a doubt the best Assistant Sports Editor on our board and consistently made the paper better. Thank you for being the standard that we were all kind of striving to achieve.
Olivia Dwyer, you were without a doubt the worst Assistant Sports Editor on our board and consistently made the paper horrible. Just kidding. You have done some great things for The Sun and have been a really good friend for the past few years and I am very thankful for that. You are really the only girl I know that could have possibly tolerated working for Mascaro. For that alone, I respect you more than you can ever know.
Tim Kuhls, your tenacious defense and deadly stroke from the outside makes you worthy of the title The Birdman. You have been a great friend and I couldn’t think of anyone better to succeed the incredible level I set as an assistant. And you look like Ron Darling. That’s kind of cool too.
Matt Gorman, I guess I have to start by thanking you for always getting your stories in on time. When I was desking, I always hoped that you were scheduled on my night and I take full credit for your victory as writer of the year.
I know I would leave someone out so I am just going thank all other sections for putting up with me in one paragraph. It’s really not even funny how bad all of the other departments are in comparison to sports. It’s actually one of those things that everyone knows is true, but nobody wants to talk about it because it’s just mean. If you don’t want to count that as a thank you, I’m cool with that.
To all the coaches, players and administrators who I have been fortunate enough to work with over the past four years, I want to thank you for allowing me to do my job to the best of my ability. One of the perks of going to a small sports school is the access writers have to the teams we cover and I have enjoyed that more than anything else.
Finally, Mom, Dad, Jamie and Greg, I love you guys very much and I can’t thank you enough for supporting me all these years. Dad, I know you’re thrilled that this is my last column because it means that I am about two months away from being entirely off the Pepper family payroll. It’s been a good ride and I’m pretty sure we’re both going to miss you giving me money. So if you want to extend that deadline for a few years, I guess I’d be okay with it. Also, you are solely responsible for turning me into maniacal fan I am today, so this column has to be dedicated to you.
Lastly, I want to thank all six readers of this column. Without you guys — well really nothing would have been different but thanks for reading anyway. It’s almost cruel that they allow me to subject you to my stream of consciousness.
So I guess I’ll end by doing it one more time. You know the drill. The Mets are tied or behind, they’ve got a runner or more on base and the opposing pitcher is about to implode on the mound. The video screen flashes Howard Beale, anchor of the fictitious UBS nightly newscast.
“I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell: Let’s Go Mets!”
Bryan Pepper is a former Sun Assistant Sports Editor. Raising the Apple has appeared every other week for the past two years. If you ever want to know where to get a delicious steak in this town, just go up and ask him — he’ll send you to the right place.