There is nothing more depressing in all of professional sports than meaningless September baseball.
Think about it. Playing in front of vast stadiums lined with empty seat after empty seat. All the fans that lived and died with every pitch during those hot summer months resigned back to their normal lives as the season changes.
In September, the games are played every day, all nine innings, all 27 outs. History remembers each and every one only as a win or a loss in an already futile season. If your team isn't playing games that count in September, then maybe it's best just to look away.
As someone who has been a Mets fan for nearly my entire life, I have had Septembers that have been full of drama, my eyes glued to the television screen. And I've had Septembers where I could only bear to check the box score. Yet for all the years, all the seasons, all the games, all the magical moments, I have never seen anything quite like what I have seen from the Mets in the first half of the 2012 season.
In just three short months of baseball, my faith as a fan has not only been re-energized and re-captivated, but in many ways, justified.
Back in 2010, the Mets had a twi-night doubleheader scheduled against the Milwaukee Brewers. It was the last week of the season, and both teams had nothing to play for but pride. Nonetheless, I never wanted to miss a chance to see two games for the price of one, so I rushed on out to the stadium after my cross country meet on this chilly Wednesday afternoon, bought a ticket, and watched as the Mets played two meaningless games in front of no more than 1,000 fans.
I honestly couldn't tell you who won, and in reality, it really didn't matter. What I do remember from this night was sitting there alone wondering to myself what the point of being there was. Sure, I loved baseball and I loved the Mets, but I felt like I was wasting my time. Not only that, I felt as if I had wasted a whole season, a whole chunk of my life on a team that had not lived up to its full potential and had given me nothing in return.
That's what makes this 2012 club so special. They make your investment worth while. They play every game to the best of their ability. They play when they're behind, when they're ahead, and even when no one is watching.
Baseball can be an unforgiving sport to the fans and players alike, as I learned on that cold night at Citi Field. Yet, when you play the game right every night, at least you can say you had no regrets.
Currently the Mets sit at 46-40. They are 4.5 games out of first place in the NL East and .5 games out of a wild-card spot heading into the second half of the season.
What they've done so far certainly isn't record-breaking. And to be fair, they were even better at the All-Star break in the aforementioned 2010 season.
That being said, as a fan, this feels different. Maybe it's because the team is finally starting to do well after a couple of tough years, but I think it's a lot more. What makes this team special is the players that make it up, and the circumstances under which they are performing.
Twice this season the Mets have started all homegrown lineups, and in both those games they were victorious. In this age of baseball (and the Mets are certainly guilty of this as well), where so many players are getting huge contracts to leave their hometown team, the Mets have been able to find success with athletes who have made a name for themselves wearing the orange and blue.
One of those guys who has been with the team his whole career is David Wright. His resurgence to superstar status along with Johan Santana's epic return from shoulder surgery to turn in the first no-hitter in franchise history have really proven to be a source of inspiration for this team.
Though when it is all said and done, it's hard to argue that the face of the franchise has become R.A. Dickey.
Not only has he pieced together one of the most dominant stretches of pitching in baseball history, but he has also done it at the age of 37, using a knuckleball pitch that he says is similar to a "butterfly on steroids". His story of falling from grace only to redefine himself not only as a pitcher, but as a person as well, is one that mirrors how the Mets are trying to redefine themselves. There is no disputing that he represents what this team is all about.
Coming into spring training it's doubtful that anyone could have predicted what would become of R.A. Dickey over the first half of the season. Though to be fair, that really wasn't anyone's main concern. To many the season had already been lost. The team couldn't have been in a worse position. Not only was the financial future of the team in doubt after a $50 million cut in payroll, but several of their top players had left for greener pastures. They were set to rely on players who had either little major league experience or were coming off of serious injuries. Expectations weren't just low, they were non-existent. The Mets were irrelevant in an NL East that was predicted to be the best division in baseball. Thankfully, to the Mets players and their fiery manager Terry Collins, outside expectations weren't of too much concern.
Thus, what makes this Mets team so great isn't just that they are 46-40. It's that they have done everything right. They are a fun team to watch. They play not just until the last out, they play until the last strike. They are full of players who have something to prove. They are full of players who only know one team, one franchise. This isn't just a team of baseball players, this is a team of New York Mets.
In just three months, they have put together some iconic moments that will forever be at the forefront of the minds of all Mets fans. Whether it's Jordany Valdespin's eyes lighting up as he watched his first major league hit sail over the right field fence to give the Mets a 5-2 win over Jonathon Papelbon and the Philadelphia Phillies, or seeing David Wright's bloop single fall in front of a diving Hunter Pence as the Mets walked off at home.
Then of course, there is the moment when David Freese flailed on a 3-2 pitch and everyone at Citi Field had their arms raised in triumph as Johan Santana had completed the first no-hitter in 50 years of Mets baseball. These Mets have had so many amazing moments, and hopefully there are many more to come.
Yet, come September, even if the Mets are once again playing meaningless baseball, I will know that my time was not wasted. I will not question whether my hours could have been put to better use because what I have witnessed so far has not only been great baseball, but has been a great story, from a great team. No matter what their record says at end of the season, I know they will have lived up to their full potential.