Carlos Beltran was the Mets center fielder from 2005-2010.
Angel Pagan was the Mets center fielder in 2011.
Now they battle each other in the NLCS … in two uniforms other than the Mets, of course. (Maybe they’ll get together and thank their lucky stars that they’re out of Flushing.)
You young lads especially have to understand one thing about me: I’m an old man. Most likely, according to the statistics I’ve made up in my head, I’m older than you. I spent my teenage years embroiled in Cardinals hate. You people think you know rivalries because of the Braves? Ratchet that up a few notches and you got Mets/Cardinals in the 80’s. That wasn’t just a rivalry, that was a clash of baseball cultures and styles.
Old habits die hard, even when the Cardinals moved from the eastern division to the central division. I still hated them every bit as much as your garden variety eastern division team. Never could I bring myself to root for them. In 1987 I was pulling so hard for the Giants that years later we reenacted what should have been the 1987 World Series via Strat-O-Matic … Twins vs. Giants. I had the Twins, a die hard Giants fan took his team. But we both thoroughly enjoyed a World Series without the St. Louis Cardinals (By the way, the Twins also won this matchup in seven games, with Frank Viola not only winning all three games he pitched, but twirling a no-hitter in Game 1). It would never occur to me to root for the Cardinals over the San Francisco Giants … certainly not in 1987. But that’s exactly the corner I’ve been backed into. And not only that, this will be the second season in a row that I’ve been in this corner. Once last season against Philadelphia. And now, with the Cardinals having completely stunned the Nationals, I’m now forced to be in their corner again.
I feel like I was in the minority rooting for the Nationals. Seemed a lot of people on Twitter, many of whom I assume aren’t as old as me, were backing Carlos Beltran and the Cardinals … voting along division lines. And as much as I respect Beltran and wanted to see him do well (and he most certainly performed well on Friday night), I wanted to see Davey Johnson in the World Series again. Maybe because Davey back in a World Series could give me the illusion that I was sixteen years old again for a couple of weeks. Maybe because the team he had in Washington started to carry themselves a little bit like the ’86 Mets, which will always make me warm and fuzzy. Maybe because, even though the Nationals are in the Mets’ division, I haven’t learned quite how to hate them like I hate the Phillies. Or the Braves. Or the Marlins. And yes, the Cardinals. I’m sure they’ll be a time when Bryce Harper will hit some big, meaningful home runs against the Mets, then follow it up by saying something stupid like bringing up the fact that he grew up a Yankee fan, while revealing that he wears a Derek Jeter shirsey under his Nationals uniform. Then it’ll be game on. But for 2012, I hitched my ride squarely with the man who led the Mets to the only World Championship I’ve been alive for. And the Nationals stunning loss has me hurting for Davey.
Even with Beltran on the Cardinals, it is still extremely difficult to root for any group of individuals wearing the bat with the one red bird on the barrel, one on the knob. Heck, in some ways, Beltran’s presence in some ways makes it more difficult. Not that I don’t wish Carlos well, but seeing him win a title with the team that steamrolled him, his team, and his fans in 2006 will inevitably end up being bittersweet. Great for Carlos. Why couldn’t it have been for us? And why, of all teams, does it have to be for them? But know the following: Adam Wainwright curve ball or no Adam Wainwright curve ball (and I’ve gone into it in detail already, but the big mistake in that at-bat was strike one, not strike three), Beltran has been a supreme talent for the Mets. He’s also been a “gamer”, the kind of term we only seem to small middle infielders with limited talent and height with. Came back five days after a horrific collision with Mike Cameron. Had to be helped off the field in 2006 after crashing knees first into a fence in Houston catching a fly ball during a game which meant nothing in the standings. Strikeout or no strikeout, Carlos busted his ass for the Mets. I guess the only way I could repay him now that the Nationals have blown a 6-0 lead with their ace on the mound, and a 7-5 lead with two strikes and two outs, is to hope he gets a ring for my sworn baseball enemy.
While I have no historical fan-type animosity towards the Giants organization, I can’t side with the guy who mockingly tipped his cap to the Citi Field crowd after conking David Wright in the head. I can’t side with the guy who conked Mike Piazza two different times for sport, then shook off Paul Lo Duca before giving up a series changing triple in Game 2 of the 2006 NLCS against … hey guess who, the Cardinals! And although I am largely ambivalent towards Angel Pagan, I can’t root for him either after sulking his way off the Mets and causing them to trade him for a good reliever turned bad, and a bad center fielder turned worse. All that combined with the Pablo Sandoval All-Star vote robbery, I can’t align myself with them at this time. (And no, Xavier Nady and Joaquin Arias aren’t enough to sway me.) So I will sidle myself up in Beltran’s corner and try to squint hard enough to pretend that the St. Louis team on my television screen is actually the St. Louis Browns, or something.
And here’s the funny thing: With every chance that the Yankees make the World Series, most likely I’ll have to root for the Cardinals in two straight series, after never rooting for them in my first 41 years on planet earth. Forget politics; A terrible team in Flushing makes strange bedfellows. Stupid Mayans. Stupid Mets.