Once Chipper Jones hangs up his baseball cleats for the last time after the season ends, most New York Mets fans will wave fondly and then breathe an audible sigh of relief.
But it won't last long.
As Mets fans, we are acutely aware another tormentor stands lurking just around the corner, with a menacing grin and a propensity to break hearts at just the wrong time. Cast as a villain, he will enroll in the same club Chipper Jones has graced so well, along with so many others. As a matter of fact, I'll wager no team has more tormentors than the New York Mets.
Let's take a moment to define Met tormentor, or the term used more formally through the years, Met Killer. He has to be an uncommonly good ballplayer who elevates his game exponentially higher against certain, unfortunate competition. The Mets have played the role of that competition far too frequently in their 50-plus years of existence. In truth, there are two types of Met tormentors: the players just described, and a separate group that has little to distinguish itself otherwise. Some like to categorize Jorge Cantu in that group, but, in reality, there are historically too many to identify.
Chipper Jones is most assuredly in the first group. He's clearly a Hall of Fame player that has performed even better against the Mets, with an amazing 49 home runs. Additionally, though, Jones loves to tweak the Mets fan, an infuriating inclination that incensed us, motivating insults and catcalls that we hurl mercilessly to ultimately no avail.
There are a few several seminal Chipper Jones moments in the life of a Mets fan. The first, and most prominent, occurred in the 1999 playoffs. As the Mets spent the month of September sliding backward, a familiar direction for all of us who've followed them all these years, they were defeated two out of three by the Braves. Chipper thought they had less than discreetly driven the last nail into the seasonal coffin and implored Mets fans to put on their New York Yankees garb.
A Met Response
Oh boy, not a comment that a tormented Mets fan took lightly. Chipper underestimated the will of the team that year, and back the Mets charged, sneaking into the playoffs and winning five in a row, including a play-in game for the wild card. They finally met in the championship series, and with the teams finally on relatively equal footing, suddenly Jones was more than nuisance; he was a villain, public enemy #1, hated.
I remember sitting and fidgeting through 5 hours and 46 minutes of baseball in Game 5, rejoicing in Robin Ventura's grand-slam single heroics, perhaps the best game I'd ever attended. Jones tried his darn best to end the season that night with three hits, one run batted in, and another extra-inning double that might have won it until the Mets threw the runner out at home. He was jeered, taunted with chants of his real first name, "Larry," and generally despised. In Game 6, though, with the series teetering in the Mets' direction after they had lost the first three, the Mets pulled ahead late via an enormous Mike Piazza homer. Every fan knew if they had won Game 6, Game 7 was ours.
It was the one and only time Chipper Jones demonstrated any fear against the Mets. The camera panned the dugout in the eighth inning, and there Chipper sat with his face in his hands, thoroughly defeated, unable to face the field, a bit of a catch in his throat. I'll never forget the vulnerability -- had never seen it before, and haven't since. I remember allowing the vitriol boil-over at that moment, and I screamed something in the area of "take that," addressing a person I didn't know through an electronic device.
His anxiety was unnecessary, though. The Mets blew the ninth-inning lead and the game, and therefore the series. He was never as scary after that moment, though he was every bit as impactful. It's somewhat mystifying that Mets fans have softened so thoroughly toward him as retirement approaches. It reminds me of the stories of captives eventually connecting with their kidnappers because they become anesthetized, abandoning all hope for a better outcome.
Hmm, sounds just like a Mets fan.
Glenn Vallach has been a New York Mets fan since foolishly abandoning the mighty Yankees in his youth after Mickey Mantle retired. Since the fond, fleeting memories of the Tom Seaver, Cleon Jones, Tommie Agee years, he sits quietly yearning for a fraction of the success enjoyed annually by the team that inhabits the borough in which he was born...waiting and hoping...waiting and hoping.
- · Yahoo! Sports New York Mets page
- · Yahoo! Sports Atlanta Braves page
- · Yahoo! Sports Chipper Jones page
- · CNN/Sports Illustrated, Still Amazin'...Mets still believe they can pull off another miracle
- · Baseball Almanac, Atlanta Braves vs New York Mets, October 17, 1999 Box Score
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