Belief has no meaning except in reference to our actions. ?Scottish philosopher Alexander Bain, 1859
You gotta believe! ?Mets relief pitcher Tug McGraw, 1969
The apostles of Bain and McGraw convened in Shea Stadium last weekend to watch the Wildcard Mets dispose of the Arizona Diamondbacks, earning the Mets their first trip to the National League Championship Series in 11 years. More important, they continued to hold up the Queens end of the Subway Series bargain.
In Grand Central Station, an anonymous-by-choice Local 3 electrician connected and spliced behind a Mets-orange safety net. But he's still a Yankees fan: "Huge. Huge Yankees fan." Still, he proclaimed his belief in a series named for the milieu in which he toils, and went back to wiring among the crowds headed to the Flushing local from the uptown IRT platform. Coworkers from other shifts obviously hoped for a different outcome than the one Local 3 wished for: Tacked on a support pillar in the middle of that Mets fence was a hand-scrawled poster: "I still believe! Let's go Mets!"
In Flushing, at the exit from the subway platform, there's a spot where you can see home plate some 600 feet away. Thrifty fans can catch much of the action there without purchasing a ticket. Les Leon, 56, from Jamaica, Queens, watches the important games from this vantage point. He believes in both baseball and value.
"If you don't have a free ticket, you can't beat this," he says. He showed up at 11:30 that morning to grab the choicest spot at the fence. "Not too many stadiums where you can get this kind of view. You can feel the atmosphere, hear the words and see 90 percent of the game?all infield."
In Upper Reserve 8 were a pair of Queens-born sisters, who've been going to Mets games since Polo Grounds days. Janet, a 50-year-old Harvard librarian, drove in from Boston that morning. How does the 1999 edition of postseason play differ from '86? "It's warmer today," she said, "and we're older." (She might also have remembered that pitcher Orel Hershiser?who'd sent the Mets to the showers in the 1988 NLCS and went on to win the Cy Young and MVP awards that year?is on their side now, and that Shea was blessedly free from cellphones 13 years ago.)
A Subway Series would be "incredible," she said, "And my tickets would be so much more valuable! I'm not thinking in money terms, but they really were expensive." True enough: Les Leon saved himself $30 each, even up here near the summit of Mt. Shea. NLCS passes are $50 each, and to gain entry to the Big Dance, believers will need to cough up $100.
Janet's younger sister Susan, a 43-year-old chemical distributor from Middle Village, had less pecuniary interests: "I'm accused of being too emotional, but I'd love to see a Subway Series," she said. "I'm regaled with stories of the 1956 series [the last intra-New York City series]," she added wistfully.
There was an instant, late Saturday afternoon, when even the most diehard Metropolitan fan suspended belief. That's when second-string catcher Todd Pratt, subbing for ailing Mike Piazza, jacked a ball deep into dead centerfield. Arizona Gold Glove outfielder Steve Finley jumped up at the fence to snatch the ball and for an agonizing three seconds, all 56,177 fans held their collective breath: if the ball went out, the Mets would win the game and the Division playoff series. If Finley catches the ball, the game would go to the 11th inning. For a seeming eternity, nobody believed that the Mets had actually won. Finley himself didn't seem to know what to believe. He had to look into his glove to see whether or not he had robbed Pratt of his run. It was one of those wonderful baseball moments: the entire season turns on whether Finley's glove is empty or full. As Mets fans and Finley would discover, the mitt was arid and empty as a Phoenix afternoon.