You do a lot of strange things as a sports fan without giving it a second thought. You do even stranger things as a sports fan when you're superstitious. I am a superstitious sports fan.
Two years ago when the New York Rangers lost to the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Final I was sort of a mess. To be fair it was the first time I had experienced that type of disappointment as a sports fan -- you know, the kind where you can see the top of the mountain only to have a rock slip beneath you and leave you back at the bottom. There is no cure for that type of fall.
So two years ago when the Kansas City Royals started doing their best Rangers impression and shocking people in the playoffs and making a run to the World Series I started watching them. I never watch baseball. I didn't watch a single full game of baseball this entire year (I watched eight innings of Game 4 and then fell asleep) and that's not going to change. I didn't even watch a full game when I was watching the Royals two years ago. But hell, they looked like the Rangers and I rooted for them from afar. Maybe if they won they would change the balance somehow over the fence in my sport and help the Rangers win next year. It was stupid. The entire thing was stupid. They lost. I even wrote a story about it that I never published. Life moves on.
You all know what happened to the Rangers last year. They embarked on their "change the ending" quest, came a win away from getting their second shot at the Stanley Cup and ultimately didn't change the ending. It was much easier to see the light at the end of the tunnel in 2014, but last year's loss hit much harder. The realization of how hard it was just to get back to the Eastern Conference Final was jarring, and it really does make you see how much you should appreciate the run in spite of the disappointment of not winning. It also scares the living crap out of you, because it is so hard and you never know if you'll get another shot.
Fast forward a year later. The Rangers are just kicking off their campaign to get over the hump again this year. I realized the MLB Playoffs was happening when the Cubs started winning and grabbing all the headlines. I sort of involved myself from there. When the Royals made it back to the World Series I was happy for them, because they had a chance to actually change the ending like the Rangers had last year. I remembered seeing all their fans deliriously happy in 2014 and it reminded me of how I felt. Good for them. I hope they do it.
Then the Mets made it to the World Series, too. Now -- gun to my head -- I'm a Yankees fan. I will watch the Yankees in the playoffs. During the 2004 lockout I really got into the Yankees to fill the void. Then it dissipated like smoke after a fire when the Rangers came back. But I am not one of those Yankees fans (I really shouldn't even call myself a fan) who hates the Mets. I like the Mets. I like New York.
I still started off rooted for the Royals this year. Whatever. I wanted to see them finish the job because the Rangers couldn't. Show me that it can happen and give me more hope. It makes sense, even if it only makes sense to me.
Then something happened. I was at Madison Square Garden on Friday to see the Rangers best the Maple Leafs (I also had the greatest tweet of my existence, I think, here). The Garden was sort of empty -- presumably for all the people who wanted to watch the Mets -- but every now and again pockets would explode against the grain of what was happening on the ice. Then a few minutes later they would show a highlight from the Mets game. It was David Wright's home run; a long, looping ball into the stands that you knew was gone the moment he hit it. And then they panned to the crowd at Citi Field and there was a man with his father hugging. And it reminded me of me with my dad during the Stanley Cup Final.
And then I remembered something else: New York is better when their teams are winning. There's nothing like being in New York when a team is marching to their respective championship. Everyone is taking about it. You're getting texts from people you haven't spoken to in forever about it. There are signs of the team everywhere, on the back page of the papers, online, on the subway, in the streets. People are happier. The city resonates with the team and everyone sort of comes together in a way you just don't get anywhere else. With a city as large as New York it really is an incredible feeling. I don't know how else to describe it.
So I changed my allegiance. I wanted to see the Mets win. Do it for New York. Change that ending.
They didn't. The Mets lost. The Royals did what the Rangers couldn't do last year and the parallels continue. Now the Mets are what the Rangers were after they lost to the Kings. Their focus turns to changing their ending. The Royals and their fans are at the top of the mountain and good for them. They earned it. From my limited knowledge of baseball they were a machine this year.
If you wonder why, of late, I've had a more urgent tone to my writing it's because you just don't know how many cracks you're going to get at the Stanley Cup. Losing last year was another opportunity gone, and who knows when this window will close. And once it does close it's so friggin' hard to get it back open. Every little mistake compounds on itself and in a sport where you already need things to break your way just to have a shot anyway, shooting yourself in the foot is a horrible decision. The Rangers are moving in the right direction now, I think, but I can't help but think about last year and shutter. Was that the last shot? Will there be another?
I don't know the answer. That's why we watch. It's also why we get so happy or so depressed when things break one way or another. You just don't know. You buy a lottery ticket and you wait.
To those of you here who are true Rangers and Mets fans my heart goes out to you. I have no idea how tough this might be for you. But much like last year and the year before for the Rangers, I really hope you enjoyed the ride. Don't become jaded. I know you can't appreciate anything today, and it might take a long time for this wound to heal enough for you to take a look at it, but know that being a sports fan is worth it. I think.
It was worth it for the Royals fans who kept their heads up last year. And I bet last night was even sweeter because of it.
I hope to taste that champagne soon enough myself.