NLCS: A Boy's Strange Journey to Manhood

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I've loved the National Pastime since I was a little kid. So, it's kind of fun as I ponder how much joy and sadness the game of baseball has brought me in life. Right now I'm on a great stretch as the Mets just defeated the Dodgers to setup a NLCS matchup with the Cubs. A relatively unlikely matchup at season's commencement, but one that makes a lot of sense, when you realize just how loaded with exceptional youth both squads are. Breaking down the series isn't what I'm here to do. What I've got for you is an odd journey through life to a series that I simply cannot wait to watch.

Yankee Pankee
When I was really young, we are talking the late '70s and the early part of the '80s, I was a New York Yankees fan. I went to a ton of games at the Stadium and enjoyed plenty of 'Reggie' candy bars; loved the commercials for Yankee Franks with Luis Tiant and those Joe DiMaggio Mr. Coffee spots. I recall writing a book report about Ron Guidry, crying when Thurman Munson died, and thrilling to Don Mattingly's amazing 1984 season. And, I even got interviewed by the local access station during baseball camp, and when they asked who my favorite player was, I replied, "Don Mattingly, because he's a great first baseman." Times change quickly when you're nine, and my answer to that question was about to undergo a drastic alteration.

Cubs are the Club
That same summer, a guy named Ryne Sandberg was tearing up the NL on his way to the MVP award and helping the Cubs to their first playoff birth in eons. Again, being nine years old, I latched onto that bandwagon. There was another motive I told my mother, I didn't want to get between my grandfathers, one being a Mets fan and the other going for the Yanks. So, I solved that issue by diving in and staying a diehard fan of the Cubbies.

Back then, I could only watch the Cubs when they played the Mets, Phillies, Braves or the Game of the Week on Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately, that only amounted to a couple dozen games a year, but I also read box scores each morning, caught Sportscenter highlights, and ran to the TV to catch scores on the old station Headline News which ran updates twice an hour. Anyone remember Jerome Jurenovich's insanely speedy score recaps? During Sandberg's 40-homer season in 1990, I recorded nearly everyone of his dingers either from highlights or the actual games. That existence was a far cry from the ease of keeping up with your team in the modern era.

After Ryne Sandberg retired for a second time in 1997, I just didn't care much about the Cubs. My favorite players were all gone and I barely ever could watch them on TV. That highlight-show fan existence just didn't meet my standards for sporting engagement any longer. Now, I wasn't going to turn back to the Yankees, especially after they'd just won a World Series, plus I genuinely enjoyed the National League game more. So, where to?

Amazingly it's the Mets
Having been a catcher growing up, I latched onto all the best ones even if they weren't on my team. Mike Piazza was tearing up the league for several years, and suddenly he was a Met! That was all I needed to shift allegiances once again. It was an odd feeling at first to root for the Mets but, after close to twenty years, they are my team. The first years were a lot of fun as the team was a regular contender, and 2006 was great, but almost every other season has been a pretty down year...that is until 2015. Everything came together in the second half, and that feeling of what's going to happen next has kept me up late at night marveling at my ball club.

A lot of people can't understand my changing tastes over the years, but it brings me such a different perspective on the game. After all, Yankee Legends like Joe D., Yogi, the Mick, and Thurman Munson are amongst my favorites. Then, you get to the '80s and last names like Sutcliffe, Moreland, Grace, Durham, and Andre Dawson are the people that populate my baseball memories. Over the past two decades it's all about Ventura, Hampton, Wright, Reyes, Santana, Dickey, Cespedes, Harvey, and deGrom.

The most difficult part of the switch is I see the endless highlights of the 1986 championship a lot differently than most Mets fans. I mean, seriously, the teams around that time kicked the crap out is the Cubs for several seasons. I'm a bit of a weirdo with some crazy mixed up hats and jerseys dancing through my dreams.

One thing I know, I'm done switching teams at this stage of my life. That said, as the Dodgers looked like they were going to knock out the Mets, I felt extra dismay. I was so excited to see the team of my youth face off against the Mets. When Daniel Murphy stole an unguarded third base in the fourth then homered in the sixth my hopes rose. As Noah "Thor" Syndergaard and Jeurys Familia blew away the Dodgers in the late innings it all sank in. The matchup nobody expected, EVER, Mets vs. Cubs for the right to play in the World Series.

Equally wild is that these Mets went through Don Mattingly's Dodgers in the playoffs, crushed Ryne Sandberg's Phils in the early half of the season, before he stepped down as manager in May. Oh, and waiting in the wings, potentially, is RA Dickey who was my favorite Met until he got traded. A trade with the Blue Jays that brought us key contributors the Mighty Thor and Travis d'Arnaud. If the Mets get past the Cubs and played the Jays next, well, nearly every one of my favorite players over my lifetime would have featured into this stunning season.

There's no doubt in my mind that I'm 100% behind the Mets, but if they lose I would gladly root for the Cubs to get rid of the goat that's been dragging them down for more than a century. In the end, here's hoping those guys from the South Side have to wait one more year while the Mets bring it home. In the end, his has probably been the most fun season of baseball in my life. I'll be at game one watching with childlike wonder. I cannot wait!