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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Family Tradition

The Barry family’s Christmas gathering has a religious component, an exchange of gifts, and an annual discussion built around this rhetorical question: what kind of benevolent God allowed us to become Mets, Jets and Islanders fans?

The younger generation, such as our three sons, aged 6 to 14, are starting to get a sense of the heartache which awaits them. Indeed, they can name with little prodding the underperforming free agents and disappointing draft picks who remain on the active rosters for all three teams.

It will take them many years, however, to appreciate fully how long it has been since the Mets, Jets, or Islanders last won the World Series (1986), Super Bowl (1969), or Stanley Cup (1983).

Mets fans received bad news this month when the Texas Rangers’ star pitcher, Cliff Lee, signed a five-year contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, even though Lee’s decision was widely reported as a blow to the New York Yankees, who wanted Lee to join the Yankees. The problem for the Mets: the Phillies are in the Mets’ division so they’ll have to face Lee on a regular basis whereas the Yankees will not. There is hope on the horizon, however, with the arrival of new Mets manager Terry Collins and general manager Sandy Alderson. Collins and Alderson are in their early 60s, and have a chance to write a nice final chapter to their respective baseball careers.

The Jets are well-positioned to make the playoffs this year, and advanced to the AFC championship game last season. And I’m always reminded of the positive impact head coach Rex Ryan has had on the Jets’ image nationwide when friends of mine come to New York from other cities and rave about Ryan’s performance on HBO’s Hard Knocks program this summer. Still, Coach Ryan’s repeated insistence on using the words ‘Jets’ and ‘Super Bowl’ in the same sentence before this season got underway generated unreasonable expectations. You’d never know from hearing Ryan talk that the Jets last played in the Super Bowl almost 42 years ago.

Islanders fans realized the team would struggle in the early going of the 2010-2011 campaign when pre-season injuries sidelined indefinitely All-Star defenseman Mark Streit and forward Kyle Okposo, one of the Islanders’ rising stars. But few could have imagined when the season began that a 10-game losing streak would cost head coach Scott Gordon his job, or that the team would be so deeply buried in last place in the Atlantic Division. We went to the Islanders-Columbus Blue Jackets game last month at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum and it reminded me of being at Mets games in the late 1970s: a half-empty arena, with only a handful of fans expecting a win (the Islanders lost that night, in overtime).

I shared with my sons one Mets anecdote from that era. Pitcher Pat Zachry angrily came off the field one day, and tried to kick a batting helmet that was sitting on the ground. He missed, striking the dugout steps instead. The result: Zachry broke a bone in his foot and missed the rest of the season.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net