A faithful Mets fan in enemy territory dares to cheer

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Only once did I ever worry for my safety as a Mets fan in Philadelphia.

It was the day of the Phillies' 2008 World Series parade. Oblivious to the citywide party kicking off outside my front door, I wore, as I always did, my Mets ski cap on my way to work.

Across the street, a big guy in Phillies gear with a woman on each arm spotted me. I'll never forget the look on his face - shock, turned to horror, turned to fury.

He left the girls behind, sprinted through traffic to cross the street, and pointed his finger in my face.

The story ends here, because I can't tell you what he said in a family newspaper.

By then I had been alone in the desert of Philadelphia sports fandom for half a decade. I grew up in Brooklyn and Queens, a child of the Bad Boys '86 Mets.

When they clinched it that year, my mother drove my brother and me through the crowds on Flatbush Avenue, where we trailed toilet paper from the windows and fans poured out from the bars to ride perched on top of our car.

I didn't even hate the Phillies. How could you not love the '93 Phils? The night Joe Carter hit that awful home run, my friends and I were watching, huddled in Timmy Ambery's living room on Oceanside Avenue. I was just as gutted as if it were a Mets loss.

When I moved here in 2002, though I knew the Phillies could never be my team, I could enjoy them on my own terms. Day games in the nosebleeds section at the Vet with a stack of newspapers to read and a spiked soda bottle. Summer nights with Harry Kalas' voice as the soundtrack.

And then there was Pat Burrell, who once introduced me to a group of women at a bar as a relief pitcher fresh up from the minors.

Thanks, Pat.

But then the Phillies got good. And you guys got mean. Well, meaner.

My wife, who is sweet and kind and at the time didn't know much about baseball, once wore a Mets jersey to brunch at the Bishop's Collar in Fairmount to show solidarity with me. It wasn't all the back-and-forth shouting in the streets on the walk there that got to her - but when the bartender jokingly refused to serve her a drink she just asked, in sad confusion, "Why?"

My buddy Joe from the Northeast likes to brag about the time he poured a full beer down from the 300 level onto the head of a Mets fan for merely existing.

"Obnoxious scum," Joe says of us. "With their terrible accents."

Ok, Joe.

So I got meaner, too.

When we heard the roar of the crowd from our bedroom window the night the Phillies won the series in 2008, I slammed the window shut. The next year, I rooted for the Yankees.

I knew this season would be special for the Mets. So I made a point of watching every game I could, usually with the wife - who knows a little more about baseball now - and dog nodding off in the late innings.

I sought solace with a few other lonely Mets fans at work. I watched the playoffs with my buddy Nick, a Blue Jays fan. Two expatriates in a foreign land. But then the Jays lost, and I am alone in the desert again.

I turned, as so many do, to the Internet for companionship.

And that's where I found Mets Fans of Philly. It's a group of local Mets fans who meet up at Philly bars to watch games and celebrate and grieve together on social media.

"We live in enemy territory," reads the Twitter bio of @phillymetsfans. "But we won't back down."

Maybe that's a little tough talk.

When I talked with the group's founder Thursday, she had one request: She wanted to remain anonymous.

"I'd like to avoid the hate mail," the 24-year-old South Jersey native now living in Philly told me.

Baby steps.

For the first meet-up two weeks ago, 10 fans showed up at the Fox & Hound. Two dozen fans decked out in blue and orange showed up for the next one. They'll be at the Fox & Hound for Game 5 Sunday.

They have been avoiding weekend games, when the bars are more crowded - and more rowdy. So far no one has been hurt.

"I think the power numbers help," she said, with a nervous laugh.

I am writing on deadline. By the time you read this column, folks, this series could be just about done - with the Mets on the verge of defeat. Or, God willing, they'll be in the midst of a historic comeback.

Either way, it's almost over.

We the few, the beleaguered, the faithful still, the lonely among you, will enjoy this.

Let's Go, Mets!

mnewall@phillynews.com

215-854-2759@MikeNewall