Mike Mehan was nervous. Maybe he shouldn’t go to a Mets game alone and sit next to a complete stranger. Who does that? Probably not a short, pudgy, bespectacled introvert like him. Most certainly not a gay man from a small town in Upstate New York, who as a kid in locker rooms was called every insult in the book. What made the mission even more daunting was that Mehan would be sitting smack in the middle of a large, rowdy cult of superfans with long-established relationships and raucous, quirky customs that made heads turn from all corners of the Mets’ home base, Citi Field. These folks could easily cast an outsider like him aside like a cold, limp, half-eaten stadium hot dog.
The fan selling her spare ticket for that September 2015 night game against the New York Yankees was part of the 7 Line Army. A thousands-strong New York Mets fan collective, the 7 Line Army announces its presence in center field via powerful, choreographed cheers and by rocking identical Mets-orange jerseys, often with hilarious nicknames splayed across the back — a monochromatic sea sticking out in the Citi Field stands like an orange-flavored Kool-Aid man busting into a goth club (if those goths were unusually obsessed with America’s pastime). Mehan, a middle- and high-school math teacher who’s now 40, was growing into his own baseball fandom, and he had previously attended Mets games with colleagues and friends. He was intrigued by the 7 Line Army’s infectious vibrancy but skeptical about whether he’d fit into what he presumed was a total sports-bro scene. There was a reason he wasn’t still living in the small town where he’d grown up.
By that point in 2015, though, the Mets were marching toward the playoffs, and Mehan was caught up in the excitement of an uncharacteristically successful stretch for a franchise all too familiar with losing. In 60 years of play, the Mets have earned but two World Series championships, and in many seasons, they more closely resemble the bumbling 1962 inaugural squad that set something of a ne’er-do-well tone for the franchise. That team lost more games in a single season than any other ballclub in modern Major League Baseball history. Among the most famous tales of its ineptitude was the time that a Mets batter scampered to third base for what he thought was a triple, but an umpire called him out for not stepping on first base. When the Mets’ manager leapt out of the dugout to argue, the ump informed him that the player had missed second base, too. Ever since those Little League–level foibles, the Mets have rarely seemed to catch a break — in contrast to their 27-time-champion crosstown rival the Yankees, inarguably the most successful franchise in the history of baseball, and perhaps all of sports. It’s like if George Clooney’s next-door neighbor was George Costanza.
Still, Mets fans are a loyal bunch, prone to tailgating under a smog-filled highway and erupting in strange bouts of euphoria when a giant apple bobs up and down signaling a home run. And to be sure, 2015 was an exciting year. Attending the Mets-Yankees game with a rando that day was certainly putting himself out on a limb, but Mehan, facing a veritable full-count in life, decided to take a swing. Sure, he might strike out, but a base hit wasn’t out of the question. Then again, there’s always the additional possibility of getting beaned by a 100-mile-per-hour fastball.
Fast forward six and a half years, under bright skies at the Mets’ 2022 home opener. Mike Mehan — formerly shy Mike Mehan — is leading the entire 7 Line Army in a chant. He has one foot up on a seat in front of the Army’s section, while the other rests on a concrete barrier. Leaning toward the field, extending his right arm forward and wiggling his fingers, Mehan screams, “He-eeeeeeeeeeeeeee…” The white noise of a long “e” emitted by 900 Army soldiers behind him blocks out any other sound. Then, suddenly, 900 elbow joints fold on his command, chopping the air three times to a chorus of “Struck! Him! Out!” For added effect, the whole Army throws in a “Woo!” as they collectively windmill their arms backward. (Yes, they do this every single time a Mets pitcher strikes out a batter. As a lifelong Queens-native Mets fan myself, I have to say it never gets old.)
Clearly, Mehan has come a long way with the 7 Line Army, who’ve embraced him for exactly who he is. During that 2015 game against the Yanks — the Mets lost, 5-0, natch — he hit it off with Lee Weiss, the Twitter ticket seller, a now-46-year-old parole officer living in New Jersey, and a bit of an introvert herself. The two found each other easy to talk to, and before he knew it, Mehan was going to more games with the Army and even embarked on cross-country road-game trips with the group.
“It’s become such a family,” says Mehan. “We now plan and coordinate trips together; we’ll stay in hotel rooms together. These are complete strangers before the 7 Line.”
Living hours away from his hometown in the big, overwhelming city, like so many New York transplants, Mehan was in need of a chosen family. And he found it in the 7 Line Army.
Tearing up in a recent interview, Mehan goes so far as to say that the group “changed my life.”
He’s hardly alone in that sentiment. The Army, a diverse mix of white, Black, Asian and Latino fans, has been going strong for 13 years. Like any big, boisterous clan, there are occasional temper flare-ups, but its members have forged friendships so intimate that they’ve walked in each other’s wedding parties and attended funerals for departed relatives. They’ve yet to cheer their beloved Mets to a World Series title, but the group’s existence has led to countless connections, including quite a few love matches.
It all started when one depressed die-hard closed out a very typical New York Mets season by printing a snarky T-shirt.
The 2009 New York Mets season ended like so many others in the franchise’s history: with bitter disappointment. What made that year’s letdown particularly mournful was that it was the team’s first in its shiny new ballpark, Citi Field. The franchise and its fans had hoped for better results in their new $900 million digs. But their star players were starting to show their age, suffering injuries and performing below career norms. The cavernous dimensions of Citi Field were also blamed for an offensive power outage, as some of the Mets’ finest home run hitters struggled to put the ball in the seats. (Mets management has since pulled the fences in to help generate more home team offense.) Over time, the double smash burgers at the new stadium’s Shake Shack outpost garnered more attention than did the players on the field. Dejected fans left games early, more concerned with beating traffic than making it through another demoralizing ninth inning.
Fervently following a ballclub destined for a fourth-place finish in a division of five takes a toll on its fans. Queens native Darren Meenan was one Mets devotee who felt the pain of 2009, so much so that he printed a T-shirt to don at the team’s final home game. Scrawled across his chest that day: “I Survived.”
A number of fans, amused by the top, asked him where he’d bought it, which got his gears turning. Meenan had previously made and sold motocross shirts, and he decided to print tees for other Mets fans like himself — people who felt like they were in something of an emotionally abusive relationship with the team. He named his indie T-shirt startup in honor of the elevated train that Mets faithful ride to the ballpark: The 7 Line.
Three years later, the Mets were once again in fourth place. Meenan’s startup apparel company had grown enough that it was now his full-time job. An Inc. magazine feature on the business calls it “perhaps the most successful independent fan-run clothing company in pro sports,” in large part because Meenan eventually opened a sales stand inside Citi Field, “likely the only such company to ink an in-stadium deal with a major league.” Mets players have also frequently posed for social media pics in Meenan’s apparel, giving the brand additional exposure.
For the final home game of 2012, Meenan printed up a new tee. It read “Loyal to the Last Out,” and this time he wasn’t the only one sporting it at Citi Field.
A few months earlier he’d organized a get-together in the stadium’s group-rental Party City Deck. He bought 50 tickets and quickly resold them, some to members of the Citi Field Sheas, a small cadre of Mets fanatics who sometimes sat together in the upper deck. The party was a hit, so Meenan purchased 100 seats in the center field stands for that season’s final home game and resold them on his 7 Line website. He added a fee for a “Loyal to the Last Out” tee, and in a testament to Mets fans’ allegiance (or appetite for punishment), they sold out in two hours. So Meenan bought more. Ultimately, 560 Mets fans invaded the center field stands that day at Citi Field, all conspicuously wearing the same shirt for the last game of a pitiful season. The 7 Line Army was born.
Meenan organized a series of similar Citi Field events the following season, conjuring up cheeky new shirt designs for each. (One 7 Line shirt from that year featured a downtrodden Mets’ fan version of a skull and crossbones, the skull replaced by a baseball wearing a Mets hat.) He also bought out a section of the bleachers at the Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field for the Army’s first road trip. Since then, the 7 Line Army has taken over stadium sections across the country. Displaced Mets fans from Washington, D.C., to Anaheim, California, turn out for 7 Line Army road dates, and much of the Queens-based crew parties together on the road, too. This year the Army will officially get together 16 times, and plenty of them will attend dozens more contests with their close 7 Line friends.
The Army’s tailgate party before the home opener in April 2022 feels like a family reunion. In a Citi Field–adjacent parking lot under a gloomy freeway overpass, with the sprawling Rikers Island jail complex and LaGuardia Airport looming just across the bay, kids scoot around while adults shoot the shit next to knee-high coolers, packed with beers and hard seltzers, and tables of aluminum-encased catered food.
But this is not your typical cookout. There’s a grill, but not the charcoal-kettle type with a red cover that might be manned by your uncle wearing a Hawaiian shirt. At the 7 Line Army tailgate, there’s a huge gas-powered flat-top grill that would make more sense in the back of a restaurant than underneath an overpass. The chef wears a black bib apron and is cooking up made-to-order bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches on croissants. Your typical Bluetooth backyard speaker is replaced here by a full DJ booth blasting “New York Groove” and “Empire State of Mind” from dual event speakers on stands. There’s cornhole and line dancing on the blacktop. The ambiance is somewhere between a bar mitzvah and a frat party. Parked off to the side is the 7 Line truck, a converted food truck decked out in orange and blue, designed for apparel sales and storage of tailgate fixings.
Hundreds wear orange 7 Line Army jerseys; emblazoned across their backs are blue numbers and their names, or nicknames like “Cancel,” “Buzz,” “Barefoot,” “Luda” and “Loogy.” Meenan, 41, whose last name is printed on the back of his jersey, is tall and lanky with heavily inked skin (one arm tattoo depicts a 7 line train car), and he coasts through the pregame soirée schmoozing with his Army compatriots. Even though Meenan has become something of a Mets legend for founding the Army — he was also married on the Mets’ dugout and is just generally among the most famous Mets fans on the planet — in this setting he’s just one of the crowd. “The group is kind of its own thing,” Meenan says. “It’s not like it’s totally a marketing ploy to have people wear our stuff. … We really all just love the Mets.”
Chris “Luda” Edele, a 7 Line Army member who works for a private investigations agency, says that from pregame to post, a hangout here can last as long as 12 hours. “I spend more time with them than I do with some of my family members,” he says, grinning at the irony.
Mike Mehan, the once-reluctant 7 Line soldier, is here too. “This is like the first day of school for me, or Christmas Day,” he says. “We’re all excited kids.”
In his first few years with the Army, Mehan didn’t talk about his sexuality. “Growing up in a town that was pretty much 99 percent white Christian Republican, you get sort of used to holding back who you are because you’re afraid of getting judged,” he tells me.
Gradually he opened up, though, because he never felt threatened by the 7 Line crew. Male friends in the 7 Line Army tend to greet each other with what Mehan calls “the straight-guy hug,” with clasped hands acting as a buffer between their upper bodies when they embrace. But when they approach Mehan, some will wrap both their arms around him, bear-hug style, and give him a big fat kiss on the cheek.
“They’re all comfortable with their own sexuality and are trying to say, ‘Hey, you should be comfortable with yours,’” Mehan says. “We are inclusive of everybody.”
Technically, anyone can become a member of the 7 Line Army by simply attending a game with the group. You can buy a single-game ticket and, on game day at Citi Field, pick up your orange jersey (included with your purchase), which has replaced the one-off tees Meenan had to constantly conjure up in the past. The most committed members of the group, however, purchase a season-ticket package for access to all the Army games and receive a custom jersey with a name and number on the back. Between home and away games, enrollment can cost thousands of dollars.
In spite of Mike Mehan’s ease around the 7 Line Army these days, it takes some coaxing to bring him down from his own seat to section 142, row 1, seat 6. This is the chair where the Army’s point person traditionally leads the entire group in the strikeout chants. Mehan will do that twice today. But it’s not his turn yet.
As it happens, I’m sitting in that seat for Opening Day. The Army’s “General,” Andrew Indart, a 34-year-old supervisor with the city’s Department of Sanitation, typically takes up that space — and more. A jovial mass of a man who is popular among the throng, Indart has been in the Army since the very first outing in 2012. “I’ve been hooked on that energy ever since,” he tells me. He acquired his commander’s title because everyone in the Army’s sections can see that seat, where he has season tickets — and because he has the perfect magnetic personality to lead the strikeout chant.
The General is missing in action on Opening Day due to illness, and between interviews at the tailgate party I buy his ticket, not quite knowing what I’ve gotten myself into. My first experience sitting with the 7 Line Army is under way. At 43, I’m a lifelong Mets fan, but, like Mehan, I’m a bit leery of large groups. (There’s a reason I’m a writer.) But now, I’m feeling the pressure.
During the run-up to the first pitch, a few Army members tell me, “If you’re in the General’s seat that means you have to lead the strikeout chant.” Come game time, I’m too nervous, so I bestow the honor onto Tara Rincon, a 37-year-old assignment editor for a Long Island cable news station, who sits with her husband, Richie, behind the General. Rincon’s tiny, so when Mets pitcher Chris Bassitt strikes out the first Arizona Diamondback of the game, she stands extra tall with both feet on the concrete barrier underneath her. This gives her some added inches and helps the mob see her, although it also increases the probability of a 15-foot fall over the wall. The Army’s got her back, though, literally, as members support her with outstretched arms. All parties agree that she performs admirably, getting the length of the long “e” at the top of the chant just right.
Observing that the chants are heavily scrutinized, I anxiously ask people around me how long the “e” is supposed to be sounded out. The best they can come up with is “it’s a feel thing.” So, as the accidental “General” for a day, I humbly (and to my great relief) make an executive decision: Chant-leading duties will be carried out by a rotating cast of characters. I’ll take my crack after a few others have gone. I’ve already watched one Army member repeatedly toss peanut shells, without warning or reason, across the front aisle at his friend’s face, and don’t want to bear the brunt of any criticism from this unforgiving band.
Anthony Buzzeo, a fit and friendly Army member whose jersey back reads “Buzz,” leads a solid strikeout chant, and as we chat afterward, I ask if he’s ever witnessed arguments or fistfights in the group. “There were a couple jerks at one point in the early days, but they eventually stopped showing up,” Buzzeo says. “The Army has no appetite for that. It’s not tolerated. Nobody’s gonna indulge them.”
Small skirmishes, when they do pop off, are squashed by peacekeepers in the vicinity. “The least drunk person steps in to separate people,” Indart tells me.
The most colorful tale of conflict is told by Richie Rincon, husband to Tara and the owner of a logistics company. Richie is from Flushing, Queens, home of the Mets, and of Colombian descent. On Opening Day in 2017, when Atlanta Braves pitcher and Colombia native Julio Teherán battled the Mets, Richie unfurled a Colombian flag in the 7 Line section, showing support for the enemy player.
“Country over club has been my motto,” he tells me. “Every time Julio got somebody out or struck somebody out, I’m waving the flag.”
The yellow, blue and red–striped flag clashed with the orange Army jerseys as much as Richie clashed with his Army brothers and sisters that day.
“I’m getting, like, dirty looks from everybody,” he says. “Nobody was on my side.”
At one point, General Indart turned around and said, “Dude, you’re gonna get killed.” Darren Meenan visited from his front-row seat one section over and asked Richie, “What are you doing, bro?” Even Richie’s biological family gave him the business. His brother scolded him, “You’re being ridiculous,” and Tara’s father, a retired principal with a shipshape physique, shouted “Sit down!” from a few rows back.
“It was a civil war,” recalls Tara, who was about seven months pregnant at the time. “That was rough for me.”
And now, after much delay, it’s my turn to stand in front of these drunk, fun-loving fools. Bassitt works a two-strike count to a hitter. Shouts of “Twooo!” from the Army signal fellow soldiers to get up and prepare to chant. Not only am I nervous, I’m also not the fleetest of foot. The idea of hopping on a foldout seat, then stretching one leg across a three-foot walk space onto a concrete barrier and initiating the chant all in an instant is giving me chills. I think to myself, “I’m sober, so that’ll help?”
Strike three. Up I go.
After dispensing the “Woo!” my exhilaration gives way to nervousness. I ask people around me how I did. A couple say the chant I led was good, although a bearded dude a couple seats down from me says the “eeeee” was “a little quick.” I take his note and make an adjustment the second time up.
A couple innings later, Mike Mehan finally takes his turn. We hear “Twooo!” and he shuffles down the aisle to the front row, before chopping the air with the most intensity of any strikeout-chant leader that day.
The General, Andrew Indart, met his wife, Amanda, through the 7 Line Army. They got to know each other during a six-hour bus trip back from D.C. after the Mets’ season opener against the Nationals in April 2015. The Mets won, 3-1. Several hours later, at the end of the long evening ride home, however, it looked like Andrew had lost — at least at first.
“It was such a long day; we were up till, like, 5 a.m.,” says Amanda, a small brunette with a thick New York accent who works in children’s fashion. She and Andrew talked the entire ride back. “We didn’t shut up for a second and everyone wanted to kill us because everyone wanted to sleep.”
As the bus pulled into Citi Field’s parking lot, daylight threatening the darkness, it was time for Andrew to pop the question. “I remember saying, ‘Hey, do you maybe want to do something outside of all this?’” Andrew recounts. “She says, ‘Yeah — maybe.’ And I swear to God you can hear my buddies in the back go, ‘Oof.’”
Amanda says she meant it “optimistically,” trying to keep it casual. To Andrew, “It didn’t come across like that.” But the pair continued to get to know each other and soon became a couple. In 2018, during an Army road outing to Arizona, Andrew proposed to Amanda in front of the Grand Canyon. Army members were there to cheer them on and snap photos; many were also in attendance at their wedding last year.
“I think we had more Mets friends than family at our wedding, honestly,” says Amanda.
Richie and Tara Rincon also met through the Army in April 2015; their romance sparked in the wake of a heartbreaking Mets World Series loss to the Kansas City Royals that October. The Rincons say Army members made up the biggest subgroup of guests at their 2019 wedding in Mexico. They now have a 4-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter who, according to Tara, “already says ‘Let’s go Mets’ and pumps her fist whenever she sees the logo.”
But the Army couple that faced the longest odds has to be Tricia and Keith Blacknick.
They first connected on Tinder in September 2013. Keith had been at the Army’s first-ever outing the year prior and had sat in center field with the Army throughout its inaugural full season. He was close with 7 Line founder Darren Meenan, and he’d even cofounded a Mets fan festival called the Queens Baseball Convention.
Tricia, however, was a Yankees fan. This, to put it mildly, was a major f’ing catastrophe. The Hatfields and the McCoys, the Montagues and Capulets, the Capitol Hill insurrectionists and, er, anyone who isn’t Trump, they’ve all got nothing on this blood feud.
So, if ever there were a shred of hope for world peace, it emanates from somewhere within this trailblazing pair who put their rooting differences aside and let their romance blossom — albeit with some hostage-style negotiating. After they’d been dating for a while, Tricia began attending Mets games with Keith and the Army. While she wouldn’t disrespect them so much as to wear Yankees apparel, at first she refused to wear gear that said “Mets” on it either. But when Meenan began distributing the orange Army jerseys for everyone to wear, Tricia was backed into a corner. For love, she finally went to a Mets game with an Army jersey on.
“Let me tell you, the whole game they were like, ‘Oh my God, Tricia’s wearing a Mets shirt,’” she says. “I had become the center of attention!”
But she still refused to switch sides and proclaim herself a Mets fan. That would only happen, she told the Army, when Keith put a ring on her finger.
Opening Day 2016, Keith invited Tricia and another Army couple over to his apartment for a pregame party. After they arrived, Keith cued up what he said was an Opening Day hype video he’d made for his Mets blog, on his TV. But after a couple minutes, Keith appeared on the screen and asked Tricia to marry him. She turned around and saw Keith down on a knee holding up a ring.
After Tricia said “yes,” their buddies, who were videotaping the affair, were quick to ask the next burning question: Would she finally defect from the dark side and become a Mets fan? She made that official, too.
Rebecca Carr also met her fiancé through the 7 Line Army, but she’d initially gotten hooked on the Mets as a kid attending games with her grandfather, whom she called “Boppy.” Boppy published the East Rockaway Lynbrook Observer with his wife, Jean. The newspaper covered parts of Long Island, and Boppy frequently brought his granddaughter to Mets games when the team gave him free press tickets.
After those early games with her grandpa, Carr would forever bleed orange and blue. Even when she lived in Virginia for a time after her parents divorced, she attended nearby Mets minor league team games. And when she lived and worked in Albany, New York, for eight years, she’d ride Greyhound buses to the Big Apple for Mets games, one of which was the first-ever 7 Line Army outing in September 2012. She’s since gotten to know a bevy of Army members — “a couple hundred, probably” know her by first name, according to her count.
Carr does not have a relationship with her father, but Boppy always remained an integral part of her life. When he passed away, the Rincons and other Army members attended his wake. “They knew how important he was to me,” Carr says. Boppy had once jokingly told Carr he didn’t want to attend Army outings because, at his age, he didn’t want to “slow her down” — but, she says, “he knew what the group was about, and he thought it was really cool.”
Now 39, Carr works in human resources for the city of Tampa, Florida, where she lives with her fiancé, whom she met during an Army trip south to Mets spring training. When they marry next year, Carr says that they expect 300 guests, a list that’s ballooned in large part due to Army friends.
One person among them will be particularly welcome: Evan Wynn (section 140, row 1, seat 4), better known in the group as “Barefoot,” who has become a father figure to Carr.
Wynn, a buzz-cutted, 56-year-old cool-cucumber of a guy, spent much of his youth living in the New York area, and he now drives down to Citi Field for Army games all the way from Baltic, Connecticut, more than two hours away.
At the Opening Day Army tailgate this year, Wynn’s wearing mirrored shades with plastic orange-and-blue frames and a 7 Line T-shirt featuring the Mr. Met mascot and the words “Mets Fans Have More Fun.” His top is complemented by argyle shorts in white, orange and blue. On his feet? Not a thing.
Wynn walks barefoot everywhere he can, but he insists “it’s not a gimmick; it’s just how I prefer to live.” Some years ago, he says he battled plantar fasciitis and read an article about world-class runners from Africa who have a long history of running barefoot with few foot problems.
The science on this has since been thrown into question, but Wynn says going foot-commando has worked wonders for him and his discomfort, even as he traipses across treacherous New York City sidewalks and streets — and, as it turns out, the beer-splattered bleachers of Citi Field.
During one Opening Day game, Wynn says a security guard told him that someone from the security office had radioed the officers to tell them “there’s some crackpot” walking around the stadium with no shoes on. The security guard, who had come to know the Army and Barefoot himself well, radioed back, “That’s our crackpot; he’s fine.”
In January 2011, Wynn’s wife, Dana, passed away from cervical cancer. He was in mourning for the better part of a year. Then, hoping he’d relish a return to social interactions, Wynn’s daughter texted him and asked if the two of them could take a trip to Florida for Mets’ spring training in 2012.
“I think my response, literally, was ‘Fuck yeah,’” says Wynn. Down in Florida that year, he met Darren Meenan and other Mets fans who’d soon become core members of the 7 Line Army.
“It came at the perfect time,” Wynn says of the trip, “when I wanted to be out doing things again.” And when it spawned these deep friendships, Wynn says “it absolutely helped me along in my grieving–slash–moving back into the world — and has continued to do so for sure.”
He got to know Rebecca Carr during the Army’s 2013 trip to Chicago. “Evan and I were both at a crossroads around that time,” says Carr. “Dana had passed away,” Carr continues. “I got out of a long-term, kind of toxic relationship, so I was restarting my life.”
As she attended more and more Mets games, Carr says Wynn and the rest of the Army helped her regain her sense of identity. The Mets were her team, and cheering them on, like she did with Boppy way back when, was what made her happy.
She and Wynn have since grown so close that, in the absence of her father, Wynn will walk Carr down the aisle at her wedding next year — shoeless, of course.
“I have other father figures, like my uncle or my best friend’s dad, who would be willing to walk me down the aisle,” she says, “but Evan has been a part of this journey the longest.”
Not all Mets fans are in love with the 7 Line Army. Some lament that the group acts as though it’s “better than other fans.” Mets legend Lenny Dykstra, three-time All-Star and member of the World Champion ’86 Mets, recently tweeted:
Is Darren Meenan aka The 7 Line “Army” sooooo-loud me-me-me fandom overcompensating for something small that he’s embarrassed about? What do you all think?
Another user replied to Dykstra’s remark with, “OG Met fans hate these tools.”
“People are always going to hate something that has hype around it,” says Tara Rincon. “It’s kind of funny that people try and make it a negative thing. There’s just no good reason behind that. We’re all just in it for the Mets.”
“I think it’s just jealousy,” her husband, Richie, adds.
The Army’s loyalty is on full display the second time I sit with them this year, a rainy Saturday night in May for a home date with the Seattle Mariners. The game is delayed more than an hour, it drizzles on and off throughout, and the pace of play is so slow it feels as though a snuggle of sloths are in uniform, as opposed to professional athletes.
Still, the Army brings the thunder, helping to energize the rest of the Mets fans in Citi Field. At one point, I look over at Andrew “the General” Indart — who woke up at 3 a.m. for work — and see him dozing off. His eyes slowly close, then quickly reopen after his head bobs back in sleep. But a few minutes later, some yells of “Twooo!” stir him up. At strike three, Indart’s face brightens like a light switch has been flicked. It’s after 10 o’clock, but he flashes a big, open-mouthed smile before he chop-chop-chop-windmills his way back into his seat.
The many fans who stick around at the stadium are rewarded with late-game heroics from backup catcher Patrick Mazeika, who pounds an unlikely homer to give the Mets a victory. Despite the late start and the rain, Mets beat reporter Anthony DiComo calls the atmosphere at Citi Field “electric.” When the 7 Line Army brings that kind of energy into whatever stadium the Mets are playing in, it only helps the ballclub.
“They’re right there behind me and so I can hear them throughout the game,” says Mets center fielder Brandon Nimmo. “I love their strikeout chant and their constant support for us.” Nimmo recalls two Mets road games when he hit home runs and heard the roar of the Army. “They went wild,” Nimmo says. “It’s a really, really special group and I’m glad they’re on our side.”
There’s at least one Army member the Mets can count on during road trips wherever they venture: Kevin Haaz. A Mexican- and Puerto Rican-American raised in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Haaz, 45, has lived in Southern California for 20 years, but he’s always maintained his Mets fandom, even while working in the Los Angeles Angels stadium as an usher for the past five years.
“It has basically financed my trips for the 7 Line,” Haaz says of the part-time gig.
In 2016, Haaz caught up with the Army in nearby San Diego for a road date with the Padres. It was the largest Army road outing ever, and prior to the clash, 1,400 Army members marched through downtown San Diego from a local bar to Petco Park, stopping traffic along the way. Haaz was part of the spur-of-the-moment street takeover. He thought to himself, “If I never get to experience a World Series parade, this is my parade.”
Haaz has since befriended Meenan and other Army members. He attended this year’s Army outing inside the very stadium where he works, when the Mets visited the Angels in June, and he was back in New York when the Mets took on the Yankees at Citi Field in July. Haaz says that the group has given him a reason to fulfill a more realistic iteration of a dream he had growing up as a kid in Brooklyn. Back then, he hoped to one day play shortstop for the Mets. He’s since downgraded that ambition to simply paying a visit to every Major League ballpark — and thanks in part to the 7 Line outings, Haaz has knocked seven of them off the list. With the Army scheduling several road dates a year, he still hopes to visit all of the remaining 23.
Matt Stassi, a Mets fan living in San Diego, jokingly told his friends at that same Army pregame in 2016 that he would get a tattoo of Mets pitcher Bartolo Colón if he hit a home run that season. Thinking that he wouldn’t was a pretty safe bet. For most of Colón’s career prior to becoming a Met, he’d pitched in the American League, where pitchers don’t hit. The 285-pound 42-year-old with the nickname “Big Sexy” was decidedly out of practice as a batter. And Colón’s first two seasons with the Mets had been chock full of embarrassing turns at the plate. In one of his first, he struck out on swings so hard that his helmet repeatedly fell off. He heard the crowd’s chuckles and decided to give them a show, from then on wearing a helmet one size bigger so it’d flip off his head anytime he took a mighty cut. In 120 at-bats across his first two Mets seasons, he struck out 57 times, generating a lot of laughs. So, when Stassi’s friends told Darren Meenan at the bar about the bet, they all laughed off the prospect that he’d ever actually have to get the tattoo.
Then a couple hours later, Colón stepped up to the plate with a runner on second base, and took a swing that would land him in the record books: the oldest player to hit his first Major League home run — a shocking and now-legendary story that earned its own chapter in Colón’s autobiography, which I co-wrote. In the book, Colón gave the Army a special acknowledgement for their presence at the field, taking in their cheers as he rounded the bases.
The Mets television play-by-play announcer bellowed, “The impossible has happened!” and Meenan looked around the Army’s section to spot Stassi. He saw all his friends around him pointing and laughing. Meenan says it was the funniest thing he’s ever experienced in the history of the 7 Line Army.
A couple days later, Stassi emerged from a tattoo parlor with an image of Colón’s puffed-up face and off-kilter helmet inked into his upper right arm for eternity. At the bottom of the artwork reads the date of the home run; at the top, “The 7 Line Army.”
On Opening Day this year, I ask Chris “Luda” Edele (of section 141, row 1, seat 9) why a team like the Mets would have such a devout and communal fan group. “Is it ironically due to the team’s lack of success?” I ask.
“Without a doubt,” Edele says. “Especially in the beginning, because we knew we were going to see a bad team, and we were doing it of our own volition, 20 times a year.” Commiserating with other Mets fans, Edele says, served to create a stronger bond between them.
Those connections can have a positive impact on an individual’s mental health. According to research from the recently published book Fans: How Watching Sports Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Understanding, sports fans experience higher self-esteem, fewer bouts of depression, less alienation and lower levels of loneliness. They’re also prone to having a larger number of friends, higher levels of trust in other people, as well as less tension, confusion and anger. Sounds about right. (See: Mike Mehan, Barefoot, or any number of the other 7 Line soldiers.) With the sport’s long season, baseball fans — even Mets fans — should arguably be the healthiest. Edele says there aren’t as many “casual” fans in baseball, compared with other sports: “I mean, to watch 162 games a year, that’s … that’s dedication.”
Tricia Blacknick, the Yankees fan turned Army acolyte, says that in her experience Mets fans are a more knowledgeable, dedicated bunch than those who follow the Bronx Bombers. “Hands down,” she says (cue #YankeesTwitter!). “I truly believe that there are no other fans like Mets fans.” That’s in large part, she says, because of the Mets’ struggles through the years. “And they admit to it,” Blacknick adds. “They’ll tell you: ‘Our team’s not good, but we’re going to keep rooting for them.’”
But wait! This year there’s a plot twist.
After starting the season with back-to-back road series victories, the Mets won their home opener, sealing the victory in the eighth inning with consecutive home runs from shortstop Francisco Lindor and outfielder Starling Marte. The Army’s center field stands were bedlam. Members jumped and high-fived while I felt the group’s roar penetrate my chest and vibrate my bones. The Mets have held first place ever since, not falling from their perch atop the division for a single day. Still, it’s hard for Mets fans to feel comfortable or confident in their team, even in a season like this. More than one Army member I’ve spoken to said they’re definitely “waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
I talk to Mike Mehan, the once hesitant 7 Line Army member, about this year’s team, and what it might mean to see them make a championship run — or ultimately lose yet again. He recalls the end of the 2016 season, when the Mets had a solid year and hosted a win-or-go-home playoff game in October against the San Francisco Giants. It was a tightly contested affair that the Mets lost after a ninth-inning, three-run homer off the bat of Conor Gillaspie, a mere part-time Giants player who’d only hit 33 long balls in eight big league seasons.
The Army was there, in their regular center field spot, Mike Mehan among them in his orange jersey like everyone else. It was his first playoff game with the group, at the end of his first year as an Army season-ticket holder, a season in which he’d befriended dozens of members, at games, in bars, on train rides home, and on road trips out of the city.
“These people became my friends and my family,” Mehan says, again growing emotional, the spaces between his words widening. “It was so gut-wrenching to know that this was our last official time seeing each other until April.”
Turned out they wouldn’t be apart for quite that long though.
“Never mind!” he says. “We had Christmas parties to go to, we had the Queens Baseball Convention, and then we had spring training, and just other gatherings that were happening. I keep thinking about those memories, so during the season it helps me feel like, ‘OK, if the Mets do poorly, we still feel connected. We’re good. Let’s go have a beer.’”
Postscript – October 2022
For many Mets fans, including this writer, the 2022 season may go down as the sporting gods’ best troll job against them in some time. This year’s Mets team was perhaps the finest to take the field since the franchise’s last World Series championship in 1986. They won more regular season games than any other blue-and-orange squad since then. With the Mets playing so well, their fans went against type and bought in. There was hope this year.
The Mets needed just one more victory in the final stretch of September and October — against the defending champion Atlanta Braves, the lowly Chicago Cubs, any team on their schedule — to secure a National League East division title and a first-round bye in the playoffs. Instead, they settled for second place and hosted a best-of-three Wild Card playoff series, at home against the San Diego Padres. They played tight, under pressure in front of tense crowds that included the loyal-to-the-last-out 7 Line Army. Two excruciating blowout losses later, their season was over.
My dad, a Yankees fan, sympathetically texted me when the Mets were eliminated, using that familiar refrain which dates back to the Brooklyn Dodgers’ string of defeats against the Yankees in World Series past:
“Wait till next year.”