Saturday, April 10, 2010

C’mon, team, sometimes it is whether you win or lose

Elena handed me the phone, anticipating the look she was about to see on my face. “It’s Eric,” she said, “from the Mets.”

Ever since I first bought four tickets online to a Met game, several years ago, Eric has been calling once a year. A call from Eric, soon after opening day, has become as much a part of spring as the rains, the first dandelions and the mosquitoes. But until now, the answering machine had always done its duty by taking the call.

Eric didn’t hear what he wanted to hear in answer to his question, that I was ready, able and willing to spend up to $29,950 for a season ticket . Or at least a multi-game pack. He couldn’t even be sure, in fact, that I was going to attend a game at Citi Field this year at all. What kind of Met fan, he likely wondered, was I?

It’s a fair question, and a familiar one. Probably before Eric was born, I was rooting for the Mets. I grew up down the long block from Shea along Roosevelt Avenue, the one that crossed Flushing Creek, fetid in the stretch where it made a few last bends before Flushing Bay and LaGuardia Airport. Our building was close enough for us to hear the cheers from every good play, let alone the Beatles, The Who and other bands that performed at Shea. Without me, my Mom might never have gotten to watch the Mets on TV. “Turn the antenna left—no, right—now back—a little more. Now stand right there—don’t let go!” I remember my Mom’s grin as she’d say that last part.

I paid attention from their first World Series win in 1969. I went a few times a year with my next-door friend Anton or best-friend Jack with tickets we’d get from saving milk-carton coupons. I kept track through my mid-teen years, after which I seldom watched other than the play. (Fishing and girls took precedence, in that order.) The exception was during the 1986 World Series—a year after I married my girl—when the Mets’ Mookie Wilson shot a grounder through Red Sock Bill Buckner’s legs.

If all my fandom dated back to the ‛80s, I wouldn’t be having this discussion with myself. I’ve better topics if I were going to do that. But once the kids got old enough to care about baseball, Elena’s suppressed Yankee roots also resurfaced. And all three of them began accusing me of not being a fan: What kind of Met fan are you? So…I got back into the game for, oh, about as many years as I did in the ‛70s. I can’t blame fishing or romance this time. But I could blame my team. It's what Met fans, after all, do best.

This is the team whose fans, during the opening-day pre-game ceremony, booed the trainers. Its best players spend much of every season on the disabled list, and even if I studied the roster closely every day, invariably some player would come up to pitch or bat and I’d say, “Who the heck is this?” Donna, a colleague of mine down the hall, gave an analogy that went something like this: Imagine spending hundreds for your family to go to a Broadway play, only to learn that understudies were in the top roles. And for a role or two, they had nobody. (I suppose they went to the nearest restaurant and snatched up the first waiter they saw.) And she has a weekend season ticket.

Gian, with whom I work, takes a bleaker view of the sport in a recent Facebook post. “It all ended in 1993, with the Worst Team Money Could Buy.” He then describes the Mets as mostly “a kind of bizarro simulacrum of a once-proud franchise, kind of like the Knicks.” I don’t know about the Knicks. I don’t know about 1993 other that it was when my son, Andrew, came into this world. And I will never, ever know how to pronounce or use “simulacrum.”

What I do know, at least, is that I’m some kind of fan of David, Jose, Carlos and the gang. If I’m thinking of baseball at all, I’m wondering about how they did. And no matter who’s on the team, who gets traded (and however idiotically), who should get fired but doesn’t, I’m a fan. I never could play the game well, but plenty of people do. And when the game is going well—never mind that they’re coddled millionaires on HGH—it’s a joy to watch.

That “if” about thinking of baseball? Sure, It’s a mighty big if. I suppose I could have responded to Eric’s question about buying season tickets with an offer of my own, considering my team’s already under-.500 record. I could even have conjured up a good New Yawk accent worthy of the Mets’ Brooklyn Dodgers roots: “What’s it woith t’ya?”


  1. Wow, Ed! Thanks for quoting clarify a bit, the Bizarro concept in the Superman comics referred to beings that were hit with an energy beam that created an anti-matter being that acted the opposite of the original subject. In 1993, the Mets traded for or signed Samuel, Coleman, Saberhagen, Bonilla and other players whose skill set and social skills were diametrically opposed to the Mets' earlier history of mostly mediocre players who managed to excel in pressure situations. Sure, there were exceptions before like Seaver (consistently great) and Strawberry (inconsistently so), but it mostly was a team that played good fundamental baseball and made most of what talent they had.
    There was a respite in 1999 with Olerud, Piazza and Manny Mota (a right-fielder who could hustle on a play enough to throw out a runner headed for third -- what a concept!) but they're gone now and this team now doesn't have anything approaching the ol' Met magic, nor are they (or any team) worth the price of tickets now. Better to go watch a Little League game for better fundamentals and desire.

  2. As a long-suffering Met fan, and one of your fellow milk carton coupon-cutting friends, I'm on the same page as you about our team. Great Bell! BTW, it's ONLY $29,950... maybe there's a milk carton somewhere with a discount coupon...

  3. come over to the dark side in philly where the phans dont boo the trainers lol

  4. Hey Gian, no need to clarify. I vaguely remember all those names but not that they were traded away--or under what circumstances. Yes, lots of disappointments. And I know what "bizaro" means! Thanks much for the reply.

  5. Jack, I knew you could commiserate! A lot of milk went down in those days. What I suspect is that how the Mets do is all a reminder that really are more important things in life. But that's mostly true when they're losing--which they usually are.

  6. CFwB, CFwB, if you only knew how savagely the native Philadelphia (not just Philly) fans treat any and all players, managers, etc. that disappoint them. You think Met fans are mean? At least we don't throw things when we're mad.

  7. I could truly relate to the part about holding the antenna just so--our old Zenith needed that coddling too. Other than that, baseball's not my thang. But this was a lot of fun to read, Ed!

  8. Thank you, Dez! It's especially welcome coming from no-thang of a baseball fan. And not being any kind of sports writer, I had to work a little harder on this one!