Greatest Mets Twenty through Eleven, coming very soon, were ten good reasons to root for the Mets. But since you went deep Monday, I thought I’d reach back for the first ten reasons I became who I became.
1) Peanuts was the most popular thing going. Circa 1968, my sister, eleven then, had a bunch of Peanuts books which I, five then, began reading. Charlie Brown was always playing baseball. Peanuts was a normal thing to like, ergo baseball must have been a normal thing to like.
2) As a child, I sensed I was on the outside looking in. If baseball was as normal and popular as it seemed to be as portrayed through the pen and ink of Charles Schultz, then I wanted to get it on it.
3) Susan — it became Suzan in the Seventies — also had a respectable collection of 1967 and 1968 baseball cards. I inherited them pretty quickly given that she had absolutely no interest in baseball. I asked her many years later, hey, what were you doing with all those cards? She was, for one of the few times in her life, going along with the crowd. The other girls bought them because they were, for their purposes, pictures of boys. I distinctly recall one of the cards was a 1967 Joe Torre. Hardly a Shermanesque (Bobby) pin-up, but Susan briefly burned for the Atlanta catcher. All of her ’68s were low numbers, meaning she must’ve given up on conforming before sixth grade was out, or simply opted to devote her spare change to Archie Comics.
(Aside: The ’67 Torre was lost in 1974 in the one and only “if you don’t clean up your room, I’m throwing out your baseball cards” threat my mother ever made good on. Not all my cards went, but there were arbitrary victims, including that Torre. When I let on that I was still carrying a grudge about it as an adult, she swore to me that she allowed them to linger in the basement for a week or two, assuming I’d have the good sense to sneak them back upstairs. I never did that because I assumed I’d just get in bigger trouble. When I went to my first card show in a generation in December 1999, I asked a dealer to see a ’67 Torre. It was maybe four bucks. But now that Joe Torre was Joe Torre, I felt I had to explain to the man that this had nothing to do with his current job or exalted status. Of course the dealer couldn’t have cared less, but I couldn’t bring myself to contribute to Torre’s beatification, so I passed.)
4) Susan had a few Mets cards to which I gravitated more than I did any of her others, including Bob Clemente and Carl Yastrzemski. I demonstrated my fealty to Ed Kranepool by drawing a mustache and beard on him while he knelt in the on-deck circle. This was New York and what little I did know about sports included that you root for the team from where you’re from. (There were a couple of ’67 Yankees in there — Ruben Amaro, Tom Tresh — but they could’ve been from Pittsburgh for all I cared.)
5) My first memories of the Mets as a baseball team and not just a word comes from somewhere in the summer of ’69 when the talk of the Sands Beach Club and Day Camp in Lido centered on the moon landing and the Mets. My father would bring home the Post, then a responsible afternoon paper. The back page featured a running cartoon depicting the adventures of a mean ol’ bear and a lovable duckling duking it out for something called First Place. Every night I would check to see if the duckling was giving it to the bear. As summer progressed, it would be the Cubs’ bear ducking the Mets.
6) In September, I started following the standings in Newsday very closely. As a six-year-old, I was considered the family math prodigy, so the W, L, Pct. and GB columns mesmerized me. New York’s Pct. and Chicago’s GB both grew bigger at the same time. Having just begun first grade with a pencil box that featured a map of the United States, however, I was confused on the matter of Washington being in the American League East since Seattle was in Washington and Washington was way out west, which is where Seattle was in the American League. By 1972, the respective placements of the Senators and the Pilots would be moot.
7) The first specific game I can recall was September 24, 1969, the Mets playing the Cardinals with a chance to win the Eastern Division. It was Susan’s friend Iris who relayed word over the phone that Donn Clendenon had just hit his second homer of the night to put us up 6-0. Neither television was available to me; Susan watched Chad Everett and Medical Center Wednesday nights on the portable Sony while my parents just had to see Kraft Music Hall in their bedroom. It was Iris and the radio for me. While I grasped the significance of this victory for the Miracle Mets as the papers insisted on calling them for some reason, I was mystified as to why, after a summer of chasing and passing the Cubs, we had to beat the Cardinals to win the division. Later, after learning that St. Louis had won the pennant in 1968, I puzzled it out: First you had to outlast the team in front of you, then you had to defeat the team that had won the year before. In 1970, I made up a song about it, which even if you buy me more beers than I’ve drunk in the eleven years we’ve known each other, there’s no chance in hell you’ll ever hear.
8) Watching Game One of the playoffs against the Braves on the first Saturday in October, I had a revelation that I breathlessly reported to my parents. I can tell the game is in Atlanta, see, because when the Braves do something good, the people there cheer. They don’t do that for the Mets. I was told I had nailed it.
9) A week later, my sister and I were in the car with my father, heading to the recently opened Times Square Stores (TSS) in Oceanside. My dad put the first game of the World Series on the radio, and the first Baltimore batter, Don Buford, hit a home run off of Tom Seaver. I was instantly distressed but he told me don’t worry, the Mets can still come back. They didn’t that day but it was nice to know they could.
10) The following Thursday, my father took off from work to bring me to an eye doctor in Brooklyn. My family hadn’t lived in Brooklyn since before I was born but all our doctors were still there. I fidgeted and fussed over having eye drops poured into me. I clenched my eyes tight until I was told that if I didn’t cooperate, I wouldn’t be allowed to watch the World Series that afternoon. I opened wide and took my drops like a Met (after all, somebody did me the favor of making this appointment on this particular school day, so this was no time to pull a tantrum). I was indeed dropped off at home in time for the game. My main impression of the action was Ron Swoboda hit a home run. He didn’t. He doubled to drive in a run and later scored himself. I hadn’t yet delineated between home runs and runs — they were all home runs to me. Regardless, the Mets went on to win and become world champions. Dad, who had emerged from Penn Station just as the final out was made and reported there were celebrations everywhere, brought home the Post that night to confirm it. They ran one final duckling cartoon, except now the duckling was a glorious swan. The next morning, Scott Gerber’s mother gave us and another kid from down the block, Jeffrey Kohn, a ride to school. I asked them if they knew that the Mets had won the World Series. Yes, they did. The Mets had won the World Series. I knew it was special. I knew it wouldn’t happen every year. I knew I’d be back for more. And I never, ever left.