We’re a little too into sports in this country, I think we gotta throttle back. Know what I mean? People come home from these games, “We won! We won!” No, they won — you watched. — Jerry Seinfeld
It’s one of the rules of being an adult: You realize that you’re not, in fact, a member of your favorite team. You will never throw a perfect inning, line a double off the wall or even stand in the batter’s box quivering while three barely glimpsed fastballs roar across the plate. You watch the team, you root for the team, you analyze the team’s strengths and weaknesses, but you know you are a fan, not a player. And so, above all else, you do not say “we.” You say “they.” Or you invite ridicule.
Well, you know what?
There are two kinds of people who don’t say “we” — people who are passionate fans of a given team and people who aren’t. There are billions of people in the latter group. Many of them are decent, intelligent folk. I’ve got dozens of friends who fit into that category. I love some of them dearly. But I don’t give a good goddamn what they think about this issue, or anything else related to sports.
That leaves the first group — passionate fans who nonetheless turn up their nose at “we.” And they’re the ones I don’t understand.
I wonder, fantasize, exult and worry about the fortunes of the New York Mets 365 days a year — 366 every four years. And for six months of the year they are the focus of, at minimum, approximately a quarter of the hours I’m awake. My co-blogger is no different. (In fact, double those numbers for him.) Nor are many of the folks who comment here.
While I’m the same me year after year, shifts in hair and waistline notwithstanding, the New York Mets barely hold still. They come and go in a blur: So far, there have been 799 of them to 1 of me. They come up young and leave old, are revealed as heroes and heels, succeed and fail and do OK, get drafted and signed and called up and hurt and benched and traded and released and reacquired, the names above the numbers changing as the seasons tick by faster and faster. The team has been and will be managed by different men, coached by different men, put together by different men (and even a few women), even owned by different men and women. The only true constant? It’s us. People who look up from some chore in the middle of the winter and realize they’ve spent the last hour fuming about why Timo wasn’t running, or why Yogi didn’t start George Stone, or what in hell Kenny Rogers was doing. Who ride the subway to work fantasizing about the World Series ending on a David Wright walk-off, or an above-the-fence grab by Carlos Gomez, or a no-hitter for Philip Humber. Who find themselves walking down the street grinning like a fool at the memory of the Grand Slam single, or Pratt hitting it over the fence, or Ray Knight grabbing his helmet in disbelief as home plate looms.
We go to the games. We spend the money. We wear the gear. We read the articles, the books and even a crazy, wordy blog or two. We cheer and boo and do mock Tomahawk chops and call the FAN and sing “Jose Jose Jose Jose.” We don’t play or make out the starting lineup or acquire players, that’s true. But so what? We do everything else. We are the custodians of tradition and the tellers of tales, the ones whose job it is to explain to children and new arrivals and casual fans and interested bystanders what the Mets are like and what Met fans are like. We’ll never be in the Baseball Encyclopedia. But who’s meant more to the New York Mets? One of us — or, say, Dave Liddell? (We are the ones who remember Dave Liddell.)
And above all else, we give a big chunk of our hearts to a ever-shifting assemblage of rich young men to do with as they will. The cruel irony of sports is that we let our happiness and perhaps even our sanity depend on the outcome of an activity that we are, realistically, powerless to affect. Perhaps that’s why some fans insist on this symbolic display of standing apart — perhaps that’s their refuge from letting their days and nights be wrecked by something as ultimately small as a “tough loss,” or as cosmically inconsequential as calf pain for a Cuban man of undetermined age.
But if you’ve come this far, stop kidding yourself. It’s a big thing, giving a piece of yourself over to something larger than yourself. It’s an even bigger thing to give that loyalty to something that’s out of your control, that you can only be witness to. But if you’re reading this and aren’t a casual passer-by, you’ve already done that, right? In the eyes of casual fans and non-fans, you’re already a lunatic. It’s too late to change now, even if you could.
On this blog we use that forbidden pronoun. And we use it proudly. Tomorrow, “we” will describe thousands upon thousands baying in the stands and watching in terror and joy on their couches and standing with the radio pressed to an ear and muttering about calves and rotator cuffs and MRIs — and it will also describe the 25 guys in orange and blue at the center of all that attention. “They”? That doesn’t describe David Wright and Jose Reyes and John Maine. It describes everybody else.
I’m sure glad we’re not them.