The year was 2007. I was old.
I didn’t think I required confirmation of that biological fact, 44 residing securely as it does in what is commonly described as middle age, but I seemed to have received a reminder last night. Nothing creaked, at least not more than usual. And nobody said anything, but as sure as Joe Foy flopped at third base 37 years ago, I sure could tell.
Joe Foy? He was the Met acquired for Amos Otis in 1970.
Amos Otis? That’s the unproven outfielder we sent to Kansas City to get Foy. He became the Royals’ first big star, emerging ahead of George Brett.
George Brett? Oh come on. Surely you remember George Brett. He only retired…what is it now?…my goodness, that was 1993, 14 years ago.
In 1970, 14 years ago was 1956. Thirty-seven years ago was 1933. And almost every year I’ve ever lived in, save for maybe the last five, is likely the Mesozoic Era if you’re the type who haunts trendy/ironic nightspots in relatively obscure locales on frigid Wednesday nights in late winter and thinks nothing of it.
Let me not let observation get ahead of good manners. I want to thank Carl Bialik of Gelf Magazine for inviting Jason and me to be part of an excellent program of Varsity Letters last night. I want to thank the several to many patrons who came up to us before and after we spoke for telling us such nice things about Faith and Fear. I want to thank the other sports bloggers who manned the podium for excellent and entertaining presentations for which it was my pleasure to be an audience member. Mostly, I want to thank the throngs of Dugout acolytes for patiently waiting through our words to get to their main event of the evening (Dugout is amusing online, but an absolute revelation when the three guys explain it and act it out right in front of you).
Yes, I enjoyed it immensely, even if the charms of the Happy Ending Lounge — VL’s venue of record and a swell place to get your drink and interpersonal transaction on if you’re of a hookup mindset — escape me and my 44-year-old sense of hanging out. I’m a couch guy. I like TV. About the time Carl brought Jason and me to the microphone, I imagine I would have been sunken comfortably into my couch in front of my TV watching M*A*S*H.
M*A*S*H? You know, the all-time great sitcom that ran from 1972 to…now cut that out! You know what M*A*S*H is. Don’t you? Its overblown finale had the highest ratings ever. Why, it just aired at the end of February.
February 1983. I remember it like it was last week. Twenty-four years ago last week.
Carl instructed each blog/site to take 10 minutes to read or talk or whatever we wanted. That meant Jason and I each had five minutes of our own. If you’ve read Faith and Fear, you know five minutes is what I call the preamble, at least for anything that I’d go to the trouble of printing out and packing on the 6:11 to Penn Station in order to make it to Happy Ending by 8:00. After reviewing the last two years of posts, I decided to smush together a compendium of salient anecdotes from Flashback Friday, the original version from our rookie season, all of which are available under “A Year to Remember” toward the bottom of our sidebar. I wouldn’t have time to take the audience through my 35 years of personal and baseball revelations in full (Carl would need to book the joint until its closing time of 4 AM), but I figured a nice sample would do the trick. We could all relate to growing up as fans of a team and remaining fans of that team; we could all smile about childhood and adulthood being linked by the experience of sport; we could all endure me, then Jason to make room for Dugout ten minutes hence.
Here were the first words I read aloud, just as I posted them on August 19, 2005:
The year was 1970. I was 7 years old.
No sooner had those two sentences escaped my lips when it dawned on me that there were probably close to a hundred souls crammed into Happy Ending and not one of them besides me could have had a clear and tangible memory of 1970. They couldn’t have. Look at them — they’re so young!
I think they were. How the hell would I know? As much as I like to track my own chronology, I’m terrible at judging the rings around other people’s trees. These are the ages of man (and woman) as far as I can tell:
• Really old: I mean really old
• My contemporaries: Everybody who’s not really old
• Kids: Everybody who’s not really old but I can’t carry on any kind of conversation with them
All those 40ish Mets do seem older than me, but they’re not (save for one notable exception who could presumably kick my ass without spilling a single egg white). So I’ve got a handful of years on Tom Glavine and Moises Alou and Sandy Alomar, Jr. I must. I was already past the prospect stage when they were just coming up. They couldn’t have passed me, right? But they’re not old. They’re ballplayers. Ballplayers have dates of birth on the backs of their baseball cards but for the most part, they’re ballplayer age. When I was a kid, they looked really old. Now, from Fernando Martinez to Julio Franco, they’re my contemporaries. More talented, more agile, more valuable on the open market, but we’re all adults here.
It’s just that some of us were entering adulthood while others were just getting themselves born.
I went on about the wonders of being 7 in 1970, about how somewhere in the back of my mind I’m experiencing every aspect of being a baseball fan for the first time all over again when I watch the Mets today. I believe that sort of almost unconscious manner of thinking is a universal sensation if you love watching sports, but at Happy Ending, I kept thinking, even as I continued to read aloud, that there was another universal sensation: that everybody listening to me, all of whom looked more comfortable in this setting than I felt, heard I was 7 in 1970, did the math as it applies to 2007 and concluded “wow, that guy is old.”
I wouldn’t argue. When I was in the early throes of my legal drinking eligibility and spending time as a matter of course in the Happy Endings of my youth (there weren’t a lot, but there were a few), if some dude started reminiscing about what it was like 37 years ago, I would have made the same calculations. Me invoking 1970 for these mostly, I’m guessing, twentysomethings would have been the mathematical equivalent of me in 1987 being subject to ramblings regarding the Whiz Kids of 1950 (they do predate me, but I have read about them).
My payoff story for the 1970 Flashback is the June night my sister challenged me to pull a wishbone from her fried chicken. I made my wish, I pulled, I won and less than 24 hours later I received what I asked for. My wish — the “first time I can remember subjugating all other concerns to concentrate on the Mets’ well-being” — was that we would sweep the Cubs the next afternoon. It came true. The score was 8-3. Jerry Koosman, I noted, defeated Ken Holtzman.
Jerry Koosman? Jerry Koosman the slick southpaw from Appleton, Minnesota? Jerry Koosman who has that neat Sporting News card in the 1970 Topps set? Jerry Koosman, No. 36? Jerry Koosman, rushed by Jerry Grote to his south and Ed Charles to his west the previous October? Jerry Koosman who I can still see going out there after Seaver and before Gentry if he’s not on the DL?
That’s my Jerry Koosman, the only one there’s ever been. For just about everybody else in the room, though — if they were Mets-savvy to begin with — Jerry Koosman wasn’t any of that. He was a dusty relic from the history books. He was to them what Robin Roberts or Lefty Grove or George Washington would have been to me. He was some ancient name thrown out by somebody obviously much older than I was.
And Ken Holtzman? Who’s that? A dermatologist from Cedarhurst?
1970′s Flashback morphed into 1980′s, then 1990′s, then 2000′s (I opted to skip the “5″ years lest the audience age any more than five minutes). I peppered in a few more ballplayer names, almost all of them Van Lingle Mungo to the Happy Ending generation. Then I morphed into my own happy ending, the autobiographical point that I suppose informs my blogging. It seemed like the appropriate grace note:
All I ever wanted to do was be was a Mets fan. And that I got good at.
It was fun, but I felt old when it was over. What was a middle-aged man like me doing in a hip place like this?
I left for the D train uptown. As I walked down the platform, a guy who was apparently at Varsity Letters stopped me. “Hey, you’re from Faith and Fear in Flushing, right?” Yes, I said. He said he was new to reading blogs and such, but he liked what he’d seen and heard from us. I thanked him very much. Then he asked me what I thought of our chances this year.
For the next maybe 15 minutes, we talked Mets baseball. We talked about the Phillies posing a threat. We talked about the rotation and who might be in it. We talked about our great start last year and whether we could get another one. We talked about how bad Shawn Green has looked so far. We talked about what he or Moises Alou might be in for if they come home with a low batting average on April 9. We talked about Billy Wagner undermining our confidence far too often. We talked about Game Seven. We talked about John Franco and Armando Benitez and Brian Jordan. We jumped back and forth among Mets past, Mets present and Mets immediate future until this fellow got off at Fourth Street.
“Thanks for letting me chew your ear off,” I said as he left.
Seriously, that was great. It reminded what I was doing at place like Happy Ending on a frigid Wednesday night at the tail end of my 45th winter not four weeks from my 39th baseball season. I love to talk about the Mets. I’d go to Chinatown to talk about the Mets with another Mets fan. I might go to China if that were my only option. Fortunately this medium here makes such a trip unnecessary, but I think I kind of mean it.
The year was 1970. The year is 2007. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if I saw what you didn’t or you see what I don’t. We’re all in this together and I love that. And I love, regardless of dueling birth certificates, that baseball is so utterly timeless. It’s the biggest cliché in a game chock full of them, but it’s so true. Yeah, 1970 did just happen in my mind. It’s still happening. The last game I lived, Game Seven, is still happening. Steve Henderson’s walkoff home run off Allen Ripley in 1980 is still happening. It’s all always going on. I have a gift of sorts for separating out the details of what occurred when they occurred, but for big-picture purposes, there are no discrete seasons when it comes to me and the Mets. It’s a big, beautiful never-ending continuum for me. It’s somewhere I’d gladly abandon my couch and my TV and my M*A*S*H reruns for and take the LIRR and the D to in order to rediscover that feeling any 18-degree night of the week.