It’s not the Flashback Friday I was envisioning, but real-time events have caused me to adjust my rearview mirror.
“You know, there comes a day in every man’s life, and it’s a hard day, but there comes a day when he realizes he’s never going to play professional baseball.”
“You’re just having that day today?”
“Yes I am.”
—Josh and Donna, “Red Mass,” The West Wing
The continuing Major League Baseball careers of Roger Clemens (b. 8/4/1962) and Jamie Moyer (b. 11/18/1962) are all that stand between me (b. 12/31/1962) and certifiable, uncontested middle age. If they retire — or, in Clemens’ case, retire again — while Julio Franco (b. 8/23/1958) goes wanting on the Designated For Assignment market, then that’s it.
I’ll be older than every player in baseball.
How is that possible? I root for a team that, even deprived of the once-touted leadership skills of Julio Franco, is lousy with elder statesmen and senior citizens. Glavine’s old. Alomar’s old. Alou’s so old that they don’t let him out of the home. El Duque’s so old that nobody can accurately measure the rings around his trunk.
Almost all of the Mets are old. And I’m older than all of them. Everybody on the team I root for is younger than me. More than half of everybody on my team is no kid. So what the hell does that make me?
It’s not the first time, technically, that this has occurred. After John Franco (b. 9/17/1960) was at last denied further sinecure in Flushing, the 2005 Mets became the first such edition of my team to feature not a single player who started kindergarten before me. I didn’t notice then. I never noticed my age relevant to players’ ages until recently because how could they all be younger than me? When Julio Franco eased in for John Franco in 2006, signed for two years no less, I felt safe that I wouldn’t have to ask that.
But with Julio’s listless bat and tired blood presumably sent to Walgreen’s (you don’t have to go the pharmacy counter but you can’t stay here), I do.
We don’t have Moyer. We don’t have Clemens (which I by no means mind). Rickey Henderson, one hopes, won’t pull a Minnie Minoso and finagle a stunt callup. And Franco won’t be regaining his stroke in New Orleans. So that’s it where the Mets are concerned. The chances are excellent that I will never again root for a player whom I have any business asking for an autograph; wearing his replica jersey; collecting his baseball card; or generally idolizing.
I’m going to do all that stuff anyway. I’ve been doing it since I was 6. I’ve never stopped. It’s hard to imagine I would now just because it’s unseemly. Grown men don’t dwell on the actions of boys who are increasingly half their age. There are words for that sort of behavior.
I’m a fan. I’m a fan of a team and by extension each of its players. One departs, one arrives, I root for the one who arrives. This goes on a few decades and I age. I find myself, at 44 years, 6 months and 2 weeks rooting for 25 who arrived on the planet after I did. A few could be said to be my demographic (if not financial) peers. But those few will soon disappear, too. Those who will succeed them as the sages of the Mets will be those who are currently 22, 24, not much older. Their spaces will be taken by those who are now 17 or 12 or 7. And if all goes according to a long-established pattern, I will be asking those men of tomorrow for their autographs; wearing their replica jerseys; collecting their baseball cards; and generally idolizing them.
I get older. They stay the same age.
Furthermore, I will not be joining them in their pursuit of hits and outs. Oh, I never seriously entertained the slightest, not even the most fantastical notion I would ever be a baseball player. I was unathletic when I was a lad and I didn’t get any less so with the passing years. But I do probably a half-dozen times a week go into a batting stance. I stop once or twice a night to work out kinks in my windup. I tag up at the corner if I’m preparing to cross against the light. I can feel myself bunting a runner over. And I see myself in the outfield.
I was a terrible outfielder. Of all the positions I couldn’t play, outfield was the one at which I was supremely horrendous. Thirty-five years ago this month, I was stuck in centerfield by the misguided coach of a rec center team called — I kid you not — the Clowns. The other 9-year-old Clowns were blowing a huge lead in the last inning. I was just standing in center wishing the carnage stop lest my skills be called into action. Finally the third out approached our second baseman. I broke in to back him up. The ball broke over my head. The winning run scored. I can still hear one particular comment echoing over and over again because the Clown who said it said it over and over: Prince, you botched it up. And that was the nicest thing I heard.
So add to my scouting report of “terrible outfielder” the addendum “not popular outfielder”.
But I can see myself in left field at Shea. The me I see is 18. I’ve got my unruly hair sprouting every which way from under my blue cap. I’m wearing gold-rimmed glasses, my first pair only recently prescribed in my senior year of high school. My uniform is the Joe Torre era model with the blue and orange collar and cuffs, no buttons. I haven’t reinvented myself as taller or swifter or at all muscular. I’m just me, 18, standing in left. That and trotting home from third. It’s a day game. It’s cloudy. Lee Mazzilli and Doug Flynn are greeting me with high-fives. There’s a sparse crowd.
Yeah, it’s definitely 1981. I’m 18. Everybody in baseball is older than me for, I guess, the last time.
I won’t say that’s how I wish it was. But it’s pretty much how I always thought it would be.
Next Friday: The first card I remember and how the guy on it remains around.