Dana Brand told a fib. But we’ll forgive him.
Up front in Mets Fan, Dana says he has written a book “for fans of the New York Mets, and for baseball fans everywhere.”
It’s a benign half-truth. This is a book for us. It’s a book for Mets fans. It’s a book we deserve. It’s a book we will absorb through our pores. Baseball fans everywhere who aren’t Mets fans? They can go read something else.
I’m not trying to undercut Dana’s book sales (which are reportedly and deservedly brisk). I hope he sells one apiece to Braves fans and Nationals fans and Royals fans and all fans. He certainly touches on themes universal in nature to anybody who cares — really cares — about baseball. But a few pages in, he begins to speak in the secret language understood only by us. Braves fans and Nationals fans and Royals fans will scratch their heads at the dozens of arcane-to-them yet plain-as-day-to-us references.
And that’s fine. If fans of Not The Mets need a translator, that’s their problem. This is our book. It’s about time we got one like this.
Though Dana and I have exchanged an e-mail or two and a couple of comments on each other’s blogs (he started his between last October’s LDS and LCS to help promote his to-be-published work), he’s not somebody I’ve gotten to know on any personal level…until now. I’ve gotten to know him as a Mets fan through reading Mets Fan. I’ve gotten to know myself a scooch, too. Dana’s a fantastic mirror for his core audience. It’s not so much that the author is one of us. He is all of us and he’s gone to the trouble of articulating it in a book.
The legend of Dana Brand, if you’re not familiar with him, began about two years ago when he wrote an essay that appeared in Newsday. He pushed a fairly novel notion for 2005: that there are Mets fans and we care and we have a history and we like ourselves just fine. The Hofstra professor’s take was so well-received, he followed it up with a series of essays that became Mets Fan.
We are well off for it. Dana has combined memoir with history and given us a rich tour of the lifetime of a franchise. He was 7 when the first season began and he has never not been a Mets fan as long as there have been Mets. One of the things I really appreciate about his book is the demystification he applies the early years. As much fun as the Original Mets were to have around, losing 100+ per annum wasn’t fun. Ed Kranepool wasn’t promising, he was just Ed Kranepool — “the older Kranepool was the same as the younger Kranepool” is one of his many Amazin’ lines. But Dana Brand bought into it right away. He was hooked for life (even if, as he rightly concludes, “Eddie didn’t happen. But he didn’t exactly not happen either.”) He was rewarded with 1969 and a handful of similarly great seasons. He has endured the soggy filling between pennants with good humor. If he wanted a dynasty, he knew where to find one. He didn’t. Like the rest of us, he wanted the Mets.
Dana moves in and out of the history portions to indulge in the personal. His life may not have been exactly our lives (he lucked into a trip to Tom Seaver’s house in the early ’80s and studied under Bart Giamatti), but it’s close enough. You will recognize yourself in Dana. I recognized myself in his words. We have lived parallel existences even though he had a head start. For example, he relishes the way Mets fans end letters and e-mails and conversations with “Let’s [or Lets] Go Mets!” I do that. Just about everybody I know does that. He says everybody he knows does that. Who knew we all did that?
You’ll get a lot of that sensation with Dana Brand. It will feel good. Baseball may foster a spirit of community, especially online, but really we root alone more than we root with anyone else. We replay games and seasons for at least a portion of each of our waking hours when nobody else is around or nobody nearby knows what we’re thinking. It’s nice to have it confirmed that somebody else out there is doing it, too.
Mets Fan goes for a level of subject-inclusiveness that few Mets books, even the good ones, go for. The effort is appreciated, though now and then I think Dana dug for material where there wasn’t that much on which to dwell (the fandom of Jerry Seinfeld, for example, or the minutiae of the local radio talk show scene). His salute to 2006 is a little eerie, as if the Mets are frozen in time there, forever leading the East by a dozen games (we wish). But better more than less. Dana’s not an anthropologist. He writes for us by us. Have I said something like that three or four times already? It’s just so true.
One of the ways I judge the effectiveness of a Mets book is how few mistakes make it into print. Most of Mets Fan is solid in this regard. Dana moved Darryl Strawberry’s debut from May to July and collided Cameron with Floyd instead of Beltran, but that’s forgivable in the big picture of heart and soul that he delivers for almost 200 pages. The one niggling annoyance — and I’m betting an underinformed editor was overinvolved on this count — is the strange spellings several Met icons come in for. Tommy Agee, Don Clendenon, John Matlack, Bobbie Ojeda, Bobbie Bonilla, Greg Jefferies and the truly offensive Edgardo Alfonso never played for the Mets. I wish publisher McFarland had been more careful. Dana’s work was too meticulous and too genuine to be marred by such sloppiness. A Mets fan notices these things.
Now that I’ve made certain to find fleeting fault here and there so I can’t be accused of just rolling over for a blolleague who gave us a nice shoutout on page 185, I can otherwise overwhelmingly recommend Mets Fan.
Have you ever watched a big game with your family? And then another big more than a decade later and realized how much had changed yet how much had remained the same? This book is for you.
Have you looked at Shea, shaken your head, yet defended it to its impending death? This book is for you.
Have you rolled your eyes to the point of Excedrin Headache No. 9 from listening to dopey politicians intrude on your baseball or your fellow fans booing your own players? This book is for you.
Have you given more thought to Mr. Met and the Home Run Apple and Cow-Bell Man than you ever imagined you could? This book is for you.
This isn’t unchallenging stuff either, by the way. It’s not “hey, we’re Mets fans, we’re kooky” shallow. Dana Brand is an authentic Mets fan and an authentic wordsmith. Save for a dissonant tic toward the adjective “stupid” (though, admittedly, so many obstacles to Met happiness can be just that), Dana strings together beautiful phrases like Mail Vail did singles during his hitting streak. 1969 represented “the bursting of all boundaries”; 1986′s characters did not blandly “blend into a mass of big chests and broad smiles”; Bobby Valentine “approached managing as if it were a combination of rocket science and performance art”; and, because he’d like to see another boundary burst, “I don’t know if Rusty is gay, but I’d like to think he is.”
His wife’s in there, his daughter’s in there, his parents are in there, his career is in there and, most importantly, the Mets are in there. Dana Brand has put it all in Mets Fan. You’ll want to get in there, too.
You can order Mets Fan through Dana Brand’s site. He says it might take a little longer than he’d like before supply catches up with demand, but be patient. This book is worth the wait. In fact, you’ll probably enjoy it a little more if it shows up unexpectedly in your mailbox once the season turns to winter.