Welcome to Flashback Friday: I Saw The Decade End, a milestone-anniversary salute to the New York Mets of 1969, 1979, 1989 and 1999. Each week, we immerse ourselves in or at least touch upon something that transpired within the Metsian realm 40, 30, 20 or 10 years ago. Amazin’ or not, here it comes.
All my life I’ve been a wanderer
I mostly lived near my parents’ home
—Paul Simon, “Darling Lorraine”
A while back, a couple of years ago now, I received an e-mail from my kindergarten teacher. Maybe second-graders can say that and not raise an eyebrow, but seeing as how I haven’t been a kindergartener for a very long time, count me as astonished when it happened.
I shouldn’t have been. It’s the world we live in.
People find you when you mention their name on a blog. I learned that once the first season we did this when I related some modestly amusing anecdote about the first Yankees fan I ever got to know (and all that implied). I heard from the guy less than two days later. Still a Yankees fan (and all that implies).
We go through life not necessarily wanting to remain enmeshed with whom were thrown in by fate as we grew, matured and moved on — besides, that’s what Facebook is for. Nothing against the guy from the anecdote, per se. It was just strange…as strange as it was, probably, for him to be reading his name in my blog. Fair enough.
But your kindergarten teacher? Kindergarten teachers have a statute of limitations, don’t they? And kindergarten teachers inevitably have great names, the kind of names you want to use in your charming reminiscences. So I did. I told, just after Thanksgiving 2005, of my experience just after Thanksgiving 1968 when my kindergarten teacher went around the room to confirm that each of us had turkey for the holiday. When she got to me, I innocently reported my mother made meatballs, which seemed normal to me because I had a poultry allergy. Except I didn’t mention the allergy, just the meatballs.
Give a room full of five-year-olds reason to scoff at any way you are different from the lot of them, and they will scoff at you. Even my teacher was surprised that somebody in her class did not partake of the traditional dinner option (especially after we took such care to trace turkeys from the outlines of our hands the previous Wednesday). At that meatball moment, I was the social misfit Ralph Wiggum from The Simpsons when Ralphie couldn’t use those harmless scissors they make for kids. My teacher was, in essence, Ms. Hoover:
The children are right to laugh, Ralph. These scissors couldn’t cut butter.
The meatballs incident came up in November 2005 as a conduit to discuss the just-completed acquisition of Carlos Delgado from the Marlins, in case you were wondering why I ever invoked my kindergarten teacher’s name on a baseball blog at all. Despite having it stuck to my mind grapes for 37 years to that point, I can’t say the poultry ostracism that threw me for a loop at five really altered the course of my human development down the road. Shoot, it took the trade of a near Hall of Fame first baseman to the Mets to bring it out.
Then more than a year later, I got an e-mail at the Faith and Fear address from my kindergarten teacher. She somehow read what I wrote about that long-ago Thanksgiving and felt really bad about it, apologizing for making me feel bad when I was five. No problem, I responded, really. I may wallow in the past from Friday to Friday, but I had grown, matured, moved on…got over my poultry allergy, too.
When I received her note in January 2007, I didn’t feel bad about being laughed at in kindergarten, but I did feel kind of bad from this new source of guilt that had worked its way from November 1968 to the present by way of November 2005. It wasn’t my intention to make my teacher emeritus feel bad by bringing up the meatballs. All I wanted to do was talk about Delgado for Jacobs. Oh dear, I thought, why did I have to go and bring up my teacher’s name and give her something to worry about from almost four decades ago?
Then I had an epiphany: this new guilt didn’t count because I’m not responsible for anything that happened before I was a Mets fan.
I wasn’t a Mets fan when I was in kindergarten, which encompassed the school year 1968-69. Sometime the following summer, definitely before first grade kicked in, I was on board. I wish I could point to the AHA! moment, the absolute microsecond when I stopped wasting my time on everything else and started wasting my time mostly on the Mets, but I can’t. I have a rough timeline for when they flickered into my consciousness 40 years ago, but as for a precise starting point, it is, unlike those meatballs, completely forgotten.
Since 1969, I’ve progressed on a straight line. To know me is to know a Mets fan. I became who I am today when I became a Mets fan. It doesn’t explain everything, but it explains enough. I recognize the person I was at 6, at 16, at 26, at 36 because today, at 46, I maintain that continuous identity, that unbroken affiliation. I am a Mets fan in 2009. I was a Mets fan in 1969. No blanks to fill in thereafter.
The meatballs, the turkey, whatever happened before…everything else is gravy.
In looking at life through the lens of before and after 1969, I can’t recommend enough a book I’m reading presently, The Amazin’ Mets, 1962-1969 by William J. Ryczek. Talk about filling in a few blanks. As much as I’ve read about that period, no book has ever demystified the birth and growth of the Mets into champions the way this one does. The first 7½ seasons of the franchise have always felt distant to me because I didn’t experience them first-hand; no, I was too busy screwing around with kindergarten.
I feel much closer to the Mets of ’62 to ’69, thanks to Ryczek and the dozens of interviews he conducted with Original Mets, Polo Grounds Mets, Early Shea Mets, Wes Westrum Mets and, at last, Miracle Mets. He moves beyond the broad strokes you’ve seen before and makes the Mets of the ’60s come alive as the daily entity they were. It’s akin to viewing the first bunch of pages of The Holy Books in 3-D. You know about Casey and Marvelous Marv, more or less, but Ryczek (who also wrote the definitive account of the New York Titans, which includes great stuff on the post-Giants, pre-Mets Polo Grounds) adds depth. You know Yogi Berra and Warren Spahn did time as Mets players, but how much, if you weren’t there for it, did you know about those slices of their careers? You know the Mets never had a good record until they were world champions, but do you have any idea what they were like besides subpar? Do you have any idea about the original Met youth movement and the youths who weren’t Kranepool, Swoboda and McGraw?
If you’re a Mets fan of any vintage and possess the slightest sense of team history, you’ll find The Amazin’ Mets fascinating. And if you’re a Mets fan of a particular generation — coming of age with the Mets in the early ’70s as I did — you might want to check out another relatively recent release, From First to Worst by Jacob Kanarek. His focus is 1973 to 1977, spanning from the season the Mets made us Believe through the season the Mets made us want to forget.
Kanarek’s book relies mainly on recaps of game stories from series to series and homestand to road trip, the cumulative effect of which can be a bit numbing. But as one who lived those seasons, seeing the details in print — including the occasionally damning real-time quotes from the Seavers and Matlacks and so on who could feel the team sliding helplessly toward oblivion — is like having your subconscious mined. Maybe you don’t think you want to have the Pepe Mangual canal of your mind grapes tickled, but if you’re a Mets fan who remembers Mangual and Dwyer coming over for Unser and Garrett, then you can’t help but be intrigued.
Ryczek’s book — examined in-depth by Mets Walkoffs in December — is practically essential for your baseball library. Kanarek’s, complemented by a funky Web site, comes with the caveat that you probably have to have lived through that era to be pulled in completely to its swirl of detail. Either or both is/are a fine “also bought” purchase if you’re determined to be one of those “Amazon customers who bought this item also bought…” types.
Which is to say, first (please) PRE-ORDER YOUR COPY of Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other fine online retailers. Then, if you want another Mets book or two, consider those mentioned above. (I might have felt guilty about disturbing my kindergarten teacher’s retirement, but an author’s gotta hone the instinct for self-promotion.)
MLB Network alert: The ’69 World Series Highlight film is scheduled to air Saturday at 9:30 AM and 6:00 PM.