“Commitment, Abby, commitment. There are only two creatures of value on the face of this earth — those with a commitment and those who require the commitment of others.”
—Abigail Adams, comforting husband John by quoting his own words back to him when he doubts the cause he holds dear can endure, 1776
It’s a Friday night in the middle of August 1991. I’m meeting my fiancée and a couple of people from her job at a theater on the Upper East Side for an early evening showing of The Commitments, the new movie about this scrappy band of Dublin North Siders who pull together to play Sixties American soul until they necessarily fall apart. I was running late and entered the theater just as the movie was starting, thus it wasn’t until it was over that I received a proper introduction to two of my fiancée’s co-workers.
“So we finally get to meet the boyfriend,” one of them said, which irked me a bit since I had graduated from “boyfriend” status nearly two years before when I ponied up for an engagement ring. Then again, I realized, it had been two years. There were reasons our engagement had grown into a long engagement (pending college graduation for her; lingering illness and eventual passing of my mother; we moved in together, so what was the rush?), and we’d looked on and off for a wedding site, albeit with no sense of urgency, but maybe enough was enough with the inadvertent stall tactics. Maybe we should just set a date already — the sooner the better. Say, in the fall.
Say, November. Definitely November. As opposed to October.
Why not October? Because that was when the playoffs and World Series would take place. By the middle of August 1991, I knew the Mets wouldn’t be in them that year, but that wasn’t my major concern. I wanted to make certain that down the road, as soon as 1992 but also hopefully for many autumns to come, our wedding anniversary would brush up against a ticker-tape parade, but never conflict with a postseason Mets game.
That was the extent of my prenup: Let’s get married late enough in the fall so that even if television someday forces baseball into November, we’ll never have a conflict. We can celebrate our love without me being distracted by my, uh, other love. That’s all I asked for: no distractions. It wasn’t like I was inflexible. I did, after all, agree to go see The Commitments during a Mets game (as the Mets rode a seven-game losing streak).
My fiancée became my wife on November 10, 1991, two weeks after the Twins and Braves played Game Seven of that autumn’s Fall Classic and eight years before another Mets postseason game materialized. As of November 10, 2011, the Mets had only intruded on our married Octobers three times in twenty years.
Yet just as I’d marry Stephanie all over again, I’d make the same insistence all over again…except I wouldn’t have to insist very much, because Stephanie’s been married to me for twenty years and knows I’d prefer not to prioritize between wedding anniversaries and Mets playoff appearances.
But two things you should know:
1) She didn’t object or even question my one condition of wedding date determination two decades ago, because she knew me four-and-a-half years by then. I was in my 19th season as a Mets fan when we met in 1987, and that commitment had already predated every non-familial relationship in my life and was on pace to do no worse than last as long as any others that were in progress by 1991. So yeah, of course the Mets were going to involve themselves in my thinking, whatever the occasion. She knew that.
2) I’m almost fully certain that if MLB allowed the postseason to crawl into the second week of November and my team was still playing, that she would view a Mets game at that time of year not as a cause of “you wanna watch WHAT?” conflict but as a reason for enhanced anniversary celebration.
That’s because it’s not only my team. It’s our team. Want proof? Consider what my wife gave me — gave us — very recently for our 20th wedding anniversary.
A Mets comforter. It drapes our bed presently. It’s like we sleep in an on-deck circle.
It was her idea, mind you. Hers, not mine. And it’s for us, not me. Because the team in question, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health is ours.
Yes, I’m very lucky to have a Mets comforter, and I’m not talking about some blanket.
To take this topic out of the bedroom and onto a broader playing field, the Mets are all of ours to have and to hold, however we do it, with whomever we do it. We made that commitment at probably some early stage of life — some of us earlier than others — and count it, most likely, as one of the most enduring relationships we’ve ever known. That’s the commitment we love and we cherish, no matter how old it gets, no matter that each of us at some point winds up bickering with our team in our minds (and maybe on our blogs) like the proverbial old married couple.
It’s true. We fume at the Mets. We turn a cold shoulder and a deaf ear toward them. We don’t want to hear any more of their excuses. We need some time apart from them. We need to vent at how they’re driving us certifiably mad.
But no matter how much we might anger at their actions or their attitude, we never really stop loving them. We always come back to them. We made a commitment and we don’t know how not to stick by it. We sometimes literally wrap ourselves up in them, even as we sleep.
Let me put it more specifically: I’d been brooding and boiling all about the impending state of the 2012 Mets from the moment the 2011 Mets disbanded after their 162nd game. They were a lousy team this year, they were likely to be a lousy team next year, they weren’t going to be able to keep their best/my favorite player, I was supposed to sit tight with a batch of mediocrities until maybe a few minor league pitchers blossomed, assuming they didn’t hurt their arms or some other body part as every Mets minor league pitcher seems to do as if required by law. My Met mood fell somewhere between disengaged and disenchanted, not altogether unlike I’ve been much of the past five Met seasons.
Then my wife presents me/us with a comforter with a Mets logo smack in the middle and I’m in heaven. Part of that was Stephanie’s thoughtfulness and her impulse to indulge me but, honestly, a bigger part of that was the instinctive “A METS COMFORTER! I’VE NEVER HAD A METS COMFORTER! OH MAN, THAT IS SO GREAT! IT’S A METS LOGO ON A BLANKET RIGHT HERE ON OUR BED! IT’S ORANGE! IT’S BLUE! I WOULD HAVE LOVED ONE OF THESE WHEN I WAS 12! I LOVE IT NOW!” I completely forgot how much I’d been hating the Mets lately because I was reminded how much I love the Mets always.
That’s the commitment each of us makes. And that’s why, with both our 20th anniversary still fresh in my mind and the Mets’ 50th anniversary prominently on our radar, Faith and Fear in Flushing chooses as its 2011 Nikon Camera Player of the Year — the award bestowed to the entity or concept that best symbolizes the year in Metsdom — Commitment.
The commitment we make to the Mets. The commitment we keep to the Mets. And, once in a while, the commitment the Mets make to us.
Pretty heavy stuff when you’re talking about a baseball team, but let’s be real here. We’re not just baseball fans. We’re Mets fans and all that implies. I don’t have to tell you what it means. I didn’t even have to explain my reservations about having an October wedding, 3-for-20 batting average on theoretical Mets’ postseason appointments from 1992 forward notwithstanding. For us, giving the Mets thought in relation to something like that isn’t at all aberrant behavior. If anything, the aberration would be setting a wedding date and not, on at least some level of consciousness, taking into account where the Mets’ schedule fits in.
But put aside stuff of that momentous ilk. Just consider the day-to-day, and how, even in a season like 2011, we remain wedded to this team. We may skip a few games here and there, we may even accept invitations that force us to follow scores from afar (or, horror of horrors, not at all), but the commitment never wavers. Not in the face of three consecutive losing seasons piled on top of back-to-back last-day debacles which followed an excruciating Game Seven heartbreak. Not amid piles of injuries and a taster’s menu of ineptitude. Not even when you spend months trying to wrap your head around how a team playing in the biggest market in the nation finds itself unable to pay its best player or think about replacing him in kind.
It’s too late to untangle the commitment. Not after all we’ve been through together. All it takes is the slightest of act of kindness or competence from them to us, and all (or much) is right with our world again. Conversely, all it takes is a stray thought like “Angel Pagan is the best they can come up with for center field next year?” to cast a black cloud on an otherwise lovely day, but the likely tendering of Pagan (or Pelfrey) bothering me only proves to me once again how goddamn invested I am in this team.
Either that, or I have a rooting disorder.
The Mets matter to us because they matter to us. It’s not worth deconstructing such a statement, not for those who instantly get what that means, and not to those whom we’re never going to get it across anyway. I come back in my mind to one of the signature Citi Field moments of my 2011, the Saturday in August when the Brewers beat the Mets in dreadful fashion, 11-9 (as if an 11-9 loss could be invigorating). Lousy result from an entertaining process, but mostly, for me, an uncommon exercise in cognitive dissonance. This was the game Stephanie and I decided to unleash on my sister and brother-in-law, two people whose many fine qualities do not include the vaguest appreciation for baseball’s ability to touch the human heart.
The entire afternoon was chronicled here, but the moment that sticks harder than any other occurred in the bottom of the eighth. The Mets had appeared comatose early, trailed 7-1, pushed back to 7-6 in the seventh and were now about to achieve the seemingly impossible. Josh Thole doubled home the tying run off expatriate Frankie Rodriguez and Pagan homered toward where we set up temporary camp on the Pepsi Porch.
I was elated. Stephanie was elated. My brother-in-law wanted to know when we could get out of the sun. My sister stood in the shadows to avoid the glare. Overcoming a 7-1 deficit to lead 9-7 did not penetrate their consciousness whatsoever. It was just some inexplicable event taking place in their sensory airspace, one whose noise was getting on their nerves. It didn’t represent a personal triumph or provide a callback to a half-dozen other charges from behind that I (or most of you) could pluck from a mental Met filing cabinet. It was, in the moment, everything to us. It was, forever, nothing to them.
As Pagan crossed the plate, my brother-in-law and I were each thinking some version of “man, this guy has weird priorities” in each other’s direction.
So be it. The investment is one you make or you don’t. We do. We step back from it a little now and then, maybe out of frustration with 11-9 losses or 77-85 campaigns, possibly to keep our brain fresh for when the investment has a chance to pay off big time. We’ll go to movies or other people’s weddings in Augusts when our team has checked out on us. We’ll find non-SNY channels or avert our gaze from the screen in Septembers when it’s not the glare but the dullness gets in our eyes. We’ll strive to fit somebody else’s definition of normal when we can’t tell ourselves that the Mets vs. Nationals isn’t actually the most important item on anybody’s agenda on a given night, and that would likely include the agendas of the Mets and the Nationals.
But just try to get between us and our investment when the faintest wisp of perceived relevance tickles our nose. That would include anything from the increasingly mythical postseason date that will validate our long-term anniversary planning to keeping an eye on a 7-1 game versus the mighty Brewers just in case the Mets get their act together and put the tying runs on.
Honestly, it doesn’t take much to confirm our commitment.
To get back
To the old religion
Back on track
—The Rainmakers, “Given Time”
Saturday Night Live underwent a drastic makeover in 1980: new executive producer, new cast, whole new look. By 1981, the show was in desperate straits. NBC fired almost everybody it could and sought to fix the show. How? By reminding lapsed viewers how good the show used to be. When Dick Ebersol took over for the luckless (and humorless) Jean Doumanian, he reached out to anybody who had a connection to the early, funny Lorne Michaels years. Didn’t matter if he didn’t really want Michael O’Donoghue or Franken & Davis back. He wanted a connection to the way it was when it was good. He wanted the perception that the show wouldn’t suck anymore to gather momentum.
What really saved the SNL franchise was the presence of rookie sensation Eddie Murphy, but that wasn’t readily apparent in the spring of 1981. Ebersol had to make the show seem watchable before it actually got watchable.
In other words, Dick had to pass out the blue caps.
Three decades later, the same strategy is winning rave reviews in Flushing even if it’s not going to net the Mets a single ballgame… even if there’s no rookie sensation in sight…even if it’s as likely as not (to put it generously) that the only Mets fan who is going to see his beloved Jose up close and personal in 2012 will be Jerry Seinfeld, and that’s because his wife suggested naming their new Dachshund after Jose Reyes.
It’s a potentially grim scene developing at Citi Field, but how about those caps? How about those uniforms? How about those patches? How about those bobbleheads they’ll be handing out? How about those outfield fences they’re already bringing in? How about those banners fluttering along the warning tracks? How about those five-game plans that start at $50 per pack? How about the gesture of not issuing No. 50 to a player next year because it will be dedicated to the fans? How about the Mets bursting with the opposite of shame — sources report it’s a sensation known as “pride” — at turning 50 next year?
Yeah, how about it?
I was fairly wowed last week when I attended the Mets’ press conference that introduced or elaborated on most of these goodies and I’m still willing to be wowed by the snatching of low-hanging fruit. Goodness knows the Mets have let it go unpicked in the past, so, yes, as long as all the fans are true to the orange and blue, bless those who decided to re-emphasize the orange and especially the blue in the color-scheme of things.
That only took too long.
To be fair, I was never overly bothered by presence of the now-discredited black in Mets uniforms and on Mets caps. I would have avoided the drop shadow on the front of the pinstripes on the grounds that it was clunky, and I surely believe the whole gimmick wore out its aesthetic welcome by the time Art Howe got around to lighting up rooms, but it didn’t offend me. Sometimes it looked pretty sharp. Sometimes it looked like the Grand Slam Single.
But I’m as willing as anybody south of Shannon Shark to kick it to the curb because the kicking represents such a psychic victory for most everyone who cares about the Mets. That “true to the orange and blue” jazz really resonates approximately a generation after few even remembered there was a second verse to “Meet The Mets”. The idea that the Mets stand for something beyond a given number of wins and losses is powerful stuff. We who use our keyboards to occasionally cajole, berate and harp have been flying that particular banner for quite a while. Our parade wasn’t so much virtual as it was invisible where it counted. The Mets gave maybe half a damn as to what their hardcore fans were yelping about.
Wasn’t it enough to create a thoroughly Mets-free main entrance, crank the escalator up toward the Ebbets Club, direct Mets fans past generic concourses and tell them how much fun triples would be every time a deep fly ball from the home team turned into another out?
Y’know, those well-worn complaints about life at Citi Field feel so very 2009, and good riddance to them. Nevertheless, just as I’m doomed to now and then give Trottin’ Timo Perez a phantom shove so he’ll start running hard eleven years ago, I can’t help but wonder “WTF?” where the Mets’ thinking was concerned. We got what we the loyalists asked for — and we asked for it because we were convinced it served the Mets’ interests best — but we were kept waiting a period of time that felt more unfathomable than interminable. How crucial was it, anyway, that Cory Sullivan or Hisanori Takahashi or Jason Pridie get to wear black like it was 1999?
I guess we can look at it this way: If the Mets had never taken a shot at black wardrobes in the late ’90s, or hadn’t clung so illogically to them in the early ’10s, we wouldn’t be tickled by their fade into history right now. Not knowing what you got ’til it’s gone isn’t limited to parking lots and municipal stadiums.
Seriously, did anybody really fondle their blue and orange Mets cap in 1996, the last year the Mets wore nothing but blue and orange Mets caps, and swear a blood oath to its colors? Was there a stampede on what was then known as the Tropicana Pre-Game Banner Parade & Contest on August 4, 1996? Where the hell was everybody else at 11:45 in the morning of July 24, 1994, when my friend Joe and I made sure we were in our seats for the beginning of Old Timers Day festivities? There had to be at least 5,000 of us in the stands intent on honoring the 25th anniversary of the 1969 Mets that day, the last Old Timers Day that wasn’t packaged as something else.
The Mets could have reacted a few different ways to the downturns of their traditional favorites. They could have sought to inject new energy into them. They could have re-emphasized what fun they’d always been instead of just lobbing them out onto the schedule and hoping people would show up. They could have realized that a poor on-field product was going to result in a hit on certain iconic items and understood that when the team got better, enthusiasm for everything surrounding the team would rebound as well.
Or they could muddle their uniforms, forget about Banner Day and pretend their fans didn’t enjoy connecting with their favorite players of all-time. We know what path the Mets chose.
Can’t say they don’t eventually come around on most things, however mysteriously drawn out the journey. Eternally AWOL Old Timers Day is still at large, and its absence sadly deprives us of one effective, concentrated dose of Alumni Fever, but as Mets fans, I suppose we’re practiced at the art of You Can’t Have Everything. We have a pretty good replica of most things now, and it’s genuinely exciting to me, a hard-bitten hardcore fan who sort of just wants to know my team is aware of itself. As soon as they kicked off their flurry of “Happy Anniversary!” announcements inside the Caesars Club by noting it was exactly 50 years to the day since Ray Gatto’s Mets skyline logo was unveiled, I felt more Mets-awareness coming at me from the Mets than at any time since somebody thought to invite Doug Flynn to Shea Goodbye.
You might say they had me at Gatto.
But I guess they didn’t have everybody. Last week, at the press conference that served to spotlight so many elements of the Mets’ past that are tumbling into the Mets’ immediate future, the first question asked of Dave Howard was, to paraphrase, “all this is just a distraction from your lousy team, right?”
Howard gave a politic but pointed answer that this isn’t a distraction, it’s a celebration. My response would have been “Yeah, it’s a distraction but an outstanding distraction! And beyond that, look at the calendar. Fifty years is fifty years…don’t Mets fans deserve a golden anniversary?”
Cripes, why not ask if the Mets’ scheduling of day games is part of a nefarious anti-night initiative?
So not everybody’s won over or going to be won over. Media’s job is to be cynical. Fans come by it on their own dime. There’s always going to be a strain of fan who Doesn’t Care. That is, he or she Doesn’t Care about blue caps or 50th birthdays or whether there’s a museum or how good or bad the broadcasts are. That fan just wants the Mets to win and he or she Doesn’t Care about the rest. I find that partly reasonable and totally boorish. Winning trumps all, but it doesn’t overwhelm everything. A rude usher, a cold pretzel, a Tom McCarthy, a lack of appreciation by the organization for its own heritage — even in the last indisputably good regular season, I noticed those things. But they didn’t blot out the sun. When Jose Reyes led off Game Six of the 2006 NLCS with a home run while wearing the pinstripes, I didn’t think “Sure, we’re ahead 1-0, but dadburn it all to heck, that drop shadow just ruins everything.”
There’s a balance to be attained. Ideally, you have a World Series trophy on one side of the scale and everything else pleasant and thoughtful on the other side. We probably won’t get the World Series trophy in 2012, but that doesn’t take away from that which is pleasant and thoughtful.
The best brand equity possible in an endeavor like professional baseball is that of consistent winner. The next best, and not behind by much, is that of something that inspires stubborn devotion during those spells when the winning isn’t so consistent…not just by force of habit but because you can make yourself believe your devotion is somehow returned in kind.
Blue caps, broad banners and a yearlong birthday party for our franchise signifies that kind of return. It is a celebration. We are pleased to R.S.V.P. that we’ll be there for yet another season.
We can always send our regrets later.
FAITH AND FEAR’S PREVIOUS NIKON CAMERA PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
2005: The WFAN broadcast team of Gary Cohen and Howie Rose
2006: Shea Stadium
2008: The 162-Game Schedule
2009: Two Hands