To paraphrase the sentiments first expressed on the cusp of the Great Depression by folk musician Blind Alfred Reed, how can a Mets fan stand such times and live? The Mets rarely win after the All-Star break; they never win at Citi Field; they haven’t won more than they’ve lost in four years; they haven’t won anything of substance in six years; they haven’t won a league championship in 12 years; they haven’t won a World Championship in 26 years; there is no undeniably reassuring indicator at this 65-78 juncture in time that they will win anything ever again. And that’s just the on-the-field picture.
Yet we’re still Mets fans. We may reach bending points but our spirit generally doesn’t break. At worst, we recede from the ever-mounting wreckage when it threatens to topple onto our battered and bruised psyches, and even then not so far away from it that we’re incapable of being pulled back into the daily Met orbit at the first sign of semi-legitimate encouragement. It feels like a curse in this fourth consecutive barren September, but come April, I swear it will feel like a blessing.
Why? Because we root for the Mets. We prefer success, yet we don’t root for it under any given name. We root for the Mets to succeed because that’s who we are. In a sense, we root for ourselves when we root for the Mets — we root for an intermingling of those two entities who have so effectively if mystifyingly become one in our souls.
And sometimes we root for the Mets fan we might have been.
You would wonder who besides small children who’ve yet to discover standings would suddenly take wholeheartedly to this team in its current state of competitive disarray. Who would decide in 2012 to engage, let alone embrace a franchise that its longest-time, most diehard fans can barely stand to face 19 more times before its current edition crumples up and blows away?
I found somebody who can tell me.
His name is Ed, a demographic contemporary of mine, and he has a different kind of story than I’m used to hearing. Ed wrote to me from South Florida last week ostensibly to tell me he liked my book, which was kind of him. I enjoy receiving those sorts of notes (what writer wouldn’t?), but what made his stand out was why he liked my book. It wasn’t because, as I’ve been told a number of times, that my story of being a Mets fan was a stand-in for the reader’s story of being a Mets fan. It was because Ed hadn’t been a Mets fan — should’ve been, could’ve been, but wasn’t.
Here’s Ed with the explanation.
I was born the same year as you in Brooklyn. When you turned 6, you discovered the Mets and became a fan. When I was nearing 6, my father died. Our family moved to Florida, and because of the weirdness of my mom, we were not allowed to talk about my father or life in New York, and we were cut off from my father’s family. I harbored memories of my father and what life would have been like had he not died. Specifically, I thought I would have come to know and love sports had my father not died, both as a player (although how good could I have been being Jewish?) and as a fan.
I was never interested much in sports. However, recently I have been reviewing my life and found out that my father was a Mets fan. I realized as I was approaching 48 years old (and finally in therapy) that I could just dive in and feel a link to my past and my father. So a Mets fan (me) was born 42 years after the fact. It was like you were going back in time to get me at 6 years old, taking me by the hand, and leading me through Mets history so that I could join them in the present.
That the present happens to be 2012 when the Mets have tumbled from a modestly promising start to a horrifyingly familiar finish hasn’t mattered to Ed. How could it to someone who just experienced two thrilling World Series wins for the first time? Who just discovered Shea Stadium, a building he never entered, yet for which he now feels a “great loss”? Who, after more than four decades of tragic remove, sees in a baseball team “my past, lost family, a chance to reconnect” and cherishes a “link to my father and a past I never had…I still get a bit choked up watching the Mets play no matter how they are doing, and I have been watching a lot thinking about my father. It is in my blood, even though I didn’t realize it until recently.”
The link was locked in on Sunday, September 2, when Ed and his wife attended the third game of the Mets’ three-game sweep at Marlins Park. It was the first game of his life. Now, at last, “I was part of their history.” And his role in their history will continue on October 3 in Miami, when — in kinship with his perennial Game 81 brethren and sistren in Queens — he will attend Closing Day. “I have tickets to the Mets’ last regular game of the season,” he says. “Whatever happens, it is going to be a great game.”
And when he’s not at the ballpark, Ed stokes his passion via digital device (“thank G-d for MLB TV which lets me watch the Mets almost anywhere they play”) and wears his passion on his head.
Ever since I have discovered my connection to the Mets, I almost always wear a Mets ball cap. It is amazing how many people talk to me about the Mets: anything from a “Let’s Go Mets” to conversations about families, personal history, etc. A guy in a local store even told me that his father was a secret Mets fan and that he wouldn’t admit it to anyone. Down here in Florida, one doesn’t see too many Mets hats and the Yankees fans seem to far outweigh the Mets fans. But like I tell them, it’s easy to be a Yankees fan.
Ed adds that he has taken to wearing his Mets cap to shul for services instead of a yarmulke. I’m not sure if he’ll keep to that particular kippa for the upcoming High Holy Days, but anything that gets the Mets closer to a Higher place than fourth couldn’t hurt.
Speaking of temples, Ed plans on making his first pilgrimage to Citi Field next season, and I plan to be there to greet him, to show him the Shea Stadium bases and, if he likes, to stroll on over to Flushing Meadows Corona Park with him so he can have a close-up look at the Unisphere, a.k.a. “the huge globe from the World’s Fair” he remembers his family driving by so many times but never saw up close. Of course I’ve been looking over the just-released 2013 schedule and I’ve been getting preliminarily excited about the coming year even as I struggle between wanting to be rid of the current one and reflexively not wanting it to go away so soon, no matter its epic lousiness. This hasn’t been the best year to be a Mets fan, but as Ed from Florida has had the serendipitous timing to remind me as I’m immersed in its day-to-day defeats, there’s never truly a bad year to be a Mets fan.
How could there be? You’re a Mets fan.
As far as a pennant goes, as you have said: there is always next season. But regardless, it is still our team, there is spring training, farm leagues, and then the regular season coming up. And this round, I will be there from the beginning.
L’shanah tovah, you might hear in the days ahead. It means for a good year.