- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

Comeback Kids

My Met fandom is not an unbroken line from seeing my mom jumping up and down and cheering for Rusty Staub [1] to now. Yes, my mom’s joy is my first Mets memory — and one of my earliest memories of anything — but in 1981 I lost the thread. That year my Topps cards are pristine, with immaculate corners, because they were barely touched. That’s also the year I lost track of the team, caring less and less until I stopped paying attention at all.

It would be easy to blame the strike, but I don’t think that was it. Certainly the team’s serial lousiness played a role, but I’d been a dedicated fan of bad Mets teams before then. The real culprit was that I’d turned 12 and other interests had ignited, which crowded baseball out. Dungeons & Dragons. Music. Girls. It took the arrival of Dwight Gooden [2], and a new pennant race, for me to pick up the thread again. Somewhere in ’81 through the midpoint of ’84 are my missing years — I have to rely on others for recollections of Brian Giles [3] and Tom Veryzer [4], the return of Tom Seaver [5] and the arrivals of Keith Hernandez [6] and Darryl Strawberry [7], because I wasn’t there.

My son Joshua is 16. He was a big Mets fan as a child — he got there by osmosis, what with being raised by two diehards. His first game at Shea, Kris Benson [8] pitched abominably and the Mets got clubbed. He was sitting on my lap when the Mets almost came back against the Braves and were robbed of an amazing victory by serial robber Willie Harris [9] — after which the baby monitor caught him singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” to himself as he drifted off. Greg can tell you about a young Joshua giving him a complicated analysis of Carlos Gomez [10]‘s speed and what it could bring to the Mets.

A few years ago, the Mets dropped out of Joshua’s life. He stopped joining us for games, preferring to read, play in his room or watch YouTube videos. (Every modern parent sighs with me.) He had his reasons, and they were good ones: When Jose Reyes [11] signed elsewhere and R.A. Dickey [12] was traded, he asked me what the point was rooting for a team if the players you loved went away, a question no high-minded talk of contract lengths and buying low/selling high could satisfy. But mostly, he got older and got interested in other things.

I was sad to see him go, but if I’ve one learned one thing as a parent it’s that sometimes the best reaction is the smallest one, or no reaction at all. I let him be, and hoped he’d have his own Dwight Gooden, his own ’84 pennant race, and that would call him home.

He got the pennant race, but a 2015 N.L. Champs flag didn’t rekindle his fandom. Oddly — and, from my perspective, ironically — it was devouring video on his laptop. Somewhere in there he started adding MLB highlights to his media-consumption diet, and eventually that reforged the baseball connection. I was surprised this spring when he asked about sharing my MLB.tv account. I explained that wouldn’t work (and that three hours of televised baseball a night was not a good fit for high-school studies), but gave an enthusiastic yes to a MLB At Bat account — and smiled when Joshua said he liked listening on the radio better anyway.

And so we’ve spent this season apart but together, chronicling the joys of Pete Alonso [13] and the travails of the Mets’ starters. And then school ended and the kid came home and there was a 12:10 pm home game on the schedule and a chance to do something we hadn’t done in quite some time.

It wasn’t the perfect fairy tale. New York City seems to have skipped spring and gone straight to the relentless, heat-like-a-vise part of summer that reminds me this place is basically uninhabitable for eight months of the year. I was moving too slowly and got us out the door 15 minutes later than we should have gone, which is the difference between in seats (or at least about to pay for food) at the anthem and rolling in for the bottom of the first. And something was seriously goofy at Citi Field — when we rolled up at 12:10-ish, there were still enormous lines outside the stadium. New bag policy? Big walkup crowd? Everyone’s internal clocks were set for 1:10? I have no idea.

But there we were, and we were immediately rewarded by home runs from Amed Rosario [14] and Dominic Smith [15], an initial flurry of offense that promised a good day for the Mets. Except, the Mets being the Mets, the rest of the first inning was a fallen souffle and the Giants’ Shaun Anderson [16] found his location and his rhythm after that.

And the ball was carrying. That was more than apparent — and not the best thing that could have happened to Zack Wheeler [17]. Brandon Belt [18] tied the game, Pablo Sandoval [19] put the Giants ahead with a shot that didn’t need any help from summer air, the hitherto hidden Giants rooters around us made their presence annoyingly obvious, and the game turned into a grind.

It was a grind I was perfectly happy to be part of, though, even with the sun beating down, a clean hot-dog wrapper pressed into service to shield a sunburned knee (OK, the wrapper was cleanish) and the Mets not doing much. My kid was there and we were talking baseball and that felt like a great reward. I wasn’t sure what I’d done to earn it, but sometimes that’s the sign that you have.

And then the Mets came back. They tied it up on a little Jeff McNeil [20] parachute in the seventh, with some actually sound tactical managing by Mickey Callaway [21] getting the right guy to the plate in the right situation. I didn’t like having Tomas Nido [22] bunt — even Nido’s hitter enough to make that an unwise surrender of an out — but Carlos Gomez’s sacrifice was statistically sound, and having McNeil pinch-hit for Rosario was wise maneuvering. (I wouldn’t have put J.D. Davis [23] in the field, but it worked out.) I also happily noted the presence of Gomez — my kid’s long-ago hero, older and thicker and slower but still back in orange and blue, and suddenly that felt like a promise kept.

And then the Mets were back at it again the next inning. Alonso slapped a single to left, was out on a Michael Conforto [24] fielder’s choice, Conforto stole second and the Mets were a hit away. Todd Frazier [25] smacked a ball to the left fielder and I craned my neck but then settled my butt back into my seat, knowing it wasn’t enough and hoping Adeiny Hechavarria [26] — whose value I’d been utterly wrong about — could be the one to get it done.

But happily, I was wrong about this too. The ball was carrying in the heat, and this ball carried over Mike Yastrzemski [27]‘s head and into the M&M seats for a 5-3 Mets lead, one they’d add to and not relinquish. And then off we went, victorious [28], chatting about pitching and the next series and what might lie ahead, until we’d come home again.