Sunday, April 8, 2018

Baseball's Best Lesson: There's More Met Than Yankee in Every One of Us

Double rainbow over Citi Field, 2017
It happens every spring. Baseball enters our lives to teach us new lessons.

What have I learned this year?

It’s simple, but profound -- and originally expressed best by author Roger Angell: There is more Met than Yankee in every one of us.

This lesson begins with my boyhood awe and wonder, when my Dad took me to my first major league baseball game. He had elaborately tipped a cigar-chewing fat man in a ticket booth on 161st Street in The Bronx, and we wound up with field-level seats.

As we emerged through the concession area to face the field — me, a little boy holding his Dad’s hand — my first view of the impossibly green, cavernous Yankee Stadium field gave me goosebumps.

It’s perhaps the closest I’ll come to ever seeing Heaven. It was perfection.

Contrast that to another day soon afterward: my second visit to a major league game. My eccentric Uncle Charlie wanted to take me to the new Shea Stadium, built on the site of the 1964 World’s Fair.

He escorted me there on the New York City subway, which I had never been on before. I saw sights and sounds on my first ride on the No. 7 train — especially on the elevated section through Queens — unlike anything I had encountered growing up in the New Jersey suburbs. Years later, at an arts film festival in college, I had a flashback to this subway ride when viewing Fellini’s “Satyricon.”

Uncle Charlie opted for the cheapest tickets available. We wound up in the top, nose-bleed section of Shea, and we climbed the steeply-pitched stairs as if we were scaling a mountain. During the game, I gripped both sides of my seat, white-knuckled, fearing I’d fall over onto the field far below. The wind howled and, not far above, giant planes made booming noises after takeoff or landing at LaGuardia.

It’s little wonder that I was a Yankee fan from that time on.

I have many fond memories of the team, culminating on Oct. 16, 2003, when my friend John Bonomo and I attended Game 7 of the AL Championship Series against the hated Red Sox. Aaron Boone, the current Yankee manager, perfectly ended a perfect evening of baseball with a memorable game-winning home run.

As years went by, however, something happened — to me or to the Yankees — that changed my perspective. When I went to the games, the fans seemed… entitled… well-off… and a little self-satisfied. It was just like looking into a mirror of who I had become myself. This has always been my greatest existential fear: that I would become just like everyone else.

Yankee baseball became a science or, worse, a business… and years followed featuring “grind-it-out” at bats, with every hitter working deep into the count, and each game a four-hour marathon.

One day, I found myself sitting with my feet up in an easy chair shouting at the YES channel, “Oh for Heaven’s sake, someone just take a swing at a first-pitch fastball right down the middle of the plate.” It was then I realized that rooting for the Yankees was turning me into a joyless old man.


Stalking Mr. Met
Enter Mr. Met.

Mr. Met insidiously entered my life when I met my wife Nancy, a lifelong Mets fan. At a Halloween party in Lake Hopatcong, NJ, on Oct. 25, 1986, Nancy and I wore Hawaiian shirts we had purchased on our honeymoon, as we huddled to watch Game 6 of the World Series on a small TV while standing next to a stranger dressed as the Grim Reaper.

The Mets rallied for three runs to beat the hated Red Sox in the bottom of the 10th. As soon as announcer Vin Scully uttered those 12 immortal words — “Little roller up along first… BEHIND THE BAG. It gets through Buckner!” — I embraced my new wife and high-fived the Grim Reaper with pure joy.

Cue Ingmar Bergman.

So began a wonderful new chapter in my life, punctuated by the soundtrack of a Mets game on TV or radio during subsequent summers — through good times and in bad. When the Mets built their new home, Citi Field, a few years ago, Nancy purchased a memorial Fanwalk brick for her sister, a devout mother who died too young from cancer. She was also a lifelong Mets fan. There’s a replica brick displayed in our living room today, inscribed: “You gotta believe! In memory of Eileen. Love, Nancy.”

I’ve been to a few Yankees games since 2003, but many more Mets games. I was disappointed when I visited the new Yankee Stadium a few years ago and found it majestically enclosed around itself, like a museum.

In contrast, Citi Field is bright and open, filled with eccentric Uncle Charlies... happy, diverse people. The stadium has interesting nooks and crannies, fun promotional days (our living room also has an odd collection of bobble-head Mets dolls on display), and Nancy and I were once featured on the Kiss Cam. It’s like a carnival.

I love every silly thing about Mr. Met -- and I've stalked and photo-bombed him through the years. I love the song "Meet the Mets" and Citi Field's Home Run Apple. I love the team's engaging social media presence, and smart, irreverent SNY TV announcers. I love that nothing about the Mets, save for a Noah Syndergaard fastball or any pitch delivered by Jacob deGrom, can be described as majestic.

And, as a fan, because the Mets have endured more heartbreak than the Yankees, it makes celebrating with them even sweeter.


This spring, for the first time in my life, I took off from work and went to a ballgame on Opening Day.

I took Nancy to Citi Field on the subway. We rode the MTA’s museum train, billed as “the train of many colors.” Train workers snapped photos of this No. 7 train as we started our journey at the Hudson Yards station. We sat in one of the 50-year-old trailing “redbird” cars, the same kind of car I had ridden with my Uncle Charlie.

As we traveled through Queens, a full mariachi band — including a full-size standup bass — went busking from car to car. It was still just like Fellini’s “Satyricon,” but with a better soundtrack. When we arrived at the Citi Field station, the MTA’s creaky old PA system played “Meet the Mets,” and Nancy knew all the words.

It was a joyous day. The Mets beat the Cardinals, but that was almost beside the point. The game renewed my spirit. I tweeted about it; I posted photos on Instagram. When my friend John questioned why I post items like this about the Mets, I told him I still consider that night in October 2003 a highlight of my life, and I still do root for the Yankees. There’s just something about the Mets that resonates even deeper with me these days.

Angell summed it up best in his book “The Summer Game.”

He wrote that cheering for the Yankees’ “perfection” is “admirable but a trifle inhuman.” The Mets’ “stumbling kind of semi-success can be much more warming.” He concluded that “exultant yells for the Mets were also yells for ourselves, and came from a wry, half-understood recognition that there is more Met than Yankee in every one of us.”

As I've learned, those are very wise words.

If there is a Heaven and I've got a ticket, I'd happily hold my Dad's hand again -- and this time tell him how much I loved him -- and enjoy a baseball game together at the old Yankee Stadium.

But these days... with Dad gone... here on Earth... I'd rather spend my time at Citi Field.

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