Monday, October 26, 2015

Culture Corner 10.26.15



Today, I will sing you a song of baseball.

Yeah, I’m just as surprised as you are, but here goes.

Baseball’s always been a thing in my household. There are baby pictures of me in team gear, because yes, they do make onesies emblazoned with the New York Mets logo, and yes, babies look adorable wearing baseball caps that are far too large for their heads. I can remember my parents taking my siblings and me to minor league games in the various cities we visited on vacation - we saw the Portland Sea Dogs in Maine and the now-defunct Montreal Expos in Canada, and of course our own Staten Island Yankees. As a kid, I accepted these outings, because while I considered baseball an interminable bore, I got snacks at ball games, and that made it cool by me.  My overall assessment was that nothing ever happened in baseball. Every so often there’d be an exciting play and it’d pique my interest, because for one shining moment, things were happening, and it was fun and exciting. But the moment would fade and I’d soon resume pondering when I was due for my next hot dog.

For my dad and my brother Peter, though, this was Serious Business. My mom favors the Yankees, but my dad and Peter would shed blood for the Mets. They’re diehards, plain and simple. They own a ton of Mets caps and jerseys and t-shirts, they pick favorites, they hang on every pitch. My brother gets emotional. Usually, because it’s the Mets, that emotion is “anger,” and I’ve watched him throw many an innocent baseball cap to the ground in utter disgust. But he always picks them up and keeps watching. 

My dad recounts how his mother was a Mets diehard too, because she grew up in Brooklyn and supported the Dodgers til they moved to Los Angeles, an act of high treason. For some arcane reason, she, and other former Dodgers fans in Brooklyn, refused to switch allegiances to the Yankees (the quote my dad always repeats is “I would have sooner rooted for Hitler,” because again, baseball is Serious Business) and so began decades of loyalty to the Mets, New York City’s perpetual baseball underdog. Let me tell you, Mets fans suffer. You’d almost think they enjoy suffering; I’ve watched my dad and my brother shave years off their lives from pure stress. The team has a bad reputation for folding under pressure, never living up to lofty playoff dreams. I’ve heard the diehards whispering to themselves “Next year, next year” as a season ends and the hope for the next one grows anew.

The 2015 season started out rough as usual. There was hope - there always is - but it was dwindling with the passing months. As summer started dragging on, the Mets seemed doomed for another year like all the others. And at home, it hurt a little more than usual. My brother was getting ready to go to college in New Orleans and we all started wondering what life would be like without him. He watched the games loyally: some victories, some failures, nothing special. He talked optimistically about the team’s chances. My dad just shook his head.

It was hard to be happy about anything; my father’s mother, the diehard before him, was, well…dying. Our whole family hung in stasis, just waiting. There always comes a time when all you do is wait for someone to die, when you tell yourself at least then, when it’s over, everyone can stop hurting, and it’s as horrible as it sounds.

Near the end of summer, something changed.

The only way I can describe it is that the New York Mets became an inspiring, clichéd sports movie, the sort of feel-good family flick that encourages kids to believe in themselves. During one game in late July, social media was in a tizzy over a rumored trade deal between the Mets and the Milwaukee Brewers. The player who’d be traded, Wilmer Flores, had been with the Mets for his entire career, since he was 16 years old, and he came out to play despite the rumblings of the trade agreement. He broke the ancient adage of no-crying-in-baseball and cried on the field in anticipation the departure. It was a remarkably human moment, one maligned as melodramatic in the media. But the trade fell through and two days later, nobody was poking fun when Flores won a game for the Mets with a 12th-inning home run against their (heavily favored) rivals, the Washington Nationals.

And it was like someone had suddenly taught this team how to play baseball again. August was a whirlwind of wins, swept series, daring plays, emotional outbursts, and good old fashioned baseball. Maybe the most miraculous thing of all: my sister and I started watching with everyone else. We started learning players’ names. We started picking favorites. We hung on every pitch. When Peter left for school, my sister and I kept turning the games on, when mere weeks prior we complained about how he'd always hog the TV on game nights. It was impossible not to; things kept happening and happening, and the sudden elation was contagious. We got excited about baseball and the Mets rallied to clinch their division in September. It seemed unreal, and then it got better. This week, the Mets swept the Chicago Cubs to win the National League title. They’re going to the World Series for the first time in 15 years. Pure October magic. We had Peter on the phone, and I couldn’t even understand what he was saying from how much he was crying. And my dad…forget about it. He was weeping, wearing Mets-themed rubber bracelets on opposite wrists - one that reads “Amazin’” and the other emblazoned with “Ya Gotta Believe!” - and one of his many Mets caps.

But that hat was special. It’d been my grandma’s, and it sure looked the part, worn out and faded on my dad’s head. It’s October. She passed away in August, what feels like a lifetime ago now, but we have her Mets cap. My dad thinks it’s good luck, citing the fact that the last time the Mets lost - against the Dodgers in the division race - he wasn’t wearing the hat. And of course his mom would be lending otherworldly ghost powers to the team: the Dodgers left her and the rest of Brooklyn, after all. This was payback. It made perfect sense.

In August, my father, my brother, my sister and mother and other brother, uncles and aunts, cousins, friends, everyone around me, we all cried together. We held hands and hugged and let each other cry, supported each other through our grief. And now it’s October, and I watched my dad cry to a box score, heard my brother laughing through his tears over the phone, high-fived and cheered for every strikeout from the Mets’ aces and every home run drilled into the stands, watched as a team dismissed as losers from day one became World Series material, saw them all run out after games to high-five the loyal fans in the stands and spray champagne on them.

And I think to myself, okay, maybe I can get interested in baseball.

-Maggie

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