I was about 6 years old when my father threatened to throw me out of the house. The reason was simple. I told him I was going to be a Yankees fan.
It was the early 1970’s and I knew nothing about Baseball. But still, I was going to root for the Yankees. Why? As my dad watched the local news one night the sports came on. I was close by, doing whatever a typical 6 year old does. The Yankees catcher, Thurman Munson, did something or other. My ears perked up. I was only 6 and I didn’t hear ‘Thurman Munson’ but instead heard ‘Herman Munster,’ the father on the old TV show, The Munsters. That settled it. Herman Munster plays for the Yankees!!! How cool is that?
My Yankee loyalty lasted all of maybe 5 minutes. At 6 years old, I was not ready to live on the streets in The Bronx. My father made it clear he would not live under the same roof as a Yankee fan. And so it began. My somewhat-initially-blackmailed allegiance to the Mets.
At 7, my father taught me not just the game but the ‘game within the game.’ I fell in love immediately with the beauty, magic and wonderment of this thing called Baseball, a love that has lasted for over 35 years now. I soon learned that you can actually SEE these games live, not just on TV. It was Helmet Day when I first came upon this huge stadium in Flushing. I’d never seen anything so big, so massive. It was like the Roman Coliseum–but in Queens. “They play in there???” Walking in, I’d never seen grass so green. I’d never seen so many people gathered in one place for the same reason; To root the Mets to victory over the Expos. But it was unseasonably cold, very windy and overcast. This was my very first ballgame and if I was to catch a cold my mom would never let my dad take me to Shea ever again! So, I followed as my dad talked to this guy, talked to that guy, talked to some other guy. Next thing I knew we were sitting in the Press Box, just 2 booths down from the broadcast booth. I was maybe 25 feet away from Lindsey Nelson, Ralph Kiner and Bob Murphy. We went to another game later that year. Imagine the horror I felt having to sit with ‘regular’ fans. Doesn’t every kid get to sit in the Press Box?
The year was 1973, a good first year. I wore my little Mets hat and my little Mets jacket every day. But as the season wore down and the Mets appeared to be going nowhere, floundering in last place, my classmates, who were mostly Yankee fans, teased me. I cant even remember how many times I came home from school after being picked on all day, only to get reassurance from my seemingly all-knowing father. ‘We’re gonna win, right Dad?’ “Sure, Don’t worry about it,” he confidently told me. “Okay, good.” And I walked away. My mom turned to my dad and asked, “What will you tell him if they don’t?” “I’ll worry about it then.” As the Mets made a miraculous September run and won the Pennant, I wondered to myself if somehow, someway, my dad maybe…did something.
My dad always has been an optimist when it comes to the Mets. As he taught me the game, he advised me, ‘The Mets NEVER lose. Sometimes we just run out of innings.’ He went to the 2nd game the Mets ever played, a 4-3 loss to Pittsburgh at the Polo Grounds. He was also in attendance on Father’s Day 1964. The game moved to the 9th inning and Jim Bunning was one out away from throwing only the 5th Perfect Game in history. Mets fans cheered the Phillies pitcher, hoping to witness one of Baseball’s rarest feats. But not my father. He was still cheering for his Mets. When someone next to him asked, ‘Don’t you want to tell people you were at a Perfect Game?’, my dad responded, “No, I’d rather tell them I was at the Perfect Game that got broken up with 2 outs in the 9th.” As recent as 2006, when the Mets moved into 1st place, I’d wake up every day to an e-mail from my dad that was counting down the Magic Number. 94, 93, 92 (yes, he started that early.)
Like most kids, my relationship with my dad has not been great. Better then some, worse then others. He’s disagreed with many decisions I’ve made in my life; jobs, career, girls, even to this day how I drive. But the one thing we could always come back to was Baseball. And the Mets. But even that has caused some disagreements. My dad insists the 69 team was better then the 86 club. My dad loves David Wright, but he will never be as good a 3b-man as Ed Charles in 69. While Endy’s catch was great, it was ‘No Agee.’ No matter how great Johan is, Koosman will always be the best LHP in our history.
Before I was even born it had been predetermined that I would root for this team. My father had been a Brooklyn Dodger fan, just like his father. This love for NY NL Baseball went back to the 1920’s. While New York was in awe of Ruth and Gehrig, my grandfather was a Dodgers fan rooting for guys like Zack Wheat and Dazzy Vance. When my dad was old enough, he too kept up the family tradition and became a Brooklyn fan. Although it’s been close to 60 years since ‘The Shot Heard Round The World,’ my dad still refers to the Giants OF-er not as Bobby Thomson but as ‘Bobby *^%$@# Thomson.’ To this day, my dad insists the final called strike in Don Larsen’s Perfect Game in the 56 series against Brooklyn was ‘outside.’
The year was 1957 when the Dodgers and Giants vacated New York for the barren wasteland of California 3000 miles away. The heart of every little boy in NY was broken, including my dad’s. It was not until 1962 when NL baseball returned to NY with our Mets. But in those 5 years, my dad’s life had changed. He graduated high school, started college, met my mom and got married. He went from a teenage boy to adulthood. But when it was announced that a new team would be created named The Metropolitans, shortened to Mets, my dad immediately became a fan, as did many old Dodgers and Giants fans.
My dad looked at the 1962 Opening Day roster and, as always, felt confident that we could finish at .500. His dad, my grandfather, followed the Mets, but never really became a fan. He had rooted for Brooklyn for 40+ years. But by 1962, he was becoming older and his health was failing. After rooting for Duke, Gil, Jackie, Roy and Pee Wee, it was hard to get enthused about Choo Choo Coleman, Felix Mantilla and Marvelous Marv.
My dad tried to convince his dad that this new team, the Mets, may be pretty good in a few years. He even joked, “Give it some time. Within a few years, we’ll be in the World Series.” My grandfather shook his head and nonchalantly commented, “I wont live to see it.” My grandfather’s innocent remark was correct. He passed away in May 1969.
To this day, my dad wonders if somehow, someway, maybe….