Saturday, September 6, 2008

Me and Baseball

This is a post I've been meaning to write for a while. I guess it's kindof long, but I think it's worth reading.

I often find myself explaining my particular allegiance to baseball teams at particular times and, once and for all, I'd like to lay out my entire history as a baseball fan. I think this is a safe time for this history, because I'm confident I've reached a homeostasis relative to my baseball fandom and I don't think I'll be altering much from here on out.

My mom grew up in New York in the 1950s. She was a Dodger fan. If you don't understand what it meant to be a Dodger fan in New York in the 1950s, then all I'll say is that the Dodgers were the second best team in baseball for a lot of years and they lost repeatedly to the Yankees in the World Series. Back then, people in New York took their baseball very seriously and being a Dodger fan was a symbol of pride, and also probably irrationality. The Dodgers finally won the World Series in 1955, only to pack up and move to Los Angeles in 1957 (despite popular opinion, the guy who deserves the most blame for the Dodgers move is not Walter O'Malley, but Robert Moses, who was basically in charge of everything that happened in New York for about 40 years). Brooklyn Dodger fans are not right in the head, but in an uderstandable way. Anyway, that was my mom. She was a huge Brooklyn Dodger fan, and subsequently a huge Los Angeles Dodger fan. She didn't do the replacement Mets thing, and she obviously didn't become a Yankee fan.

The first baseball game I ever went to was actually two games. I don't remember the year, but it was in September circa 1984. The Dodgers were in the pennant race and were playing a double header at Shea against the Mets. This was back before the Mets were on TV every day and I think the games were only avaiable on that old school SportsChannel, which was a pay channel at the time. Needless to say, my mom needed to see these two games and so we packed up some sandwiches and a cooler and hit the road out to Queens. I remember it was kindof overcast and we had sodas with a penguin logo. I have no idea who won the games. That's not true, I'm pretty sure it was a split.

My dad was a Dodger fan because, to hear him explain it, every black guy from the South became a Dodger fan when they picked up Jackie Robinson. I guess that's not surprising, although he wasn't as hard core as my mom was. He was really more of a football fan, and I think he was just interested in wathcing black guys do well in baseball, hence he was a big fan of Dwight Gooden and Reggie Jackson and you get the idea.

Anyhow, when I was a kid all I ever wanted to be was a Yankee fan. I loved Don Mattingly and I loved the idea that Dave Winfield lived within walking distance of my house and I liked to watch Rickey Henderson, and I didn't even really realize that the Yankees were kindof terrible at the time. I just liked their guys. I think the only thing my mom ever told me unequivocally that I wasn't allowed to do was to be a Yankee fan. I wanted to buy a Yankee jacket when I was in 3rd grade and was told that I would definitely not be allowed to buy it, but I could get a Mets jacket if I wanted, so I did. I wasn't in love with the Mets, even in '86. I was interested, and of course Dwight was the fucking man. I could name all of the guys and would watch sometimes, but I kindof struggled with not being allowed to like the Yankees at the time and so I kindof saw the Mets as just settling for something.

I remember the Cardinals winning and '82 and the Royals winning the Series in '85. Everyone around here remembers '86 and from then on I know I really payed attention to baseball in general once the playoffs rolled around. So here I was, not being allowed to be a Yankee fan, not really wanting to be a Mets fan, and wanting to have a team to follow.

In 1988 the Dodgers had a great season and were led by Orel Hershiser who threw 59 consecutive scoreless innings during that season to break a record that he still holds today. I liked Hershiser a lot, and my mom was obviously over the moon about the Dodgers' success and so she and I watched the Dodgers together in 1988 with guys like Orel, Steve Sax, Mike Scioscia, Mickey Hatcher, and of course Kirk Gibson. It made me happy that the Dodgers were doing well and that my mom was obviously so happy about it, so I routed along with her. And to this day Hershiser is still one of my favorite players.

At the same time I really liked to watch one of the popular teams of the time, the Oakland A's. They had guys like Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Dave Stewart, and my favorite guy was Dennis Eckersley. And with Tony LaRussa managing, who was a star in his own right, there was a sense that they were playing baseball in a way that was entirely different than anyone had ever played it. They might not have been, but that was my feeling at the time. I was naive enough (as was everyone else, apparently) in 1988 not to even question that these guys were on steroids, but in the end it didn't really even matter.

Ironically, the Dodgers met the A's in the World Series that year. I can't say I was really torn, I was on the Dodgers' side. My mom woke me up to watch Kirk Gibson hit that home run in game 1 and I can't say I was routing even a little bit for the A's. Routing for the Dodgers in 1988 was the favorite activity that I participated in with my mom that year.

But still, I liked the A's. And I wasn't really bandwagoning in the sense that I said I liked them but didn't really know anything about them. I really liked those guys. I followed their games and had posters of Dave Stewart and Dennis Eckersley and Mark McGwire up in my room. I can't say my fandom lasted long past 1989, and by the time they lost to the Reds in the World Series in 1990, I didn't really care that much. I was a real fan there for a while, even though it was short lived.

Around then I developed a routine that changed my baseball fandom again. On Sundays when there were no cartoons on, only news shows, and everything basically sucked, I used to watch channel 9 all day. I don't remember all the shows, but some of them were definitely Steampipe Alley with Mario Cantone (didn't realize he was gay, but maybe should have in retrospect), My Secret Identity with Jerry O'Connell, and that show where the girl had a human mom and an alien dad and her name was Evie and the dad communicated with them from space out of a crystal and she could stop time by touching her fingertips together and the theme song was, "Would you like to swing on a star, carry moonbeams home in a jar,..." Why can't I remember the name of that show? I think it was called Out of This World. Anyway, after all those shows were done, the Mets game would come on. Again, this was back before the games were on every day, so the weekend games were a special treat to watch. Also they were on in the afternoon, so I wouldn't have to go to sleep before the games were over.

So the Mets and I reached an agreement. I didn't really have a team at the time. I was over the A's, still watched the Yankees from time to time, but it was still not really allowed, and I just liked baseball. I wouldn't say I was a fan, but I watched the Mets as mutch, if not more, than the Yankees at the time. Both of those teams sucked, by the way, circa 1990 so there wasn't really any excitement around either of them that pulled me to one side.

The thing that changed that happened in 1993. His name was Paul O'Neill. The Yankees picked up O'Neill in 1993 from the Reds and he became their everyday right fielder. I was in high school at the time and I was on the THS baseball team and I tended to think about how I should go about hitting at the plate. When Paul O'neill joined the Yankees, those ideas all consolidated into simply making my swing as much like Paul O'Neill's swing as possible. The only was to say it is just that his swing was beautiful. I mean, it was just perfect. I watched as many Yankee games as possible starting then in order to watch Paul O'Neill. Paul is definitely, easily, without a doubt my favorite baseball player ever. Say what you want about his temper tantrums or whatever, but this guy was a great player and a great teammate and only ever got mad at himself. So that was it, I was a Yankee fan.

I didn't have anything against the Mets, and circa 1994 when I started to spend a lot more time with Side Bar, Open Bar, and Diesal I also started to spend a lot more time watching the Mets. Over any given summer night from 1994 through 2000, I would usually find myself in Side Bar's basement eating McDonald's and watching the Mets game on primary and the Yankee game during the commercials, a concession that I thank Side Bar for. So I was interested in the Mets and I wanted them to win. I guess I was a fan.

At the same time, something that kindof defined me was being a Yankee fan amongst these characters who all liked the Mets. So it was played up by both me and my friends. I don't think I ever really got shit about being a bandwagon Yankee fan, because I definitely wasn't, but more for the flip flopping and the two hats thing. I guess that's valid if you have the "one team is your team" mentality, but I just didn't really turn out that way.

So the Yankees went on to dominate in the late 1990s, and at the same time the Mets were developing a bit of character with Bobby Valentine at the helm and Mike Piazza, Edgardo Alfonso, Robin Ventura, John Olerud and later Todd Ziele, along with the worst outfield to ever play in the World Series. I was happy for them and I routed for the Mets. I was at the game in 2000 with Side Bar when the Mets cliched the pennant and it was easily the best atmosphere I've ever been in as a sports fan.

I got married and moved to Queens. I live literally 5 minutes from Shea Stadium. I've been to a ton of Mets games and not many Yankees games in that time. I have had multiple ticket packages for the Mets in 4 or 5 seasons at this point (including a 25 game package last year) and my Mets fandom has come to fruition.

So that's it. I've come to like both the Mets and the Yankees in separate ways. I don't prefer one over the other. I want both of them to win. It's not impossible that they'll meet in the world series (and obviously they have somewhat recently), but barring that unlikely occurrence, being a Mets fan and a Yankee fan rarely interfere with each other. Those 6 games during the season are more spectacle than anything else and are early enough that they don't particularly mean anything. Recently I've found myself routing for the Mets in those games, mainly because I'm not going to go to Shea and route for them the rest of the year and then sell them out just because they're playing the Yankees.

I look at it this way. I love baseball. I'm lucky enough to live in a city where I can have full access to not one, but two teams. That's twice as much baseball. No one can question that I am in fact a fan of both teams, and I can undoubtedly hold my own in a conversation regarding the plusses and minuses as well as the recent history of both. In fact I definitely know more about the recent Mets and Yankees history combined than the recently split up Mike and the Mad Dog, whose job description is to know these sorts of things. Their lack of knowledgea bout the Mets is one of the worst things about that show, and it will only get worse with just Francessa in the booth. I guess I understand the "one team" thing, but for me, it's really just limiting your opportunities if you're really a baseball fan.

I know that's a minority opinion, but it makes a whole lot of sense to me. It's not as if you can escape hearing about both teams if you are listening to sports radio, which I do a lot, so why not just take up an interest?

Anyhow, I think this post goes most or all of the way in explaining my history with baseball. I've reached a point where I'm happy with myself as a baseball fan and within the past few years I've really solidified my feelings, to the extent that I don't think I'll really be changing my view anymore. There's just no reason to.


Side Bar said...

I seek your approval too, big guy.

Why does Open Bar go fucking bat shit when no one comments on his posts, but then no one comments on mine?

Anyway, this is a great post. I had all sorts of reactions to it, and I will not try to disaggregate them, instead, I will just respond as I can recall each point, like the eating McDonald's in my basement, which is noteworthy b/c I was just telling meg about this the other day, and she didn't believe that you and I used to eat Mickey D's pretty much every day junior and senior year in high school (in the basement, with one or more ball games on) (I know that my current physique belies our fast food infatuation, but there it is), so next time you see her, be sure and confirm the story, and the 1998-2001 mets were fucking awesome . . . I like the current team, and God will bless David Wright, but Piazza, Olerud, Alfonzo (when he was good), jesus christ those were some fun teams to watch . . . game 5, NLCS, 2000, Mets v. Cardinals, still the greatest day at Shea ever, Open Bar will confirm that, and I guess that your yankee-met duality is somewhat understandable, even though I fucking hate Paul O'Neill, you are the one local fan who has ever been able to pull this off, and even though I think of you as more of a mets fan these days, you have demonstrated sufficient loyalty to the Yanks to claim them as "your" team too, I just wish you had more in the yank tank than Paul O'Neill (who, if I failed to mention, was a fucking douchebag) and Dave Winfield (incidentally, mmg and andyb were in his garage one time, trying to get him to sign autographs, and andyb gave him one of those yellow batting cage balls . . . must have been like trying to autograph a golf ball), but either way, if anyone can claim the right to wear both hats, it is you, and, while it does not seem that the dodger/athletics thing messed you up too thoroughly, I guess it prepared you at a young age to route for two teams at once, and maybe that was the point of your whole post.

Well, at least I got there eventually.

Open Bar said...

Three things:

1. This is a post I've been waiting a long time for. I know I've given you a lot of shit over the years for being a "bandwagon fan", wearing both hats, etc. But I guess I've always been curious about it, since you seem genuinely knowledgeable about both teams -- an admirable trait rarely found in yankee fans and, I admit, found only slightly more frequently in Mets fans.

2. I'm hoping this post inspires me to finally write that one post that explains why I think someone serious about baseball in NYC can't like the Mets and yanks equally (now, I guess, using Chuck as the "exception that proves the rule"). It's not like Giants-Jets, Knicks-Nets, Rangers-Devils-Islanders. It's, somehow, different. Side Bar: I'm sure you have thoughts on this too. So let's get on that.

3. Lastly, I fucking hate Paul O'Neill and hope his children fall into a well. (And Will Clark's swing was way more beautiful and perfect.)