Random fandom thought

My fandom in sports peaked between 1982 and 1985 when I was between 9 and 13 years old. For what seemed like the next 15 years, though, I felt a waning of rooting interest in sports. At first, it was a natural movement toward other interests. Later, when I realized I wanted to be a sportswriter, it was a conscious decision to be more Spock-like — rational, unemotional, unbiased, as I felt a good journalist should.

Even after I left the sportswriting world (at least, on a full-time basis), a decade of decidedly unlikable Yankee teams — from raging Clemens throwing a bat shard at Mike Piazza to the execrable Randy Johnson and his love of the camera to A-Rod’s mere existence in pinstripes — found me uncomfortable rooting for such an unlikable organization.

Perhaps the only blip in this sports fandom desert was in 2001-02 during the brief resurgence of the New York Islanders in their first year of Michael Peca as captain, with Alexei Yashin as their leading scorer and Chris Osgood and his red leg pads between the pipes. I took my dad to Nassau Coliseum about a month after 9/11 to see a game against San Jose that went to overtime, and I’ve never been to a hockey game in October where it sounded like the roof was about to come off.

And then, for me, came the Mets.

I haven’t been this interested in following a baseball team on a daily basis since I was 12. I’m trying to write in a coffee shop on the weekend, and instead I’m following play-by-play on MLB.com. At work, I’m sneaking out to the car to listen to an afternoon game on my radio in April during this 9-1 streak that seems to have been sparked by that 20-inning win, solidarity led by a smiling right fielder from Georgia sticking up for his manager, and the slugging son of a skinny bespectacled Eighties reliever.

Whatever the cause, this delightful turnaround has me cheering while drinking my Stewart’s coffee in a parking lot on a late lunch break as Angel Pagan hits a triple to drive in two runs (is there a more exciting baseball play than the triple?) Wednesday afternoon. Meanwhile, at home, my toddler son is singing “Meet the Mets” (somehow to the tune of the Ramones singing “Spiderman”) and I feel, suddenly, a little like the anonymous New Yorkers from 1962 as quoted by Jimmy Breslin in Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game? in the middle of the Mets’ lovably losing (in retrospect, perhaps) inaugural season:

“I’ve been a Mets fan all my life.”

“Nearly everybody was saying it by mid-June. And nearly everybody had a good reason for saying it. You see, the Mets are losers, just like nearly everybody else in life. This is a team for the cab driver who gets held up and the guy who loses out on a promotion because he didn’t maneuver himself to lunch with the boss enough. It is the team for every guy who has to get out of bed in the morning and go to work for short money on a job he does not like. And it is the team for every woman who looks up ten years later and sees her husband eating dinner in a T-shirt and wonders how the hell she ever let this guy talk her into getting married. The Yankees? Who does well enough to root for them, Laurence Rockefeller?”

—Jimmy Breslin, Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?, 1963

Here’s to not losing, but still happily rooting like a fan again.

Originally published April 30, 2010, at my baseball blog.

Postscript, May 6: OK, so the Mets went from that streak to dropping four of their last five to the Phillies and the Reds, all on the road. Lesson re-learned: Winning games like an Indiana Jones action hero outrunning a giant boulder eventually gets you flattened. Still, for anyone burned out on sports, I’d recommend a change in rooting interests, and especially leagues; it’s like experiencing baseball a whole new way.

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