“To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born.”
No good. Better not plagiarize Charles Dickens so early in the morning.
“I was born in the house that my father built.”
That’s how Richard Nixon opened his autobiography. But I was born in a Long Island hospital on a cold, snowy morning.
“My family is American, and has been for generations, in all its branches direct and collateral.”
Great line, and true enough for my family too. But Ulysses Grant came up with that opening sentence to his life story more than a century ago.
It’s spring time now and the first day of baseball season was earlier this week. Opening Day makes me think of my own life story – my story as a baseball fan that is.
My Mets won their opener on Monday. But that’s about all they’re good for. If Major League Baseball could just have Opening Day every day, the Mets would be a dominant franchise. Darn those last 161. It’s going to be another long year for us Mets fans. They’ll be .500 or maybe a little better. I suppose that makes their prospects for this season better than their average season.
People have often asked me how a baseball fan growing up in New York could end up a Mets fan and not a Yankees fan – the most successful franchise in all of professional sports.
For me it started in the third grade. Those “lovable losers,” as they were often described, were then the talk of the baseball world. It was shocking, stunning, unbelievable – but true. The Mets were in the World Series after spending the previous seven years as the worst team ever.
But they were about to embark on the greatest upset in modern professional sports history – maybe all of sports history. Perhaps during the time of Caligula’s Rome 2,000 years ago, there was a bigger upset in the chariot races. But I haven’t heard about it.
Miss Messics, my elementary school music teacher, was a stern disciplinarian. No talking, no gum chewing, no feet on the furniture and certainly no listening to a hidden transistor radio.
I wasn’t a saintly third grader. I was often getting in some kind of trouble. But I was never so foolhardy as not to recognize the probable consequences of getting caught listening to a small radio pressed against my ear. Especially when I was supposed to be practicing serious music on the plastic piano keys atop my desk. “Casey Jones,” I believe, was the title of the masterpiece I was supposed to be learning.
Oh, and not the Casey Jones by the Grateful Dead. It was some one-note-at-a-time composition I had grown very tired of and still couldn’t play.
I was taking a big risk with my radio and I knew it. But to me, nothing was more important than what I was listening to.
Completely engrossed in the voices of Mets announcer’s Lindsey Nelson, Bob Murphy and Ralph Kiner, I barely noticed the shadow which began looming over me. As the shadow hovered ever closer, I tensed. While expecting to be grabbed by the ear or collar, I heard only a low whisper into my ear.
“What’s the score?” asked Miss Messics in a barely audible tone.
Is this a trick?
“Ummm, ur, ah, humanah, humanah, the Mets are down 1-0,” I mumbled.
“Oh blast,” she said no longer whispering. “Well, keep me informed.”
That’s how it was in the fall of 1969. It seemed to me as though the whole world was caught up in Mets fever. News of the Mets led off the local and national news. Teachers, kids, adults and even movie stars were asked for comment. Everyone was talking about the Amazing Mets.
As for Miss Messics, she was a displaced Brooklyn Dodgers fan. When, in 1957, the Dodgers and Giants left New York for California, millions of New York baseball fans were left without a team to support. Rooting for the Dodgers or Giants from 3,000 miles away just didn’t seem the same to most ex-New York National League fans – and that went for Miss Messics. Rooting for the Yankees was certainly out of the question.
When the Mets came on the scene in 1962, sporting the colors of the departed Giants (orange) and Dodgers (blue), millions of displaced baseball fans suddenly found a home. Five years in the wilderness had ended – thanks, in part, to a lot of work by a lawyer named William Alfred Shea.
The Mets lost 120 games that first year. A record of futility that still stands. Over the next seven years the Mets remained horrible. They were synonymous with bad – really bad. After all, they were the worst ever. Even in ‘69 they started 18-23. While that was an improvement for sure, not even not even the most optimistic Mets fan had any illusions of grandeur at that point. Two weeks later, however, they were 29-23. But even in August, the Mets were 10 games behind a talented Chicago Cubs team.
Maybe it was the black cat that scampered past the Cubs dugout during a critical three-game series at the old Shea Stadium that doomed the Northsiders. Maybe it was a message from on high that nothing is impossible if you believe. But the lovable losers’ 24-7 September stretch was what ultimately doomed the Cubs.
After securing the NL East title, the Mets surged past the powerful Henry Aaron led Atlanta Braves in the first ever NLCS, three games to none. That was remarkable enough, but how could they survive the 109-win Baltimore Orioles? They were like an all-star team. But after dropping game one, the Mets rolled the O’s in four straight. AMAZING!
So that’s it then. The Mets reeled me in back in 1969 and I’ve been stuck with them ever since – through the good and the bad.
If I had been born 10 years earlier or later, I probably would have been a Yankees fan.
Thank God for small miracles.