My amazing introduction to sports
It all started on a cold, snowy February morning on Long Island, NY.
No, that’s no good. True, but silly.
“I was born in the house that my father built.”
Nope. No good. Not true. Besides, didn’t that come from Dick Nixon?
“My family is American, and has been for generations, in all its branches, direct and collateral.”
Well that’s true, sort of. But Ulysses Grant wrote that line about 130-years before me.
It would be true for my family too, but three of my siblings have married foreign spouses. One brother married a British woman, another a woman from Russia and a sister married a man from New Jersey.
O.K., too regional. That’s a New York joke.
Truth is I don’t like the idea of writing about myself and loathe this assignment. The mission here is to introduce myself to the readers as the new sports writer at the Sun-Telegraph. But attempting some kind of autobiographical sketch would be as boring for me to write as it would be for you to read.
In time, hopefully I will get to know many of you. In the meantime, how’s this: Given my occupation I am by definition a sports fan. So how ‘bout me telling you the story of how I became a Mets fan?
The scene opens in my 3rd-grade music class.
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 radio.
As an eight-year-old I was certainly no saint. But I wasn’t so foolhardy as not to recognize the probable consequenses of getting caught with a small transistor radio pressed against my ear. Especially when I was supposed to be practicing serious music on plastic piano keys atop my desk. I believe the title of this serious music was called, “Casey Jones.”
Oh, and not the “Casey Jones” by the Grateful Dead. Some one-note-at-a-time compostition 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 in the world than what I was listening to.
Completely engrossed in the sounds coming from the radio I barely noticed the shadow which began looming over me. As I tensed, expecting to be grabbed by collar or ear, I heard only a whisper.
“What’s the score,” asked Miss Messics.
“Ummm, ur, a 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 national and local news. Teachers, kids, adults and even some movie stars were asked for comment. Everyone seemed caught up in 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 from 3,000 miles away just didn’t seem the same. Rooting for the Yankees was completely out of the question (as it is for me).
When the Mets came along in 1962, sporting the colors of the departed (Giant orange and Dodger blue) millions of displaced baseball fans suddenly found a home. Five years in the wilderness had ended.
The Mets lost 120 games that first year. A record of futility that still stands. Over the next seven years the Mets remained horrible, but it didn’t matter. To Miss Messics and millions of others National League Baseball fans, they had a home.
So it’s not surprising that the Mets caused such a stir in 1969. They were synonymous with bad - really bad. Even in ‘69 they started 18-23 which was improvement for sure, but not eliciting any dreams of glory. The Mets were still 10 games back of the Cubs in August.
The Mets surge to the playoffs and 100 wins seemed remarkable. When they swept the Henry Aaron led Braves 3-0 in the NLCS it must have seemed completely unfathomable to any baseball fan. Taking the championship in just five games from the 109-win Orioles truly did seem amazing.
The Mets roped me in that fall of 1969. I became a fan then and I remain one today. Aside from 1969 and a few other years the Mets have been largely mediocre. As I told my oldest brother once, “Had I been born 10 years earlier or later perhaps I would have been a Yankees fan.”
Thank God for small miracles!