Friday, October 30, 2015
I met the Mets
(Did you know I'm holding a contest? Click on the previous post to enter. You only have until 3 p.m. Saturday).
Every person has a childhood. If you're lucky, you look back on it fondly, even if you didn't think it was so fun at the time. I remember every difficult part of childhood, not getting what I wanted, bullies, being punished, yet I prefer to focus on the more pleasant moments because they are what made me.
There were four teams central to my development as a baseball fan when I was growing up: the Dodgers, Red Sox, Yankees and Mets. There were a few others floating around there more often than the others -- Phillies, Royals, Reds, Pirates, Orioles, Brewers -- but the basic four molded me.
The Dodgers taught me who to root for and why. The Yankees taught me who to root against and why. The Red Sox taught me about family and how baseball is a bond that strengthens family. And the Mets taught me, possibly more than any of those other three, how to be a fan.
I've explained before how the Mets were my grandfather's favorite team and the bond and memories created while watching the team on a weekly basis in his living room. And I've probably mentioned how the Mets were actually my favorite team -- for one day -- after I received a Tom Seaver glove for my 10th birthday. (I was sorting some things out then).
The Mets, unlike the Dodgers and the Red Sox, were around. I could see them every week. This was when network baseball broadcast one game, maybe two at the most, per week. And cable aired whatever local team was nearby. For me, that was the Mets and the Yankees.
I couldn't follow the Yankees. Not when I was a fan of the Dodgers and the Red Sox. The players didn't seem all that likable and although we'd watch weekend Yankees games, too, at my grandfather's house, I didn't feel any connection to the team.
The Mets were different. There was no animosity with the Mets. And there was no real rooting interest either. It was the first time I had a neutral opinion about a baseball team. I saw them once a week and I didn't really care whether they won or lost. I could just watch them as a team and get to know who they were.
That was probably the right approach because the Mets weren't very good then. When I started watching them, they were finishing in third every year. But that was a lot better than finishing in last every year, which was what they did immediately after finishing in third.
But without the stress of who was hitting well and which player the manager was sending in to pinch-hit, I watched and absorbed. I got to know forgotten players like Ron Hodges and Roy Staiger and Bruce Boisclair.
When I come across those players now -- in a very infrequent reference somewhere online -- I know them instantly. Yes, that is the player I watched when I was little. I remember Bob Murphy or Ralph Kiner discussing his fielding.
As a young fan, I gravitated to the younger players and I was as excited as anyone following new call-up Mike Vail, who promptly hit in 23 straight games. I had never heard of anyone hitting in that many games in a row and so Vail introduced me to the concept of the hitting streak.
I truly believe that I learned more about baseball from those teams because I didn't live and die with them.
If you read accounts of the mid-to-late '70s era, it's often referred to as the dark ages. It's a time when the "Ya Gotta Believe" team crumbled into a gutted squad that depended on failed prospects.
But those are Mets fans talking. For me, these are the players who taught me the ebb and flow of a major league baseball team. Players sent down. Players called up. Players getting hot. Players getting benched. Players signed. Players traded. I experienced it all watching the Mets from 1975-79 on WOR-TV.
This was my graduation from baseball cards to the reality of the baseball world. As a fan of cards, I just knew the player's name, his stats and what he looked like. On TV, I learned mannerisms, attitude, style and more history about the player than I could ever absorb.
And that's how it was for five years. Every Saturday, NBC would show a different team on the Game of the Week. The Cardinals, the Angels, the Tigers. You would watch the broadcast and wait for when they announced what next week's game would be. I hoped every time it would be the Dodgers, and it seldom was (and when it was, it was almost always against the Reds). And you'd get mad at the Game of the Week for not showing the teams you thought should be shown, or for showing teams too much, much like people do today with ESPN.
But then I could return to the Mets and lose all of my irritation in the hard-nosed play of John Stearns, who was much loved by the Mets broadcasters. I'd study why they liked him and I learned a little about positive and negative attributes in baseball.
It's a miracle I didn't transform into a Mets fan. Many people associate with the team they see the most and begin to identify with them. I could never do that with my allegiance to the Dodgers, but I can see how it can happen.
Today you can immerse yourself in whatever team you choose and know more about them than you do your own family.
But back then, we just had a TV. And weekend baseball broadcasts.
That is where I met the Mets. And if you want to know how I can sit in front of a television and watch a baseball game from start to finish, I'll blame those Mets teams from the late '70s.
Sure they were lousy. But they were great theater.