Friday, May 24, 2013

My Stupid, Sentimental Decision to Become a Mets Fan

One issue I've had with settling down here in New Jersey so late in my life is that I come here with well-established sports allegiances from my Midwestern homeland.  Knowing that I am going to be here for a long time makes it difficult to not be a fan of one of the local teams.  While I have adopted the New Jersey Devils, hockey does not hold nearly as important a place in my heart as baseball.  The White Sox are still my one true baseball loyalty, but this season I have decided to officially take on the Mets as my second, National League team.

From a sports fan point of view, this is not the smartest decision.  My other option would be the New York Yankees, the most successful sports franchise in American history, winner of 27 World Series titles.  I've seen Yankees caps all over the world, testament to their prestige and winning ways.  For a brief moment I flirted with the prospect of Yankees fandom, but managed to avoid the temptations of the baseball devil.  Like all die-hard non-Yankees fans, I knew that they stood for everything bad and wrong, and that I should not let my desire for the easy path lead me down the road to the dark side.

That, of course, left me with the Mets.  Where the Yankees are mighty, the Mets are lowly.  Their current lineup couldn't hit water if it fell out of a boat.  The ownership of the Mets took a bath on Bernie Madoff's pyramid scheme, which means they don't have the necessary cash to replace the current rogue's gallery of banjo hitters with some true sluggers.  The Mets' new stadium is soulless, mostly empty, and its lobby is embarrassingly full of Dodgers iconography, as if the Mets' history was too pathetic to be praised.  It's located in the no-man's land of Flushing Meadows, Queens, with no bars or restaurants nearby.  The vast majority of Mets fans are born into it, or make the fateful decision when they are still too young to realize the consequences of their actions.  My voluntarily taking on a sad-sack team when I could be rooting for a winning juggernaut seems like a pretty crazy thing to do.

Perhaps it is, but I have my reasons, even beyond Yankee hatred.  In the first place, I can't abide bandwagon jumpers, a constituency well-represented among the Yankee faithful.  I also have a tendency, perhaps reinforced by my youth as an unpopular kid at school, to want to be contrarian in my tastes.  Instead of slavishly trying to win acceptance by joining up with the in crowd, I prefer to stick with the unloved and underappreciated.  (This also helps explain my love for the White Sox, 19th century German history, and New Jersey.)

More sentimentally, I have some positive childhood associations with the Mets.  The 1986 baseball season was the first that I followed as a true student of the game, rather than as a kid who liked to play baseball in the back yard.  I paid attention to the players and the stats, and watched the Mets' thrilling World Series against Red Sox.  I liked the Mets' brashness, exemplified by the likes of Gary Carter, Keith Hernandez, and Darryl Strawberry.  When we played baseball on the schoolyard during recess or gym class, I would take on the persona of one of their players based on where I was on the field.  In fact, I can still reel off the entire Mets starting line-up and pitching staff.  This is partly due to the fact that 1987 was the first year I collected baseball cards, and I spent countless hours studying the statistics on the back of them from the prior season.  The Mets were a powerhouse team in those days, the Yankees a declining former power going to seed.

In a lot of ways, by rooting for the Mets I'm just jumping on the bandwagon 27 years too late, which makes me a great fit for this star-crossed bunch.

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