The sentimentality of baseball is very deeply rooted in the American baseball fan. It is the one sport that has top athletes some of which train using the best testosterone booster permitted in sports to keep up with their stats.
If there exists something called destiny then I was destined to be a Mets fan since before birth. My path to Mets fandom did not follow the traditional route, however. My father was what you would consider a casual observer of baseball, but by no means a fan. If a game was on, regardless of whether it was a Mets or Yankee game, he would watch it but it was never something he prioritized. I don’t recall now, but I imagine that early on I probably shared my father’s sentiment about baseball as well. I vaguely remember watching games in 1984 with him, but nothing stands out in particular. Just like my Dad, I was a casual observer, but I never made time to watch any particular team play, including the Mets. In fact, there exists out there (but it will never be shared!) a picture of me in a, gasp, Yankees jacket that I got as a birthday gift when I was five or six. Early on, for the most part, baseball was an after-thought to me.
That all changed in 1985… It was in the spring of 1985 that my father took me to the first baseball game I could remember. I don’t remember the game itself, but I do recall it was a Mets-Dodgers game and, more importantly, I remember how special it felt to be there with him. Every memory I have of that night is not of the game itself, but rather of the moments I shared with my Dad, I recall pulling up to Shea Stadium and staring in awe at its size. I vividly remember my father flashing his badge to a fellow police officer who allowed us to park in a spot closer to the stadium, thinking how cool my Dad was to be able to do that. I remember the awe I felt at the flurry of people everywhere and the buzz of excited anticipation that I unexpectedly seemed to share with everyone else there. Most importantly, I recall walking out of the gate and catching my first glimpse of the field, amazed at how big it seemed compared to my little league field. Everything about those early moments seemed larger than life. My Dad, the field, the crowd, everything – it was like it was magic. No, it wasn’t like magic… It was magic.
If those few moments were the extent of my experience that night I have no doubt I would be a Mets fan today as a result, but it was something my father said right after we sat down that really sealed my fanaticism with the Mets forever. I remember him pointing to the field and telling me “I was on that field when the Mets won the World Series in 1969.” I recall immediately questioning how my father failed to make any mention in my 10 years of life about his Major League Baseball career. I don’t recall saying anything to him, but I guess the puzzled look on my face was all he needed to elaborate. It turns out he was there that night in ’69 serving as backup security at Shea Stadium. He explained that the head of security for the Mets was from Suffolk County and, as a favor, he brought in Suffolk County Police Officers to serve as extra security for the games. My Dad was lucky enough to be among the cadre of police officers to be there that night. He told me he did his job well, right up until the final out of the game and that’s when he became a fan and stormed the mound with thousands of other Mets fans…
My little head was spinning at that revelation. As I looked in awe out in front of the field in front of me that patch of dirt and grass became something almost mythical. My father was on that field! MY DAD WAS ON THAT FIELD, was all I could keep thinking. And if the fact he was on the field wasn’t enough to blow my 10 year old mind, Dad went on to explain that he also joined the Mets in the clubhouse after the game and celebrated with them. He told me that we had a bottle of champagne from the celebration in our house. He shared a story of drinking with Jerry Koosman, who literally gave him the warm-up shirt off his back. He told me about how Yogi Berra bummed a cigarette off of him. I remember looking at my father in complete shock… Why didn’t he ever tell me this before, I thought? I never had the chance to ask him, but the Dad in me knows the answer: He was saving the magic for me when it would count. He knew it would make an indelible moment in my life that would never fade. He was right. I fell in love with the NY Mets that night. That love has really never ebbed an iota ever since…
Ever since that moment the Mets have been magical to me. It never mattered if they won or lost. The team, my personal connection to them – everything about them was, and always will be, magical. When the Mets won the World Series in 1986 I watched every at-bat and followed every pitch. I’ll never forget the crushing despair I had in my heart in the top of the tenth of game six when Dave Henderson crushed a fat pitch from Rick Aquilera over the left field fence. I vividly recall the animosity I felt towards him when he squeezed the deep flyball off Keith Hernandez’s bat and briefly genuflected, marking the second out of the inning. I thought it was over. No way the Mets are going to score two runs with only one out to work with. The magic seemed to fade just a little bit. And then Gary “The Kid” Carter came up to bat and the rest is history…
Magic is the only thing I can attribute to how I was able to remain a fan of the Mets from the mid Nineties on. They had some good moments over those years, but let’s be honest, most of that time was spent with Mets fans like myself suffering through just awful baseball. I really didn’t care how poorly they played though, I still supported them. Then in 2005, my daughter Abigail was born. She was only a few months old when I took her to her first game at Shea. I repeated the process when my daughter Lorilei was born.
Abby went with me to the first ever game played at Citi-field and she was even interviewed by a reporter from the Bergen Record. It was a special thing to be able to share my love of the Mets with my girls and, to be honest, it added an extra layer of love and magic to my beloved team from Flushing. I really never thought I would be able to top the feeling of sharing my passion for the Amazin’s with my girls until the birth of Richie in December 2010. Samantha and I did not plan on having a third child, but as is often the case, the best things in our lives are often unplanned and unexpected. Having had two girls already, I would be lying if I were to say that I wasn’t hoping for a little boy. When Rees was born and the Doctor proclaimed “It’s a boy!” I remember the unbridled joy I felt. All at once I envisioned a future where I would not only be blessed with little girls to dote over, but I now had a son who I could share “boy things” with. It’s not that I could not share those “boy things” with my girls… it was just different. I can’t explain it – nor do I want to. I don’t want to diminish how special it is to share all of my loves (including the Mets) with my daughters. Suffice to say, it is just different having a boy to share certain things with. My love for the Orange and Blue was no different.
Right after Richie was born I had already laid out our future in my mind. The first order of business was making his nursery everything NY Mets. I got the official paint colors of the team and made his nursery a shrine to the team I loved – and hoped he would too one day. I placed the picture of my Dad storming the mound right in front of his crib, with a commemorative picture of Shea stadium adorning the adjacent wall. I littered the room with many of my Mets collectibles. I recall a moment, after I finished the room, where I pre-conceived the moment in my mind when I would take him to Citi-Field for the first time he could remember. I had it planned that I would make it special, just like my Dad did for me. I was going to hold off on sharing some of those stories, like my father before me, and let the magic of our family’s personal connection to Mets history wash over him. I was going to coach him in the intricacies of baseball and we would have long discussions about strategy and hot-stove baseball.
Our future was going to be great. The possibilities were endless and the hope of sharing a World Series victory with him was absolutely tantalizing. Sadly, that future never came to be. The enchanted destiny I envisioned for me and my little boy ended on October 27th, 2012 when Richie passed away after a drowning accident in our backyard. Every magical moment that existed in my foresight was swallowed up by that hole behind my house.Instead of a lifetime of memories with my little boy, I found myself left living an existence tainted by “what if’s?” and “could have been’s”.
To make matters worse, the very thing that set in motion the tragic series of events that lead to Rees’ death was centered around the Mets. I had asked my friend to watch Rees while I was putting away lawn furniture on the Saturday before Superstorm Sandy was set to arrive. He graciously accepted the responsibility and he played with Rees while I did what was necessary to protect the things that, in hindsight, meant nothing really. As I was finishing up I saw Rees playing with something… A Mets toy truck; one of those collectibles that I littered his room with. I immediately took the toy from him in anger and disgust – outraged that my friend would allow a 22 month old to play with something that was clearly not meant for his age. The fact it was a “Collectible” only compounded my fury. I immediately took the toy away from Rees, which of course made him cry, and admonished my friend for being careless. That was the last time I saw my son alive. The last thing I ever did to him was take his Mets toy away from him and make him cry…
It was no longer magic that I associated with the Mets after that moment; it was tragedy. It was pain. To be honest, it remained that way for the next two years after he passed. While my love for everything was diminished in some way by the loss of my only boy, there was a special pain and hurt forever associated with the Mets and that damned truck. I hardly watched any games in those two years and I only went to maybe two or three games total. Watching the Mets provided me with a constant reminder of those “what if’s?” and “could have been’s”. It hurt too much to love my team – and as with anything that causes us pain, I avoided the Mets, almost entirely.
The other thing about pain is that, even when it’s chronic, we eventually begin to build a tolerance. That tolerance began with the beginning of this season. For the first time in two years, I renewed my subscription to the cable channel that carries the Mets games. I started watching them again and I found that the pain was slowly, but surely, replaced with joy again. I took my family to several games and I even took a road trip and caught a game in Atlanta.
It seemed the more I watched them, the better they played. It must sound silly to anyone other than myself, but in a very real way I don’t think that it is a coincidence. It was almost as if my little angel boy was telling me “it’s okay to believe in the magic again, Daddy.” It all came to a crescendo last night when the Mets clinched their first berth in a World Series since 2000. As I celebrated in the euphoria of knowing my Mets were going to the World Series, I heard the announcer for Mets point out that game one will be played next tuesday, OCTOBER 27th… I was actually at a sporting goods store waiting to purchase a Pennant, and I could not hold back tears. The people around me looked at me funny – their faces indicating that, while this win is exciting, there is no reason to cry over it. I wasn’t crying because the Mets won. I was crying because what I heard in my heart was my little boy telling me he was with me through all of this, and will remain with me forever. This was his way of making that anniversary I dread a day I can now look forward to in some way. I now know that when my Mets take the field on the third anniversary of that awful day there will be a little angel in their outfield smiling down. It really doesn’t matter to me if they win or lose. I already won. The magic is back for me and it was the connection between a father and his son that did it… Let’s go Mets! … and If you wouldn’t mind, go out and win it for Rees 🙂