I am writing this book about being a Mets fan, and this is not for the average baseball lover but mostly for the true Mets fan: the real, honest to goodness bleeding orange and blue fan. I have been one of them all my life, and there are many of us out there. The book touches upon the big years of 1969, 1973, and 1986, but they are really years that are only part of the bigger picture. For the most part, being a Met and being a fan of the Mets is about losing, and the happiness that went along with just rooting for the home team and loving them, no matter what the final score and how bad the team looked in the standings.
I know there are other fans in other cities who understand this kind of thing: Cubs fans in Chicago and Red Sox fans in Boston (at least before the Sox turned it all around in recent years). Losing and continually losing becomes part of the fan psyche, and the idea is that you wear the colors proudly, almost defiantly, in order to honor the team and your own emotional investment in it, despite the fact that the basement becomes an almost permanent living arrangement.
The great New York Daily News sports cartoonist Bill Gallo created a character to honor the Metsies: Basement Bertha. Good old Bertha is as ugly as Ernie Borgnine and has teeth like an old pirate, but she also captured the spirit of the good old orange and blue in such a way that she was, and still is, an endearing character. No such character could be created for the Yankees and their fans because they didn’t need a rough and tumble mascot like the Mets did.
I can remember wearing my Mets hat as a kid and having people say things about them to me. “They’re a bunch of bums,” was a usual one. “They’re meatballs,” said the old fat Italian guy with a Yankees cap who always sat on his stool across from the corner deli when I was going to get my Mom a quart of milk. I just would wave at him and say, “Have a nice day,” tipping the old blue cap with the bent orange NY emblem on it.
When I told my father about these things, he said I shouldn’t let it bother me. Though Dad had grown up a Yankee fan, he switched allegiance for me as a kid, which is about the nicest thing a Dad could ever do. I can tell you one thing, if my son ever grows up and becomes a Yankee fan, I don’t think I would have the same benevolence. The truth is though that being a Met fan means having gone through more twists and turns than Mr. Pretzel, and in the end you just can’t shed that orange and blue like it didn’t mean the world to you, because it did and always will.
My mother’s father was a diehard Brooklyn Dodgers fan. He intimately understood a team being called a bunch of bums because that was the Dodgers’ nickname: “Dem Bums.” Pop talked a lot about going to Ebbets Field to see the Dodgers, taking my mother and her sisters with him and his brother Matty. Sometimes they got in, and sometimes the kids had to watch the game through a knothole in the fence. They had a name for those kids: the Knothole Gang. Ah, those were the days.
So the allegiance to the Mets, fierce, determined, and unwavering despite their losing ways, was born out of Dodger suffering. We borrowed the Dodger blue and the NY Giants orange after they left for California, and those colors were then imbued upon new hats and uniforms, and soaked into the blood of every fan who switched allegiance if, for no other reason, as to have a team to root for that was not the Yankees.
As a kid I watched the games and never expected a victory, so imagine my surprise in 1969 when the Mets became the Amazins. There can never be a fully understood response to this unbelievable victory other than emotional euphoria that bordered on hysteria. People honked horns in the streets, banged pots and pans, screamed from rooftops, set off fireworks in alleyways, and set fires in garbage cans. My grandfather noted that the revelry reminded him of when the Dodgers won in 1955, and that was even more delirious because the Dodgers had beaten the hated Yankees, which was better than when he and lots of other guys beat the Kaiser in World War One.
All of this, of course, brings us to present day Met fans and their grief and misery and still unbridled happiness. Currently, no one on the Mets has ten or more home runs, which does indeed remind me of the glory days when Ed Kranepool led the team with nine homers (and we thought that was a lot back then). They are making errors in the field, dropping balls, misplaying balls, and throwing them like your 5-year-old sister tossing a softball against the fence. Yes, the old Mets are back and I’m loving every minute of it.
Of course, that is because of nostalgia and a new stadium that is conspicuously like old Ebbets Field. There is a smell in the air of days of old, and the malingering notion of pennant or wild card does not even register because you’re going out to the old ball game, you’re getting your Cracker Jack, and rooting for the home team. Sure, it’s a shame if they don’t win, but that is not what matters anyway. We’re Mets fans, born from losing, and they may be bums and meatballs, but they are our bums and meatballs, and we love them.
So, I put out of my mind the way Omar Minaya has messed things up for the Wilpons. I forget about that huge payroll, about the minor league system that is in disarray, and the wounded warriors that have left the field and are plagued by mysterious injuries and maladies that would drive old Sherlock Homes batty trying to investigate them.
There is no rhyme or reason for the 2009 Mets, but we old Mets fans never had it so good. No matter how many years spent in the basement, no matter how many times the guys across the river win the big one, we still know how to have fun and enjoy being the blue collar team in town. The Mets are always the underdogs, as are their fans, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. We can celebrate years like 1969 and 1986, but we can also cherish the many years of bumbling and losing in between, being true fans and not summertime Benedict Arnolds becoming fair weather Yankees fans.
The 2009 Mets are reminding me of the good old days almost in every game these days. It’s really just like the old Mets theme song put it: “Bring the kiddies/bring your wife/guaranteed to have the time of your life.” So, drop that ball, Luis Castillo; throw that ball away, David Wright; throw those lollipops to the opposition, Mike Pelfrey. It’s all okay. Good old Casey Stengel is looking down on you, and he still loves you. Basement Bertha does too, and so do a whole lot of fans who remember that the old ball game is more about having heart and loving your team than about anything else.