This Friday evening the Los Angeles Dodgers come to town and, as is the case whenever this occurs, a powerful virus is unleashed in New York that even the CDC is unable to do anything about. We’re talking about something so insidious and malevolent that it takes certain New York Mets fans and turns them into Dodger zombies, making them shed all vestiges of loyalty (and any hint of orange) to skulk into the night and root for the very team that abandoned them. With apologies to Shakespeare, they become blue-eyed monsters that mock the meat they feed upon. Where is Sheriff Rick Grimes (from AMC’s The Walking Dead) when you need him?
Witness the case of one such creature. Let’s call him “Hank” (name changed to protect the virulent one). Hank is a great guy most of the year. We are friendly and talk about the Mets and Jets and share our hatred of the Yankees. Hank walks around wearing Mets attire half of the year (and then dons Jets green the rest of the time), and the basement in his house is basically a Mets/Jets museum, including chairs from old Shea Stadium and a patch of sod from the field that grows inside a boxed replica of the place. But one corner is reserved for the old Dodgers memorabilia, including a huge picture of the 1955 Dodgers and a drawing of Ebbetts Field. That area is off limits to everyone, or as Hank likes to say, “It’s sacred ground.”
Hank is 64 years old and has never gotten over one thing in his life: the day the Brooklyn Dodgers left New York to go to California. Hank was seven years old and living on Bedford Avenue in the heart of Brooklyn when the team he loved defeated the damn Yankees in 1955, and in some ways that has been the highlight of his life. While he is married and loves his children and grandchildren, he confesses that nothing has come close to equalling that World Series Dodgers victory in 1955.
After the Dodgers left New York, Hank was one of many who felt hatred, anger, and emptiness in his life. A great deal of what he had invested felt like it was lost, and since the New York Giants had also left for California, there was no baseball team for him to root for, with the abominable Yankees not even worthy of his consideration. So he did what many fans Dodger fans ended up doing: following the box scores in the newspaper of his former team now playing in Los Angeles, but there was a perceptible void in his life.
When the Mets were born from Dodger blue and Giants orange in 1962, Hank instantly became a fan. Now a teenager, Hank loved that some of his former Dodger heroes like Don Zimmer, Roger Craig, and Gil Hodges were on the team, but even more importantly that Casey Stengel was the Mets manager. He was a committed Mets fan from that moment on until the fateful day that the Dodgers came to town to play the Mets.
It was something he tried to fight at first, but just like someone bitten by a zombie, no matter what he did, the virus took over his body. When the Dodgers came to town that first time in May 1962, Hank dug his old Brooklyn Dodgers hat out of the closet and went to the Polo Grounds to root for the old Dodger blue. He was possessed by something beyond him and had no control. He was rooting for the team that broke his heart and against the team that had come along and saved him. He didn’t understand it but had no way to combat this compulsion.
All these years later, Hank is still infected and has no desire to seek a cure. For the three days that the Dodgers are in town, Hank and I will not speak. I am the enemy now, just like a human who sees his friend infected and become a zombie. I know I can’t help him, and the only way to stop him is to destroy his brain, and that is, of course, out of the question, so for now I leave Hank be and let him feast on the games at hand.
I don’t like these games at all myself. My family (on my mother’s side) were all Dodgers fans, but I am steadfastly a Mets fan and always will be. It seems when the Dodgers come to town that it sets up almost a Civil War mentality, splitting families and friends. There were even those New Yorkers who could not live with the loss of their team, so they pulled up their roots and moved to LA. When they come back to New York, it is not so much a family reunion as it is Hatfields and McCoys. That is why this and every year I dread this night and the ones to follow.
As for Hank, I can best sum him up the way the chief in the original Night of the Living Dead described the zombies to a reporter: “They’re dead; they’re all messed up.” I’m just happy that come Monday Hank will spring back to life as good as new. He will revert to wearing his Mets orange and blue; we will talk again, and he will survive until the next time. Most zombies never get that lucky.
Photo credits: 1955 Dodgers-librarythinkquest.org; dodger cap-keymancollectibles.com