As the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers prepare to meet in the National League Division Series, there is a great deal of excitement and tension mounting. Even before pitchers Jason deGrom and Clayton Kershaw square off in tonight’s game one, there is the history linking the two teams to this moment, affecting the fans and players alike.
Make no mistake – this is a family feud between two foes that will make the Hatfields and McCoys battles look tame in comparison. The connections between the Dodgers and the Mets and their fans complicates the situation, with mixed loyalties colliding with the bitterness and anger of New Yorkers who still remember when their Brooklyn Dodgers left Ebbets Field behind forevermore.
I judge all things by old Manny, an acquaintance of mine from a local eatery who remembers and then some. Whenever I see Manny during the baseball season, he is completely decked out in Mets garb from head to toe. This is his daily attire with one exception – when the LA Dodgers come to town to play the Mets. Then old Manny is dressed in everything Dodger blue.
When he talks about it he says, “You can never understand.” Of course, he is correct, I wasn’t even born when the Dodgers packed up and went across country, but I do know something about it. My mother’s family were avid Dodgers fans (Mom and her siblings and cousins all were knot hole kids who would watch games through holes in the fence if they couldn’t gather enough money to get a ticket). They lived and breathed everything Dodgers, and the New York Giants were despised and the New York Yankees were hated.
Manny speaks of 1955 breathlessly because as a 22 year-old-man he witnessed a moment of heaven on earth – the Dodgers, the Brooklyn Bums, actually defeated the damn Yankees. I have heard of the euphoria and mad celebration – my uncle told of drinking a toast in every bar in Brooklyn – because the Dodgers had finally managed to do what the fans dreamt of happening but never expected. As my grandfather said, “We slayed the dragon, and boy it felt good.”
Manny calls it “The glory time” and says that he teased anyone he knew was a Yankees fan. He still juts out his chest proudly and whispers, “We kicked their Yankee asses.” But then in the same breath a look of desperation overcomes him as he remembers how short-lived it all was. “When they left Brooklyn, they took a piece of my heart. Yet, despite that, when they come back I still want them to stay – forever.”
Ah, Manny, how I feel for you, but the Dodgers are ensconced in LA and are never returning. So today when I went in to get my coffee and roll, I was a bit shocked to see Manny wearing all Mets gear. I went up to him, pointed to his blue cap with the orange NY, and asked, “What’s going on?”
Manny looked up from his coffee. “This time we’re going to kick the Dodgers’s asses!”
As I left, I saw him reading the New York Post with a big smile on his face. If old Manny has come to terms with the Dodgers or not, there is one more reason to have hope for my Mets against the Dodgers – I never really thought they could beat them with old Manny rooting so hard for LA.
The Mets and Dodgers are from the same bloodline. The Mets blue comes right from the Brooklyn Dodgers’s veins, just as the orange came from the old NY Giants. With this parentage, the Mets were born already relegated to second class in a city where the Yankees ruled, yet the former Dodger and Giants fans (who couldn’t possibly see themselves becoming Yankee fans) waited and then jumped aboard the Mets’ bandwagon.
Fans like my Mom, grandfather, uncles, and cousins felt at home being Mets fans, especially since a number of old Dodgers like Gil Hodges and Roger Craig came in to wear the orange and blue. Even though those first years were difficult, the fans grew to love the Mets and NY Daily News cartoonist Bill Gallo created Basement Bertha, the ultimate Mets fan who epitomized the people who didn’t care if the Mets kept losing because they were lovable losers just like old Bertha.
Now we have two teams that have met in the postseason twice before – in 1988 and 2006. Any Mets fans old enough to recall ’88 will remember that Orel Hershiser seemed to pitch like every day and Kirk Gibson killed our chances. In 2006 the Mets swept three games, so in many ways this meeting in the 2015 NLDS is like the rubber game of the grudge match.
So as I watch the game tonight I will be thinking of the spirits of all my deceased relatives who once cheered at Ebbets Field and later at good old Shea and then some of them who lived to see Citi Field (which was built to resemble Ebbets Field). I will be thinking of the history – the legacy the Dodgers left behind, the spawning and growth of my Mets, and the battles fought between the Dodgers and Mets before.
Mostly I will be thinking of Old Manny. With him in the Mets’ corner, I don’t think the Dodgers stand a chance.
Photo Credits: mixbook.com, ny daily news
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