Back to the Mets

Classic Blue and Orange.

The time has come. I have been thinking about making a switch back for quite some time as I have become increasingly unsatisfied with my baseball experience. Out of a feeling of nostalgia for my childhood that has grown since I have become a father, and out of a growing distrust of the pinstripes, I realize that now is the time, I am making the move, I am going back to the Mets!

It all started in the early 1980’s during my childhood in Middlebury, VT. At the time baseball was America’s game and it could be found on a handful of television channels. Also at the time there was no internet, limited basic cable and ESPN was not the ESPN we now know. Our options for televised baseball growing up in the region before ESPN were the Red Sox, Expos, Mets, Braves and Cubs.

In the Jackson home being a fan of any Boston sports team was strictly forbidden by my father. No Red Sox, no Celtics, no Patriots, no Bruins, nothing. He would not tolerate anybody cheering for anything Boston, so NESN and the Red Sox were out as a primary option although I did watch games on NESN if nobody else was playing and nobody else was home. Since I was born in New York City and that is where my non-Vermont family was from, I chose the Mets as my childhood team, which was a very good decision at the time, 1984.

Daily I watched the Mets and listened to Ralph Kiner and Tim McCarver covering the games. As ‘84 turned to ‘85 and then ’86, I watched as Dwight Gooden became a monster of a pitcher, Darryl Strawberry perfected what my father would call “the prettiest swing he had ever seen” and my all-time childhood favorite player Lenny Dykstra took turns platooning in centerfield with Mookie Wilson. Nails would bat against right-handed pitching and Mookie would face lefties. (How crazy is it that I idolized Dykstra? I cut my hair like him. I wore number four like he did. I was absolutely crushed when he was traded with Roger McDowell to the Phillies for Juan Samuel. I never liked Samuel and put the sports cover of the Daily News from that day on my bedroom wall for at least a year. I am one of the proud readers of the Lenny Dykstra book, Nails. I even followed him after he was traded to the Phillies. Oh the innocence of childhood.)

Early 1980's, Middlebury, VT.

Early 1980’s, Middlebury, VT.

The Mets winning the ‘86 World Series was a huge moment in my childhood. Living in Vermont I was surrounded by Red Sox fans who hated the brash ‘80’s Mets. I even remember sadly falling asleep before the end of game six of the series thinking the Mets had lost only to wake up with a start as my father was screaming “YES!, YES!, Go, GO, RUNNNNNNNN!” as Mookie sent the ball through Buckner’s legs and the impossible occurred when Ray Knight scored the winning run forcing a game seven.

At this point I had lived a dream. My team (after winning game 7) had won the whole thing, they were the champions of the world. That off-season my buddy and I wrote a fan letter to everybody on the team including the coaches, hoping against hope that somebody, anybody would respond. Right as little league season began the following spring I became very sick and had to be hospitalized for a couple of weeks, my first time sleeping regularly outside of my parents’ home. While I was in the hospital I received two responses to the fan letters we had sent. I got a signed photo from Jesse Orosco, the closer in that game seven and one from manager Davey Johnson as well! Also, at this time, my family chipped in and got me a number 18 Mets Darryl Strawberry Jersey which they hung in my room for me to look at while I was in bed. Now it was no easy feat for my parents to come up with that kind of a gift. For me it was darn near a miracle and I would just stare at that shirt for hours. All of these Mets items did in fact lift my spirits quite a bit, and I often think of them and the comfort they gave me.

The Mets were my team, I loved Keith Hernandez because growing up I often played first base, the only infield position for a lefty, when I wasn’t in the outfield, and I loved the action at first base. Hernandez also didn’t wear batting gloves, which I thought was pretty cool. I was a big fan of the team colors being orange and blue, a mixture of the orange from the New York Giants and the blue of the Brooklyn Dodgers. I also didn’t really care for the Yankees at all. I knew of Reggie Jackson from my Dad and I always had an affinity for Rickey Henderson but that was it, they just weren’t my team.

Some of the best adventures my Dad and I ever had involved going to Montreal Expos games when they played the Mets. Montreal was the closest major city to where we were in Vermont at just two hours away. Boston was the closest American city at three and a half hours away and that was a no go. Dad and I grabbed a couple of Mets against Expos games and they were some of the highlights of my childhood.

After I got out of the hospital my father and I took a car trip from northern Vermont to Cooperstown, New York to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame and then onto my uncle’s house in New Jersey and ultimately a game at Shea Stadium. This was a big deal for me, seeing a game at Shea was a truly a dream come true. It rained that day and for the whole drive to the stadium. When we got there the game was being delayed by rain. I was so worried it would be cancelled but when we got to our seats the clouds parted and the sun came out. A voice on the speakers announced that the game would go on in 20 minutes and then they played the song “Here Comes The Sun” and ever since that moment I have always loved that song.

Me wearing my Darryl Strawberry Jersey. (Photo courtesy the Kesner family.)

Me wearing my Darryl Strawberry Jersey. (Photo courtesy the Kesner family.)

In the game, Darryl Strawberry made a diving catch and hit a triple. I lost my mind when he hit the triple and even my Dad said after he was impressed with how excited I was. Apparently I might have gone a bit overboard in my celebrations. This, sadly, was quite possibly the last good game Strawberry played in a Mets uniform.

All of this led to my being a pretty hardcore Mets fan. But then they began to trade away my favorite players for guys like Kevin McReynolds who just didn’t seem to fit with my idea of what a Met should be. Also, I was growing up and having my own love/hate relationship with baseball as the pressures that came with being a sophomore on the high school varsity team were beginning to make the game not as enjoyable.

As I got to my first college I was more of a passive Mets fan who lived in the past and as time went on and ESPN grew to show Sunday Night Baseball and other games I became a casual fan of various other teams. This was the beginning of the Derek Jeter era and I quickly gravitated toward following him as my go-to player to watch for a number of reasons.

The Yankees were always my Dad’s team. He broke his hand during Reggie Jackson’s three homerun World Series game by jumping up and hitting it on the ceiling of our living room in celebration. However, as I mentioned above, it was not very easy to keep track of the Yankees when living in Middlebury, VT in the early 1980’s. It was however, easy to get your son hooked on the Mets and care about them because they are a New York team, which is what my father did.

Having grown disgusted with the Mets of the pre-Bobby Valentine era I began to casually follow my Dad’s team. This was not hard to do because they were winning everything and doing it at times with former Mets David Cone, Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, also with former Mets Joe Torre and Lee Mazzilli leading the way from the dugout.

The 2000 Subway Series was the first year I lived in New Jersey where I was attending my second college (it’s a long story), just outside of Newark and I couldn’t really pick a side to cheer for. I leaned Yankees, but my childhood heart still pulled for the Mets. For that series, I really just enjoyed my first immersion in New York City playoff baseball culture. I was attending Kean University in New Jersey and the energy in the dorms was electric. I was swept up in the baseball moment. I celebrated the Yankees winning but I appreciated the Mets and deep down could have gone either way.

As the years went by I followed Jeter and the Yankees more and more. I moved across the country and became a casual Dodgers fan for four years as they, like me, had been relocated from the East Coast to Los Angeles. I moved back to Jersey to be near my father because he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and that year the Yankees won and he was happy and I was happy he got to see one more winner.

But the players from that team are gone. The owner who put together that era of the dynasty in that franchise is gone and sadly my father is gone as well. This was shortly after both the Mets and the Yankees built new stadiums.

Something about the Mets stadium Citi Field really appealed to me as it pays homage to the Brooklyn Dodgers and for a stretch the Los Angeles Dodgers had been an adopted team for me. To this day I would happily listen to Vin Scully call a baseball game on the radio or on television.

Having been to both ballparks, Citi Field feels more for the people, a baseball park for everybody. The Yankees seem in many ways to be very elitist (in cost alone) and for a long time I tried to rationalize that, but I just can’t do it anymore.

I am a big fan of self-expression so it has always bothered me that the Yankees ban facial and long hair. They just seem so stuffy and buttoned up all the time even going so far as telling players to act more like Russell Wilson than Cam Newton. There just isn’t a lot of personality there.

And where there is personality it is rather annoying, most notably Michael Kay, Paul O’Neill, Goose Gossage and John Sterling. There is a way over the top feeling of how self important all of these figures are, again, just not very inclusive or progressive.

Meanwhile the Mets announcers feel like family I spent time with a long time ago, especially Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling. Listening to games called by a couple of my heroes from the ‘86 team is always nice and brings a bit of nostalgia and really that is what baseball is all about.

I could discuss how the Mets have at least two better songs as a franchise with Meet the Mets and the not as well known but still monumentally excellent Let’s Go Mets from the 1986 season. I also could point out that The Bad Guys Won by Jeff Pearlman is one of the greatest books ever written about baseball, as reasons why I have to come home to the team from Queens.

This really has been the year that it has all come to a head. The first of the final straws came when the Yankees announced that they would no longer accept tickets that had been printed at home. This effectively takes away the fans’ ability to purchase tickets on StubHub as they also refuse to allow electronic tickets. Not only am I unable to understand the logic behind this policy, but the way the Yankees handled it was just offensive to me, basically stating that the people who purchase from StubHub are not worthy of sitting with people who can afford face value ticket was very rude in my opinion.

In addition, where I live, YES the Yankees network is no longer being offered on the Comcast cable service because of a dispute over money. So, for financial reasons the Yankees are making it impossible for me to watch them on television and much harder to see them in person, not good customer outreach in my opinion.

Finally, we have come to the most important factor, my daughter. Feeling nostalgic for my own childhood I would certainly like my kid to have the same experiences with me that I had with my Dad. Also, I don’t particularly want my kid growing up thinking I endorse an elitist franchise that throws money at their problems and doesn’t have a particularly good record when it came to the integration of Major League Baseball.

Mets fan in training.

Mets fan in training.

So there it is. I am back with the team I started out with. In the league of no DH and lots of stolen bases, small ball, personality and all kinds of in-game coaching decisions. And I can’t even lie, my favorite random teams that I have always liked to root for outside of New York teams are the Dodgers and the Braves. What do they have in common? They are also in the National League. Not to mention the Mets under Willie Randolph as the manager helped my mom recover from an aneurysm by being genuinely awesome and fun to watch for her. When it is all said and done I am more a Mets fan than a Yankees fan. I am a Jets guy, I like the losers, what can I say, plus, I like the teams that play with flair, the newer New York teams historically speaking.

Of all the reasons to leave the Yankees and to return to the Mets, number one is family. Baseball is such a generational sport and being a Dad and attempting to extend the love of the game forward I would prefer that love be shaded blue and orange.

– Special shout out to all-time favorite Mets, John Franco, Wally Backman, Howard Johnson, Mookie Wilson, Lenny Dykstra, Tim Teuful, Lee Mazzilli, Jesse Orosco, Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Dwight Gooden, Frank Viola, Rafael Santana, Darryl Strawberry, Ray Knight, Gregg Jefferies, George Foster, Kevin Mitchell, Sid Fernandez, Bob Ojeda, Rafael Santana, Dave Magadan, Kevin Elster, Ron Darling and most importantly Davey Johnson!

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