It is a balmy mid-summer night and my family is huddled together on the bed watching the Mets. In between innings, we flip back and forth to another channel featuring a documentary on Billy Joel and his last concert at Shea. He is singing one of my favorite songs, Summer Highland Falls. It’s either sadness or euphoria, Billy croons.
It’s an oddly fitting backdrop for the evening as the Mets head into the 14th inning. Indeed for experienced Met fans, it’s usually sadness.
The bases are loaded. Lucas Duda is up. So far he is 0 for 6. Most of the family hurls insults at the TV in part because they are mad at Lucas Duda and in part because they believe (though would never admit) that if they are really angry and believe the worst in him, some mix of karma and superstition will change the outcome of his at bat. The count is 2-2. I see my husband and son. They are cursing and praying for the young batter at the same time.
He strikes out.
My son clutches his head and falls to the floor in sports induced agony.
There are many things I treasure about loving and raising a Mets fan. I love their distinctly curmudgeonly outlook on life tinged with a reluctant yet persistent belief in what’s possible. I love their under doggedness. Being a Mets fan (and similarly loving them) means you know all too well that many times the story does not end the way you want. But it doesn’t change your ability to believe in the happy ending, no matter how much you hide that belief.
It means you are proud of every one of your pitcher’s awkward at bats because you are keenly aware that most of us are destined to play more than one position in this life. Everyone has to try their hand at something that feels less than comfortable now and then. Indeed, most of life happens in the National league, not the American.
It means you are painfully loyal, and that you carry your history and lore with you in every swing and miss. It means that you will keep swinging knowing that on the 20th try you just might get a hit. You don’t ever really give up because no matter how crabby and cranky your exterior belies you to be, you secretly and not so secretly believe.
This is the best part of the Mets fan. As childlike as the playful little apple that pops up in Citi Field whenever they hit a home run, there is a near childlike quality to the Mets fan’s belief system. It flies in the face of history and logic. It fuels them. It is the stuff of legends and greatness. It is the chase of it that propels the best of us down our most spirited and creative paths in life – the chase of possible greatness. It is the chase more than the destination that is built upon the good stuff. Mets fans uniquely understand this.
To a point. Although the destination – another World Series – that might be nice too.
I remember vividly my destination the night I fell in love with my #1 Mets fan. It was a career and a Master’s degree. I was focused. I was so focused that I almost didn’t see what or who was right in front of me on the sidewalk that evening after my first class in graduate school. Unbeknownst to me, my one day husband was walking on that same stretch of sidewalk in the opposite direction. We stopped to talk to a mutual friend and ended up meeting each other. The rest, as they say, is history.
The more I think back on it the more I am sure that for every different reason, another fan wouldn’t have stopped. Too proud, too goofy, too hopeless. But he wasn’t a Yankees, Royals, or even Cubs fan. He was a Mets fan. And somewhere deep inside there was a little spark in him that believed in the possibility of more than an innocuous chance encounter. We built a marriage and a family on that spark. And we are proudly raising another generation with a taste for the chase of it.
It is the top of the 18th. Dylan is rooting hard for the Grandy Man, Curtis Granderson, one of their best hitters. He doesn’t disappoint and gets on base. I literally can almost feel it. That tiny flutter in his heart. That glimmer of hope. Maybe it’s possible.
I don’t smile or speak. I curse everyone and everything. I remind all us to be realistic. They have left an epic 25 men on base. Why, in the 18th, will be this be different? The third baseman steps up and hits a sacrifice bunt, allowing Granderson to advance and run home. The Mets score two. They quickly retire the next three Cardinal batters. And after 18 innings, they pull out the win over the then first place Cards.
As a family, we exhale. We know that in this season of baseball and in life, nothing is promised and everything is mostly but not always earned. In a world of hard knocks, there is still a childlike quality in the best of us that beats in tender yet scarred hearts. We are equally prepared for the possibility that one warm summer night, in 6 hours and two sac flys, you just might win the game and run home.