An Antidote to Baseball (Part 2)

Despite my devotion to Carlton Fisk and my horror at the graceless, scoundrelly way he’d been shipped out of town, I remained a Red Sox fan straight through to spring 1998—when I moved to New York and promptly demonstrated my lack of character by switching my allegiance to Boston’s arch-enemy. But there were the Yankees, on TV every night on their way to the World Series. And there playing shortstop was Derek Jeter—like the gilded athlete on top of a golden trophy, a golden player, then and still; nothing sweeter than Derek Jeter, this is what I always say.

After a year or two in Brooklyn, I switched again, slipping lower and further away from the Red Sox, beyond the enemy camp into the absolute evilest hell of The Worst Memory: because despite having lived through the 1986 World Series, I became a Mets fan. This was impossible, theoretically. But the Mets had signed Rickey Henderson to be their leadoff hitter that season and this made them more interesting than the Yankees—literally, when both teams were playing on two different channels, Rickey Henderson taking ownership of all basepaths  was more fun to watch than even the peerless Jeter outshining the bulk of Yankee man-flesh around him. National League baseball, I'd also discovered, is the better game.

So I betrayed the team of my youth, it’s been over ten years ago. Meanwhile the Boston Red Sox eventually won their first two World Series titles since the Bronze Age and the New York Mets don’t win one since 1986—they simply decline. Many afternoons and evenings I gave to the Mets and then consoled myself afterwards listening to Steve Somers dissect them on WFAN call-in radio. My love of baseball is sincere. At last, though, the Mets broke me. One night I stared and stared at an internet page that showed Carlos Beltran’s salary accruing dollar by dollar in real time; it was horrifying. By 2010 I couldn’t take the season past mid-summer. Last year, busy writing Famepunk, I didn’t watch at all. Also, I don’t approve of the taxpayer-funded “Citi Field” replacement stadium and haven’t attended a single game there in person even though it’s been possible to buy tickets for $3 apiece on-line.

People tell me, “You’re not a real Mets fan if you can’t take the misery” and maybe they’re right—I’m not. The sense of having allowed a poison to leave my system keeps me wary of watching or caring again—maybe I couldn’t. I’ve dared to watch the Mets several times this season, only to find that a win does little for me while a loss can leave me unaccountably depressed. The bad memories stir, the bad feelings come back. Last week I read the name “Aaron Heilman” in some article and a wave of sick, helpless rage almost swamped me—years he’s been gone, a huge bum but by no means the biggest they’ve paid. Yet his very mention made me want to throw furniture.

I mean, what is baseball anyway? A cure for loneliness? In part, it really is. I picture myself on a high school summer night, alone in my room, keeping box scores in bed beside my clock radio, busy with pen and paper and released from my solitude into the state of public grace that was nine innings of Red Sox baseball in the Zimmer era.

LINK: This guy.

I picture the protagonist of Famepunk, a teenaged Mets fan from Brooklyn in 1987, similarly beguiled into attachment by a display of male superiority whose return she awaits in all confidence—and in vain. In very, very vain. In fact it’s really very sad to be a Mets fan.

Up to a point.

At 51, every year I care less who wins anything, not just baseball games and tennis matches but all the other prizes too; I’ve even stopped watching the Oscars. I believe this is the growing maturity they were always making us read about in school—when? Never. I don’t recall a single reference to the concept until I started reading about Eastern philosophy in my 30s. “Older and wiser”: you hear this all the time but how often it's used for youth, even children, even babies who’ve just steadied themselves on a hot stove door, connoting a lesson learned at an impressionable stage of development. That age itself, growing older, living through a greater accumulation of experiences actually leads to or increases wisdom: this isn’t what “older and wiser” is intended to signify, not for the most part. Neither is “elder” when “elder care” implies decrepitude beyond renewal, loss of autonomy and influence, wisdom overtaken by weeds between thin white bed sheets. Although it grants certain rewards to persistence, I’m not sure “this society” really believes that wisdom comes with age. I seem to recall former Republican Presidential candidate Bob Dole complaining about this very phenomenon, and I'm sure I jeered at him. Now I can only say: Older and wiser is when your team with its nightmare bullpen takes an agonizing extra inning loss on the road and you smile for the home fans who stuck it out, the little kids. They're so happy.

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