February 5, 2018

The Eagles, The Mets, & Winning The Big One

Everything, like a tide, rises and falls. Every fan, no matter their passion or intensity at some point, will have times in their life when the team they love is not the focal point of their life. It's necessary, healthy even. It feels strange at first, losing track of the team's record, not knowing who the starting pitcher is on a given night. It's the stuff you couldn't understand why your dad couldn't keep track of, until you couldn't either.


I guess, in part, it started for me when it got to the point where I wasn't younger than most of the guys on the team anymore. I remember how I felt when I watched Mike Piazza put one over the wall in the first game back at Shea after 9/11; it was hero worship. The man could do no wrong. Al Leiter, nobody's version of an all time great, was a boyhood idol. If you strapped on the orange and blue and were even semi-successful, you were a hero. I have an oddly specific memory of Mike Bordick, freshly acquired from the Orioles, launching the first pitch he saw as a Met into the seats. I know where I was, what I was doing. I remember thinking Mike Bordick was going to be an all-time Met great (he is not).

As you get older, though, you start to see them for the kids and men that they are. It has its ups and downs. Darryl Strawberry became less of a hero, but a guy like Curtis Granderson became a player I couldn't have been prouder of. What they did between the lines still mattered, but who they were off of it shined a different light on them. The workmen, the Edgardo Alfonzo's, Benny Agbayani's, the jobbers, the guys who fought to get there, became a different type of hero. The guys who ran the charity foundations started to get more of my attention than the guys with the homers. Straw comes full circle, conquers his addictions, and opens a support center for others struggling, and you pull for him. You watch the Wilmer Flores fiasco unfold and, rather then a ballplayer being traded, you see a kid essentially being fired from the first company he ever worked for. Call it maturation or just getting older, but you notice different things.

I was 15 years old when the Mets lost the 2000 World Series. I was thirty when they finally made it back in 2015. A lot of time had passed in the middle, and a lot had changed. Summers became time for a job, and then suddenly every day was time for a job. The job was a way to pay for gas until I turned 21, and then it was a way to pay for gas and beer. One day, the job becomes a career. One day, you meet someone. Some day down the road, you're a dad. The tv that used to still be tuned to SNY when you turned it on in the morning is on Disney Junior and you can't remember the last time it wasn't. The spare time you used to watch the games in just doesn't exist anymore, and when the team drops ten games below five hundred, you find out a week later. It's not that I love the team any less, there are just some things I love a whole lot more.

But when that World Series against the Royals came around, man, it came right back. Every pitch was the world, every day off in between games was an eternity, and the eventual defeat was as painful as it was when I was 15. While they were playing those games, a switch flipped and all I wanted was that team to win it all. They didn't.

As I watched Philadelphia tear itself limb from limb because it finally got what it had wanted for the last 52 years, I mostly laughed at Philly just being itself and setting fire to anything it could find. But I drive into and work in the Philadelphia market every day, and I listened to their sports talk radio today. Man, people were in tears. Every caller was emotional, most of them talking about waiting for it for so long. A lot of them were young guys, in their twenties, the team was their life. A lot of them, though, were a lot older. Seventy and eighty year olds, talking about the Super Bowl that finally came, about family members that weren't around anymore to share in it. These people cared. They had lived full lives, raised families, had careers and retired, but when the Eagles finally won it all, they felt like kids again. Suddenly, again, the team was their life.

It was comforting, in an odd way. I still watch a lot of baseball. It's not like I've checked out on the team. But hearing those people, they way they felt after waiting a helluva lot longer than I have so far, made me feel better. At some point, either by design or through attrition, the Mets are going to win the World Series. It's kind of nice to know, whenever it finally happens, I'll be 15 again.

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