*This piece was originally published on September 3, 2012. In honor of Ralph Kiner’s passing and his voice, here is an edited version of that post.
I was born in May 1969. The New York Mets went on to defeat the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series that year. Coincidence? I think NOT. My dad took me to many games at Shea Stadium. Rain delays and extra innings meant extra time at the ballpark. I spent hours watching Mets games on TV, eating potato chips out of a bowl my dad propped on his belly.
My grandfather was also a die-hard Mets fan. I’d pitch down the narrow hallway in his apartment to him. Instead of the discreet hand signals catchers used to communicate, my grandfather had elaborately choreographed moves (think Elaine’s dancing from Seinfeld, but on speed) that had me in stitches between pitches.
In elementary school, my sister and I went home for lunch one day. My dad was home doing some work. After lunch, we were halfway to school when we heard my dad calling us. We turned around and he was sort of running to catch us before we got there. He looked at us very seriously, and said in a deep, quiet voice, “Ya wanna play hooky?” He’d finished his work early, and there was a home game at Shea on that Tuesday afternoon. So, while the rest of Mrs. Dounay’s class was learning cursive, I was watching the Mets from behind their dugout. Easily one of my top five most cherished childhood memories.
Ah, John Stearns. Tom Seaver. Lee Mazzilli. Also, Lee Mazzilli. And don’t forget Lee Mazzilli. Sigh. What a dreamboat. He was even from my part of Brooklyn, baby. Surely, we were meant to be together…but the closest I came was the his rookie card given to me by a dear friend last year. The Mazz would make an appearance much later in my baseball life as a manager for the Orioles, but we were both married to other people by then, so I made the tough, but ethical decision not to pursue him.
Baseball continued to be important throughout my teen years. In matters of love, my hippie groovy parents said we could date whomever we wanted. Any race, religion, even gender was okay with them. As long as…and this was the ONLY condition…they weren’t Republicans or Yankee fans. (They were kidding about Republicans.) I’m still reeling from the past few years when they hint at early onset dementia by rooting for the Yankees if they make it to the Series. “I can understand why you may be confused and upset about this, Aliza, given the way we raised you,” they say. Meanwhile, I have the nursing homes on speed-dial. But, I digress…
My freshman year in college in Baltimore began in August 1986. My dorm room overlooked the baseball field. The Mets once again won the World Series. I watched the final game – that crazy 10-inning come-back game – in the Students’ Union. I almost cried watching Mookie Wilson (named my first cat after him) and Gary Carter (RIP) celebrate, and sprinted across campus back to my dorm to call my parents. Before I could get there, another New Yorker/Mets fan came running towards me and jumped into my arms with glee. Ah, it was a glorious way to begin my college career.
Slowly, though, the Baltimore Orioles worked their way under my skin. I shared a rowhouse on 33rd street and my roommates and I became attached to the fans who would roll by during pre-game traffic. I went to a few games at Memorial Stadium, but a couple of years in California and Virginia had me feeling distanced from baseball in general. Virginia has no team, and the Nationals didn’t exist.
Then came Cal. I really became attached to the Os during Cal Ripken’s run to break Lou Gehrig’s record of consecutive games played. I mean, try – just TRY not to love baseball after that. I was almost hooked, but troubled at the thought of loving a team other than the Mets. After all, I was a National League girl at heart. What is this DH nonsense? Pitcher doesn’t have to hit??? Come ON, man, where’s the STRATEGY in that? Where’s the THRILL when a pitcher comes to bat and gets a single??? Where’s the ANXIETY as the bottom of the order comes around? All those doubts drowned in the depths of those blue, blue Cal Ripken eyes. Yes, Lee Mazzilli had competition. Finally, I found solace and rationalization in the common ground I shared with Os fans – and that is, of course, a rabid hatred of the Yankees.
My subsequent love affair with the Os was (and is) peppered with appearances from Mets players from my past. Davey Johnson – beloved manager of the 1986 Mets, managed the Os almost into the World Series in 1996 and 1997. Lee Mazzilli also managed the Os for a couple of years. Some Mets continue to break my heart. I never really got over Joe Torre’s defection to the Yankees, or more recently, Bobby Valentine’s move to the Red Sox. The Os and Mets shared some legendary players – Jesse Orosco and Roberto Alomar come to mind. Bizarre love triangles, to be sure.
With interleague play came the inevitable. A Mets vs. Os series. How great could it get??? I’d be rooting for BOTH teams! I was so excited for this first face-off, I actually SEWED something. I bought an Os shirt and a Mets shirt, cut them in half, and sewed halves of the Mets shirt to the other halves of the Orioles shirt. I gave one of the shirts to my sister, and wore this one to the first Mets vs. Os game in Camden Yards.
I even began my life as a parent at Camden Yards by going into labor there. I had accepted an impromptu invitation to a game with friends on Emma’s due date. She was my first – how likely was she to be on time? Sitting in the car in the pre-game traffic, I timed contractions. But hey – they were, like, 25 minutes apart. Onward. I would discreetly elbow Dave with each contraction so he could keep track. I even managed to stay reserved when Eddie Murray hit a grand slam home run right to the bleachers where we were sitting – I didn’t dive for the ball or anything! My friend finally caught on and said loudly, “OHMYGOD, are you having CONTRACTIONS????” We left in the 8th inning to avoid post-game traffic.
Seventeen years later, the Os have a shot again. Finally. It’s taken us a long time to get back to potential play-off status. Usually by September, I am so disgusted with the Os, I am itching for the Ravens to start playing and give me something to cheer about. I’m used to my baseball team tanking spectacularly. I mean, I grew up a METS fan, after all. For the first time, though, in many, many years, when September rolls around and someone asks me if I’m excited for football season to start, I say, “Slow down, tiger. Baseball’s not over, yet.”