first person

My Dad, the Mets, and Me

For years, my relationship with my father was centered around us both cheering for the losing team. What if we’d already won?

Photo-Illustration: The Cut; Photos: Emma Turetsky
Photo-Illustration: The Cut; Photos: Emma Turetsky

At one point in New York’s long, storied baseball history there were three cherished home teams — the Yankees, the Dodgers, and the Giants — until some time circa the 1950s when the latter two skipped town for California. Fans mourned the loss of their cherished boys in blue and their boys in orange until the New York Metropolitan Baseball Club came along in 1962. Blending the branding of both the Giants and Dodgers, the Mets stepped up to fill the void left by their cherished predecessors, and in 1964, they settled into their brand-new, state-of-the-art home in Flushing, Queens: Shea Stadium.

That’s when my family’s long, storied baseball history begins. My then-5-year-old father was living only a few stops away from Shea Stadium on the 7 train in Jackson Heights. While his mom had grown up in the Bronx and thus defaulted to vague Yankees fandom — and his stepfather attempted to sway him, taking him to the Bronx to see them play the White Sox — my dad already prided himself an individual. A free thinker! A hippie at heart! He would root for the new guys, the underdogs, his neighbors in Queens. So instead, by the time he was old enough to take the subway sans parents, he and his friends were boarding the one at 82nd and Roosevelt Avenue to watch New York’s new guys make a name for themselves. And what wasn’t to love about the Mets? They were, in his words, so embraceable. So local, so young, so easy to see a little of yourself in.

In 1969, the same year my dad turned 12 and the “Amazin’ Mets” won their first World Series Championship, my dad fondly remembers his P.S. 69 teachers wheeling TVs into the classroom so they wouldn’t miss their New York Metropolitans make Queens history. He describes the win as something he’ll never forget, a collective joy that bonded him with friends and neighbors, cementing his lifelong identity as “just a guy from Queens.”

When he was 29 — the same age I am now — the Mets were once again declared World Series Champions. The year was 1986, and they’d faced the Boston Red Sox. When game six rolled around the Mets were behind in the series, and in the tenth inning they were holding on for dear life. But Mets hero and outfielder Mookie Wilson saved the game (and the title) with a blip of a grounder that slipped between Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner’s legs — a moment that has been relived well over 1 million times on YouTube. The Mets had done the impossible: They made it to game seven — and then won.

Thirteen years later, on a warm Sunday afternoon in the spring of 1999, after a tiny lifetime of falling asleep in my dad’s lap on the couch of our Brooklyn apartment as he explained the rules of baseball with the Mets game on in the background — I was 5 years old — my dad took me on that same subway ride to Shea Stadium.

I remember fragments of the trip: the winding concrete ramps leading to the upper decks, the orange seats that snapped up when you stood, my dads bearded face shaded from the afternoon sun by his bright blue Mets hat.

The Mets fell behind by over ten runs early in the game. At some point, my dad offered to take me home early. Seeing the Mets win that day was unlikely anyway, he figured. But I, a believer even then, refused his offers. I remained steadfast in my determination to stand by my beloved team through defeat just as I would through victory! The Mets were of course slaughtered that day. After a grueling nine innings, with my inaugural “L” in my heart, and a brand-new Robin Ventura T-shirt on my back, hand-in-hand my father and I boarded the 7 among the thousands of disgruntled fans.

Baseball quickly became the special thing that my father and I shared. Our time together was soon filled with box scores, standings, broadcasts, and more subway rides to Flushing. Each morning before school, as my dad prepared my toaster waffles, we’d pore over the New York Times sports section. I’d memorize my dad’s recaps of the day-before’s game, and take note of his comments on players’ strengths and weaknesses, repeating them back to the boys in my class who rolled their eyes.

But what did they know? Certainly nothing compared to my dad who I saw as the knower of all things, sports and otherwise. The way he carefully explained each and every rule, regulation, and tradition of the game — he took my interest, he took me, seriously, like a budding pinstripe intellectual. Someone who could really understand the complexity, and even the culture of the game, and it made me feel so incredibly special.

Only one season after my inaugural trip to Shea Stadium, I experienced my first true heartbreak — it began with a fantastic regular season led by manager Bobby Valentine and my hero Mike Piazza, the team’s infamous slugger and catcher. The Mets nearly lost their place in the postseason, falling just one game behind those wretched Atlanta Braves.

But as the famous Met’s slogan goes, “You Gotta Believe!” And my father and I, cheering from our living room perch in front of our rabbit-eared TV, did. The Mets secured the league wild-card spot and beat out none other than their ancestors, the San Francisco Giants. Their wins piled up that October and the Mets eventually secured a spot in the World Series — against their neighbors, the Yankees.

Tensions were high throughout the city, but especially in the P.S. 321 playground where I’d verbally harass anyone who dared wear another team’s jersey — and if you made the mistake of sporting a Yankees hat, it was over. When terrorizing my classmates no longer sufficed, I took to the streets of Brooklyn screaming “YANKEES SUCK!” at anyone within my eyesight sporting our New York rival’s merch. My dad, both proud and horrified, found himself  on more than one occasion uttering whispered apologies to men twice his size who luckily found my chutzpah entertaining.

When the Mets lost to the Yankees in five heartbreaking games, I mourned. I cried! I pleaded! I could feel the sweet taste of victory slip between my little first-grader fingers. Watching my Yankees-fan classmates — and half the city — celebrate their triumph, I felt personally victimized. Didn’t these heartless Yankees fans understand my devastation? The sheer volume of my loss?

What I was mourning, really, was a lost experience with my father; a chance to celebrate together. I imagined us cheering, jumping on the couch, running through the streets of Park Slope in our matching Mets hats, screaming “YANKEES SUCK” together as my mother and sister laughed watching us out the window of our third-floor walk-up.

My father, of course, knew exactly how to handle the situation. He held me as I cried, dried my tears, and smoothed out the shoulders of my new Piazza T-shirt. “You Gotta Believe,” he reminded me. “You Gotta Believe!” I chanted back.

Thus began the cycle. We believed the following year when Piazza gave the city hope by hitting one of the most iconic home runs in baseball history during the first Major League sports game played after 9/11. We believed when the team’s ownership, caught up in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, nearly filed for bankruptcy. We even believed when it was announced that our beloved Shea would be knocked down and replaced by a newer, more modern home stadium called Citi Field. And again later, as we sat in the shiny new seats of Citi Field eating artisanal veggie burgers and coal-oven pizza, the losses piled up. But through it all, my father and I boarded countless 7 trains to and from Flushing to watch the Mets, reminding ourselves year after year that there’s always next season.

At first it was the Atlanta Braves, then the Philadelphia Phillies, with a few appearances by the brand-new Washington Nationals — year after year, some other East Coast city made their way to the playoffs, leaving us Mets fans dissociating through the SNY broadcast. In 2006, they were knocked out of the postseason by none other than the Dodgers who made them.

And suddenly I was 18, and then 21. I’d become accustomed to the highs and low-lows of Mets fandom, the team’s almost fantastical ability to blow a lead, game, even series (setting Major League records in doing so). My “childhood dream” was no longer possible for me in the “childhood” sense.

Then things changed when a last-minute July trade for outfielder Yoenis Céspedes altered the course of the season. By then, I was a senior in college, 1,806 miles away from Citi Field in Boulder, Colorado, where my ESPN push notifications went off at parties and between shots at a pregame, I’d scurry into a kitchen corner and text my dad about the game.

I was on a party bus when I received the push notification telling me the Mets had done it: They were headed to the postseason. As the bus pulled into the Red Rocks Amphitheater parking lot for an event aptly dubbed “Rowdy Town,” I did the unthinkable, tossing my red Solo cup to the side and running off the bus as fast as possible: I called my dad and begged to fly back to New York immediately. “This might never happen again!” I yelled over the crowd of partiers. “A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!” He didn’t need much convincing.

The next morning my flight was booked, and two weeks later I was stepping off the plane back to New York for my very first postseason game. On October 12, my dad and I made our familiar pilgrimage to Flushing. The 7 train was literally vibrating with energy. Riders cheered and chanted as we chugged along Roosevelt Avenue and Citi Field finally came into view. Together, my dad and I watched the Mets beat the Dodgers 13-7, screaming together with the rest of the city, on fire with belief.

A few days later, I returned to Colorado, forced from the city for my “education,” while the Mets moved onto the National League Championship Series. I watched eagerly from the comfort of the Colorado Sports bars I was just old enough to order from, while I thought of nothing but what I was missing at home, longing to be back with my dad experiencing the miracle that was our Mets. And as I called my dad again and again as the Mets beat the Chicago Cubs in game one, then game two, then game three, I declared to him, my roommates, and the gods of baseball: I would do anything for a World Series victory — including fail out of school.

So when the Mets beat the Cubs for the fourth time, sweeping the National League Championship and moving on to the World Series, for the second time that month, I boarded the cheapest red-eye flight I could find back to New York.

When my dad and I arrived at Citi Field on that late-October evening for game three, our first time attending an actual World Series game, we were bundled up for the freezing fall wind high up above home plate. We kept warm by violently flailing the orange spirit towels handed to us upon entering the stadium.

And when the Mets beat the Kansas City Royals 9-3, my dad and I screamed along with the whole stadium my favorite cheer of all time, “Yankees suck! Yankees suck!” And while our Bronx Rivals were long eliminated from that year’s postseason, the catharsis of that cheer was akin to some sort of 15-year-coming Subway Series exorcism. We were the kings of New York now! The Empire State Building was even lit up blue and orange for the occasion, and my inner child was healed a bit. I happy-cried knowing I got to share at least this one “baseball first” with my dad.

I stayed in New York a few more days. My dad and I sat glued to SNY, sipping on the blue-and-orange special frozen margaritas served at a restaurant down the block for good luck. In the end, though, the Mets, after two more games, did what I’d seen them do for every one of my then-21 years on this planet: blow it. They lost every game of the series except for the one I had attended with my dad.

Back in Colorado I mourned. “There’s always next season,” my dad reminded me over the phone as I wailed, lying in my college bedroom. “Ya gotta believe!”

I graduated college — even with all the absences — and moved back to New York in time for the next season. Living at home with my parents again, my father and I settled into our classic routine: watching games each night together in the living room, now both of us tired from a grueling day at work and eating ice cream in front of the TV, and making our regular trips out to Citi Field, back in our usual seats.

While the Mets continued to lose, they also remained a constant as our family changed. A few years later, my mom died after a decade-long battle with cancer. In our grief, we’ve struggled as a family to keep up the traditions we once held close. We’ve abandoned Thanksgiving Tofurky, a family classic, and trips to see the musicals we once all attended (often begrudgingly) together during the holidays.

I don’t remember the specifics of the first game my dad and I went to after my mom died. My all-knowing iPhone says it was on May 22, 2018. It was a night game, and we sat in our usual seats high above the third baseline. According to Google, the Mets lost.

I do remember the feeling, like I was getting back on the horse. While some family traditions were too painful to revisit, the best way to fight through our grief was to hold onto this one, and onto my dad, extra close, to be grateful for every second together, even when the Mets lose.

Nine years have somehow slipped by since our World Series game together. I now live thousands of miles away from my dad in the Dodgers’ Los Angeles, and my dad and I exchange texts and plans about my trips home making sure to take into consideration his Mets ticket schedule and what games I’d like to attend.

There’s nothing in this life I’m more grateful for than all the time I’ve spent losing with my dad. I’d give almost anything to experience a victory with him, but if it doesn’t happen, all the loss has been worth it. Which is why every year when spring training comes about, I’m ready to believe all over again.

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My Dad, the Mets, and Me