Back at the old ball game
Until Tuesday night I couldn’t have told you who played for the Yankees and who played for the Mets. I still can’t. For those as ignorant about baseball as I am, New York City’s teams stand atop their respective divisions in the American and National Leagues. And after the game, at least the eight-and-a-half innings that I sat through – go ahead and say it, my daughter did; I’m a loser for leaving early – I still can’t name more than one or two players.
Before delving into the game itself – said to have been the hottest ticket in town – will you indulge me with a simple fashion question? What is it with fans wearing their favorite players’ jerseys? I understand their admiration, their passion, their support. But a guy with a beer gut or a teenage girl wearing bulky pinstripes over their clothes with an athlete’s name and number emblazoned across the back just isn’t a good look.
It works for the players because they’re spectacular physical specimens. Because they’re on the field playing the game. And because the jersey is part of an ensemble. Though I suppose it would look even more absurd if fans showed up in matching knickers, knee socks and cleats.
Also, is it wise to bring your baseball mitt to the park if you’re more than ten years old? The guy sitting in front of me wearing his mitt looked about sixty. The odds of catching a fly ball are roughly equal to winning this week’s Mega Millions billion-dollar jackpot. Especially if you’re sitting in the upper deck, as we were. Even Aaron Judge, the Yankees 6’7”, 282 lb. superstar, probably couldn’t launch a projectile that far. Leave the mitt at home. You’re just going to lose it. And then you’ll be sad.
We got our tickets at the last minute and paid accordingly. I would have been happy to watch the game at home, or not at all, because I’m too cheap to spring for the DIRECTV Major League Baseball package. But my brother persuaded me. We have a family ritual that dictates we attend one Mets game a season. Supporting the Mets is also an ancient family tradition. It dates back to the team’s origins in 1962 and my father. The early Mets more than validated his pessimistic worldview that “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”
Also, it’s more fun to root for an underdog than perennial World Series champs, as the Yankees were in those days.
James, my brother, tried to help me rationalize the expense by reminding me that we hadn’t attended a Mets game since before the start of the pandemic. Spreading the cost over several years made it seem slightly more palatable.
I agreed with his logic only so far. But it did feel good to be back in a sold out ballpark with 42,000 other fans. Mets fans outnumbered Yankees supporters but it didn’t feel by a wide margin. COVID seemed a distant memory. Hardly anybody was wearing a mask.
As we stood for the National Anthem the country’s divisions, indeed all the calamities the planet faces, felt like a cable news invention. The American flags that fluttered on the jumbotron and atop the stadium seemed the unifying symbols they once were, not a cudgel against “them,” whoever them happens to be.
We showed up early to amortize the price of our tickets. We were too late for batting practice, but early enough that we didn’t have to suffer the indignity of waiting on the glacially slow-moving line at the food stand as we typically do, to spend fourteen bucks on the hot dog and fries combo and another fourteen bucks for a beer.
The first inning alone was almost worth the price of admission. The Yankees led off with back-to-back homers by centerfielder Judge and first baseman Anthony Rizzo. I felt that familiar sinking feeling dating back to childhood, and indeed probably genetically coded.
I could see the Mets future and it looked bleak. Even when they were winning in the old days they found a way to lose by game’s end. But by the conclusion of the first inning the home team was ahead 4-2 and they stayed that way for the rest of the game, eventually winning 6-3.
For me the best part of a ball game is simply showing up. It’s the cinematographic quality of a dazzling emerald field against the rich brown loam of the pitcher’s mound and base paths. It’s the bright lights. It’s the players making superhuman feats of athleticism appear rote.
But most of it’s that sense of communion one feels with strangers of wildly different backgrounds transformed for a brief moment into a community, bond by their belief in the beauty of the game and the righteousness of their team. Such emotions run especially high when the opponent is the perennial overdog Yankees. Yet such was the atmosphere of bonhomie that even the occasional obscene chants by Mets fans against the Bronx Bombers had an affectionate ring.
It’s true that after we left to beat the crowds rushing to the subway the Mets added another run. But we’d done our part to put them over the top. We also proved to my dad, wherever he is, that the forces of goodness and light can still vanquish the forces of darkness, and the Yankees with them.
Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com.
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