For many of us, no baseball is more than an annoyance, but a feeling of genuine loss. This column was published last summer, about the love of a sport and the feeling of community that attending a game can provide.
The weather was perfect, in the mid-70s, no humidity, light breezes and blue-black skies above the lights of Citi Field.
I was where friends tell friends, “I’ll meet you at the Apple,” a plaza centered around the big red structure that once rose slowly beyond the centerfield fence of Shea when a Met hit a home run. Waiting for Dr. Z., who was running late, fighting traffic, I was the smart one, driving to my sister’s place in Queens, parking the car, and taking the 7 train to the ballpark. Getting onboard, I was already at the ballgame, with the train packed with Blue and Orange fanatics.
Looking at the Apple, I remembered that I once heard some out-of-towner saying the old ballpark was a “dump.” I was outraged. Beloved Shea? And then I considered: He was right, it was crummy, uncomfortable and years out of date. O.K. A dump. But our dump, am I right? Damn right I’m right.
It was a big game. The Amazins had lost a series to the Braves — the hated Braves — and then lost the following two games to the Cubs — the hated Cubs. But we had Jacob deGrom on the mound tonight. Jake would be great and stop the bleeding.
MetsWorld was strolling through the plaza. It struck me that going to a baseball game is one of the few entertainments that crosses all generational lines. Families, oldsters and lots of young people in their late teens and early 20s, a date night for some — one couple in full Mets regalia needed to find a room, immediately — and groups of people fresh from work.
The words to a song meant something to me for the first time after hearing it every summer for decades — “Take me out to the crowd.”
Even the $8 hot dog didn’t spoil the fun. Or the Mets dropping the game and the series to the Cubs.
We sat next to a man from Green Bay and his 10-year-old son. They were Packer fans, and so they talked a little football, asking if we were Giants or Jets fans and then we turned to the game at hand. The boy enjoyed Dr. Z.’s act, listening closely as the doctor discussed with me the intricacy of the hit-and-run, or the suicide squeeze, and how the Mets manager should be fitted for a straitjacket.
The kid nodded sagely, as you would listening to someone you were not fully convinced mightn’t need extreme therapy himself. I could hear him telling his Wisconsin buddies about the night at the ballpark in Queens, and the New Yorker who wanted the manager to be institutionalized.
The Mets had been on a tear after playing dreadful baseball for months, winning 13 out of 15 and getting back into the playoff race. But that was then, and now they were in another losing streak. I emailed Donahoe about the latest swoon. He wrote back: “We were ascending towards mediocrity and collapsed back into a desultory debacle of lower division loserdom …You wouldn’t need a headline writer would you?”
Did any of this matter, though?
Two researchers from academia, Daniel C. Funk and Jeff James, have discovered a syndrome that they’ve named, “A Psychological Continuum Model.” This is an explanation of do-or-die loyalty to a group. Brooklyn Russian mobsters? MS-13? President Trump’s base? Me, a Mets fan? For those who stick by dog teams, there’s even a psychological term: “Basking in Reflected Failure.”
There’s a good book about loyalty titled “The Old Dispensation,” by John J. Clancy, and how it intersects with business. It’s a compelling look at the meaning of loyalty and how it’s changed over the years, circling back at times to the idea that loyalty was once viewed not as striking a bargain, but as a virtue, which, we all learned as children, is its own reward.
He also slyly quotes Ambrose Bierce’s definition of fidelity as a “virtue peculiar to those who are about to be betrayed.”
But then, maybe it’s loyalty to the sport, and not just a team.
The other evening on the North Fork, I stopped and watched a couple of innings of a pickup game. The crowd consisted of a few geezers like me, guys off work from the fields splitting a six pack, and the brothers and sisters of the boys on the diamond. We didn’t care about wins, losses or poor play. We were too busy watching the young lefthander’s motion on the mound, the crouch of the third baseman — on his toes with each pitch — and listening to the chatter buzzing around the infield.
The beauty of the summer game was reward enough.