I talk about baseball every day. I talk about it in the spring and summer. I talk about in the fall and the winter, during the season of relentless trade and free-agent gossip, and then into early spring, when I count down the days until pitchers and catchers report south to round themselves into shape for the coming season. Then, as in the eternal ritual of the reading of the Five Books of Moses, I start all over again.
There are many wonderful things about baseball, and one of those delights is the conversation it fosters between people who have never met and will never speak again. This happens in line at the deli or the dry cleaner — “You see that play?” — and especially at the ballpark, where the stranger sitting next to you becomes an instant soul mate until the game ends and you do not even think it necessary to say goodbye.
Baseball is a chatterbox’s gift, especially if you, like me, are a chatterbox with friends. I have three in particular: Mike, Alex and Paul. Over the years, we have occasionally gone to games in groups of two or three. Still, the conversation that has been going on for years is largely confined to email.
We are never all together, but we are joined together by the Mets. Our dynamic, of course, could apply to any team’s fans, who, like young people in the throes of first love, are sure no one has ever felt like them before.
We have our roles. Paul possesses statistical acumen so keen he can summon without effort Duffy Dyer’s career numbers against lefties with men on base and fewer than two men out. Alex is our philosopher, given to dark musings over what fate must have in store for a slumping Travis d’Arnaud. Mike, bless him, is the essential optimist, who even after yet another season-ending injury is always quick with “we have another game tomorrow.” Mike sings in his church choir, and we love him for that.
Credit Kathy Willens/Associated Press
I am the worrier. In truth, we all are, but my worrying presents in a more Upper-West-Side-high-maintenance sort of way: “Tell me I don’t need to be afraid.”
My wife is not a fan, and neither is my son. But my daughter, Eliza, who is 26, has displayed over the years the occasional flash of interest that made me think she might yet be converted.
Midway through last season, with the team on the rise, she proclaimed herself a Mets fan. My son, dubious of her sudden allegiance, advised me that it would not last, that her fandom was strictly fair-weather.
Yet I saw potential, a hunch reinforced by her stellar performance during the playoff run and the World Series. The highlight was her attending Game 3 of a National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers with a handmade sign reading “For Ruben” and booing with soccer-hooligan venom at Chase Utley, whose slide had broken poor Tejada’s leg.
The true test for any fan, of course, comes not in the good times but in the bad. This spring, after an encouraging April, the team began to sag. But Eliza was still there, and scoring well on fandom’s equivalent of the written exam: Her text messages displayed the essential pain and weltschmerz.
Me: “Not thor’s night
Eliza: I can’t watch. If we don’t have him we don’t have anyone.”
So in late June, I felt that the time had come to invite her to join me and the boys.
She joined when we (yes, we; she took to this instantly) were in third place in the N.L. East, five games back. She was grateful not to have to endure things alone. Her boyfriend, whose passions run more to soccer, was at that point insufficiently supportive. That changed.
“He now understands the urgency of the situation,” Eliza wrote.
Meanwhile, the boys and I were ready to help, and she knew it.
Paul: “If we can be at or over .500 at the All-Star break, I’ll be happy. That will require going no worse than 4-8 over the next 12 games.”
Mike: “I kinda like Loney, at least. and d’Arnaud threw somebody out.”
Eliza: “Hi all — this is really helping. I’ve been despondent the last 2 days. I’m trying not to think about how we are now praying for at least mediocrity from Matt Harvey or that Thor and Matz are in pain every time they throw. Just trying to manage my expectations for the second half of the season.”
By the Aug. 1 nonwaiver trade deadline, she had found her voice.
Me: “ok, so the irony here of trading dilson herrera (a smart move, no?) considering he was the reason they let murph go.”
Alex: “I felt much better about letting Nimmo go.”
Paul: “Also, we reacquired Jonathon Niese for Antonio Bastardo. I don’t like Niese, but I love this trade, which gets Bastardo out of town.”
Eliza: “relieved never to have to deal with bastardo again.”
Weeks passed, and as the team showed sparks of life, Eliza grew more pithy, and wonderfully edgy.
Alex: “Should the Mets pick up the $13 million option on Jay Bruce?”
Eliza: “Bruce is useless!”
Still, by late September, the race was taking a toll.
Me: “A sure homer by ces caught over the wall? I don’t like this. …
“Thank heavens the cardinals lost.”
Paul: “Snakebit, baby!”
Eliza: “i truly feel physically ill.”
She was over on the night the Mets blew a 2-1 lead to the Phillies and were trailing, 6-4, when I turned off the game. But not my phone, which lit up with the alert that Jose Reyes had tied the score in the ninth with a homer.
We then watched until the Phillies slipped ahead in the 11th — too much to bear — so we missed the three-run homer that won the game in the bottom of the inning.
Earlier that evening, I had sent the boys an email bemoaning that the time had come to accept the inevitability of waiting till next year.
The following morning Paul was ready to bring me up short: “Ahem! Asdrubal Cabrera begs to differ.”
Mike piled on: “Oh ye of little faith.”
I tapped on Eliza’s door, phone in hand, the video cued up, ready to hit “play.”
She woke, smiled, and replied, “I’ve already seen it a hundred times.”