Baseball is a thread through my family history. Zada, my maternal grandfather, was a fan and as a result my mom grew up going to games, most often at the Polo Grounds. Zada took the opportunity to impart life lessons to his young daughter. One time a player on the New York Giants pitched poorly and as he was coming off the field my mother yelled, “You’re a bum!” Zada was appalled. He told her, “You never kick a man when he’s down.” When they got home, he insisted she write a letter of apology. She did. Another time they went to a game and some ominous clouds threatened. Mom asked, “Daddy, do you think we should leave? Look at the clouds.” Zada pointed to the other part of the sky, the part that was blue and told her to focus on that. Mom took that advice to heart, always preferring to look at the bright side of things.
Baseball also played a part in my parents’ relationship, nearly sinking it. When they met in 1950 at Brooklyn College, Dad helped Mom through their required freshman physics class while they rooted for rival teams. Dad was a die-hard Dodger fan, Mom rooted for the New York Giants. They enjoyed discussing their respective teams, and Dad was tickled by Mom’s knowledge and interest. Their burgeoning romance was tested in 1951, when Bobby Thompson of the Giants hit the shot heard round the world that sunk the Dodgers playoff hopes. Mom was overjoyed, tossing her books in the air as she heard Russ Hodges jubilant call, “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” Dad was crushed. Mom and Dad didn’t speak for a while. Thankfully for me and my brothers, they got past that.
Six years later both the Giants and Dodgers left for the west coast. With that move, my father lost his love of baseball. He hated Walter O’Malley, the owner of the Dodgers; he felt O’Malley betrayed the loyal Brooklyn fans. Dad now saw the sport as a business. He still followed the game but not with a genuine rooting interest. Mom didn’t hold the same animus toward the Giants. The general consensus was that the New York Giants were legitimately losing money and needed to relocate. The Dodgers were not in the same predicament.
Despite those shifts, baseball remained part of our family life, largely thanks to Zada, and his sons, my uncles, Michael and Terry.
Those who have been following this blog know that I grew up in a two-family house in Brooklyn. Me, my parents and my brothers occupied the first floor unit, while my maternal grandparents and my two teenage uncles lived upstairs. In 1962 when the Mets came into being, Uncle Mike adopted them as his team. Uncle Mike was always a fan of the underdog. Like many Met fans, he hated the Yankees.
As a child, and I do mean child, I loved the Yankees, particularly Mickey Mantle. By the time I was four years old I was enamored of the Mick – I think maybe the rhythm of his name first caught my ear. Whatever it was, I was hooked. The Yankees of my childhood were losers, though I was aware of their winning tradition. Mantle was at the end of his career by the time I was old enough to meaningfully follow the games. The Mets were the team in ascendence, much to my distress. I hated Tom Seaver, in particular. Not surprisingly, my brother, Mark, my nemesis, the thorn in my side, loved Seaver and the Mets.
So, as I recall, the rooting interests in the house lined up as follows:
Me – staunch Yankee fan; I didn’t hate the Mets, other than Seaver.
Mark – rooted for both the Mets and Yankees, but more of a Met fan.
Steven – I couldn’t tell which team he preferred; he went to Met games with my uncles, I don’t recall him joining me in my Yankee obsession.
Uncle Terry – Met fan, didn’t hate the Yankees
Uncle Mike – staunch Met fan, don’t even mention the Yankees!
Zada – rooted for both
Mom and Dad – indifferent, but wanted New York teams to win
Looking back, I think in deference to Uncle Mike, it is possible that my brothers and Uncle Terry were more vocal in their support for the Mets in the 1960s and 1970s. As the years went by, and we no longer lived in the same house, other allegiances emerged. Today Steven and Terry are avowed Yankee fans. Mark continues to root for both teams.
Today I am a Met fan. I made the switch in the interest of marital harmony. When I first met Gary, I continued to follow the Yankees. Over the years, though, for reasons I’m not sure I fully understand, though Gary has said something about obnoxious Yankee fans (not me), my husband developed an antipathy for the Bronx Bombers. The truth is my passion for sports in general has waned over the years. I enjoy watching most games – I draw the line at Australian rules football – but I am not emotionally invested in the outcome. I used to be a die-hard Knick fan, but I just can’t summon the energy anymore. It just isn’t that important in the scheme of things. So slowly but surely, my interest in the Yankees fell away. It made it easier for Gary to immerse our children in the history and culture of the Mets if I simply joined forces. Gary says being a Met fan is also a good life lesson – you learn to deal with disappointment. Like the Dodgers before them, we live with the hope that there is always next year.
So, the lessons baseball has to teach continue on to the next generation. We will see if they get passed on to our grandchildren.