Baseball and Life Lessons

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.

9 thoughts on “Baseball and Life Lessons

  1. Ok, I’ll take the bait. Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for Microsoft or AT&T. It must be fun to root for the team with all the money and all the all stars. They win. A lot. But there is no real accomplishment there.
    More to the point, as the Jeter Yankees began monopolizing all of the World Series championships, the obnoxious ‘sore winner’ Yankees fan emerged. These arrogant loudmouths were constantly telling me how smart the Yankees were and how dumb the Mets were. It wasn’t enough to be joyful that your team won, they had to rub it in.
    Now, to be fair, not all Yankees fans are obnoxious. Linda is not obnoxious. And there must be other Yankees fans who are not obnoxious but I just haven’t met them yet.
    And, Yankees fans are not the only terrible fans. There are those violent, lowlife Phillies fans and the braindead ‘Tomahawk chop’ Braves’ fans.
    Really, the fans of most teams, other than the Mets, are awful. But I remember going to some games against midwestern teams. Those fans seemed fine. And the fans in Cleveland really impressed me with their loyalty to their team no matter how poorly they were playing. They could never make it in New York.
    #LGM

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    1. You’re a troublemaker! Let me remind you we have plenty of non-obnoxious Yankee fans in our family. And, will your complaint about the Yankees being like Microsoft now apply to the Mets and their free-spending new owner? We’ll have to see. That said, I have no problem rooting for the Mets. Based on our personal experience attending a Phillies game, and knowing what I know about the behavior of Eagle fans, I can’t disagree with your assessment. But, once again, there are Philadelphia fans among family and friends who are perfectly fine individuals. So, we need to be careful not to generalize – unless you are just inciting an argument (which knowing you is entirely possible). Anyway, thanks for your provocative comment 🙂

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  2. Sports have always been a part of our lives. The Brody and Spilken families rooted passionately for our home teams. Growing up it was the Knicks and Rangers, the football Giants. Then came along the Titans, the future Jets and the Mets. It was easy to root for our home teams. When I started working for the Islanders, I now had to root for them also. Why is it so hard for someone to be a fan of all our local teams. The only correction to your story is my affection for the Yankees. After the Dodgers and Giants left the city, the Yankees were the only game in town. What a team to root for in the late 50’s and early 60’s. But when the Mets started in 1962, it was another team to root for. I still am a big fan of all the local teams but I would have to root for the Yankees if they played the Mets.

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    1. Good point – there was a five year period where there wasn’t a national league team in NYC. I forgot that. Anyway, I appreciate your thought – it’s true. We should support all the home teams.

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  3. Fantastic piece, Linda!
    Being a Red Sox fan for my entire life, I sure didn’t have any bragging rights to worry about as a kid. We had the Impossible Dream team of 1967 when I was 8 years old, but it wasn’t until 1987 that who I rooted for and who my new boyfriend rooted for became a problem. All he had to say was Buckner to get my goat. But we refused to let who we rooted for get in the way of true love. Ira and I have been to plenty of games at Fenway, but I do understand how your heart can belong to the team you grew up with. Unlike many Boston fans, I can appreciate talent on other teams besides the Red Sox. I would never want to be like one of those opposing teams’ fans that Gary described. I always liked Derek Jeter, and who couldn’t appreciate Lou Gehrig and Mickey Mantle? When it came to the kids, Paul and Jake both started out as Sox fans, then at age 10 Paul switched to the Yankees. Not sure how much baseball matters to them now, but as you mentioned all of us have taken a step back from being the fervent fans we once were. Football is more what they’re all into now.
    The Sox have one record that has yet to be broken: Ted Williams is still the last player to hit above .400 (.406)

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    1. I always appreciate your good sportsmanship, Mary. I try to be a good sport myself, but perhaps not quite as successfully. Though I certainly grew up in the midst of the Sox-Yankee rivalry, I have not hated them and can appreciate their talent (perhaps with the notable exceptions of Roger Clemens – I might’ve hated him when he was a Red Sox, and didn’t like him when he was a Yankee either – and Curt Schilling for obvious reasons).

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  4. That you two got married while you rooted for the Evil Empire is perhaps the story for the ages. I didn’t know you had switched teams and didn’t know you did so in the name of harmony. And by the way, I love rooting for the new Evil Empire. God it feels good to just buy whatever you want. LGM

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  5. Growing up in our household I rooted for all the New York local teams. Maybe back then I leaned toward the Yankees a bit more than the Mets. June 15, 1977 for me is the day of infamy as to where my hatred for the Mets was spawned and to this day to lesser degree still exists. June 15, 1977 was the day the Mets traded Tom Seaver to the Reds. That broke my heart. In fact when the Reds came to Shea later that summer and Seaver was to pitch I told Mark we are going to the game to root for the Reds and boo the Mets, which we did. It was the only Met game I went to for years.

    Of interest 1977 was the first time the Yankees won a world Series since 1962. They were in the World Series in 1976 but lost to the Reds. So my interest in the Yankees was rising quickly overtaking the Mets and then when the trade occurred. Who to root for? A team trading away its super star to one that was bringing them in? To me a no brainer.

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