Originally published in The Fordham Ram on March 30, 2016.
Have you ever watched baseball with someone who has an encyclopedic memory of the golden ages of the sport? If you haven’t, I recommend it. Baseball, more than any other sport, is majorly reliant on its history and mythos as part of the spectacle and allure of the game. This is often the reason why many, like the maligned Goose Goosage, feel the need to protect the old ways, but that’s a whole other discussion.
This is about acquiring a different appreciation for the game. I’ve always loved baseball, a love that grew exponentially during my high school years. It’s certainly not for everyone, but once you get into it, it’s easy to get hooked. The major reason for this hold on me is my dad.
My father turned 68-years-old this past February. Being that old, he was actually a Brooklyn Dodgers fan. Naturally, he was heartbroken when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1957. But he was starved for baseball, especially since the thought of being a Yankee fan was nauseating. He stayed devoted to the Dodgers for a time, even listening to late-night broadcasts done by Nat Allbright, who would receive basic transmissions of the games (nothing more than “fly out to right”) and would extrapolate them into a full play-by-play.
But then it was 1962, and the New York Metropolitans came to town. My father was 14-years-old. And just like that, he had a new favorite team and is a true original Mets fan. He lasted through their dismal inaugural season, during which the Mets went 40-120, the worst season in MLB history. “But Jack,” you may say. “The MLB season is 162 games. They only played 160.” Well here is the story, as my dad has told a million times: “The Mets that season had a few rainouts. When it got down to the end of the season, the league decided, ‘Maybe just forget about those ones. We’ll spare everyone the trouble.’” And so the Mets managed to have the worst season on record without even playing a full 162.
For some reason, my dad stuck with them. Just seven years later, he got to witness the Amazin’s win their first World Series in 1969. In 1986, they were at it again, with one of the most exciting World Series of all-time, featuring the famous groundball through the legs of Bill Buckner to push the series to a seventh game, where the Mets would win their second World Series title.
That brings us to last season and the near future. The Mets run in the second half of last season was the most excited I have seen my dad in my lifetime, and I was totally swept up in it as well, even as their run continued while I was on campus. While they stopped short of a World Series win, the hype for this team is at an all-time high.
So if there was any better time for my father, who has been a Mets fan since the very beginning, to go to spring training for the first time, this was as good a year as any. We flew down to Florida for five days, and saw three games in that span. We saw Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz pitch. We saw David Wright hit an opposite field homerun despite his recent serious back issues. We watched Yoenis Cespedes forget that he could actually pick up a baseball sitting under the centerfield wall padding.
While the Mets didn’t perform well (Harvey was shelled in the first game, and in the other two, the Mets blew leads and ended up tying, the most beautiful part of spring training), it was incredible all the same.
Watching spring training baseball is much maligned by non-baseball fans, but for the baseball junky, there’s nothing better. Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie is no bigger than a minor league park, so there’s a certain intimacy to the game. And outside of the pure closeness of the game, there’s a sense of peaking behind the curtain. You’re watching a team begin to take shape and try to make a run, something you gain a better perspective of when watching the game with someone like my father.
My younger brother, who, along with my older sister, also went to the three games, is a great example of how one’s experience watching baseball can change for the better by doing it with a lifelong fan. My brother could not care less about baseball, and he was even talking about not attending all three games. But there he was each game, just as caught up as the rest of us, due at least in part to the historical reference we had just a seat or two away.
Is baseball slow? Yes. But that just leaves room for the stories baseball holds. Next time you try to watch it, find someone that has enough experience to fill you in on those stories, and I’m sure you will fall in love with the sport as well, regardless of the game itself.