This question used to be presented to me with an almost defeated aspiration, an almost contemptuous sneer. Now it is asked with wide-eyed optimism, with something that could almost be described as joyful anticipation.
Yes. My wife, God help her, has become a Mets fan.
Whereas before she was merely tolerant of this asinine preoccupation of mine, now she’s all in — learning the nuances of bullpen matchups and infield shifts, beaming with a certain maternal pride when Nieuwenhuis or Murphy raps one into the corner and tsk-tsking in disappointment every time Ike bends his front knee and tries to scoop a curveball out of the dirt as if he’s digging weeds in the garden.
It’s a pox on our house, I think, sitting on the sofa with my 10-year-old, who is flipping through my old baseball-card album. “You know what this guy’s nickname was?” I ask, pointing to a faded card with bent corners. “Catfish.” She giggles and looks at me incredulously. “What about this guy?” she says, pointing to another card. “That’s Mr. October!” I say. “And this guy is ‘Kid,’ and this guy is ‘Dr. K,’ and ‘Nails.’ ”
“Because he was tough as.” I flip the book back a few pages. “This guy’s nickname was ‘Scrap Iron’ for pretty much the same reason.”
You have to watch what you say about Ike’s issues at the plate around this little one, or she’ll give you the same fisheye she gives when you criticize Philip on “American Idol.” She has adopted Ike not just because he is a handsome, strapping lad, but mostly because she was in Citi Field, hot dog in hand, when Ike clanged one off the Shea Bridge for his first major-league homer. They will forever be bonded by that. Just as I am with Doug Flynn or Mike Jorgensen, or as her grandfather is with Jackie Robinson. She recently wrote Ike a letter, telling him, “I know people are getting down on you, but I still believe you will hit a home run this season.” Every day since, she has run to the mailbox to see if the enclosed card has returned. I once wrote a similar letter to Willie Stargell, who not only signed the little scrap of paper I enclosed, but also sent me an autographed photo and a letter thanking me for my “kind words.” I’ll have to dig that out and show the kid.
Back on the TV, Murph is sliding into home on a suicide squeeze. She likes Murph. And not just because he looks like a young Levon Helm, or so she says every game. She likes his grit, which truly is what makes this Mets team so likable. She calls them the "Backyard Boys," because they're like the neighborhood kids scrapping it out at the park.
My father’s book “Joy in Mudville” begins with a dedication to me and ends with (spoiler alert: stop reading if you don’t know who won the ’69 World Series!) … the Mets winning the ’69 World Series. In between are anecdotes of lovable losers and colorful characters and the complete early history of the Mets.
I picked up “Joy in Mudville,” which I hadn’t read in decades, to cleanse my palette after reading Jeff Pearlman’s salacious “The Bad Guys Won,” a chronicle of the frat-boy antics of the 1986 Mets. Each book has it’s merit, I suppose, reflecting different teams in different eras. If you want to know what the Mets were drinking at Finn MacCools, read Pearlman. If you want to know how Tommie Agee and Cleon Jones dealt with the racial environment of the 1960s, read Vecsey. But probably I didn’t have to tell you that.
As with so much of my father’s work, “Joy in Mudville” goes far beyond the baseball diamond. It’s about New York and America, race and religion. It’s about loyalty and faith and optimism. And, of course, in the end, it’s about baseball, the bond that ties generations — whether in the dedication of a book or a passed-down album of baseball cards, each with a story of its own.
If this indeed be a pox, may my family and all its future generations be blessed with it.
Footnote: There is a lot of old-school Mets stuff kind of floating around out there at the moment. My dad recently paid homage to ’62 Met Craig Anderson on the anniversary of his first — and only — two major league victories. And Ken Belson of The New York Times reported that SNY will be showing the recently unearthed 1962 Mets Yearbook for the first time. And also, we learned that the Mets will host the All-Star Game next year for the first time since 1964.