Wednesday, July 15, 2009


I am writing this book about being a Mets fan, and this is not for the average baseball lover but mostly for the true Mets fan: the real, honest to goodness bleeding orange and blue fan. I have been one of them all my life, and there are many of us out there. The book touches upon the big years of 1969, 1973, and 1986, but they are really years that are only part of the bigger picture. For the most part, being a Met and being a fan of the Mets is about losing, and the happiness that went along with just rooting for the home team and loving them, no matter what the final score and how bad the team looked in the standings.

I know there are other fans in other cities who understand this kind of thing: Cubs fans in Chicago and Red Sox fans in Boston (at least before the Sox turned it all around in recent years). Losing and continually losing becomes part of the fan psyche, and the idea is that you wear the colors proudly, almost defiantly, in order to honor the team and your own emotional investment in it, despite the fact that the basement becomes an almost permanent living arrangement.

The great New York Daily News sports cartoonist Bill Gallo created a character to honor the Metsies: Basement Bertha. Good old Bertha is as ugly as Ernie Borginine and has teeth like an old pirate, but she also captured the spirit of the good old orange and blue in such a way that she was, and still is, an endearing character. No such character could be created for the Yankees and their fans because they didn’t need a rough and tumble mascot like the Mets did.

I can remember wearing my Mets hat as a kid and having people say things about them to me. “They’re a bunch of bums,” was a usual one. “They’re meatballs” said the old fat Italian guy with a Yankees cap who always sat on his stoop across from the corner deli when I was going to get my Mom a quart of milk. I just would wave at him and say, “Have a nice day,” tipping the old blue cap with the bent orange NY emblem on it.

When I told my father about these things, he said I shouldn’t let it bother me. Though Dad had grown up a Yankee fan, he switched allegiance for me as a kid, which is about the nicest thing a Dad could ever do. I can tell you one thing, if my son ever grows up and becomes a Yankee fan, I don’t think I would have the same benevolence. The truth is though that being a Met fan means having gone through more twists and turns than Mr. Pretzel, and in the end you just can’t shed that orange and blue like it didn’t mean the world to you, because it did and always will.

My mother’s father was a diehard Brooklyn Dodgers fan. He intimately understood a team being called a bunch of bums because that was the Dodgers’ nickname: “Dem Bums.” Pop talked a lot about going to Ebbets Field to see the Dodgers, taking my mother and her sisters with him and his brother Matty. Sometimes they got in, and sometimes the kids had to watch the game through a knothole in the fence. They had a name for those kids: the Knothole Gang. Ah, those were the days.

So the allegiance to the Mets, fierce, determined, and unwavering despite their losing ways, was born out of Dodger suffering. We borrowed the Dodger blue and the NY Giants orange after they left for California, and those colors were then imbued upon new hats and uniforms, and soaked into the blood of every fan who switched allegiance if, for no other reason, as to have a team to root for that was not the Yankees.

As a kid I watched the games and never expected a victory, so imagine my surprise in 1969 when the Mets became the Amazins. There can never be a fully understood response to this unbelievable victory other than emotional euphoria that bordered on hysteria. People honked horns in the streets, banged pots and pans, screamed from rooftops, set off fireworks in alleyways, and set fires in garbage cans. My grandfather noted that the revelry reminded him of when the Dodgers won in 1955, and that was even more delirious because the Dodgers had beaten the hated Yankees, which was better than when he and lots of other guys beat the Kaiser in World War One.

All of this, of course, brings us to present day Met fans and their grief and misery and still unbridled happiness. Currently, no one on the Mets has ten or more homeruns, which does indeed remind me of the glory days when Ed Kranepool led the team with 9 homers (and we thought that was a lot back then). They are making errors in the field, dropping balls, misplaying balls, and throwing them like your five year old sister tossing a softball against the fence. Yes, the old Mets are back and I’m loving every minute of it.

Of course, that is because of nostalgia and a new stadium that is conspicuously like old Ebbets Field. There is a smell in the air of days of old, and the malingering notion of pennant or wild card does not even register because you’re going out to the old ball game, you’re getting your Cracker Jacks, and rooting for the home team. Sure, it’s a shame if they don’t win, but that is not what matters anyway. We’re Mets fans, born from losing, and they may be bums and meatballs, but they are our bums and meatballs, and we love them.

So, I put out of my mind the way Omar Minaya has messed things up for the Wilpons. I forget about that huge payroll, about the minor league system that is in disarray, and the wounded warriors that have left the field and are plagued by mysterious injuries and maladies that would drive old Sherlock Homes batty trying to investigate them.

There is no rhyme or reason for the 2009 Mets, but we old Mets fans never had it so good. No matter how many years spent in the basement, no matter how many times the guys across the river win the big one, we still know how to have fun and enjoy being the blue collar team in town. The Mets are always the underdogs, as are their fans, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. We can celebrate years like 1969 and 1986, but we can also cherish the many years of bumbling and losing in between, being true fans and not summertime Benedict Arnolds becoming fair weather Yankees fans.

The 2009 Mets are reminding me of the good old days almost in every game these days. It’s really just like the old Mets theme song put it: “Bring the kiddies/bring your wife/guaranteed to have the time of your life.” So, drop that ball, Luis Castillo; throw that ball away, David Wright; throw those lollipops to the opposition, Mike Pelfrey. It’s all okay. Good old Casey Stengel is looking down on you, and he still loves you. Basement Bertha does too, and so do a whole lot of fans who remember that the old ball game is more about having heart and loving your team than about anything else.

Monday, July 13, 2009


If things had gone differently when Pope John Paul II died, President Obama could have been meeting with a black pope. Imagine the significance of that moment: the first black American president meeting the first black Pope. Well, the fact is that Benedict was chosen over candidates of color the last time around, so we are left with this meeting between the leader of the Free World and the leader of the world’s Catholics. What good comes from such a meeting as this?

It seems like a photo opportunity for the most part, at least at first glance. The picture I saw in my local paper here in New York featured a very conservatively dressed Michelle Obama, her head covered by a black veil, standing alongside the Pope as he exchanged papers with her conservatively dressed husband. It seemed such a reverential moment, and the respect and dignity the Obamas felt for the Pontiff were quite obvious.

We get the official version of things here. Yes, they spoke about abortion, stem cell research, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is as we should expect it to be: two world leaders talking about important matters of the day but, of course, there is and has to be much more to this story.

What I would like to have heard is what was really said behind closed doors, away from the press and the cameras and Michelle, her mother, and the children. This would have been the conversation I would like to have heard.

As President of the United States, I am sure Mr. Obama, representing millions of American Catholics (including Senator Ted Kennedy, from whom he brought a personal letter for the Pope), would have talked with the Pope about the reality of American life in regards to many things. Besides big topics like abortion and stem cell research, there are many other issues pressing for Americans today.

How can our children attend Catholic schools which continue to be too expensive for average people? What can be done about a shortage of priests and other religious? Would you at least consider thinking about an option to allow priests to marry after taking their vows? Do you understand the importance of young people using condoms, not as a means of birth control, but to avoid diseases that will kill them?

The Pope would have plenty of things to talk about as well. He could have asked Mr. Obama to consider ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That makes sense, but what about the wars happening right here at home? Can we condemn Iranians for killing a female protester in the streets without thinking about protesters who died right here in America at Kent State many years ago? What about our continued war on drugs? Is anything substantial being done to stop the flow of drugs in our streets?

What about the brutal attack on our children's sensibilities by all media? Sitting through an evening of American television, would the Pope not be disgusted by the ads about male sexual enhancement drugs, feminine hygiene products, and the general disdain for decency in shows depicting premarital sex and violence as regular and normal ways of life?

Yes, there must have been much to discuss on the table for these two men, but thirty minutes does not allow for much discussion beyond the pleasantries of introduction and pomp and circumstance. How much real discourse could have taken place? We know that gifts were exchanged, and that the Pope also gave Obama a lengthy printed treatise on the Vatican’s stance regarding stem cell research. This is a good start, but so much more is needed.

When these two men had a chance to sit down, one-on-one, with no cameras and no else present, what was exchanged? Obama is in dire need of direction when it comes to spirituality, and the Pope is in dire need of a lesson on the real world out there.

Hopefully, the Pope blessed Mr. Obama and will continue to pray for him as he leads this nation and the world in matters of significance regarding urgent economic, social, and political events. For his part, Mr. Obama should have offered the promise of continued and meaningful dialogue. Too often, it seems the President (and this is true for most administrations in my memory) of our country does not appreciate the importance of the man who is in charge at the Vatican.

Two remarkable men met in Rome yesterday. We can only hope that their meeting is the start of something better and not just a photo opportunity. The lives of millions, perhaps even billions, of people hang in the balance. In an increasingly violent and disturbing world, their leadership can make a difference; their joint cooperation may just be the thing we need to rise to a better level of understanding and affect real change in matters that are truly life and death issues.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Posters on Our Walls


Growing up in the 70s, my sister and I had numerous posters tacked up on our bedroom walls. Recently, people who were on two of those posters passed away: Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett. I haven’t thought about those long gone iconic images in years, but now it is hard for me to believe that these people are gone or that so many years have passed since those posters graced the walls of our rooms.

My sister was a normal teenage girl for that time. Michael Jackson’s poster was one of a number of posters she had that included images of David Cassidy by himself and with his Partridge Family, Bobby Sherman, Donny Osmond, Davey Jones and the Monkees, and Mr. Jackson. Even then I thought Jackson’s poster stood out: he had a sparkle in his eye, a tilt to his head, and a bright glow about him that made him out dazzle all the other guys on the posters in her room.

In my room there were posters of a different kind: Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, the Eagles, Pink Floyd, and Aerosmith, but in 1976 I cleared space over my bed for the famous poster of Farrah Fawcett, as no doubt did millions of other American boys who were as in love with the beaming smile, the fluffy hair, and the red bathing suit as much as I was. What is interesting is that Farrah was the first and only female to earn a spot on those walls, and I used to jokingly say goodnight to her before I went to sleep and goodbye to her in the morning on my way to school. I guess this seemed like some kind of a relationship in my teenage mind.

Now, when I go into my daughter’s room I see posters of the Jonas Brothers, Zac Efron, the Sprouse twins, Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, and Miley Cyrus. These are the new teen and pre-teen icons, but truthfully I don’t see anything of the magic of Michael in these people. The girls, while cute, are no Farrah Fawcett, but maybe that is the whole point. These kids don’t need to out-dazzle one another because they have a ready made audience and exposure that Farrah and Michael could never have imagined.

Whenever my daughter wants to hear a song by one of her “faves” or see an image, all she has to do is put on the computer. Music videos, like those that built Michael into a star during the early glory days of MTV, are just a click away. She can check out all these songs without opening her little purse. She can also print images of these stars and post them in her room next to the large posters she gets from inside magazines.

Can you imagine Michael having that kind of exposure in his day? Or, for that matter, a group like the Beatles or someone like Elvis. If they were such mega-watt stars in the days of no technology, what would they be today? Of course, when I said that my daughter said something like, “Dad, they’d be just one of all the rest now.”

Ah, the truth out of the mouth of my pre-teen. She hit on something absolutely right: there is nothing extraordinary about any of these new stars because they are seemingly manufactured from the same mold, Disney or otherwise. Now, my opinions may reveal my age here by my lack of understanding their appeal, but I do not see how any of these people will ever be big stars twenty years from now, and maybe, come to think of it, not even ten years from now.

The new star is just a video or a song away. Miley meet Selena meet Demi meet whoever is next. One week it is Katy Perry and the next Lady Gaga and then maybe Lord Timberlake or Prince Eminem might come back for a spell. It doesn’t seem like anything substantial or even close to everlasting; perhaps, these days we cannot expect that or maybe no one wants it anymore.

People’s tastes are more fickle than ever. I remember lots of one-hit wonders in my day, but that seemed to be par for the course in the fairways to fame and misfortune. The old bands I liked are either gone or reconstituted to a point of really not being those old bands I used to go to see at Madison Square Garden or Nassau Coliseum.

Still, if you want a really great show, and one that will fill a stadium, you need an act that has some mileage like Sir Paul McCartney, who is playing soon at Citi Field here in New York in shows that sold out the stadium in less than five minutes. This is apropos since Paul, as a member of a little band called The Beatles, was part of the first concert ever held in a stadium. For those of you too young to know or remember, Paul and his mates played to a packed house at Shea Stadium back in 1965. Now, the first concert ever at Citi Field will feature Sir Paul.

No matter how wonderful the Jonas Brothers or any of these other acts are today, I don’t think any single one of them could sell out a large stadium like that. If you want to do that, you need the old boys to have top billing: McCartney can still do it, Springsteen too, and maybe Bon Jovi or the Rolling Stones if they come around again.

So, as I sat there this weekend looking at my daughter’s posters on the wall, I thought about the posters on the wall of my sister’s and my room over thirty years ago. So much has changed since then, and now Farrah is not just one of Charlie’s Angels but something much more, and Michael is somewhere between here and Alpha Centauri, no doubt dazzling the heavens with his sparkling glove and socks, singing with that ethereal voice and dancing a moonwalk as a now eternal boy-man who is and ever will be a blazing comet across the sky.

In pace requiescat, Farrah and Michael.