Going Nine: Ronnie And Me

The true baseball fan is passionate.  Whether it’s November, January or Easter Sunday, he or she can tell you how important it is to have a No. 2 hitter with a good eye in the lineup.

The New York baseball fan is an entirely different animal altogether.

Sure, there are avid fans from other towns that claim to be “baseball cities”, but unless you’re talking about the Royal Rooters from Beantown, nobody comes close to Gotham Nation.  St. Louis comes close, but let’s face it, their unwillingness to boo is somehow cowardly to most Gothamites.

We love booing.  No, questioning an umpire’s strike zone while sitting in the upper deck is not a logical act.  Neither is trading Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano.  But as we all know, it happens.

New York fans love to cheer also, and not always for the superstar either.  Mookie Wilson has gotten more cheers in this town than Alex Rodriguez may ever receive.

Where do we get this passion?  Well, I know where I do.

When I was a young boy growing up on E.39th Street in Flatbush, most of my days were spent on wondering if the Mets dealing Tom Seaver to the Reds was somehow my fault.  Perhaps if I had spoken directly to M Donald Grant, I could have told him that Doug Flynn would never hit a lick, Steve Henderson was simply not good enough, Dan Norman was not for real and that Pat Zachary was made of paper mache.

Why the passion?  Blame my dad.

Ron Healey spent most of his childhood at St. Vincent’s Home for Boys.  My siblings and I don’t know much about those days for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is that he likely doesn’t remember them too fondly.

Most of what I know about his times there are the good things; playing ball with his buddies like Hank, Sep and Sarge, and getting to – on the weekends – go to their houses from time to time for a taste of a real home.  I’ve often wondered what that must have been like, having to go back to the darkness after a glimpse of the light.  But to his credit, and my everlasting gratitude, he never complained about it, never was consumed with bitterness about it, and sure as hell never took it out on any of us.  He was adamant that his kids would have everything he didn’t.

PopFor him, not being far from the shadows of Ebbets Field was an escape from loneliness.   Cheering for his Brooks was probably the greatest joy he experienced during those dark days.  It was during those rare afternoons of getting to go to a game that more than likely turned mere fandom into baseball fever.

He handed down that wonderful gift to me, the love of the Great Pastime, and it’s the main reason you’re reading these words right now.

Whether it was his story of running into a young, athletic “guy who looked like a ballplayer (Willie Mays) so we ran after him and got his autograph” or his taking me and my buddies (when he really couldn’t afford to) in the 1974 Dodge Dart (Special Edition) to see the dreadful post-Seaver Mets of the late 70’s, I was hooked and hooked early.

My dad’s a Mets fan these days (and has been since the Dodgers left Brooklyn), and he still won’t read (or says he doesn’t) read anything I write about the Yankees.  “I hate the Yankees,” he says, quite matter-of-factly, as if it were a natural state.  It’s quite possible he might not read this column (just kidding), but I suspect that even if this piece was about the Bombers, he’d sneak a peak to see what his “Markito” has written.

We still talk as much baseball as we ever did.  He probably watches as much (if not more) games than I do, despite my mom’s objections (“Your son’s the sports writer”), and this summer, he, I and my kids will go to a baseball game together.  We’ll share the sights, the smells and the booing and the cheering.

That’s baseball.  Gotham Baseball.

Thanks, Pop.