If you’ve been reading the Monday Mets articles for some time, and I’m pretty sure both of you have been, you’ll know that I get a little personal sometimes. Yesterday was my first Father’s Day without my father around, and today would have been his 82nd birthday; so I can’t treat this week’s offering as just another angle of what’s getting to be a tired story of the Mets “Refuse to Win” attitude.
Or maybe I can. See, virtually anyone who knew my father learned quickly of his love for baseball which stemmed from his love for the Brooklyn Dodgers. To know someone like this is not a rarity amongst Mets fans. And while life’s number line dictates that there are now more children of former Brooklyn Dodgers fans than there are actual Brooklyn Dodgers fans remaining, the blue within the Mets blue and orange will likely stand strong for a long time.
When I think about how a baseball fan followed the sport back then, I have to remind myself that it was without a smartphone, the internet, or even television. Because of these tools, which we essentially take for granted, baseball has become a game of numbers, now more than ever. I am neither praising, nor lamenting this fact. I’m merely pointing out how, for a baseball fan in the 1940’s and 1950’s, the game was experienced differently. Specifically, for my father, it wasn’t about the statistics, it was about wins & losses, and the players and the stories that comprised them.
So, as I’m sure you can imagine, the phrase “Wait ’til next year” was as innate in my family as “he started it” or “are we there yet” might be in someone else’s house. Now, the Brooklyn Dodgers won just one World Series, in 1955. So “Wait ’til next year” became part of their name, much like “I just want to be friends” was added by to the names of most girls I met in my teens. To the uninitiated, this phrase seems to suggest an eternal bright-eyed hope to rooting for the team. While there’s some truth to that, there’s also a somewhat opposite meaning to it.
My siblings and I all grew up after the Dodgers went west, and the Mets were tabbed to take their place. While my father had moved on from baseball when the Dodgers moved on from Brooklyn, he eventually returned to his baseball fan roots when his kids took to the Mets. I think that part of the connection to the Mets was that they were lovable losers, who only got slightly less lovable when they started losing slightly less. So, it was easy, and eventually automatic, for my father to utter “Wait ’til next year” at some point in the season. As my father got older, and the pattern of Mets seasons became incredibly familiar, “Wait ’til next year” became less of a consolation, and more a stark declaration that the team wasn’t going anywhere good. In case you’re wondering, he probably said this every season of my lifetime except for 1986.
All this is to say that if he were with us right now, I’m pretty sure that he would be suggesting that we look ahead to the Mets doing bigger and better things in 2020 than they appear they’ll do in 2019. One of my brothers usually shares the same sentiment, although he does it in mid-May by simply stating, “They stink.”
It’s hard not to agree with either of them. If I were to pitch this Mets season as a movie idea, I would say “it’s Groundhog Day meets the climax of Tin Cup.” But, just as I’m getting ready to give up on this team before we officially enter summer, I’m reminded by my daughter of a different, more Mets-centric phrase. I took my oldest daughter to the game on Sunday, so that we could share in the pain, I guess. And as we were leaving and discussing how the standings work, and which teams make the postseason, she looked up at me with as much innocence as a tween can possess and asked, “there’s still time for them to turn this around, right?” I wanted to tell her that technically she was correct but that the team hasn’t indicated an ability to win consistently enough to provide such hope; instead I just smiled and said “Ya gotta believe.”
It was this day in 2008 when the Mets fired their manager, Willie Randolph. They went on to win almost 60% of their remaining games and nearly made it to the postseason. It would take a similar run to make that a possibility this year as well. It can be done. While it seems unlikely, I think find myself choosing to believe for a little longer before committing to waiting until next year.
I’m pretty sure my father would understand.