There’s one day a year my clients are guaranteed not to find me in the office: Opening Day of the baseball season. That’s today, for those of you who don’t keep track of such things.
How much do I love baseball? It’s right there in my email signature, which identifies me as “Award-winning speechwriter, writers’ guide, Mets Fan (unbeaten so far in 2017!)” That parenthetical phrase will no doubt disappear one day soon, but my Mets fandom is likely to stick.
I’ve written about baseball several times in this blog—mostly about the baseball writers who taught me to notice and love the nuances of the game. But I’ve never written about how I became a baseball fan. That has nothing to do with words at all.
It was early in the 1986 season and I turned on the TV one night to find a Mets game in progress. Before I could find the remote to change the channel, one of the Mets got hit by a pitch—deliberately—and a benches-clearing brawl ensued. Now, I’m not a violent person; I’m not a fan of fighting. But something about how the players had each others’ backs spoke to me and I found myself tuning in to the games to see if it would happen again. I also tried watching some Yankees games, but the Yanks were harder to follow—thanks to a stingy owner half a century earlier, their players did not have names on their jerseys. So back to the Mets I went.
The Mets in 1986 had heart. They had fun—like the World Series-winning Cubs did last season. They were a team, a family. And they drew me in quickly. I watched every broadcast game and when they played on cable, I tuned a rickety radio to the AM station and listened. I lived in Brooklyn back then and Brooklyn—believe it or not—had not yet been wired for cable.
Fortunately for me, the Mets’ lead announcer in the booth was the erudite former catcher Tim McCarver. Fans tend to either love or loathe him, but I appreciated the way he explained the fine points of the game. I also loved seeing him struggle to hide his impatience with the idiots they sometimes paired him with. Timmy was my kind of guy. He taught me the game of baseball. As did Roger Angell in The New Yorker. But Tim called his class to order almost nightly; I had to wait months for every new Angell piece.
I was devastated when the team let McCarver go, replacing him with Tom Seaver—who may have been a terrific pitcher back in the day, but who was not a gifted communicator. The broadcast team today includes two players from the ’86 team, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling. Smart men—if a little backward sometimes about women—and smart players. I’m almost over losing McCarver, who retired completely a few years ago.
The Mets won it all in 1986—the most thrilling playoffs and World Series in my memory, until the Cubbies’ Series last year. Can the Mets do it again 31 years later? We’re coming into the season with the top-rated pitching rotation in all of baseball. Hope springs eternal on Opening Day. And I am smiling.