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Back to the old ball game


Until Tuesday night, I couldn’t tell you who was playing for the Yankees and who was playing for the Mets. I still can not. For those who don’t know baseball like me, the New York teams are at the top of their respective divisions in the American and National Leagues. And after the game, at least the eight and a half innings I’ve been in – go ahead and say it, my daughter did; I’m a loser because I left early – I still can’t name more than one or two players.

Before we dive into the game itself – which would have been the hottest ticket in town – could you answer me with a simple fashion question? What’s up with fans wearing the shirts of their favorite players? I understand their admiration, their passion, their support. But a guy with a beer gut or a teenage girl wearing thick stripes on her clothes with an athlete’s name and number on the back just isn’t a good look.

It works for gamers because they are spectacular physical specimens. Because they are on the field playing. And because the jersey is part of a set. Although I suppose it would seem even more absurd if fans showed up in matching knickers, socks and cleats.

Also, is it wise to take your baseball glove to the park if you’re over ten? The guy sitting in front of me with his mitten on looked like he was in his sixties. The odds of catching a fly ball are about equal to winning the billion dollar jackpot in this week’s Mega Millions. Especially if you’re sitting on the upper deck like we were. Even Aaron Judge, the 6-foot-7, 282-pound Yankees superstar, probably couldn’t throw a projectile that far. Leave the glove at home. You will just lose it. And then you will be sad.

We got our tickets last minute and paid accordingly. I would have been happy to watch the game at home, or not at all, because I’m too cheap to get into the DIRECTV Major League Baseball package. But my brother convinced me. We have a family ritual that dictates that we attend one Mets game per season. Supporting the Mets is also an old family tradition. It goes back to the origins of the team in 1962 and my father. The early Mets more than validated his pessimistic worldview that “anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

Plus, it’s more fun to hunt for an underdog than perennial World Series champions like the Yankees were back then.

James, my brother, tried to help me rationalize the expense by reminding me that we hadn’t attended a Mets game since the pandemic began. Spreading the cost over several years made it a bit more palatable.

I only agreed with his logic so far. But it felt good to be back in a sold-out stadium with 42,000 other fans. Mets fans outnumbered Yankees fans, but that was not felt by a long shot. COVID seemed like a distant memory. Almost no one wore a mask.

While we were defending the national anthem, the divisions of the country, in fact all the calamities facing the planet, sounded like an invention of cable news. The American flags that flew over the jumbotron and atop the stadium seemed the unifying symbols they once were, not a cudgel against “them”, whoever they were.

We showed up early to cushion our ticket prices. We were too late for batting practice, but early enough not to have to endure the indignity of waiting in the icy slow line at the food stand like we usually do, to spend fourteen bucks on the hot- dog and fries and another fourteen dollars for a beer.

The first run alone was almost worth the price of admission. The Yankees started with back-to-back homers from center Judge and first baseman Anthony Rizzo. I felt that familiar sinking feeling from childhood, and indeed probably genetically coded.

I could see the future of the Mets and it looked bleak. Even when they were winning in the past, they found a way to lose at the end of the game. But at the end of the first set, the home side had a 4-2 lead and they stayed that way for the rest of the match, eventually winning 6-3.

For me, the best part of a ballgame is just showing up. It’s the cinematic quality of a dazzling emerald field set against the rich brown silt of the pitcher mound and base paths. These are the bright lights. These are the players who perform superhuman athletic feats by rote.

But above all, it is this feeling of communion that one feels with strangers from very different backgrounds transformed for a brief moment into a community, united by their belief in the beauty of the game and the righteousness of their team. Such emotions run especially high when the opponent is the perennial overdog Yankees. Yet the bonhomie atmosphere was such that even the occasional obscene chants of Mets fans against the Bronx Bombers had an affectionate resonance.

It’s true that after we left to beat the rushing subway crowds, the Mets added another run. But we had done our part to place them above. We also proved to my father, wherever he was, that the forces of good and light can still defeat the forces of darkness, and the Yankees with them.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com.

Opinions expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of that resort or its direction.