“Beat the Mets,/Beat the Mets,/Step right up and/Beat the Mets!”
That was the twist on the Mets’ fight song, “Meet the Mets,” and it was pretty much on point, except for that year during my childhood – 1969 – when they turned into the Amazin’s, winning the World Series. They won in 1986 as well, when I was already a lot older, and there were other years when they did pretty well, most recently in 2015, taking the National League East title. But let’s face it, they weren’t the Yankees. And that was fine by me.
I was always a sucker for the underdog.
Sports were big in my school, as they are in most schools, and pretty much everywhere, but in general, I wasn’t much of a fan – except when it came to baseball. I associated it with my favorite seasons: with the Little League parade in early spring marching down Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn all the way to the Little League field, and watching the boys play at twilight – no softball in those days for us girls. I associated it with sitting on the small concrete terrace outside our apartment with my father and my brother, the transistor radio close by, or on the porch of the Big House where we lived each summer up in the Catskill mountains. It was the sport of fireflies and fireworks and – let’s face it – frustration: slow-moving, just like summer itself.
I don’t watch very many games any more, though once in a while I listen on the radio, the announcers’ voices much the same, along with the roar of the crowd. Still, when there were spirits days encouraging students and staff to wear shirts or sweats from their favorite teams, I was right there to show my Mets pride.
I loved getting ribbed by my some of my students – NOOOOO, they’re no good; Ms. Ewig, are you kidding me? – and talking to them about the year of the Amazin’s.
For it was just a great season: From a fairly young team that had never gone above ninth place in any of its first seven seasons, they won 100 games that season – not all, but enough to be at the top. (In fact, they lost their very first game that year, to the Montreal Expos, causing, I’m sure, some head shaking – yep, here we go again.) And there were superstars – Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman among them – who became gods to us.
It seemed that everyone in my part of Brooklyn was a Mets fan that year – but that usually happens when your home team makes it big. Jumping on the bandwagon, and all that. But for the die-hard Mets – the ones who believed every year, despite the abysmal records they rung up – there was none other.
There were many other Mets fans in my school, particularly among my seventh-grade colleagues – an extraordinarily large number, actually, with one Red Sox fan thrown in for good measure. It seemed only right. Teachers are often suckers for the underdogs: the kids who aren’t chosen, the kids who don’t fit in, the ones who aren’t popular, the ones whose parents are unkind, who expect more from them than they could offer, these kids who look to us, their teachers, as gods, salvation from the unhappiness of their everyday lives.
Baseball is gone these days, of course, another strike from coronavirus. There are many other joyful aspects of our lives gone too, of course – many much more overwhelming. And still, I know how many are missing it, no matter what the team: “Play Ball!” after the National Anthem is sung; the sound of a bat soundly meeting a ball; “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” played at the seventh-inning stretch; the sounds of cheering and disappointment, winning and losing. The lights turning on in stadiums all over the country, and the world.
Baseball is coming back, though in a very different way than we’re used to. And schools, too, will be very different come fall; no one yet knows what it will all look like.
Yet I am sure of this: Sometime in the future, there will be games played again, and crowds there to see them. Sometime in the future, schools will be filled with students who – for a while, at least – will remember what it was like to be in lockdown with their families and will be happy to be there.
I can believe in anything. After all, I’m a Mets fan.