MY MOTHER AND THE METS
A couple of weeks after my first birthday, my parents’ baseball team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, did
something they would only do once. They beat the New York Yankees in the World Series. My
father, an intern, was at work. My mother was alone with me in an apartment at 163rd street and
Riverside Drive. When the game ended, she couldn’t stand the silence, in the middle of Giants and
Yankee country. She called her brother in Flatbush and asked him to hold the telephone receiver out
the window so that she could listen to Brooklyn.
Obviously I don’t remember this, but I sure wish I did. And I wish that I had been in a position to help
my mother celebrate what was probably a once in a lifetime event. On May 19, 2008, my mother
turned 80. We celebrated her birthday, watching the Mets clobber the Yankees in the same den in our
house in New Jersey where the Mets had won the 1969 World Series. I thought of how grateful I
would be if my mother could see her team beat the Yankees in the World Series one more time.
My mother is the most dedicated baseball fan I know. She remembers going to her first baseball
game over 70 years ago, with her older cousin Naty. Ebbetts Field, she remembers, “was just a place
in our neighborhood.” My mother grew up at 823 President Street, at the corner of Seventh Avenue.
In what is now, I think, an optometrist’s shop, my grandparents had a “candy store,” called
Thomashow Brothers from 1913 to 1960. You could get a soda in the shop, or ice cream, a newspaper,
a comic book, a pack of cigarettes, a roll of lifesavers, and you could always, during the summer, hear
the Dodgers game on a radio. In the late fifties, I used to sit in the phone booth to the right as you
came into the store and I’d watch all the people. My most vivid memory is of the time the phone rang
and I jumped out of the booth in terror. I can still bring up images of what I watched from that phone
booth. I remember men in hats and women with bright red lips. I remember my grandmother in a grey
jacket, solemnly making ice cream sodas for pimply teenagers with too much Brylcream in their hair.
I’m glad I have these memories. It makes me feel a part of old-time Brooklyn, which I always think of
as the soil from which the New York Mets have sprung.
It used to be that you could take a trolley from Grand Army Plaza to Ebbetts Field. Brooklyn used to
have trolleys. That’s how the Dodgers got their name. “Trolley-dodgers” were what they called
Brooklyn street-urchins around 1900. Before they were the Dodgers, the team was called the
Brooklyn Bridegrooms. What were they thinking? Since you had to walk a few blocks from Seventh
Avenue to get to Grand Army Plaza, and Ebbetts Field was not that much further, it was not considered
to be worth the nickel it cost to take the trolley to the stadium. So my mother used to walk down
Flatbush Avenue to see a baseball game. She remembers how cozy and fun the stadium was. Ebbetts
Field, she says, was like a circus. She loved the band that walked around the stands playing
commentary (like “Three Blind Mice” when the umpires made a bad call). Her favorite player as a
kid was Cookie Lavagetto and she remembers the lady who sat in the stands and screamed and held
up signs about being crazily in love with him. Later her favorite player was Dixie Walker, “the People’
s Cherce,” as he was called in the papers, though she was saddened when he was one of those who
wrote the letter asking Branch Rickey not to let Jackie Robinson play. Before Robinson came in the
late ‘40s, the Dodgers were generally a pretty dismal team. I asked my mother if she minded this and
she said “Of course not. We didn’t care if they were good. They were the Dodgers.” I asked her
what it felt like when the Dodgers went from very bad to very good. She said, “You know what it was
like. It was just like the Mets.” During the great years, her favorite player was Roy Campanella, and
she remembers how devastated she was when he was in the accident that crippled him. She also
remembers how awful she felt when her team left her to move to Los Angeles. She says that only the
coming of the Mets made it possible for her to get over it.
My mother loves the Mets. She watches every game. In the minds of many old Dodger fans, the
Brooklyn Dodgers and the Mets are one team that represents the scrappiness of old New York life,
one team that represents the highs and lows of life as it is actually lived. She asks me who my favorite
Mets have been and I tell her Seaver, Koosman, Hernandez, Strawberry, and Piazza. She says, “you
see, those are the good ones. I like the good ones too, but I also like the other ones.” I say I like the
other ones too and I ask her who her favorite Mets are. She tells me Mookie and Hubie. To her, I
guess, these are the heirs to Cookie and Dixie. I don’t think it’s just the funny nicknames. I think
what she likes is the guys who are “The People’s Cherce,” guys who come through in really special
moments and who are not necessarily great or even good all the time.
I’ve been to a lot of ballgames with my mother. She gets very emotional at them. We used to go to
Shea as a family on Mother’s Day when my mother and sisters would get these little make-up kits
from Maybelline. My mother never went to any games with her parents. They were immigrants who
did not understand what the younger generation saw in this American game that was so obviously a
waste of time. They thought watching baseball was like playing cards. Still, all of my mother’s
brothers and cousins became die-hard baseball fans. The ones who lived in the Bronx even became
die-hard Yankee fans. Baseball, I guess, was one of the first things that really let us in. Here was
this American thing that everybody could love alongside everyone else. There were all these people
living side by side in New York, eating their own foods in their own houses, going to their own churches
and synagogues and mosques and union meeting halls, living their own different senses of the world.
But baseball gave them a sense of what it was like for everyone to feel the same about something. No
matter who you were or where you came from, you felt the same thing as everybody else when Carl
Furillo made a great catch, or Gil Hodges hit a home run, or Jackie Robinson stole a base. The
importance baseball had in making Americans all feel like Americans probably can’t be understated.
When my mother asked her brother to hold the phone out the window in 1955, what she wanted to hear
was the voice of all of Brooklyn.
My mom doesn’t walk very well. I had hoped to go with her to one last game at Shea, but I knew that
she wouldn’t want to go to a game in a wheelchair. She watches all the games on television. She says
that’s good enough. She talks about Gary Cohen, Ron Darling, Keith Hernandez, and Kevin
Burkhardt are if they were her other sons. She is very proud of them because she thinks they do such
a good job. They carry on the Mets tradition of great announcing and that’s important to her. She
says she’s content to listen to them. She doesn’t need to go to the ballpark. Still, even if she doesn’t
expect to go there again, she is very sad that Shea is coming down.
The Dodgers and the Mets have been an important part of my mother’s life. For this reason, I have to
admit that one thing I do like about Citifield is that by resurrecting Ebbetts Field, it brings my mother’s
baseball life around in a kind of circle. I imagine this little girl walking down big broad Flatbush
Avenue between Prospect Park and the Botanic Gardens in the 1930s. I remember my family seeing
the big new stadium right by the cool World’s Fair in 1964. Baseball gives us a certain relation to
time, and to place. We’re all Americans now in my family. We’re here in this one place. And we’re
still moving through time, watching and caring about the Mets.