This is my 50th Mets opening day. Almost 49 years ago, I got home from school, ran upstairs to my room, turned on my family’s portable radio, with its nubbly tan plastic skin, got my mitt, plunked down in my desk chair and listened to Bob Murphy, Lindsey Nelson, and Ralph Kiner broadcast the last few innings of a game in St. Louis. By the time I was settled in to enjoy the very first baseball game I ever listened to, the Mets were already getting clobbered. I don’t remember being disappointed. I don’t remember Charlie Neal going three for four. I do remember how cool it was to be listening to a baseball game and I remember how my mitt smelled.
The mitt was a ceremonial object. A seven year old would understand the need for it. An eleven year old would laugh and ask what I was expecting to catch. The nubbly surface of the radio, the mysterious smell of the mitt, and the three distinct voices in the radio became immediate anchors of my universe. In my mind, I often go back to that room and feel the skin of the radio, smell the mitt, and hear the voices. The physical room still exists, but it is not the same. When I go back to it, I see it is filled with what was in it when I went off to college in 1972. And over in the corner is a pad on which I’d change my daughter’s diaper when I’d bring her to visit her grandparents in 1991.
When I was seven, I had no concrete sense that there could even be such a thing as fifty years. I knew there had been cavemen and dinosaurs. I knew my parents were in their thirties, and my grandparents were in their sixties. That is all I knew about time.
I knew that baseball had been around for a long time and that the Mets hadn’t. I already loved the Mets. I had the impression that they had been created for me, more or less, so that I wouldn’t have to root for the Yankees, which was apparently not a good thing to do. I didn’t have this sense literally, but I didn’t need to have a literal sense of this to believe it. I was seven. I was anxious to fit into places in the world where there was room for me. I liked the voices of Murphy, Nelson, and Kiner. I was ready to follow the Mets as if I was a baby duck. Although the Mets were losing, the voices of the announcers implied that it was still good and right to feel enthusiasm and hope. Baby ducks like to hear that. I am, after all these years, a far more complex being than I was on that spring afternoon forty-nine years ago. But today, on the first day of the baseball season, you’d never know it.
I’ve been full of simple hope on the first day of every baseball season I can remember. That doesn’t mean I expect to win every year. The only years I can remember expecting to win big were 1987, 1989, and 2002, and so obviously it is good to not expect to win big. I am certainly not expecting to win this year. I don’t trust the durability of Beltran or Bay and I don’t have any idea of what to think of that bullpen. If my life depended upon making a prediction that was within 5 games of the Mets’ final win total, the number I would pick would be 78. If everything happens the way I would hope it would happen, or if unexpected things come out of the blue as they did in 1969, 1984, or 1997, I think they could make the playoffs. That’s true every year. And you will hear this spurious observation repeated thousands of times by hundreds of people for the next several days.
For many reasons, I dread this year. Although I like the sort of stadium I remember from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s: windy and open, a place where you can hear individual cheering voices, I know that this is an idiosyncratic enthusiasm. I know that even if the Mets do well, you are not likely to see a full stadium until next year. I know what all the vultures and hyenas will make of the quiet. I know what will happen if the Mets are as irrelevant as they have been for the past two seasons. I feel how all the financial stuff that should be behind the scenes has spilled out of the wings and onto the stage and all anyone can do is laugh and point to it as the actors try to do the play. Oh, how sick of it I am. I know that a perfect storm of baseball misery is possible. It is more than possible.
But I dare to believe. I think of how the Giants played the Rangers in the World Series last year, and thanks to the Internet, I can cheerfully read the articles that were published last year at the start of April. It is good to be a baseball fan. It is good to enjoy a sport no one can predict or understand. And you know what? It is also and always good to not have to root for a team that hawks its tickets with the line “A Proud Tradition! A Legendary History!” A legendary history! My God. How about legendary copy-editors? And legendary baseball announcing.
All baseball is legendary, I guess. For each of us, baseball is a personal myth. We Mets fans are now at the point in the myth where we are wandering in Sinai, or heading westward from Troy, or wondering what is going to happen now that our hope has been extinguished on orders from Pilate.
On this wintry day, at the beginning of April, on my 50th opening day, I am scanning the horizon for signs of hope. And wondering where my old mitt is. And my radio.