The Agony of Fandom

Mets 4, Phillies 5. A walk-off single in extra innings ended a four-game winning streak.

This one is for friend and fellow poet Erin Mullikin, who once challenged me to write a poem about being a Mets fan. Three years later, here it is.


 

The Agony of Fandom

 

I was born in 1986, and my father was torn

between feeding his infant son

and praying in front of the TV for the Mets

to beat the Sox in the World Series,

one rare win that shouldn’t have even happened

if it weren’t for the ball that slipped

out of Bill Buckner’s grasp. Those Mets

are like your three-legged mutt that outwits

the Rottweiler next door to steal his bone,

yet gets trounced the next day for it.

But that’s the strange agony inflicted

by the Mets on their fans. Yet, we learn

patience and forgiveness. We wait for the wins

to come. In 1962, the Loveable Losers played

for my eight-year-old father,

a little redheaded Irish kid from Queens,

when he went with his mother to a Mets game

at the Polo Grounds, their first season. They lost.

So began a lifelong love affair that drove me,

a diehard fan who is one generation removed

from the source, to drink late into the night

after a World Series thumping. But, the next day,

I’m wearing my blue and orange hat anyway

because I’m one stubborn goddamn Mets fan

who will never give up on his team.

Big Win, Big Momentum

Mets 11, Phillies 1. We destroyed the Phillies. That is all.


 

One Hundred and Sixty-Two Games

 

The Captain tiptoes away from third base,

getting a lead. The pitcher looks once, twice.

Then the curveball, but a quick squeeze bunt!

The batter takes off down the first base line

while the Captain sprints from third,

straight at the catcher’s chest, who fumbles

the ball as the Captain slides around the tag

to score and he stands up, uniform caked with clay

and mirrors the umpire’s call of safe!

with arms outstretched, a smile on his face.

The season is a war, and every game is a battle,

and with that squeeze bunt they win the day,

they take first place in the pennant race,

and the Captain punches the air in victory

because it all came down to that moment—

every game in April fought to draw even with a rival

sometime in late September,

and then a quick small-ball play

to take the lead, like a jab to the nose

in the final round, and in the dugout

the men hug and slap asses and cheer.

Bats Boom

Mets 5, Phillies 2. Quadruple homers! We got a #DudaSmash from Luke (his first of the season), one from Neil Walker, and two from The Captain. Cespedes also pulled off a stand-up triple and scored a run, and Thor was as dominant as ever. The bats are waking up for spring!


 

The Quitter

 

I was eight or nine, taking ground balls

outside my school in the hot sun,

and a bad hop smacked me in the jaw

and knocked me down, so I took a seat

 

on the bench. As soon as my father pulled up

in his truck, I ran and climbed in and he asked

what I was doing, and I said I wanted to quit,

showing him the red splotch that would grow

 

into a bruise, and he shook his head

and said nothing as we drove home.

Three years later, after my big league hero

broke records and my favorite team

 

was in the playoffs, I sat in as catcher

for the junior high team and tried,

for three innings, to snap up fastballs

from a kid who could hurl like a pro,

 

but each hit to the chest or mask,

each dropped ball, each failed throw

to second to get the runner out made me sweat

and shake. Soon, the coach benched me,

 

and after the game I asked how I was doing

and he asked if I wanted him to be nice

or to be honest, and he was honest,

and the other kids ignored me,

 

and I quit again. My father always said

not to be afraid of the ball, but the dull hot pain

of each thump was like a deadening punch

a bully would deliver. And next season,

 

about to go into high school,

I went to tell him that I’d never play again

but he gave me a mask, a chest pad,

and a pair of black, steel-toed cleats.

 

He taught me how to call balls and strikes,

how a curveball can paint the black edge

of the plate, how you listen for the click of the bat

to call a foul-tip, how to use all of your senses.

 

All that summer, we worked

as a two-man team for the little leagues,

and he’d watch from second base

with his chin raised and his hands on his knees

 

when he knew I was calling a fair game.

Yo Knows Beisbol

“A Cespedes for the rest of us.” That was Jerry Seinfeld’s proclamation during the latter half of last season, when the Mets broke Major League Baseball by trading two minor league pitchers for Yoenis Cespedes, one of the best sluggers on the market, who then carried us to the postseason.

Cespedes has yet to prove his $27 million price tag, but he smacked his first home run of the season in a 5-2 loss against the Phillies yesterday afternoon. It reminded me of the most epic home run I had ever seen in my life, save perhaps for Piazza’s post-9/11 homer. It was Game 3 of the NLDS against the Dodgers, and my father and I went to Citi Field for the game.

It was a straight-up gladiator fight in there, especially after the Utley slide and Tejada’s broken leg, and Mets fans were out for blood. Cespedes gave it to them when he belted a three-run blast over the left field fence to put the game beyond reach for the Dodgers. In that moment, the stadium was so loud that you couldn’t hear the announcer or the jetliners overhead taking off from LaGuardia. Cespedes also gave the most epic bat flip to date.

But I could hear my father screaming for joy, his face a toothy grin that I’d only seen in childhood pictures of him. I don’t know if I’d ever seen him that happy.

That, my friends, is the mythic stuff of baseball legend that you might only see once in a lifetime.

this_cespedes_launches_nlds_home_run_into_the_night


 

Yo’s Homer

 

Apple, apple, we’re gonna see an apple!

the guy sitting behind me in the stands

said to his little boy, referring to the home run

apple that pops up out of the black top hat

beyond the Mets’ centerfield fence,

and Yo steps into the box, digs his left toe

down into the clay, stares down

at the mound and here comes the pitch

and crack! it’s a frozen rope over our heads

and in the ecstasy of fandom I thought

I could hear the wind rippling off the stitches

of the ball as it sliced through the cold

October night air and pegged into the stands

just above the rising apple, and I turned to the guy

and shouted you called it! you called it!

and my father screamed in joy, his fists

in the air, his smile wide and toothy as if he were five

and through the grey goatee and wrinkles

I could see the young redhead kid

who grew up a few blocks away,

who probably chased those home run balls

through the parking lot,

and the guy behind me raised his little boy

to his shoulders and he watched grown men

melt into their boyhood selves,

loosened into tears of joy by beer

and the age-old home run wish

they finally got.

 

Big Sexy Bartolo, Boring Loss

How could I not write a poem about the 265-pound man they call “Big Sexy?” He’s our 43-year-old starting pitcher at the bottom of the rotation, one whose fastball velocity is in the high eighties at best, but who manages to get hitters to clunk groundouts and popouts. But he gives up the occasional home run when he leaves his stuff hanging over the plate, which led to the Mets’ demise last night in freezing temperatures.

Mets 0, Phillies 1.


 

Big Sexy

 

A routine play, grounder down the first base line

and the pitcher Big Sexy Bartolo hustles

the ball down, scoops it up, and on-the-run

flips it behind his back to get the out,

and the crowd laughs and cheers

but he can’t stop running, the kinetic energy

of his 265 pound body rolling forward

all the way to the dugout where he almost trips

down the steps, and the crowd laughs

and cheers. 43 and still going, worth ten million

bucks simply for the role he plays—

from the D.R., he’s the elder Latino statesman

of the clubhouse. He’s the one who picked out

a fine Cava to shake and spray after the Mets

won the pennant, the one who walks in

to Citi Field with an entourage, the one

who’s been doing this longer than anyone else.

And the fans love him despite his age

and his waning fastball, love the clunky

displays of athletic prowess, the batting helmet

flying off from an overpowered swing,

the fat-jiggling hustle to get on first base,

but the quietude, the command,

the fine grace of a slow and nasty curveball

that whips out of his hand as a hanging strike

but fools the batter as he swings too soon.

Some would call that a junkball

but it’s his best and, like his age and weight,

it always keeps everyone guessing.

Home Opener: The deGrominator

Mets 7, Phillies 2. A proper home opener trouncing by the deGrominator, a.k.a. Jacob deGrom, the third of four aces to start the season. Young (they’re all young) Steven Matz is the last, followed by the elder “Big Sexy” Bartolo Colon to round out the rotation, no pun intended.

I guess I’m starting the season with a poetic conjecture of the Mets starting pitching rotation. Here’s one for Jacob deGrom, probably my favorite of the Mets’ aces for his calm-under-pressure demeanor. When he’s up on the mound, the deGrominator is in one business only.

Strikeouts.


 

The deGrominator

 

It’s all in the hair, those brown curly locks

that flutter and whip in the breeze

during each pitch. The t-shirts with the silhouette

of his mane, the reporters asking when

he’ll cut it and he says never. At least not

for now, not while we’re winning.

Thirteen strikeouts later, we’re 1-0

in the division series, a feat only Tom Seaver did

in a postseason game. Eight games later

and this kid is smoking a cigar

while sporting a champagne-soaked t-shirt

on the steps of the dugout in Wrigley Field,

ski goggles on his head, the crowd behind him

chants Thank You Mets! And in the following

spring, after getting hosed in the World Series

the top brass doesn’t want to pay the kid

what he deserves. He refuses to sign,

remembers the champagne and cigars,

asks for the clean million he’s owed

for hurling burners across the plate

that most men alive can’t hit.