Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A Mets Fan in Philly

by Alan Eliot

It's a curious thing, geography. We'd like to think that our most deeply-held convictions are constant. We are strong-willed. We are free-thinking. We are opinionated. And we are so sure of ourselves that obviously we'd be the same person whether we grew up in New York, Los Angeles or Boise.


But what if we acknowledge that the ideals that we cling to so strongly, that ultimately define each of us, are products of happenstance and luck? What then?

It's no secret that with few exceptions, children who grow up in a particular metropolitan area end up rooting for that area's teams. I grew up in the New York area, and ended up a Mets fan. Jeremy Bird, a fellow columnist, grew up around St. Louis, and you'll be shocked- shocked - to learn that he's a die-hard Cardinals fan. We are crazy about our respective teams, and often get into benign, but heated discussions ripping into each other's beloved franchises (of course, given that the Cards have done significantly better than the Mets both recently and historically, I haven't got much of a leg to stand on. But what can I do? I'm a Mets fan. I love them. I can't help it). Of course, the funny thing is that had I grown up in St. Louis, and he in NY, we'd probably be having the same debates, just reversed.

My religion is baseball. My specific sect, the Mets. I could not stop rooting for them if I tried. When the Mets do well, I am happy. When we are on a losing streak, I get depressed. Like it or not, my fate is tied with the fate of this overpaid group of men, who wear different uniforms than the other overpaid groups of male baseball players who I happen not to root for.

Consider the case of David Wright, pride and joy of every Mets fan. Outside of his ridiculous on-field feats, and off-the-field good-guy attitude, he's given extra love from the fan base for growing up a Mets fan. In Virginia, no less! Surely a sign of how intelligent young David must have been. Such adulation is tempered by the realization that he grew up in Norfolk, home of the Mets' AAA affiliate, the Tides, and that the majority of baseball fans in Norfolk root for the Mets. Were Norfolk the minor league home of the Phillies, for example, he'd probably bleed red and white. Mr. Wright, then, is as much of a product of his environment as are we.

A little Baseball For Thought, as it were.

This realization- that my deep rooted obsession with the Mets is a product of completely random luck, based solely on locale- does little to change my current situation, however. Because I am a Mets fan. And now, I am in another locale- Philadelphia, to be exact. And while it's only 100 miles down the NJ Turnpike, it is wholly another world away.

I'm incredibly lucky in that Philly is a football town first. And second. And third. Baseball's not really on the radar here- it is E-A-G-L-E-S country, by far. And it's obvious- whereas sports talk shows in New York are dominated by baseball fans, baseball talk, and baseball chatter, the counterparts in Philadelphia are far less phanatic about their Phillies. It's E-A-G-L-E-S country, baby!

This allows me to walk around town in my custom-made Mets black Jersey, relatively unscathed. And while such freedom of expression is appreciated, and lack of fear of local retribution is nice, it's not the same as being in New York- once again, my geography has a greater impact on aspects important to my life than I'd like.

For one, I can't watch Mets games, except for the 18 or so contests between the Mets and Phillies. I won't be getting SNY, the new Mets network- I already checked. Out of service area. The local news, which growing up, and for years after served as a source of Mets daily highlights, now shows me Bobby Abreu's latest delivery into some unsuspecting upper deck. WFAN, my radio source for Mets games and news 24-7, is so fuzzy and full of static that Mike and the Mad Dog are no longer the most annoying noise coming out of the radio when I tune in. In fact, I love taking car trips out to to Southern NJ specifically for the stronger signal I get there.

Walking around NYC, there is an instant camaraderie present- you see Mets fans in Mets gear on every street corner- and now that I am not around it, seeing each and every one of them is an uplifting experience. I sorely, sorely miss that.

Destined by my place on the map to love the Mets. And now destined by my place on the map to be homesick for them. How terribly unfair. Like I said, who'd have thought environment would have so much influence on my very personal and internal love of baseball?

Life, however, isn't all that bad. I find ways to get my fix- I caved last year and got MLB Extra Innings when I could no longer take it- why should someone 30 miles north of me in New Jersey get 162 Mets game while I get 1/10th of that? And of course, when the Mets are in town, I take the SEPTA over to Citizens' Bank Park (10 minute subway from city center as opposed to 45 minutes for Shea) for a delightful evening with my favorite overpaid group of baseball players.

One particular night, in late 2005, with the Phillies in the heat of the Wild-Card race, I went to see a game in my favorite Mets jersey. Usually, there are lots of Mets fans at these games, sometimes even more than Phillies fans. However, I ended up in a particularly Phillies-packed section, and was on the receiving-end of some relatively weak attempts at heckling. To the dismay of those around me we won, and played spoiler to the Phillies' playoff hopes.

On the subway, which was now packed with none-too-happy Phillies fans, I bumped into a local Mets legend: cow-bell man. He's attended virtually all Mets home games and some away games since the mid-90's, and gets the crowd going with the beat of a drum stick on his bell. He was a calm island of blue and orange in a sea of angry red. Elated from the victory, we shmoozed about his life (he gets neither money nor tickets from the Mets), and myself being starved for all things Mets, cow-bell man, a fanatic clearly more fanatic than I, was a welcome sight.

And so it went that night, that my batteries were recharged by a random conversation I had with a Mets fan on the train. "Next year", we'd agreed, "we'll be awesome."

I got off at my stop, and left cow-bell man to continue his journey back to New York- to that random piece of the world where I'm understood, where things make sense, and where years of fanatacism and imprinting have left me starving, always, for just a little bit more Mets.

Alan Eliot's column, "The Stories We Tell", appears alternate Tuesdays


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"I've had a pretty good success facing Stan (Musial) by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third base."
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