It's a good thing no one reads this blog anymore, because this one could be a doozy.

I think I may have become a Mets fan. As anyone should be able to guess, I've always preferred the Mets to the Yankees -- I doubt there's any baseball fan from Boston who wouldn't say the same. The '86 series surely left its wounds, especially for fans older than myself, but the Mets have never been the bete noires for Bostonians that the Bronx Bombers have been. When I moved to New York, it was only natural that I would favor the team with the tacky blue and orange colors over the too-cool-for-school Yankees. Despite being a gay man, it makes no difference to me that the Yankees are renowned for their sartorial splendor, their impeccable pinstripes. Give me the Mets any day: with the holy trifecta of Beltran, Reyes, and Wright on the team, the Boys from Queens would win any beauty pageant that I was judging.

It's been a pleasant sensation this season to see the Yankees struggling, to hear a trembling note of real worry in the voices of fans and NY sprotswriters. Sure, the Yankees haven't won a series in while, but they've always been in the running. So far this year, though, they really suck, no question about it. And the Mets, conversely, are at the top of their game. This year they're the team you want to hear about.

I'm up in the Hudson Valley this week on a mini-vacation. As I ws strolling around the village of Cold Spring, I saw a Mets flag flying outside of someone's house and that aesthetically garish combination of blue and orange raised a feeling of pride in my heart. The other week, S. and I went to Shea to watch the Mets beat the Cubs, thanks to the benificence of S.'s brother "George," a much more authentic baseball fan than me but also one who supports Boston in the AL and the Mets in the NL. The three of us went last summer, too. In fact, the last few times I've been in a baseball stadium, I've been rooting for the Mets; they've started to feel like "my" team. So, after I saw that flag, I asked myself where my allegiance would lie in the (not that unlikely) event that the Red Sox and the Mets faced off this year in the World Series. It was at that moment that I realized how much of a New Yorker I've become.

My hands tremble as I type this. I'm not the first person who's compared Red Sox fandom to Roman Catholicism; the ethnic make-up of the Boston fan base only intensifies the analogy. Being a Red Sox fan, like being a Catholic, is the kind of thing you grow up on; it's inherited, with its own set of traditions, superstitions, anathemas, etc. That's what I've always loved about it. Gay man that I am, I have not a lot of patience for the nitty-gritty of sports, but the Red Sox' long quest for redemption was a drama I could get into. There was something mystical and redemptive about that amazing 2004 series, an alignment of the stars. Unfortunately, though, unlike one of Shakespeare's late romances, which end after the magically redemptive 5th Act, a baseball team's history doesn't stop after they finally win the World Series for the first time in 86 years. After winning the hearts of America as a scrappy gang of underdogs in 2004, the Sox have had to face the fact that, having finally won the series they were now... just like any other team.

It's been hard in recent years to feel the same sense of moral righteousness one used to feel about being a Red Sox fan. Their status as perennial underdogs, as the team that always almost made it, made rooting for the Sox seem like something worthy, a form of self-flagellation which would increase your spiritual purity. The Yankees won series after series and their fans repeatedly experiened the satisfaction of being told they were on top. Red Sox fans took pride in the fact that they remained steadfast in their devotion to the team, in the absence of any kind of satisfaction. Like the religion on which many of us Sox fans were raised, the Red Sox told us that our faith was greater for believing in what we had not seen. No doubting Thomases we. Can Sox fans feel that sanctimonious now? Hasn't the breaking of the curse revealed our team for what it is -- the second-highest paid team in baseball, one of two bullies who perennially dominate the AL League East? Sure, we are not owned by Darth Steinbrenner himself, but while the Yankees might be legitimately likened to Goliath, the Sox are armed with far more than a slingshot (unless they're selling slingshots for $103 millions dollars these days... maybe in Japan.??).

Today's Mets possess similarly attractive qualities to the Red Sox of yore. No matter how well they may play, no matter how many times they might beat the Yankees in a subway series, it's hard to imagine the Mets not seeming like the underdogs in the New York market. The Yankees have always owned New York, their logo is right there with the Empire State building in the pantheon of Big Apple icons. Perhaps because of that, the Yankees have always seemed to possess that air of entitlement which makes New Yorkers (or should I say Manhattanites) reviled by folks from smaller burgs. The Yankees may play in the Bronx but they've always seemed like the team of the elite. They are the Establishment.

The Mets, however, are the New New York, the New York of immigrants. Their fan base is built on the Caribbean and South American immigrants who live in the outer boroughs. They've got a Dominican manager (a rarity despite the fact that so many players these days are Spanish-speaking) and they've distinctly pitched their team to New York's growing Latino population. At a time when tourists to the city are now being officially encouraged to ride the subway out to Jackson Heights to experience the energy of its astounding ethnic diversity, it seems that more and more people are recognizing that New York is more than the island of Manhattan and that (thanks to prohibitive rents) most of the "real" New Yorkers are now living somewhere across the river. All of these cultural associations makes the Mets feel like the team of "the people" (as much as any group of millionaires can be considered proletarian). All of that, plus they're playing well. Is there any reason why I shouldn't be rooting for them?

One thing that automatically earns a New Yorker respect in my book is knowledge of the outer boroughs. I remember a time (embarrassingly, not that long ago) when I had to think long and hard before I could tell you whether a particular train was going to end up in Brooklyn or the Bronx. I'm still hardly an expert, but I've been out to the far reaches of most of the boroughs (not Staten Island - yet!), if only to visit the public schools when recruiting for my job. Most of my contemporaries (white, artsy, Ivy League, twenty-somethings) are transplanted New Yorkers. Everyone can quickly become an expert at the Manhattan street grid and anyone who likes to frequent chi-chi boites can pick up a working knowlegde of the labyrinthine streets of the West Village. But New York's business, political, and media elite (the kind of people I went to school with, who will soon be ruling the world) don't have much connection to the boroughs (and, no, Williamsburg and Park Slope don't count). We didn't grow up there, we don't send our children to the public schools (with good reason). All of this is understandable, but it results in a gap between the people who run things and the people whose lives are affected by the actions of these movers and shakers. This might be true of any city, but the divide seems starker here in New York. There's a reason why Mike Bloomberg makes a show of riding the subway to work every day, even if it is just a show. he wants to appear "connected."

One thing I love about my job is that at least it brings me into contact with the public institutions of New York CIty (not just the public schools, but also, in my pervious job, the New York City criminal courts and jails). It's amazing how little many of my friends know about the municipality they live in, though its perhaps not surprising given the minimal interaction many of us have with the agencies and institutions that working-class people know from daily experience. I do have a small amount of personal connection with the juvenile detention center on 138th St in the Bronx, I know at least what some of the rooms look like inside and I know some of the kids who are in there. I think about that every time I ride by there on the subway or read about juvenile crime in the news. That connection in itself isn't much, but it's the start of being informed about how our city works, which in turn can be the start of agitating for change, the start of trying to build new, more inclusive communities.

I'm not exactly trying to say that rooting for the Mets makes you an agent for positive social change. I'm just saying that I'm proud of my feeling of connection to the team, just as I'm happy that my knowledge of the communities beyond the Manhattan/gentrified-Brooklyn bubble is growing. It's good to be an informed resident in your own city; it feels, dare I say it, mature.

And I guess that's what this whole shift in baseball fan allegiance comes down to. I grew up in Boston, just as I grew up with the Red Sox, and with the Catholic Church. In some ways, all three of those highly parochial entities will always be in my blood. But I can't find my way around Beantown to save my life. I've never lived there as an adult - I don't know which streets run one way, which neighborhoods abut which other ones, where to find a good bar, or anything like that. What I know about Boston is mostly kid stuff. But eventually you put away childish things, you choose a place where you carve out your own identity. That place, for me, has been New York; it's where I've found a mission and part of that mission is getting to know the environment. That's not knowlede I'm acquiring second-hand, but knowledge I'm seeking out, concsiously and (I would argue) conscientiously.

I'm not exactly sure how or why I've stopped going to mass. It started to happen when I moved to Brooklyn and the churches were further away, but that also coincided with my finding a boyfriend who offered a very good reason to stay in bed on Sunday mornings, with my finally getting fed up with some of the Church's intractible teachings, and with the blossoming of an ever-increasing independent streak in my philosophical thought. Have I rejected the faith of my fathers (and aunts and uncles)? Not exactly, but I'd like to think that I see it now a bit more from the "outside"; you might say I see it more critically. The same could be said of my support for the Red Sox. I don't wish them ill, but I'm less and less inclined to believe the dogma which says they're the One True Team. The Sox are the team I was handed at birth, but the Mets are the team I found on my own.


Blogger mwd said...

I think that two fine reasons for being a Mets' fan these days (over the Yankees or certainly the Red Sox) are the ticket prices and their availability.

Let's catch a game before the season's out!

That said, I think that most identities don't simply go away. Just as I will always be a private-school educated emigre who circulates, with only incidental exceptions, in the spheres of New York City's post-collegiate playground, I will also always be a Red Sox fan. Them's the things that define me.

8:30 PM  

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