By Mike Steffanos
Being that today is Father's Day, many of you are thinking back to your experiences of watching baseball games with your Dad. For most of us, it's our fathers that have the greatest influence on the team we root for. Growing up without a father, my experience was somewhat different.
I first became aware of the Mets in 1969 when I was 10. I had become a NY Giants fan the year before just from watching games on Sunday, but I found baseball tougher to get into. Because I grew up without a father I had no one to explain the game to me. All the hoopla about the miracle Mets caught my attention, though, and even in those prehistoric days before cable TV we were able to get poor but watchable reception on Channel 9 from New York in the New Haven, CT area where I grew up.
I started watching some of the games with my brother and my grandmother. She was quite a character. She wasn't a baseball fan either, but loved going to the old New Haven arena to watch the New Haven Blades, a minor league hockey team that was a legend in this area. She never learned more than the basics of the sport, but she rooted loudly and vigorously (she was somewhat of a legendary figure among regular fans). Within a relatively short period of time, she became the same type of fan for the Mets.
When I started watching Met games with my grandmother and brother I didn't know much about baseball. We were all on the same foot. As some time went by, my brother and I started developing knowledge and skepticism. I began to see the flaws in the Mets, compared to other teams in baseball. I had a fairly sophisticated understanding of the game. Meanwhile, my grandmother understood what was happening to a point, and anything beyond that she could care less about. At this time we're in the early years of the 1970s, the Mets are a mediocre team with good pitching and no offense.
Her attitude towards winning and losing saw each game as complete in and of itself. The day's game was everything. I started taking a longer view of whether or not the Mets could compete and make the playoffs. I often think back to the one game that defined the contrast between my views towards winning and losing and my grandmother's during that time period: July 17, 1973, Mets at Atlanta.
The Mets record was 38-50 going into the game, they had quite a few injuries early in the season and their offense was horrible. They had great starting pitching: Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, John Matlack -- but it seems like they lost every game 2-1. They're playing in Atlanta, down 7-1 going into the ninth inning. I was frustrated and just wanted to turn the game off. I knew the Mets had as much chance of scoring 6 runs in an inning to tie the game as I did of finding a Leprechaun's pot of gold. I was 14 years old and knew and understood this, my grandmother was 65 and "didn't get it" at all. She never felt that the Mets were going to lose a game until after the final out. She wouldn't let me turn the game off -- she was certain the Mets were going to win. I was mad and basically told her she was an idiot. I stuck around so I could do an "I told you so" after the game.
Well, this team that averaged less than 4 runs a game, a team that hit 85 home runs for the entire 1973 baseball season, gets 2 2-run home runs to make it 7-5, later gets a pinch-hit single from the 100-year-old Willie Mays that drove in the tying and go-ahead runs, and holds on to win the game 8-7. I was the recipient of the "I told you so", and after that day knew that there was no turning off any game until the final out. As the '70s went on, the Mets fielded a series of teams that were almost shockingly bad. I grew disillusioned, but my Grandmother never did. No matter how bad they were, she always thought they were going to win. When they did win it was an event to be enjoyed, even if the team was 20 games under .500 and dead last. She never changed, right up until her death in 1985, just when the Mets were finally getting good again.
I remember watching game 6 of the 1986 series, and as a fan feeling that sheer joy and exuberance when the Mets came back to win. I thought almost immediately back to my grandmother who had passed away a year earlier. That was definitely one of "her" moments. She wouldn't have been surprised at all that they came back and won the game.
For the most part I enjoyed watching the games with my grandmother, although in my teenage years I began to find her joyous but unknowledgeable way of rooting for the team embarrassing in that stupid superior attitude that a teenager is capable of assuming. As I grew into my 20s and lost some of that teenage arrogance, I was more accepting of the kind of fan she was, and actually got a kick out of it. At first I admired her spirit, then I actually admired her. One of the things I love about baseball is that it is a thinking person's game, but I believe sometimes you get to a point as a fan where you lose the sheer joy of it, the thrill of victory, the good guys vs. the bad guys stuff. One of the greatest joys I had was taking her to a Mets game before she died. I bought her some sort of pennant to wave and a Mets hat. Within 10 minutes, all of the other fans in the section loved her.
You know it's funny, but I always think of her now after they win a game in an exceptional way. I still enjoy baseball intellectually, and always will. At some point I think I finally learned to enjoy it more at the level that my grandmother did, and my enjoyment of the game has really increased because of that. So maybe this is somewhat weird, but happy Father's Day to my greatest baseball influence -- my late grandmother, Louise D'Amico.
Note: this posting is being discussed in the MetsMerized Mets Talk Forum.
Mets.com: Cliff goes on the DL
Marty Noble and Chris Girandola report that the Mets finally made the move to put Cliff Floyd on the DL after playing short-handed for 10 days.
Newark Star-Ledger: Big League Dad
Dan Graziano has a nice story on Brian Bannister's experience of growing up with his father Floyd pitching in the major leagues.
New York Times: The Sign Man
For those of us that go back far enough with the Mets, Vincent M. Mallozzi offers up a profile of Karl Ehrhardt, the man with all of those signs during the first two decades of the franchise's existence.