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The Real Meaning of Ralph Kiner Night

Dana BrandFriday, July 20, 2007
By Dana Brand

Every day we feel something different about the 2007 Mets. The confidence we have when we take three out of the first four games played after the All-Star break is gone in a single evening. A pitcher pitches well against us and we're certain that our offense is still it its deep June slumber. The three out of four we were happy about now don't seem like much. It was only the Reds.

Then we win a beautiful game with flawless pitching and plenty of offense. We're on top of the world but the loss of a game in which we've had a brilliant comeback is enough to send us back to where we had been the night before. That's all it takes. There's only one Joe Smith pitch between joy and despair. Then we clobber the Dodgers. Our offense is alive! Are we having any fun yet? Hey, what's happening to our starting pitching?

Yes, 13 runs are nice, but we have something new to worry about. So we're not going to get all happy and everything. For some reason none of our pleasures are felt very deeply this year. They have no staying power. We have hope. Mets fans always have hope. But in the stands at Shea, on the radio, in the blogs and forums, I don't hear belief. Friends, Tug didn't say "Ya Gotta Hope." Ya gotta do more than hope.

We're having an identity crisis. Who are we? Are we still the loony diehards of Mets history and myth? Or are we turning into the one in twenty at Shea on Ralph Kiner night who booed Carlos Delgado when he flied out weakly after he had earlier hit two balls to the warning track? Are we getting to be like the guy sitting behind me who sagely observed, after four or five beers, that in no other profession would this "not doing your job" be tolerated. Has no one explained to Carlos Beltran that his job is to hit .300 with runners in scoring position in the way that my job is to teach my classes and my plumber's job is to fix my pipes? Why did no one tell him that? This isn't really happening, is it?

The real meaning of Ralph Kiner night is that it is possible to feel something steadily. We don't know what to think about this year's Mets from game to game but is there any one of us who doesn't know what to feel about Ralph? Is there any one of us who doesn't know what to feel about the permanent Mets, the Mets who are always in our soul, whom we love as we love Ralph, because they've always been with us and we can't imagine our lives without them? Have the Mets ever been anything but imperfect? The closest they ever came to being perfect was 1986 and do you remember how close that team came to losing the playoffs and the World Series?

Truth be told, was Ralph ever anything but imperfect? He told wonderful stories and he's had wonderful insights and we loved the old Kiner's Korners. But are you going to tell me that you loved Kiner's Korner because Ralph was such a skilled interviewer? Do you love the Mets because they've always been such a terrific baseball team?

One of the things Ralph and Bob Murphy accomplished is that they taught millions of us to be something like them. Most of us. Like Ralph and Murph, we Mets fans are among the nicest people you could ever hope to meet. We're hopeful, friendly folk with a tolerant and bemused attitude towards imperfection. At least that's what we've always been. We're Ralphs. We see the good in others. If we don't, others aren't likely to see the good in us.

Are the people you love perfect? I'll bet they aren't. I'll bet you love them anyway, just as you love Ralph. There's a name for people who can only love what's perfect, who can only love people who accomplish a job according to their most rigorous expectations. Wait. There are two names. Moron and a**hole.

The rest of us should go back and study the unselfconscious teachings of Ralph. Year after year, he steadily won home-run championships while playing for a last-place team. Year after year, with generous equanimity, he announced games for another last-place team. The other night, in his speech, Ralph called the 1969 Mets the greatest thrill of his broadcasting life. Boy, did Ralph deserve that. But the point of Ralph is that he didn't absolutely have to have it. He would still have been the second luckiest man in the world if 1969, or 1986, had never happened.

When I drove out of the parking lot after Ralph Kiner night, I was very happy. We won, and we had seen Ralph honored and we had seen all his wonderful friends there with him on the field. I replayed the ceremony in my head as I was driving home. I turned on the radio and heard fans complain about the Mets doing their exercises during the Kiner ceremony. I turned off the radio. I wanted to be alone. With my memories. And my belief.

Dana Brand's book Mets Fan was released yesterday. As of this morning, it is available from Amazon and it will soon be available from other booksellers as well. For more information, see metsfanbook.com.

About Dana Brand: Dana Brand's book, which has the working title of Mets Fan, will be published by McFarland this fall. To read about it, read samples, and read the table of contents, please visit metsfanbook.com. You can also check out Dana's blog at metsfanbook.com/blog/.

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