I turned 65 a few days ago. It's hard to believe that I'm officially a senior citizen, but I only have to look in a mirror to confirm the information on my birth certificate. I didn't do much to "celebrate" hitting my latest yearly milestone. Tacking another year onto my age lost its allure many, many decades ago when I became old enough to legally drink. Even that wasn't a huge deal, as things were much more lax in those days. The drinking age back then was 18. I was a tall, muscular kid who could easily pass as a few years older. I also knew all the local watering holes that weren't diligent about requesting ID and had been frequenting those places from about age 15.
Other than partying and girls, I didn't care about much else in those days. I was a Mets fan, but by the time I turned 18 in October 1976, the club was about to enter the most miserable stretch of its existence. They didn't command my maximum attention as they had in my earlier teen years. Even those Mets clubs were generally mediocre at best, but they still had Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Jon Matlack. It was quite a jolt when Seaver was traded in June 1976, Matlack the following winter, and finally Koosman in the winter of 1978. Besides generally sucking, it felt as if the Mets had completely broken faith with the childhood version of me who had worshiped these men as Gods just a few years earlier.
The 1969 Mets, featuring the 1-2 combination of Seaver and Koosman, were the team that enticed the 10-year-old version of me into being a baseball fan. Those next few years, highlighted by the 1973 club that returned to the World Series, formed the backdrop of transition from childhood into adolescence. If you're much younger than I am — and I hope you are — it must feel like events from almost 50 years in the past were forever ago. But man, when I think about those teams, that time feels practically close enough to touch. When I read or hear some of the names of players from those days — Jerry Grote, Bud Harrelson, Cleon Jones, Rusty Staub — I can still distinctly smell the stench of the Clearsil that did so little to relieve the ravages of my acne-plagued complexion, mingled with the everpresent feeling of disappointment as the Mets mostly wasted the prime of those great pitchers. And all of this happened while I was enduring the awkward transition of puberty.
By the time the Mets were once again good enough to care about in the 1980s, my complexion had finally cleared, and my life was in a completely different spot. I was in my mid-20s, working a full-time job and living on my own. I married a young woman I cared about, but neither was mature enough to handle the responsibility. The greatest era of Mets baseball played out during the years of my pitifully short marriage and ensuing divorce. Those Mets clubs still form most of the highlights of my Mets fandom, but, like the competitive clubs from the first half of the 70s, that golden era of Mets baseball passed by almost as quickly as my marriage.
The 90s Mets clubs were largely forgettable. On a happier note, during that decade, I met Lisa — our relationship has endured — and began a small business with my brother. The 1994 strike/lockout drove me away from the game for a while. As I transitioned into middle age at the turn of the century, the Mets became briefly interesting again. Sadly, that coincided with the Wilpons gaining complete control of the team, essentially dooming the first two decades of the new century. At least from my Mets fan perspective, most of those years of my middle age were wasted as the former Mets owners were unable to spend and unwilling to embrace the cutting-edge stuff that more successful teams were utilizing to find the winning advantage.
That all changed in November 2020, although the club has struggled to transition from a perennial MLB joke into a consistent winner. Even so, say what you want about Steve Cohen, but his commitment to this franchise is in sharp, welcome contrast to what we saw from the Wilpons from taking sole possession in 2002 through selling the club to Cohen in 2020. I appreciated his words, as quoted in this New York Post article from a couple of weeks ago when asked about potentially investing in other sports franchises:
"I gotta get the Mets right," Cohen said Wednesday at Sportico's "Invest in Sports" conference at the Times Center in Manhattan. "Once I get the Mets right and get the model down, then I can think about doing something else. … Maybe down the road, but I gotta get this right. And I haven't gotten it right yet."
That sense of duty to getting the Mets where we all want them to be, combined with the self-aware honesty about how things have been going, was noticeably missing from the Wilpon era. There is no greater reason why most of my middle-aged years were spent rooting for bad Mets clubs, with rare exceptions. And that is quite stirring to me as I turn 65, with all that implies. The years of my life pass by relentlessly. Most of the last five decades were spent rooting for Mets clubs that seldom delivered special seasons. I want to spend whatever years I have left rooting for a club that can deliver. I appreciate Steve Cohen running the show because hoping for "good enough" is definitely not his modus operandi.
|Nutmeg and her younger dog sibling Devo on a hike|
Speaking of the swift passage of time, my girl Nutmeg is another poignant reminder of this. I've owned several dogs in my earlier life, but things got hectic during its middle years, and I didn't have the proper amount of time to take care of a dog. That changed in 2012 when we adopted a 2-year-old female Treeing Walker Coonhound mix that we named Nutmeg. She was a sweet girl, but her behavior wasn't the greatest at first. She was quite an active dog, and I realized the old adage "a tired dog is a good dog" really applied to her.
Since I worked out of my house back then, I could take a couple of hours or so out of almost every day taking Nutmeg on long, long walks and hikes. Allowing her to expend her energy on those walks and the stimulation of all of the scents for her to follow in the woods shaved away the rough spots in her behavior. She was sweet from day one, but now she was a dream. For me, she was also a welcome distraction from yet another era of bad Mets baseball. Before my back problems and arthritis slowed me down, I spent countless hours walking thousands of miles behind Nutmeg.
The Nutmeg from those years loved every person and dog she met, literally without exception. All of the male dogs in the neighborhood had a crush on her. One big guy named Max used to show up at the back door quite often, looking for Nutmeg to come out and play. Another canine suitor used to wistfully watch Nutmeg walk away down the street after they encountered each other on a walk. Nutmeg always seemed to enjoy the attention of her admirers, and it was imperceptible if she preferred one over the others.
As for people, Nutmeg enjoyed any kind words and pets she might receive from folks we encountered. And if any of these folks had a spare dog treat hanging around to bestow upon her, she was always happy to accept it. When Lisa and I walked her in an area with many people passing by, Nutmeg would wag her tail and try to get the attention of all of them. My nickname for her in those years was "The Mayor." Everyone we met became her friends for life.
But along with the damage time has inflicted on my body, the relentless churn of the seasons has taken its toll on 13-year-old Nutmeg. As much as my recent physical limitations bother me, it also hurts a bit to watch Nutmeg's transformation into an elderly dog. Physically, she has lost a lot of weight and has some leg problems of her own, but she can more than hold her own on the shorter walks and hikes I can offer her these days.
But the most significant changes in Nutmeg over the last few years have been mental. Like senior humans do, dogs decline mentally as they age. My sweet old girl Nutmeg is still loveable, but she's become quite batty. She gets confused easily and is noticeably more restless than she was just 2 or 3 years ago. Although she still enjoys encountering other dogs and humans on our walks, her attention span for those meetings is quite short. After about 15 seconds, she'll wander off down the trail, having already moved on mentally. She is no longer the playful, affectionate dog that she was.
It makes me sad to see the decline in my old girl. But I still learn from her constantly. I do not have a patient personality, but I have learned to find patience I didn't even know existed within myself. Nutmeg will interrupt me constantly when I am doing something that requires concentration, such as writing. It's tempting to command her to "go lie down" and get back to what I'm doing, but I see the confusion on her old face and stop what I'm doing for a minute or two to give her some attention. Invariably, a look of contented happiness comes over that face, and suddenly, whatever she interrupted seems much less important.
Besides patience, Nutmeg's struggles with aging have taught me much about simple devotion. To me, that's loving something imperfect as perfectly as I can. And it's figuring out how to do my best to give Nutmeg whatever I can in however much time I have left with her. I realize that, in a way, being a Mets fan through so many frustrating decades has prepared me for this. I sure wish the club had given me more highlights over all these years of rooting for them, but it is what it is.
As I sail off into my "golden years," I am thankful for every minute I am given to enjoy whatever time is left with whatever is left of my girl Nutmeg. I am profoundly grateful that through the confusion she endures, she still seems happy.
As for the Mets, I'm hoping that Steve Cohen's devotion to the ballclub he owns will pay some dividends and that the best Mets years of my lifetime are still to come.
Be well and take care.
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