The 1973 baseball season will always be special to me. I was a middle-school kid growing up in Bellerose, Queens and my favorite team — the New York Mets — reached the World Series. More importantly though; that was the year my Mom first became interested in the game.
You see, my parents were immigrants from Ireland. Much of what they knew about American sports, they learned through me. In some ways, it was a journey for all of us.
For instance, when my mother took me to a department store to buy my first glove, she purchased one that went on my throwing hand. She didn’t know any better; neither did I. That’s how I became a lefty thrower, who hit right-handed.
My parents’ unfamiliarity with baseball also led to my Mets fandom. The team had won the 1969 World Series and my father convinced his young son to be a fan of the champions rather than the Yankees. This made a lot of sense in a household with no emotional attachment to either club.
By the time the 1973 season rolled around, I didn’t need convincing to be a Mets fan. Dad was quietly along for the ride. He was never one to wear his emotions on his sleeve. On the flip side, Mom had no interest in baseball, although that was about to change.
During the season, Mom collected coupons from Dairylea milk cartons with the intent of getting a pair of tickets to a Mets game. Her plan worked and she received two tickets to a game on September 25 against the Montreal Expos.
The first cool thing about Mom’s undertaking was the fact she surprised me with the free tickets right before the game — on a school night no less. Adding to the excitement, the Mets entered the night with a half-game lead in the National League East division over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Oh yeah, it was Willie Mays Night too.
That’s right; my Mom unwittingly scarfed up two free tickets so me and Dad could attend the ceremony honoring the Say Hey Kid. How awesome is that?
I’d like to believe thrilling her oldest son with those tickets kindled an interest in baseball for Mom. If it didn’t, the buzz in New York surrounding the Mets making the playoffs certainly did.
Despite not knowing much about the game, Mom sat on the edge of her seat watching each game with Dad and I. Our team eventually fell to the Oakland Athletics in the Fall Classic, but she would never find a cure for her newfound Mets addiction.
A friend once told me the best way to describe fandom was with a “D” word. He said it’s either “dedicated” or “dumb.” In the case of Mets fans, I think both words apply. That was Mom and me — dedicated and dumb together.
Through thick and thin, Mom stuck with her Mets. So did I.
Even when the Mets traded Tom Seaver.
Even when the New York tabloids referred to Shea Stadium as “Grant’s Tomb” in honor of team president M. Donald Grant’s mishandling of the club.
Even when the Yankees got good — I mean really good.
It didn’t matter; Mom remained faithful to her Mets.
Dad’s fandom wasn’t as obvious as Mom’s. Yes, he’d take us to Mets games and watch them on TV. But he was quick to criticize their poor play. Back in the day, there was plenty to gripe about. Some would contend there still is.
When the Yankees became a force in the Nineties, Dad would routinely ask “why can’t the Mets play that well?” My oh my, that didn’t go over well with Mom. She’d steadfastly defend her players, her team. Naturally, their back and forth made me chuckle.
In reality, Dad was a fan too. Just in his own unique way. The channel never strayed to the Yankees unless the Mets weren’t playing.
Thankfully, Mom did get to see her Mets win it all in 1986, although watching them lose to the Yankees in the 2000 World Series was especially frustrating.
And about those Yankees. Mom was a very kind person, but she wasn’t particularly fond of several Bronx Bombers. Topping her list was Paul O’Neill, who she considered “rude” because of his dugout temper tantrums. From what I’ve gathered, O’Neill wasn’t too popular in Seattle either.
After joining the Navy, I rarely had a chance to watch games with my parents. Yet, my weekly calls home would always shift to the Mets when Mom and I chatted. She’d revel in the good stuff, while fiercely defending them when I pointed out their blemishes. I guess I have some of my Dad in me after all.
When I deployed overseas, Mom would regularly send care packages to bring a little bit of home to the ship. There were plenty of treats, but I could always count on her sending newspaper clippings about the Mets.
When the Internet became readily available at sea, I didn’t have the heart to tell Mom I already knew what was going on with our team. What did it matter? Our Mets fandom always kept us connected. I didn’t want to mess with a good thing.
Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s took care of that.
Even before Dad passed away in 2008, Mom was already showing signs of the unrelenting disease. Alzheimer’s robs you of everything you once were as your loved ones helplessly watch.
As the disease advanced, talks about baseball or anything substantial were no longer possible. Eventually, Mom would ask me if I was an Arkins or if I had ever visited her home before. The worst part of the long goodbye is that it traverses along on a broken road. There are no smooth landings.
Since leaving the Navy, I’ve become a fledgling baseball writer. As such, I now keep my fandom in check. I still watch lots of Mets games, plus the Seattle Mariners. But I’ve become a neutral party.
Still, I have to admit I wanted the Mets to win the 2015 World Series. Not for me, but for Mom. She was past knowing what was going on with the team. But so what?
Unfortunately, the Mets fell short against the Kansas City Royals. At the time, I had plenty to say about the way Terry Collins managed the team. I’m sure Mom would’ve defended Collins to the end and simply told me to be quiet. To be honest, having Mom tell me to be quiet one more time would’ve been cool.
Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be.
Early last month, Mom succumbed to complications from Alzheimer’s disease. I find comfort in knowing she’s finally at peace with my Dad. But I have to admit that knowledge doesn’t make me miss them any less. I would be nothing without their love, patience, and guidance.
Still, whenever the Mets are on TV, I often think of Mom and Dad. I wonder what they’d think of the team’s current crop of players. Mom would certainly root for them as she did for Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Mike Piazza, and so many others. She’d be pleased Jose Reyes was back too.
Yep, baseball is the best sport and it will always be for me. I know Mom would agree.
Hey Mom…Let’s Go Mets!