Here’s To Nineteen More

In what’s been, so far, a relatively short life, I’ve been through my share and then some of Mets baseball.  I’ve been through wins and losses, triumphs and tragedies, comebacks and collapses.  I’ve seen both ends of the elusive Mets spectrum — I was there for Luis Castillo and Dae Sun Koo, Marlon Anderson and Oliver Perez, R.A. Dickey and Mo Vaughn.

And today, I’ve been through one more thing: namely, one more year than yesterday.

That’s right: nineteen years ago today, a Mets fan came into the world, and immediately started wondering how we could have traded Rico Brogna, while also getting excited about the addition of John Olerud.

That Mets fan was me.  And I had no idea what I was in for.

Now, it’s nineteen years later.  Since February 24th, 1997, the Mets are 1561-1517.  That’s a winning percentage of 50.7%.

At games I’ve attended, the Mets are 36-33.  That’s a winning percentage of 52.2%.  So that fan, born nineteen years ago today, was, among other things, a good luck charm.

I’ve been, as you’ve already discerned if you’ve got any mental calculation skills, to 69 Mets games in my first nineteen years of fandom.  In my next nineteen, I’ll beat that number significantly.  But with Mets fandom, as with many other things, it’s hard to imagine any subsequent nineteen years beating the first ones.

First Mets game: that’s an experience that’s hard to beat.  First – and, seeing as I couldn’t get back to New York for the postseason last Fall, only – postseason game: that’s another.  Baseball is a game of firsts, for players and teams but also individuals.  That obscure, intangible force, that some call magic and others simply can’t describe, diminishes over time.  It’s strongest at the start.

“Youth is wasted on the young.”  There’s a reason George Bernard Shaw’s quote is so often repeated; in most parts of life, it’s undeniably true.  But baseball, I think, is an acception.

Baseball is all about the young — young teams taking divisions by storm, young players jumping on the scene and exceeding everyone’s expectations, young fans getting their first taste of authentic ballpark fare.  In that encyclopedia that everyone’s always referring to, which lists terms and then images that define them, the photo next to the entry for “baseball” is a simple one.

It’s a child, six or seven years old, in the stands at a ballpark.  It’s not posed: it’s taken by a parent, from the side.  The child, it immediately becomes clear, it completely focused on and enthralled by the action on the field: they’re looking toward the side of the picture, just beyond which a ballgame is being played.

In April 2004, that was me.  In 2014 it was my brother.  From April to October, it’s happening all over the country, just about every day.  Even in New York, first baseball games, or first Mets caps or first mitts or first player jerseys, happen constantly.  The father and son buying a jersey in Modells, the kid on the seven train with his grandparents, the first grader with a glove in his backpack for the first time.  They’re all part of that baseball magic.  And together, they signal me that my next nineteen years of Mets fandom, fun though they will surely be, can’t possibly beat my first nineteen, my sometimes brutal, sometimes glorious introduction into the whirlwind of emotions that is being a Mets fan.

That’s not to say that there aren’t advantages to entering one’s second nineteen years of fandom as opposed to the first, of course.  There are upsides to being 19-38 as opposed to 0-18, with perhaps the most important being that with age comes autonomy, and with autonomy comes the ability to head off to a game in the spur of the moment, as opposed to turning the trip into a whole ordeal requiring special plans for meals, transportation, sun protection, etc.  So if nothing else, I’ll take in more Mets baseball in my next nineteen years than my first.

Really, the most shocking thing about turning nineteen has nothing to do with baseball: I’m almost halfway to middle age.  Right now, you could call me a specimen.  I could, if I wanted to, go out and play nine innings of baseball, and wake up tomorrow and never have felt better.  From all I’ve heard about being 38, let alone entering the 40s and beyond…well, I’ll quote Dave Barry, describing being 40: “If I attempt to throw a softball without carefully warming up, I have to wait until approximately the next presidential administration before I can attempt to do this again.”

For now, though, I’m not as worried about that, though from all I’ve heard, middle age sneaks up on you like nobody’s business.  The Mets are a more worrying concern — and more specifically, how much they’ve changed.

I’ve seen nineteen years worth of Mets.  Based on the technology we’re all hearing about, I may have the chance to see five or six times that in my life.  Around Shea Stadium, and later, Citi Field, I’ve already seen enough to fill several books.  I’ve got a full Mets life ahead of me.  When I do write the book, these nineteen years, the years that currently hold an entire life’s worth of memories, will be reduced to a few chapters.

I’m not as young as I once was; that much is obvious.  What seems like a few months ago, I was sixteen or seventeen, still largely free to do what I wanted in what spare time I had.  Now, I’m a year from my twenties…the decade where everything turns real.  My parents were in their twenties when I was born.  I never thought I’d be as old as living memories of my parents.

Even worse: soon, in two or three years, the Mets will introduce some hot prospect.  He may be down on the farm; he may not yet have been drafted.  He’ll be introduced, and we’ll all applaud, because there’s very little more exciting in baseball, the game of youth, than a prospect who has a 20 year career ahead of him.  He’ll jog out to his position in the field, warm up.  The seven year old kids in the stands will be in awe.  He’ll be a monster, a myth, a god to them.

That prospect will be younger than me.

I’ve got a few years left to watch the Mets with some semblance of awe, some small sense of amazement.  Then, suddenly, I’ll be no longer watching my heroes, but my contemporaries.

But for now, there’s no need to worry about that.  It’s my birthday, a day that should be happy, and we have plenty of things to be happy about.  I’ve got a new Mets jacket, and we’ve got a helluva team, Spring Training to watch, and a brand new baseball season approaching.

Only 39 days remain until Opening Day — practically nothing.  And whether I’m nine, nineteen, or ninety, that’s the best birthday present I could possibly ask for.  Even with age, some things just don’t change.

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