Torn?

1969 was the first year I was a Cubs fan.

I hope that at least a few people reading this understand the sheer weight of that seemingly simple sentence. In August of 1969, the Cubs were in first place by NINE games. They finished the season in second–eight games behind. Obviously it wasn’t quite mathematically impossible, but they had to lose a LOT of games to achieve such dire numbers.

The team that overtook them was the New York Mets.

A few smatterings of memory from those childhood years:

–Jack Brickhouse: “Santo-Kessinger-Beckert-Banks, the infield third to first.”

–Ernie Banks: “The Cubs will shine in ’69.”

–Billy Williams, uniform number 26. Randy Hundley, 9. Ferguson Jenkins, 31.

–Glenn Beckert (18, second base), hardest man to strike out in the National League.

That’s all from memory; I didn’t look any of it up. I was an ardent Cubs fan into the ’80s, when I lived for several years in Europe, in the days before cable and internet. For game 5 of the NL playoffs in 1984, I assiduously avoided looking at the International Herald Tribune for the result. The next day, I went to an American bar in London, where they had arranged for a videotape of the game to be overnighted to them from the states.

I watched the game there. I remember being intensely annoyed by a Padres fan a few bar stools down, who kept saying, “17 years! 17 years we’ve been waiting….”

Just shut UP, would you? For the Cubs, it had been FORTY years since their last postseason appearance.

They lost.

In 1985, I had a baby boy. A few years later, my husband got a job in Manhattan, and we moved back to the U.S., to Brooklyn. I picked Brooklyn because of Betty Smith’s A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN. We did all of our apartment-hunting there; I refused to consider living anywhere else.

My son got interested in baseball, and became a rabid fan.

A Mets fan.

What’s a mother to do? Well, this mother plonked herself down on the couch next to that little boy and began watching Mets games with him, explaining the infield-fly rule, the double-switch, the suicide squeeze. Mother-love trumps all: I never thought it would happen, and it didn’t happen overnight, but eventually I became a Mets fan too.

During the ’90s, the Braves were the Mets’ nemeses. When my son was about eight, I told him about the ’69 season, and how much I had HATED the Mets back then. With a look of utter horror, he said, “You mean, it’s like if I had a kid, and he was a BRAVES fan?” I said yes. After a moment of contemplation, he said, “Wow. You must really love me.”

Being a fan of a baseball team is about the dailiness of a long season. For more than twenty years now, I’ve followed the Mets every single day–the way I followed the Cubs as a child. On television mostly, but sometimes radio. Staying up late for the left-coast games. Watching sports news for recaps of the rare games I miss.

Several people who know my baseball history have said to me, “Cubs vs Mets in the playoffs! So you’ll be happy no matter who wins, right?”

If the Cubs win, I’ll salute and applaud Cubs’ fans everywhere–including my nine-year-old self.

I will also be heartbroken.

If the Mets win, I’ll be ecstatic . . . with a pang for Cubs’ fans everywhere, including my nine-year-old self.

That is not at all the same as being happy no matter who wins.

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