Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Sunday Memory Drawer - My Mother, The Met Fan

It's Mother's Day so I bring back this tale previously told.   It's also perfect that the holiday coincides, as it always does, with the baseball season.

As a newly baptized baseball fan, I had quickly immersed myself in the Mets back in the day and it wasn't long before my fanaticism was legend around my own home. Dad had bought in completely and slowly transferred his diamond allegiance from the Yankees to the guys in Flushing. But there were others who needed to comment on this profound development.

Grandma heard the news and asked me who the Met manager was. When I replied it was Casey Stengel, she announced that she knew who he was and that she liked him. Then, she proceeded to tell me all about the Brooklyn Dodgers for some reason. They were called "Da Bums" and her cousin was a big fan of them. Which was apparently convenient because she called him a bum as well.

Grandpa said he preferred the Giants, but I explained to him that they had already moved to San Francisco.

"When the hell did they go way out there?"

Grandpa, who read the newspaper religiously every single day, had apparently missed the Daily News that week in 1957 when the Giants left town.

My mother was, however, completely removed from the baseball hubbub. When I held my little mini-press conference to announce that I was now a baseball fan and my favorite baseball team was the New York Mets, she reacted with the same two word phrase that she used whenever something positive entered my life.

"That's nice."

Oh.

And that was it. There was little intertwining between me and my mother when 
it came to the sport. From time to time, my fandom prompted some conflicts when I had commandeered the then-only TV set to watch a Met game. Mom had other visual destinations.

"Merv Griffin's on."

But...

I invariably lost out and had to resort to the radio play-by-play. Shortly thereafter, I did get my own portable TV for my bedroom. But still, I preferred to commandeer the only-color TV set in the house to watch a Met game. 

Another maternal skirmish ensued.

"Mike Douglas is on. Go watch in your room."

But, that's only black-and-white.

I never won.

There was one summer evening where I was watching a Met game on the Zenith Color TV console in the living room. Tom Seaver was going into the ninth inning against the Chicago Cubs with a perfect game. I was beside my self with euphoria. Enter Mom intent on turning the channel and finding out what Merv and Totie Fields were up to. I had to sell the importance of the baseball event through to her.

"Tom Seaver's pitching a perfect game."

Mom looked at me quizzically.

"Is that good?"

As my dad had explained to me several years earlier when we listened to the ninth inning of Jim Bunning's perfect-o against the Mets in a cemetery, I relayed the importance of such a feat to Mom. It was enough to keep the TV tuned to WOR Channel 9. And she watched along with me.

Five minutes later, Jimmy Qualls got a single, broke up Tom Seaver's bid for immortality, and ruined my evening and perhaps my life. It was rare for me to do so in front of a parental unit, but I let out an expletive.

"Shit."

Or something like that. Mom didn't totally get the moment or the significance or the pain.

"It's over. Channel 5, please."

And that was the sum total of combined activity for me, my mother, and baseball for the next several decades. Once I had my Saturday Plan seats at Shea, the only time the sport came up with her in conversation was with the same exchange. Over and over.

"Mom, I have a Met game Saturday.'

"That's nice."

Over and over.

"Mom, I'm watching the Met game tonight."

"That's fine."

Over and over.

Until it happened.

I don't know exactly when the world spun off its axis. But it took me completely by surprise. I was an adult by then. Calling the parental units once a day to check in and make sure they hadn't done anything to themselves. One night, in the middle of the most mundane of mundane conversations with my mother, she dropped her version of Enola Gay.

"Did you watch that Met game this afternoon?"

Who is this? And what have you done with her?

"That new announcer the Mets have. Tim McCarver. He's good looking."

No, seriously, where is she? Where is my mother?

She went on about the game. And did so the next day. And the day after. And the week after. And, most amazingly, she was starting to make sense. Slowly, she was picking up the intricate nuances of the game. And virtually parroting Tim McCarver.

"There's no way Mookie should have been bunting in the eighth inning."

"What was Davey Johnson thinking? I don't bring Doug Sisk in from the bullpen in that situation."

"Ron Darling walks way too many batters."

Huh?

I wrote Tim McCarver a note and told him what he had done to my mother. He took the compliment graciously. Except he had no idea how far off the beam she got. She was tuned to every game on TV. If they were playing on a weekday afternoon, she had the radio on at work. And she could recite their uniform numbers. I remembered that this particular feat was one of my earliest claims to fame when I had become a Met fan years before.

The circle of life had come full circle.

It helped that, in the mid 1980s, the Mets were a pretty good team whose bandwagon my mother had jumped on. These were the days of Gary Carter, Keith Hernandez, Jesse Orosco, and Darryl Strawberry.

And my mother's favorite Met of all time. Dwight Gooden. My mom's keen interest in the Mets had reached its full maturation in 1984, which was Gooden's rookie season. She took to the young pitcher as if he was her own son. 

While her Met fandom rarely wavered, it peaked significantly every five days or so when he was on the mound. Again, I was confounded by this all. Why Dwight Gooden? Why the Mets. Why now?

During the championship year of 1986, Mom's TV set went on the fritz right in the middle of the playoffs. She went from apartment to apartment in her building, looking for an available TV set and couch. Ultimately, she went to one of those furniture rental stores and leased a portable TV for the next three weeks.

The following season, when Gooden was suspended for cocaine use, my mother's world crumbled. I actually saw her cry over this. Tears that I had never seen when some relatives had died. Indeed, once I got used to this amazing human transformation, I was quite pleased. Mom had recently retired. Or actually had been unceremoniously retired. Other senior citizens tended to fall into funks when the work world is removed from their orbits. But, my mom didn't have time to get bored. She had the Mets.

There was only one more ribbon that needed to be tied around this package. It took a while, but she finally asked.

"I want to go to one of your Saturday games with you."

I realized I had uttered a similar phrase to my dad years earlier. In some ways, my mother's fandom was equal to what I had gone through when I was ten years ago.

Whereas my very first impression of Shea Stadium on a stormy Friday night was one of dampness and darkness, my mother's emergence from the tunnel into the Loge Section 7 stands was idyllic. The sun was shining. The weather was warm. The field shone like the most exquisite of jewels. And she enjoyed herself. To a degree.

"I like it better on TV. I miss Tim McCarver."

And, for that very reason, she never went to another game. With me. Or with anyone else. But, at least, there was that one special Saturday.

Dinner last night:  Beef lo mein. from Wokcano.

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