If you grew up loving baseball, the only thing better than Opening Day is Opening Day with your young son. Last year, my six-year-old was bitten by the baseball bug. He played organized tee ball for the first time, spent hours in the backyard imaging game-winning home runs, and celebrated every triple by his favorite player, Jose Reyes. Every morning, he checked the sports section to see if our Mets had miraculously leapfrogged two teams in the standings, and practically every night, he’d ask what their chances were of making the World Serious, as he calls it. “Not good, buddy. Not good.”
Still, he stuck by his team. Living in a new town infested with Phillies fans, he wore their scorn as a blue badge of courage. My plan to imprint him in blue and orange for life could’ve backfired when our first trip to Citi Field was semi-ruined by the Phillies’ rout of the home team. Still, he insisted on dressing up as Jose Reyes for Halloween, even though I warned him that his hero’s days as a Met may be numbered. When Reyes finally signed with the Marlins over the winter, though, and the Mets slashed their payroll as the organization was pulled deeper into the ugly Bernie Madoff mess, I had to ask myself: Am I dooming my kid to a lifetime of sports frustration?
Mets fans are conditioned for disappointment, stretching all the way back to their historically awful first season 50 years ago. Even without the Yankees and their 27 championship trophies looming over them, they’d be scrappy underdogs whose few days in the sun (1969, 1973, 1986, 2000) are sprinkled with Amazin’ dust (Buckner’s gaffe, Swoboda’s catch, McGraw’s locker-room rally speech, Agbayani’s walk-off blast).
But my six-year-old doesn’t know any of that legacy. He just loves the Mets. Why? Well, because I love the Mets, and we gave him a Johan Santana jersey. But am I being a bad father by introducing him to this culture of losing? Should I instead drop some subtle hints about the brilliance of Robinson Cano…or Cole Hamels? Should I get him a Red Sox hat? At least these three teams try to win, spending money to keep their homegrown talent while also acquiring the pieces they need to win a championship. If an adult switched loyalties, it would most definitely be frowned upon, but my kid is only six. Wouldn’t his life as a sports fan ultimately be more fulfilling if he was a…Yank…ee…[choke]…Yankee fan? You could argue that such things are cyclical and that the Mets’ golden age is just around the corner. To this, I can only point to the last 50 years as contrary evidence, though I appreciate your respect for the law of averages.
Jose Reyes will be playing shortstop tonight, but he’ll be starting for the Miami Marlins as they host the defending champions, the St. Louis Cardinals. The Mets open up at home tomorrow afternoon against the rival Braves. As with every Opening Day, all the teams are tied in the standings – each is technically undefeated. Hope springs eternal – in theory. But not this year, I’m afraid. I warned my kid that the Mets were years away from the World Serious, but he didn’t seem bothered by my bleak outlook. Perhaps the damage is already done – he’s a Mets fan for life. Or maybe he knows something I don’t. After all, “Ya gotta believe!”
Are you ready for the sounds of baseball tonight? Have you been guilty of forcing your own sports loyalties on a defenseless child?