Monday, October 26, 2015

When a long distance love comes back

In late August 1985, my father took me to my first Major League Baseball game. It was “Back to School Night” at Shea Stadium and I received a Mets binder I still have somewhere. I don’t remember much about the game, to be honest. It might have been one of Dwight Gooden’s most impressive pitching performances of the year or it could have been a blown save by current Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell.

My dad was a vendor at Shea Stadium during the Mets first World Series run in 1969. He would tell me stories of running out on the field after they clinched the pennant during their Miracle season. He still holds the yearbook and newspaper clippings as prized possessions. And years before he sold his wares in the aisles of Shea, other family members worked at Shea in the opening days of the ballpark.

There was no way as a kid who liked baseball living in the suburbs of Long Island in the mid-1980s I was going to root for anyone other than the Mets. All my friends were Mets fans, except for one Yankees fan and we barely hung out with him. We were Mets fans. It was a great time to be a Mets fan.

But time moves on, and with it people and passions. I moved to Florida the year after the Mets won the World Series. Although I kept my fandom alive, the only times I watched the Mets was versus the Cubs on WGN, versus the Braves TBS, or on any national televised game. I was still a fan, but following took effort.

Six years after I moved to Florida, the Marlins started spring training in my parents’ town. Baseball had come back to me. I attended a few spring contests a year, mostly when the new Marlins played the Mets. The Marlins on local television also meant the ability to see the Mets more often.

In 1998, when the Devil Rays started, they were an afterthought. I wasn’t living in Florida at the time, had never been to the Tampa Bay area, and never even thought about rooting for MLB’s newest expansion team.

That all changed in 2006 when a job opportunity led me to move to Tampa. I attended one Devil Rays game in 2006, five in 2007, then over 20 Rays games in 2008, to include one game in every postseason round.

Somewhere along the way, Tropicana is where I lost my heart. And somewhere along the way, I started writing about the Rays. These two things probably have a lot to do with each other. When you put anything to words, you start caring about it more.

As I grew as a Rays fan and starting carving out my own niche in the Rays blogosphere, the only attention I paid to the Mets was reading websites such as and Faith and Fear in Flushing. I would stay interested in the way you stay interested in a long-distance friend’s Facebook posts.

“Oh, they had a baby? That’s nice. I haven’t talked to them in a while. Maybe I will drop them an email sometime.”

Then, to the surprise of most people, the Mets started playing well. Very well. So well, in fact, that they are now in the World Series for the first time since I moved to Tampa.

And I am struggling with how much I should root for them, comment about them, and even celebrate them.

Last night, as a matter of fact, I compared my conflicting fandoms to running into an ex. Not the type from a bad breakup, but the type you grew apart from due to circumstance. You say hi, you smile, they still mean something to you, and you wonder what might have been, but you know life is different now. And if your present partner is nearby, you may have to explain.

That’s why I am writing here today.

Granted, I am not alone in rooting for the Rays but keeping the Mets in my heart. When the Mets visited Tropicana Field earlier this year, Rays social media feeds were full of people confused with who to root for. That’s to be expected when roughly 30% of Florida residents were born in New York.

Even the owner of the Rays is a self-professed Mets fan, although I think there is a huge difference between my conflict as a fan and Stu Sternberg’s ownership of a competing franchise. The Rays grew as an emotional investment for me, as compared to a way for Stu to increase his financial bottom line. But that’s a post for a later date.

So for now, I am rooting for the Mets. I’m wearing my RA Dickey jersey to sports bars. I’m talking the glory days of Gooden, Strawberry, Carter, and Hernandez with fellow Mets fans. I’m catching up with who Daniel Murphy is.

I have not forsaken the Rays. I’m still writing about them. But I can’t let go of the team that got me into baseball in the first place.

At least I am not a Yankees fan.