NYC’s Lasting Love Affair With the Orange and Blue
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
I expect most hardcore baseball fans remember the game that made them fall in love with the sport with a special vividness. I was eight years old in October 1986, so you can probably guess which game that was for me. My parents didn’t think I should be allowed to watch a television and didn’t keep one in the house, but for the playoffs my mother produced a little set that brought in a fuzzy picture through a pair of ridiculously contorted antennae, and I was enraptured.
I have fuzzy memories of the games against the Astros, but the sight of that ball rolling through Bill Buckner’s legs is as clear and perfect as anything in my mind. Nothing was going to change the way I felt about the game from that point on. I was hooked.
My grandmother, at that time, worked downtown, and she gave me a bag full of ticker tape she’d collected from the parade from just outside her office window.I kept it on my wall for some incredible length of time and still have it somewhere, along with a copy of Newsday showing a foot-tall Jesse Orosco leaping high into the air with both arms stretched out in triumph. That ticker tape had been near Keith Hernandez and Darryl Strawberry, Lenny Dykstra, and Dwight Gooden! Who could ever part with it? There are probably hundreds or thousands of such bags all throughout the city, all more valuable to their owners than gold bars.
The very best thing about this year’s Mets team is that throughout the city and into Upstate, Long Island, New Jersey, and Connecticut, there are eightyear-olds who are every bit as in love with this team as their predecessors were with the 1986 edition. Jose Reyes hit three home runs in one game? He stole second and third on two pitches? Michael Tucker hit a game-winning home run? Michael Tucker will disappear into the vaguer memories of veteran baseball fans very soon, somewhere below Mark Carreon and Karim Garcia on the list of Met outfielders, but as sure as you can be of anything, there are little kids to whom he will remain a great player, a star, and an American hero well into adolescence.
This is why I hope that with the 20-year reunion of the greatest collection of valiant heroes in world history coming this Sunday, everyone will dwell not on what that team didn’t do, or what they ended up doing off the field, but what they did do. No one can help but have their heart break when thinking of what happened to Strawberry and Gooden; or even when thinking of the years Davey Johnson — who should, as far as I’m concerned, have ended up managing for 70 years and winning twice as many games as Connie Mack — spent outside the game. Such, though, is life.Their private fates are their private concerns, and their failure to become the Big Red Machine isn’t much of a failure, either.That doesn’t happen very often.
What they did do was make people fall violently in love with baseball and all its associated joys, in a way very few teams ever have. The line to draw between them and the present day Mets isn’t so much about their dominance of the National League, or the difference between the rather brutish and insouciant team of years past and the almost unbelievably admirable style of play of today’s team, but between the intangible quality that the ’86 team had and the one today’s does — the kind that makes ballplayers not just manufactured heroes but vivid presences in people’s lives. That quality is of course largely a byproduct of winning, but it’s about other things as well.
Ballplayers, whatever people claim about the cynicism of the age, very much remain role models in the same way they were 20 and 40 and 80 years ago. It has nothing to do with the way they behave off the field, and everything to do with the way they play on the field.The 1986 Mets were great role models, regardless of what they were doing in Texas bars. They were tough, cool, and arrogant, and taught their young fans what Little League is supposed to — that there are winners in life, they aren’t always humble, and they don’t always have things go wrong for them the way the bad guys do in children’s stories. It was a very valuable lesson to learn as a young child.
No one knows what today’s eightyear-olds will learn from their Mets. Maybe they’ll learn that nice guys can win it all, as fitting a lesson to be taught to anyone growing up in Mayor Mike’s New York as anything else. Maybe they’ll learn that nice guys can be gracious in defeat. Maybe they’ll learn that even really nice baseball players have an awful lot more fun on the road than you might think. Who knows?
Whatever it ends up being, it will be more important than anyone who isn’t eight years old can really imagine. Maybe even more important than anyone who is eight can imagine! My son is all of two years old, and if you hold up a blue ring and an orange ring he gets excited about his favorite baseball team.