For most of my life, I was a Mets fan the way your little sister is a 'Twilight' fan. It was my identity. Then, I reported on the team for a season. And now I see the players I revered are just regular guys with real demanding jobs.
I used to be a Mets fan. Not a Mets fan the way Bob From Sales is a Mets fan, in that he is aware that David Wright exists and will occasionally drop by your cubicle with a sigh and a timelessly generic lament like, “The pitching just isn’t there this year,” or “Same ol' Mets!”
No, I was into the Mets the way your 14-year-old sister is into Twilight.
Up until about a year ago, I had at least five Mets-themed songs on my iPod, a pair of garish blue and orange sneakers I wore every day, and an unfortunate habit of cooing about players using only first-name references, the way a child might talk about his pet Labrador. I spent countless hours every April through September reading about the Mets, watching games on TV, and chattering about team minutiae to anyone polite enough not to cut me off or walk away. To a most acquaintances and even some legitimate friends, my Mets fandom was my most, if not only, identifiable trait.
Far from being insulted by these perceptions of one-dimensionality, I embraced the Mets’ identity as my own. In the team's curvy logo script and goofy, anthropomorphic, hydrocephalic baseball mascot, I saw the boundless enthusiasm and good-natured irreverence on which I prided myself. In their annual quixotic pursuits of World Series titles that turned to sad losing seasons, I saw my resolute determination in trying to date girls despite a string of comically embarrassing failures. To tweak the famous line about pop music and misery in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, it’s unclear whether I cared so much about the Mets because I identified myself as a loser, or whether I identified myself as a loser because I had cold sweats over a team that in consecutive years allowed the Marlins (the Marlins!) to destroy their playoff chances on the final day of the season (at home, no less).
In my head, I understood baseball was “just a game” and that players had little allegiance to the cities they played for. But I didn’t internalize how excessive, and at times unsavory, my fandom was until I returned to my native Long Island after graduating college last summer to work as a reporting intern on the Mets beat for MLB.com. The job required me to spend several hours a day in the Mets clubhouse prior to every home game of the 2011 season, essentially allowing me to realize my childhood dream of having season tickets. And that was pretty much it for my life as a Mets fan. Since that internship ended last October, I have watched my team on television just three times.
Constraints of journalistic objectivity aside, my fandom got its wings clipped by the numerous hours I spent observing and interacting with players. These interactions exposed me to the fact that, even though I’d spent countless hours of my life thinking about these people, I’d very rarely bothered to consider them outside the context of what they did on the field.
For the most part, they were just dudes. They did a lot of standing around, stretching, and playing with their iPads. Most were polite, a couple were dicks, and almost all were about as excited as you’d be to answer a daily barrage of questions about the minute details of how work went today. Noticing how regular the idols of my youth were shattered one of the central foundations of fandom: that the athletes whose names we shout at the ballpark and put on the backs of our replica shirts are not like us.
Consider, for a moment, the plight of Mets left fielder Jason Bay. After a stellar 2009 season in Boston, Bay signed a monster four-year, $66 million contract with the Mets, only to submit consistently middling performances. From my own observation and those of others who know him better, Bay comes off as a pretty good dude who faces the media regularly, looks them in the eye, and tells them he honestly has no idea why he can’t hit anymore. (It’s baseball; these things happen.) Yet despite these assurances, Mets fans hold Bay in such contempt, ]that even in a good stretch he’s roundly mocked.
This antipathy is sort of bizarre, when you think about it. If a guy you knew pilloried Bob From Sales the way Mets fans do Bay because Bob hadn’t sold anything for a while, you’d probably think he was a gigantic prick. Shit, you might like Bob better if he took it easier on himself. You’d probably also never, ever want to work with a dude like Michael Jordan, whose greatness was fueled in part by an almost sociopathic ability to maintain petty grudges and ruthlessly exact revenge. Once I started thinking of pro baseball players as dudes who could theoretically work in the next cubicle, it felt silly to invest hundreds of hours a year and an unquantifiable amount of emotional energy into their job performances.
As you might imagine, the whole thing was disorienting. Moments from my past I had once taken pride in as evidence of my devotion —like breaking away from a birthday party to gape at the Mets’ doomed 2008 playoff push— made me cringe . I no longer knew what to say to the fellow diehards. It felt like I’d lost my religion, like I knew the snake handlers I grew up with were completely and totally insane.
Still, I attended Opening Day this past April in hopes of reclaiming the enthusiasm for Mets baseball that had been one of the few constants that stayed with me from childhood through my early adulthood. It was comforting to see the blue and orange, and the wins we got felt fine, but even after Johan Santana’s no-hitter, the old passion didn't resurface—I forgot about it the next day.
Now that the season is nearly over, I think I can honestly say I’m alright with not having watched any of it. I sometimes miss the stability of having something to look forward to six days a week, but I’ve found other ways to occupy my time. I And I still casually watch other sports on a semi-regular basis because, at their best, they contain a blend of unpredictability and universal human drama that most playwrights and novelists fail to achieve. But while I am at times captivated by the narratives (the Boston Red Sox’s story arc the past 30 years, for example, is the best soap opera in American history), their outcomes are no longer the cause for ecstasy and agony they once were. Now I know it is really just a game. Too bad.
Aaron Taube is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. He still sort of cares about the North Carolina men’s basketball team out of devotion to his alma mater, but he’s willing to admit that this, too, is probably irrational. You can follow him on Twitter @aptaube.