You don’t pick your teams. They pick you.
That, anyway, is how I roll. So while I admire Kevin Clark‘s recent effort in deciding between Mets and Yankees – trying both teams for a month, wearing the caps and watching the highlight reels when he moved to New York (and I thoroughly recommend that you read the piece) – I already had my team when I arrived in Brooklyn a year ago.
It was 1986 (can you guess?). And I had my American football team: The Jets. So I asked and asked and asked for our Brit friends living in New Jersey to bring a shirt the next time they visited. I can even remember hearing the door bell, racing down the stairs and just about managing to hide my disappointment when a pin-striped white shirt was thrust in my face with a rhyming team’s name scrawled on the front.
Then the Mets won the World Series and they became mine. It got even better. Just like my favoured football (soccer) team they had scaled the heights of greatness, only to disappear into mediocrity. It played to my inner snob: Only a baseball aficionado would support such a team. Leave the Yankees for the tourists.
I’m still learning the finer points, but catch me in a lyrical moment and I’ll describe the attraction as similar to cricket: It might be a team sport, but out there in the middle it is man against man, pitcher against batter. It is why baseball books and films work in a way that football books simply can’t. It’s one on one. Mind against mind.
And this is shaping up to be a cracking season for Mets fans.
It could have gone either way last week. There was the extraordinary day when Wilmer Flores cried on the pitch because he thought he had been traded. Then it turned out the stellar deal for the big hitting Gomez had fallen through. The next day they collapsed from a 7-1 lead to lose 7-8. Here we go. Just like my football team, where off-field shenanigans have a habit of ballsing up the most promising of seasons.
And so it was that I arrived at Citi Field last Friday. First came the burger. The best in the park is round at Keith’s grill (imho). The golden glove is a thick slab of beef, piled high with onion, lettuce, tomato and cheese. The meat comes from Pat LaFrieda, who seems to have some sort of stadium deal. And the result is an intensely satisfying hit of big, charred meaty flavour. (Shake Shack needs two patties to compete.)
Oddly the burger comes with a packet of crisps and a lollipop – “exactly how Keith eats his burger” according to the blurb. It wasn’t until later that I discovered this was no vague marketing invention, but apparently the way Keith Hernandez likes his burger (And if you don’t know who he is, all you need to know is that there’s a Seinfeld episode in which he develops a man crush on the chap).
So anyway the game… It was memorable for the chants of Wilmer Flores every time the little fella was involved – a diving stop at second in the first innings, an RBI single in the second and so on. Hardened New York fans showing they could be sentimental.
And with the game all square at the end of 10 innings I went home. So I missed his walk-off home run winner…
(Or possibly Bartolo Colon. I bought his T-shirt in the club shop a few weeks ago. They only had one variety. Unlike say David Wright or Matt Harvey. When I asked why, they said he wasn’t very popular. Bonkers. In Britain, a tubby 42-year-old who sometimes lost his helmet as he swung at the ball would have his own chants not to mention T-shirts.)