As a baseball-loving Canadian living in New York, the 2018 MLB season presents me with an important question: should I root for the Yankees or Mets? This may seem innocuous, but for most sports fans, having a favorite team is an important part of their personal identity. As such, I don’t take this responsibility lightly. The process will involve digging into the deepest and darkest recesses of my history, to figure out which of the two New York ball clubs is worth my love and devotion. It’s like my own little version of the Subway Series. Shall we?
As a kid, a woman once asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. “A professional baseball player,” I said. She giggled at my idealism: “And what if that doesn’t work out?” I was offended. In fact, I had never considered a backup plan. Between watching the Toronto Blue Jays on lazy summer afternoons and binge-watching the movie Major League, my baseball dreams slowly crystalized. The world was as a large as my neighborhood, and my goals were as near-at-hand as the images on TV.
I grew up in Calgary, Alberta, which isn’t exactly a baseball hotbed. You might recognize the city of approximately 1.4 million people from its NHL team, the Calgary Flames, or the annual drunken carnival/rodeo, the Calgary Stampede. The baseball roots don’t run deep. From 1985 to 2002, the local baseball team was called the Calgary Cannons. They were the AAA affiliate of the Seattle Mariners, so it was high-level ball. (Fun fact: Alex Rodriguez played 32 games with the Cannons in 1994, hitting .311 with six homers and 21 RBIs.)
When I was eight, my father took me to watch the Cannons at Foothills Stadium. We would arrive for batting practice with a set of walkie talkies, and my dad would sit in the bleachers while I waited on the opposite side of the outfield fence. The ballpark was next to a public track, so any home run would fall into open territory. If a ball was swatted over the left-field fence, I would hear his voice scratchily through the two-way radio, “Left-field fence, Matt. Go and grab it!” My father never missed an opportunity to game the system, even if that meant implicating his pre-teen son. By the end of the season, I had a bucket of balls in the garage. A king’s ransom. These were mostly lost over the years, in the park or a friend’s backyard.
There was one ball, however, that I never touched. My dad took me to a Mets game at Shea Stadium in the mid-2000s, and bought me a souvenir baseball that sat on my desk for years. We sat high in the bleachers along the first-base line. It was a night game, and what struck me was the vividness of the scoreboard against the blackened New York sky. I also liked the stadium’s blue motif, and the cartoon-goofiness of Mr. Met’s costume. The Mets had some of the best players in the league. My favorite was Pedro Martinez, who had just won a championship with the Boston Red Sox. He had an explosive right arm and a violent, whirling leg kick. It was a beautiful portrait of control unfurling into chaos. I emulated his pitching motion on the mound in Calgary little league.
Years later, I saw the Yankees play the Blue Jays on Aug. 29, 2008. It was the last season at Old Yankee Stadium, and my dad even saved the ticket. After the game, a 2-1 Yankees win, I walked in a slow procession through the boxy and sallow concourse, to the lilt of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” The black and white pictures on the wall, famous faces like Ruth, Mantle, and DiMaggio, gave me feelings of unearned nostalgia, yearning for a time and place I never experienced. I didn’t understand the emotional resonance of that song or those images, until I moved to New York.
Being here, in the Big Apple, has taught me more about each of the franchises. The Yankees, for instance, represent a specific type of New Yorker. The clean-cut elite willing to do anything to win, especially if it means spending money. In the off-season, the Yankees fired their manager, Joe Girardi, after advancing to the ALCS. Then, in a similar flex of power, they traded for Giancarlo Stanton, who led the MLB in home runs last season. They certainly didn’t need the slugger, because in 2017, the Yankees led the league in home runs as a team. The rich get richer, I suppose.
The Mets, comparatively, are the lovable loser. They represent optimism in the face of inevitable disappointment, something that characterizes a different facet of life in New York. Jimmy Breslin said it best in one of my favorite books, Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game? “[The Mets are] a team for the cab driver who gets held up and the guy who loses out on a promotion because he didn’t maneuver himself to lunch with the boss enough. It is the team for every guy who has to get out of bed in the morning and go to work for short money on a job he does not like.” These words still ring true.
Both of the new ballparks, Citi Field and Yankee Stadium, are an equally inconvenient commute from my apartment. And since I’ll be purchasing from low-rate scalpers, the disparity in ticket price at the games doesn’t make a difference. So, who the hell do I root for???
In a way, I identify with both of these teams. I’m white, upper middle class, and go to a pricey, prestigious graduate school. But I’m studying to become a journalist, and the already-unprofitable industry is said to be flailing: jobs are scarce, fake news is everywhere, and the divide between reporting and entertainment has long been blurred. I guess making it as a writer is similar to the plight of the Mets, like being the plucky underdog trying to make it despite the odds. Plus, I think the blue and orange ball cap looks cool.
Verdict: Mets fan.
I guess the only thing left to decide is whether I like the Giants or Jets…