Baseball playoffs: Pick a flag, pick a team
Last week, I took a stand, for what I believe in. I took down one flag, and put up another. I was trying to pledge my allegiance — to a team.
And in doing so, I was reminded of the time my sons saved my life.
Let me explain. I fly flags — not just Old Glory, but seasonal and humorous flags — Halloween, Christmas, Back to School Days, St. Patrick’s Day, “It’s 5 o’Clock Somewhere” … yes, I’m that guy.
Last week, I had been flying a flag supporting my alma mater’s football team, which was undefeated so far this season. In a town where college football fans seem to live and die by their team’s success — and let’s face it, lately, they’ve died — it was just me bragging.
But I am first and foremost, a baseball fan — and the playoffs were here.
Specifically, the National League playoffs. And so, time for a new flag.
But I had a problem. Of the four teams in the NL playoffs, three of them were at one point MY team.
I was born in New York, and grew up in north Jersey. My dad, who was also born in New York, was a Mets fan. Since I loved him and wanted to be like him, I became a Mets fan too. Though we would have our disagreements, our baseball team was not one of them. The Yankees were never on our radar. There was no interleague play, and the Mets were never a World Series threat, so I never had to worry about how any team in the American League was doing. The Mets were the first professional baseball team I ever saws in person, with my Dad. How could the Mets not be my team?
Recently I read an article that hypothesized the reason so many comedians are Mets fans. Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, Jon Stewart, Chris Rock, Jimmy Kimmel, Jim Breur and others are all Mets fans, and it makes sense. Being a comic, as I was for more than a decade, is all about self-deprecation, and living on the outside of success and looking in at it — and that’s what Mets fans have mostly done. We had the Amazing Mets of ’69, and the Miracle Mets of ’86, but that’s it. And so, they were — and remained — my team, even though I left the area at age 17. More than a decade later, my first business card as a comedian was a full color baseball card, with me in a Mets uniform.
I took the picture at a Little League field, in Chicago, a couple of months after I moved there. The locals did not take kindly to it, still stung by the pain of the Amazing Mets of 1969.
But living there, on the north side, I became a Cubs convert. It truly is a religion there. There are believers, and then there are blasphemers, and you are either one, or the other. On the north side, the only thing worse than NOT being a Cubs fan is being a White Sox fan, that vile, hated team from the south side.
It is different in Chicago. For one thing, Cubs fans go to games, a lot. And why wouldn’t they — the Cubs play at Wrigley Field, right there in the neighborhood. The grandest place to see a baseball game in the land. Cubs fans get there early, they stay late, and they stay in the neighborhood even later. During the time I lived there, the baseball was terrible, which did not matter at all. The experience of being a Cubs fan was sensational. People talk to each other at all baseball games, but here they did more than talk baseball. They socialized. With total strangers, who became friends by the third inning, and roommates by the 7th inning stretch. I caught my first foul ball at Wrigley. I met the wife of a former big leaguer in the stands, and told her to have him call me if he ever wanted to play golf — and he called an hour after the game. I met the legendary Harry Carey, in the press box! How could the Cubs not be my team?
I moved a couple more times after my years in Chicago, and settled nearly two decades ago in Los Angeles, and eventually came to love the Dodgers. There was Dodger Stadium — which looks like a movie set in a town full of them. A beautiful ballpark, and you can always find a good seat if you wait until the 7th inning, when everyone leaves. And if the Mets or Cubs were in town, Dodger Stadium always feels sorta like home — there were always 25 percent Mets fans there, and 33 percent Cubs fans.
And there were great Dodger players, like Gagne, and Piazza, and Nomar, and Mondesi, and Beltre, and Russel and Ethier and Kemp. And of course, there is the Voice, Vin Scully. Man, if you’re a baseball fan, it’s like heaven. Hearing Vin call a game every night is like milk and cookies — it’s sweet, it’s good and it just belongs together.
I literally bumped into Tommy Lasorda at Dodger Stadium one day. My first son was born on a day I had tickets to go to the Stadium — to see them play the Mets. I took both my sons to their first ever baseball game at Dodger Stadium! How could the Dodgers not be my team?!
Cut to 2006. The Dodgers are playing in the NL Division Series, making their 14th playoff appearance since 1962, the year the Mets joined the league. And they’re playing the Mets, who hadn’t been to the playoffs in six years, and were making only their 7th playoff appearance ever.
The Mets had won the first two in New York, in a best of five series. They were coming here to try and close it out, and I had four tickets to that game. I had raised my boys, now 9 and 7 years old, to know that my first love was the Mets, but that the Dodgers were their hometown team, and they should follow them.
As for me? The Dodgers had been doing a good job of wooing me, but I still hadn’t gotten over my first love. I announced to the family that I was wearing a Mets jersey that night, but they could wear whatever they wanted. Both my sons owned Mets and Dodgers jerseys, and decided to root for Dad’s team. Their mother, a stewardess, chose flight over fight, and wore something neutral that looked vaguely like a Phillies girl jersey.
It took 19 hours to get through the parking fiasco, but fortunately there was enough pomp before hand that we only missed three innings. Walking into the stadium, I was struck immediately by the near unanimous choice of Dodger blue — a similar but distinctly different shade than Mets blue. The 25 percent Mets fan audience I was expecting was slightly lower. Like, none. We seemed to be the only Mets fans.
Of course, going late to Dodger Stadium isn’t like going late to the opera (I’d guess), there were no disparaging look for interrupting the flow of the game — until, that is, the crowd noticed the three Mets jerseys making their way to the seats. The Mets were winning, but it was still early, so at that point, it was just good-natured hazing. It would soon increase to Benghazi level torture.
In the 4th and 5th inning, the Dodgers scored to go ahead, and by now there were a couple of fans mocking me. In the 6th, the Mets scored three, and there was suddenly silence around me. By the 7th-inning stretch, the Dodgers put a quick and exciting history of Dodgers playoff wins on the big video screen, and each one amped the crowd up a little more. When they ended with the iconic Kirk Gibson 1988 home run, there was true blue pandemonium.
But the Dodgers failed to score. And in the top of the 8th, the Mets scored two more to take a four-run lead. I cheered and celebrated — perhaps too noticeably — and my sons followed my lead. From the view of some Dodger fans a few rows behind, who realized their season was slipping away, I was the only one tall enough to be seen, and I was going to pay the price. A few not-so family friendly comments were hurled my way, soon followed by some (mostly) empty beer cups.
And that’s when my sons saved me. As I continued to cheer the Mets, a pretzel hit me in the back of the head from a few rows back. A soft pretzel, by the way, with the right velocity, is not really so soft. As I turned to find the offender, a guy in a Dodgers jersey just one or two rows behind me turned toward the pretzel pitcher and yelled, “Hey! Take it Easy!! He has kids with him!”
The razzing stopped instantly. And that’s probably when I became a Dodgers fan.
When the Dodgers failed again to score in the bottom of the 8th, it seemed like a good time to leave. We got out alive, thanks to my sons.
And so, last week, when it was time to fly a new flag, I left my Mets flag in the drawer, and bought a new Dodgers flag. I took down my Florida Gators flag, and put up the new blue flag. The Dodgers won game 4, but lost Game 5. The Mets are now playing the Cubs, but I’ve decided flying their flag may actually jinx them. Because the Gators, by the way, also lost this weekend.
I wonder if there are any Donald Trump flags?
(Top photo by Claudia Gestro)
Mike Brennan has been a Pulitzer Prize-nominated newspaper reporter, a magazine writer, an investigative journalist, a nationally touring stand-up comedian, a joke writer for the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, a morning radio host, a professional auctioneer for numerous charities, an editor, and a film and TV script consultant. He is currently working on a romantic comedy screenplay, and a humorous book on being a father, called The Tooth Fairy Doesn’t Pay for Yellow Teeth. He has lived in the Valley for 19 years, and has two teenage sons. Contact the author.