My father passed away on May 28th, 2017. The 11 or so months since then have been the longest, hardest, and most bizarre months of my life.
When you lose a loved one, one of the things that people who’ve previously experienced loss warn you about is that grief “comes in waves”. Seemingly random things will remind you of the deceased. These waves are sometimes positive, mostly negative, and you usually never see them coming.
When my father died, I was getting coffee at a local shop with an old friend. I returned home to the awful squeal of ambulance alarms and the anguished cries that you only hear when someone leaves this life. Every day on my commute to work, there’s a sticker advertising that coffee shop on the meter where I pay for my parking. Every morning, at around 5:40 AM, memories of that awful day come flooding back. It is, unequivocally, the worst part of my day.
These moments are the things that make grief such an all-encompassing experience, for months, years, decades after the initial shock of loss. Nine times out of ten, I want nothing more than to escape them.
Which is what makes the Mets’ hot start all the more odd.
My Father and I used to go on trips every summer to catch a baseball game in as many different ballparks as possible. During my teen and pre-teen years we went to 17 different stadiums in 13 cities. Much to the chagrin and envy of my siblings, it was just me and my dad who went on these excursions to embrace America’s pastime.
We spent countless hours in airports, rental cars, and hotel rooms. We ate the local cuisine with the delight and vigor that can only come after a two hour flight delay and three hours in coach. We went to all the tourist attractions in Chicago, St. Louis, and even the much-maligned Cleveland. In short, we saw a snapshot of America.
Above all that though, we saw baseball. It was a sacred experience, just a father and his son, taking in a ballgame. We shut off our cell phones, and only allowed ourselves one half-inning to snap pictures with our camera. For those three to five hours, the only things that mattered were the crack of the bat, the scrape of a slide, the low hum of the crowd, and the pop of a fastball hitting the catcher’s mitt.
Even though we saw games all over the country, and became experts on each team by the time we left their place of residence, it always came back to our beloved Mets. My Dad was born in 1962, and one of his oldest memories was racing home to watch the Amazin’ Mets of 1969 play in the World Series. His childhood home was just down the street from the elementary school, so all of his friends would come over to watch Tom Terrific battle the vaunted Orioles’ attack. By the time the last out settled into the glove of Cleon Jones, my young father had already become a Mets fan for life.
I grew up with stories about that team and the 1986 squad. We had a commemorative VHS recap of the ‘86 season in my house, and my brother and I must have watched it 200 times in our youth (you can experience it in all of its amazingly cheesy 80s glory here). I was the weirdo six-year-old who said stuff like “Mookie Wilson is my favorite baseball player” even though he retired four years before I was born.
On summer evenings, whenever my Dad got home from work, we’d throw on the TV and watch the Mets. They were usually terrible, as is the case with most Mets squads. The Mets have never really had a sustained run of excellence, so even when they have a great season, it’s usually bookended by mediocrity. It’s what makes those magical runs all the more special.
In 2015, when our beloved Mets made the World Series, My Dad took my brother and I to see game three of the NLDS at Citi Field. It was the game after Chase Utley injured Reuben Tejada on a dirty slide, typical of what I’d expect from a former Phillie. The crowd that night was unlike anything I’ve experienced before or since. It was electric. There was a stretch of three innings where we never sat down. When Yoenis Céspedes hit a three-run rocket to make it 10-3, all three of us were jumping and yelling in pure euphoria.
That was one of the greatest nights of my life. I was with my Dad, at the ballpark, and the Mets were on a magical run. It was perfect.
My father and I never got to share a Mets World Series title. It brings me comfort to know that he saw two in his life. But my first will be experienced without him. It is a fact that has brought me to tears in the past few months, a fact that almost makes me fearful of the emotional strain that will come if our Mets hoist the trophy.
I avoided ballparks all of last summer following my father’s death. It was an experience that was too entangled with him; to go to the ballpark for the first time without him was to admit that the man who had cultivated my love for the game was gone.
However, the Mets have gotten off to their best start in franchise history this year. Each new win beckoned me to the park, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that if my father were still here, we would have already bought tickets. These are the inescapable emotions during grief that make seemingly positive moments clouded and confounding. What “should” be an unblemished positive becomes an infinitely more complex sensation. A yearning for the presence of my father, so that we could share in this joyous occasion.
I went to the park on Saturday night, and witnessed the Mets suffer just their second loss of the year. The scene was familiar; the cracks, scrapes, hums, and pops were still there. Yet something was missing. Someone was missing.
Going to a baseball game will never be the same knowing that my father will never join me there again. But thus far, it is the only “wave trigger” I’ve found that lifts me up rather than tear me down. A rush of memories come back, an inexplicable typhoon of smells and sounds and thoughts of time spent with the man who raised me. Watching the Mets play is so much more than watching a simple baseball game. It is communing with my father, who I love and miss dearly. And for that, I am beyond grateful.
Let’s go Mets.
Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this piece, I highly recommend that you check out “Life, Sports, and the Pursuit of Happiness” by my best friend Michael Graziano. It’s excellent, and had no small part in influencing this essay. I also suggest you read “The Fiberglass Backboard” by Bryan Curtis, which has helped me through the past few months in more ways than I could list here. Thumbnail image copyright Bleacher Report, 2015.