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I had no intention of posting another piece today until I saw the news this morning…and no, it has nothing with politics; it was the sad news that one of my boyhood idols had passed. Baseball has always had an outsized presence in my life. It was my Dad’s favorite game and he brought it to me as a boy. His team was the Yankees, and his boyhood idol was Lou Gehrig with whom he shared a birthday. I, of course, followed his lead and Mickey Mantle and those awesome Yankee teams were easy to root for. When the Mets came into being I was just about to enter my adolescence and the match couldn’t have been more perfect. They like me were awkward, prone to embarrassing mistakes, fun to watch if you could bear the at times cringeworthy efforts to do better and despite the daily failures, full of hope for a better future at some unknowable point in the future. By having them become “my team” they also gave me a way to start the process of separating my identity from that of my Dad and he patiently gave me space.
The identity of the Mets and my own sense of self started to change around the same time and it happened when Tom Seaver joined the team. His talent, self-assurance, competitiveness and commitment to excellence were inspirational to everyone he touched, from teammates to fans like me. He made being a Met fan something to no longer be bashful about. He expected to win and as history has recorded he led a team that had known only losing in its first 7 years to a World Championship in 1969.
During the dark days of the lockdown this spring I re-visited many of those games on You Tube looking for something to not only pass the time but infuse me with hope and good feelings and it took me back to that magical summer of ‘69. My first real “head over heels” girl friend loved baseball, the Mets and me and her father had access to the Company’s box seats @ Shea Stadium. Seaver’s “imperfect game” where he retired all but one batter in order on the way to a win, the incredible late season run that left the Cubs and the City of Chicago chasing ghosts for more than 50 more years and then finally the World Series and the most improbable World Champs. At the center of it all was Tom Seaver and he made you believe that it was just the way things were supposed to be. He had it all, talent, a beautiful wife, good looks and that special something that NY demands of its heroes…call it presence, charisma or grace under fire…whatever he had it in abundance.
Joni Mitchell, who also blossomed into a huge presence that summer later wrote:
Everything comes and goes
Marked by lovers and styles of clothes
Things that you held high
And told yourself were true
Lost or changing as the days come down to you
In time Tom Seaver was forced to leave the Mets, my first love ended in heartbreak and life moved on, and in many ways, certainly for Tom Seaver and for me, to better things. (The Mets of course were another story.) Looking back as those joys turned to sadness it all started to teach me the lesson of the constant changes that define the journey of life. Today was a sad one as it marked a passing from this world of a truly special man who by his example touched more lives than he ever could have imagined, mine being one of them…but tomorrow who knows? I’ll believe that it holds promise for something amazing and unpredictable that can make us feel the same kind of magic that sustained all of us who were part of that magical summer so many years ago. As one of Tom Seaver’s teammates said “ya gotta believe!”
RIP Tom Terrific.