My three children (twin girls of seven and a boy of nearly six) were born and brought up in Rio de Janeiro. But from Rio to our recent move to Rome, they've remained rabid Mets fans. Keeping pace with the rites of spring (training), they've taken their Mets t-shirts, mini bat and ball to the nearby Villa Pamphili park every day. "This year," I tell them, "will be the best year for the Mets since you were born."
Of course if they read the New York sports pages, they'd take that for cruel sarcasm. The flood of pre-season obituaries (and the patronizing dismissals of their surprising start) makes it seem that the only question about this year's Mets is how humiliating their last place finish will be. But I think the pundits are dead wrong. And it's shocking to me that a different narrative hasn't yet emerged: that this is the most engaging Mets team of the last 25 years.
Journalists (rightly) deplore the obscene amounts of money that have corrupted baseball and all professional sports worldwide, tragically transforming players into brands in one of the more grotesque expressions of the consumer culture. Athletes are not only bought and sold, but now happily sell themselves like the crudest commodity. So how can sportswriters not celebrate a radical -- if involuntary -- departure from this twisted norm?
What a delight are these 2012 Mets, throwbacks to an era when your team resembled your (ideal) family: where love and loyalty sprang from following a player's life from his first baby steps -- that magical first plate appearance -- through all the unpredictable phases of a career. The messy humanity of baseball, with all its foibles, quirks and visible defects, enchanted us as no other sport could.
So why aren't we celebrating a now unheard of starting infield of pure homegrown youngsters: Josh Thole, Ike Davis , Daniel Murphy, Miguel Tejada and our own love-him-or-like-him David Wright? Then there's that hulking (and delightfully timid) hometown kid Lucas Duda in right field and in an ideal world, 2013 could present us with phenoms Kirk Niewenhuis in left and Brandon Nimmo in center, complemented by a home-grown pitching rotation of Dillon Gee, Jonathan Niese, Jenry Meijia, Zach Wheeler and Matt Harvey. This would be the most original team of the 21st century: entirely built on the notion of human worth. Most importantly, my kids wouldn't have to cry at the end of each season as they're forced to abandon their Jose Reyes and Angel Pagan t-shirts, a mourning process that is unresolvable for kids and parents alike.
Why are my children so attached to the Mets, watching ballgames live on the internet with me from Rio to Rome, even though they've never been to the stadium (or to New York for that matter)? Because the Mets are not the Yankees. Or Real Madrid or A.C. Milan (owned by disgraced former Italian Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi). These teams are the sporting expressions of an era of egregious financial speculation and ostentation. If Capitu, Miranda and Noah's grandfather, the journalist Bernard Nossiter, battled corporate abuse of power from the 50s through the 80s, it's no accident he bequeathed us a rooting interest not in the the Wall St. Yankees, but in the Mets, the 99 percent lumpen-egalitarian side of New York.
Why lament that we didn't spend $240 million to get Albert Pujols? Who can root for a team -- or a family -- built from commodities and derivatives? Instead, nurturing love for a team whose players are nurtured within the (genially dysfunctional) family, creates deeper bonds that make winning and losing much less critical.
And then you never know who's built to win or lose; money is certainly no guarantee of sporting happiness. Consider the two recent NY sports fairy tales: Linsanity -- or the heroic resistance of an inspiringly unorthodox baseball-like basketball player to instant corporate branding and its attendant narcissicism -- and our surpassingly flawed 9-7 (!) Super Bowl champs. What is sweeter than apparent mediocrity triumphing over excess power and wealth, especially in an era, for the majority of Americans, unlike any since the Great Depression.
So despite the gloom (of team and nation), I'm encouraging my kids to root for these homegrown Mets with a conviction not seen since we millions Muts fans hid our heads in our hands for the first two outs and two strikes dealt by Calvin Schiraldi in the 10th inning of game six. Because a true Mets fan isn't defined by the triumphant joy of the trickle through Buckner's legs, but by the anxiety that preceded it. We know life is rough and we treasure even more the piercing pain and fatalism that accompanied those first two outs and those first two strikes against the beloved (and hated) Kid.
Now the only wrinkle in this Capresque fantasy of a true hometown squad is itself an element from the films of Frank Capra: the greedy crybaby millionaire owners and their sordid ponzi scheme-smoking (but not inhaling) ways. Because the great irony of this fantasy team is that they're not the product of some quixotic corporate gesture (an oxymoron) but the entirely unwanted consequence of incompetent ownership tottering near bankruptcy.
So I have a solution in keeping with the times (if more fitting for Preston Sturges): Occupy Mets!
Let 10 million fans (are there even a million of us left?) contribute 100 dollars each and let's buy the team. We'll make it the first of what will come to be known as the Great Sports Fans' Revolt. We'll buy the team as a class action 99 percent-er protest. We'll let Sandy Alderson (a Hawksian hero) stay for four years as a kind of caretaker government (a classic in any transition from dictatorship to democracy). Then we'll hold elections every four years for a new president to govern Metsland. Let the players get a handsome share of the gate, TV and promotional revenues (they're entertainers at the highest level after all) and we, the 10 million, will split the rest. Hey, if my daughter Capitu is right, baby faced Miguel Tejada dolls will sell like hotcakes among the Barbie set. And they'll never have to give them up. Metstopia!
Jonathan Nossiter has directed the Sundance Grand Prize winning film Sunday, Cannes Palme d'or nominated Mondovino, Signs & Wonders and the recent Rio Sex Comedy with Charlotte Rampling, Bill Pullman and Irène Jacob. He is also the author of the book Liquid Memory: Why Wine Matters.
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