Full disclosure: Yes, I also posted this on one of my sites. No, you don't need to know or care where that is. This is just a fluff piece to fill space before Spring Training.
It's common to see someone identify as a "lifelong Mets fan," but what does that really mean? Were you born wearing orange and blue face paint? Were your first words "Let's go Mets?" Did you learn to walk just so you could participate in a "kids run the bases" event at Shea? I could see this being true in Boston, where indoctrination begins in the womb, but New York has too many sports options for that to be practical. My blessing and my curse is being able to remember what and how I thought as a child, which means I can never call myself a "lifelong" anything (genetics aside). When it comes to the Mets, I can remember a time before I had developed an opinion. I can remember when I chose to be a Mets fan. And I can remember the first team I chose to be a fan of - the New York Yankees.
The year was 1984. Orwellian nightmares had failed to come true. The Los Angeles Olympics were the major television sports spectacle of the year. Reagan had won re-election. And, on Christmas morning, I got my very first baseball cards. Well, an uncut sheet of them at least. To be exact, my brother and I both received uncut sheets of 1984 Topps cards for Christmas. Being older, he already had some cards, mostly a mix of baseball and basketball cards. Being younger, I was envious. Now, each with our own sheet of cards, we couldn't leave things at that. Oh no, we needed to get down to business and do some trading. But first, out came the scissors...
These days, I would cringe at the sight of cutting tools coming into contact with sports collectibles. While an uncut sheet sounds like a rare commodity these days, these were actually fairly common and quite worthless, though roughly cutting them up into individual cards certainly took away any value they might have had. We were young and didn't know better, so we cut away gleefully. Ah, the simple joy of destruction.
With irregularly shaped cards in hand, we set about the process of trading. Clearly, we would like to get more cards of our favorite team. Our family was a Mets household, so that was what my brother was after. As for me, I wasn't established as a fan of any team, so I was hardly in a position to challenge my brother for rights to Met fandom. I took the path of least resistance and aligned myself with that other New York team.
Above: The spoiled spoils of my brief fling with the Yankees
This worked out quite well in the short term. I could trade my Mets cards away and get Yankees cards in return. I even got my very own Yankees replica helmet and some Yankees player posters from the newspaper. My Yankees collection was starting to come together, from cards to other assorted memorabilia. But something was missing.
It's not like picking a different team would ostracize me from my family. My parents were always supportive of my decisions, no matter what my reasons were. Hell, they even accepted my brother when he came out as a Jets fan. I tried liking the Yankees, but it felt empty. The logo with the top hat was nice enough, but the colors just did nothing for me. What color was that even supposed to be, black or a very dark purple? This wasn't working, it just wasn't who I was. I had made a mistake.
It wasn't too late to fix this problem. Sometime in 1985, I resolved to leave all things Yankee behind and fully embrace the Mets. This took symbolic form when one of my brother's friends got a hold of some throwing stars and they asked to borrow my Yankees helmet (well, "asked" isn't quite the right word...). You know how those helmets have a warning molded into them telling you not to use them as a protective device? They were nice enough to collect most of the pieces and return them to me. I didn't care because the Yankees meant nothing to me anymore. It was for the best.
My other mistake was not advertising switching sides. By this point, my parents had gotten used to me being a Yankees fan. Being such supportive parents, they bought me a replacement Yankees helmet when they saw one that summer at the Astrodome. When they presented it to me, I was less than thrilled. I had finally gotten rid of that thing and here it was back again. Why? Was this my punishment for turning my back on the Yankees? Would they ever let me leave?
Luckily, nobody was out to get me. With that misunderstanding behind us, it was Mets all the way from that point on. I would go on to see the Mets play at the Astrodome the next summer just a few days after seeing Darryl Strawberry win the Home Run Derby. Well, I'm not sure I actually saw any of that considering how much time I spent exploring the Astrodome, but I did get a nice Mets pennant while I was there. That has to count for something...
Above: Anybody have any whitening tips?
Today, nothing remains from my days as a Yankees fan except for those cards and a Yankees logo button that's buried in a box somewhere. The Mets however have reached out into all aspects of my collecting world - cards, patches, pins, books, hats, action figures, and more. If it can be collected, there's a Mets version out there somewhere just waiting for me. Sometimes, being a Mets fan calls the idea of free will into question.
Next: Meeting the Mets: Autographs in the age of small-town card shows