Certain things really are different with the Mets now, aren’t they? Whereas the Wilpons seemed to regard Mets history as a disappointing nuisance at best, Steve Cohen has taken a more celebratory approach—evident in various ways throughout his still-short tenure as owner, but perhaps no more so than with the unveiling of the new Tom Seaver statue at Citi Field in a ceremony before the home opener. Unlike many things the Wilpons did and presided over as owners of the Mets, Seaver’s statue unveiling went well: It was a beautiful day, the tributes to the eponymous luminary were heartfelt, and even the reveal of the statue itself came with a tasteful flourish.
The spectacle of a team celebrating its own history can and should be fun and meaningful for fans, and it’s probably good for business, besides. Financial resources notwithstanding, the key to an institution’s longevity is in its mythos. The extent to which the story of a place is told and heard and felt and continually made real is what enables it to keep people engaged and attract new generations of initiates.
But it feels a little strange, too, when the timing of such rituals is of the “better late than never” variety, such as is the case with the Tom Seaver statue. After all, many Mets fans today, myself included, have no memory of Seaver playing baseball.
Indeed, since many of us never saw Tom Seaver pitch, we didn’t really form an attachment to him like we may have done with other players of our directly experienced past. It might be fair, then, to feel somewhat detached from this particular ceremony. One might wonder, too, what the big deal is. A statue is just a statue, after all; it isn’t the actual thing or person it represents.
But we assign meaning to such things, don’t we? A statue says something not only about the person whose likeness it depicts, but the organization that displays it. When one regards Seaver’s statue and really gives it their attention, even from afar, one seems to recall, maybe even on a sensory level, the essential experience of watching baseball, with its many confluences of restless stillness and explosive movement, and that anxiety-riddled march of tension-and-release that plays out throughout the course of a game—all starting, at every turn, with a pitcher’s windup.
On those occasions where we have the chance to watch an exceptional player and an exceptional team, there is a certain buzz, something vital and titillating, something that reaches down and seizes hold of that animal part of us—that piece of us that perhaps we don’t always have the chance to air out or even really give much shrift to, but that makes us feel alive and is a vital part of our humanity nonetheless. Absent that direct experience, symbols like Seaver’s statue provide us with a view into that essential space within ourselves—or a chance, at the very least, to remember it’s there.
My Dad, the original Mets fan in my family—and in fact one of that group of New Yorkers who made up the very first Mets fans anywhere—watched plenty of Tom Seaver when he was growing up. Dad told me he remembers how Seaver seemed to bring a certain feeling of legitimacy to the formerly hapless Mets, and how the pieces started to fall into place, and how they suddenly started to win games that had only recently been sure losses. He remembers how, in a pitching-rich era that featured some other all-time greats, Tom Seaver stood out among them all.
There’s a reason one of Seaver’s nicknames was “The Franchise.” His story as a player is the story of the Mets, and it’s good, and it’s fitting, that his likeness is out in front of Citi Field now to help remind us of it. Nothing about it is diminished one iota by the fact that some of us didn’t get to watch him play; there’s always a new chapter being told of this particular story, after all, and sometimes, like when Jacob deGrom pitches—and, Dickey willing, pitches again soon—we all understand, way deep down, that the legacy of The Franchise is alive and well.