We loved the Mets because we felt like born losers. Though we were in just the first inning of our lives, we were already down four runs, with a weak bullpen and no bench. Sons of single mothers, living on food stamps, attending so-so schools, wearing ill-fitting clothes, we faced a future that seemed sure to include a heavy dose of failure, ignorance and want. The Mets, therefore, were more than our home team. The Mets were proof that losers could be lovable. Better yet, they were proof that losers could shock the world and win.
And Shea Stadium, 12 miles from where McGraw and I played Wiffle ball every day, was sacred ground. It was our home away from home, especially when we had no homes of our own. Our mothers struggled to make rent, and when they couldn't make it, which was often, we'd move in with our grandparents, in a house so overcrowded with cousins and aunts and uncles that McGraw and I sometimes slept in the same bed. From such chaos, inner and outer, Shea provided needed, frequent escape.
It says something about our childhoods that Shea -- surrounded by vacant lots, chop shops and strip bars -- was one of the few places where we felt safe. Four feet tall, dangerously naive, we'd take the train to the stadium, alone, at night. The memory makes me shudder. We carried little more than 10 bucks and standing orders from an old-timer in our hometown, a guy who supplied all the paper products to Shea: Go into the bathrooms, pull out the towels and toilet paper, and throw it all on the floor -- so the stadium will have to order more from me next week.
These were our people.
If you haven't seen the latest editon of The Best American Sports Writing (edited by Nack), the volume is worth picking up for Moehringer's non-profile profile of USC coach Pete Carroll alone.