The freezing rain that was forecast for later in the day of the Queens Baseball Convention never really materialized. It was still unpleasant out, but this was winter in New York City. It was at least near to the end of the worst part of winter—before pitchers and catchers were even obliged to get to Florida and get serious about their stretching routines, but just before, if still in the fat part of the long annual stretch of low gray skies and wet, dim cold. There are days when the mess seemed to come out of the sky as slush, gray and in-between and miserable from the moment it touched the ground. There were weeks like that. There are always weeks like that. If you are going to throw a party for the fans of a benighted local baseball franchise, with panel discussions and question-and-answer sessions and memorabilia shopping and autograph procurement and general beer-adjacent afternoon hanging out, that part of winter is probably the best time at which to do it. It’s when everyone needs it most.
No one went to Katch Sports Bar in Astoria, Queens, on a January day that promised shitty weather, because they had to. Every one of the many Mets fans there was there because they chose to be there—to be around other people that chose to give this ridiculous and singular team some say in their emotional wellbeing, think and talk about that team, and drink beers if they wanted. Todd Zeile would be appearing on a panel later in the day and Darryl Strawberry was signing autographs and periodically loping through the bar area. In the back, you could purchase a game-worn Aaron Sele or Tony Armas Jr. Mets jersey for what I would describe as a very reasonable price. Mr. Met was in the building, projecting a gravitas entirely disproportionate to the size of his tremendous baseball head. And I was there, although no one was paying for that along with the price of admission, to ask my fellow Mets fans why they keep coming back to this particular team.
I already knew what they were doing there, because I’d long ago made the same choice that they did. No one makes you be a Mets fan. New York is a big city, and it also has another baseball team in it. I am a Mets fan, or became one, because my dad took me to a game when I was little and because he’d chosen the Mets after the Brooklyn Dodgers left town when he was a kid, and I stayed one because I love this dumb, slow sport and also I guess enjoy getting upset during my leisure time. I could have stopped caring at any time, and at times the team—the variously hungover or wrung-out or washed-up adults on the field but also the doofuses above them getting rich off it all—seemed consciously to be trying to convince me and everyone else who chose all this to stop caring. When Vince Coleman lobs a firecracker into a crowd of fans, he is sending a clear message. You have to choose to miss it. This is the work of it: dodging all these firecrackers, year after year, because the idea of doing anything else is less appealing.
And now there are baseball games happening that count in the standings. The Mets played on Thursday, and Jacob deGrom—the ace they developed and finally, grudgingly, shockingly paid—got the win. It is too soon to say anything more than that. Important players are hurt or still figuring things out, and other important players still haven’t even signed with teams, and still other important players are biding their time in the minor leagues because of a labor loophole that the owners found and have vigorously exploited. Yesterday was Opening Day, and blessed. Today and the day after that and the day after that are just days on which baseball games will be played, which is something they will have in common with nearly every day in April, May, June, July, August, September, and October. All those games will mean something by the time we get down to the end of it, but only some of them will feel meaningful. That meaning, too, will be assigned by choice. And that, under the specifics of family and time and choice and personal branding, was the thing that ran through every answer I got at the Queens Baseball Convention, and the reason why I started to feel silly even asking the question. The reason why Mets fans come back is the reason why every fan comes back in the face of the likelihood-unto-certainty of disappointment. It’s because they have always done it before, and because they’ve found something to love in it, and because at some point it’s just no longer in your hands any more. You just go back because you know the way.
Correction: The Queens Baseball Convention was in January, not February.