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March 29, 2005
Whose Team Am I On?
By DAVID BROOKS
If you had chanced upon the front door of Grace Church School on lower Broadway on a sunny morning in the fall of 1969, you might have come upon a radiant boy clutching a brown paper bag that contained a piece of sacred turf harvested from Shea Stadium, where the New York Mets had recently won the world championship of baseball.
That boy grew up, slightly, and in the early spring of 1986, he vowed that he would ask his girlfriend to marry him the day the Mets won their 30th game of the season. The Mets got off to an unnervingly fast start that year, and the young man decided to postpone his proposal until the 40th win. But he followed through with it, and the marriage has even endured what his wife calls his Metsomnia - his tendency to toss and turn sleeplessly after his favorite baseball team has suffered a painful defeat.
And yet we are the playthings of fate and lead lives filled with strange twists, and I (for it is time to throw off the artfully constructed mask) now find myself contemplating the uncontemplatable: that I will switch my allegiance from the beloved Mets to the new team of my adopted town. I will become a fan of the Washington Nationals.
Already I feel the tug, the love that dare not speak its name. I own several Nationals caps. Some friends and I have bought season tickets.
In the midst of this spiritual crisis I have begun to ask the fundamental question. What is the nature of the loyalty that binds us to our teams? Can a team be tossed aside even though it has given you (especially during the 1970's) some of the worst years of its life?
Certainly our loyalty to a team has little to do with the players who happen to be on it at any given moment. If the Yankees and the Red Sox swapped all their players, their fans would blink for a few seconds, but then go on cheering for their same old team just as passionately.
No, upon reflection, the love of a team comes in three flavors. For some people, the love of a team is like the love of one's nation. The team is the embodiment of the place we are from, our community and volk.
If my love for the Mets is of this sort, then it is proper that I transfer my affections to the Nats. For I have immigrated to Washington, and we immigrants are obliged to set nostalgia aside and assimilate to our new civilization. As Marshall Wittman writes on his Bull Moose blog, "No dual loyalty for the national pastime."
For other people, the love of a team is primarily a psychological connection. It is a bond forged during a lifelong string of shared emotions - the way I felt when Tommie Agee made that diving catch in 1969, the way I have suffered through the disappointment of Mo Vaughn.
If my love of the Mets is of this sort, then it would be wrong to abandon the team, for to abandon the Mets would be to abandon myself. It would be to abandon a string of formative experiences, a core of my identity. It would send me off on a life of phoniness and self-alienation.
Finally, a love for a team can be a philosophical love, a love for the Platonic ideal the team embodies. For teams not only play; they come to represent creeds, a way of living in the world. The Red Sox ideal is: nobility through suffering. The Cubs ideal is: It is better to be loved than feared. The Yankee ideal is: All cower before the greatness that is Rome.
The Mets ideal is: God smiles upon his darlings. The history of the Mets teaches that miracles happen and the universe is a happy place. If this is the nature of my love, then I can only love the team so long as it still embodies this ideal.
My own love is mostly of this third type, and I have endured this spiritual crisis because the Mets, with all their big-money signings, have come to seem less like darlings. Perhaps the young players José Reyes and David Wright will rekindle the flame, but I go into the season adrift and uncertain, tempted by my lowdown cheating heart, caught between a lifetime love and an enticing new fling.
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company