My first love was the 1964 New York Mets.
If you don't count a little girl down the street whose name or face I can't remember.
Oh, yes, there was my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Lawson. Sorry, teach, I forgot you for an instant. Don't punish me again.
Other than growing up in western New York, I had no reason to favor them over the New York Yankees. Especially when Yankee pinstripes never went out of fashion in my neighborhood.
The Yankees featured Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford, Tony Kubek, Bobby Richardson and the ill-fated Tom Tresh.
The 1964 Mets?
Well, you see, their roster boasted the likes of Rod Kanehl, Amado Samuel, Jay Hook, Galen Cisco, Tim Harkness, Hawk Taylor, Joe Christopher...and I should stop there.
A friend of mine, in a precocious manner for an eight-year-old, asked me, "How can you like the Mets? They don't even have anybody who used to be good."
I didn't have a ready answer.
The Mets were undeniably bad. A .246 team batting average. A team ERA of 4.25. A win-loss record of 53-109.
Starters Jack Fischer, Al Jackson, Galen Cisco and Tracy Stallard each lost 16 games or more. Former wunderkind Ed Kranepool batted .257, accompanied by a meager 10 home runs and 45 RBI. Ron Hunt did finish among the leaders in being hit by pitches.
There's a metaphor somewhere if I'm not mistaken.
Perhaps it was because they were so inept that I felt an affinity toward them. At that stage in my life I felt like a loser, too.
I was the first kid in my grade school to wear eyeglasses. It earned me the nickname "Fatty Four-Eyes" in kindergarten.
I sported a rotten crewcut, too.
And a flashy blue, polka-dot flannel shirt that blinds me when I thumb through the pages of a photo album.
Who says opposites attract?
The Mets and I took similar paths for the next five years.
I discovered that I wasn't the only kid in my small town who wore glasses. I was allowed to let my hair grow out. I ditched the polka-dot shirt. As I entered my teens, I didn't think life was too bad.
The Mets matured, too.
They shed their loser label by building up their farm system, working talented youngsters slowly into the lineup, and shedding veterans who couldn't hack it any longer. They did it quietly. Few people took notice.
Then, in 1969, they surprised the baseball world by winning the World Series.
I should have felt on top of the world. Instead, I felt miserable.
Basketball had replaced baseball as my foremost passion. I was now courting Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, and Bill Bradley.
Perhaps I had outgrown the Mets. Perhaps I was no longer attracted to the aesthetics of baseball. More likely, I was tired of the Mets' ineptitude.
One thing's for certain: I couldn't very well wake up the neighborhood, shouting "Mets Win!" or "We're No. 1!" when I really didn't feel the passion.
After all, I ask you: How long can you support a baseball team that ignores your pleas for just one winning season?
The answer is "forever."
So, to all you 50-somethings who have remained true to your childhood sweetheart, whether it be the Cubs, the Pirates or the Twins, I envy you.
To all you youngsters who live and die with the Indians, the Nationals or the Mariners, hold on tight. Once you stop believing, you once you lose that loving feeling, there's no getting it back.
And the morning after your team wins the World Series is a real stinker.