Bartolo, My Hero

Now that the reality of Monday morning has set in, I can take stock of the highlight of the weekend: New York Mets pitcher Bartolo Colón hit the first home run of his 19 year career.

USP MLB: ATLANTA BRAVES AT NEW YORK METS S BBN USA NY

Smile for the camera, Big Sexy. Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports 

There’s nothing I can say here that hasn’t already been said.

He’s an unlikely hero. Overweight, middle-aged. Ironically nicknamed “Big Sexy.” His batting stance lacks awareness of technique. He hunkers over the plate and swings so hard he typically loses his batting helmet.

He’s been a bit of a running punchline and early in the 2015 season he managed a better batting average than a few of the (then LOL)Mets’ position players—including a spectacularly lucky looking RBI double against the Marlins. It’s like he doesn’t expect it… nobody else does either. And just look at the child-like glee on his face as he runs.

bartolo-colon

Basically me.

Bartolo is all of us. He represents why we love baseball so much. He defies expectations. He’s the underdog at bat. He’s the kid who elicits groans from the other kids in PE because they know he’s going to strike out and lose the game for the team. But then he gets up and rips one to left field.

I’m not saying let’s put him in the 2016 Home Run Derby or anything, but I’m certainly willing to keep the celebration over this hit running until his next start. And he deserves it. First homer in a 19 year career. He’s proof that it’s never too late to accomplish a dream.

As someone essentially starting life over in my mid-30s (and who will be competing for jobs with people in their early to mid-20s), I’m a bit sensitive to this concept. And right now, Big Sexy is my #1 hero.

I’ve got a home run in me too. We all do. Bartolo is proof of that.

 

 

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The Dark Knight of Hope

Take Me Out to the Ballgame!

Take Me Out to the Ballgame!

Ah yes, baseball is back and all is right in the world.

All of the slates have been wiped clean. The bad memories from last season are forgotten (mostly) and those who were at the top are back on equal footing with the rest of the bunch.

Fans and analysts have spent the spring watching minor league prospects show their skills to the big guys in hopes of getting the call-up. Spring is also the stage for returns, whether it be a post-PED suspension redemption, or a chance to see how a recently rehabbed elbow fares against live batters. No player’s return has been more closely watched, and perhaps more hyped, than that of New York Mets right handed pitcher, Matt Harvey.

The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises

Dubbed “The Dark Knight of Gotham” by Sports Illustrated in 2013, Harvey was touted as the savior for the joke of a franchise. That is, until he tore a ligament in his elbow and was scheduled for the dreaded Tommy John surgery. He would be out for over a year. Just when Mets fans had gotten their hopes up for salvation, they would be doomed to go on without him.

Harvey stayed relevant in the media, as any true New York athlete (and playboy) should. Always impeccably dressed, he attended Rangers games with his model girlfriend to see his good friend Henrik Lundqvist tend the goal and he caused controversy at Yankee Stadium for being at Subway Series rival Derek Jeter’s final game. Whenever interviewed he would mention how healthy he was feeling, perhaps indicating he might return before 2015. What a tease.

And so the baseball world watched with bated breath as he pitched to live batters for the first time in the regular season. April 9th, 2015 became Harvey Day. He was back on the mound, facing the preseason favorites for the pennant (and World Series), the Washington Nationals.

His stats are now famous: he pitched 6 scoreless innings, allowing 4 hits and getting 9 strikeouts. The Mets won 6-3.

It’s easy to dismiss the Mets as a joke. Perhaps it’s because of their proximity to the Yankee dynasty. The Mets are like the doofy kid brother that lives in the shadow of their handsome prom king-class president-valedictorian-varsity letterman older brother.

But the fans. Mets fans are hopeful. Mets fans are naively optimistic. And it’s beautiful. It’s one of the best parts about sports fandom in general. Every year is a fresh start. Every year is full of possibility. Every year could be the year.

But this year feels a bit different. Mets fans are singing the same “this is our year” tune, but there’s a renewed sense of hope. It seems that Harvey has been the catalyst for this. The doofy brother just got a movie montage makeover. Morale is high. The team seems to be bolstered by his return and the fans are, well, fanatical.

Will he be the one to save the Mets? We’ll have to wait and see. But it sure does look like dawn on the horizon.

In Defense of My Fandom (Redux)

(This was originally published on throwlikealady.com in July 2014. I’ve updated it just a bit and added some new stuff.)

Since moving to New York, I have found myself having to do something I’ve never had to do: Defend what teams I root for.

Ain't it the truth...

Ain’t it the truth…

During the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, I rooted for the Rangers. My New York friends seemed dubious, but I suppose were pleased to have a new convert and extra drinking buddy at the bar for game watches. I did get asked why I was a Rangers fan “all of a sudden.” My California friends called me a traitor. My response to both sides, which was in all honesty, was that I have liked hockey since I was 12 but never felt tied to any teams. It was exciting to be in a city with a team in the playoffs and subsequently the finals, but it also felt good to have an NHL team I could actually root for. I then had to explain to my friends in California that I was never a Kings fan and I’m not going to root for them simply because I am from Southern California. Will I root for the Rangers next season? You bet your ass.

Also, since I moved to New York, I have been rocking a Mets hat. (I also have a Yankees hat, but I can’t bring myself to be a member of the Evil Empire). Back in May 2014 I went to CitiField with my LA friends when the Dodgers were in town. They were all wearing Dodger hats and shirts… I wore my Matt Harvey t-shirt. One of my friends asked with curiosity if I was really a Mets fan. Another friend said, accusingly, that I was an Angels fan. I said I was both. One team is in the AL and the other in the NL. Why can’t I root for both? And to make things more complicated, I spent a lot of time with someone during the 2014 season who happened to be a San Francisco Giants fan. We watched many games together. I had fun watching that team, but I had fun watching his enthusiasm. And it didn’t hurt that they ended up World Series Champions. Will I root for the Giants if I’m watching their game? Sure. Will I make an effort to watch those games? Probably not.

Let's Go Mets!

Let’s Go Mets!

I have never been a huge fan of professional sports. Not in the way that I am for college sports (Go Bruins!). As such, I tend to root for teams wherever I live. I love watching just about any sport and it’s a lot more interesting when you can root for a team. It seems that in order to be a fan of a certain team, you must have either loved that team since birth, or be from the same location as the team. I suppose it’s not surprising that my fandom comes under fire quite frequently.

So, how does one become a fan of a particular team? These are the top two reasons I’ve heard from people on how they choose their professional teams:

1) Geography: Many people say they have been Mets fans since birth because they are from New York. Well, I lived in four different states before the age of 10. If I base my fandom on where I’m from I would be rooting for the Colts, Pacers, Bears, White Sox, Bulls, Cubs, Blackhawks, Jazz, Lakers, Clippers, Kings, Angels, Dodgers, Ducks, Padres, Sharks, Giants, 49ers, Rams (once upon a time), Raiders, Warriors, and A’s. That makes no sense. Through all of that, the only team that stuck were the Angels… but only because I loved going to baseball games and the Angels were the team that was nearby for most of my life. Now that I’m living in New York, I find it easy to be a Mets fan (no thank you, Yankees) and a Rangers fan. As far as other sports… well, I typically take them game by game. When it comes to playoffs, I will shift my cheers accordingly – usually geographically. I really just like watching sports, and don’t mind not having the same team to root for year after year.

2) Family: Many people tell me that they grew up loving a particular team because that’s what their family did. I find this as a plausible reason because I love the idea of family and community coming together for sports. But I grew up watching more college sports in my house than anything else, so my professional allegiances have been somewhat disparate.

I have a friend from Southern California. He has lived just about his entire life within a 20 mile radius of where he was born (with the exception of a brief stint in Oregon). He is a Boston Celtics fan. His childhood friend happened to be from Boston and since his family wasn’t really into the NBA, he got all of his basketball knowledge from his friend. And thus, a Celtics fan was born. He is the exception to the geography and family rules all in one.

Fans are made in many different ways. Just because I don’t know every statistic or every past player doesn’t mean my cheering means any less. I’m a devoted person. When I like something, I like it all the way. I won’t stop liking a team because they are losing. I will sport team colors a little more frequently with some W’s on the board, but I will still stand by the team through the L’s.

Being born somewhere doesn’t make you a fan. Parental guidance doesn’t make you a fan. Knowing the names of every player ever doesn’t make you a fan. Knowing every stat ever doesn’t make you a fan. A genuine love of a sport and the willingness to stand by a team through wins and losses makes you a fan. So, go forth… love your sport and love your team. I know I will. And proudly, at that.

 Photo credits: someecards.com; the7line.com