New York Times columnist David Brooks published an Op-Ed today that is actually worth reading: "Hey Mets! I just can't quit you."
Seven years ago, Brooks disavowed the Blue and Orange and decided to become a Nationals fan. As a relocated New Yorker, Brooks decided to take up with his new hometown's new team which -- presumably unlike Brooks' predicament -- has been stolen from precious Montreal fans by MLB & Bud Selig and dropped inside the Beltway. The Nats instantly became Washington's 4thmost popular professional sports team after the Redskins, Wizards and Georgetown Hoyas.
Of course, the Mets haven't been much to cheer about during Brooks' exile, but now the scribe has had a change of mind. Or more accurately, a return to his "internal neural structures" of yore. Read on for details.
Of course, in the old days, Mets fans would not be inclined to welcome Brooks back. But the fact is: we need the money. So welcome home David! And please buy some souvenirs. Or a stake in the team.
Now if only Kingman's prodigal brother would see the light and convert back to his Mets faith.
Here's the column:
In 2005, I wrote a column saying that maybe it was time to abandon the New York Mets
and become a fan of the Washington Nationals. My reasoning was sound.
We were raising our kids in Washington. We had Nats season tickets. We
were acquiring Nats paraphernalia. It would be so easy to join the fold.
Since then, the reasons to leave the Mets and follow the Nats have
become even more compelling. The Mets have suffered a pair of
bone-crushing late-season collapses that have changed the personality of
the franchise. The team is mired in financial turmoil. It is expected
to be mediocre for the next several seasons, at best.
The Nats, meanwhile, have a set of astoundingly talented young players
and should be thrilling to watch for the next decade.
Yet the project to switch to the Nats has been a complete failure.
Apparently, when writing that column seven years ago, I was suffering
from the Rick Blaine Illusion (named for the character in "Casablanca"):
the illusion that we are autonomous individuals who have the ability to
shed and form our attachments at will.
We don't. I've since come to accept that my connection to the Mets
exists in a realm that precedes individual choice. It is largely
impervious to calculations about costs and benefit. It is inescapable.
Since I am me, I've read a bunch of social science papers on the nature
of sports fandom, trying to understand this attachment. They were arid
and completely unhelpful. They tried to connect fandom to abstractions
about identity formation, self-esteem affiliation and collective
It's probably more accurate to say that team loyalty of this sort begins
with youthful enchantment. You got thrown together by circumstance with
a magical team -- maybe one that happened to be doing well when you were
a kid or one that featured the sort of heroes children are wise to
revere. You lunged upon the team with the unreserved love that children
are capable of.
The team became crystallized in your mind, coated with shimmering
emotional crystals that give it a sparkling beauty and vividness. And
forever after you feel its attraction. Whether it's off the menu or in
the sports world, you can choose what you'll purchase but you don't get
to choose what you like.
The neuroscientists might say that, in 1969, I formed certain internal
neural structures associated with the Mets, which are forever after
pleasant to reactivate. We have a bias toward things that are familiar
and especially to those things that were familiar when life was new: the
old house, the old hometown, the people, smells and sounds we knew when
we were young.
I'd say my attachment to the Mets is more like an old friendship. It's
not as intense as it used to be. I watch about 40 games a year, mostly
on TV, and read blogs like Amazin' Avenue and Metsblog.com.
I'd like the team to thrive and win championships. But I really just
want them to continue to be one of the allegiances that enrich life. I
want them to continue to provide vivid moments.
A Mets at bat is more vivid to me than an at bat not involving the Mets.
A Mets prospect is more consequential than any other prospect. Hustling
players like Daniel Murphy, charming players like Ike Davis, and funny
players like R.A. Dickey are more endearing because they happen to be
Mets. I was in the media center of the Mets spring training facility in
Florida this week when Ron Darling, the excellent pitcher from the great
teams of the 1980s, sat down at the table next to me and started
reading The Times. That was a vivid moment, evoking all sorts of
memories, though I didn't try to talk with him.
There's a core American debate between "On the Road" and "It's a
Wonderful Life." "On the Road" suggests that happiness is to be found
through freedom, wandering and autonomy. "It's a Wonderful Life"
suggests that happiness is found in the lifelong attachments that
precede choice. It suggests that restraints can actually be blessings
because they lead to connections that are deeper than temporary
The happiness research suggests that "It's a Wonderful Life" is correct
and "On the Road" is an illusion. So I'll die a Mets fan, exaggerating
their potential, excusing their deficiencies. This week, in Florida, I
even detected new virtues in the team. In the early days, the Mets were
lovable losers, then miraculous winners, then, in the 2000s,
big-spending disappointments. Now they are young and frisky,
enthusiastic and charming. I'll enjoy following this team and
exaggerating its promise. I have no choice but to love the Mets. Just as
I have no choice but to hate the Phillies.