One of my first words was “ball”.
Growing up in a household that featured an amazing mother who just so happened to play Division I softball (Go Hartford Hawks), I have been around the game since I could walk.
When my mom was working, I’d have the pleasure of spending time with my great-grandparents. My great-grandfather was a former semi-pro baseball player who used to brag about playing with the great Phil Rizzuto at the CCC camps in the 1930s.
I was in “training” since I could walk.
My great grandfather, as crafty and imaginative as he was would throw whiffle ball batting practice to me and work on my hand-eye coordination whenever he could. At the young age of 84, he was outside inventing games such as “Bounce the Ball On the Penny” out on the front walkway to work on my catching ability.
When it wasn’t live BP day in the backyard, I’d be tasked with hitting different colored whiffle balls hanging at different heights that would be swung at me to simulate a pitch. “What if it was raining?” you ask. Quite simply, the indoor clothesline featured the same thing.
My baseball journey kicked off from there.
Then came my Mets fandom. How did I become a Mets fan? Not the glorious “turning on the tv and seeing (insert favorite player) name here” story everyone has, it’s simple, I wanted to be different.
Both parents were proud Yankee fans, with my mom making sure I knew how talented (and extremely good-looking, her words not mine) Bucky Dent was and my dad praising Mickey Mantle until he was blue in the face. From there, I knew I had to be a Met fan.
Who was my first favorite player you ask? No not Edgardo Alfonzo or Todd Ziele. I loved Mike Piazza, but so did everyone else. Of course, it was Mo Vaughn.
When the Mets used to have the area outside of Shea Stadium, there was an attraction where you could take pictures in a makeshift dugout holding a bat of a player of your choice. Vaughn’s bat was so heavy when I tried to put it over my shoulder, I fell back onto the concrete parking lot, but boy was I fired up.
Without mom, I’m not sure baseball would be as big as it has become for me. When I was in little league, I was the “big kid”, the one who was taller than everyone and who threw as hard as Randy Johnson but with the control of Rick Ankiel.
I think Mom knew the potential I had as a pitcher, or she got tired of watching me tell umpires “I was getting in the groove” after walking three straight batters, nonetheless Mom took her Reggie Jackson model glove, measured out the distance of a mound in my backyard, and squatted, letting me get a little extra warm up on days I’d pitch.
She was (and still is) my biggest coach and critic on multiple levels. On the field, striking out looking was a sin. If I did get caught looking, I’d head back to my dugout with my head down, knowing what was coming. "REALLY”? A familiar voice who was silent most of the game. Or, post-2006, she’d mix a “BELTRAN” in there.
Off the field, she taught me was a team player was. Always talk about the team and the result, not about individual performance. This has stuck with me throughout my life, always be a team player and put others first.
The Mets, man. One of my closest friends in the entire world since diaper days is my partner in crime when it comes to the Metsies. From walking into Tutor Time with a Mets article tucked into his overalls back pocket, to ticket plans in the present day, it’s our thing. We’ve sat through that devastating Game 3 loss to San Diego last year, both Piazza and Hernandez Number Retirements, Old Timers Day, and so many more games than I can count at both Shea and Citi together.
Seven years ago, I met my girlfriend who is just as big of a baseball nut as me. But of course, a Yankee fan. She’s as supportive as a Yankee fan can be when it comes to my fandom. A college softball player herself, a Saturday and Sunday were spent driving to see her play. Coaching conversations abound, we spent days talking about her swing, the Mets and Yankees, and so much more.
She does don a Mets bucket hat bought outside of Citi Field when we go to games now, so whatever I am doing must be working.
Fast forward to the present day, the game doesn’t escape me. Obviously putting words on digital paper for the best Mets platform out there, to coaching a travel baseball team with a lifelong friend of mine, I am entrenched in the game at every level, and I wouldn’t change it.
I grew up around baseball diamonds, and I can’t escape it. Baseball has molded me into the person I am today, thanks in part to the people who used the game to shape the life I live now. That is what baseball means to me.
Never any paywalls. Once it hits the site, it’s yours. Of course, if you want to help keep the lights on, it’s greatly appreciated.
Become a paid subscriber below, or if you enjoyed the story, drop a buck or two in our Venmo account (@TheAppleNYM)
Well said Eric. Baseball does teach important life lessons like how to deal with failure, and how to deal with pressure. But most importantly it has taught me how to work as a team. Everyone has a role to play. I don’t recall where I read it once but baseball teaches us the importance of working hard. Putting in the time and effort to practice to make the game day easier. Building a strong work ethic on the field translates to a strong work ethic off the field. Keeping doing what you are doing. Loved the article.