When I was a freshman in my 5,000 kid high school, mistakenly my schedule had me placed in a gym class that was comprised of sophomores. Doesn’t sound like a big deal but at the time, it really was. Anyway, it brought out my competitive side, to excel against physically more mature kids. We were doing volleyball very early in the class and as nobody knew me and my body style would best be described as “scrawny,” my fate had me among the last kids being picked.
The captain of the team had a definite draft style. He picked the roughest boys and the prettiest girls to form the team. The two exceptions to the first part were me and this kid Danny. Since we were the outcasts, we bonded. Anyway, we’re playing the games and I’m running all over the court, getting to every ball that I could because my teammates just didn’t care about winning.
What they cared about was having fun. I didn’t get it at first. My initial thinking was that the object was to do your best and win. But if there was a rule, our team’s goal was to break it. On a dead ball, you were supposed to roll the ball to the other team under the net. We didn’t do that – we threw it over the net and onto another court to disrupt other team’s games. You weren’t supposed to touch the net. We pulled down the net and tried to spike the ball in the face of a kid from another team. You were supposed to hit the ball with your fingertips. Our goal was to catch the ball in our hand and throw it over the net. That one was my specialty and the punks on my team loved it.
We were the bad guys. And once I figured it out, not only did I accept it – I loved it.
At the end of the class, the teacher would get the captains to report the scores of the games. We lost every game we played. The teacher, thinking this would be a motivating tactic, started to call our team the bagels – you know, hole in the middle, zero wins. But it didn’t motivate us – we wore it as a badge of honor.
In fact, when we saw one another in the hall, we would scream “Bagel!” at one another. My grades were good; my friends were the smart kids. Imagine their surprise when some sophomore punk came up to me and yelled “Bagel!” in my face, while I was doing the same thing to him. It makes me happy all these years later just thinking about it.
Generally, I disliked high school. If the option was available to go straight from middle school to college, that would have been ideal for me. But that gym class and that team – The Bagels! – is one of my fondest memories from that time.
Flash forward to about 10 years ago. Danny, my first friend from that gym class, joins Facebook. Haven’t heard from him since high school but can’t wait to reminisce about The Bagels. Only problem is he doesn’t remember me or the gym class.
His lack of recognition about a brief moment in my life knocked me harder than I would have thought possible. After a lot of deliberation, my mind settled on one thought – Does memory need outside confirmation to be meaningful? And ultimately, my conclusion was – no, it doesn’t. Yes, absolutely, it would have been nice if Danny remembered. But this is my story, and not his, and my story doesn’t need any validation from others. It’s a story about a quiet, Straight-A kid being not only accepted but embraced by the punks. If I was going to make something up, it would have been about getting one of those pretty girls to go out with me.
In sports, people make a big deal about having an athlete’s number retired. There have been countless stories about how the Mets haven’t retired enough numbers throughout their history. It’s an argument that doesn’t hold much weight with me. My memories of the Mets and their players don’t need outside justification from the Wilpon family making an official ceremony. The fact that Jerry Koosman’s “36” isn’t in a round circle on the outfield wall doesn’t make him any less important to me.
And now we have the news about Tom Seaver, one of my early heroes. His number is already retired, so the call went out on MetsBlog about having a statue built of him in front of Citi Field. And now that looks like it’s going to happen. It seems like the right thing to do and a lot of people are happy about it. And that’s good.
But my opinion is that the best way to honor Seaver – or anyone for that matter – is to talk about them. And much like I detest the idea that the only way to get fans to clap at the ballpark is to put the word “cheer” on the scoreboard, I dislike that the only way to get fans to talk about a Koosman or a Seaver is to have their number on a wall or a statue outside the ballpark. Don’t get me wrong – those things are nice. But those of us who lived through their careers shouldn’t need them.
Let’s carry this one step further. When people die, there’s no shortage of survivors telling you how much of an impact that person had on their life. This is always the case but it became really clear – in a not-good way for me – with the passing of the chef Anthony Bourdain. My Facebook feed was filled with loving tributes to him. He never had a big impact on me when he was alive. Had seen his show, and enjoyed it, but not enough to make it must-see TV or anything like that.
But when reading all of these tributes, my main takeaway was: Why didn’t you express this when he was alive and active? Why do we have to wait for someone dying to pay them the proper tribute? If enough of my friends had expressed their admiration for Bourdain earlier, perhaps that would have made me given him a closer look. Maybe he could have impacted me to the degree he did others. And that would have been a good thing for everyone.
Seaver didn’t die but official news of his dementia made people (seemingly) come out of the woodwork to honor what he meant to them. Loved seeing all of the Seaver pictures on my feed but for Pete’s sake – why did you have to wait until terrible news came out to share your appreciation and admiration for the guy?
Don’t wait for bad news to honor those people and things that are important to you. Celebrate Jacob deGrom – today. Appreciate Edgardo Alfonzo now. Salute Cleon Jones immediately. Talk about them and why they’re important and let others know – preferably while they’re still active and certainly while they’re still alive.
So, let me tell you a few words about how much I dig Neil Young…