As I type this, every once in a while I catch a glimpse of something orange hovering over my keyboard. It’s the plastic bracelet with the New York Mets’ logo on it, together with their slogan, “Ya gotta believe!” I’ve been wearing it around my wrist for two weeks now.
I’ve been trying to become a fan for years. A fan of … anything, really, but mostly a team of some non-hockey sports team. My method has aways been the same: I first make up my mind about the sport, then go about deciding which team to choose – then buy that team’s fan merchandise.
In 1994 – like I said, I’ve been looking for a long time – the choice was fairly simple. Finnish Jari Litmanen was the hottest soccer player in Europe, and he played in Amsterdam, so I bought an Ajax shirt, and wore it proudly around Helsinki that summer when my friend Leppä and I kicked a ball around the local fields.
By September, when a new season kicked off, I had forgot that I was an Ajax fan. (I still have the shirt).
Sometime around 2002, Leppä and I were at a Helsinki HJK soccer game, and we talked about finding a good team to become a fan of. We couldn’t come up with any one good team, but we agreed that it shouldn’t be any of the big and popular teams.
“It should be like, say, Aston Villa or something,” he said.
“Yes. And then we need to buy, like, their obscure away jerseys,” I said.
“Absolutely! And with some old player’s name on the back. Somebody who doesn’t play there anymore, just to show that we’ve been fans for a while,” Leppä added.
I nodded. He was right.
Last year, Leppä and I decided to make a pilgrimage to England, to see some English soccer. I suppose we could have gone to Birmingham to see Aston Villa, but since there are several Premiership teams in London, and since Leppä had never seen the Big Ben, we chose the nation’s capital.
Naturally, we couldn’t go to an Arsenal game, because we couldn’t afford the tickets. Also, everybody’s an Arsenal fan. So we chose the team with the cheapest tickets, and the most charming stadium: Fulham at Craven Cottage.
And I’ve been wearing that white Fulham cap ever since.
This summer, I wore that hat to a Finnish pesäpallo game. It was my first in 25 years, and second in my lifetime. with Dad, Daughter, and Son – and decided to become a pesäpallo fan. That’s definitely non-hockey, very obscure, and also, so Finnish.
I bought a Joensuun Maila (Joma) hat for Daughter, and we went out and bought pesäpallo gloves so we could play catch when we got home. I checked Joma’s scores on the league’s website, and sent Dad text messages about Joma’s recent success.
Naturally, then, when we went on on a vacation in New York, I wore my Fulham hat, while Daughter wore her Joma hat.
We all had our lists of things we wanted to see and do, but mine was fairly short, with only two must-dos on it. One: jog in Central Park. (Check). And two: go to a baseball game. My friend who was going to join us was a Mets fan, so we decided to go to CitiField to see the Mets.
Having almost gone to a game, I considered myself officially a Mets fan, so I started to leave comments like “Lets go Mets!” on my friends’ Facebook pages. Another friend sent me a book of the Mets first season in 1962, which I read before we went to the game. When I told my New York friends I was going to a Mets game, and they asked me who’d be pitching, I had no clue, but I did know the Mets had been really bad 50 years ago.
After the game, I bought the bracelet set – to Daughter, but she gave me one of them – and then a card set – again, to Daughter, who is my partner-in-fandom – and then a hat, and then a T-shirt to Daughter, and finally, two Mets T-shirts for myself.
“How much are the T-shirts?” I asked the chubby man standing behind his table at the street fair at Lexington and 46th street.
“You buy that David Wright shirt for ten bucks, I’ll give you the Santana shirt for free. He’s never gonna play for the Mets again,” he said.
I knew David Wright was a star, I had no idea who Johan Santana was – until I checked Daughter’s card set – but two shirts for ten bucks sounded like a good deal, so I took it. Also, if Santana really will never play for the Mets again, my T-shirt will fulfill one of Leppä’s crucial demands. It will make me look like a longtime fan.
Yesterday, back in Stockholm, we went for a bike ride around the neighborhood, me in my new David Wright T-shirt. As we rode down a street, we met a guy dressed in a black shirt riding the opposite direction. He was talking on his phone, but I saw that he was smiling at me.
As we got closer, I saw his shirt a little better. It said “Mets” on it.
I smiled back, and quickly – so quickly that Daughter told me afterwards I had done it wrong – yelled, “Let’s go Mets!”
Because true fans stick together. Ya gotta believe.