This week marks the tail end of baseball Spring Training in Florida and Arizona. When we lived in Florida during my time at CrossGen, spring training was an annual ritual. The Yankees are based in Tampa, their complex not far from a couple of the more notorious strip joints in town. The Blue Jays are in Dunedin, a sleepy town on the coast. The Phillies are in Clearwater, which is a stone's throw from Oldsmar, where the CrossGen studio was located. (Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay has a home in Oldsmar, which was apparently one of the reasons he okay the trade from the Phillies to the Blue Jays.) The Reds, Pirates, Tigers and of course Rays were all within easy driving distance.
The stadiums are small, cozy affairs. Most of the games are in the afternoon, so the crowds tend to have a high percentage of retirees and snowbirds. One year Steve McNiven and I played hooky from the studio for the afternoon and went to a Blue Jays game. We sat in the stands and sipped beers, feeling the breeze coming off the ocean, and counted ourselves lucky bastards.
This time of year, hope springs eternal in baseball. Every team is tied for first place. Every fan hopes this year will be better than last year. Everybody believes...or at least pretends to believe...that things are going to improve.
Unless you are, like me, a Mets fan. We Mets fans know we have no chance this year. Probably no chance next year, either. Maybe by 2014 there will be a little hope. But even knowing that, knowing the dark cloud the Mets have labored under since Carlos Beltran took a called third strike to end the 2006 National League Championship series, we remain faithful.
Being a Mets fan means enduring a litany of embarrassments over the last half decade: two straight collapses in 2007 and 2008; serial mismanagement of player injuries; spending too much money on the wrong free agents; not spending enough money and letting a homegrown All-Star in Jose Reyes walk away to the division rival Miami Marlins (without even a formal offer to retain his services); becoming embroiled in the Bernie Madoff scandal and cutting the 2012 payroll by a record $52 million.
Jose Reyes is my 8-year-old son's favorite baseball player. He responded to the joy and style with which Reyes plays the game, the way the flies around the bases. The day that I had to tell him that Reyes was not going to be a Met anymore, and instead play for another team...well, that wasn't a good day for either of us. My daughter actually burst into tears at the news, and she's not even much of a baseball fan. My son now tells me he's a not a Mets fans anymore, "...because they're going to stink without Jose Reyes." The wisdom of an 8-year-old. He's probably right. The Mets will stink. And part of me knows he'll be happier rooting for the Yankees or Red Sox.
But it's too late for me. Even with all that, even with the long list of Mets disasters and debacles and disappointments, I know I'll be back. I paid attention to spring training, watched some games TV, listened on the radio. I am, as they say, an easy mark. There's blind loyalty, a devotion, that makes no real sense. Even the players come and go. As Jerry Seinfeld famously said, we're rooting for laundry.
And yet there's a comfort to it, a history of shared experiences. And yes, the warm glow of nostalgia. Even though we feel abused and ignored, taken for granted, we remain faithful. We keep coming back for more, always hoping that it'll get better.
Any of this starting to sound familiar?
All of which is my way of saying...I get it. Those of us on this side of the table can get frustrated with an audience that keeps buying the same superhero titles, month in, month out, year after year, regardless of creative team or quality. But I understand. If you like Batman, or maybe Daredevil, you keep buying Batman or Daredevil, whether you're enjoying it or not. In some cases, whether you're even reading it or not.
It's the same kind of dedication that I have for my woeful baseball team, or New York Jets fans have for their dysfunction franchise. Thankfully, I was wise enough to be a New York Giants football fan. The hardcore fans stick with their heroes through whatever slights they perceive: Peter Parker no longer married to Mary Jane (he shouldn't be married); Bruce Wayne out of the batsuit (come on, you knew it was temporary); or some young upstart replacing your favorite Green Lantern (uh...no comment).
True, some storm off with angry histrionics...only to return in a month, or a year. Certainly, some go cold turkey, and walk away for good. But I believe that many of us -- those who are more than casual fans -- don't. We don't have it in us to walk away from the teams we've followed since childhood, or a favorite hero whose adventures we've followed since we could read.
Really, it makes no sense, this dedication to something we have no control over. I have no more ability to urge the Mets' front office to sign David Wright to a long-term contract, than you do to tell DC what to do with Batman or Superman or Green Lantern. The only "vote" we get is with our dollars; deciding whether or not to show up at the ballpark, or plunk down money for every issue.
In the cold light of reason, this kind of devotion seems foolish. In some ways, even sad. As we're doing it, we know we shouldn't. Why continue down a path that's already broken your heart so many times? But if you look at the other side of that coin, you have to admit there's something charming about the wellspring of optimism. It makes the instances when your devotion pays off -- say, the Mets winning the '86 World Series, or a particularly grand run on your favorite character -- that much sweeter.
So even though the creator part of me wishes you'd support a creator-owned book ("Shinku" comes to mind) rather than some corporate-owned superhero, the fan part of me gets it. We are what we are. Hope springs eternal.
And Let's Go, Mets!
Ron Marz has been writing comics for two decades, and thinks it's pretty much the best job ever. His current work includes "Artifacts" and "Magdalena" for Top Cow, and his creator-owned title, "Shinku," for Image. Follow him on Twitter (@ronmarz) and his website, www.ronmarz.com.