Mr. Willet: Giving in to Hope

Hope Street

My mother always started the story the same way: “More often than not in baseball and in the real world, hope is not rewarded. However, in those moments when hope is rewarded, all the heartbreaks and shattered dreams become worth it. Hope can be difficult and hope can scar your soul when it doesn’t bear fruit. But when hope bears forth its fruit, there is nothing in the world that compares to it.”

At 3:58 p.m. EST on October 3, 1951 my mother was sitting with her father listening to Russ Hodges on WMCA when her perspective on baseball, and maybe even life, would be changed forever. At that moment, Hodges would shout out through the airwaves “THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!”

She loved to tell that story. The 1951 season was, by far, her favorite baseball season. She learned most of what she knew of hope that season. Even though the Yankees ultimately won the World Series, she had never been prouder of her Giants. On August 11 of that year, they trailed the Dodgers by 13-1/2 games. They rallied to force a three game playoff for the National League pennant, setting up Bobby Thompson’s home run. The newspapers had given up the Giants for dead in August, but my mother refused to give up hope. She believed in real life miracles and believed the Giants would prevail in the end.

She would carry with her the following newspaper quote from Red Smith about the game: “Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.”

Hope, she learned, can’t force a miracle to happen. Hope, as for many Dodger fans, including my father, could break your heart and scar you for life when the miracle doesn’t happen. However, when hope is rewarded, especially in a manner such as this, your life changes. Mom saw life differently after that summer. She would never lose hope, regardless the situation. Whether it was with the 1951 Giants or when my father nearly died in 1973. Hope gives you strength and gives you the power to see the light through the trees. My mother never gave up, regardless of the situation, and that gave strength and hope to everyone around her.

I learned about hope differently…I was a Mets fan in the 1960’s…hope didn’t come naturally…hope didn’t seem to have any place with some of those teams. They were easy to love, or at least I thought, but not really easy to spend hope on. Like many other fans, I was excited by how well the Mets played early on in 1969. However, when they were more than nine games back, I had no hope that they could win the new N.L. East. Even after they would win it by eight games and then sweep the Braves in the N.L.C.S., I didn’t believe they could win the World Series…not against the Baltimore Orioles. After the Mets lost the first game, mom told me the story of the 1951 Giants for the first time. Her message wouldn’t stick, and I found I couldn’t enjoy the next couple of games as much. After the Mets won it all, I never lost hope again.

I had hope even as the A’s shortstop settled under Garrett’s pop up in 1973. I had hope even as I watched Seaver get traded away. I had hope even as Carter came to bat in Game Six in 1986. I had hope even as Pendelton’s home run disappeared in 1987. I had hope even when we were down two games to play with three to go in 1999. I had hope even after Snow’s home run against Benitez in 2000. I had hope even as Piazza’s ball came down short of the wall in 2000. I had hope even as the Phillies dominated the Nationals to end 2007. It doesn’t matter that most ended in heartbreak because it is Game Six and the Grand Slam Single and the sweep of the Pirates and Piazza’s home runs against the Braves that stay with me, not the heartbreaks. And, I know that those moments would be less sweet if I had lost hope.

No team knows about comebacks as well as the Mets. The Miracle Mets. They have made their own comebacks (1969, 1999) and have been the victim as well (2007, 2008). These are lessons of hope and why I refuse to give up. Today, July 31, 2009, the Mets are 9-1/2 back of the Phillies in the N.L. East and 6-1/2 games back of the Giants in the Wild Card and I still hold on to hope that they will make the playoffs. With Wagner, Beltran and Reyes on their way back and maybe Delgado…I believe they will make the playoffs.

Reality can, again, strangle invention.

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