For My 12-Year-Old Son With Autism, the Mets Are Amazing

From a New York Times essay by Kathleen A. O’Brien headlined “For My 12-Year-Old With Autism, the Mets Are Already Amazing”:

Much as I know I will never love an investment banker, I know I will never love the Yankees. But I let myself love a baseball team this summer, and it has gotten serious. The New York Mets have clinched a spot in the postseason.

For years, I mostly ignored the team, and sports in general. Sports can seem fairly silly, if you have a lot going on in your life. But I have a 12-year-old son, so when I could find cheaper tickets this summer, I decided that we should go. “We could use some fun,” I thought.

I am thinking far beyond 2022, too. My son has autism, the kind that will mean he will most likely never live independently. He doesn’t have a sport he regularly watches, and I want to remedy that. He didn’t seem to connect to the fast pace of basketball or soccer. I think he could have gone for football, but I couldn’t. Baseball is what it will have to be.

I began to have a good feeling about these Mets, even before I studied their widely admired manager, Buck Showalter. One thing I’ve noticed is that he is protective of his players. The Mets have been hit by pitches more than any other team and it makes him angry. Often the players responded to it in the proper style: batting the ball around and securing a win for the good guys.

Showalter also speaks kindly about his team. “It’s given me peace just knowing that these guys get it,” he said at one point this season. And: “We have a lot of guys with a pure heart. They want to win. They want to do the right thing.”

After attending two games this season, I fell for them hard. My brother worried about how much money I was spending on tickets. My partner was just surprised. I had never mentioned that I was a Mets fan in my online dating profile, nor had it come up in the four years we’d been together. “What is it? You like watching the players in their uniforms?” he asked in mock suspicion. Sure. But I had followed the team before — the two men I loved before him were Mets fans. And I was raised watching the Orioles in Maryland with my dad, so I knew the charms and heartbreak of baseball.

Baseball is a field of dreams, but it is also the real world, so there are aspects of the game that make me uneasy. Like the N.F.L., major league baseball has embraced online gambling, with promotions during games that leave a bad taste in my mouth. And the Mets’ recent success is made possible by the largess of its owner, Steve Cohen, a hedge-fund manager who has helped fund one of the highest payrolls in baseball. It’s hard to say that the Mets are underdogs now.

For a game in June, I invited friends to join us. In a rare feat of advance planning, I bought a birthday message for my son, to appear on the Jumbotron. “Happy 12th birthday,” it read, with his name. “We love you! Let’s Go Mets!”

It flashed for only a few seconds, but it was long enough for me to point it out to him, and for friends to get some pictures. A picture of the sign, blown up to poster size, now hangs by his bed, preserved for him to read over and over.

He happily joins me as a spectator at the stadium, eating ice cream out of a helmet and munching on popcorn, clapping to the songs that prompt the crowd to get excited. Like many people with autism, he is sensitive to sounds, so he wears noise-canceling headphones to mitigate the sensory crush. His favorite part seems to be when the words “Mets Win!” flash on every possible sign in the stadium, and the “New York Groove” song plays. Watching him at these moments makes me feel like all is right with the world.

He also enjoys snacking on the couch with me while we watch games on TV. The Mets players we are watching together are now familiar. “Mark Canha. Pete Alonso,” I hear him say happily to himself at random moments. “Brandon Nimmo.” Mr. and Mrs. Met are hilarious. Sounding the horn for pitcher Edwin Diaz is a delight.

I am working on his next steps, in a loose curriculum of sorts — prompting him to pay attention to the strike zone and what the announcers say about each play. It is slow-going but pleasant.

“What will you do with him when you are gone?” my brother asked me a few years ago about my son. I froze. I had no answer. I’ve read enough about abuse of those with developmental disabilitiesto worry that there will be no good answers. I fear my own death, hopefully very far off, and what it will mean for him. I know I need to start finding, or creating, some possibilities that I can live with.

The Mets are one tiny part of the answer. I am betting, perhaps badly, that baseball will outlast me. My son will need some way to pass the time when I am gone. And baseball is nothing if not a pastime.

For the next month, though, I will try not to think too far into the future. I will relish the frenzy of the postseason run and be glad to be a part of it, from the stands, the couch, and I guess now my keyboard. And I will be grateful that this year, when we decided to take a chance on baseball, these Mets made us glad we did.

Kathleen O’Brien is a staff editor for the Times Opinion section.

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