Taking the correct Angell to the NY Mets and sportswriting

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 16: Writer Roger Angell attends The 2009 New Yorker Festival: THE MOTH "Tales Out of School" at City Winery on October 16, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for The New Yorker)
NEW YORK - OCTOBER 16: Writer Roger Angell attends The 2009 New Yorker Festival: THE MOTH "Tales Out of School" at City Winery on October 16, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for The New Yorker) /

How sportswriter Roger Angell inspired me to write about the New York Mets.

The accumulation of the years has made the exact details of how I discovered Roger Angell become more than just a little fuzzy. It’s uncertain whether one of his books was given to me as a gift sometime around 1987 or a bit thereafter, or if I saw one of those tomes in a local bookstore and made an impulse purchase. I believe the book was “Once More Around the Park.” Whatever the case, it was something that deeply affected me and shaped how I wanted to write about my favorite game. It also made me appreciate what was written about the New York Mets since this was around the time that my fandom had truly been cemented.

I know that it was later on in the eighties because one of the pieces that really captured my attention was his poignant take on the ‘86 World Series, the one that my Mets (well… OUR Mets) had won to energize an entire city: “Not So, Boston.” The piece is amazing… and yet his writing was so accessible as opposed to someone like John Updike, who always did love his purple prose even when writing about baseball.

Thus began my real journey of what it would be like to seriously write about this game and the Mets and Angell was my first North Star.

Taking Notes From a Master

I do remember immediately being enthralled with how he turned phrases. It was around ‘86 or ‘87 that I really began paying attention to the printed words in the newspaper – especially sports. During that time. George Vecsey of the New York Times was one of the people that held my interest… but Angell was just on another level to me. I mostly paid attention to what was written about those in blue and orange, not those crosstown guys in the Bronx. This was no easy task due to George Steinbrenner doing everything he could to stay on the back page of the papers each and every day during that time.

Did I try to emulate Angell? Of course. I’m sure that many other sportswriters did too. The results always made me feel like I was a caveman painting in the dark with the wrong hand as opposed to his lyrical mastery. It’s almost certain that Angell spent a lot of time writing and re-writing things before he was satisfied, but he made those end results look so effortless and smooth. He still does, even at the age of 100 (!).

Putting You There

The thing with Angell is that his baseball writing is perfect to go through no matter the time of the year. A New Year with Spring Training just around the corner? Perfect. The beginning of a season? All the better. A scorching hot beach day? Sit where the water slowly laps your feet as you turn the pages. You get the idea. He can make you visualize what being at the park is like no matter what the temperature is outside. He made me feel like I was at Shea watching the Mets all 365 days.

When I read his work, I could almost feel the hardness of the stadium seat under my butt. The smell of hot dogs and other ballpark food. That made me want to think about writing about the game for a living.

Top of the Class

Of course, there were other influences. Vecsey, like I mentioned before. In the early 1990s, I got hooked on Frank DeFord, thanks to the short-lived The National, and Thomas Boswell was another baseball writer that I really liked. Mitch Albom was a force of nature in those days. I was also fortunate to be mentored by the late Jack Falla, who wrote extensively on hockey for Sports Illustrated, among others. But it was really Angell who was the one who first lit the flame.

That’s not to say that I have not seen any contemporary sportswriters either. Bill Simmons was also an influence – that is, the Simmons who would write 10,000-words introductions, not Podcast Bill. David Roth is another one that I like, although I do find myself looking for a dictionary every now and then to see what a particular word means.

When I sit here and type away to you all about the Mets, to try to neatly tie this piece to this site, there is always something going on in the back of my mind about what he may say about a particular thing. Maybe there is another elegant way to describe how we’re lucky to be in the Jacob deGrom era, for example. I’m sure he could spin an incredible picture about what it’s like to see the righty compile an otherworldly run on the pitcher’s mound. Ultimately, though, as much as I admire his work, I have found my own voice.

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Like Angell, I’d love to be able to keep writing at the age of 100 myself. I feel much better about my chances there with a Cohen-owned Mets team – who knows what would have happened had the Wilpons kept their hands on them. Then the possibilities of writing a baseball book that someone discovers years from now would be even more drastically reduced. One day, I’d love to take people on a literary trip once more around a ballpark.