(Editor’s note : usually when I’m approached by someone wishing for me to publish an interview with a hand-picked questioner it’s the Brett Yormarks, the David Howards, the Randy L’s of the world that I have to tell to get lost. This time, however, I was thrilled to receive such a solicitation from humorist/musician/actor/sportsman Jeff Jensen, best known to many CSTB readers as one half of the Earles & Jensen comedy duo. Also — he didn’t ask to be paid! Enjoy – GC)
I’m both a Royal and a Mets fan. A lot of people have been asking which team I’ll be supporting in this upcoming World Series. And I’ve had a lot of conflicting thoughts and emotions. So, yesterday, in beautiful Port Antonio, Jamaica my good friend Nicholas Walsh asked me a few questions about where my allegiances lie and then the conversation veered elsewhere.
Nick- We’re entering the 2015 World Series and the Mets are playing the Royals. You’re a Mets fan but from Kansas City, so, whom are you rooting for?
Jeff- Well this predicament is very hard for me. I feel cursed. I’ll be rooting for both teams but I’m actually rooting more for the Mets. I will be happy regardless of the outcome. Much happier than say if neither team had made it to the World Series.
Nick- So, how do you explain being a Mets fan despite being from Kansas City?
Jeffrey- I grew up as a Royals fan, as did practically everyone from Kansas City. But my interest in baseball essentially died in the late 80s. Which I should add, coincidentally, occurred just after both the Royals (1985) and Mets (1986) won their most recent World Series’. After 1986, when I was 14, my obsession with baseball stopped because I became more interested in music, art, drugs, girls, beatnik literature, foreign films etc.… I was a voracious baseball card collector up until about 1984, and a baseball stats nerd. So I knew the game better and more deeply as a 12 year old in 1984 than I do now. So, I was very aware of, and did really like the Mets back in the 80s when they were great. You’d have to be a total dick not to love Daryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden. I remember watching the ’86 series, and I was stoked when they beat the Red Sox. That was one of the last World Series’ I paid close attention to in my youth.
N- When did you officially become a Mets fan?
J- Like I said, I always liked the Mets but “officially” in approximately 2004, I had been, at that point living in New York for 12 years and naturally gravitated towards the Mets. But I “officially” got into the Mets because I felt myself missing baseball. Also, I took a bicycle ride from Williamsburg, Brooklyn with my then girlfriend out to Shea Stadium, which was my first visit to Shea. We didn’t know how to get there exactly, we had no map. So, we were just kind of winging it. We finally found the stadium and locked the bikes to the only bike rack out there. We we’re probably the only people that rode our bikes to the game that night.
N- What were your first impressions of seeing the Mets at home?
J- At first, I didn’t like Shea. I thought it was ugly and unwelcoming. It was hard to get to, especially on bikes because of all the expressways and parkways surrounding it, the Robert Moses stuff. Having lived in NYC for 12 years, even though I wasn’t into baseball, I had been to Yankees stadium several times because Yankee Stadium is so historic, and found the vibe to be better. Particularly the fact that Yankee Stadium, at least at that time, was still connected to the street culture that surrounded the Stadium. Shea really had none of that, which surprised and disappointed me.
N- So, why not become a Yankees fan?
J- Because the Yankees historically were the rivals of the Royals during the late 70s, when I first became a baseball fan. In fact, the Yankees faced the Royals in the playoffs four of five years and won three of those four series’, often in crushing fashion. Those were my very first baseball fan memories/experiences. You don’t forget that stuff. Furthermore, the Yankees always represented something horrible, distasteful and evil to me.
N- Much in the way the Red Sox fans despise the Yankees?
J- Actually more so. Because Red Sox fans usually point to the Yankees payroll as an unfair advantage. But the Red Sox payroll, relative to the Royals’ is actually much higher. So, to many Royals fans, like myself the hatred of the Yankees is possibly deeper on that “unfair financial advantage” level. I remember after one of the crushing playoff losses George Brett said something like, “the New York Yankees have the best team money can buy and the Kansas City Royals have the best team money can’t buy.” Which implied the Royals players would remain on the team, and play for less money. Was it true? I’m not sure but it definitely made an impact on me as a kid. I must admit though, those Yankee teams from the late 70’s were chocked full of really incredible players with unforgettable personalities. And I was fascinated with all the shots of the crowd in New York. I can remember wanting to move to NYC even as a little kid.
Nick- Is part of the reason you like the Mets is they’re more of a working-class/regular guy team?
J- I think that the Mets used to represent that. Probably long before I started following them. They’re definitely the lovable underdogs relative to the Yankees but I’m not sure if their fans are truly any more or less working-class at this point. Definitely no working-class fans will be attending these upcoming World Series games, as tickets are prohibitively expensive.
N- Speaking of geography, the players obviously don’t hail from the cities they play for, so there’s no real connection between the players and the community itself.
J- That hasn’t existed in professional sports for a really long time. Players are mercenaries. Besides, it would be really unfair if you restricted players to only play in the vicinity of their hometowns. A small market like Kansas City would have no chance against NYC. But, I suppose that’s how the Olympics works, they’re far more people in China versus say… Jamaica. Yet Jamaica manages to still produce both the fastest woman and the fastest man on planet. But I find it more challenging to justify allegiance to a team, not based on the geographical origins of the players, but because of free agency.
N- Exactly. At this point, what makes teams different? I remember the Red Sox playing Yankees when Johnny Damon played for Boston. He had a beard and long hair, which Yankees players aren’t allowed to have. Then he defected and became a Yankee, just for the money.
J-Yankees always remind me of cops, they look like the NYPD. If sports is just entertainment, I guess you could say Johnny Damon, as a performer, just took on a new role or character. But, if that’s the case, if you make an emotional investment in a team, it raises important questions about what exactly are you rooting for? If players can hop around so freely, are you only supporting a corporate logo? The answer is, definitely on one level, irrefutably “yes”. But, on another level, who cares? If you don’t believe in the NY Metropolitans, fine, but what are you supposed to believe in?
N- Some would say building a just and fair society. I think that many sociologists would say sports viewing is a distraction from real social problems. Spending the whole night watching men trying to hit a ball with a stick? They could be solving real problems.
J- Sports functions more as entertainment than a surrogate for conquering social problems. I maintain that most people who aren’t interested in sports don’t necessarily spend their precious time, the same time the sports enthusiast “wastes” watching sports, conquering social problems. The non-sports fan often does equally unproductive things. So, I don’t think if you ended sports enthusiasm, people would naturally gravitate towards improving society.
N- But, for example, watching a film by Jean Luc Godard, that could elevate your socio-political consciousness, it’s not just simple entertainment.
J- To someone who is critical, analytical and very observant, one can have all kinds of political, sociological and spiritual epiphanies while viewing sports.
N- Ever notice how players seem to play better in the final year of their contract?
J- At least there’s some kind of empirically set standard for players. What if bad rock ‘n roll bands had expiring contracts that could end their careers? Of course, some do, thank God. But, imagine if The Rolling Stones actually had to produce a decent record or get permanently expunged from public view. The world would be a much better place.
N- That’s what many people like about sports. It’s so definite. At the end of the game whoever has the highest score is the winner. There’s no ambiguity.
J- Yes, in that sense sports is the most satisfying form of entertainment, absolutely no nepotism.
N- It’s a true meritocracy.
J- Yes!! So, the fact that a player might rise to the occasion, like Daniel Murphy to get rewarded with a fat contract, to me, is just another interesting variable in the whole drama of sports.
N- well I sorted also want to go back and look at sports like Ullama the sport of the Aztec were they would throw the ball through that that small stone hoop and then to the losing team would be decapitated. It just seems like there’s a lot of aggression…
J- When I was younger and into punk rock as a teenager, I remember people justifying why they slam danced. “I can go slam my body into other guys and that helps me release the frustration, anger and rage that I have coursing through me.” It seemed plausible to me at the time, and I guess I still buy it, so, if that’s a healthy outlet, I don’t think ‘sports fan aggression’ or whatever is that different.
N- Some say sports fandom is the sublimation for aggressive urges in young males, who otherwise they might be doing something else potentially harmful to society. So, sports provides a relatively safe outlet to other more destructive behavior. Do you think that that that’s a big thing with Mets and Royals fans? I mean, there’s no animosity between the two teams historically.
J- Well that’s something I can talk about is that when I chose the Mets to support I never abandoned the Royals. The teams exist in two different leagues and have only historically faced one another in nine meaningless interleague games. They barely know each other exist. I naively never imagined they could possibly meet in the World Series.
N- Do you think this might reduce the excitement value of the World Series because these teams don’t have like a heated rivalry?
J- I heard Mike Francesca, the infamous windbag from WFAN mentioning that he found this combination of teams to be odd and unnatural. I can’t speak for people other than myself, but outside of Kansas City very few people care about The Royals. They captured the heart of America last year, but I think this year that “underdog appeal” has been diminished. NYC is still the biggest market in baseball, so I think ratings-wise this will be pretty good series. But I don’t know about that stuff.
N- But it’s not exactly Red Sox/Yankees.
J- This is the World Series; so, historically teams that have little or no history meet and create longstanding rivalries and/or animosity. Which is something that I’m also very upset about. Because now, after this series, regardless of who wins, one fan base will be eternally embittered towards the other. And I’ll be forever caught in the middle. Prior to last week, I could quite easily wear Mets and Royals gear at the same time and no one would raise an eyebrow, but after this series that won’t ever be so easy. As this clash of “my teams” has been looming I’ve thought it analogous to my mistress finding out about my wife.
N- Which one is the wife, the Royals? Since they hail from your birthplace/family home?
J- Yes, I think the Royals are my wife and the Mets are my mistress. But, I’ve spent a hell of a lot more time with my mistress in the last decade or so.
N- Do you think this series will have any effect on your Mets allegiance, could this potentially swing you to becoming more of a Royals fan?
J- Well I think that it’s going to be interesting to see. I don’t really know. Tow years ago the Royals came to Citi Field for the first time. To me, that series seemed novel and fun. Because neither team had any real shot at making the playoffs.
I truly didn’t know which team I was going to root for prior to the game. But as the game developed I started noticing I was naturally gravitating more towards the Mets. Now, in this series, I suppose I could find myself rooting more for the Royals although I seriously doubt that. I know far more about the Mets than I know about the Royals in terms of their players and their players’ history. I’ve just been far more current with the Mets. I mean, I’ve watched every pitch of their playoff run and only watched a few Royals games.
N- You bring up an interesting kind of phenomenon of which I experience a lot when I’m watching two teams that I don’t really know. I don’t have a dog in the fight, but I start to prefer one team to the other. It has nothing to do with identifying as a fan of a particular team, but just starting to like the team for whatever reason during the game. I bring this up because you were talking about that Royals vs. Mets game right, and you found yourself rooting for the Mets.
J- Bad analogy, because, rather than having no dogs, I had two dogs in that fight.
N- But you didn’t have a clear favorite right?
J- But what led me to ultimately veer into the Mets camp, wasn’t randomly liking the haircut, playing style or aesthetic of a random player. It was all about the history that I had with both teams. And in recent years, all of the toil I’d endured as a Mets fan. All of this time I’d sacrificed. I’ll put it this way, when you pledge allegiance to a particular team, or my case “teams”, it’s a time commitment. One, depending on the depth of their fandom can spend anywhere from 10 minutes a month to 10 hours a day, or more, obsessing about the team. So, if you value your life and your free time, you’re making a great sacrifice. You’ve given “X amount” of your life away, and it’s not just your time but it’s also your passion, your energy, your love, your heart… all these things. All the things you could be doing instead of focusing energy on studying and supporting the team has been sacrificed. That’s not lost on me. I’m not a fan who ignorantly goes through life never considering that I could be doing something else with my free time. I’m well aware that poring over the statistics of these teams and spending many nights tuned in to every pitch isn’t all there is to life. But since I choose to do that, it has a kind of currency. It means something. I don’t want to get too abstract but.. basically I chose to spend more time with the Mets so; therefore I had more love for the Mets. After considering all the multifaceted variables of what that means, it was pretty obvious, I was more of a Mets fan. To use a different analogy than the “mistress/wife” thing, it’s like choosing between siblings …
N- Like Sophie’s Choice?
J- I never saw that movie.
N- I didn’t either.
J- OK, I’ll use yet another analogy, let’s say two very close of yours get into a fistfight. It would be terrible to watch but you might find yourself being more protective of one of the friends. I guess I’m saying, as painful as it might be, ultimately everything is hierarchical. Even the love for one’s own children, or the love your friends or family.
N- Say this series goes seven games, goes to the ninth inning and Daniel Murphy a grand slam and the Mets win by one run in the ninth. That would be very exciting for Mets fans. It would be very dynamic and dramatic but ultimately it has no effect on your life.
J- But it DOES have an effect on my life. The last time the Mets were in the playoffs was 2006; Carlos Beltran was up in the ninth inning with runners on base with the opportunity to win the game for the Mets.
N- game seven of the NLCS?
J- Yeah it would’ve taken the Mets to the World Series. He had the opportunity to make the series-winning hit but… he struck out looking. I witnessed that firsthand, I was at the game. It has been a source of great pain for me over the last nine years. I’ve reflected back on the game, it’s hard to get the memory out of my head. Almost like reliving an ugly experience with an ex girlfriend.
N- Well then, if this Mets team wins the World Series will it negate all the pain you felt last nine years?
J- Yes, I think it will!! I think it will fix that problem. But I am in a very complex predicament because; a Mets win will also inadvertently be prolonging the pain of the Royals. Another team who I had to watch lose dramatically last year in game seven. But as I stated before I ultimately want the Mets to win this more.
N- But your pleasure in the Mets victory will be diminished because of your love of the Royals?
J- Unfortunately, yes
N- It’s like you have to save one of your children from drowning and yet the other one dies?
J- Yes. But, hopefully the Royals won’t be dead. Like the Mets they have a bright future. So hopefully they’ll come back and beat some hateful team, like, I dunno… the Phillies next year, that would make it all perfect.
N- So, you want the Mets to win, but who do you think will win the series? What’s your prediction?
J- I think the Mets will win. I’ve heard a lot of so-called experts saying, the Mets pitching is gonna be too much for the Royals. But I’m not sure. the Royals are a very magical team and have a lot to play for. But the Mets have a little bit more momentum and I think on paper the matchups tend to favor the Mets. Specifically the pitching, which famously wins championships.
N- Do, you think watching a sporting event is a better use of one’s leisure time than say, watching a Godard film?
J- It depends on the sporting event and depends on the Godard film. But I would say the degree of emotion elicited from watching a really intense Playoff game versus watching Godard, to the typical viewer, is much different. In terms of sheer drama, oftentimes, the sporting event is more intense, emotionally-speaking than intellectual art films. But the typical American sports fan isn’t very in touch with his emotions outside of the realm of sports so he uses his emotional connection to sports as a diversion from meaningful bonding with friends, family, spouse, or even just his fellow man. So, in that sense, sports obsession is a little sad and unhealthy. But maybe it’s best for society that these guys aren’t emoting all over the place. It’s also very interesting to me and ultimately kind of hard to accept, that when you really do you consider the masses, that are supposedly your brethren, you know… your fellow Mets fans for example, I feel like I have nothing in common with these people.
N- Why do you say that?
J- I probably wouldn’t want to “hang out” with the majority of fans for either team. I probably wouldn’t want to hang out with the players either, and possibly more importantly… the players wouldn’t want to hang out with me!! Those guys would probably think this whole conversation that we’re having was really pointless.
N-Is there a difference between Mets and Royals fans?
J- If I were to make sweeping generalizations, I don’t think the Royals fans are as sophisticated in their analysis of baseball as Mets fans. That’s pretty evident by just comparing sports talk radio in the respective markets. I also think the Mets fans are more moneyed and even though there’s all kinds of mutants in both camps, the Mets fans are probably more glamorous, less overweight, there’s more “hot” chicks at Mets games. But the Royals fans are less pretentious, more down to earth, and way friendlier.
N- Are those aspects of your personality?
J- It’s interesting because I can see both character types in myself but… I probably veer more towards the typical Mets fan than the typical Royals fan.
Nick- Will you spend the money to attend a World Series game, now with the price of tickets getting up to thousand-dollar level?
Jeff- well it’s basically from what I understand about $800 to get the worst seat in the house sitting by yourself. I can’t justify spending that money to attend a game. To sit right behind home plate would probably cost $10,000 at Citi Field.
Nick- It’s like buying a car vs. a ticket to a three-hour sporting event.
Jeff- Sports fans regularly blow obscene amounts of cash for really painful emotional experiences. It’s like paying a cover charge to a gamble with your emotions at stake. Which, by contrast, paying $12 to see a Jean Luc Goddard film at an art house is a lot safer… less emotionally risky and a far cheaper night out. The obscene ticket prices obviously make caring about professional sports even that much harder to justify. Which, for me, is very alienating and unfortunate; I guess I’m a socialist.
Nick- You and I went to see a baseball game in Holguin, Cuba last year and tickets were less than $0.50.
Jeff- It was a much different atmosphere.
Nick- American fans are fiddling with their smart phones, you know a lot of them are not really paying much attention to the game… a lot of them really aren’t fans.
Jeff- Some people, like, to again generalize, Wall Street executive-types just want the proverbial hottest ticket in town. It doesn’t matter, if they’re at a Yankees or Mets game. Meanwhile, the long-suffering true fans are relegated to watching the games on television because the ticket prices are financially prohibitive. But fanatical fans that are relatively lower middle-class, might justify “borrowing” from their son’s college fund for that one chance to go see the Mets in the World Series. Luckily, the experience of watching on television, in 2015, is pretty thrilling. Especially in contrast to Cuban baseball broadcasting standards.
Nick- One or two angles, no zooms. But no commercials!!!
Jeff- That’s true. Regardless of the price, I’m almost too ashamed to attend the game because I might find myself rooting for both teams thereby attracting the ire of the hometown crowd. Because if the Royals made a miraculous play it might be hard for me to not cheer, thereby annoying the Mets fans in my midst.
Nick- But a lot of let’s just say non-emotionally invested, wealthy attendees, who don’t have a deep history with the teams, would probably be less angry or aggressive.
Jeffrey- True. But, I think there’s a significant amount of fans that will justify spending more money than they should just to be able to attend the games. So, they’re not only deeply involved emotionally but made intense financial commitment to the experience. So yeah they would be more likely to voice disapproval of a nearby spectator. Not to mention there’s a lot of really rich people that are still very passionate and knowledgeable about sports.
N- So, if you attended, would wear a Royals hat and a Mets jacket?
J- Once I called WFAN to talk Mets with Steve Somers and I revealed that I was both a Royals and Mets fan, he stated what an odd combination that was and we got to briefly discuss it on air. The very next day I happened to coincidentally go to Cooperstown, to the baseball Hall of Fame and I was wearing Royals and Mets apparel simultaneously, and a random person asked if I was “the guy from the radio last night?” He was a Mets fan and was interested to meet me as a novelty but should the Royals somehow crush the Mets, I don’t think Mets fans will find that combo so curious and charming.
N-You see a lot of sports apparel in the crowd.
J- The donning of sanctioned apparel by fans at MLB games is at an absolute all-time high and today, in the stands it’s a sea of Chinese manufactured, not inexpensive fan attire. Whereas if you even look at footage of the fans in ’86 World Series only about one out of every five or six people was wearing a Mets hat, and maybe few people were in starter jackets. If you go back even further to ‘69 there’s practically zero people wearing any kind of sanctioned sports apparel.
N- It wasn’t available back then. Do you approve of this trend?
J-Well, I think it’s gotten out of hand. Which is hypocritical, because I’ve bought my fair share of fan crap through the years. I was recently flying back to KC this August and had to change planes. When I reached the gate for the KC flight, I’d say at least 75% of the passengers were wearing Royals gear. I thought I had accidentally stumbled onto a flight for a Royals Booster Club. But, it turned out these were just ordinary people. Which struck me as incredibly creepy. During the week I spent in KC I was astonished by the prevalence of the Royals attire. Where were these fans in the 00’s when the Royals sucked? It reminded me of all the American flags that popped up after 9/11. Where are they now?
N- Heading into the series, according to Vegas, the teams are at even odds. This is ultimately leading up to the moment when one team wins and you’ll have some emotional reaction.
J- Yes, it will be pretty intense regardless of the outcome. If I’m with some Mets friends in New York it will be fun. I find the victory celebrations of the teams in their locker rooms, with the ski goggles hard to watch. I’m guessing the history of people spurting champagne on one another came from one spontaneous moment where somebody poured champagne on his teammate’s head, which was at that time was probably a “really wild” move, but now it’s turned into something completely contrived and very repugnant to watch. If you watch the post-game footage of 1969, and I wasn’t even alive then, but when Joan Hodges celebrates with Gil, it’s so pure and you can’t help but cry just watching it.
N-What about the celebrations on the field after the final out?
J- It’s so bizarre. Because it’s like they’ve waited their whole lives to do what? To jump on top of other grown men in a big dog pile? Is that really what it’s about? Getting to finally jump on top of all of your teammates, these fellow men you’ve had no societally acceptable excuse to touch in public for the last several years? I miss the days of fans storming the field. And, regardless of who wins, I publicly condone burning cars in the street.