In Memory of Dana Brand
"All mankinde is of one Author, and is one volume; when one Man dies, one Chapter is not torne out of the booke, but translated into a better language; and every Chapter must be so translated . . . . No Man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends, or of thine owne were; Any Mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde."
John Donne, Meditation No. 17, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions
I befriended Professor Brand in the very same way in which I learned of his untimely death a few days ago - on facebook. "I'm Sheila, Dana's wife," she wrote so thoughtfully on her husband's wall. "I'm writing with the sad news that Dana passed away suddenly yesterday afternoon. He was a wonderful man, and since many of you folks, his friends, are Mets fans, you know he was a Mets fan extraordinaire."
Although I never met Dana Brand face to face and will sadly never enjoy the privilege of watching a game with him, I feel greatly honored to have been his friend. Ours was a friendship rooted in the sincerity of good baseball conversation and in the common ground of literary studies. Our lives paralleled each other curiously on several counts. The earliest New York Mets teams were, for better or worse, the essence and true joy of our respective childhoods. We would both go on to earn PhD degrees in literature in atmospheres that might be considered more rarefied than Shea Stadium, he at Yale University under the tutelage of Bart Giamatti and I at Brown. Yet for all the erudite works we studied so intensively during college and graduate school, baseball was the subject that often engaged our hearts and ultimately filled a remaining void.
"Look at how it takes up all this space in my soul that in other times would have been taken up by magnificent things," Dana writes as he nears the conclusion of his poignant tribute to a beloved Stadium, The Last Days of Shea: Delight and Despair in the Life of a Mets Fan.
Several months ago I enjoyed a wonderful conversation with Dana; it took place, surprisingly to me, in the form of facebook messages. On the sorrowful occasion of his passing, I feel compelled to make our conversation public, because Professor Brand's elegantly crafted and deeply felt reflections on baseball deserve a readership beyond the confines of my own private world. Our substantive and heartfelt exchange may give you a sense of the rich content that is often explored by baseball writers and bloggers behind the scenes; more importantly, what follows is a fine example of the basic kindness that often abides among friends and fans of America's beloved game.
It was my great privilege to be the recipient of Dana Brand's intelligent reply. In his words you will come to know the vitality of one man's intellect; his generosity of spirit; the depth and authenticity of his affection for the New York Mets and the game itself. He lifted the informal and mundane activity of writing a facebook message to a higher plane of discourse, meaning, and being. I am enriched and blessed to have known Dana Brand through a brief period of correspondence. Let's Go Mets.
hi Dana -
Thank you again for accepting my friend request. I finished reading The Last Days of Shea about an hour ago. Started it yesterday afternoon. I love this book. There's no way I can convey to you in a facebook space how much it means to me.
My journey with the Mets parallels yours in some respects, and it's fascinating to experience those decades from another individual's perspective. Unfortunately, many circumstances throughout the years conspired to pull me away from the New York area and hence from the Mets, but that is a long story for another time.
When I discovered at about age 10 that Ed Kranepool and I shared the same birthday, just ten years apart, well, let's just say I behaved like a nutcase - the day remains one of the happiest of my childhood. I will never forget that moment. It's an important scene in the memoir I hope to have published someday.
I can hardly look at the cover of your book. A huge wave of emotion surges inside me. I could hardly read the final chapters in which you describe so beautifully and painfully your last three visits to the Stadium. The imagery of Shea coming down deeply affected me.
I love how you dedicated the book to your daughter. (I like how you never pushed her to appreciate the game on the same levels and with the same vigor as you do.) I love how your mother is such an important presence in the book - she truly comes to life, especially when saying in the end, "Thank you so much for taking me" (precisely the same words my young son once spoke to me) - and I like how you articulate your father's quieter connection to the game. It isn't always fathers playing catch with sons.
I love the chapter on Ralph Kiner. If his show were still on television, I'd be watching it every night.
Yours is a great story - an important story, and I'm so glad I discovered it, thanks to facebook, where I'm a relative newcomer.
I'm marking the April conference on my calendar - I would love to attend, because Shea remains very dear to my heart.
How impressive that you studied with Giamatti at Yale. While working on my degree at Brown, the game sadly dropped out of my life; something huge was missing, and I didn't even realize it.
Many thanks again for this beautiful book. I cannot stop looking at the cover.
When I was in graduate school, I took a seminar on the English Renaissance poet Edmund Spenser. The seminar was taught by A. Bartlett Giamatti. Giamatti was a terrific teacher, animated, funny, and smart. As everyone at Yale knew, he loved baseball passionately, and every once in a while he would write a piece for a magazine about how something in baseball reminded him of something in Renaissance literature. In our oral presentations, those of us in the seminar who were baseball fans would often try to make some baseball analogy. Giamatti always appreciated this and he would commend us with a kind of “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” look on his face.
One time, I saw Giamatti speak at a forum at Yale on baseball, with Roger Kahn and Ray Kroc. After the forum, he stood outside and talked with a few of us. It was baseball talk, the kind everybody does. We weren’t trying to think of how you could compare baseball players to shepherds in pastoral poetry. After that, whenever I ran into Bart Giamatti on the Yale campus, which was actually quite often, he would stop and talk with me about baseball. He wanted to do it. I wouldn’t have stopped him. Who knows how many people he did this with? I loved these talks on windy New Haven street corners. They weren’t particularly necessary or deep. But they established a connection between us. On the day it was announced that Bart Giamatti was going to become the new president of Yale, I was so happy for him. I told a lunch table full of graduate students that I was sure that someday he would be the commissioner of baseball. I’m glad I did that. I have witnesses.
When I tell this story to people in the world outside of academics, they always want to turn it into something like “See, his real love was baseball.” No, his “real” love wasn’t baseball. He loved baseball and he loved Renaissance literature. Not only is there no contradiction here, there’s a real connection. Both baseball and Renaissance literature are particularly appealing to people who have a lot of imagination.
Why is this? I have no idea. But what I am saying is true. Look at baseball blogs and compare them to football or hockey or basketball blogs. Even when they are focusing on the most arcane issue of strategy or statistical analysis, baseball fans are always looking for any excuse to break into their lyrical voice. They are all rank sentimentalists. They see a story in everything. Baseball, I actually believe, is less demanding intellectually, to follow or to play, than football, basketball, or hockey. But it is somehow friendlier to the fan’s experience of contemplation. You can sit in the stands of a baseball stadium and realize things about your life, like what you want to do with yourself, or whether or not you want to have a kid, or whether to ask somebody to marry you. One of my favorite writers, Haruki Murakami, says that he decided to become a writer because one day, when he was 29, absorbed in his job and all of the details of ordinary life, he was sitting in the stands, drinking a beer, watching the Yakult Swallows playing the Hiroshima Carp. A player on the Swallows hit a double and Murakami decided that now it was time for him to write a novel. This is exactly right. This is why baseball is one of the greatest things there is. It is riveting, but it has pockets of time built into it, air bubbles that allow your emotions and your imagination to breathe.
I wish I could tell you something deep or revealing that Bart Giamatti told me about baseball. I can’t. He loved the Red Sox. He wasn’t crazy about George Steinbrenner and he was very unhappy when the Yankees signed Goose Gossage. I remember a few other things but none of them are anything other than what any Red Sox fan would have felt or said in the late 1970’s. Giamatti was a fan. Which meant that he had his own personal relationship with baseball and yet what he thought and felt was pretty much the same as what everyone in the orbit of his team also felt and thought. This is why it was so great that he did become the commissioner of baseball. The commissioner should be a fan, someone who will fight for the fan. I was heartbroken when Bart Giamatti died after only five months as the commissioner. There was never going to be a fan’s commissioner again. Giamatti was a fluke, a very lucky break. But he died of a heart attack when he was a year younger than I am now, died as I was driving down from Connecticut to New Jersey, listening to Mike and the Mad Dog who turned their whole show over to this horrible, unhappy event that ended this terrific story.
I have one more memory of Bart Giamatti. I was having an independent study session with J. Hillis Miller, the distinguished professor of Victorian literature who became my dissertation advisor. Giamatti came into Miller’s office at the end of the session because they were going someplace together. “Oh, it’s the Mets fan,” Giamatti said and so we spent some time talking baseball with Hillis Miller, who was a fan of the Baltimore Orioles. They were telling me about their colleague Harold Bloom and his passionate and tragic devotion to his Yankees. Only Bloom, they observed, could find and know the tragedy of being a Yankees fan. Anyway, the next day I was walking out of the Yale Library and I saw Miller approaching, with a friendly smile on his face. Beside him was a handsome white-haired man with pointy features, whom I recognized with a thrill of intense nervousness. J. Hillis Miller was about to introduce me to Jacques Derrida. If you know who Jacques Derrida is, you are wondering what the hell is going to happen. If you don’t know who Jacques Derrida is, let me just say that he was one of the most influential intellectuals of the second half of the twentieth century, the central figure in something called deconstruction which ignorant journalists would ordinarily explain as a philosophical movement to drain the meaning and pleasure out of everything. It wasn’t that, but now is not the time to explain what I think it was. Suffice it to say that Jacques Derrida had no interest at all in draining the meaning or pleasure out of anything.
So there we are, on a winter afternoon in New Haven, two extraordinarily important intellectuals and me. Miller is explaining to Derrida that I am, like Miller, and Giamatti, and Bloom, a big baseball fan. And so for the next five or six minutes, Miller and Derrida are both engaged in a strenuous effort (linguistically strenuous, as Derrida’s spoken English wasn’t very good) to explain to me what a big fan Derrida was of what Americans call soccer and the rest of the world calls football. I’m afraid I’m going to have to let you down here, too. I wish I could report to the world that we had, with our big minds, or at least with their big minds, expressed some insight into the pleasures of sports fandom that no one has ever had before. But we didn’t. We were just, for that moment, some people talking about things we loved deeply. We knew that we didn’t understand our love of sports any more than anyone else. But we were happy to stand out in the cold and enjoy and share the fact that we loved it.
As you can see, baseball was actually pretty popular in the Yale English Department. I'm sorry you didn't run into the same thing at Brown. Anyway, stay in touch and Let's Go Mets!
Dana Brand, 1954-2011.
Ph.D., Yale University. Professor of English and American Literature.
Lifelong Mets fan. R.I.P.
"My mind still comes up with new things and I feel as much vigor in my body as I ever have. The new stadium is here. I am tired of resenting it . . . . What I feel about what is gone is too deep to be cleared out by any easy gesture of reconciliation. Still, I don't want to spend what I have left on something that is gone."
Dana Brand, The Last Days of Shea