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The Mets' lonely colonist

October 05, 2006|David Pierson | DAVID PIERSON is a staff writer at The Times.

THIS WEEK, as the Dodgers clash with my beloved New York Mets in the National League divisional series, Los Angeles will not be the easiest place to be a Mets fan.

But when it comes to cheering for The Amazins, I am used to hardship, having grown up a Mets fan in the mid-1980s in Hong Kong.

Needless to say, that city -- then a British colony -- was not exactly a bastion of baseball. If you were a connoisseur of ping pong or badminton, then you would be in luck.

But baseball was handed down to me by my father, an English professor who grew up on Manhattan's Upper West Side and moved to Hong Kong in the 1960s. I was surrounded by Chinese, English, Australian, Indian and Canadian classmates, but my dad always insisted that I be well-versed in American culture, and baseball in particular.

What sealed my allegiance to the Mets was the grand opening of the first Toys R Us in Hong Kong in 1987, when I was 9. My parents bought me a baseball and a glove, both printed with the autograph of one of the Mets' greatest and most tragic players, Dwight Gooden.

Those were the days before the Internet, and following the Mets through the regular season proved to be quite a challenge. Hong Kong's English-language newspapers printed the baseball scores -- two days late. Not a box score, not even a line score, just a score. I'd have to imagine what really happened when all I was given was tiny print that said, "New York 8, Chicago 2."

After a while we discovered that the International Herald Tribune printed line scores and game summaries. So on the days that my dad went downtown, he'd pick up a copy at a newsstand. I could finally see who hit a home run.

One day, my uncle in New Jersey recorded and mailed me a videotape of a 5-3 Mets victory over the Montreal Expos. Gooden pitched. Howard Johnson smacked two home runs. The tape ran out in the bottom of the 7th inning.

Nevertheless, I watched that game almost every day for two years, copying the big leaguers' swings in front of the TV with my youth-sized bat.

A few months later I discovered USA Today, which devoted a whole page to baseball -- box scores and all. We had it delivered by mail, so it was still two days late. But at least now I could read game stories, which sometimes included photos of the Mets. I'd cut them out and tape them to my bedroom wall next to my Mets pennant.

Eventually, I noticed an ad in USA Today that changed everything. You could subscribe to a service out of a U.S. military base in Germany that mailed out videotapes of baseball games weekly for about $150 a season.

When the bubble-wrapped packages arrived each week, I would race home and pop the tapes in the VCR. Until then, I had known the players mostly by the surnames in the box scores. Now, I watched mesmerized as they gripped the bat and wound up to pitch.

It was just in time for the 1993 home opener. My mother, who is Cantonese and knew nothing about baseball before I joined Little League, became hooked. We'd sit and watch those tapes together with pained looks on our faces as the Mets turned out one of their most laughable campaigns in team history.

They lost so often that year that the only thing we could root for was for the team to lead the league in some obscure statistic such as pinch hits. My mom learned how to heckle multimillion-dollar busts such as Bobby Bonilla from 10,000 miles away through a TV screen.

Those tapes filled a couple of drawers in the living room by the time we left Hong Kong for good in 1995. We threw them out. It's best not to remember those lackluster seasons.

But living in L.A. this week and cheering for the Blue and Orange in a sea of Dodger blue are sure to make me remember my early days, when I felt like the only Mets fan in Hong Kong.

david.pierson@latimes.com

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