Monday, May 30, 2011

For Dana Brand

Greetings Friends,

Since it is Memorial Day today in the U.S., I felt it only fitting to write a tribute to Dana Brand.

Dana was a professor of English at my alma mater, Hofstra University. That was his day job. For many people, Dana was the dean of the New York Mets blogosphere, presiding over a world in which Mets fans gather to celebrate the highs and lows of being Mets fans; to commiserate over the team's foibles and missteps, and to savour its successes. But, it became so much more than that. Dana himself blogged regularly about the Mets, in a way that wove the fabric of baseball into our lives and taught us that it wasn't just about wins, losses and championships. Baseball is life, and life is baseball.

Dana passed away suddenly last Wednesday, at the age of 56, leaving behind a wife and a daughter, and legions of shocked and grieving friends. There have been many tributes written over the past few days by Mets bloggers, celebrating his life as a teacher, a Mets fan, and the author of two wonderful books, Mets Fan, and The Last Days of Shea: Delight and Despair In the Life of a Mets Fan. I consider myself a die-hard Mets fan, but I've existed on the periphery of the Mets' online community, save for avidly following Dana's blog - a link to which has been here at Ink & Paint since its inception. 

Dana was my teacher before he was a Mets fan. I met him during the spring 2000 semester at Hofstra, my second semester back in academia after a long absence. My goal was to finish my Bachelors degree, if for no other reason than to assuage my guilt for entering the workforce in 1987 with only an Associates degree in Broadcast Management and Technology. I didn't get a job in my chosen field, and for 12 years I toiled at jobs that were not at all rewarding. After being unceremoniously canned from the last of those jobs in January, 1999, I decided the only way I would ever feel good about myself again would be to return to school and complete my education. My rationale was to become as educated as possible, in order to avoid emulating the corporate hacks I had come to detest. Many close friends and family members did not approve of my decision to become a professional student. I had my doubts as well, after my first rocky semester. That all changed after I met Dana. 

The first time I met him, I knew he was different from any teacher I'd had during my life. My time spent in the New York City public school system was not what I would call "inspirational", and I left it without any one particular teacher having had an impact on me. Dana, on the other hand, had an impact on his students as soon as he walked into the room. He was a big man, over six feet tall, with a full beard and bushy, unkempt hair. He looked like an English teacher, and despite his size, he was not imposing; you immediately sensed that this big teddy bear of a man had many meaningful things to say.

During the first meeting of the first class of his I took (a survey course of American literature from 1900-1950), he handed out his syllabus and outlined what he expected of his students. It was all very straightforward, and I was looking forward to delving into the material. Before he dismissed us, he asked if any of us were baseball fans. A number of us raised our hands, myself included. He asked which teams we were fans of, and most of the class answered either "Mets" or "Yankees". I believe there was a smattering of out-of-town students who may have had other team allegiances, but I could see a dark look form on Dana's face and I couldn't understand why. Then he told us he was a Mets fan. For a moment, I felt certain he was going to ask anyone who was a Yankees fan to drop the class. He didn't of course, but you could tell right off the bat (pun intended) that he was serious about the Mets, and serious about baseball. I made a note to keep that in mind.

That spring semester was another difficult one for me, as well as for Dana. He lost his father during that time, and missed a number of classes. At the end of the semester, I had enjoyed his class so much that I knew I wanted to continue on with my plan to complete my degree. In fact, I was so inspired by Dana as a teacher, I did not leave Hofstra until December, 2007, with a Masters degree in English literature. And it was all because of Dr. Dana Brand.

Over the years, I managed to take seven or eight of Dana's classes. During that period, his love of literature and baseball became evident to me, and the more I got to know him, the more I began to appreciate the role of baseball in his life. I wasn't completely enlightened until I spotted the "Last Word" column he wrote that appeared in Newsday in August, 2005. I found it hanging in the English department mail room one day when I went to drop off a paper. "If You Prick a Mets Fan, He'll Bleed Blue and Orange" was a revelation, because I had similar feelings about the Mets, and often questioned my love and loyalty to them, and to sports in general. 

Of course, "If You Prick a Mets Fan,..." was the genesis of his book, Mets Fan, and the start of his journey to the pinnacle of Mets fandom. I followed that journey every step of the way, and he even thanked me in The Last Days of Shea for the insightful comments I left on many of his blog posts. 

It's impossible to sum up in so few words, a man who had such an impact on so many people. I was hesitant to make my own contribution because of all the eloquent tributes that have already been made. The ones I find particularly touching are by Howard Megdal, which can be read here; by Matt Silverman, titled, "A One of a Kind Brand", here; and by Greg Prince, here. Gentlemen, you knew him best as the reigning monarch of Mets Fandom, and I felt it only fitting to focus my tribute on the teacher who had the most profound impact on me as a student. Our words and memories, be they at Shea Stadium, Citi Field or in the classroom, have shaped who we are, and who we will continue to be on our separate journeys. What joins us together is the common thread of baseball, woven into our hearts by someone we will never forget. The world as we know it is lacking because Dana Brand no longer walks among us. I like to think he has gone to a place where his days will be spent revering and enjoying the things he loved most. 


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