As we all gave “Thanks” this holiday weekend, I decided to write about what I am personally thankful for, baseball-wise.
My Father – In 1973, my dad decided to introduce me to the National Pastime. I was only 7 years old and it was he who taught me to appreciate the beauty of the game, the sheer majesty of Baseball. My dad explained to me to enjoy the unknown, the unexpected. The anticipation of what may happen is thrilling. No matter how many years you can be a fan and no matter how many games you watch, there is still a great chance you will see something you’ve never witnessed before.
My dad had splurged for seats in the Loge area. The cost: $3.00. We got there early to see BP. From the mindset of a 7 year old kid, it was pretty darn cool to see the same people in person that I had seen on TV. There was Cleon Jones shagging flies in the outfield. There’s Wayne Garret taking ground balls at 3rd. John Milner chatting with Felix Millan. Look! It’s Rusty Staub in the batting cage. It was Helmet Day 1973 and we played the Astros. I don’t recall who won but I know Ed Kranepool hit the first Mets HR I ever saw at Shea and Jerry Koosman pitched.
Through the good years and the bad, my dad has remained the ultimate optimist when it comes to the Mets. In 3rd grade, 1973, wearing my little Mets hat and my little Mets jacket, my classmates, who were mostly Yankee fans, teased me about my loyalty to my team. It was my dad who told me, ‘We’ll win it. Don’t worry. Just like Tug says, Ya Gotta Believe.’ It’s also my dad who told me, “The Mets never lose. Sometimes we just run out of innings.”
My Grandfather – He passed away when I was just 3 ½ years old and I really don’t remember him. Although he grew up in The Bronx, for some reason he chose not to root for the Yankees. Rather than cheering for Ruth and Gehrig, my grandfather pledged his allegiance to the Dodgers. This love for Brooklyn was naturally handed down to my father. Although the Dodgers left Brooklyn, my dad kept his loyalty in the NL and was a Mets fan from the beginning. Therefore, I too, grew up a Mets fan. Had my grandfather, back in 1920-something decided to instead root for the Yankees, I could very well be sitting here wearing an A-Rod jersey and spend my life ending all debates by uttering the mindless statement, ’26 championships. 26 championships…’
Shea Stadium – I grew up at Shea. I learned the game there and fell in love with the Mets. The first time I saw Shea, I was overwhelmed with the size of the stadium. It was massive. It was the Roman Coliseum…but in Flushing. Coming through the entryway, the field was beautiful and expansive. The sheer contrast between the brown dirt of the infield and the green grass of the outfield was spectacular. The white bases shone brightly in the afternoon sunlight. I’d never seen such a large gathering of people in one place. And we were all here for the same purpose: To cheer the Mets.
I went with family members, with friends. I rode my bike there and drove my car there. I saw some of the greats on that field. In person I saw future Hall of Famers such as Gibson, Mays, Aaron, Schmidt, Bench, Stargell, Carlton, Seaver and many more.
Since then, much has changed in my life. My taste in music, TV shows. Friends have changed. Girlfriends and wives have come and gone. But Shea and the Mets always will be my first love.
The 86 Mets – Okay, so it’s been 35 years of rooting for the Mets. Cheap t-shirts have been replaced by expensive Jerseys. My little Mets jacket that cost my parents $10 has been replaced by a Majestic warm-up jacket that cost $130. Hats have been worn out over time (but I still have my helmet from that first game). One championship in 35 years is not a lot. It’s more than some teams have won, less than others. But at least, I have that. Just by saying two simple words, ‘Game Six,’ can bring a smile to my, or any fans face. The magic that was the 86 Mets was a once in a lifetime memory and it is something I will cherish forever.
Bill Buckner – ‘Nuff said