Darryl Strawberry

…And Strawberry Sundaes For All

My Halloween costume from 1983, the year I became a Mets fan

My Halloween costume from 1983, the year I became a Mets fan

I’m guessing it was around June 1983.  The school year was winding down.  It was first grade, for me.  One of our parting assignments was to write about our favorite things (mine included: cats and chocolate and English muffins…still true to this very day, actually).  I forget what my mom’s were (probably chocolate as well…one thing she and I were agreeable on).  My dad was simple: he liked the Mets.

Being seven, I can’t say I knew what “Mets” actually were.  But I’m guessing that it must have been around or just after June 15, 1983.  Because all of a sudden the Mets were on ALL THE TIME.  And Dad couldn’t stop talking about a guy named “Keith.”  (Note: Keith Hernandez was traded to the Mets on June 15, 1983…ironically, my husband’s first Mets game was the day he was traded).  I think I was also aware of the Mets that year because my parents had gone to Opening Day (Tom Seaver returned), and my grandma told me she watched the game to see if she could see my mom.

My dad was rooting for the guys with METS written in script on the front of their uniform.  Well, then, that’s who I was rooting for too.

I started to ask my dad questions about baseball.  Mostly, how to play.  I was an awkward kid, and had two left feet when it came to anything physical.  I never took dance lessons, and I certainly wasn’t picked for sporting teams.  I wanted to learn something, and baseball looked kinda easy.  I guess.

So he’d pitch me meatballs, and I’d practice swinging.  All with him yelling, “KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE BALL!!!!”  (As he took a swig of a Budweiser).

As history has told us, my parents tried to take me to my first Mets game on June 15, 1980.  You may remember the date as the day game after what became the legendary “Hendu Cando walkoff” game.  It was, as history remembered, an unmitigated disaster.  We never made it to the park that day.  And as Matt Silverman has told us in many write ups on the day after, that walkups were discouraged because there were literally no seats in the Upper Deck of Shea Stadium to sit, due to renovations.

Less than four years later, I would be heading back to Shea.  This time, I suppose, with better directions than in 1980.

I wasn’t sure what to expect.  My dad kept calling it, “Shea,” yet in my head, since I was in second grade in 1984, I was learning about phonics and shit, and I kept thinking of the Long “A” that we’d use to pronounce.  But I was surprised, for some reason, that it was spelled the way it is.

I remember the way it looked.  So colorful.  So tall.  I think this was also the age that I discovered that I was indeed afraid of heights.  I asked my dad to not get me the “red seats.”  We sat in what I found out was the Loge, the blue seats.  I was mesmerized by the colors.  I was also wondering just what the hell that smell was (yes, I can still smell Shea Stadium).

The day was a blur.  The date was May 6, 1984.  It was a Sunday game against the Houston Astros, who wore those putrid orange/red/yellow colored uniforms.

The starting pitcher for the Astros that day was a gentleman by the name of Nolan Ryan.  I’m trying to remember if Dad told me that he used to be a Met, or if I found that out later.  I would bet on “later,” because I also was not entirely schooled on the whole “World Series” and “1969″ thing either.

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The starting pitcher for the Mets that day, ironically, was a young phenom named Dwight Gooden.

My dad bought a program.  It turns out that I spent a lot of time reading it because the Astros scored EIGHT RUNS in the third inning. Looking at the box score, it was a bunch of singles.  Single after single after single turned into run after run after run.

I read the program cover to cover.  Had nothing better to do after that inning , I remember the Pabst Blue Ribbon advertisement.  The hot dogs that looked plump and delicious.  Cigarette ads, which I don’t think I thought much about as an eight year old, but find them so odd now.

I also memorized the Shea diagram. Though I sat in them in later years, and I decided to never ever sit in Upper Deck that year

I also memorized the Shea diagram. Though I sat in them in later years, and I decided to never ever sit in Upper Deck that year

The program had write ups on the visiting teams.  I remember asking why Jose Cruz’s name was pronounced “Hoe-ZAY” as opposed to “Josie.”  I may still call him that (and anyone else named “Jose”).  I also remember weird stuff from that day.  The smell of the hot dogs from the vendors.  The taste of the RC Cola.  The awful bathrooms.  My mom agreeing to get me Crunch N Munch, then “forgetting.”  The ginormous Budweiser ad that beckoned fans to drink.

This is the Bud ad I remember from 1984, though I'm sure some Shea historian will tell me otherwise

This is the Bud ad I remember from 1984, though I’m sure this pic is from 1988 or thereabouts (the bigger scoreboard)

Awestruck by the enormity of it all, really.

While going through the program, I also noticed that just a few days prior, had been a date called “Strawberry Sundae.”  A promotion sponsored by Carvel, fans attending a game honoring 1983 Rookie of the Year Darryl Strawberry received a strawberry sundae.  Well, dadgummit.

I don’t remember there being a lot of excitement.  Besides the barrage of singles and subsequent runs scored by the Astros, Doctor K had barely recorded an out in the third before being relieved by Craig Swan.  Swan didn’t yield a run.  Of course he didn’t.

docgoodensheaBut Doc Gooden ultimately became the reason why I was a Mets fan, or rather became one.

I take pride in having gone to one of his very few losses in his rookie year campaign, one where he ultimately won the ROY.

But I had no idea what rookies were or what an award was at that point.  All I know is…I was pretty pissed off that I missed free ice cream at Strawberry Sundae Night.

I still am.

So when I read the upcoming giveaways at that horrific game on May 6, I saw that sports bag day was on Memorial Day (which was Monday, May 28, an afternoon game).  Though the Mets were losing pretty bad, I knew I wanted to come back.  I asked Dad if we could go.  I think we got our tickets that day.

I also remember what it was like to leave before the game ended.  It was a blowout, and we had to go back to Jersey.  It was a long day already.  I do remember that I had dozed off in the car, and there was traffic heading out of the stadium.  That part has not changed, even if Shea is no longer around.  The radio was on, and I suppose the postgame was on too.  I asked if the Mets had won.  (I even knew that ya gotta believe, at such a young age).  No.  The Astros had tacked on two more runs.

10-1 Astros was the final score that day.

 

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I’ll always remember Shea in all her majesty. At Closing Day in 2008, my dad turned to me after the ceremony and said, “You grew up here.” Now, at that point, I hadn’t shed a tear. I had let Shea go in my mind. I was ready for a new stadium, and mostly ready to embrace change (something the Mets desperately needed to do after 2007 and 2008…though I didn’t think it would be, “GET WORSE”).

But my one regret with Shea Stadium is that I never got a strawberry sundae.  Now, that shit still pisses me off.

The irony of the Mets is that I always expected friends in the deal, but I never thought I’d gain a husband out of it.  He went to his first game on June 15, 1983, and that was probably when I first started paying attention to the Mets.  I was also supposed to have had a link to June 15, 1980, and was supposed to go to the game originally on June 16, 1980.

And I got married on May 5, 2010.  And my first game May 6, 1984.

How about that for some shit?

Post-Traumatic Mets Disorder: We Remember

tom_lasordaDid you know that all-time great Dodger manager Tom Lasorda is, like, BFFs with Mike Piazza’s dad, and serves as godfather to one of Piazza’s brothers? True story.

When Piazza broke the catching home run record in 2004, Lasorda came to Shea Stadium to say a few words for his BFF’s son, on a night the Mets honored him.

When Lasorda wobbled his way (he didn’t walk) to the podium, I clapped.  I mean, he’s not a former Met or even a manager for the team, but show some respect for the guy.

Not to Uncle Gene.  He bellows a big BOOOOO and yells in cupped hands, “WE REMEMBER EIGHTY-EIGHT!!”

I probably cringed.  But 1988 was the first known chain of events that led to my chronic post-traumatic Mets disorder.

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The year was 1988.  I was in my fifth year of being a Mets fan.  I first started to pay attention to baseball in 1983, when my dad couldn’t stop talking about some guy named Keith.  In 1984, I had attended my first three games.  In 1985, I felt like I went to Shea every Sunday game.

By 1986, I had punched my Mets loyalist card, by attending game seven of the 1986 World Series.

In 1987, the Mets had become a form of escapism.  I had talked about that year in a previous series, when I realized that the end was nigh for my parents as a couple.

If 1987 was the test for me learning that the Mets wouldn’t win the World Series (or even win the division) every year, 1988 renewed my faith in being a Mets fan.  They were not just good, they were dominant.  Again.  So dominant that Darryl Strawberry and Kevin McReynolds canceled votes from each other in the MVP voting that year.  A budding young pitcher by the name of David Cone won 20 games.

Their opponent in the NLCS that year was the Los Angeles Dodgers.  A Dodger team, I’d like to add, they beat 10 out of 11 times that year.

This was the first playoff series that I remember watching mostly with my dad.  I do have some warm fuzzies associated with it, mostly, namely when my hero Bart Giamatti tossed Jay Howell out of Game Three for his tar-ball.

There was no doubt in my mind that the Mets would win the series and go onto the World Series again.

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I often wonder what it would have been like had the Mets won that series and went to the World Series.  I wonder if they would have dropped to the Oakland A’s, like they did in 1973, or would they be a two-time champion in the 1980s?

Alas, that would have meant a series win in the NLCS.  Just one more win in the series would have made the difference.

And to that I say, FUCK MIKE SCIOSCIA.

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I begged my dad to take me to Game Four.  I truly believed they would win the National League Championship in Game Five.  But I wanted to be there for a playoff game.  We went, with just one ticket.  Not sure what we would have done had I not been able to get in.  But I did.  It was, of course, the ’80s.

Who knew that a home run would be not just a game changer, but a series changer?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Davey Johnson’s Mets management legacy, is that he was a very emotional manager.  He was emotionally attached to his “guys.”  Guys like Doc and Darryl, Keith and Ronnie.  Mostly, these same guys would call Davey a “player’s manager.”  Yet, sometimes the manager needs to be the grown-up, the adult in the room, and make the big boy decisions.  That wasn’t done in this instance.

True, Doc looked good.  He had only given up two runs at that point.  Pitch counts weren’t nearly as critical as they are in today’s game.  Yet he had thrown well over 100 pitches by the time he faced Mike Scioscia, with one runner on.

I guess it’s sort of like the captain of the Titanic.  Years of experience would trump all.  Whatever fate was for the Mets, Johnson as manager was certain to face in due time.

In a way, I wonder if 1986 World Series Game Six was somehow a blessing and a curse.  A blessing in that the Mets won and they lived to play another day, and ended up winning the series.  A curse in that, I guess they truly believed that somehow, they’d always emerge victorious.

But Doc was Davey’s “guy.”  Doc, up to that point, hadn’t a win in any postseason game as a Met.  Probably against reasonable judgment, there Doc stayed.

I was diligently taking score during the game, as I was wont to do in those days.  I was so excited…two outs away from being up 3-1 in the series!!  This was gonna be awe….

Shit.

Mike Scioscia hits a game tying home run.  TWO FUCKING OUTS AWAY FROM WINNING GAME FOUR.  Unfuckingbelievable.

And yes, I believe at age 12, I was saying those exact words.

When you are a Mets fan, you have nothing else but to believe.  I think we all believed, at that point, the Mets would not win that game.

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I sometimes like to imagine a world where Scioscia didn’t hit his home run.  Maybe Doc had pulled through and officially won his first postseason game, or maybe Davey put in a reliever for the 9th inning who went 1-2-3.  Mike Scioscia was never a huge home run hitter.  This was easily the most clutch in his career.

That home run doesn’t get hit, they go up in the series 3-1.  They win Game Five on the momentum at home.

kirk_gibsonKevin McReynolds has his Kirk Gibson Moment during the World Series, endearing himself to Mets fans forever.  But then, we would never know a Kirk Gibson Moment.  Because had the Mets won that series against the Dodgers, we’d never see him limping around the bases.

Shit.  The Mike Scioscia home run changed baseball COMPLETELY.

Perhaps he would have struck out in embarrassing fashion.  Never to be seen again after this series.  Scioscia would then never get the tutelage of Lasorda and wouldn’t have become a well-respected manager for the “I’m Calling Them California” Angels.

Perhaps Kirk Gibson wouldn’t be the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

You just don’t know.  Baseball is a game of chances and odds.  What are the odds that Scioscia doesn’t hit that home run?  The odds were against him for sure.

And this has led to several years of post-traumatic Mets disorder for not just this Mets fan, but several.  Metstradamus still shudders when he hears Scioscia’s name.

I think to that night.  I was a pre-teen taking score at a game that I was sure the Mets would win.  It was the first time I learned that my team could break my heart.  Sure, I lived through 1987.  The team wasn’t the same.  The 1988 team though looked like a rebirth.  Like they would rise from the ashes and be the dominant team that Frank Cashen had set out to make.

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As a baseball fan second, I will always respect and admire both Tom Lasorda and Mike Scioscia for what they’ve done and accomplished as major league managers.  But as Uncle Gene said at that game in 2004, we’ll always remember what happened in 1988.

A little part of me died that night, as a fan.  I’m sure most Mets fans in attendance thought that, still think it.  The Mets after that night were never the same.   They never quite rebounded.

I learned what it truly meant to be a Mets fan.