My dad took me to my first ever game in 1984. Technically, he tried to take me in June of 1980, the day after Steve Henderson hit his infamous walk-off home run (The “Hendu Cando” game). As legend has it, Mom and Dad got lost in Chinatown, got into an argument, and we ended up back at home…not before a compensatory trip to McDonald’s. I was four. I didn’t know the difference. Mets, McDonald’s. Either way, I was going to eat junk food.
I guess I started to get the baseball itch when I was seven, also the same year I discovered Duran Duran and Brit New Wave pop. Both things helped shape a lot of my personality, and you see a lot of those qualities in me today. I remember writing a paper (if one can even call it that, at seven years old) on what my dad and my mom liked to do. My mom liked to bake and shop, while my dad like baseball, and is a New York Mets fan. I remember my teacher gave me an A, and said that her dad, too, was a Mets fan. I started watching more games and asking my dad about guys like Tom Seaver (whom he went to see his first Opening Day back with the team since 1977 that year) and Keith Hernandez (who was some guy that was traded midseason, but I had no idea what that meant).
In 1984, I saw Dwight Gooden lose a few times live at Shea Stadium. But I still bought the hype, drank the Kool-Aid, and was a full-fledged Mets nut. And I wished that I had known about Strawberry Sundae night in 1984. I would have been ALL over that game.
By 1985, my dad had invested in a Sunday game pack with his best friend and his wife, my beloved Uncle Gene and Aunt Melissa. When Melissa couldn’t go, I’d often go in her place. This became more prominent in 1986, as she had given birth to their first child in the year after, my “cousin” Paul Gene. I saw something interesting. My dad became friendly with these guys who sat next to us in Loge Section 22. I’ll never forget their names: Dominic, Rob and Mike. Dominic was a typical Brooklynite, who had an accent that I loved. Rob was a quiet and subdued guy, but treated me like an adult when I talked to him. I don’t remember much about Mike except that my child’s memory has drawn him into a big oaf.
We have places like McFadden’s at CitiField these days, and the Caesar’s Club and what not to go to if you’re lucky enough to have access to on some level. Back then, there was Casey’s on the Loge level. I remember taking many walks with my dad to Casey’s as he went to get his rounds of beers for the guys. That was something else I remember. That everyone bought everyone rounds of beer. The big foamy cups dedicated to Bacchus, and so I wouldn’t feel left out, I got many RC Cola cups in return, still my favorite soda. Sometimes, we’d take walks down to Field Level for the old Frusen Gladje stand, where I swear still was the best cookies n’ cream ice cream I’d ever had in my life. I was also partial to the pizza roll (which was this deep fried egg roll loveliness of pizza sauce and cheese and dough) and the old French fries (screw Nathan’s and Box Frites), all served to us by the ever present Harry M. Stevens attendant.
I am a Capricorn and rumor has it we’re an observant astrological sign. When I wasn’t paying attention to the game at hand (in 1985, there wasn’t a whole lot of reasons to pay attention, since the Mets were winning a lot more that year so it was a lot of standing up for home runs, especially from my favorite Met ever, Gary Carter), I was paying attention to the relationships unfolding next to me. I was too young to understand, but I did see my dad and my uncle forming relationships with these guys next to him in Section 22. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it seemed to me that when you had the common bond of a sports team, you had a friend for life.
This may come as a surprise to some people who know me in real life, but I was a pretty shy kid. I didn’t have many friends, and it was hard for me to relate to kids my own age. I blamed a lot of it by being socialized with adults growing up, being an only child and all. As I grew up, when people found out I was a baseball fan (and most importantly, a sports fan and liked many different teams), it was a common thread, a bond which we could all agree upon and talk about.
I always went back to those relationships that my dad formed in the stands with those guys he’d met, simply by accident since they all had Sunday plans and sat in the same row of Loge 22. It was present in my mind when I met Frank, Tommy and Kim — the “Woodside Crew” — in 2002 sitting in Mezzanine 22. There was Richie and Roger and the Bensonhurst crew. There was Julie and Ben and Mark and Eddie in Section 10 of the Mezzanine for Saturday games. There was Drew and the Bayside crew in Mezzanine Section 14.
Being a Mets fan has shaped a lot of my personality as an adult; but the memories I made by sitting with these folks, simply by chance, really had an impact on my life. I guess I’m writing this as a way to let them know, if there’s any way they can know about it.
The last we heard of Dominic, Rob and Mike was in 1994. Opening Day that year, I went with the usual suspects — Dad, Uncle Gene, Aunt Melissa and their two kids Paul and little Kyle (who isn’t so little anymore) — and we had seats in Upper Deck. I believe this was the year we sat in the second to last row in those sky boxes, to which Uncle Gene said his famous, “I specifically asked for the last row!” Walking up the ramp, Dad spotted Dominic and Rob. There was a lot of hugs, hand shakes and “How are the kids?” Et cetera, et cetera. I was about to graduate high school that year, and it made them feel old I’m sure. Dominic was living in Connecticut and had two kids of his own. Mike was up to the same BS. We never saw them after that day. I doubt I would even recognize them now.
Times change, people change. One of the fringe benefits of being a fan is sharing a moment that’s bigger than you with tens of thousands of other people. Sometimes, you’re lucky enough to find those special someones who become important to you outside of the baseball game. Mets fans may be the geekiest fans out there, but we also share more of a common thread than I think any fan base. This fan base was born of Brooklyn Dodger and New York Giant fans, and both of those teams skipped town over 50 years ago. There was pain, and baseball died in a lot of people’s hearts when that happened. But as James Earl Jones said in Field of Dreams, the one constant throughout the years has been baseball. Baseball has marked the time of America as it’s been rebuilt, erased and rebuilt again.
The one constant in my life has been being a Mets fan. I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world. I also wouldn’t trade meeting those three goons in Loge 22. I doubt they remember me, but they left an indelible mark on my heart inadvertently. Those friendships formed led me to open my heart to many Mets fans, and caused me to write about them and expand my network of friends.
A lot has changed since I was nine years old. But the constant in my life has been the Mets. I’m married to them, in a way. And whoever is my friend or acquaintance has to understand that. Everyone has their quirks. My quirk is being a Mets fan.