I’ve been thinking a lot about the year 1987 recently. When a child of the ’80s is asked about the Mets, 1986 is often talked referred. As well as it should be. Yet, there was something about 1987 that holds a special place in my heart. It was the first in a long stretch of home Opening Days that I’d started going to. This was also the year that the Mets had their Championship Ring ceremonies prior to their home opener. I sat in Upper Deck in Row Z that day. I’m sure Row Z didn’t actually exist but rest assured, it was specifically the last row. So with my piddly Kodak Disk camera, I couldn’t get a good shot of the field ceremony if I tried. To be in digital cameras in that time period…
I found myself spending a lot of time at Shea Stadium this year, which was slowly becoming my summer home. As I mentioned before, my dad and Uncle Gene had a ticket plan in the Loge, Section 22, on Sundays. The third ticket was for Aunt Melissa, who was staying behind more and more with the baby, Paul. Typically, that third ticket was given to me quite a bit. I’d go in threes with Dad and Gene. Sometimes my mom would go too. Most of the time, it was my dad and me making the drive to Shea every Sunday morning.
As a child, I loved getting a car as a passenger. As an adult, I drive simply out of necessity and convenience, not necessarily because I want to. I moved to a city simply so I wouldn’t be forced to drive as much. Yet, over a recent long weekend, I trekked through the borough of Staten Island a bit, crossed the Verrazano and into Queens to drop off a rental car, and it brought back memories of driving to Shea with my dad on Sundays.
As I crossed Staten Island, I remembered sitting in Dad’s truck, with a book in my hand or maybe notepad and pen, reading my Nancy Drew paperbacks or jotting down some thoughts. I pointed out the building that looked like steps going into a mountain. The Verrazano, while not nearly as breathtaking as the Golden Gate Bridge (my favorite bridge in the world), still takes my breath away. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be running across that bridge in November of this year. I remembered crossing into Brooklyn via I-278, known as the “BQE.” I remember seeing a train in the background while crossing I guess what is part of Bay Ridge, and made the connection that it’s the F train. There was a sign for Bruno Truck Sales that towered over the road, but I always thought the sign was funny for some reason. It’s still there, and it still makes me smile.
Looking across the East River, you can see Lower Manhattan and the South Street Seaport, the first time place I ever visited in Manhattan. Someone told me as a kid that you could walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. The idea seemed so foreign to me, but I did manage to do it a few times in my adult life. Tillary Street exit, the Manhattan Bridge, the Williamsburg Bridge, finally we cross into Queens. Inevitably, I’d hear about the time Bob took a wrong turn and ended up on the Long Island Expressway on the way to a game. They missed the first inning, and of course Darryl Strawberry hit a grand slam that same inning.
All these names and streets, neighborhoods and pictures in my head all hit close to home. Since they are part of my home. I may have grown up in New Jersey, but I’ve lived in the greater New York area for several years now, and feel as though this is the place I should have been all along.
I fell in love with New York while driving to Shea Stadium as a child. I always knew I would be here someday.
I’ve also become jaded, going to baseball games so often. I get there with maybe just minutes to spare, and in an ideal situation, it will be either during or after the Star Spangled Banner. Hey, I’m as patriotic as the next person, but I typically go to games now to watch said games, and then complain about the train ride home. When I was a kid though, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to get to Shea several hours before a game started.
My dad, famously, got to Shea almost as soon as it opened. I guess back then, at 10:30 am, one could get a beer fresh off the tap (as the beer vendor in the stands used to say). I found out from my friend Steve at CitiField that the stands wouldn’t sell him beer till the clock hit 12. I remember this because as soon as the clock hit 12, he said he’d see me later. I also remember that Shea Stadium used to sell those Dolly Madison Dixie Cup ice cream, chocolate and vanilla with the wooden spoon. RC Cola with the plastic on top that you peeled off. My dad used to make megaphones out of the soda or beer cups, and we’d chant “Let’s go Mets! Let’s go Mets!” When it was cold, hot chocolate was sold. And one day while we sat in field level, one of the vendors found a great sales pitch: “WOULD SOMEBODY PLEASE BUY SOME POPCORN!!????!” I think Dad bought two boxes to shut him up.
There was something I look back as being special about 1987. It was different, almost sad in a way, to be at Shea Stadium. One of my heroes, Doc Gooden, started off the year in rehab…not for injuries, but for drugs. Gary Carter was starting to deteriorate. There were rumors of clubhouse turmoil with Keith Hernandez, the veteran leader of the team, and young guys like Darryl Strawberry, who had attitude problems.
They were still good, but even as a child I could tell the magic and dominance was gone. It was a different mission in 1987. Yet, I was a part of it, and in the thick of it for the first time in my life. It was the first time I realized that my team could disappoint me. Sure, I knew about falling short in 1984 and 1985, the first two years I really understood baseball, but wasn’t every year supposed to be like 1986? Even if the answer was no, it should be.
This was also the first year that I really started to understand who I was. Believe it or not, I was kind of a shy kid. I was shy around kids my own age, but around adults I was fine. Pretty ass-backwards. To say I didn’t have many friends my own age was an understatement though. Baseball was an escape for me. My dad would take me, and just leave me to my own devices. I’d cheer, I’d keep score, I’d drink my soda. Yet, there were some games I was just too cool for school. I’d have my Walkman and listen to mix tapes as the games went on. In my mind, these are the games the Mets lost.
In September of 1986, there was lettering in the outfield that said, “A SEPTEMBER TO REMEMBER.” I remember the three guys who sat in our section, Dominic, Rob and Mike, said they should have “A SEPTEMBER TO DISMEMBER” in the outfield. I still don’t know if they picked that up from somewhere, but I certainly never forgot it. I think I stopped paying attention that year around the time of the Terry Pendleton home run. I don’t remember going to many games that year in September.
Something else had happened, though, bigger than me just going to more Mets games. My dad and I became buddies. I think he started to like me then. Okay, fine, he probably liked me before, especially when I begged him to teach me to play baseball since I never got chosen for teams in school. I wanted to be good, hopefully to someday play myself. Yet, looking back, it was also an odd time not just for the Mets and their home life, but my home life. I started to pick up that things at home weren’t exactly pleasant. My parents were not in a happy marriage, and I could tell. You know, that whole business about staying together for the “kid’s sake” is just a bunch of crap. The kids know something is up. Or maybe just me. It was something you didn’t talk about, but I knew.
By 1989, my dad had moved out, and it was just my mom and I, and our cat, Cody. I know the Sunday ticket plan wasn’t much longer for the world either, as I’m sure they were no longer ours in 1991. My dad and I still bonded over the Mets though, when I stayed at his place we watched SportsChannel, and we’d go to games. By that time, we had discovered that driving through Manhattan and taking the Williamsburg Bridge was a better route for us than going through Staten Island.
Those long Sunday morning drives though. It gave me two things: love for baseball and love for the city. I’m deeply committed to both right now as an adult. I wouldn’t want it any other way.