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.
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.
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.
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.
But 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.
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?