Keith Hernandez

…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.

nolan-ryan-astros

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.

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-04 at 9.40.34 PM Screen Shot 2014-05-04 at 9.40.49 PM

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?

Advertisements

Married to the Mets: The Beginnings

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.