Shea Stadium

…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?

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Turns Out, You **CAN** Go Home Again

One constant you’ll see me harping on in my existence is a place to call home.  I didn’t necessarily move around a lot as a kid, but never felt like I quite belonged anywhere, and as a result I think my moving seven times in a period of 13 years has been a thinly veiled (or not-so-veiled) attempt at finding a place that I could root myself in.  Even in New York City, where I’d always coveted, and always wanted to call home.

Yet one place I’ve always felt confident and comfortable in my own skin is at a baseball stadium.  Shea Stadium served that role for several years, from the time I was eight years old and I attended my first Mets game, till I was something-something when it closed down.

In 2009, I had a hard time adjusting to CitiField.  I was far from the only one.  There were moments though when I felt connected in 2009.  Like Fernando Martinez’s debut, and my friends and I congregated on the Shea Bridge, then unnamed.  The Catch of the Day stand had calamari, and people kept buying beers.  It was like an Italian family gathering.

Then there was the game in August, by then the Mets were decimated by injuries, and Fernando Tatis hit a grand slam to win the game.  I had seen Howard Megdal and Mets friend CharlieH at the game. This was also the same day that a mushroom cloud erupted and Omar Minaya essentially called out Adam Rubin for trying to lobby for a job.

I wanted to go home.  I wanted Shea.  I couldn’t identify with a team that had plan Z’s all over the place (as opposed to Plan A, Plan B, etc).  I didn’t know any of the players.  And a six-week injury was a season long furlough.

But I couldn’t get away from the Mets.  CitiField didn’t feel like home, but I had planned to spend some time on the road, visiting another stadium.

This was the infamous West Coast Baseball Trip of ’09.  It was the last summer I was single.  It was the last summer I traveled alone for a baseball trip (and yes, my solo trip to Rogers Centre last season does NOT count because I’d rather forget about it).

It was the summer I discovered home on the west coast.

It was Angel Stadium, or as Greg Prince once described it to me, “Bizarro Shea.”

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The year 2009 was the year I met my now-brother husband/sister wife team in the Sollies.  While I met them at a Mets game at Petco Park, we became locked together for life.  Most of my west coast trips since then have entailed some time spent one way or another with them.  Whether that was them driving up to the Bay Area to see us at AT&T Park or going to the SF Zoo or even just taking a trip to Alcatraz.  Then there was the lost weekend of 2011 when the husband and I went to see them in their home quarters.

The Sollies say “home” to me.  They’re familiar.  They’re safe.

But Angel Stadium has a special place in my heart.  For baseball fans, 2009 was a tough year.  For one, young upstart pitcher Nick Adenhart was killed tragically by a drunk driver after his first game with Anaheim.  When I visited the stadium, I had it marked on my list, since I’d never been there, but I wasn’t expecting much.  I was blown away by the memorial outside for Adenhart.  It had been months, but still fresh in the mind of the fans.

Southern California baseball had experienced its hey day in the 1960s, which was when the stadium was built.  And there were many reminders of the decades past, not too long ago, around the stadium.  The “Big A” outside which had served as the scoreboard in the outfield.  More recent additions like the giant caps were outside by what was perceived to be the main entrance.  And for a team with only one championship, they really loved honoring their past, like having a Wall of Fame celebrating their stars, like Nolan Ryan…a guy most Mets fans can identify.

The Big A  Caps

Mets fans do love their history, and what was missing in 2009 was a nod to any of their history.  Most fans felt as though they were walking into a Brooklyn Dodger shrine.  And when I found Angel Stadium in 2009, it was exactly when I needed it.  I needed another home.  I love the West Coast.  I found it.

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When I visited the Sollies in 2011, it was basically July at Christmas (or Thanksgiving, since it was November).  We decided to make it a baseball trip, where we visited Dodger Stadium and Petco Park for tours.  We worked in other trips, like Hollywood Blvd, San Diego Zoo and Old Town.  But the focal point was of course our bond over baseball.

As we drove up Saturday morning to hit a Dodger Stadium tour, I saw the Big A from the highway.  And I had a feeling of longing.  I missed it.  And I’d only been there one other time in my life.  But we didn’t plan on taking a tour of it.  If they even offer them.  I hadn’t thought to look, because Dodger Stadium and Petco Park seemed more likely.

I’m rarely in Southern California, especially for business.  When I saw that I had a trip that brought me to the west coast in April, and lo and behold I got there with enough time to hit Anaheim and a baseball game at Angel Stadium, you best believe I took the universe up on that offering.

But my family grew.  Besides the Sollies, I got to see my esteemed podcast frequent guest and Whoomp! There It Is Jake! segment host, uh, Jake.  I also had reconnected with a former coworker who was now in SoCal, MB.  I purchased the tickets when I was waiting for my flight to Long Beach.

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So many things…

Someone had asked if I felt that Shea could have been comparable to Angel Stadium, had it been decided to revamp Shea instead of tear it down.  The consensus was that Shea was old and decrepit (and smelled bad…but yes, I still missed it terribly), and because it was exposed to different elements of weather, the upkeep was probably more costly.  Eh, who knows, it might have still been worth it.

But when I get to Angel Stadium again, it’s a sigh of relief.  See, when I travel, I’m a complete spaztastic spaz.  And this day was no different.  TSA was intent on fucking me over.  My plane got delayed on the tarmac because there was some sort of switch sticking, and maintenance people had to get us to the gate again.  Of course, I wouldn’t have minded if a) this same shit didn’t already happen when I was on my way to Seattle last November or b) if I didn’t have a connecting flight to catch in Las Vegas.  Oh, and I’m already a nervous wreck disaster because I don’t like cross-country flights (though they are more tolerable since I flew to India, an 11 hour flight after a six-or-so hour flight to Germany).

Then I get in a car…in Southern California…during rush hour traffic.

I need serious help.

But when I was driving to the local StubHub office, I drove right past Angel Stadium.  A calming effect, if you will.  I could exhale.  I felt good.

It was home.

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The Buzz Reached Shea Bridge

The Buzz Reached Shea Bridge

Urban legend has it that my dad once wore a suit to Opening Day at Shea one year.  When people asked him why, he said, “Well, it’s Opening Day!”  My family isn’t one to get all gussied for holidays or special occasions.  But Opening Day: that’s Christmas, New Year’s, Mardi Gras and 4th of July rolled into one.  When we’d drive there, or take the train, and Shea came into view, it was always a thrill, that first time of the year.

We had some defining Mo-Mets at Shea, and it was tough to get that at Citi.  Now I get the thrill when I see Citi.  We’ve had some good times, like 2012, with R.A. Dickey winning 20 games, David Wright breaking the all-time hit record and of course the Johan Santana no-hitter.

Last week, there was a buzz around Citi.  It had everything do with Matthew Edward Harvey.  Or as my friend Orlando (who is *NOT* a Mets fan) calls him, “The Truth.”

 

Even with the bells and whistles and focus on history at CitiField, there has been a disconnect between fans and the park.  It’s finally arrived.  With every Matt Harvey start, it’s bringing the energy of a Pedro Martinez start circa 2005 (by the way, FUCK PEDRO MARTINEZ), and the rock concert quality of a Doc Gooden start circa 1984.   Either one of those events took place at Shea Stadium.

Matt Harvey IS CitiField.

And should be for years to come.

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I’m very fortunate to have found my place with the misfits by being a Mets fan.  Yet it’s the only place I’ve found that being weird is a good quality, an acceptable one.

This weirdness got me to the Sollies, and to Jake, and got them to drive from various places in Southern California just to come watch some baseball at my west coast stadium home.

There’s a piece of paradise at this place.

Is it the waterfall in the outfield?  Is it the combination of eras?  Is it that it reminds me of Shea on some level?  I’m not sure.

DSCN6233  DSCN6238

Perhaps it was because at a time when it was hard to accept that things were changing for a Mets fan, I found an oddly familiar home 3,000-some miles away.

I get there, and I’m comfortable.

I get there, and I’m home.

I’m where I should be at home.

Now that Citi is getting to that point with me, I guess the need to visit my west coast home isn’t necessary or as longing.  Still doesn’t mean I can’t miss it when I don’t see it.

Married to the Mets: Worse Than Chernobyl

I became a Mets fan at a very interesting time.  Essentially, they ruled the city.  When I was young, I didn’t know a New York City that wasn’t all about the Mets and the Yankees, storied pinstriped team in the Bronx, played second fiddle.

Till, of course, they weren’t.

I have a family member who shall remain nameless, who claims to be a lifelong Yankee fan. Funny, I don’t remember him rooting for them till 1996.  And I DEFINITELY remember wearing our Mets gear together, rooting for them on WOR.  I do remember at one point he told my dad and I that he admires us for sticking with the Mets for so long.

You know, it’s not like we had a choice.

For me, though, the choice was simple.  I stuck around for a multitude of reasons.   Most of all, that I didn’t want to give up on the team. Also because the fans I met made me laugh like nothing else.

It was one thing watching games with my dad, Uncle Gene and Aunt Melissa, and hearing the wisecracks from all of them during the games.  Even when we met Dominic, Rob and Mike in the stands at Loge Section 22, the Mets deep-in-the-trenches army-like humor kept us going.

I’ve been a Mets fan for nearly 30 years.  (Let that one sink in for a moment).  In those years, they’ve had two World Series appearances, a few playoff runs, but mostly, futility mixed in with a splash of ennui.  Yes, it’s tough to be a Mets fan sometimes.  Yet, the fans, the true bleeding blue-and-orange fans kept me coming back when I had every reason not to.

In the 1980s, you couldn’t really knock the team because they were so good.  Shea Stadium, however, was fair game.  In the spring of 1986, the Chernobyl disaster hit Kiev, Ukraine…and Banner Day at Shea.  “Shea’s Bathrooms Are Worse Than Chernobyl,” one of the banners read.  I don’t remember any other banner that year but that one.  It was priceless and still generates some laughs from those of us who saw it.  Till the very last day of Shea, the bathrooms were the butt (no pun intended) of the joke with many fans.  In fact, I appeared on a blogger’s roundtable with such personalities as Matt Cerrone from Metsblog, Joe Janish from Mets Today and Ted Berg from SNY on Mets Weekly in 2008.  Janish made a joke about the bathrooms, and needless to say, we all chuckled.

At the root of it all, Mets fans are humorous.  We’re funny, and we’re a bunch of wise guys, and we need to make the impossibly tragic funny, in order for us to survive it.

Over the years, I’ve met so many people, fans just passing through (sometimes, I was one of those fans), people I sat with an entire season, people I sat by just once, often leave me with such indelible prints of my brain, that I still think of them from time to time.

Like the guy I sat behind at Camden Yards one year during an extra inning game in 1998.  Ironically, ex-Met Jesse Orosco (in the twilight of his career) came into the game via middle relief (in the back end of the game of course).  This gentleman threw his hands up in the arm in disgust, yelling, “Just forfeit!! Just forfeit the game!”  Though I was in Maryland, he sounded like Benny from Brooklyn, as “forfeit” sounded like “faw-fit.”  Needless to say, this has been rehashed several times over the years, usually when the Mets bring in someone with a two run lead in late innings.  Used in conjunction with the likes of Guillermo Mota, Aaron Heilman, Scott Schoeneweis, among others.

There was Richie in Section 22 in the Mezzanine.  Between him shouting “YEEEEEEEEEE HAWWWWWWWWW!” at the top of his lungs at inopportune moments (keep in mind, this was in 2002, when NO ONE was going to games, and the Mets didn’t give us much to cheer).  My personal favorite is one that we use to this day.  During a random Saturday game, probably against a futile team like the Pittsburgh Pirates, there was a 6-0 deficit for the Mets to overcome in like the 6th inning.  Richie’s response was a classic one.  “We’re down 6-0, in the 6th inning to the Pirates. WE GOT ‘EM RIGHT WHERE WE WANT ‘EM.”

Woodside Tommy, also from Mezzanine 22, was one of the smart ass ringleaders.  At a game in Coney Island, when Howard Johnson was the manager of the Cyclones and Bobby Ojeda was his pitching coach, Tommy yelled to Ojeda in the bullpen.  “HEY!  BOBBY O!!!!!! GIMME A HIGH FOUR!!!”  Of course, in reference to Ojeda snipping off his finger prior to the playoffs in 1988.  When I told Tommy he was an asshole, Tommy feigned innocence. “What? What?? What am I gonna say?  Gimme a high FIVE????  Ha ha!”

The man had a point.

There was the Opening Day when my ex was wearing his Brooklyn Dodger cap.  My dear uncle Gene, as everyone knows, was a New York Giants fan back in the day and still has some massive hate towards the team from the borough of churches.  My smart ass of an ex (there’s a reason why he’s that) said, “Hey Gene, I got another one of these caps for you at home if you want it,” fully knowing that Gene hates the team.  Gene said, “Yeah, good, I need some kindling for my fireplace!”  Then he had his maniacal laugh that only Gene can have.

There was the night in 2006 when I was sitting in the Field Level at Shea Stadium, and Jose Lima gave up a grand slam to Dontrelle Willis, the starting pitcher for the Florida Marlins that night.  I had to be carried out of the stadium, but not before it took me until the 7th inning before I realized Lima was NOT in the game since the 2nd inning basically.

I was not only that drunk, but  I still have some massive Post-Traumatic Mets Disorder from that one.  In fact, I believe that was the night I coined that term, shorthand is “PTMD.”  Many, many Mets fans have their own personal PTMD moments.

You know you have them too.

Lately, some of my catch phrases have taken a life of their own.  Like the ever-infamous, “HOLY SHEEPSHIT AND BALLS” that started on Twitter.  It started off as “Holy sheepshit” when something fun happened or surprising was going on.  Since then, it’s mutated.  The balls I added on because, I don’t know, I thought it was funny.  For the record, it’s supposed to be read as “Sheep shit and sheep balls,” not a purely baseball reference, as I’ve been known to tweet that during football and hockey.

While I’m thrilled to be a part of people’s lexicon while watching sporting events, I have a mouth like a truck driver that for some reason people take a holier-than-thou approach to in dealing with me.  I have to say, hey, lighten up, it’s the heat of the moment.

Like you’ve NEVER done that.

Hell, I sat in the trenches with many Mets fans in the late ’80s and early ’90s, even the early aughts, with this army-like humor.  I was even at a Mets/Braves game in 2007 when the aforementioned Mota came in and proceeded to make the game VERY interesting.  When we all talked about it later, after the Mets won of course, it was like surviving a war.

Mets fans are like army buddies.  Some of these people are the best buddies I’ll ever have in my life.  You can have inside jokes about the Mota game, or the Lima Time game, or that time on Twitter when <blank> happened and we all said “HOLY SHEEPSHIT!”  Or later, it’s mutated into Twitter memes, like our friend @JedSmed who creates different Mets hash tags when there’s nothing going on.  Or when Matt from the Daily Stache started #ReplaceShitWithMets trend or the #JustinTurnerFacts.

Like army buddies, you gotta keep things interesting to get through it all.

The next generation of Mets fans will be introduced to Banner Day in 2012, just like I was back when I first became a fan.  I couldn’t tell you what banner took the prize during that scheduled doubleheader in 1986, or if there were really cool banners.  No.  All I remembered was a plain white bed sheet with black shoe polish-like substance with the words, “SHEA’S BATHROOMS ARE WORSE THAN CHERNOBYL.”

You had to be there to get it.  Just like with most things that come with being a Mets fan.  You can look at one another, or bring up a difficult memory or even a fond memory, and know what it’s like.

Yet, I’m sure at the end of the day, we’ll take Shea’s bathrooms back any day, Chernobyl or no.

Married to the Mets: 1987

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.

Married to the Mets: The Primitive Version of the Internet

I can’t tell you how many nights, days, weekends were spent sitting on the floor of my living room as a child, watching Mets games on the old WOR.  Remember that?  It’s funny watching the commercials pilfered from YouTube.

Catch the rising stars…watch them shine on Channel 9!

Baseball like it oughta be!  Bring it home, Mets! TV-9, bring it home!

There were many more, mostly celebrating championships past (1987) and less bravado as the steam came down.  One of the common threads in those boisterous Mets years of the 1980s was that my dad and I spent countless hours watching games in the old place we lived at while my folks were still together.  During the playoffs in 1988, we spent most of the NLCS watching them at Uncle Gene and Aunt Melissa’s old house in North Middletown, New Jersey, with their then-toddler Paul.  (He’s 25 years old now.  Ugh.)

During the amazin’ 1986 run, I remember hearing raucous stories of my dad and his friends at Gene and Melissa’s, doing the pogo hops as the Mets rolled over Houston, and wishing I was there.  My mom, for whatever reason, wished to keep me away from that atmosphere.  Try as she might, I had a lot more fun with my dad.  He was a permissive parent, and my mom was stricter, though she let me get away with a lot more than most parents I suppose.  I was lucky to watch Mets games when I got home from school.  But I was a good student, so I could be trusted to finish my homework during the games or afterwards.

In 1988, we watched Game Three of the NLCS over at Gene and Melissa’s house.  It was a chilly Saturday afternoon, and I remember seeing my hero, A. Bartlett Giamatti, toss Dodgers starting pitcher Jay Howell out of the game for a tar ball.  (The headline the next day my mother actually saved for me: “Tar-Rific,” a play on my first name).

But I remember that day for other reasons.  I remember participating in the passing-Paul-around-celebrations that took place after the Mets scored runs.  (Another item of note I’d heard about during the ’86 run).  Afterwards, Gene fired up the barbecue grill and made burgers.  Melissa sent me down the street to the local corner store for some soda, chips and said to get something for myself with the ten-spot she gave me.  I chose a Chocodile.  It was one of the best memories of my childhood (up to that point), that day.

The next night, my dad had tickets to the game.  ONE ticket, for himself.  Yes, my puppy dog eyes worked, and I went.  I wished I didn’t.  This was the infamous Mike Scioscia game.  We sat in the Mezzanine on the third base side.  I started a chant inspired by the big ladies we met in Philadelphia in September of that year.  “ONE DOWN! TWO TO GO! ONE DOWN! TWO TO GO!”  The Mets promptly got the Dodgers to hit into a double play.

By 1989, my dad had moved out and whenever I stayed at his place, I’d watch the old SportsChannel on game nights.  In 1990, I made my mother cancel our HBO account so I could watch the Mets games that were on SportsChannel (we couldn’t afford both, but HBO was back on in the offseason).

In 1994, I went off to college.  We didn’t have cable in our rooms on campus, but it didn’t matter.  This also coincided with the “Strike,” you know, the one that cancelled the World Series that year.  I know there was a year or two I didn’t go to Opening Day.  Honestly, I have no recollection.  But I do know for a fact that I didn’t go in 1998.  I was working two internships and finishing up my independent studies.  I had more on my mind than just baseball.  It was a move later that year, the trade for Mike Piazza, that got me going to more games.

Then 1999 came around.  I was living in Red Bank at the time, with a roommate, but with adult responsibilities and my first “real” job.   My dad and I were going to more games, and it was a fun time to be a Mets fan.  In fact, it was the first Opening Day I had been to in at least two years. From 1999 onward, it set the most consecutive string of Opening Days since for me.  We went with Uncle Gene, Aunt Melissa, Paul, his brother Kyle and their little three-year old brother, Brett.  I remember watching Robin Ventura.  Uncle Gene liked him.  Dad called him, “Ace” after one of our favorite movies.  I responded with, “All righty then.”

We laughed.  A lot.  That’s something Dad and Gene do.  They laugh.  A LOT.

That year was a special year, 1999.  For obvious reasons for most Mets fans, that I won’t insult your intelligence by detailing.   It was special for me for a few reasons.  One was I spent more of my time sitting on the living room floor of my own apartment, watching Mets games again.  I was going to more games, mostly with my dad, but I also attended games with my mom’s two brothers, my “real” uncles, Mike and Scott.   Then I watched Game 163 that year over at my then-boyfriend’s house.  The relationship didn’t last; but my memories of that postseason did for certain.

The NLDS was special.  We made it a point to watch Game Four (the “Todd Pratt game”) over at my new place.  Melissa wanted to see my new place anyway, and to get an idea of what she could charge in rent for her house.  See, they were looking to sell the old grey lady of a house.  I didn’t think I’d actually believe it, till it actually happened.

But the little one, Brett, got sick during the first inning, and Melissa took him home.  Kyle and Paul stayed behind, along with my dad and Gene-oh.  We watched, and watched and watched.  I probably bit my nails to the nub.  We didn’t really say much.  There wasn’t much to say.  They were going into extra innings, and the prospect of going to Arizona to face Randy Johnson was almost as bad as the idea of facing Mike Scott in a forced Game Seven in Houston during the ’86 playoffs.  Almost.

But then…could it…is it…could is possibly be…Hineys cautiously lifted up from the couch or lounge chair, as we watched Steve Finley’s puppy dog face, when he realized the ball he was certain was caught was not.

Thus the celebrations.  The pogo hops.  Zorba the Greek-like dances.  This time, though, we couldn’t toss Paul around like a football in celebration.  In fact, he was 13 years old, he probably could have tossed US around.  This meant that we were facing the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS.

It also meant we were back at the old house in North Middletown for the NLCS.  It turned out it was the last time, as Melissa was serious about selling it.  They would be out by the year 2000.

We may have watched the NLCS of 1999 in the same living room we watched the 1986 and 1988 playoffs.  Yet, so much had changed in that time period.  Kyle and Brett hadn’t been born until after 1988.  And while Paul was born in 1986, he had no visible memories of the 1986 championship.  This was for all intents and purposes their first run as Mets fans.  I had gone to high school and college, graduated from both, and was living on my own and doing adult things like drive and pay bills.  Yet, it was like nothing had changed.  The neighborhood had stayed the same, with the same corner store that I had bought my Chocodile 11 years before.

Something else curious happened.  There was a computer in the old living room.  Computers were not so mainstream at the time, and the Internet was fairly a new phenomenon.  During the playoffs, I helped Paul with his English homework.  By the end of the night, I was crafting an email to NBC about how horrible Bob Costas was during the game.  “Bob Costas is the winter of our discontent” got many laughs from the peanut gallery at Bray Avenue.  Aunt Melissa started to lament how much she missed Tim McCarver.  I wonder if she says that now watching him on FOX.

During Game Five, the infamous grand slam single game, we had ordered dinner early in the evening…till the game went on forever and a day.  Melissa swore that if they went to a Game Six, she’d make dinner and dessert, so that we wouldn’t be starving.  The kids begged to stay up to watch the end.  Both Paul and Kyle had vested interests in the game.  Paul was a Mets fan, Kyle for some reason was a Braves fan.  Of course, this was another game that had there been a toddler, we’d have tossed him or her around the round while the Mets won that game in dramatic fashion.  Instead, we did our pogo hops and Zorba the Greek dances.

For Game Six though, I remember Al Leiter starting off skittish.  I remember screaming at the TV.  I remember Paul and Kyle being sent to bed since they had school the next day.  Oh please, when you were that age, were YOU sleeping?  I was standing at the edge of the room where the living room and their bedroom door met, and Paul kept opening the door to see what the score was.  The Mets were slowly chipping away at the lead, but 1999 was demised that evening.

I wasn’t so much sad that the season had ended.  I was very proud of that team.  What I was mostly sad about was the prospect of Gene and Melissa moving.  Yes, I know I didn’t grow up there.  Yes, I know it was very selfish to think that way.  So many of my early Mets memories were formed there.  I had sat on the living room floor in front of the television during many baseball seasons, but the times we watched the games over at Gene and Melissa’s house was an event.  There were so many fond memories formed over there during the years.  I didn’t grow up there specifically, but I did grow up there in a sense.  So did my Mets fandom.

A year later, when the Mets were in the World Series, we watched Game One in the living room of the new house.  We sang The Star Spangled Banner before the game.  Infamously, we sent my dad to the kitchen when he got up to use the bathroom and the Mets led off the inning with a base runner.  He chanted “Lets go Mets” from the other room, while we chanted in the living room.

The vibe was different, but the family stayed the same.

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It was only fitting that we saw Gene and Melissa at the last game at Shea.  Eight years had passed, but so much had changed in those years.  I’d started blogging on the Mets almost two years prior.  The Mets had gone on an improbable run in 2006, only to fall in disappointment in 2007 and 2008.

Shea Stadium was coming down soon after the Mets finished up 2008.

Me with Aunt Melissa, Uncle Gene and Pop on Shea Goodbye Day

Coop and Mr. E in the Coop Box at Shea Mezzanine 14

There were many different ways to watch games with the advent of smartphones, Internet TV and streaming videos, among others.  I preferred to watch Mets games on their pretty new network, SportsNet NY, the old fashioned way: on the floor of my living room.  Oh, all right, I probably sat on my couch or lounge chair during games too.  Okay, fine, in a bar too.

I texted a lot too during games; Twitter wasn’t exactly in fashion yet.  My phone served as sort of a command post during games.  I had met a whole new group of family members through my blogging and newfangled media such as Facebook.

Prior to the Internet’s existence, my personality was shaped by being a Mets fan, but watching the games with so many memorable characters I’ve ever known in my life.

When the last “pitch” was thrown at Shea by Tom Seaver to Mike Piazza, my dad hugged me and said, “You grew up here.”  It got dusty for a bit.  Funny, they didn’t start to tear down Shea till a few days later.  Perhaps they got a head start on it during the closing ceremonies.

Maybe I grew up at Shea Stadium, but I became a Mets fan watching games the best way that I possibly could: with family and loved ones.

Some of the best memories are simple ones.

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.