In 2008 the Mets played their last season in Shea Stadium, and I was a little sad to see it go. Thanks to my Dad I grew up a Mets fan. He was an old Brooklyn Dodger fan from way back. After his beloved Bums headed west, he followed them for a few years as best he could, and then in 1962 he hitched his wagon to the National League’s newest members, the Amazin’ Mets. For the next seven years he suffered alongside those lovable losers, hoping things would eventually turn around.
His patience was rewarded in 1969 when the “Miracle Mets” won the World Series in 1969, toppling the mighty Orioles. I was born the following year and, unfortunately for me, came of age during the dismal late ’70s and early ’80s where the Mets’ “stars” had names like Youngblood, Henderson and Swan. The final nail in the Mets’ coffin was the PR disaster that followed the 1977 trade of my hero, Tom Seaver.
Still, the Mets were my team. I followed the Yankees, but I lived and died with the boys in orange and blue.
Last year I attended my last Mets game at Shea with a good friend of mine, and we traded our favorite memories of the old place, nearly all of which were tied somehow to our fathers. I couldn’t compete with the sheer volume of his or the “wow” factor (he was at Game 6 of the ‘86 World Series!) but I had a great one of my own.
It’s one of my most precious memories of childhood. Dad took me to a game on my tenth birthday, hatching a surprise for me that I would never forget. It was our custom back then to attend Old Timer’s Day each year, something that Dad really loved because he got to see many of the stars of his youth. Old Timer’s Day was the day after my birthday, so we were going to see two games in a row. It struck me as odd, but my ten-year-old brain attached no real significance to it.
When we arrived at the stadium, we were met by a friend of the family, a police officer whose patrol area included Shea. Still, nothing occurred to me, and I thought it was mere coincidence. We spoke briefly and he called for someone on his radio. Another officer arrived, and our friend told us to go with him. Now I knew something was going on.
The officer led us through areas of the stadium I had never seen before, and it seemed as though we were walking forever. When we finally arrived at our destination, the cop pushed open a door. I walked through and found myself standing in the Mets bullpen.
With mouth agape, I was completely and utterly overwhelmed. My senses were bombarded by views and sounds I had seen only from a distance or on television. Met relievers Bob Apodaca and Skip Lockwood were warming up. I can’t remember what they said to me, if anything, but both signed my 1980 Mets Yearbook.
I was allowed on to the field briefly, and there I encountered so-so hitting outfielder Jerry Morales, who also signed my yearbook. I remember marveling at how tall and sweaty he was. Last, but certainly not least, the officer prevailed on manager Joe Torre and coach Joe Pignatano to also sign for me. They might have said something, but I only remember Torre looking somewhat amused.
As soon as that little visit began, it was over. I took one last fleeting look at the stadium from a vantage point I would never have again and locked it away. To see Shea from that angle, with my ten-year old sensibilities, was like seeing a cathedral, but from the altar. Very few memories have eclipsed that one, baseball or otherwise.
—May 27, 2009