My Best Games: The First One

Loving a sports team is like being in a bad relationship. Your own happiness takes a backseat to whatever The Team feels like doing. They’ll do things that they know will piss you off, simply because these things will piss you off or, even worse, because they haven’t the slightest idea of what will piss you off. They’ll put zero effort into your interactions, because they’re so confident that no matter what kind of evil, thoughtless garbage they pull, you’ll never even think of leaving them. Nobody deserves abuse, but if you’re free to walk out that door and you don’t, there’s gotta be a part of you that wants the pain.

The Mets’ current listless play is certainly not the worst I’ve ever witnessed. It is, however, as disgusting an imitation of baseball as I’ve ever seen from a team that’s supposed to be good at the game. It’s one thing to lose a lot of games in a short period of time. It’s another thing entirely to lose them because you’re putting as much passion and effort in the endeavor as you would put into washing your socks.

In a bad relationship, you will justify shitty behavior by remembering the good times. He’s not all that bad, you tell yourself. Remember the time he drove my mom to the doctor and only held it over my head fifteen times later?

So as I try to rationalize my love of a team that has suddenly become unwatchable, I will now remember games I’ve attended in the past. This, I hope, will help me forge anew the chains that bind me to a team that is currently doing very little to earn my fealty. I’ll start from the very beginning.

June 20, 1987: Mets 3, Phillies 2. This is the first professional baseball game I ever attended and it was a complete disaster. See, it was a rare all-family outing, my father included. My father attracted annoyances the way porch lights gather moths. Whether it was his fault or not, whatever he was involved in had virtually no chance of going smoothly.

In this case, traffic was the culprit. It was a hot, muggy afternoon, and we were trapped all the way from upstate to Queens in our forest-green Chevy Capri station wagon and its skin-melting upholstery. The car was in the family so long that the backseat started to unravel. In the spot directly behind the driver’s seat, a wire had broken loose from the
pleather and poked dangerously northward. If you sat in this spot, the seat dagger was aimed right at your crotch.

On a good day, the trip should have taken an hour and forty-five minutes, maybe two hours. Of course, this happened to be one of those ungodly New York summer days when everyone is on the road at the same time, and everything goes wrong. Overturned tractor trailers on every conceivable route. Eighteen different ethnicities having their parades. The Triboro Bridge bursts into flames.

I’m sure the trip was actually no longer than three hours long, possibly three and a half. But in the Detroit-made heatbox, crawling down the Thruway and the Deegan at 0.7 miles an hour, it felt like we were traversing the Sahara. And the presence of my father made it even worse. He wasn’t driving, but he was sighing and cursing the whole way. And I couldn’t shake the feeling that somehow he was responsible for the horrible traffic, just by being in the car.

When we got to Shea, not only had the game already started, but the parking lots were full. We had to park about 10 blocks away, in the middle of Corona, a distance that seemed positively gargantuan to my countrified self. My father grumbled about having to park the car “in the middle of friggin’ Spanish Harlem”. But I’d hate to see the man so desperate he’d stoop to stealing our heat-magnet crotch-stabbing Station Wagon of Death and Discomfort.

As we walked to Shea, the place just seemed to get farther and farther away. Not for the first time, and not for the last, I began to feel that everything I’d ever try to do would be marred somehow. Time, tide, and the affairs of traffic would conspire to ruin everything, from my first baseball game to whatever the hell I was gonna do with the rest of my life. (At this stage, I was probably planning on being a famous cartoonist/actor/catcher.)

Not to sound too Bob Costas here, but when we go to our seats, all those doubts and hatreds dissolved. I don’t know any feeling like walking through the tunnel and out into a stadium full of insane, screaming maniacs, looking down on a field as green and wide as the day is long. And the sound of a bat hitting a ball–you don’t think it can ring throughout a space so big and so loud, but it does, and good lord it is sweet.

It was already the fourth inning and I couldn’t care less.

In my memories, I see Darryl Strawberry hitting a monster shot, an absolute moon beam that landed at the back of the Mets’ bullpen beyond the right field fence. It’s a beautiful memory, but thanks to the Interweb, I’ve been able to determine that it’s a completely false one. Retrosheet tells me that Strawberry had but one hit that night, and it wasn’t a homer.

The box score says that Kevin McReynolds and Howard Johnson both hit homers. It’s unlikely that righty-batting McReynolds would have crushed a dinger to right field. Switch-hitting HoJo hit his homer against righty Steve Jeltz, so he would likely have been batting lefty, and thus would have had a better shot to hit it to right field. In any case, even though I have a good memory for dumb crap, it appears that my nine-year-old brain betrayed me in this case.

My preteen brain fudged the finer details, but I’ve never forgotten the feeling.