August 12, 1988. Expos 5, Mets 2 (12). This was Gary Carter’s first game back at Shea after he finally hit his 300th career homer. The Kid went about 8 jillion at-bats between dingers number 299 and 300, so it was more relief than celebration when he finally marked the milestone.
He was my favorite player when I was a kid. I’ve always had a soft spot for catchers, playing as they do the most injury-prone and thankless position in the game. He was a milk drinker on a team full of coke heads and hard party-ers. But despite his cheery demeanor, he was also an extremely hard nosed player, and his bat and leadership was one of the biggest reasons why the Mets won it all in 1986. (See: game 6, where he got the two-out single in the bottom of the tenth that got the ridiculous rally started.)
This game came at the end of a very long day in which me, my brothers, and my cousin acted like pure, unadulterated dicks. Any time the four of us got together was an occasion for chicanery of all kinds, usually involving the destruction of other people’s property. But even by the low standards to which our collective behavior was held, this day still stands out in my mother’s memory as one of our worst days ever.
The day began with us going to the Museum of Natural History, where we ran around like idiots, jumped down stairs, and played dangerously close to invaluable artifacts. For some reason, my mom and aunt thought it might be nice to follow up this fiasco with a trip to Chinatown for lunch.
I don’t think our palates were sophisticated enough to appreciate anything more nuanced than mac and cheese, so this Very Special Trip was basically a huge waste of money. Even worse, the four of us, ensconced at our own table, unleashed a torrent of Kiddie Racism that still shames me when I remember it. I won’t repeat anything we said, but rest assured we were neither subtle nor discreet. And it involved heavy use of the ninga-ninga-ning-ning song.
Was I a racist at age 10? Of course not. So why did I engage in such shameful behavior? I have no answer. Notorious criminals often blank on the hows and whys of their dastardly deeds, because they can’t face the truth about what they’ve done. It must have begun as a game of Can You Top This? and spiraled out of control. Like you strike up a conversation with somebody in a bar, start doing shots, and the next thing you know you’re beating a hobo with a sack of doorknobs.
The only thing I can say in my defense is that when me and my brothers got together with my cousin, it was like we entered some subatomic space where the rules of the universe no longer applied. I can’t explain it. Normally, I was terrified of getting into trouble and pissing off my mom. But get me together with my cousin and within five minutes I’d be concocting ways to burn down City Hall.
I still can’t imagine why my mother didn’t drag us out of the restaurant and beat us within an inch of our lives. Maybe because we’d already paid for the food. Wasting food, under any circumstances, is an egregious offense in my family. My grandmother actually used to say “wasting food is a sin”. She was extremely Catholic, so when she said something was a sin, she meant it, fire and brimstone included.
For some reason, I have a distinct memory of the ride from lower Manhattan to Shea. It was overcast that afternoon. Driving up the BQE in the late afternoon gloom, Brooklyn looked like a smoldering post-apocalyptic Mad Max landscape. I thought it was awesome, hovering above all the 1980s urban blight in my aunt’s enormous Pontiac Bonneville. That car was so huge, when they built they had to account for the curvature of the
Oh, the game? Our seats were in the very last section of the upper deck in right field, in the very last row. We could see approximately 35% of the field. I remember that Gary Carter got an enormous ovation before each of his at bats, which didn’t help him at the plate, as he went 0-for-5. Other than that, I have very few concrete memories of the game. I certainly don’t remember, as Retrosheet tells me, that the Mets rallied from a 2-0 deficit to tie the game, only to lose the game in 12 innings.
I have a feeling we left before the game’s conclusion, because if my mother had spent any more time out with us maniacs, she would have strangled us to death. And no jury on earth would have convicted her.
Recently, my cousin reminded me that he spent a good chunk of the game kicking the seat in front of us. Why? Why not? God, we were dicks.