So You Think Being A Mets Fan Is Tough? Try This On For Size

Being as I was 20 old when the Mets won the 1986 World Series, our Rising Apple editor today asked if I could share some of my memories, especially being that tonight is the 27th anniversary of the famous, or infamous, ground ball struck by Mookie Wilson, that somehow found its way under Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner‘s glove and down the right field line, allowing Ray Knight to come around third base and score the most incredible game winning run a Mets fan could ever imagine.  What a great, if not surreal moment, aye?

IMG956295The only problem is, I wasn’t there to see it, nor could I watch on TV.  Even a radio wouldn’t have helped in my situation.  In fact, I didn’t find out the results of Game Six, or of Game Seven until two days after they occurred.  Why?  I was an ocean and a continent away, on maneuvers in the forests of southern (West) Germany.  I proudly served in the United States Army during the Cold War and settled for the armed forces Stars and Stripes newspaper delivered to us while in the field for game results.  I asked a few German locals if they were abreast of the series, with no luck.

As a little kid, I lived on a dead-end block against Holy Cross Cemetery.  Mine was a special block in Brooklyn.  On a dead-end block, there was never any threat of cars unless it was our own folks, so everything we did was outside in the middle of the street.

Stickball was a religion on my block, and all inclusive.  Young kids like me, the older ones, and even your occasional adults played together, while old Mr.”Get Get” used to sit curbside with a piece of chalk and keep score for us.  Cat Lady used to yell at everybody, and for good reason.  We broke a few of her windows over the years.  But someone’s parents would always stick up for all of us.  This was the ’70′s.

We were all Mets fans with no exception.  A great elderly lady up the block used to clip Mets coupons from the back of milk cartons for me.  20 coupons got you one ticket to a Mets game in the mail.  She never handed me any less than 40 at a time!  One day in 1972, almost everyone on my block gathered on our corner, and dragged me with them.  Some elders cried while we all stood silently.  They did their best to make me understand what I saw that day - when Gil Hodges‘ funeral procession passed us by and turned left through the cemetery gates.

I was in kindergarten during the 1973 season.  I knew the Mets were in the playoffs, but I was still more focused on Looney Toons and stuff like that to watch any of the World Series on TV.   By this time, however, my aunt and uncle were really taking the lead in developing my passion for baseball.  She had already taught me how to keep score and about all of the National League players.  My uncle made me play, and play hard.  I remember once in McCarren Park, I pitched and nailed my cousin square in the back, twice, in two consecutive at-bats.  Uncle yelled at me when I said I didn’t mean it.  He grunted back - why not?!  I was like, huh?  He said that dummy deserved it because he crowds the plate, and that I shouldn’t be apologetic if I had aspirations of being a pitcher.  I was seven or eight years old.  It took years before I knew exactly what he meant, but it stuck with me for life.

It wasn’t until the 1974 and 1975 seasons in which I claim to have full personal Mets recall.  The 1976 season was very competitive.  From the years between 1976 through 1980, I enjoyed the benefits of season tickets.  That was my mom’s hook-up.  And so, I was one of the 8,000 fans who showed up per-game in those dark days after the Mets traded Tom Seaver.  To be honest with you, trading Tug McGraw and Rusty Staub devastated me more.

I turned 13 in 1980, and started going to frequent Mets games on my own with friends.  There used to be a Green Line bus that departed the high school where I lived at the time.  With only one other stop in Queens, it was a non-stop trip to Shea Stadium from Brooklyn.  The bus departed Shea Stadium exactly one-half hour after the game’s last out.  It was perfect!  I did that for five seasons.

After watching the Mets grow and assemble a contender, I left for the service at the conclusion of the 1985 season.  My timing couldn’t have been worse.  I was stationed in Texas during the 1986 season.  Then I learned, every Fall, my unit deployed to Germany for four to six weeks of joint military exercises.  I was only able to watch Game Three of the NLCS at a military depot in Holland, but negotiating the six hour time difference was not easy to pull off.  Then I managed to catch most of Game Two against Boston on Armed Forces Network TV during a reconstitution break in Wurzburg.

In the field, I depended on Stars and Stripes newspaper for results, but they would always print results a day or two late.  Upon finally reading the news, I still danced and shouted in the night, and got in trouble for breaking silence.  When we got back to Texas, an over-stuffed mail box awaited me.  My aunt and friends mailed me newspaper clippings and whole papers from throughout the season to include the World Series winner.  It is because of them, I have it.  Two weeks later, a box arrived for me, filled with Sports Illustrated issues of the playoffs and Series.  Inside, an index card simply read – From Us.  The box was addressed from the candy store I used to hang out in and played Asteroids and Space Invaders.

I was able to watch the New York Football Giants win Super Bowl XXI in the relative comfort of my room in Texas, delighted to be in the middle of Dallas Cowboys country!  Two months later, my official orders to report for duty in Germany finally came.  I had been looking forward to ending my tour in the army there, and was guaranteed that assignment in my contract.  I was able to watch the 1988 playoffs on TV, but because of the time difference, I had to stay up all night to do it.  As luck would have it, my roommate at the time was from Los Angeles.  Go figure!

I returned home in time for the 1990 season, only to watch Davey Johnson get fired.  But because I grew up with a different generation of Mets, I was excited to see Bud Harrelson get his chance to manage the Mets.

The rest as they say, is history.  Unlike many Mets fans my age, I am still waiting to experience my first world championship.  Isn’t that a kick in the posterior?  I probably watch the 1986 box set at least once a year, but still suffer from a measure of disconnect.

All these years later, I’m glad Boston finally let Bill Buckner off the hook.  If I may, I’d like to tell you another story…

My pop was a Yankees fan, and we went to Yankee Stadium as often as we did Shea Stadium.  He needed his fill of American League baseball, and he supplied me with Mets time.  It worked.  I grew to understand the Red Sox were the Yankees’ chief rival, and I latched on to Red Sox Nation at an early age.  Outside of the Mets, Carl Yastrzemski is still my favorite player of all-time.  Before I go on – No, there was no conflict in 1986; I am a Mets fan.  I did, however, enjoy 2004 and 2007 immeasurably, as I attended many Red Sox games and playoff games throughout that period.  Onto the story…

It was the autumn of 1976, and I was home after school doing homework.  My older sister answered a ringing phone.  My pop told her to have me ready to go out once he got home.  He came, we left, we drove, and ditched the car in Manhattan, where we then went below ground and took the subway.  Next stop, Yankee Stadium.  I had no idea.

Later that night, Yankees first baseman Chris Chambliss hit a ninth inning home run to break a tie game, and propel the Yankees into the World Series.  What then took place before my eyes – the ensuing fan celebration, and near riot on the field of Yankee Stadium, is something I will never forget.  We were on the field - in it – and touched grass in right field if only for a very brief moment.  We then ran for our lives through the right field fence and back down into the subway.  The train was packed, but this one guy let me, the nine year old kid, sit.  I remember like yesterday the man saying to me – “on to Cincinnati.”

Obviously, I was already an orange bleeding Mets fan, and in 1976, they were good.  So I thought it harmless, and said back to the man – “Yeah, the Big Red Machine is next.”  But I knew in my heart the Yanks had no chance.  My aunt schooled me on the Reds.  And as a Mets fan, they came to Shea Stadium twice a year back then.  So I knew better.  The Cincinnati Reds swept the Yankees in four.  But that game in October 1976, for the American League pennant, remains to this day, the single most exciting baseball event I have ever been a part of.

As a Mets fan, 1999 and 2000 were no doubt great fun, but we fell short.  I was at the 2006 N.L. East clinching game versus the Marlins.  My son and I made the most of it.  He, by the way, is a Yankees fan.  I also went to all the NLCS games against the Cardinals.  I believe it was after Game Six, that Shea Stadium exited to the fan’s songs of Jose! Jose ! Jose! – all the way down the ramps, into the parking lots, and all the way home.  Exiting Shea that night made my head tingle.  The excitement of 2006 comes very close, but nothing, baseball wise, has surpassed 1976 for me.

Sigh.

Happy 27th Anniversary of the Bill Buckner Game everybody.

 

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