The Subway Series Only Adds to My 40 Years of Conflict
Who needs the Subway Series when you’ve already lived through forty years of conflict? Let me clue you into the mind of this particular die hard Mets fan. Then please, find some compassion in your hearts for me…, will ya?
This story starts when I was six years old, and still lived on a block adjoining Holy Cross Cemetery. I remember one day, a majority of my neighbors and those who lived on my block, stopped their lives, and lined up along Snyder Avenue in Brooklyn to watch a motorcade go by. Everyone knew it was coming and made sure to be there to see it pass. I of course, didn’t know anything. But my sister, friends, their parents, neighbors, and the rest of the grown ups on my block did the responsible thing and dragged me along with them.
Some of the adults were visibly upset, and a few were even crying. It was then Coupon Lady informed me we were watching Gil Hodges’ funeral procession on it’s way into Holy Cross. It took me another two to three years before I really grasped the significance of that moment. But for a handful more years, me and Gil Hodges remained neighbors in a sense, for I lived on the dead-end block. Gil was in fact laid to rest on the grounds quite literally, just on the other side of the wall at the end our block. As a burgeoning Mets Fan, I knew that. We all knew that. And in fact we kids honored Gil when ever we played stick ball on the street. We named home runs hit over the cemetery wall GIL POPS. Otherwise, I was busy attempting my best imitations of Rusty Staub, Felix Millan, and John Milner.
Coupon Lady by the way, was one of the kindest elders we had on our block. Back then, on the back of Dairy Lea milk cartons were coupons for free Mets tickets. Twenty coupons equalled one ticket. And for what ever reason, she always picked me to give stacks of forty coupons at a time. I’d present them to my Pop, and we’d go see a game. Thing is, you had to mail the coupons in for the tickets in return. But I know he never redeemed them, because we’d wind up going to the game that night or something. I guess he appreciated the effort, and just footed the bill.
This was also right around the time my pop started letting me tinker with his short-wave radio. I asked him if I could, after a neighbor revealed to me the magic of tuning in out-of-town baseball games at night. And from then on, guys like Ernie Harwell and the Tigers, and the Red Sox, and Phillies, and Baltimore games became a part of my young kid summer routine. On good nights, St. Louis, Chicago, and Cleveland games could be heard too.
And then…, and then I discovered the Mayor’s Trophy Game. That game was never ever televised. And what eight or nine year old kid, I ask, wants to understand why? You had to listen to that game on the radio. And during that one day a season when the Mets played against the Yankees on their mutual off day, all the kids on my block converged on Fat Carl’s stoop to listen on a transistor radio. There wasn’t a Yankee fan among us.
Some of those Mayor’s Trophy games were true classics. In some years, a few regulars played, but usually not. As a Mets fan, you could always count on Ron Hodges being behind the plate. The Yanks’ Roy White was a regular participant as well.
My pop comes from the Old World. So soccer was his passion; and back then, mine too I guess, along with Baseball. And why not? But as part of Pop’s assimilation into America, he became a raging Yankees fan. Me? I was born a Mets fan. I got that from my Mom’s side thank goodness. She comes from a big Baseball Family.
I did not hate the Yankees at all – not yet. But I didn’t really like them either. That much I’m sure of. Call it ambivalence. Then, like now, there are players I enjoyed watching. I liked Billy Martin and Thurman Munson a lot. However, there were some, along with General Steinbrenner, whom I (then) loathed.
I got to see games at the Old Yankee Stadium in 1973 before the mid-70’s renovation. My Pop and I always attended an equal number of Mets and Yankee games together. He wanted to see his Yankees.
When you were going to as many Yankee games as I was, you do get a little accustomed to them I guess. But he never cheated me out of seeing my Mets. He himself was a big Tom Seaver fan. As a result, we saw Tom Terrific a great many times. I always wanted to see Jerry Koosman pitch.
Between the years of 1974-1975, going to Shea Stadium to see both the Yankees and Mets was easy to do. Yankee Stadium was in full blown renovation. So naturally, attending games to see both our favorite teams became twice as easy to do as both shared Shea Stadium for two years.
I was obviously too young to enjoy 1969, and have fleeting memories of 1973, which is right in line with Gil’s funeral the year before. My total recall starts with the 1974 and 1975 seasons. And with Seaver, Koosman, Buddy, Jerry Grote, Staub, Tug, and many others still on the team, I was in my glory as a Mets fan.
Even though 1976 represented a third place finish for the Mets, at that point, it was still their second best season ever on record. So 1976 will always stick out in my mind as one of the best times of my life as a Met fan. And for no particular reason mind you. If anything, just because most of the old guys were still there and playing well. And, I knew they were champions only a few short seasons ago.
On one particular 1976 October day after school, I was in my parent’s room doing my homework like I always did. I had a little black and white set in my room, but they had the color TV in their room, and afternoons was the time Looney Tunes came on. Maybe that’s why I struggled in math?
The phone rang, and it was my Pop. He told my sister to have me dressed and ready to go by the time he got home from work. Later that night, I watched this baseball fall out of the night time sky, and 58,000 people completely lose their minds. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Chris Chambliss hit the first pitch he saw off Mark Littel for a pennant winning home run against the Kansas City Royals, in Game Five of the 1976 American League Championship Series, propelling the Yankees to the World Series.
The mayhem, pandemonium, and chaos, which ensued on the field was insane. And for a brief moment, my Pop and I joined in the revelry and celebrated on the right field grass before having to practically ran for our lives as the scene became uncontrollable and utterly wild. We wound up slipping out of Yankee Stadium through the River Avenue roll gates next to the bleacher section.
I tell you now, that game and that night, still remains as the singular most spectacular moment I have ever experienced at a baseball game. Bar none!
In 1977, a few of my cousins, my uncles, my Pop and I, went to Bat Day at Yankee Stadium. And I was truly excited to see which model I would get. We all filed through the gates and got our bats, and stood off to the side to compare them.
One cousin got Reggie. Another one got Chambliss. Another got Willie Randolph. And I know there was a Mickey Rivers and Thurman Munson the other two got. I unwrapped mine, and took a look at my new…. CARLOS MAY model bat? To make matters worse, the bats came in different sizes according to the player. I got a Carlos Friggin’ May bat, and mine was the shortest model of them all. Needless to say, I was heated! Carlos Freakin’ May? I couldn’t get at least a Lou Piniella, or even a Roy White? No…, instead, I got one of the most obscure players ever to don pinstripes, much less play professional baseball. I got the less talented brother of mighty slugger Lee May. I got screwed is what I got! And as kids, all my cousins were laughing their asses off at me. So you know what I wanted to do with my bat….don’t you?
That’s when my real hatred for the Yankees perhaps had its’ genesis. Then while the Yankees were winning two World Series championships in ’77 and ’78, my Mets team was being completely and systematically dismantled. The boys I fell in love with in the earlier 1970’s were gone. And NOW, I was having to listen to my Pop break my baseballs about it. C’mon man! I was just a kid. Anyway, that, and the ensuing 1980’s and how the Yanks changed Baseball’s finances were my breaking points. The Yankees have earned my wrath ever since.
Here’s the rub. Between the season’s 1977 through 1985, I attended over fifty Mets games a year. By late 1985 however, I was gone; overseas to be exact. I enlisted to work for Uncle Sam. I missed the entire 1986 World Series. I got to watch a little bit of Game Two. And I was only able to watch the Lenny Dykstra home run game at Shea in the NLCS in it’s entirety. But that’s it! Otherwise I missed it all; to include the 1988 season. All I had was The Stars and Stripes newspaper, clippings my aunt mailed me, and the single channel Armed Forces Network in Germany. I returned home in time for the 1990 season. But by then, the Mets’ run was over. And I was left staring at the horrific 1993 season in the face…, again, just like in the old days when I lived at Shea in the late 70’s and early 80’s.
Losing to the Yankees in the 2000 World Series, flat out sucked. How else can you put it, and still express your true level of disgust with the way that turned out, other than by saying, it…sucked. No other word suffices. Pardon my French today. But after all, this is the Yankees we’re talking about.
Getting back to being a Mets fan, there was the 2006 season. In June of that year, I started playing forecaster. I purchased a block of tickets in anticipation I could catch the N.L. East Division clinching game; which I did. That game was my first ever clinching celebration at Shea Stadium. The two wins out of the four games played at Shea Stadium during the NLCS are the extent of my positive playoff experiences at Shea. The division clincher against Miami, and I think it was Game Two of the NLCS, in which the crowd was singing JoSe, JoSe, JoSe, all the way down the Shea ramps and into the parking lots, are now the two most magical night’s I ever had the privilege of being a part at the old stadium. That’s aside from the magic one feels at a game while still a kid that is. Because I swear there is a baseball John Milner once hit that hasn’t come down yet.
And there-in lies my dilemma. The single most spectacular moment I have ever experienced in baseball is a Yankees moment, with my Pop, when Chris Chambliss won the pennant. I’ve never experienced anything like that night since. And I think because of the unruly days of the 70’s in this city, I don’t see a night like that ever being replicated again. Not today; not with today’s police presence. Find it on You Tube or something. It was crazy. But to my dismay, I am still waiting to witness and celebrate my first Mets World Series championship. To be in my forties now, doesn’t that strike you as ponderous?
Today, I’m married to a Yankee fan. My son is also a Yankee fan. Needless to say, it makes for interesting summers around the dinner table. But like my Pop with me, my son and me go to equal amounts of Mets and Yankees games.
I myself have always been like that. I go to Mets games because I’m a Mets fan. But if they aren’t in town, and I have an urge to see an MLB game (versus going to a local minor league game), I do not hesitate in heading to Yankee Stadium to fill that need. But I have already taken up too much of your time already to start telling you how I really feel about the Yankees.
Like it, or hate it, the Subway Series is upon us again. But I feel like I’ve been at this for nearly forty years now. And by the way, let the record show, I am against Inter-League games in Major League Baseball. It was cool in the beginning. But I’m done with it now. Give me back the Mayor’s Trophy Game.
Next stop – 161st Street and River Avenue.
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