Friday, April 30, 2010

The Birthday Game

If you were born during the baseball season, then you probably celebrated your birthday at a baseball game at least once in your life. I have celebrated quite a few birthdays, mostly when I was young, with my dad or my entire family at Shea Stadium (and once I think at Yankee Stadium before I grew to resent the team in the Bronx).

There was my 9th birthday in 1987. It was the first Mets game I went to after becoming a Mets fan. I don't remember much except that Lenny Dykstra made a great catch in CF that ended up on Warner Wolf's Plays of the Year for 1987. Looking up the box score, I saw homers from 4 Mets sluggers including Kevin McReynolds' 5th on the young season. Rick Aguliera went the distance for the Mets win.

In 1990 in Atlanta (I wasn't there), but David Cone was, and he got into that famous argument with the first base umpire without calling timeout and it cost the Mets the game when 2 runs scored.

In 1991, I went on a rainy afternoon on the weekend before my birthday to see the Mets and Pirates. They played through it, but my mom spent most of the game sitting in a phone booth inside Shea writing the candle lighting speeches for my upcoming Bar Mitzvah. Since that game, I've been a little brat about having my mom and sister join us at any Mets games.

In 1995, I went on my 17th birthday to see the Mets and Cardinals. At that point, it was the closest I had come to Opening Day, with MLB nice enough to move it back a few weeks for me so I could be there Opening Weekend. Somewhere, I have a roll of black and white photographs from this game. I don't remember much about it.

In 1996, I went the night before my 18th birthday to see John Franco record his 300th save. Except that it was one of the few games I left early because I had to catch an early train in the morning back to school. I can be, and have been, a brat about not being at the ballpark for first pitch and last out. The Mets were rained out the next day.

I went with a bunch of friends from the Computer Lab at college where I worked for a few years in the late '90s to the game on my 21st birthday. It wasn't the occasion why we went, just a coincidence. We were all Mets fans (maybe the largest group of Mets fans concentrated in one place to that point in my life) and we found a common date before finals when we all had off and could go. It was a great night. I found maybe the best place to watch a game from at Shea - Loge Section 7, Row A. We had a foul ball (as you would almost expect sitting that close to home plate), we got to serenade ex-Met Jeff Kent, back in town with San Francisco. And it was the 1999 Mets, and they were a lot of fun.

I saw another game with my dad on the occasion of my birthday a few nights later, where the Mets blew a late lead to Houston. As you might expect, Benitez blew it in the 8th (Franco was still the closer then), and Wagner came in for the Astros to get the save against his future ballclub. Those 2 games in 1999 were also a lot of fun because it was early on in the popularity of going to Shea for batting practice, shagging foul balls, and getting autographs.

As I got older, the tradition was put to rest (it was more of a thing for a child), but 2 years ago when my 30th birthday came around, I knew what I wanted. There were only 2 places at Shea I had never sat in, and 1 that I had never been to. I wanted dugout seats. I knew the dugout area from 10 years worth of batting practices (a few each year). But I wanted to watch an entire game from there. Let me say that it was different. You could get good pictures without a zoom lens (which my camera at the time didn't really have). We had Diamond Club access (which I never thought was really much). I think I saw Rusty Staub on the elevator up there. I'm trying to avoid talking about the game because it was worth avoiding. 2 words - Ollie Perez. After a water main break delay of about an hour (in which Nelson Figueroa was a great guy coming out to sign autographs for everyone by the dugout), Perez came on to give up 7 runs over 1 2/3 innings. Thanks a lot Ollie. Jorge Sosa was the other goat. Final score was 13-1 Pittsburgh. To be fair though, Mets pitching only gave up 4 earned runs. Wright made his 5th error of the young season (that kids, is a lot), among others. The box score can tell you a lot about the game. I also debuted my white pinstriped Mets jersey with that game. Of all the then-and-now-current jerseys, that one is my favorite. No name or number on the back.

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