Monday, April 3, 2017

30 Years As a Mets Fan – It’s Opening Day At Shea

30 Years As a Mets Fan – Part 8

It’s Opening Day At Shea

I can hear those words – “It’s Opening Day At Shea” – in Howie Rose’s voice (even if he’s never actually said them).

Opening Day probably should be a national holiday so we can all celebrate it together at the ballpark. But reality doesn’t work that way, and going is already an expensive endeavor (it’s usually one of the most expensive tickets of the season). If I think hard enough, I can probably remember where I was or what I was doing for most of my 30 Opening Days as a Mets fan. They’re mostly vague memories of watching the end of the game at home after school or trying to listen to the game at work.

1987 was my first (as a fan watching on TV), and still might be my most memorable. Not for the game, but for the pregame. The team’s most recent World Championship flag was raised behind the CF fence at Shea Stadium and the World Series rings were handed out before the game. That is the part I remember having on tape (since I was at school when it was happening live). That’s also one that lives on in Mets fandom as part of the bonus features of the 1986 World Series DVD set. That’s a good thing because I wore out that tape. The DVD is ready for its annual viewing.

1988 was when Strawberry hit the roof at Olympic Stadium in Montreal. 1992 was a night game in St. Louis (even after only 5 years of being a fan, I knew a night game for Opening Day seemed wrong). 1993 was the first game in Colorado Rockies history. 1994 saw Doc Gooden giving up 3 HRs to Tuffy Rhodes at Wrigley. 1995 was in late April after the lockout which followed the player’s strike, and it was the first game at Coors Field.

I remember cutting class in 1998 when I was in college so I could watch the Mets first March 31 game. That was the 14th inning walkoff hit by Alberto Castillo at Shea. I made a few sound bytes from that game which is part of my Opening Day blogging tradition.

Bob Murphy and Gary Cohen's intro

The winning hit from Opening Day 1998 at Shea

2000 was the series in Tokyo. I was still in college. I remember trying to get up at 5am to watch the games. I don’t remember much success in those attempts.

Starting in 2002, I was a working man and had to find a way to escape the office in order to listen to any portion of the game. I remember taking a long lunch or a mid-day break to go to my car to put on the radio just to hear a little bit of Opening Day.

2003 was the first Opening Day I experienced in person. I saw some tickets available the week before and said “what the hell, I’ll take off work and go”. It was a cold March 31 at Shea Stadium. This was a bad era for the Mets. Art Howe was the manager. It also turned out to be Bob Murphy’s last Opening Day. I’m glad I got to be there to see him introduce the Mets from my seat deep down the LF line in the Mezzanine box. I wish I had a camera (even without much of a zoom, as digital cameras were in those days). I won’t remind you of the score. You can click the link to the box score if you really want to know.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYN/NYN200303310.shtml

I remember working from home in 2005 and 2006 to watch Opening Day. After all, it should be a holiday. 2005 was the opener in Cincinnati with Pedro Martinez’s Mets debut. As a side note, some enterprising puzzle maker took a photo from the 2005 home opener against Houston and made a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle of it. A few years later, I bought it, put it together, and had it framed. It hangs in my living room. 2006 was the debut of SNY.

Coming off the success of 2006 (I’ve repressed the memory of the final inning of that season) I wanted to be there for the 2007 home opener. This was back in the days of the Mets having ticket lotteries to get into Opening Day at Shea. I had a friend who got picked in the lottery and was able to get me a ticket so far down the right field line on field level that my seat faced the outfield wall and not the infield (if you really remember Shea, you’d know what I was talking about).


http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYN/NYN200704090.shtml

2008 was the final Opening Day at Shea (after a road trip). 2009 was the christening of Citi Field (also after a road trip). By then, I also had MLB’s internet package so I could listen on radio on my computer at work (working around meetings). MLB.TV usually had technical difficulties that got in the way of celebrating Opening Day. Some of the more recent seasons are actually a blur. In researching this post, I noticed MLB had some weird schedules with late-week Opening Days for some reason. Real Opening Day is the first Monday in April.

In 2014, I went back for Opening Day, and it was March 31 again. It was cold at Citi Field. I remember sitting in what was then called Caesar’s Club for most of the game trying to defrost my hands and the rest of the game paying social calls to friends. I did see Parnell blow the save in the 9th. This was the year that Daniel Murphy missed the opener because of the birth of a child, and for some reason, people got in an uproar over it.


http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYN/NYN201403310.shtml

2016 was a special one. The Mets were defending NL Champions. They started the season in Kansas City with a World Series rematch (dumb luck that it happened that way). Then on Friday came the home opener. In this day in age, that was cause to take off work and head to Citi Field. I don’t remember any of the game, but I do remember being there, moving around the ballpark making social calls to people. It was a day to tailgate and celebrate.


http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/NYM/2016-schedule-scores.shtml

Saturday, April 1, 2017

30 Years As a Mets Fan – Part 7

30 Years As a Mets Fan – Part 7

One magic loogie

I remember the first time I went to a Mets game as a fan (see earlier post about going to a game before getting sucked in to this madness). I was 9 years old. It was Sunday, June 14, 1987, and the Mets were playing the Phillies at Shea Stadium. I can’t say I remember everything about the game. I do remember that the Mets lost even though Keith Hernandez and Darryl Strawberry both homered. The Phillies scored 5 runs in the 9th off of Roger McDowell after Hernandez committed an error with 2 out. The game also marked my first encounter seeing rowdy fans at a ballgame. My dad and I were sitting in the right field seats near the Mets bullpen on the Loge level and these 2 guys sitting near us were pouring beer onto one of the pitchers in the Mets bullpen and cursing at them. Basically harassing people down there all game. We eventually moved away from them.

After the game, to help cheer me up from a bad Mets loss before heading home, Dad took me for a walk all the way around Shea Stadium. When we were outside the Mets players’ parking lot, we saw those same 2 guys yelling at some players – “Nice game, pretty boy” at Hernandez – before someone out of view threw something back at these guys, or did something. I’m still not sure what I watched. Dad shielded me and then hustled me out of there quickly and decided it was time for us to head home.



That was one magic loogie!

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/PIT/PIT198706140.shtml

Friday, March 31, 2017

30 Years As a Mets Fan – Part 6

30 Years As a Mets Fan – Part 6

Spring Training Annual

I just completed my 14th annual visit to Mets Spring Training in Port St. Lucie, Florida. I like to go down there for a long vacation, at least 1 week, and usually longer. I like to walk around the ballpark taking pictures from different vantage points. I’m always trying to grab a foul ball (or a home run ball). I like to go see other Spring Training ballparks. I like to buy a t-shirt from every team/stadium that I visit. I like to get autographs from players when I’m there. Spring Training is billed as a time when you can get closer to the players. At least in the Mets case, I like to spend the morning on the practice fields watching the players conduct different baseball drills.

Sometimes I’ll talk with people. I’ve met and become friends with a lot of fans over the years that vacation in Port St. Lucie similar to me, live down there for part of the year, or live down there permanently. I’m not the only person who makes this an annual trip. Some Mets fans have retired or relocated to Post St. Lucie because of the Mets. Several years ago, I joined the local booster club (which mostly supports the minor league St. Lucie Mets). After most home games, the group (or at least parts of it) will go out to dinner somewhere. I know some of the ushers and security guards at the stadium complex, mostly by face. I have my routines and my favorite spots there.

I spend every morning, except when there’s long travel necessary, at the "back" (practice) fields of the Mets complex. They stretch and throw together and conduct different baseball drills each day. If there’s a home game, everyone is there. If there’s a road game, only the players left behind are involved. The fans are usually allowed to stay back there until the workout is complete, which can be a couple of hours that we’re out there. Some players will sign autographs after their workout is finished. Sometimes the fans can stay to see the minor league teams working out or maybe playing in a game. Every day is different.

Inside the stadium, I’ll usually talk with people and then grab lunch and some shade until the players come out. Then it might be autograph time, time to get pictures from the bullpen, or time to get in position for a specific photograph. I like taking pictures of broad scenery and the Mets ballpark in Port St. Lucie certainly offers that. A high sky, sometimes clouds, bright sunshine, and many distinct features along with a baseball field filled with Mets jerseys is very photogenic. The left field terrace and right field berm both offer big blue and white shade covers. Left field has the scoreboard with the practice fields behind it and home plate has a big concrete covering. Even when I can’t get to the highest point, the inner concourse/walkway in the stadium works out well for most pictures. My favorite spot over the past few years is right behind the CF wall next to the batter’s eye. The wall is taller than I can see, but I can put my camera on top and get some great pictures.

I don’t chase down autographs as much as I used to. It used to be that I had to get at least one autograph at every game (Mets or not) and the game was a personal failure if I didn’t. With the exception of one stadium where it was forbidden to ask for autographs, I had one at every game for about 5 or 6 years. That’s what’s great about Spring Training, it was always possible just to go in and get an autograph. My first Spring Training autograph was actually Tommy Lasorda when he was sitting in the stands at my first game in 2004. Over the years, as I got older, I stopped finding the appeal of camping out at a spot by the dugout or down the foul line (and it didn’t necessarily matter which team it was) to wait for the players to come out, and/or to get crowded into an small area of seats and an aisle fighting people (adults and children alike) to try to get an autograph from a player who might come by that location to sign and might not. The waiting, pushing and shoving lost its appeal. I still like getting autographs. I keep it simple, usually having players sign the scorecard page in the program. I’m not one to try to get baseballs or baseball cards signed. These autographs are usually just for me. I still try to get autographs on the practice fields at Mets camp when I don’t have to run around the place to get it. I still wait after the game (when I don’t have some place to be) at the players’ parking lot gates to get autographs as the players leave (with some success). There’s still something about the chase for an autograph that makes me feel like a kid (even when these players are all now younger than me).

I also like to get around Florida to see other Spring Training sites. After this vacation, I can once again say that I’ve seen all of the stadiums currently in use – 13 active ballparks housing 15 MLB teams (2 stadiums are each shared by 2 teams) and 7 defunct ones. Those numbers have changed over my 14 years as teams have moved around Florida, built new ballparks, or moved to Arizona. Other teams have upgraded their ballparks making a case to come back and see the improvements. Those numbers will change again when the next team moves (rumored to be Atlanta) and then again when I can get out to their new location. Some of these ballparks are a short drive – less than an hour – from Mets camp in Port St. Lucie. Others are farther away and visiting them becomes a side trip (where I go see non-Mets games for a few days and stay in another part of Florida). I don’t go on side trips every year, but once every 3 or 4 years to see something new is okay. Exceptions are made if a Mets game can be seen in another part of Florida. I’m very biased towards seeing games in Port St. Lucie, but my favorite place to watch a game was at old Dodgertown in Vero Beach. This is the 9th Spring Training without major league Spring Training there and it’s still some place I try to get to every couple years.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

30 Years As a Mets Fan – Part 5

30 Years As a Mets Fan – Part 5

My first visit Spring Training

For those of you that know me, or have been following for a long time, you know that every March, I make the trip down to Port St. Lucie, Florida, to see Mets Spring Training. It’s something that I’ve been doing every year since 2004. But the first time I set foot at the ballpark in Port St. Lucie (then known as Thomas J. White Stadium) was in March of 1995.

Yes, THAT 1995. The one with the infamous replacement players.

1995 was the first year in which I had a break from school in March, and my dad decided it would be a good opportunity for the two of us to go to Florida to visit his parents (outside Ft. Lauderdale). I think he convinced me to go by promising me we could go see a couple baseball games. One was a Yankees-Red Sox game at old Ft. Lauderdale Stadium. This was during a time when Yankees-Red Sox games weren’t always must-see. It was also the last season for the Yankees in Ft. Lauderdale after almost 35 years. And the other game, with my 80-something year old grandparents in tow, was 90 minutes north in Port St. Lucie to see the Mets.

Getting there was one of those adventures from hell. Without thinking of the back fields or batting practice (like I do every day that I’m there now), I wanted to get there early because I just wanted to get there, like the little kid who just wanted to be at the ballpark just because it was there. But we got off to a slow start to the morning. And it was a long ride to get there. And I misread the map and had my dad move to Route 1 because that’s where the dot for “Port St. Lucie” was located. In case you don’t know the geography of the area, Route 1 is a road with traffic lights and is located about 8 miles away from the ballpark, while I-95 is an expressway and located in the ballpark’s shadow that also goes down to Ft. Lauderdale. So that little detour to Route 1 in Port St. Lucie added about 45 minutes to the ride to the ballpark. Then everybody walked slowly through the parking field/lot to the ticket office. It was torture.

But inside, it was pure joy. Here’s this ballpark which I’ve watched on TV every March since the Mets moved there in 1988, as the spring home of the Mets and the portal into the baseball season, right in front of me in living color. I have no memories of the game. That part doesn’t matter. It was an exhibition game between teams made up of scabs. Somewhere, I have the program and ticket stub, because I always have a program and ticket stub. And I have a few pictures. It was the only time I got to see old Thomas J. White Stadium before the first round of upgrades (which launched in 2004).

Friday, February 24, 2017

30 Years As a Mets Fan – Part 4

30 Years As a Mets Fan – Part 4

The start of Spring Training

“People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” – Rogers Hornsby, Baseball Hall of Famer and original Mets coach
And then one day each year, spring would slowly but surely arrive at my window. It would start with the first live local news reports from Port St. Lucie, seen on channel 4 or on channel 2. Nowadays, SNY is there 5 nights a week. But this is just practice. It’s a mirage. And then one day you turn on your radio and “Meet the Mets” is playing at the top of a broadcast. And you know that meant Bob Murphy’s voice would soon follow.

“Well hi everybody. This is Bob Murphy with Gary Cohen. Baseball has been asleep for a while. Welcome, the game is coming back.” – Bob Murphy, Mets Hall of Fame broadcaster, introducing the first Spring Training game in 1998
The way I remember it as a kid, it was always the first Friday in March that the Mets would take the field for the first time in the new season, and that WFAN would usually be there to cover it. I would set the clock radio in my bedroom to turn on at 1pm, even though I was in school. I didn’t want to waste any time, or even simply forget when I got home from school, even though the game might be in the 7th or 8th inning. I longed to hear the voices. And that was just in case I didn’t have my Walkman to listen to the game while I was walking home from school.

The years have blended together. I have one generic memory of this day which was probably the same every year growing up. I lost it a few years years when I was away at school. WFAN in the daytime didn’t have reception in New England and the Internet hadn’t been invented yet. In college, and as an adult, it became a bit harder because things like classes and work got in the way of that first spring game. But even if it’s for only 5 minutes, I make sure to listen to that first broadcast, now anchored by Howie Rose on WOR radio, and usually played through my computer. It’s not enough for me to join that broadcast in progress or catch it archived later in the day. I need the feeling of hearing Meet the Mets and Howie Rose live.

Same thing for the first spring TV broadcast. Seeing the Mets for the first time might have to wait until Saturday or Sunday, depending on the WWOR (or later, MSG/FSNY) schedule. I couldn’t wait until it was time when I could hear Ralph Kiner’s voice or that “Fresh from Florida” intro that Channel 9 had at one point. Now, it’s Gary Cohen on SNY and PIX11, but it’s the same idea.

There is a different sound to a Spring Training broadcast. It sounds a bit more relaxed in those smaller ballparks. There isn’t as much crowd noise. I swear at times I could hear a conversation from the stands. The games don’t mean anything, and the players and fans seem to know it. So do the broadcasters. Even they sound more relaxed. It’s just a warm up, forgotten at the end of the day. But it’s the sounds of summer while the calendar is technically still on winter.

I managed to grab the 3 audio files in this story from my Walkman during Spring Training 1998. The second one is just a few minutes of Bob Murphy and Gary Cohen calling most of a half inning from a game against the Cardinals in Jupiter. The third is just more Bob Murphy, this time throwing it to a commercial break.