Sunday, April 30, 2017

30 Years As a Mets Fan – Birthday Games

30 Years As a Mets Fan – Part 9

Birthday Games

I’m sure that all baseball fans born during the baseball season can relate to this – wanting to spend your birthday at the ballpark watching your favorite team in action. I’ve been able to do this a few times in my life. I’ve also gone to games near my actual birthday as the Mets schedule and my schedule allowed, but those aren’t the same. When I was younger, and only going to 2 or 3 games a year, something like my birthday was a big deal on the schedule. These days, a weekend home game is an occasion for me to go to Citi Field.

In 1987, I went to Shea Stadium for my 9th birthday. It was the first Mets game in person since becoming a fan 6 months earlier. I don’t remember a damn thing about that game other than one play by Len Dykstra in CF that made Warner Wolf’s plays of the year. I was enamored by the Shea Stadium scoreboard with the lineups and out of town scores and I probably got excited seeing the Home Run Apple rise 4 times in the Mets 11-3 win.

I honestly can’t recall any other birthdays spent at Shea when I was a kid. I think there might have been one or two that worked out.

I spent my 21st birthday at Shea with friends on a Friday night in 1999. That was a great night. Maybe one of the best I had at Shea. We were all into getting there at 4:30 pm to see batting practice and get autographs. It was around the time I started doing that. We had my favorite seats in the ballpark – Loge, Section 7, Row A. I even had another friend randomly walk up in the bottom of the first and claim the seats next to us, an unplanned surprise. We got to fight over a foul ball (I got bumped back into my seat and someone else broke their watch on the play). None of us got the ball. It’s still the closest I’ve ever come to getting one at a major league ballpark. And we got to heckle rising Giants star Jeff Kent from his days as a Met.

As an adult, working for a living, it wasn’t as easy to just head into Flushing from New Jersey on a weeknight/day to celebrate my birthday. But for my 30th birthday, I decided I wanted to take off from work (baseball game or not). The Mets hosted one of those mid-week afternoon games (I think they were called “businessman’s specials” back in the day, but the politically correct term is really “get away day”) and this was a no-brainer. For it being a big birthday and the final season at Shea, I convinced my dad (who already had the day off from work) to get us seats behind the Mets dugout. It was one of the few places at Shea I hadn’t sat in yet, but I certainly knew the neighborhood from batting practice.

After our lunch in the Diamond Club and looking at some Citi Field previews, the start of the game ended up being delayed for about 45 minutes because of a broken water main nearby and the grounds crew couldn’t water down the field to get it ready for the game. Mets pitcher Nelson Figueroa, always a good guy and good for an autograph or three, came out of the dugout during the delay to sign for fans. I think it was my fourth autograph of his that season alone (counting Spring Training). Mets post-season hero-turned-regular season goat Oliver Perez was the starting pitcher for New York. And after an uneventful first inning, things came unglued for the Mets starter. He gave up 7 runs in the top of the second to the Pirates and hero of the delay Figueroa had to come in and finish the inning. Figgy settled things down, but the game got worse after he left.

I still call it the day that “Ollie Perez ruined my 30th birthday at Shea” and call Figueroa the “hero” of the day.

I made it in for my birthday last year too. It was a Saturday and a big giveaway (one of the garden gnomes). It was another no-brainer. Friends all over the place. Some I planned to see, some I didn’t. It was lots of fun. I think I watched the game.

Next year, I’ve said that no matter where the Mets are, I spend my 40th birthday there. It’s a Monday next year, so I might have to walk that statement back if I don’t want to travel some place to see a game alone.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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!