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.