Archive for the ‘New York Mets’ Category

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Ed Kranepool

August 14, 2019

Ed Kranepool

Ed Kranepool looks like he’s probably having fun, and why wouldn’t he be? He’s leaning on a batting cage with a bat tucked under his arm, a sign that he’ll soon be getting a turn to take some cuts. He’s been playing major league baseball for a while, and at this point he’s near the end of the road, but he’s not there yet, and even though at the time of this photo he’s in the midst of a down year he’s recently put in his best string of seasons of his career, batting .300, .323, .292, and .280 over a four year span from 1974 through 1977. What a hitter! So why wouldn’t he be happy by the batting cage? This is what he lives for.

***

This is what you lived for and why you lived.

I read that line this morning, not for the first time, but for the first time since I became a father. It’s in the Alfred Slote young adult novel Hang Tough, Paul Mather. I wrote about that book on this site over eleven years ago, which is probably the last time I reread the book. I read it several times when I was a kid and several more times as an adult, but this time a moment in the book hit me in a way that made me realize I hadn’t before experienced the novel as a father.

The book’s narrator, Paul Mather, utters the line about what you live for and why you live after touching a baseball for the first time in over a year, feeling it, throwing it, slowly at first, and then, once he’s warmed up, finally doing what he loves best in the world: pitching. At this early point in the novel all that’s known is that Paul Mather is seriously ill, so ill that he’s been ordered by his doctors and parents to avoid physical activity, including baseball, and so when he begins firing fastballs, changeups, and curves to Monk Lawler, a fellow 12-year-old in a town he’s just arrived in to get treatment for his illness, I always get a lump in my throat. It was that way the first time I ever read the book, when I was a 12-year-old who lived for baseball. I could imagine that taking baseball away would be like taking life away.

It was no different this time. I’ll always root for Paul Mather as much as I’ve ever rooted for anyone on a baseball field, real or imagined. But on this reading, the tail end of the scene of Paul Mather holding and feeling and pitching a ball hit me in a new way. Paul’s exhibition is stopped by his father telling him to come inside. Paul notes that his father doesn’t sound mad, and that there’s something about his voice that made him think that his father had been watching for some time. I had to put the book down to stop the lump in my throat from getting bigger. I looked to my right, where my two sons were giggling at Spongebob Squarepants.

This is what I live for, I was thinking.

***

Ed Kranepool could be doffing his cap. I salute you. I thank you. That’s what I thought he was doing for the past few weeks. Night after night after my sons went to bed I came downstairs and looked at Ed Kranepool and imagined he was a talisman of gratitude. Why wouldn’t I? Earlier this year he received a kidney transplant, without which he wouldn’t be able to still be among the living. On a more personal level, why wouldn’t I want to find through him some way of expressing my own gratitude for my life, my family. For you too. When I was Paul Mather’s age, baseball was mostly what I lived for and why I lived. But when baseball slipped from my fingers, I started grasping for words, and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. Words without a reader are OK, like holding a baseball and feeling the potential of it, the faint hint of a pulse. But words only really come alive when they’re read, like when Paul Mather went from holding the ball to pitching it to Monk Lawler. Thank you for reading these words. This must also be what I live for. I’ve been doing it ever since I stopped living to throw a baseball, and I’ve never been able to stop throwing words.

Yes, Ed Kranepool could be doffing his cap. That’s what I believed for weeks. But tonight for whatever reason that view fell away. He seems now to merely be holding his cap up to shield the sun. Maybe someone has just directed his attention to someone or something out on the field that he was unable to see without angling his cap in such a way. Whatever, who knows? Ed Kranepool is simply passing the time, looking around, shooting the shit. Waiting for another chance to get in the cage and spray a few line drives all over the sunny field.

***

This afternoon at a park down the street from our house I pitched a few underhanded tosses to Jack, my older son. My wife was nearby on the playground with my younger son, which was allowing Jack and me to concentrate a little more than when both boys are with me, and the two of them end up fighting for turns. Jack hacked at the first few with an axe-wielding motion that he favors, and I decided to try to coach him a little. I didn’t do much, just got him to put his hands together on the bat and to bend his knees and balance his weight on both feet and swing more or less level.

“And watch the ball,” I said. “Watch it all the way.”

He missed a few while getting used to this new approach but finally connected and sent the ball flying over my head, farther than he ever had in his whole short beautiful life.

This is what you live for and why you live.

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Howard Johnson

April 21, 2019

Howard Johnson

Dazzler

Two

In the 1920s, a debt-ridden small business owner in Quincy, Massachusetts, doubled the butterfat in the ice cream he sold at the soda fountain in the back of his pharmacy. The ice cream quickly began to sell so well it was almost as if some supernatural magic were involved. Soon enough, the pharmacy as such ceased to exist, as the ice cream became the building block of a restaurant that the man named after himself, which was in turn so successful he opened another restaurant of the same name a few towns over. The two restaurants were recognizable as reproductions of one another not just by name and identical culinary offerings. Each restaurant had a bright orange roof. Over the next few decades, the number of orange-roofed restaurants grew. The concept of a franchised restaurant was not unknown at that time, but the level of national success of this new chain was unprecedented. The franchise blazed a bright orange trail across the land.

***

When the player shown here arrived in the majors, the orange-roofed restaurant empire built on doubled butterfat was nearing its twilight phase, its great growth over the previous fifty years slowing, not too far from being driven out of business altogether by the monstrous fast food chains in its wake. But in 1982, when this player debuted, Howard Johnson’s restaurants were still everywhere, a ubiquitous bright orange American repetition, and so when I heard there was a guy in the majors named Howard Johnson, it seemed ridiculous. I don’t think I was alone with that reaction, and even though after a few years people got somewhat used to his presence, his sudden leap in 1987 from an uneven platoon player to a dynamic superstar with a rare combination of power and speed was greeted with suspicion. Why the suspicion? He had been a number 1 draft pick; he’d shown ample glimpses of power and speed in the minors and in his part-time stints in the majors; and in 1987, when he was finally given the opportunity to find the rhythm of the game as an everyday player, he was 26, which is a common age at which promising players hit their prime. My theory is that if he’d had a name that didn’t remind everyone of ice cream and bright orange roofs, he would have been hailed more quickly as a blossoming talent, instead of the more dubious treatment he got, which peaked with several overt in-game accusations that he was, as it were, illegally doubling the butterfat in his bat. His bat was X-rayed six times throughout the season, each time with the intent of finding cork inside. The photo shown on this card is from the following season, 1988, his smile like that of a man found innocent, which is indeed what happened, each time. No butterfat in the recipe, no cork in the bat. He was not ridiculous but for real. Like his namesake before him, he had simply found an answer, and at least for a little while, he was full of possibilities. He was on the rise.     

***

Sometimes it feels like you’ve got your hands on the dazzling answer. I don’t often feel that way. More often I feel like I’m weighted down in one or another kind of debt. Or I feel like I’m not getting the chance to figure out a rhythm to life. Or I feel like I’m a fraud, a wielder of something doctored, altered, corked. But today, another Sunday, it got warm again, and this time the rain stayed away, and I stood in the alley next to our building beside my older son and held the handlebars of his bike in one hand and the back of his bike seat in the other. We’d just taken his training wheels off.  “We can give this a try, but remember,” I said, “if it doesn’t happen today, we can try again another time.” As a father, I favor this style of preemptive capitulation. (I’m a lot like Cyril’s dad in Breaking Away.) I fully expected the attempt to end with pronounced discouragement, if not a trip to the emergency room. But of course you probably already know that somehow, through nothing I did, despite my doubt, by the sheer grace of the universe, I touched magic today. We went up and down the alley a couple of times together, my hands on his bike, and then, still sure he was destined for swift defeat, I let go, and he wobbled and pedaled and . . . flew. I know that’s how it felt to him, because that’s how it had felt to me forty-five years before, and in my dreams of flying ever after I always pedaled up into the air, and now my boy Jack was doing it too, biking away from me past all the garbage bins I’d been sure he’d bash into, and he was on his way, and my empty hands sizzled as if they weren’t now suddenly after seven years empty but instead full of something ridiculously dazzling.

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Rusty Staub

March 30, 2018

Rusty Staub

After a specialist removed the breathing apparatus, it took my father about an hour and fifteen minutes to die. He was lying on a hospital bed in the critical care unit. His eyes were closed, and his swept-back hair and tipped back head made it look like he was flying, or like something invisible inside of him was flying out and casting his body back down to earth. My brother and I spoke later and discovered we were both watching images from our father’s life flash through our mind, as if the invisible ascension was passing through us as it rose. The images were vivid and quick, one giving way to another and another, a whole life compressed in a quickening kaleidoscope of light and love and loss. How can we even say we belong here? How we can we say this when we’re bound to leave?

***

I got this card not that long after my family moved away from my father. I was eight, in my second full year of collecting. I was in a new place. I wanted to belong. I was drawn to these cards.

The sun is shining on Rusty Staub, on his pale face, on his wavy pale orange hair, on all the colors of his bright uniform, the white and the blue and the hint—as if his personality filtered into the very fabric of the franchise—of orange. This moment of genuine happiness and ease was it, what baseball was for me: fun, sun on my face, some kind of belonging.

***

There were no last words at the bedside; the stroke had taken care of that. The night before the stroke was just a normal night. My mother made my father a meal he liked, and after it he refrained from his usual quick retreat back into his room. My mom finally realized what was going on.

“Are you waiting to hear me rehearse my lecture?” she asked.

He said something to the affirmative.

She had been preparing to teach a course on the history of printmaking and must have mentioned that she wanted to run it by him, just like she’d been running things like that by him for years.

“Oh, I’m too tired,” she said, “let’s just do it tomorrow.”

He probably then said OK and shuffled off to his room.

He was always there to listen, my father. He was there for my mom and for my brother and for me and for his few close friends, all big talkers and dreamers who needed a guy like my dad to listen. So it’s fitting that the last words of a listener were about the act of listening and an implicit affirmation that he would be available another time, any time, forever, to listen.

***

Rusty Staub never stayed in one place for long. A few years in Houston, a few in Montreal, a few in New York, a few in Detroit, back to Montreal for a moment, then Texas for another, then back to New York, to where my father too always returned. But everywhere Rusty Staub went he belonged. Everywhere he went, he emanated openness, friendliness, familiarity, somehow reaching out into the stands and out of a piece of cardboard to make you feel like you belonged.

***

I have always held these baseball cards between myself and death. How could there be death if someone could be a grown-up and play baseball really well and enjoy it like a kid and could also be named Rusty? How could there be death if Rusty, who already seemed like he had been around forever when I first met him in these cards, could outlast my own childhood in the 1970s? How could there be death if Rusty was still somehow miraculously lurking in the dugout into the mid-1980s, still ready to grab a bat and pinch hit. What a beautiful thing it was to see Rusty Staub amble out of the dugout to pinch hit! Who else would you rather see? Who could communicate the core message of this game and this life better than Rusty Staub? The message is not, it turns out, that there’s no death. Life is fleeting, life is suffering, life is to be enjoyed.

***

In the last minutes of my father’s life we were standing around his dying body and talking, my brother and me and my mother, about the restaurants he took my brother and me to on our visits. Mom remembered the “place with the round tables.”

“The Knickerbocker!” I said.

I used to get chicken in a basket at the Knickerbocker. I loved going there with Dad and Ian and getting chicken in the basket. I thought about that as Dad lay there unconscious, struggling for breath. I thought of all the restaurants he took us to in the 1970s and early 1980s. Our lives intersected with Rusty Staub’s for a little while as he went from restaurant to restaurant and we went from restaurant to restaurant. Life is fleeting, life is suffering, life is to be enjoyed. My favorite restaurant that Dad took us to occurred to me, an Italian place on MacDougal with pictures of actors and athletes on the walls. The last words spoken around my dad in his life were a restaurant I’m hoping tonight Rusty Staub, now also gone, enjoyed.

“And Monte’s,” I said.

They had a thing they did at Monte’s: they greeted you as if they knew you. After I left childhood it dawned on me that they couldn’t possibly remember us from one summer to the next, but as a kid I believed it. I believed.

My father took his last breaths as I thought about that place of warmth and happiness and belonging.

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Sergio Ferrer

February 27, 2018

Sergio Ferrer

Where is my father?

My father is in a box of ashes in Asheville. My father is at Shea. I am at Shea too. It’s 1979. There’s hardly anyone in the stands. The planes headed to and from Laguardia roar over the field every few minutes, causing my father to press his fingers in his ears. “Let’s go, Mets!” I shout every once in a while. My brother does too. My father grimaces down at the New York Times. My father buys us hot dogs and soda. He buys me a miniature plastic bullpen cart, the kind shaped like a baseball with little bats in front propping up a roof shaped like a Mets cap. I love it. I vow to hold onto it forever. But where is it? Where is Shea Stadium, for that matter? Where is Sergio Ferrer?

Sergio Ferrer spent the entire 1979 season with the New York Mets, the first time in his nine years in professional baseball that he didn’t spend some or all of the season in the minor leagues. And yet he only appeared in 32 games, and most of those appearances were so brief that they didn’t include a trip to the plate. He faced a pitcher only 9 times all year. I never noticed him, or if I do I don’t remember, so it’s like he was never there.

My father is in my bones and muscles and organs and blood and in the bones and muscles and organs and blood of my two sons. My father is in my gentleness with my sons and in my brooding desire to be left alone by my sons and in my periodic explosions of frustration with my sons and in my desire above all for happiness in my sons.

In 1979 Sergio Ferrer had 0 hits. All year long: nothing, and when it was over his major league career was over too. He got into some games that year as a defensive replacement, others as a pinch runner. In others he warmed up the pitcher if the catcher was busy switching into his gear. He sat. He perhaps occasionally held a bat, remembering what it felt like to connect. He waited.

My father is in the tiny scribbles of his handwriting on small white pieces of note paper in virtually every one of his books in his bookcase, his writing so tiny that it’s virtually unreadable, except you can always read enough to know that he was grappling deeply with what he was reading, all his life long wrestling like Jacob with the biggest ideas, the unknowable and unknown, wrestling for understanding, illumination, blessings. My father is in the tiny scribbles on pages in two folders now in my possession, one of the folders titled “My Jottings” and the other titled “My Musings.” Last year he ushered me into his room and showed me where he kept these folder. He knew it was getting near the end of the line, and he wanted me to know about his musings and jottings. The musings are handwritten and thus difficult to decipher, but the jottings were transferred at some point to a computer file that he then printed out on a dot matrix printer that makes all the lines faint and every third line seem italic, randomly emphasized. These jottings are his diary, starting in 1970 and running to 2011. It’s a slim folder. The entries themselves are usually short, and months and even sometimes years go by without an entry. The heaviest period is in 1979. The flurry of entries start with this one:

6-24-79
On June 24, upon getting up with her rocker mom fell and broke her hip.

Two days (and two entries) later, there’s this entry:

6-26-79
I am witnessing the unraveling of personhood, of the sweet and loving soul that is my mother. How she fights its dissolution, increasingly obsessed with her few possessions—her book with the names and addresses, birthdates, etc., her sweater, photographs. . . .

I weep uncontrollably . . . . 

I still haven’t wept uncontrollably. I haven’t really wept at all. I stare at baseball cards. In this one the distinct outline of the player’s worrying face stands in stark relief against a ghostly background. This creates a sense that Sergio Ferrer is not even really there at all but instead is a cardboard cutout. He could be lifted directly out of the purgatorial blur. Who would be left? There seem to perhaps be some figures in the background, but you can’t be sure. And anything happening here at this stadium that no longer exists in a year of losing and nothingnness might just as well not be happening at all.

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Ed Kranepool

October 23, 2017

Ed Kranepool

I’m just going to hang out a little with Ed Kranepool here. It’s just after 9 at night on a weekday. My kids are asleep. I worked all day, worked pretty hard, I guess, but my bike ride home lifted the work off my shoulders, and I was happy when I walked in the door and saw my family. I made dinner while my wife, exhausted from the work of dealing with two young boys all day, drew a bath for herself. Exley, my three-year-old, was really tired from getting up too early this morning, and he didn’t want to let her out of his sight. He cried inconsolably for a while. I held him and murmured to him, to no effect. My wife came out of the bathroom while the tub was filling.

“Look, I’ll be right back, Exley,” she said. She was naked. I’ve been with this woman for sixteen years now and I still want to construct a towering cathedral and spend the rest of my life kneeling inside it in a prayer of thanks every time I see her naked. Anyway, she left to submerge herself below the surface of some scalding water and away from all our needs for a few minutes, and Exley kept wailing. I finally got him to ratchet down to sob-sniffles, and then he laughed a little when I started trying to lob some little oval veggie chips up and into my mouth.

He helped me make tacos, and by helped me I mean he mangled some tomatoes, ate a few fistfuls of shredded cheese, and spilled some lettuce on the floor. I completed the tacos eventually, even though I was the only one who ate them, or, to be more accurate, shoved them in. Abby shoved down mostly lettuce and hot sauce, Exley took one bite of one taco, spilled the rest everywhere, and then began careening up and down the hall like a frat pledge at the end of a grain alcohol party, while Jack, who’s repulsed by food that’s mixed together in any way and would never eat tacos, picked a little at some plain noodles and broccoli. Why do I make tacos? Later, after dinner, or whatever you want to call our nightly collective ridicule of food-centered togetherness, I went downstairs for a while with Jack while Abby wrestled Exley into some pajamas.

“What if there’s a monster in the other room?” Jack asked.

“What if I have a bad dream tonight?” Jack asked.

“What if I’m dreaming right now?” Jack asked.

I told him some things: it’s OK to be scared of the dark. I used to be scared of the dark, I added, and then I added that, honestly, I’m still scared of the dark.

“But not here in my home,” I said. “I feel safe here.” This was mostly true, but just this morning, when I was first up with the boys and sitting at the table near our windows that look out on the street, I was visited by a horrible scenario, or revisited, I should say, as it comes to me every once in a while. I imagine a stray drive-by bullet piercing a window and killing one of my boys. We live in a neighborhood with shootings. That is to say, we live in America, where everyone is packing and either desperate or a maniac.

“It’s OK to be scared,” I told my son, “but everything is going to be OK.” I told Jack this, and then later I told it to Exley too. After my alone time with Jack, Jack goes up and reads books with Abby, and I play downstairs with Exley and then read him to sleep in the rocking chair. Tonight we played with a chess set and Exley scattered the pieces around, and then when we couldn’t find two pawns, Exley started to get upset.

“Me scared,” he said.

“Don’t worry, Sweet,” I said, using the nickname I’d given him. Actually what I most often call him is Kissy Sweet. How much longer is that going to last? He has already sternly and repeatedly instructed me to stop calling him a baby. And how much longer am I going to be able to feel his body go heavy and soft in my arms with oncoming sleep as I read about Curious George and the Man with the Yellow Hat?

Ed Kranepool, each and every one of these words is dedicated to you. Ed Kranepool, have you ever read to your children or maybe grandchildren about Curious George and the Man with the Yellow Hat and wondered, as I have after reciting so many of those stories again and again, whether the Man with the Yellow Hat has a heroin addiction? Why else, Ed Kranepool, would he continue disappearing, time and again, for wide unaccountable swaths of time while his pet monkey, clearly incapable of being left alone, wreaks havoc to such an extent as to be symbolic of havoc itself?

But I digress, Ed Kranepool, and really, Ed Kranepool, what I want to say to you because I don’t have anyone else to say it to is thanks. Thanks for that feeling of my younger boy falling asleep in my arms, and for the blue eyes of my older boy as he stares somehow both at me and through me and wonders for the first time in his life aloud if this is all a dream, and for that feeling of seeing my wife without any clothes on, and for that feeling of riding through Chicago streets and flying, almost, with the joy of exertion and release and anticipation and being alive.

What if this is all a dream, Ed Kranepool? And are you still dreaming it, Ed Kranepool? It’s a few months now since the stories came out that you were in dire need of a kidney, that you had auctioned off your World Series ring, that were on a waiting list, that time was running out. I know you felt what I felt. That connection, that bliss. I feel it, and I don’t fully know why, when I say your familiar, friendly, evaporating name.

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Vada Pinson and Ron Hodges

October 26, 2015

Vada PinsonRon hodges 78World Series preview

Tonight after my wife and I got our two boys to sleep I came down to our carpeted basement and cleared out a space in the thick tangle of baby toys and toddler toys and flipped these two baseball cards at the wall, best four out of seven.

Earlier, while I was dancing the younger boy to sleep, I was wondering about baseball, specifically about whether there’s any other player in history besides Bret Saberhagen who, arguably, centered one franchise’s best moment and another franchise’s worst moment. I was seventeen years old and living in Boston when that first moment occurred, Saberhagen’s shutout victory as a 21-year-old in Game Seven of the 1985 World Series. I’d gotten my GED earlier that summer, and a few months later, in January, I’d realize I hated working and start college. Boy, those were some in-between days. I was working a few hours a week in an ice cream store, playing solitaire Strat-O-Matic, smoking resin shavings, going to matinees of Teen Wolf and Fletch. Sometimes I’d write in my journal. It was starting to dawn on me that this, writing, was really the only thing I’d want to do with myself upon my expulsion from childhood. Saberhagen’s win inspired a column by a Boston Globe writer, probably Bob Ryan, that I really liked. I cut it out and put it in my journal, something I never did before and haven’t done since. I carried it with me for some time, but I don’t have it anymore. I’m not sure why I cut out the article. I loved to read about sports, but I knew I wasn’t going to be a sportswriter. I wanted to write The Catcher in the Rye or On the Road. Still, something about the article—I think it was probably an ode to how baseball keeps us young forever, something like that—spoke to me. I was pretty fucking lost right about then, and yet not that far from when life had made sense, back when I was a kid collecting these cards.

Anyway I went off to college and studied writing, avoiding writing about sports because it didn’t seem, I don’t know, literary. I think most young writers are dumb assholes in this way, avoiding who they are in hopes of being someone else altogether. When college was over, sports edged its way onto my pages as I wrote a novel about kids playing basketball in Tompkins Square Park. I finished it in the fall of 1991, and I spent quite a while hoping I could get it published and begin immediately living entirely off my writing. By 1993, this dream had pretty much run its course, and I was back to another long round of in-between days, this time in New York City. I worked some hours a week in a liquor store, read Dostoyevsky and the sports pages, watched late afternoon Charles in Charge reruns with religious constancy, if not fervor, and every few days drank cheap beer with my friends at the International Bar for hours, through the night, until the sun started pushing up over the gray buildings in the east like a bruise.

I went to Mets games periodically. Somewhere in there Bret Saberhagen threw bleach at some sportswriters. It epitomized the depths of one of the most miserable seasons ever by any team, not just in terms of how bad they were or even how disappointing they were (this was the high-salaried team that inspired a book titled The Worst Team Money Could Buy) but in just how unhappy they all seemed to be, the absolute opposite of the idyll of joy captured, to my young hungering ear, at least, by the Globe column on Saberhagen’s World Series heroics.

My baby fell asleep in the carrier I wear on my chest as I was thinking about all this. I sing to him as I’m getting him to sleep, mostly stuff I make up off the top of my head. Today’s song was pretty bad, insufferable treacle, but true.

I’m so glad you’re my baby
I’m so lucky you’re my baby
I’m so grateful you’re my baby
You’re my little sweet baby boy

A few refrains of that and he was zonked out on my chest. There was a time when I didn’t think I’d ever escape the feeling of wanting to throw bleach on the world. To sting it, harm it. To get it to back off. To wipe it clean, drain it of color. How is it even possible that the world didn’t listen?

When my baby was asleep I handed him to his mother, who went to lay him down, and I came downstairs to figure out who was going to win this year’s World Series. The problem was, I was now thinking about all those Mets game, not just the ones I saw as a kid that may or may not have featured Ron Hodges but all those games in the ’90s when I was in-between this and that.

Once I rode the subway to Shea with my friend Pete. We’d gotten our hands on free tickets to a rainout-generated single-admission doubleheader that was already in progress between the Mets, who were nearing the end of another bad season, and some other team whose identity escapes me now. Nothing was left to be decided. Rosters had expanded to include players who’d never played in the majors before and never would again. We arrived as the doubleheader opener was in its last innings. Pete asked a security guy near the entrance the score. We had been hurrying. I don’t know why.

“Losing,” the guard told us.

“Yeah?” Pete said. The three of us stood there. It seemed like someone should say something.

“Who’s pitching?” Pete said.

The security guard shrugged. A few people were leaving.

“Some guy,” the security guard said.

Some teams win for a fallen teammate, such as, most famously, the Gipper. I want the Mets to win this World Series for Some Guy. Whoever he was.

And because I want them to win I’m going to have to recuse myself from any sort of rational or even irrational prediction. Instead, I’m going to bring this all the way back to the beginning, to when I was a boy alone in my room with my cards.

So I flipped these two cards, best of seven. It went back and forth. I admit I was trying to will Ron Hodges to a win without sabotaging my Vada Pinson throws. But you are looking at Game 7. Hodges made it tough, but Pinson swooped past him, graceful to the last, and stood up tall against the wall.

Edge: Royals, in seven

hodges and pinson

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Rick Reuschel and Ron Hodges

October 17, 2015

Rick Reuschel 77Ron hodges 78NLCS preview

Predictions are asinine. This probably holds true for everything, but it’s particularly applicable to baseball, in which even the best teams lose forty percent of the time. The nature of the sport resists certainty of any kind. Everyone on the field is in the middle of a baffling slump or an even more inexplicable hot streak, and either direction is subject to change immediately. A great team might have a sixty percent chance of beating an average team on a given day, but put two good teams against one another, and it’s a coin flip.

Or maybe I just don’t want to predict this series. I don’t really want to see either team lose. I have a connection to the Mets that goes back decades, to my once-a-year trips with my brother from our home in Vermont to New York, where our father, with reluctance and without looking away from his New York Times throughout the game except to grimace up at the low-flying air traffic into LaGuardia, took us to a game every summer, where we saw Ron Hodges and the rest of the lackluster late 1970s Mets get trampled. I was a Red Sox fan and will always love that team the most, but somehow the Ron Hodges era will always also reside deep in my psyche. In many ways, those Mets, the echoing malaise of empty Shea, sunshine and loss and a scattering of strangers, reflect my persona much more than the star-studded 1970s Red Sox. And after that childhood orbiting of the Mets I lived in New York for years, through the 1990s and into the early 2000s, and forged my closest adult friendships. Most of these friends are Mets fans. I guess anyone could use a win, but since these people are my friends I know what a win would mean for them. I don’t want the Mets to lose.

****

I live in Chicago. I’ve been here for eleven years now. It’s as long as I’ve ever lived anywhere, at least consecutively, but I still feel like I’m from somewhere else. The again, I’ve always felt that way no matter where I’ve lived. Anyway, last winter I was digging the car out of deep snow and cursing, and a helicopter started hovering loudly above me. It was unpleasant, but it’s not like I was enjoying the task without it. I kept shoveling and cursing. My wife stuck her head out the window of our condo and yelled at me.

“There was a shooting at the McDonald’s on Clark, the gunman’s on the loose,” she yelled. I realize her line of dialogue contains a comma splice, but that’s an appropriate recreation of how the words came out. Gunmen on the loose don’t engender felicitous punctuation.

“You done shoveling, daddy?” my son yelled when I came inside.

“Not exactly,” I said.

“Let’s play!”

Snow and nearby gunplay and awareness of comma splices and my yelling family: that’s my Chicago.

Chicago’s where I got married, where I wrote some books, where I got and kept a job correcting comma splices, where my two kids were born. If one of the stray bullets flying around kills me and you want to do something with my ashes, add them to the gunk in the part of Lake Michigan that laps up against the little sandy area a few blocks away from our place. It’s called Hartigan Beach, and more often than not I’m frazzled and annoyed there, trying to prevent my children from eating sand or drowning, but I’ve also managed to look out at the wide water once in a while and see the world as my boys are seeing it, this their timeless place, what they’ll always be dreaming their way back to. I’ve never loved a place more than that modest chunk of churned-up sand, pocked with cigarette butts and my own persisting anxieties.

Yesterday I asked a Cubs fan I work with if he remembered 1969. I wasn’t sure if he would. He’s older than me, but not by a whole lot.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “When the Mets clinched, I went into the backyard and burned all my Mets baseball cards.”

Now he’s watching the games with his teenage son. He says his son is nervous.

I don’t want to see the Cubs lose either.

****

But this is supposed to be a prediction. I notice that some observers are bringing up the Cubs’ record against the Mets this year: they beat New York in all seven meetings between the teams. To emphasize how pointless I think it is to refer to these games to foretell what’s going to happen in the championship series, I’m instead going to pick a game not long after my tenth birthday instead. It was on April 22, 1978. Rick Reuschel started the game and pitched well. In fact, he held the Mets hitless through five innings in forging a 2-0 lead. In the seventh inning, the Mets finally broke through for a run on a Ron Hodges sacrifice fly. An inning later, in the eighth, with the score now tied, Hodges’ spot in the order came up again. There were two outs and two men on. In his twelve-year career, Hodges’ batting average against Reuschel was a pathetic .148. But he came through this time with a single that drove in Willie Montanez with the go-ahead run. The game wasn’t over there. The Cubs loaded the bases in the bottom of the eighth but couldn’t score. Reuschel blanked the Mets in the top of the ninth, and in the last of the ninth they got their leadoff man aboard. After a strikeout, Rick Reuschel’s spot in the order came up. He was a good hitter, but of course in that spot you go to a pinch-hitter. The pinch-hitter grounded into a game-ending double-play.

His name was Bill Buckner.

Edge: Mets