Here are a few more of my all-time most memorable personally witnessed ballpark moments, all but the first occurring within the span of one particular so-called meaningless game and all with Joe Torre lurking heavy-browed and dyspeptic on the periphery:
You Don’t Belong Here
As noted elsewhere on this site (see Len Randle), my father usually took my brother and me to one Mets game during each of our yearly visits to see him in New York City. These visits to Shea Stadium all occurred during the Joe Torre era, a string of years in the late ’70s and early ’80s in which the Mets never finished above 5th place in the NL East. Needless to say, the word “crowd” was an inaccurate way to describe the sparse scattering of torpid bodies we always found ourselves among in the stands in Flushing. One day, my dad, spotting wide swaths of unoccupied seats in the levels below where our cheap tickets had placed us, led us down closer to the field.
Whatever that feeling is of moving down closer to the field, into seats you could never afford, close enough to speak without raising your voice to the right fielder or hear the slap of the third baseman’s fist hitting the pocket of his mitt, that excitement of being close to the world that has always been built up in your mind as a kind of heaven, gleaming and unreachable, that great expectant feeling mixed with feelings of guilt and shame, a cringing premonition that you are about to be caught, found out, asked not only to leave the close-to-heaven area but leave the whole arena, whatever that whole complicated feeling is, it’s kind of how I feel in general in life. I think I’m probably not the only one. Whenever some guy leaps the railing and runs onto the field the broadcasters always go on at great length in profoundly condescending tones about the idiocy of the maniac, but to me it’s just an example of a guy who couldn’t take the weight of that feeling anymore, the feeling of wanting so close he was a part of it, and of simultaneously being ashamed of wanting it, and so he just gets drunk enough to try to smash through all barriers for one shining moment of maniacal sprinting across the impossibly green grass.
But anyway, this is not about maniacs on the field but about the day my dad led my brother and me down to the good seats. They weren’t even the best seats, but just some empty spaces in an almost completely empty row near the back of a largely vacant box along the right field line. We sat there just long enough for my dad to reopen his New York Times
and resume reading about something that had nothing to do with baseball, at which point an usher came over and tapped him on the shoulder and asked to see our tickets. My dad snapped his paper shut and motioned angrily and, as it turned out, impotently at the empty seats all around us. The usher shrugged, perhaps waiting for a bribe, a hint my dad probably missed (or if he didn’t miss it he rejected it on grounds of his Marxist leanings). As he led us back up to the cheap sets I felt ashamed and wished we’d never even tried.
The Upper Deck At The Last Game Ever
Many years later, in 1993, I went with my brother and a couple of our friends to a game we had dubbed The Last Baseball Game Ever. I can’t quite reenter the mindset that led us to come up with that title, but I think we laid most of the impetus for it at the feet of our disenchantment with Major League Baseball. The fact that there was something deeper beneath that idea is attested to by the fact that all four of us have attended baseball games since then, even though in that time MLB has had a World-Series-canceling strike, the ever-widening taint of steroid use, and a level of mercenary behavior among players and owners alike that exceeds or at least equals whatever it was we were so bitter about in 1993. The real truth of the matter probably lies in the fact that we were all in our late twenties and our lives had as yet not shown any promise whatsoever. We were all suffering through varying degrees of loneliness and either unemployed or lashed to repetitive menial jobs of one stripe or another (I can’t remember in which of those two sinking boats I was at that time) and so I suppose were trying to kill off the haunting, painful hopes of childhood by declaring that centerpiece of our younger years, baseball, forever null and void.
Anyway, we went to the last Mets home game of the 1993 season, a season that outstripped even the worst of the campaigns from the Joe Torre years. (Joe Torre, though long gone from the Mets, had done his part in ensuring the meaningless nature of the game by piloting the visiting St. Louis Cardinals to a middle-of-the-pack, and thus long-eliminated, finish.) Even though I’m sure there were tickets available all over the stadium, we bought the cheapest seats we could get, upper deck, behind home plate, a few rows in from the chain-link fence keeping would-be self-maimers from throwing themselves down onto the parking lot concrete below.
In hopes of further limiting the amount of money we’d give to the condemned beast of baseball, we’d smuggled in our own booze, a pint of Wild Turkey, I think, and passed it around to cut the damp chill of the foggy late September evening. A black guy in a hooded sweatshirt appeared from nowhere and asked if we wanted to buy some hash. One of the more assertive members of our foursome bartered “a couple swigs” of Wild Turkey for a little round ball of hash, a deal which sounded good on paper but which resulted in the guy in the sweatshirt chugging down with almost supernatural speed all but a couple sips of the whiskey and leaving us with something that looked like hash but that had no more ability to get us out of our present disenchanted reality than the fog, which seemed to swallow up the fake-hash dealer as quickly as it had spit him out.
The Man Who Yelled At Bucky Dent
Hashless, Wild Turkeyless, we ventured on into what turned out to be the longest and most uneventful game I’ve ever seen. Not even a single run was scored for 16 innings, and while 16 innings of scoreless ball might seem a likely home for one after another of pressure-packed clutch pitching performances, game-saving fielding gems, and fascinating managerial moves, it was in fact a game in which nothing whatsoever seemed to happen. Batters grounded softly to second and popped out to left field a lot, maybe. I’m not sure. But it went on and on.
After the 8th inning, they closed the concession stands. Sobriety really set in, coupled with gnawing hunger. The zeroes kept growing across the digital scoreboard. I began to hope that they’d stretch on forever.
This hope combined with our ever-increasing mobility throughout the stadium to make me feel as if some sort of state of damp, cold, mediocre grace had descended upon our sorry asses. At some point late within the regulation nine innings we’d ventured down from the upper deck to tentatively test out the empty seats in the loge boxes. Nobody said anything, the ushers apparently too deadened by the abject misery of the Mets’ season to even try for bribes anymore. And as the game edged into extra time we moved even closer, until by the 12th or 13th inning we were mere rows from the home dugout on the third base side.
We were surrounded for the first time all night by other fans, and there was mixed into the hundred-loss malaise a feeling of giddy excitement–none of us belonged here, and yet, here we were!
The people who usually sat in these seats were rich fucks who were far, far away that night, at soirees or something, and we finally had our chance to See What It Was Like.
Perhaps emboldened by that feeling, one of the people in that crowd half-stood from his fog-dampened seat and loudly and clearly addressed the St. Louis Cardinal third base coach, a figure, judging from the fan’s pronouncement, from the fan’s tormented past.
“Bucky Dent!” the fan yelled. “You ruined my life!”
And that fan, ladies and gentlemen, grew up to be President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The Guy Who Appeared Out Of Nowhere
OK. OK. The fan who yelled at Bucky Dent was me.
I like to believe that Bucky Dent’s shoulders tensed a little at the clearly audible mention of his name, but I don’t know if that’s true. I also like to tell myself people around me laughed at the outburst, but that’s not true either. How can you laugh at something so pathetic? It was a terrible thing to yell out, really, as it so completely diverged from the general thrust of fan taunts and imprecations.
Well, it turned out we didn’t really belong on the third base side anyway. Not long after I yelled at Bucky Dent a statement that suggested we’d been homosexual lovers and he’d shattered my heart irreparably by leaving me for, say, Dick Tidrow, we morphed over to a sparser gathering of fans on the first base side. It was at this point that the game really seemed to begin verging on infinity, and I stopped shivering in the damp fog as a kind of calm came over me, as if I was about to drift into fatal hypothermial slumber. The zeroes kept mitosising across the scoreboard. I was happy.
Unlike my brother and me, the two friends who had come along with us were Mets fans, and so they couldn’t as easily embrace my vision of an everlasting game without a winner. Because of that, they eventually struck up a rendition of the old Mets song that starts out
Meet the Mets, meet the Mets,
step right up and greet the Mets.
When I was a kid I misunderstood the words to the song. It seemed impossible to me, perhaps, that the songwriters could be so lazy as to rhyme “Meet” with “meet” in the very first line of the song, and so whenever I heard the song being sung on telecasts of Mets games viewed in my father’s apartment I sang along thusly:
Meet the Mets, greet the Mets,
step right up and beat the Mets.
I wasn’t attempting to lampoon the song; I really thought that’s how it went, and I couldn’t understand why a team would invite other teams to beat them, especially considering their capabilities or lack thereof in the Joe Torre years.
Anyway, by the time of the Last Baseball Game Ever, I knew that my version of the song was incorrect, but I still didn’t have a handle on the correct version. So I couldn’t join in, but I was able to more fully listen to the song as it was sung with tuneless gusto by first two voices by my two friends and then, suddenly, by a third shaky voice that seemed to be coming from the thin damp fog itself. For a brief moment, there seemed to be no one connected to that other voice, but then this thin gray-pallored guy in a dirty Atlanta Braves cap appeared on the fringes of our ragged congregation.
He spent the last moments of the game in our company, a guy about our age with lank dirty hair down almost to his shoulders and an aura about him of either being someone who lived in his parents’ basement or, perhaps more likely, someone who had recently been evicted from his parents’ basement, leaving with a broken-zippered duffel bag containing a couple changes of clothing and the tattered edition of the baseball encyclopedia from his childhood.
This guy faded back into the ether moments after the Mets finally pushed across a run in the bottom of the 17th inning. (Eddie Murray was the winning run, but I recall that he stopped his trot home a step in front of home plate, fucking with both weary teams, and the on-deck hitter, Joe Orsulak, actually ended up having to shove him across the plate.) I think we would have remembered this third Meet the Mets singer even if we didn’t see him again periodically around the city in the months and years following the almost endless game. He always appeared as if from nowhere and remembered us from the game and acted briefly like he was part of our group before wandering off. He always materialized on nights when the directionlessness of our lives seemed even more pervasive than usual. The last time I saw him was years ago, but I’m still not sure I won’t see him again. He briefly wandered into a bar on 2nd Avenue near Houston Street dressed in a replica of Michael Jordan’s short-lived number 45 Bulls jersey and matching Bulls shorts, vaguely acknowledged us, and then wandered back out into a night that was way too cold to be dressed in a remaindered basketball uniform.