It’s very much October, the kind old month that gently escorts us away from summer’s warmth and points us toward the depths of winter’s freeze.
The NFL is heating up and baseball season is winding down, so I thought I’d better get my baseball story in before it’s too late, and somebody shouts….
“Wait ‘til next year!”
For a lot of folks, especially kids, going to our first major league baseball game is one of life’s most exciting adventures. Ask anyone of my generation, what they remember most about the first time they stepped into a major league ballpark, in any city, and they’ll invariably tell you it was the breathtaking sight of all that bright green grass.
Sounds kind of odd to say since most of us were already familiar with grass. I mean the kind you walk on, not break the law with.
But remember, back then we were all watching games on Black & White TVs; the fields we were familiar with were various shades of grey on grey. So the first time we saw it live, all that green and rich, brown dirt with nary a footprint to start the game, was a sight to behold.
In fact all the colors were; in the uniforms, in the stands, even in the hot dogs and cracker jacks.
We were told to bring our mitts, just in case a foul ball came our way…even if we were sitting in the farthest reaches of the upper deck.
Hey you never know and you needed to be prepared.
For a kid, the idea of snagging a foul ball hit into the stands was…well, almost mythic in scope…your personal Holy Grail.
So there we sat, little caps on little heads, gloves at the ready, mesmerized by all the cigar smoke and peanuts flying through the air.
When I was about 10, I was at a Met game the first year Shea Stadium opened. My dad’s company had season tickets and he would score a box from time to time. So I have to admit, I was pretty spoiled and had great field level seats, right behind 3rd base. My dad used to say that was the best place to sit since everyone was running towards you.
Made sense, but let’s face it, just being in the place was enough.
So this was my 4th or 5th year of attending ballgames. 3rd with the Mets since this was only their 3rd season. I gave the background on my early years as a Met fan in a previous post. Don’t worry there won’t be a quiz. Not today….
It was a hot day and our seats were in the sun, about 3 or 4 rows back. My mom and dad had decided they wanted to go back and sit in the shade for a while, but I wanted no part of it. There were no foul balls landing under the roof.
So there I sat alone, glove on hand, staring out at the third base coach and wondering why he needed to wear a uniform…and why were his shoe laces so long?
Suddenly there’s a pop foul and everyone in my section begins to rise up. This distracts me from my shoe lace revere, and as I look up, there goes the ball right over my head; so close I can see the red stitches.
The ball flies by, but bounces on the cement, and the backspin takes it back, rolling down the aisle…right toward me, right where I’m standing.
Being only 3 and ½ feet tall I had an advantage since I was already pretty low to the ground. All the big galoots were falling all over themselves trying to reach for it but there it rolled right up to my Keds.
I couldn’t even think; I just reacted and fell to my knees. I reached out, put both hands on the ball and—
— a woman’s chubby little hand holding a game program came crashing down on my tenuous ten year old grip.
And I let go of the ball…and watched this sneering creature, possibly from the Minotaur family, take the ball away from me.
And there I sat, alone in the concrete aisle, mustard smeared all over my knees (not really sure about the mustard part, but it adds some color), lost in a sea of adult legs as they patted the Minotauress on the back in congratulations.
I shuffled back to where my parents were sitting, and my dad, who had never caught a ball, himself, although my gramps, his dad, did in 1935 or so at a Yankee a game (he knew somebody who had the ball signed by the team and I have it to this day, next to a picture of the 2 of them holding it), said he thought I was getting that one.
I told him what happened and all he said was, “Next time…”
Next time? Next time, I thought? Where was the outrage, where was the Minotaur police?
Well, next time didn’t come around for another 34 years. Wednesday, August 19th 1998 to be exact.
Z and I headed down to the same Shea Stadium. The Mets were kind of in the wild card hunt that year. I picked up 2 tickets from a scalper and we ended up with pretty great field level seats, between home plate and the dug out on the 3rd base side…of course.
Not sure of too many details, like what inning it was or who was batting but I know the Mets won 6-5 and that a dude named Masato Yoshii, a right hander, was pitching. Throughout the early innings I noticed that a lot of the left handed batters were fouling balls off, back our way, and many were landing in the deck above us and caroming back down onto our section.
Well, to make a long story even longer, sure enough, about the 5th inning, here comes a ball right over our heads. Staying true to form, I was ready for it to bounce back our way and sure enough, here it came.
One bounce…two…and the crowd is scrambling. I look down and see it rolling on the ground under one row then two. Nobody seems to see it but me. And sure enough it scoots under my seat, right by my Reeboks and settles in the row right in front of me. But all these people are looking everywhere but down.
So not wanting to attract attention, I calmly lean way over the orange seat in front of me, leaving my feet a little to get way down there, sticking a screw from the seat back right through my jeans and into my leg…and grab the ball.
The BALL…I HAD THE BALL…! And no one was taking it away from me.
Now I was the local hero and everyone was patting me on the back, and little kids looked at me with awe. One even tried to grab it from my hand as I was showing it to him.
But not this time…this time I was the Minotaur.
But the poor kid looked kind of sad and for the briefest of moments I considered what could not be imagined. I considered handing him the ball.
I considered it….
But in the end…I waited 44 years....
The kid could put in few of his own.…
But next time kid, I promise…