I was eight years old when my grandfather took me to my first New York Mets game. As we sat in the blue box seats, the smell of steamed hot dogs punctuating the humid summer night, I was instantly hooked. Grandpa was a passionate sports fan, a former soccer player and sports journalist from his native Italy. I was his oldest ‘grandson’ and his love of the game of baseball was intoxicating. By the time I was 10, the New York Mets had won their first World Series, a feat it would take many years for them to do again. I learned how to keep score, memorized the statistics on the back of the Topps baseball cards and, under the watchful eye of the man I idolized, learned how to heckle my beloved team right along with the best of them.
Baseball was our shared passion. Walking out of the stadium after a win was euphoric; the long walk to the car after a loss seemed endless. We hashed and rehashed the pivotal plays that sealed the home team’s fate. Despite what seemed like an eternity of bad luck and losing seasons, the New York Mets were our team and win or lose. We stood by them through thick and thin, in good times and bad.
My mother and father grew up in Brooklyn during the days when the Brooklyn Dodgers played ball at Ebbets Field. Growing up I would hear stories about the ‘good old days’ when the players lived in the neighborhoods and could occasionally be spotted playing stick ball in the streets with the neighborhood kids or coming home with a carload of groceries from the local market. Box scores were a daily read. Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese and Gil Hodges were household names and to this day, my mother can still recite the double play call that she grew up hearing on the radio ‘Reese to Robinson to Hodges’. She inherited her father’s passion for sports. Baseball was her first love and as her oldest, it became mine as well.
Being a Mets fan wasn’t easy. There were lots of years when the team stunk, when playoffs seemed but an elusive dream. There were a lot of 'Wait ‘til next year's in my childhood, but in 1986, 18 years later, the Mets were in the World Series again. By then I was far away from the blue seats of Shea and firmly entrenched in the land of orange and black. Having grown up listening to the crack of the bat through the sounds of planes taking off from LaGuardia airport, Candlestick never seemed too bad. By then my allegiance had begun to shift and with the advent of free agency and a limited TV schedule, it was too hard to keep track of my team from clear across the country. The San Francisco Giants stole my heart.
They had roots in New York. There was Mays and McCovey and Marichal and a history rich in baseball tradition. But there was one thing they didn’t have, a World Series Championship.
Many months ago, as a surprise for her husband’s 60th birthday, my neighbor bought a group of tickets right behind home plate for the last day of the season. He’s a die-hard Giants fan, a guy who bleeds orange and black, a season ticket holder who raised his kids to hate the Dodgers. She said, jokingly, as she handed us our tickets, that she hoped that the game would mean something; that they would still be in it at the end of the season.
On Sunday, with the division on the line, we found our way down to the field. My neighbor was overwhelmed, his eyes filled with tears at the surprise and he struggled to compose himself as friend after friend came in and took their seats. The stadium was electric, the creamy white jerseys, orange towels and homemade signs filled every available space in the sea of orange and black. There was a small crowd of dignitaries gathering at home plate as F.P. Santangelo, one of the local broadcasters, shook hands with the Padres players who took pregame batting practice. The excitement was palbable. This meant something.
We yelled and cheered. And yelled some more. We swung our towels and clapped our hands and with 38,000 of our closest friends, sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at the top of our lungs. This was our moment and we could feel it. The Giants were going to win the West.
When the last pitch was thrown, as the catcher, a mere kid, jumped into the arms of our pitcher and the players poured out onto the field, as the stadium erupted in applause, my neighbor sat quietly for a minute, soaking in the moment, a moment he had dreamed about for as long as he could remember. There would be more work to do, but for now, it was time to celebrate. For now, it was time enjoy a birthday he would not soon forget. A day planned all those months ago, an unscripted moment with family and friends. A magic moment that indeed, meant something.
Maybe this is the year.