Saturday, April 15, 2006

My First Baseball Games

As best as I can figure it out, the first baseball game I ever attended was the July 7, 1965 game between the New York Mets and the Chicago Cubs.

I think that was the right one. Thanks to Baseball Retrosheet , I was able to work backwards. I knew it was mid-summer, mid-day, mid-week, the Cubs, and 1965. That leaves me with Wednesday, July 7, 1965. My grandfather took me. We took the subway from the Rockaways, and sat up, up, up where the air was rare. I was not yet 7 years old.

According to the Retrosheet Boxscore , Alvin Jackson pitched for the Mets, and one of the great mid-1960s Mets killers, Larry Jackson, pitched for the Cubs.

According to Retrosheet, the Mets took the early 2-0 lead, but the Cubs won 8-3 due to two 2-rbi singles by the catcher, Krug, a player I did not know existed until I read the box score of the game this week.

I knew the Mets lost, but I did not remember any of the other details of the game. In fact, I couldn’t have told you any of the details of the game one hour after the game. That’s because I went to the game, but I didn’t watch it. I didn’t know anything about professional baseball. I may have played sometimes in the street or in the schoolyard. I may have looked interested watching a few games on the television, but that was it. Nope, I did not watch the game. What I did instead was “entertain” my grandfather by reading -- out loud -- every single item that was posted on the scoreboard.

My grandfather was furious. He must have promised never to have taken me to another game. He never did.

It didn’t bother me much anyway. I didn’t care much for baseball.

However, just a few weeks later, on Sunday afternoon, October 10, 1965, Lou Johnson hit a home run off the screen (I think it was the left field screen) during the World Series. Right there! Live! On the television! It was the most amazing thing I ever saw. I fell in love with baseball that second. It has been a mostly one-sided relationship, but I have loved baseball ever since.

I am sure I hounded my father to take me to a game every day after that. Of course, though, my father must have been talking to my grandfather. Please … please … PLEEEZE.

Finally, on September 6, 1966, a Tuesday night, my father, my “Uncle” Irving, I think his son Joe (later the best man at my wedding) and I went to see the Mets play the Reds. It was one of the most important games in the history of the New York Mets, even though it was not much spoken about that way at the time. I have never heard it referred to since.

According to Baseball Retrosheet, 14,879 people attended that game. I bet every one of the Mets fans there that night knew they were looking at something important. I know my Dad, and my Uncle Irving did. I know that all of the excited strangers sitting around us did. I know that Joe and I did.

Leading off for the Mets that day, was a new player. Maybe he had played in a previous game that we all missed, but none of us could remember. First inning, he drew a walk. Then HE STOLE SECOND BASE! And not just stole second base, he stole it like the guys did on the other teams. Like he knew what he was doing. Then later that inning, the pitcher threw a wild pitch. Without any hesitation, without tripping on his way down the base path, without misjudging his own abilities, HE SCORED.

Then, the very next inning, he singled, and wouldn’t you know it. He STOLE SECOND BASE AGAIN!

Looking back at the score sheet now, I was completely amazed to discover that he did not score after that second stolen base, that in fact, he did not have another hit that game.

I do know that to my 7-year old mind, he made some amazing plays in the field. The adults wouldn’t call them amazing, but they did admit that although he was a kid, he was already a major leaguer, and far better than the has-beens he was replacing.

Yes, during the first game that I actually “saw” at Shea Stadium, the Mets found out that they had one of the first pieces to what we did not know – could not know -- would be the Summer of ’69. The Mets had Bud Harrelson .

September 6, 1966 Mets 3, Reds 2 .