There's really such a thing as the Junior League? And it's not where they sent Jay Kleven and Ike Hampton every fall to work on mechanics? I'll be damned. This is like finding out after years of watching Bugs Bunny that Al Jolson and war bonds actually existed. Or that people truly put Christmas trees in their living rooms. I thought that was just a TV conceit.
The Junior League? That must've been a My Cousin Vinny moment. Da Junior League? You were serious about dat?
The Junior League? Instead of the Mets and Braves? If you'd posted that circa 1994, I wonder if we'd be here today.
We would, because you did the right thing. No, not keeping your word to your future bride, though that was noble. Because you brought a radio, a simple act that seems beyond the scope of many who should know that such portable one-way communications devices exist, yet find themselves scoreless at inopportune junctures.
Remember that doubleheader we went to, the one in which Robin hit the grand slam in each game? The Knicks were in the playoffs (right around the time I decided all other sports were designed to drain attention from baseball, so I resented them and continue to do so) and there were folks nearby calling people on their newfangled cell phones at home to get basketball updates. And I'm thinking, dopes, why didn'tcha bring a radio? You deserve not to know what's going on. I tuned in the Knicks on my Walkman for a moment just so I could feel fleetingly superior to them.
My life's been better or at least better informed because I figured out as a yute (or youth) that there was a device I could carry around to stay in touch with the things the mattered: election nights, Casey Kasem countdowns and the Mets. If there's even a chance that a baseball game will break out, I will have a radio somewhere within ear's reach of desire.
Paeans to Baseball On The Radio always include smuggling transistors under the pillow or distant signals wafting over dark skies into Chevys barreling down lonesome highways. That's fine, but to me, it's a pair of headphones rescuing me from cluelessness and the distractions that comprise life. It's more utilitarian than romantic. Either way, it's vital.
The Orpheum Theatre in the East Village gets great AM reception. I wouldn't know that if I hadn't spent an interminable matinee there one Sunday afternoon in May 1995 being subjected to something called Stomp. The title refers to the noise the performers in this show make when they're banging on garbage cans and such. Banging rhythmically, to be fair, but that's pretty much the synopsis.
Stephanie and I were less graciously invited to this production than kind of stuck with the tickets by family. A month earlier there'd have been no conflict, the '94 strike having forced the delay of the '95 season. But once the schedule got underway, having been deprived since the previous August, I wasn't giving up a single pitch that I didn't absolutely have to. So I brought my Walkman to Stomp. Slipped on the headphones early and often.
Best decision ever. The Mets lost 5-3 at the Vet. Bobby Bonilla ran through a stop sign put up by Mike Cubbage. The Mets fell to 10-14 and deeper into fourth place, 7-1/2 behind Philly. Whatever. They were playing, I was listening. Now that's what I call a good show.
I wonder if Matt Hoey does anything like this, bring a radio to a school-painting party or an Off Broadway debacle. Surely by now you recognize the name Matt Hoey. He's the guy in the blue and orange Cat In The Hat hat who's first in line every winter when single-game tickets go on sale. In 1998, ESPN The Magazine ran this lovely montage of Opening Day at Shea. (My own mental medley reveals 87 degrees on March 31; Jones and Schilling firing blanks; Bambi Castillo winning the game 1-0 in the fourteenth; guy passed out near us with his friends building a tower of empty plastic beer cups on his unconscious body — don't say you don't remember.) One of the pictures was of this Matt Hoey character being the first fan to pass through the turnstiles in all of baseball that year.
Annually since then, when the News does its “lunatic Mets fans who wait in the bone-chilling cold to watch their crappy team” story, Hoey's been interviewed, but nobody ever seemed to connect the dots that he shows up in print every February. It wasn't until this year's New Mets Fever that he became a celebrity along the lines of the idiot who bangs on a pot at Yankee Stadium for it. There he was on all the newscasts. There he was on the back page of Newsday Monday posing with a perpetually blissful Gary Carter and an increasingly cranky Darryl Strawberry. I even read about his dramatic weight loss. Good for Matt Hoey.
But three things struck me, squinting at the tickets he was clutching:
1) They were upper deck seats for a Mets-Yankees game. You mean this poor soul confronts the elements from Thursday through Sunday and they can't sell him anything better? Just for PR purposes, the Mets can't set aside eight loge reserved for Matt Hoey? You don't have to comp them to him, but make them available.
2) If Matt Hoey is a fan among fen, I'm a little disappointed that he used his position to buy Mets-Yankees tickets. Show you're really committed and ask for Mets-Pirates, best ya got. Better yet, ask for Mets-Expos. What? The Expos don't exist anymore? But I was going to be first in line for customs.
3) I'm suspicious of superfans, the ostentatious kind. I don't know Matt or Cow-Bell Man (whose jersey features the hyphen) or the Lone Ranger guy or the lady who twirled her arms or SIGNMAN (not to be confused with The Sign Man). I get the feeling that after a while, being Matt Hoey supercedes watching the game or following the team for Matt Hoey.
“Hey Matt? Didja see that catch Beltran made in the eighth?”
“Didja see my Dr. Seuss hat? My cousin said he saw it on TV when a foul ball went in the stands. I knew this thing would pay for itself in crowd shots!”
Every now and then somebody sponsors a contest to Show Your Mets Pride or something similarly intangible. Fans are encouraged to mail in pictures of themselves or their dogs in full team regalia. The winner is always some guy who's built his basement around one of Buzz Capra's used wristbands. I never quite buy that this person or a fella who sews his name over No. 41 on a $350 Mitchell & Ness jersey has something on me.
Wanna see a Mets fan? Don't look at the stuff. Look deep into the eyes. Look into the soul. Better yet, take a stethoscope to the ears. If you can hear, amid the clatter of dented garbage cans, faint echoes of Mike Cubbage grinding his teeth after Bobby Bonilla has demonstrated utter insubordination for the umpteenth time, you've found something better than Mets Pride. You've found someone who's not too proud to be a Mets fan.