If memories were all I sang
I’d rather drive a truck
It’s Friday. I’m having a Flashback. So what else is new?
Nothing’s new, actually. This has been our quietest transaction winter to early January since 1997-98 when we were waiting our turn to pick through the wreckage of the Florida Marlins’ self-immolation until we could scoop up Al Leiter. (Come to think of it, our big grab of this offseason is one of those very same champs-must-go Marlins, Moises Alou.)
Maybe things will heat up between now and the middle of February or the beginning of April and we’ll have that fresh arm for the rotation or another completely trustworthy outfielder or three more relievers or another utilityman. Tomo Ohka! David Newhan! My heart be still! Patience, I would counsel, except I’m antsy, too.
Cure for ants in the pants? I have none, but I am having that Flashback. It is Friday after all.
Regular readers will recognize the timing. From August to October 2005 and again from January to October 2006, we (mostly me; I’m the one with the self-memorializing tendencies) devoted at least part of each Friday to a moment in Mets time, usually if not exclusively with a personal spin to it. In the ’05 version, I traced the Metamorphosis of a fan from age 7 to age 42. In ’06, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the last Met world championship, the last season that could carry ten months of reminiscences on its own (though the focus did shift to the 20th anniversary of 2006 at the very end).
So what’s the plan this year? Personal growth has been done. Baseball Like It Oughta Be has been.
Do the math.
Here in 2007, I’ll be working off my favorite formula for remembrance of things past: year minus five, year minus ten, year minus fifteen and so forth. In essence, I plan on devoting a slice of each Friday (pending current developments and my own laziness) to some Metsian event — yours/mine/ours — that is celebrating a milestone anniversary on or around the given date of a particular Friday. That’s actually more or less what I’ve been doing for these past two years, but these FBFs won’t be as linear as in ’05 or anywhere near as concentrated as in ’06. Consider it, as Grant Roberts might have, pot luck. Hopefully, even though years ending in 7 and 2 have produced zero Mets titles, it won’t result in a series of bad trips.
Our parameters are set. Now let’s see what the Flashback cooker has for us.
It’s this week in…
WOO-HOO! 1982! The first week of January!
Wait a sec. Not only is that not baseball season, it’s the winter between two massively inept Met campaigns. In the one behind, the Mets went 41-62 with 59 games lost to a strike. In the one ahead, the Mets would go 65-97 without the good fortune of a strike to ease the numbing pain of .400 play.
So why the hell should I be excited to be transported back to January 1982?
Because I was young, dammit. I was 19 years young. I had just turned old enough to drink legally in the state of Florida but not so old that I couldn’t be mistaken for…
Nah, you’re not going to believe it. I still don’t.
This was my freshman year in college. A year earlier, when I was a senior in high school, I was gifted (due respect to the Steve Springer Tides cap) the greatest gift of all. For my 18th birthday, my future brother-in-law gave me a jacket.
A satin Starter-brand Mets warmup jacket. Just like the one Joe Torre wore in the dugout, just like the one Neil Allen wore in the bullpen, just like the one I’d ached for through 1980. It was royal blue with a big, spongy, orange NY on its left breast, a script Mets skyline logo patch on the left sleeve and orange trim with a touch of white around the wrist and neckbands. Funny, I had never noticed the white on TV.
I put on my coat of two or three colors. I loved it. I wanted to wear it everywhere and I looked for every excuse to wear it. It was an exceptionally cold January, and this was deceptively dubbed a warmup jacket. No matter. I threw my parka over it and went to school. The timing was fortuitous in that the yearbook photographers were out in full force that week. I would graduate in June with fully documented evidence that I was a Mets fan in 1981, a year when there weren’t many Mets fans.
Maybe it was all those pictures of me in the Mets jacket (to say nothing of what was unearthed on this awesome video; fast-forward and pause at the 9:54 mark to observe the garment and its accompanying bushel of hair when both were in their prime) that inspired dozens of my classmates to sign my yearbook with admonitions to cheer up, the Mets will win again one of these days.
I went off to college in Florida that August. There nobody knew me or anything about me. The first thing I planned on letting them know was I was a Mets fan. Didn’t occur to me there was no cachet to it. It was my identity. Naturally I took my jacket with me. Tampa rarely cooled off enough to wear it, but when I felt the slightest chill, the jacket warmed me up. My big, spongy orange NY introduced me. Hi, I’m a Mets fan…what’s your major?
The first semester ended in December. I spent the Christmas/New Year’s break at my parents’ condo in Hallandale, near Fort Lauderdale, and then drove back to Tampa with my sister. She would keep me company for the trip and fly home to New York from there. I would start my second semester of classes right after that.
It’s Wednesday morning. We’re in the Tampa airport. We step into a newsstand. Suzan must have been buying mints or something because they didn’t sell gum. We’re paying for whatever we’ve got at the counter. An older lady is the cashier. She looks up and sees what I’m wearing and says completely without condescension or affectation or even a hint of a wink in her voice…
New York Mets…do you play for them?
Her eyesight may have been 20-2000. And if it was, it would still be sharp enough to get the slightest glimpse of me and know I was no ballplayer. Even at 19 I was over the hill.
But you know, the Mets did train right across the bay in St. Petersburg in those days. Spring, in baseball terms, was barely more than a month away. If a player, like Lee Mazzilli, say, flew in for camp, he no doubt flew into Tampa International Airport. I kind of doubted Mazz wore his satin Starter-brand Mets warmup jacket, royal blue with a big, spongy, orange NY on its left breast, a script Mets skyline logo patch on the left sleeve and orange trim with a touch of white around the wrist and neckbands. But maybe he did.
I played pee-wee league baseball and didn’t start. I played disorganized softball and didn’t start. I played one-on-one stickball against a kid who didn’t walk quite right and he beat me half the time. There was no confusing me with a baseball player. Yet in my Starter jacket…at the promising age of 19…by a lady who may or may not have seen clearly Mets stroll through her store…for the briefest of seconds…I could be mistaken — vastly mistaken — for a member of my favorite team.
No. I don’t play for the Mets. It’s just a jacket.
But what a jacket!
Next Friday: Sitting in park with a Hall of Famer.