If you’re anything like me, you’re starting Your Day of Days.
You’re going to the Home Opener!
You weren’t counting on it, and you were fine without it, but somebody stepped forward from out of the blue and orange to be your eleventh-hour angel and what the hell? It’s Your Day of Days.
You’re waking up with minimal mechanical provocation because you couldn’t sleep anyway.
You’re checking the weather every few minutes on WINS or Channel 61 or by typing in 11368 at weather.com.
You’re debating how many layers to lay on and erring on the side of caution because all the weather reports indicate a Real Feel that won’t top 40.
You’re wondering whether it’s worth breaking out the new orange REYES 7 tee since nobody’s going to see it under all your layers.
You’re wearing the new orange REYES 7 tee because you’ll know it’s there.
You’re spending valuable minutes choosing among sweatshirts, hoodies and warmup jackets.
You’re opting for the royal blue ski cap with the orange NY over any particular cap out of respect for your ears.
You’re bringing a cap in case it’s not all that bad…but not before you weigh the merits of each and every one in contention for the honor of The Cap You Bring To The Home Opener.
You’re packing your game bag with care. Train schedules? Check. Reading glasses? Check. Phone? Check. Bottle of water? Check. Spare bottlecaps? Check. Umbrella? Check — because if you don’t bring it, it will definitely be needed. Pills, ointments, first aid? Check (you hypochondriac). A fistful of napkins? Check — because maybe this is the year they start charging for napkins at Shea. A half-dozen plastic bags? Check — because you have all kinds of organizational compulsions that anybody who saw the way you live would not believe.
You’re stocking extra batteries. For your radio, for Howie, for Tom, for Eddie C. Not for Pat Burrell.
You’re removing your iPod because you don’t really need it…until you remember you may want to hear a song that will put you in the mood…until you remember you’re already in the mood.
You’re bringing your iPod anyway. You’re bringing everything else.
You’re noticing the 2006 and 2005 pocket schedules buried in some crevasse of the bag. Maybe they’re lucky.
You’re leaving your 2006 and 2005 pocket schedules where you found them.
You’re considering what book to shove in there. You’re reading a hardcover that’s just going to weigh you down and you’re going to be too excited on your trip in to read it and you know you’re going to buy the papers at the station and you know you’re going to be leafing through a yearbook and a program on the way home, but it’s a really good book and it’s about baseball, so you shove.
You’re throwing in a magazine just in case your train idles uncomfortably just shy of Valley Stream or Jamaica as it’s been known to do on days that weren’t Your Day of Days.
You’re patting your parka pockets over and over to ensure your gloves are where you they think they are.
You’re stuffing a few ibuprofen and a couple of Pepcid in that extra pants pocket where you keep four pennies (to round out change) just in case your headaches or indigestion get to you.
You’re lugging ample supplies of ibuprofen and Pepcid in your bag, but you don’t have time to unravel your own logic.
You’re leaving your house and considering your car. You’re not crazy enough to decide to drive at the last minute (you hardly ever drive to Shea and doing so today will not spike your confidence in the process) but you’re thinking it sure would be nice to leave the car at the station. Except the station lot will be full since this isn’t a legal holiday.
You’re flinging your bulging bag over your right shoulder, hitching up your jeans and walking the 14 or 15 minutes between your home and your station.
You’re ducking into your station newsstand to buy those papers, maybe a diet soft drink if the lack of sleep is catching up with you, maybe a not altogether stale bagel depending on how much that 14- of 15-minute walk has taken out of you.
You’re withdrawing one of those handy plastic bags for the papers and probably the soda and the bagel and ascending the escalator to the platform, unalone in your particular journey for the first time today, even if you are older than most everybody heading toward your ultimate destination.
You’re feeling a strong breeze. Maybe you should have added a layer between layers.
You’re patting your parka pockets for your gloves. You can’t be too sure.
You’re removing your Metrocard from your wallet and placing it in your pocket for quick access should connections dictate the 7 over the LIRR from Woodside to Shea. Why wait?
You’re glancing at your newspapers’ back pages or sports section front page, a bit disgusted that some other event got more play than yesterday’s or, better yet, today’s Mets game.
You’re sticking a hand in your schlep bag to make sure you can access your reading glasses (with a book, a magazine, three newspapers and several schedules on your person, you don’t want to inadvertently re-enact the Burgess Meredith role in the “Time Enough At Last” episode of The Twilight Zone) and your phone. You decide the phone belongs in one of the parka pockets because if the eleventh-hour angel, who is the reason you’re on the platform with seemingly half of everything you own, needs to reach you, you better be able heed the call.
You’re searching your phone for messages related to work until you realize you’re not going to be of much help to anybody today.
You’re hoping those people who don’t know today is Your Day of Days won’t bother you. This is no way to earn a living, but you can do that any old time. Today is Your Day of Days.
You’re positioning yourself for the train as it arrives, choosing a less crowded car up front versus a more crowded car in the middle even though settling for the middle will deposit you nearer to the stairs to the 7. Right now you’re counting on your Woodside LIRR connection to make that decision moot. Right now you could use a Sandy Alomar to flash you a sign.
You’re plopping yourself into an unoccupied three-seater and for a moment you’re not a Mets fan going to the Home Opener. You’re a commuter plucking his ten-trip ticket out for the conductor and you’re an antisocial animal who spreads out your crap so nobody will sit next to you.
You’re drifting back into your mission once your ticket is punched. Your solitude is breached because there are like eight teenagers with 24 cans of beer whooping it up, but you drown them out not with your iPod (it’s drooped too deep in the schlep bag to be worth fishing out), but with your thoughts.
You’re thinking about where you’re going.
You’re thinking that once you set foot inside Shea Stadium, this will mark your 35th consecutive year of making such an entrance.
You’re thinking if you can say you’ve been going anywhere else every year since 1973 and you’re coming up blank.
You’re thinking that your father sold the house you grew up in in 1991 and your sister didn’t move into her current home until 1984 and an insurance plan forced you to switch doctors in 2003, you’ve narrowed it down to a diner on Long Beach Road (a longtime favorite, but there was a stretch there in the late ’90s when you didn’t go at all), a mall in Garden City (your wife’s catalog shopping saved you those trips for a couple of years) and a transpiration hub in Manhattan (you know you missed it entirely that year you stayed at college for the summer semester). Having eliminated the East Bay Diner, Roosevelt Field and Penn Station, you’ve concluded you’ve been going to Shea Stadium longer and more regularly than you’ve been going anywhere in the world.
You’re thinking you’ll mark a 35th consecutive year today and, knock wood, a 36th consecutive year some twelve months from now, and that will be it.
You’re thinking how weird that will be, that Shea Stadium won’t be there anymore after next year.
You’re thinking that Shea’s faults are myriad and that a few more will reveal themselves today but that you want to remain subject to them because it’s Shea.
You’re thinking that it took you the better part of the first thirty years to know Shea intimately, to differentiate substantively between loge and mezzanine, to know which gate gets you to which ramp, which way to cross Roosevelt Avenue before a game versus afterwards, which stand sells what and which men’s room is preferable to which. Now that you’ve got it down cold, you’re left with the equivalent of a Cold War-era map of Europe.
You’re thinking you’re a Kremlinologist about to lose your U.S.S.R.
You’re thinking that Your Day of Days is no day to think about endings. You turn your attention to beginnings.
You’re thinking about how you romanticized the Home Opener long before you ever got close to attending one, how you blew off Hebrew School to watch 1975’s and good thing you did, too, because otherwise you would have missed Tom Seaver besting Steve Carlton, both of them pitching complete games (and you were never going to be a Talmudic scholar no matter how much Hebrew School you didn’t blow off).
You’re thinking about how you skipped a Spanish test in twelfth grade to make it to your first Home Opener, 1981, only to have rain postpone your dream outside Gate D and your Spanish teacher not buy your flimsy excuse of being sick the next day (you were never going to be a Spanish scholar either).
You’re thinking about maybe the greatest Home Opener of them all, 1985’s, the one Gary Carter wins with the tenth-inning home run while you’re a month from graduating college in another state and you’re lapping up wire copy in your school paper’s newsroom and dialing Sportsphone on their dime every five minutes and, when you learn what your new catcher did, you’re high-fiving everybody you’ve turned into a temporary Mets fan that afternoon.
You’re thinking that when you finally broke through the grass ceiling, that when you were at Shea to greet the new season the first time in 1993 that it was everything you imagined it would be, that it was the center of the known universe. The Colorado Rockies were born and Dennis Byrd was walking (they gave him a “Met for life” jersey with No. 90 on it) and Doc, 28 years old and six years removed from cocaine, threw a shutout. It was chilly but it was brilliant.
You’re thinking of your return engagement on a raw Monday afternoon three years later, the tail end of a winter when it snowed three times a week. That day it spit a cold rain and the Mets fell behind Tony LaRussa’s Cardinals 6-0 and the concessions ran out of hot chocolate immediately. But Hundley homered and Gilkey homered and it was 6-3 in the seventh when the kid shortstop who lit up St. Lucie electrified your frigid section of the mezzanine with a throw from his knees to nail Royce Clayton at the plate. The Mets brought home four runs in the bottom of the inning and won 7-6 and what a year 1996 was going to be.
You’re thinking of a much brighter, much warmer — much hotter — Home Opener in March of 1998. March! You stared at that date, March 31, ever since they announced it and prepared to shiver like you never had before, except a heat wave hit New York days before and it was 87 degrees, which was good because the game went on all day, 14 innings, until the Mets (wearing black caps with blue bills for the first time) won on a single to right by Bambi Castillo. Bambi Castillo was now as big a part of Met history as Rey Ordoñez and Doc Gooden and Gary Carter and Tom Seaver and Mr. Ritaccio the Spanish teacher. Home Opener history at least.
You’re thinking how Home Openers became a happy habit over the next four years, how through the good graces of good friends you found your way in Opener after Opener and the Mets won Opener after Opener and you never went home unhappy.
You’re thinking how exciting it was to return to the scene of the crime in 2005, how a new era was plainly underway, even if the old stadium was not in great working order, even if the Home Opener brought out the dope and lout in every other customer, even if pedestrian traffic was a nightmare. Yet it was Your Day of Days and you were so very glad to have witnessed another lidlifting win, your eighth in eight such opportunities.
You’re thinking now that you don’t want to blow it for everyone else, that you hope you can keep this streak going to 9-0, that maybe you should have declined the eleventh-hour invite because maybe you should sit on your perfect 8-0 until you remember records aren’t for sitting on.
You’re thinking, albeit not that hard, about today’s matchup, about John Maine and Cole Hamels, two of the soap operaest names you might imagine (you can just hear Victor Newman threatening he will destroy John Maine and Cole Hamels if it’s the LAST thing he ever does, but you just as soon keep your intermittent Y&R viewership to yourself).
You’re thinking maybe it’s not so bad the Mets got a loss or two out of the way in Atlanta, maybe you don’t want them to be 6-0 and risk it all for the Home Opener, though that’s sort of at odds with your own 8-0 superstitions and you try not to think all that much about records.
You’re thinking instead of what’s driving you here, and you don’t mean the Long Island Rail Road. This is your 39th season as a Mets fan. You never tire of mentioning that you boarded this train in 1969 and you take enormous pride that you never got off.
You’re thinking it’s an accomplishment to have rooted for the Mets as long and hard as you have, yet it never occurred to you to do anything else, so what’s the accomplishment exactly?
You’re thinking once a Mets fan always a Mets fan, even if you know not everybody who’s a Mets fan at this moment has pursued as pure an existence.
You’re thinking you made this choice before you made any other choice of consequence and that it’s a choice you’ve stuck by going on four decades, though you can barely fathom a phrase like “going on four decades” applies to something you remember choosing at the age of six.
You’re thinking you never wavered, that this is who you are above and beyond just about anything else you are and even if you now and then allow yourself to wonder if you’re hopelessly shallow for thinking in such terms, you think in them nonetheless and have no intention of reversing course at this late date.
You’re thinking precious few people have given you more pleasure and happiness than your baseball team has and that nobody has done it over a longer span and that nobody and nothing have plucked at your emotions more than your Mets have. Nobody and nothing ever will.
You’re thinking that though you might be willing to trade for a little righthanded relief help or an honest-to-god slugger to come off the bench in the late innings, you would not trade your lifetime as a Mets fan for anything. Not today on Your Day of Days. Not ever.
You’re thinking that you better make sure you don’t have to change at Jamaica for Woodside lest you be so lost in thought that you wind up at Penn Station and blow the whole day before it truly begins.
You’re paying attention to your commute again, staying on to Woodside, exiting, peeking down the Port Washington tracks, deciding between the eastbound LIRR and the 7 and, in not too many minutes, disgorging from one or the other at a stop called Shea Stadium.
You’re elbowing your way through crowds who are clogging the staircases and ramps you wish to negotiate cleanly.
You’re sneering at the red caps with white P’s (there are always a few) and the navy caps with hormonally whack NY’s (there are always a few too many).
You’re looking at your fellow travelers and are amazed at how underdressed so many of them are. It’s 42 freaking degrees!
You’re calculating how many beers and furtive flask sips it takes to compensate for a lack of a coat.
You’re reading the slice of oaktag that declares the supremacy of Jose, David and the Mets in general and looking at the kid who’s toting it and you’re sorry there’s no chance it will show up on TV.
You’re assessing the construction that’s gone on east of Shea all winter and are blown away by the progress. Two years…
You’re keeping an eye out for freebies. Bumperstickers? Placards? Anything that doesn’t require you to fill out a form?
You’re snapping up whatever you can buy outside the park on the slight chance it will sell out by the time you’re inside (you’re haunted by the way those inaugural Mets-Rockies programs flew). Pins…yearbook…program…miscellany items that you try to convince yourself you don’t need but you don’t try all that strenuously.
You’re stuffing this wave of purchases into one of your spare plastic bags (you’re not so crazy now, huh?).
You’re making contact with your eleventh-hour angel. There’s a ticket with your name on it so, without further ado, it’s onto the security line for a halfhearted pawing of your stuff, a pause for a man with a wand to pat you down (you don’t look like you’d cause any trouble, but how is he supposed to know that?), a scan of your magic ducat, a grab of a magnetic schedule and anything else you’re handed and…you’re in!
You’re getting your bearings. The last time you were here, last October via a similar shot-in-the-dark ticket situation, you were a much different bundle of nerves. Then it was one and done. Today it’s 4-2, 156 (yes, 156) to go. But you’re a bundle of nerves anyway.
You’re escalating to your level (though you’re not discounting the possibility that you’re climbing) and you’re reaching your seat and you’re shoving your bags underneath it and you’re sitting down (how these plastic chairs have narrowed since fall; same thing happened last April) and you’re studying the fence for new sponsors, the DiamondVision for new fonts, the field for new players. It’s all new enough to beg the question of what’s with the new park over the fence?
You’re forgetting about the future today. And you’re even putting aside your cherished past. You’ve got a present. You’ve got a Home Opener.
If you’re anything like me, Your Day of Days has arrived.