The odd part about the Reds batting out of order in the ninth was I heard about it in the car on the way back from the train station. That was odd because something even more unusual than a team sending up the wrong batter had occurred: I left a game early enough to be home in time for its conclusion.
That’s right. Far rarer than a violation of the every batter bats when he’s supposed to — rarer still than the starting pitcher who steals second — is your correspondent suggesting in the fifth inning that leaving Shea Stadium would be an agreeable proposition.
Talk about out of order!
There was a game in 1983 when a headache so got the best of me that I told Joel, that’s it, I got to leave this place, I don’t care what these people think. There was a misguided attempt to catch half of a Mets game and the beginning of a Cyclones game in 2003, winding up seeing no Cyclones and missing the retirement announcement of Bob Murphy altogether. There was a midweek afternoon in 1998 when I showed up alone in the third with the Braves kicking the Mets’ ass; I ate a turkey sandwich, watched the Braves kick the Mets’ ass some more, and gave up by the seventh.
Those are the glaring exceptions. I’ve arrived a little late from time to time, I’ve infrequently bowed to fatigue or peer pressure or commutation and given up ninth innings that could be safely projected as moot, but I almost never clear out before Lou Monte hectors Lazy Mary into getting up. But Sunday was one of those days.
Why? Because, I reassuringly discovered, I am capable of mild selflessness. I wasn’t sure I had it in me.
Twenty-one years ago yesterday the Mets played the Reds in Cincinnati. It was an utterly inconsequential game that coincided with a spectacularly consequential event.
It was May 11, 1987. As I’ve told the story several times here, I snapped off my radio with the Mets on the verge of being blown out and opened my eyes to find I was about to commence upon on a lifelong winning streak. That was the moment I came into contact with my future wife. I would marry her. She would marry me…and the Mets.
Yesterday the Mets played the Reds at Shea. Twenty-one years after our relationship began, the three of us got together again…the four of us, I guess, counting, as we occasionally do, the Reds.
All these May 11s since 1987, all these night-we-met anniversaries we have toasted, yet this was actually our first May 11 at the ol’ ballpark. I have a standing invitation extended to Stephanie for every Mets game I think of attending. They are almost without fail graciously demurred upon. One game once in a great while? Swell. The steady diet on which I subsist? Night games in April? Day games in which Sol threatens to bear down a little too aggressively on my literally fair lady? Weather Channel-checking affairs for which I’m unfurling longjohns and convincing myself “it won’t be so bad”?
I should go and have a good time and tell her about it later.
This, however, was May 11, which is our day of days. And it was May 11, which implies, you know, spring. This invitation — I didn’t even have to sell the complimentary pink cap angle — would not be demurred upon. It was accepted, graciously.
But boy was it windy. Not Wall of Voodoo hot wind on my shoulder windy either. This was hot dog wrapper, cotton candy bag, Pat Leahy considering a change of career wind. It roared in from Flushing Bay, swirled around an inbound Delta, bounced off the chop shops, laughed its way through Citi Field, skipped over the outfield fence, blew with strength up the middle, over Beltran, between Reyes and Castillo, shooting up Schneider’s goalie mask and landing in the mezzanine like a javelin.
The wind never stopped. At most it paused. It wasn’t the toughest wind I ever faced down (the 13-1 gale two Wednesdays ago seemed, like the Pirates, more punishing), but it was plenty petulant. Throw in a graveyard cough I’ve been hacking around for a couple of days and you wouldn’t have known you were sitting in the park one day in the merry, merry month of May.
Yet so what? It’s a Mets game. It’s Shea Stadium. It’s windy. It’s always windy half the time, as some skipper or another might have put it. I’m hardy. I’m battle-tested. I can take it.
But I was in these elements in a different element Sunday. Stephanie was with me and, no matter how rugged she is in many ways, her fan-by-marriage contract does not include a stiff and steady third-and-long breeze, not on the eleventh of frigging May for god’s sake. She was bundled some (trenchcoat with hood and lining, both gloves on), but not quite enough. To be bundled quite enough for Sunday, she would have had to have been in waiting on the 6:41 to Penn Station in January mode. And unless there’s a Fall Classic in progress, no sane person should have to sit at a baseball game in those conditions.
But ya know what? She never complained about it.
Twenty-one years minus four days since our first chilly evening in Flushing, she’d never begged out of Shea, save for a rainy Saturday in 1999 when my six innings of gallant umbrella-holding couldn’t convince her that it wasn’t so bad (the umbrella was shaped like a baseball cap and the effect was to form a rain gutter that drizzled onto her shoulder). She didn’t today either. She took pictures and noted the bizarre posting on the scoreboard of each player’s mom’s name in italics — “like it’s supposed to be an insult that Luis Castillo’s mother is named Faustina” — and respectfully applauded Ken Griffey and laughed when I called for Ryan “to take these people to” Church (inside joke) and rose more than once for Carlos Beltran and delighted in everything Oliver Perez did on the mound, at the plate and along the basepaths.
But she never said I’m cold, I want to go.
So I did.
It was in the bottom of the fifth, an official game already, the ballyhooed Johnny Quest having proven not up to any great adventure, Carlos and Ryan having gone deep, Junior not making any kind of history, Ollie not having heard me think that if Jim Bunning was going to pitch a perfect game on Shea’s first Father’s Day that he would pitch at least a no-hitter on its last Mother’s Day.
“After this half-inning is over,” I said, “Griffey’s gonna lead off the sixth. After he bats, ya wanna get out of here?”
“You mean ‘get out’ get out?”
“We don’t have to go.”
“It’s freezing. You’re freezing.”
“I was thinking we could walk around and warm up.”
“We could just go.”
“No. We don’t have to do that.”
“The Mets are up 6-0. I’ve seen two home runs. I’ve seen Ollie Perez throw one-hit ball. It’s not going to get any better. In fact, if this game has an exciting conclusion, I’m going to be pretty disgusted.”
“We’ll walk around and warm up. We don’t have to go.”
“It’s not like I’m going to be disappointed if we do.”
The Reds were changing pitchers. C’mon, I said, this would be as good a time as any to at least walk around and warm up. We went to our respective restrooms and re-emerged for that stroll that was going to raise our temperatures (pausing to watch Griffey walk on a blurry monitor; it’s not like I set my watch by what he does, but it occurred to me this was likely my last in-house look at him). As we wound from third base side to first base side to right field, a ramp beckoned. I reiterated my highly unusual offer, an offer so unusual that if I were a Toyota salesman, I’d have to go check with my manager before making it.
“We can go. We can make the 3:24 at Woodside even.”
There. I threw a train time on the table. I was serious. Yet she was seriously demurring. Either 21 years of exposure to me had created a monster fan I had somehow never noticed or she didn’t want to take me away from my beloved team and my beloved stadium because she is too thoughtful toward me for her own good.
Finally, she said OK and we hit the ramp. An instant later, however, a big Shea groan went up. From the radio, already plugged into my right ear, I relayed that Ollie just threw a wild pitch, now it was 6-3.
“Well, we’ve got to go back,” she said. She didn’t mean home. She meant to our seats. It was 6-0 when we got up, now it was 6-3. How could we leave when we had already taken half the lead with us? We have to go save the Mets from themselves.
It was momentarily tempting to stay. Stephanie had already turned in the general direction of our section. It wasn’t going to get any warmer, but how much colder could it get? And if we left and the Reds chipped away any further and what’s a few innings when there are so few innings left in the life of Shea Stadium?
But I reconsidered reconsideration. “No, let’s go,” I said and, at last, insisted (neither one of us is insistent by nature, so when one of us insists, it gets noticed). I remembered why I’d suggested the early exit. Stephanie was cold on my account. I could miss an hour of Mets on hers.
It wasn’t exactly “The Gift of the Magi,” but we did make the 3:24 with minutes to spare. The batting-out-of-order caper revealed itself in the car and was still in progress as I turned on the living room TV. It reportedly took twelve minutes to sort out. I can’t imagine either one of us would have been enriched by shivering through the dispute and being pushed back to the 4:49, probably the 5:24.
Stephanie and I will be at Shea together in July for a concert. And we’ll return on September 28, a Sunday afternoon when I’ve already warned my wife of 16-1/2 years, my love of 21 years, that we won’t be leaving early, no matter the weather (“not even to beat the rush?” she deadpanned). Maybe I’ll get her to un-demur for a less momentous game between now and then, which would be wonderful. Maybe not, in which case I’ll have a good time and tell her about it later.
Not long after poking fun at the Mets for entering the brick business, my sister and brother-in-law, not regular readers of this blog, generously gave me for my birthday…a brick. Yes, I who have sniffed at and scoffed at Citi Field will be a “permanent part” of it after all. Technically, I was given a brick certificate. It was up to me to fill in the inscription. I struggled with it for months. Didn’t like anything I came up with. As an afterthought, I asked Stephanie, “you wanna be a part of this?”
“Yes,” she said.
I submitted the inscription last week:
MAY 15, 1987
She may make only cameo appearances at Shea Stadium in the course of a season and she may understand the nuances and niceties of baseball strategy just marginally better than does Dusty Baker, but my wife takes our three-way marriage to heart, in her way, every bit as much as I do. I am continually grateful to be reminded of her devotion to the Mets via me and grow more elated daily that 21 years since it began my winning streak remains intact.