Welcome to Flashback Friday: Tales From The Log, a final-season tribute to Shea Stadium as viewed primarily through the prism of what I have seen there for myself, namely 383 regular-season and 13 postseason games to date. The Log records the numbers. The Tales tell the stories.
9/6/98 Su Atlanta 5-8 Reed 9 70-70 L 4-0
It started with a picture, a picture of me on the floor of Madison Square Garden. I was friendly with the PR contact of a sponsor of the Liberty. She said she could get Stephanie and me tickets to see them on an upcoming Sunday. Not only that, but if we showed up early enough, we could be part of a youth clinic they were holding. We weren’t youthful and we weren’t looking to improve our jump shots, but it was a chance, she said, to set foot on the Garden floor.
We went, we stood, we took pictures. We tried not to get in the way of the kids who were learning basketball and whichever injured Liberty player got stuck conducting the clinic. All we wanted was to stand on the floor of MSG, the same floor where our girls of summer played, the same locale where the Knicks of my childhood won championships. I wasn’t really into basketball by the time I was 35, but it was the Garden.
I had the pictures. I brought them to work. I passed them around. I announced it was the first time I’d ever experienced anything quite like that. Never been on a professional court or field. I showed them to a friend, Jim in sales. He was a big Knicks fan and a resurgent Mets fan. He was impressed enough, but he got to thinking about me. Me on the floor of the Garden…that’s fine, but that, he later told me, was not where I needed to be.
He saw fit to fix that.
It’s weeks later. Jim knows someone who works in the Mets’ ticket department, Michelle. Hey, he says, Michelle can get us free tickets for Sunday, against the Braves — wanna go? Like I wouldn’t.
Jim told me to expect something special, but wouldn’t let on. I had no idea what he was planning. He let on when we met. He wanted very much, he said, to get me on the field for the postgame DynaMets Dash. He thought it absurd that I had been on the floor of the Garden but never on the field at Shea. How was it possible that had happened?
Gosh, I said, I don’t know. It just is.
Alas, Jim said, Michelle probably won’t be able to pull it off. Too much going on on her end. But we do have the tickets, so let’s go inside. We stopped by Michelle’s desk in the ticket office and I thanked both of them for even trying and, for that matter, the tickets to this relatively big game. Michelle said she’d come by with an update if anything changed.
Field Level seats, perfectly all right. Braves beating the Mets, perfectly dreadful. The Mets needed the game in their Wild Card chase with the Cubs. They weren’t getting it. There was nothing of value to recall from the actual contest.
‘Til the top of the ninth. That’s when Michelle reappeared in our midst and said we should come with her.
We were going Dashing after all.
Michelle led Jim and me through concourses and corridors and secret pathways — saw Fox Sports Net New York’s Matt Loughlin, Newsday‘s Marty Noble and Braves callup Marty Malloy en route — that you couldn’t get through if you were an ordinary person. But Michelle was extraordinary. She flashed her credentials and brought Jim and me to the area behind home plate.
I don’t mean the seats. I mean the area behind home plate where the grounds crew gathered. It’s not plainly visible any longer. In 1999 high-roller seats were installed there. But for years you saw the little windows from which Pete Flynn and his men stared out at the field, where the umpires were supplied with fresh baseballs. It never occurred to me that I’d be behind those windows, on the inside looking out.
Michelle, Jim and I watched the bottom of the ninth with Pete Flynn, head groundskeeper of Shea Stadium, a celebrity in his own right. Pete Flynn had been with the Mets since 1962. He was the wet blanket who grumbled in a brogue about the fans who tore up his precious grass in the aftermath of the ’86 division clincher, about how they didn’t deserve a winner. Security saw to it that there would never be another stampede like that no matter what the Mets might win.
But there was the DynaMets Dash, invented in ’94 to promote a little goodwill after the bad taste of ’93. “The best promotion in baseball,” Howie Rose called it. Its beauty was its simplicity: Parents lined up outside the centerfield fence around the seventh inning, as they might have themselves when they were kids with Banner Day entries. Except this time they walked their own children around the warning track to the infield. From there the kids (and maybe a few parents if the kids were toddlers) were permitted to stumble around the bases for precious moments.
Or, if you knew someone like Michelle, you could be labeled a V.I.P. in the loosest sense of the phrase and get to jump the line. You didn’t go to the centerfield gate. You waited with Pete Flynn. It was the ninth and it didn’t appear there would be a tenth, so Pete and his boys were ready to set up the field for the small invaders and a couple of big ones.
Michelle introduced Jim and me to Pete Flynn. Pete Flynn sized us up — literally.
“Aren’t you two a little big for this?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “We’re just taking that stuff McGwire had in his locker.”
Pete Flynn laughed.
I made Pete Flynn laugh.
John Smoltz struck out John Olerud to end the 4-0 loss, the most incidental 4-0 loss in the history of Shea Stadium, Wild Card race or not. Never mind the Wild Card race. I had a Dash to make. Michelle said “c’mon” and we walked out onto the field from behind home plate.
I WAS ON THE FIELD AT SHEA STADIUM! Thirty seasons of watching on TV or from the seats above us and this was the first time. It was a standing dream, one I never saw materializing. But here I was and here it was.
I WAS ON THE FIELD AT SHEA STADIUM! The lifelong focus of my attention was now, however temporarily, my playground. It was my pedestrian walkway. In a moment it would be my path from first base to home plate.
I WAS ON THE FIELD AT SHEA STADIUM! You look up at the stands when you stand there. You’re atop the world yet you’re below everything. You’re below street level, I imagine. What strikes you, or struck me anyway, is the orangeness of the field boxes. It’s dazzling. The fans were gone by the time we got to our starting blocks. Some team employees sat down to watch the proceedings. Maybe they had relatives who were going to take to the basepaths. Nobody was there to see Jim or me, but there we were.
On the field at Shea Stadium.
When you Dash, you are kept the hell off the grass. You start from first, not home. And the bases are not where the bases are. They are replaced by on-deck circle mats with Mets logos.
Who cared? It was Shea Stadium, on the field, on the diamond. Christ almighty.
Jim and I were like second and third in line. Boy that Michelle was good. Before I had a chance to think, somebody told me to GO! So I went. I took off from first like Brian McRae.
Or Hal McRae. Or perhaps Hal McRae’s maternal grandmother. Didn’t matter. I was running on the basepaths at Shea Stadium. And I was heading for second. It wasn’t second base. It was second mat. But it was good enough for the likes of me.
The Mets stationed grounds crew members at each stop to encourage the kids along and keep them from straying. For the likes of me, they were there to crack wise.
“Aren’t you a little big for this?” one asked.
“I’m big for my age,” I blurted.
I wasn’t thinking about that. I was thinking, I swear, cut the inside of the bag — don’t make a wide turn. I hadn’t been in any kind of competitive baseball/softball situation in nine years, I was an obvious ringer on a lark, I was overweight and overage, yet I was determined to do this right. Cut the inside of the bag at second.
So I did. And I headed to third. The grounds grew guys there asked, “Aren’t you a little big…?”
Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it before. Save it for the next unconscionably lucky soul who knows someone who knows someone and they team up to make that guy’s dream come true. Mine, right now, is to round third and make it home.
And I did. I didn’t collapse. I didn’t breathe hard. I didn’t accidentally stampede any children — the children of V.I.P.’s. I was enveloped by the orange before me.
I was safe.
I think Jim went after I did because there is a picture of me running from first to second. I’m pretty sure he snapped it. Unless Michelle did. I can’t quite recall. But you see me about three-quarters of the way to second. There are couple of tots eating my dust. And, for no good reason except my general distrust of mankind, there is my schlep bag on my right shoulder. In the instant I was told to GO! I decided I better not leave my stuff unattended. Like something was going to happen to it on the field at Shea Stadium.
I did it. I ran around the bases, or at least what were used as bases for as much of the basepaths on which I was permitted to tread. Two-hundred seventy beautiful feet, first to home. I did something I never thought would be possible. I scored.