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 385 regular-season and 13 postseason games to date. The Log records the numbers. The Tales tell the stories.
7/2/75 W Chicago 1-0 Matlack 2 3-1 W 7-2
When it comes to baseball, I may as well have been raised by wolves. My human family didn’t have much to do with my development in this realm.
Oh, that’s just the romantic version. No wolves were involved in the raising of this fan. More accurately, I brought myself up on baseball. I sat on my own knee and told myself stories of the old days, namely whatever I divined from books, magazines and Ralph Kiner. Mom and Dad and Big Sis, they facilitated at times and didn’t throw up cumbersome roadblocks, but they were not proactive in the process of my becoming a baseball fan, let alone a Mets fan. I didn’t expect them to be, because, when I started this at the age of six, I had no proof that families liked baseball as a unit.
My role model in baseball fandom was Charlie Brown. Did you ever see Charlie Brown’s parents? No, he was out organizing all the kids who didn’t have much use for him into what appeared to be pretty complex sandlot games. Then he came home and went moony over Joe Shlabotnik.
Charlie Brown raised himself on baseball as far as I could tell. So I tried the same trick. No way I could round up seventeen other kids for actual playing ball, but in terms of cultivating lifelong fanhood, I’d say I did a helluva job bringing myself up. I had to be a mother, a father and an older sibling to the boy. Like I said, my family offered benign support; no worse than benign neglect. If I wanted to be the oddball in the house, that was my business.
Once, though, I sucked everybody into this thing of mine. I don’t remember why anymore. Maybe it was an elementary school graduation present. If it was, it was a good one. It was a trip to Shea Stadium on a Wednesday night, a couple of weeks after sixth grade ended, the four of us…the four Princes. It was like what I was beginning to suspect normal families did: four people related to one another piling into a large American-made sedan and driving from their home in the suburbs to the nearest multipurpose stadium to watch the local team.
Worked for me.
Dad parked our 1970 Chrysler Newport in the lot across Roosevelt Avenue. We sat in decent Loge seats on the first base side. And the Mets beat the Cubs which was of surpassing importance to me, incidental, I’m certain, to everybody else.
This is what I recall:
• In the middle of the game, I heard what sounded like terrible thunder. It was actually behind-the-scenes Sheananigans — operations in action. Gates closing, dumpsters dragging, something like that. I sat in Loge last night, probably for the last time ever, and heard the same noises. It’s still thunderous.
• We were behind a large bloc of large men, all out on a firehouse expedition. Every one of these men had huge guts. They liked their Schaefer and they liked their hot dogs and they were upset with the member of their party tasked with fetching the franks because not nearly enough mustard had been secured for their picky palates. So one of them got up and returned moments later with the entire mustard dispenser. Big damn thing. Nobody else on the first base side of Loge would be dressing their dogs, but our heroes were roaring with laughter at the ingenuity of the move. My mother observed this blend of bonding and hijinks with the look of a lady who had stepped in bubble gum.
• I was told I would be receiving a brand new Mets cap to enjoy for the balance of the summer of 1975 at game’s end. As we approached a concession stand en route to the parking lot, by the subway entrance across Roosevelt, I asked if I could have two caps: the Mets model and a red-billed, blue-domed lid bearing the stylish T of the Texas Rangers. I was briefly enamored of the Texas Rangers when I was 12 and couldn’t believe their caps were for sale right there in Flushing, so far from Arlington. I was informed by my mother that I was being greedy and now I would get no cap: no Mets, no Rangers, no nothing. The mustard-stealing firemen apparently tested her goodwill beyond its boundaries. I’ve carried no grudge about the rescindment of the cap or the impugning of my character for 33 years and have not brought it up with scant prompting since.
• We got back to the car and discovered someone had broken off the antenna from the Newport.
The next time the four of us went to Shea Stadium together never occurred. There would be games with my sister until I was old enough to take matters into my own hands, and games with my parents when they picked up the baseball bug from their son, but no complete nuclear family outings out Shea way ever again. I continued to raise myself on baseball in upstairs solitude.
The entire mustard dispenser…I thought it was hilarious.