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Shea (The First Time)

Today is the 40th anniversary of my first appearance in a major league box score. There I am…look closely [1]. See the part where it says the attendance was 18,776? I’m one of the 18,776. Without me, it’s 18,775.

I was just one fan in one seat at Shea Stadium on the afternoon of July 11, 1973. The Mets scored just one run in nine innings on the afternoon of July 11, 1973, or six fewer than did the visiting Houston Astros. The Mets’ record fell to 36-47 for the season. Mine dropped to 0-1 lifetime. We’d each bounce back.

I’m sometimes asked how I remember dates so precisely, a question that still surprises me even though I politely pretend to understand that not everybody’s mind works like mine. Even my mind doesn’t always work like mine. We all need a little Baseball-Reference to help us sometimes. But as for July 11, 1973, of course I remember July 11, 1973. It was my first ballgame, my first Mets game. How do you forget something like that?

The date was communicated to me in the weeks prior to the big event. We from Camp Avnet in Long Beach would be going to the Mets game on Wednesday, July 11. It was the second week of camp. I didn’t really want to go to day camp that summer, yet it was paying dividends immediately.

July 11. I was 10 years old. What else did I have to look forward to besides my first Mets game? The date imprinted itself on my brain before July 11 and stayed there forever after. Simple, to me, how I remembered it.

Save for the Diamond Club, there was little exclusivity to Shea Stadium in 1973. Our tickets were in the Upper Deck, yet otherwise all 18,776 in attendance were in this thing together. Us; the broadcasters; the players on both sides; whoever sold me my Official Yearbook; whomever I couldn’t buy an ice cream from because Camp Avnet kept kosher (even if I didn’t), thus I was confined to the salami box lunch that didn’t keep very well on the bus, as I would learn to my gastric sorrow later that evening.

This was Shea Stadium. This was the Mets game. This was where the action was. This was the thing that was on Channel 9 unless it was only on WHN, but it was always on WHN even if it wasn’t necessarily on Channel 9. This would be in the papers the next day. This was news. I, by extension, was a component of instant history. They couldn’t print 18,776 without me.

Though I could see the action much better on the portable black & white Sony in my room, I loved being a part of the box score, being a part of the crowd, being a part of the game. Jerry Koosman was tiny down there on the field. He threw to a tiny Duffy Dyer. This place was huge. You never saw these seats on TV. There was no camera angle directed toward them. But I was inside the same physical space as my beloved New York Mets. I’d been watching the Mets, listening to the Mets, reading about the Mets since I was six. My identity was the Mets. If you asked me who I was, it wouldn’t be long before I would tell you I was a Mets fan. The only thing I had yet to do was meet the Mets. Or wave to them from a theoretically manageable distance. On July 11, 1973, they welcomed me fully into their world.

I’ve yet to leave it.